Relative Pronouns

A relative pronoun (“who,” “which,” or “that”) joins a main clause to a dependent clause. This pronoun introduces the dependent clause that describes someone or something mentioned in the main clause. The person or thing the pronoun refers to is called the antecedent. A relative clause may serve as a subject, a direct object, or an object of a preposition.

Qui (subject) and que (direct object)

Qui (“who,” “which,” “that”) is the subject of a relative clause (which means that it will be followed by a verb in the dependent clause). Qui may refer to people, things, or places and follows the format antecedent + subject + verb: C'est la femme qui a gagné. (She's the woman who won.)

The verb of a relative clause introduced by qui is conjugated to agree with its antecedent: C'est moi qui choisis les bons cafés. (I am the one who chooses the good cafés.)

Que (“whom,” “which,” or “that”) is the direct object of a relative clause (which means that it will be followed by a noun or pronoun). Although frequently omitted in English, the relative pronoun is always expressed in French. Que may refer to people or things and follows the format antecedent + direct object + pronoun: C'est l'homme que j' adore. (He's the man [that] I love.)

Qui and lequel (objects of a preposition)

Qui (meaning “whom”) is used as the object of a preposition referring to a person.

  • Anne est la femme avec qui je travaille. (Anne is the woman with whom I am working.)

Lequel, laquelle, lesquels, lesquelles (“which” or “whom”) are used as the object of a preposition referring primarily to things. The form of lequel must agree with the antecedent. Select the proper form of lequel after consulting Table 1, for example, Voilà la piscine dans laquelle je nage. (There is the pool in which I swim.)

 

Lequel and its forms contract with the prepositions à and de, as shown in Table 2:

Some examples include the following:

  • Ce sont les hommes auxquels elle pense. (Those are the men she is thinking about.)
  • C'est la classe de laquelle je parlais. (That's the class I was talking about.)

Ce qui and ce que

The relative pronouns ce qui and ce que are used when no antecedent noun or pronoun is present:

  • Ce quimeans “what” or “that which” and is the subject of a verb: Je me demande ce qui se passe. (I wonder what is happening.)
  • Ce que means “what” (that which) and is the object of a verb: Tu sais ce que ça veut dire. (You know what that means.)