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Qui and Que - French Relative Pronouns

Pronoms relatifs

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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 acheté le livre. Ma sœur l'a écrit.
   > J'ai acheté le livre que ma sœur a écrit.

   I bought the book (that) my sister wrote.

   Où habite le peintre ? Je l'ai vu aujourd'hui.
   > Où 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 étudie à Paris.
   > Je cherche l'artiste qui étudie à 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 à qui j'ai parlé est très sympathique.
   The girl to whom I spoke is very nice. (The girl [that] / [whom] I spoke to...)

   L'étudiant 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.


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