Relative Pronouns

A relative pronoun is a pronoun that relates back to something else already mentioned. This sounds a little like all pronouns, except that relative pronouns relate back to something already mentioned within the sentence. Other pronouns are normally used when nouns have been mentioned within the conversation, but not necessarily that sentence.

In English, we encounter relative pronouns all the time, in the form of “that,” “who,” “whom,” “what,” and “which.” In French, relative pronouns operate differently. Instead of having many separate words, the same ones are used, with the meanings depending on the construction of the sentence.

Relative pronouns are normally used to introduce another thought or idea into the sentence. Consider the following English sentence: “The boy who lives in the red house is my friend.” If you strip this sentence to the bare essentials, it boils down to “the boy is my friend.” The “who lives in the red house” is included as explanation, expanding the meaning of the sentence and clarifying (in this case) the subject. This part of the sentence is known as a subordinate clause; the word in the sentence that it modifies (“boy”) is known as the antecedent.

The subordinate clause is not necessarily integral to the essential meaning of the sentence; it is a separate idea included for more information. When you encounter such sentences, isolate the phrase that can be stripped out: This is your subordinate clause. To translate it into French, you must use the correct French relative pronoun, which may not be obvious from the construction of the English sentence.

Relative pronouns in English are often omitted, so you may have to do a bit of detective work in breaking down the sentence in order to translate it. English is notorious for dropping the word “that” from the sentence, but the presence of its equivalent is a necessity in French.

There are five distinct relative pronouns in French: que, qui, lequel, dont, and . The appropriate English translation is based on how the relative pronoun is used in the subordinate clause, depending on whether it is being used as the subject or the object of the clause. This section outlines the combinations that can occur.

Relative Pronoun as the Subject of the Clause

When the relative pronoun is used as the subject of the clause, the pronoun qui is used in French to represent both people and things. An easy way to find out whether the English relative pronoun is the subject of the clause is to see if the clause already has a subject and verb inside it. If it does not, qui is used as the subject of the clause, with the verb and the rest of the clause immediately following it. The entire clause is then placed after the noun it modifies in the sentence.

