Relative Pronouns Qui and Que

les pronoms relatifs qui et que

The words qui and que can translate to who, that, which and whom and are used to join two parts of a sentence together.

In this situation qui and que are called relative pronouns as they join a main clause and dependent clause of a sentence.

The subject of the main clause is called the antecedent. Let’s look at some English and French sentences.

  • L’homme qui travaille ici. -> qui is the relative pronoun and l’homme is the antecedent.
    The man who works here. -> who is the relative pronoun and man is the antecedent.
  • La femme que j’ai aidée.  -> que is the relative pronoun and la femme is the antecedent.
    The woman whom I helped. -> whom is the relative pronoun and woman is the antecedent.
  • La voiture que je conduis. -> que is the relative pronoun and voiture is the antecedent.
    The car that I drive. -> that is the relative pronoun and car is the antecedent.

In French, both qui and que can refer to both people and things when used as relative pronouns. A key underlying rule here is that qui precedes verbs and que precedes nouns and personal pronouns.

Examples where qui is the relative pronoun

Qui is used when the relative pronoun is the subject of the dependent clause. In other words, qui follows the antecedent and is the subject of the action of the later part of the sentences.

  • La femme qui travaille pour Pierre s’appelle Marie. The woman who works for Pierre is named Marie. 
  • Nous regardons le film qui commence à 17h00. We’re watching the movie which/that starts at 5pm.

Things to notice:

  • In the first sentence la femme is the subject of verb travaille -> La femme travaille. Hence. la femme qui travaille. The woman who works. In the second sentence: Le film commence. Hence, le film qui commence. The movie which starts.
  • In these sentences qui means both who, that and which.
  • In both sentences qui is the subject of the action of the dependent or latter part of the sentence. Qui is doing the action.
  • In both instances it’s qui + verb. This is our key underlying rule.

Examples where que is the relative pronoun

When the relative pronoun que is used, que is the object of the verb and not the subject. In the passé composé, the past participle must agree in gender and number with the antecedent. In the examples below you’ll see that it’s always que + noun.

  • Le film que j’ai regardé est fascinant. The movie that/which I watched is fascinating.
  • La voiture que je conduis est rapide. That car that/which I’m driving is fast. 
  • La pizza que j’ai mangée a été délicieuse. The pizza that I at was delicious.
  • La femme que je connais est sympathique. The lady who I know is nice.
  • La maison que j’ai achetée est belle. The house which/that I bought is beautiful. 

Things to notice:

  • In all of these sentences the antecedent is the object of the verb. J’ai regardé le film, Je conduis la voiture, j’ai mangé la pizza and Je connais la femme. Hence, use que.
  • Our underlying rule is que + noun. This applies also to que + personal pronoun. Hence que + je or j’ai.
  • Que can mean who, whom, that or which.
  • The past participle must agree with the antecedent. Hence, la maison que j’ai achetéla pizza que j’ai mangée.
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Video Source: Learn French With Alexa (YouTube channel)

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