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French Relative Pronouns

Before you can use French relative pronouns correctly, you first need to understand the grammar behind them.
Like its English counterpart, a French relative pronoun links a dependent or relative clause to a main clause. If
the previous sentence makes no sense to you, learn about clauses before working on this lesson. Also, since
relative pronouns may replace a subject, direct object, indirect object, or preposition, click to learn about these
grammar concepts if you aren't sure what they are.

Once you understand the above grammar terms, you're ready to learn about the French relative pronouns que,
qui, lequel, dont, and o. There are no one-to-one equivalents for these words; depending on context, the
English translation may be who, whom, that, which, whose, where, or when. Note that in French, relative
pronouns are required, whereas in English, they are sometimes optional.
The following table summarizes the functions and possible meanings of each relative pronoun; click the
pronouns to read detailed lessons.
Pronoun Function(s)
Possible Translations
Qui

Subject
Indirect object (person)

who, what
which, that, whom

Que

Direct object

whom, what, which, that

Lequel

Indirect object (thing)

what, which, that

Dont

Object of de
Indicate possession

of which, from which, that


whose

Indicate place or time

when, where, which, that

Note: ce que, ce qui, ce dont, and quoi are indefinite relative pronouns

Qui and que are the most often confused relative pronouns, probably because one of the first things French
students learn is that qui means "who" and que means "that" or "what." In fact, this is not always the case. The
choice between qui and que as a relative pronoun has nothing to do with the meaning in English, and everything
to do with how the word is used; that is, what part of the sentence it is replacing.

Que replaces the direct object (person or thing) in the dependent clause.
J'ai achet le livre. Ma sur l'a crit.
> J'ai achet le livre que ma sur a crit.
I bought the book (that) my sister wrote.
O habite le peintre ? Je l'ai vu aujourd'hui.
> O habite le peintre que j'ai vu aujourd'hui ?

Where does the painter (whom) I saw today live?

Qui replaces the subject (person or thing) in the dependent clause.


Je cherche l'artiste. Il tudie Paris.
> Je cherche l'artiste qui tudie Paris.
I'm looking for the artist (who is) studying in Paris.
Trouvez le chat. Il habite dans la cave.
> Trouvez le chat qui habite dans la cave.
Find the cat that lives in the basement.
Qui also replaces an indirect object referring to a person* after a preposition,** including prepositions which
are required after a given verb or expression.
Je vois une dame. Je travaille avec cette dame.
Je vois une dame avec qui je travaille.
I see a woman with whom I work. (I see a woman I work with.)
La fille qui j'ai parl est trs sympathique.
The girl to whom I spoke is very nice. (The girl [that] / [whom] I spoke to...)
L'tudiant contre qui je me suis assis...
The student next to whom I sat... (The student [that] I sat next to...)
*If the object of the preposition is a thing, you need lequel.
**Except if the preposition is de, in which case you need dont.
Lequel or one of its variations replaces an indirect object referring to a thing* after a preposition,** including
prepositions which are required after a given verb or expression.
Le livre dans lequel j'ai crit mon nom...
The book in which I wrote my name...
Les ides auxquelles j'ai pens...
The ideas that I thought about...
La ville laquelle je songe...
The town about which I'm dreaming...

Le cinma prs duquel*** nous avons mang...


The theater near which we ate..., The theater (that) we ate near...
*If the object of the preposition is a person, you need qui.
**Except de - see dont

***How do you know whether to use dont or duquel? You need dont when the preposition is de by itself. You
need duquel when de is part of a prepositional phrase, such as prs de, ct de, en face de, etc.
Dont replaces any person or thing after de:
O est le reu ? J'ai besoin du reu.
> O est le reu dont j'ai besoin ?
Where is the receipt (that) I need?
C'est la dame. J'ai parl de cette dame.
> C'est la dame dont j'ai parl.
That's the woman about (whom) I talked. (That's the woman [that] / [whom] I talked about.)

Dont can indicate possession:


Voici l'homme. J'ai trouv la valise de cet homme.
> Voici l'homme dont j'ai trouv la valise.
That's the man whose suitcase I found.
Je cherche le livre. Tu as arrach une page de ce livre.
> Je cherche le livre dont tu as arrach une page.
I'm looking for the book out of which you tore a page, the book (that) you tore a page out of.

Dont can refer to part of a group:


J'ai lu plusieurs livres la semaine dernire. J'ai lu le tien.
> J'ai lu plusieurs livres la semaine dernire, dont le tien.
I read several books last week, including yours.
Il a crit trois livres. Deux de ses livres sont des best-sellers.
> Il a crit trois livres, dont deux sont des best-sellers.
He has written three books, two of which are best sellers.

What's the difference between dont and duquel? You need dont when the preposition you're replacing is de by
itself. You need duquel when de is part of a prepositional phrase, such as prs de, ct de, en face de, etc.
You probably already know that as an interrogative pronoun, o means "where," and that it often means
"where" as a relative pronoun as well:
La boulangerie o j'ai travaill est ct de la banque.
The bakery where I worked is next to the bank. (The bakery [that] I worked at...)
Rouen est la ville o j'habite depuis 5 ans.
Rouen is the town where I've lived for 5 years.

O can also be used after prepositions.

Le pays d'o il vient...


The country (where) he's from...
Je cherche le village jusqu'o nous avons conduit.
I'm looking for the village to which we drove.

But as a relative pronoun, o has an additional meaning - it refers to the moment in time something happened:
"when." This can be tricky, as French students tend to want to use the interrogative quand here. You can't,
because quand is not a relative pronoun. You must use the relative pronoun o.
Lundi, c'est le jour o nous faisons les achats.
Monday is the day (that) we do our shopping.
Le moment o nous sommes arrivs...
The moment (that) we arrived...
C'est l'anne o il est parti
That's the year (that) he left, That's when he left.