<tgroup cols="2"> <colspec colname="col1" colnum="1" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <colspec colname="col2" colnum="2" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <tbody> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>C'est l'homme qui m'a fait un cadeau</emphasis>.</p></td> <td><p>He is the man who gave me a present.</p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>Une femme qui avait été ma voisine m'a rendu visite</emphasis>.</p></td> <td><p>A woman who used to be my neighbor came to visit me.</p></td> </tr> </tbody> </tgroup> </table> <h2>Relative Pronoun as the Object of the Clause</h2> <p>If the subordinate clause has a subject already, there's a good chance that the relative pronoun is going to appear as the object. In this case, use the pronoun <emphasis>que</emphasis>. You can also check the clause by seeing whether the person represented by the pronoun is performing the action or receiving it. If the person represented by the pronoun is performing the action, the pronoun <emphasis>qui</emphasis> is the subject of the clause. receiving the action puts the relative pronoun <emphasis>que</emphasis> into the object class:</p> <table frame="none" width="100%"> <title/> <tgroup cols="2"> <colspec colname="col1" colnum="1" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <colspec colname="col2" colnum="2" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <tbody> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>La jeune fille que j'ai rencontrée à Paris m'a rendu visite</emphasis>.</p></td> <td><p>The young lady whom I met in Paris visited me.</p></td> </tr> </tbody> </tgroup> </table> <h2>Relative Pronouns as the Object of a Preposition</h2> <p>When the relative pronoun is used as the object of a preposition, a number of things can occur. If the relative pronoun is being used to represent a person, <emphasis>qui</emphasis> or <emphasis>lequel/laquelle</emphasis> is the correct form to place after the preposition, which retains its normal place in the sentence.</p> <table frame="none" width="100%"> <title/> <tgroup cols="2"> <colspec colname="col1" colnum="1" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <colspec colname="col2" colnum="2" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <tbody> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>C'est le copain avec qui j'ai travaillé</emphasis>.</p></td> <td><p>He is the friend with whom I worked.</p></td> </tr> </tbody> </tgroup> </table> <p>Note the pronoun <emphasis>lequel</emphasis> is simply a combination of a definite article and the word <emphasis>quel</emphasis>. When put together, they mean “which” or “that.”</p> <p><B>Table 9-8</B></p> <table frame="none" width="100%"> <h2>The Relative Pronoun Lequel</h2> <tgroup cols="3"> <colspec colname="col1" colnum="1" colwidth="40%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <colspec colname="col2" colnum="2" colwidth="30%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <colspec colname="col3" colnum="3" colwidth="30%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <tbody> <tr> <td><p><B>Gender</B></p></td> <td><p><B>Singular</B></p></td> <td><p><B>Plural</B></p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>Masculine</p></td> <td><p><emphasis>lequel</emphasis></p></td> <td><p><emphasis>lesquels</emphasis></p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>Feminine</p></td> <td><p><emphasis>laquelle</emphasis></p></td> <td><p><emphasis>lesquelles</emphasis></p></td> </tr> </tbody> </tgroup> </table> <p>The pronoun <emphasis>lequel/laquelle</emphasis> is always used when a relative pronoun represents a thing. Here's an example:</p> <table frame="none" width="100%"> <title/> <tgroup cols="2"> <colspec colname="col1" colnum="1" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <colspec colname="col2" colnum="2" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <tbody> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>C'est la chemise pour laquelle</emphasis></p></td> <td><p>It's the shirt for which I spent a</p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>j'ai dépensé beaucoup d'argent</emphasis>.</p></td> <td><p>lot of money.</p></td> </tr> </tbody> </tgroup> </table> <p>If the pronoun <emphasis>lequel</emphasis> is being used after the preposition à, the following contractions occur, following the same rules used for the contraction of the preposition <emphasis>à</emphasis> and the definite article.</p> <p><B>Table 9-9</B></p> <table frame="none" width="100%"> <h2>Contractions of Lequel with À</h2> <tgroup cols="3"> <colspec colname="col1" colnum="1" colwidth="40%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <colspec colname="col2" colnum="2" colwidth="30%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <colspec colname="col3" colnum="3" colwidth="30%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <tbody> <tr> <td><p><B>Gender</B></p></td> <td><p><B>Singular</B></p></td> <td><p><B>Plural</B></p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>Masculine</p></td> <td><p><emphasis>auquel</emphasis></p></td> <td><p><emphasis>auxquels</emphasis></p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>Feminine</p></td> <td><p><emphasis>à laquelle</emphasis></p></td> <td><p><emphasis>auxquelles</emphasis></p></td> </tr> </tbody> </tgroup> </table> <p>Consider this example:</p> <table frame="none" width="100%"> <title/> <tgroup cols="2"> <colspec colname="col1" colnum="1" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <colspec colname="col2" colnum="2" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <tbody> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>Céline est la fille à laquelle j'ai donné mon cahier</emphasis>.</p></td> <td><p>Céline is the girl to whom I gave my notebook.</p></td> </tr> </tbody> </tgroup> </table> <h2>Dont</h2> <p>The preposition <emphasis>de</emphasis> is replaced by <emphasis>dont</emphasis> when used with relative pronouns that represent things. This looks very much like the English word “don't,” but it is not a negative word. It can mean “that” or “which,” depending on how it is used in the sentence; because it replaces all forms, it can also mean “who” or “whom.” Check out these examples:</p> <table frame="none" width="100%"> <title/> <tgroup cols="2"> <colspec colname="col1" colnum="1" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <colspec colname="col2" colnum="2" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <tbody> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>Je n'ai pas vu l'homme dont tu parlais</emphasis>.</p></td> <td><p>I did not see the man you were speaking of.</p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>Donnez-moi le livre dont j'ai besoin</emphasis>.</p></td> <td><p>Give me the book that I need; give me the book I need.</p></td> </tr> </tbody> </tgroup> </table> <h2>Relative Pronouns Without an Antecedent</h2> <p>Sometimes you may want to use a relative pronoun when there is nothing for it to relate back to. When this occurs, simply insert the demonstrative adjective <emphasis>ce</emphasis> before the relative pronoun. It is the English equivalent of “that which,” which basically just provides a word for the relative pronoun to relate to so it isn't lost on its own,</p> <table frame="none" width="100%"> <title/> <tgroup cols="2"> <colspec colname="col1" colnum="1" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <colspec colname="col2" colnum="2" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <tbody> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>Achetez ce dont vous avez besoin</emphasis>.</p></td> <td><p>Buy what you need.</p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>Ce dont il a peur reste mystérieux</emphasis>.</p></td> <td><p>What he fears is a mystery.</p></td> </tr> </tbody> </tgroup> </table> <h2>The Relative Pronoun Où</h2> <p>Whenever the antecedent involves time, the relative pronoun <emphasis>où</emphasis> must be used. It will most often be translated as “when.”</p> <table frame="none" width="100%"> <title/> <tgroup cols="2"> <colspec colname="col1" colnum="1" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <colspec colname="col2" colnum="2" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <tbody> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>Je me rappelle du jour</emphasis></p></td> <td><p>I remember the day when I met him;</p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>où je l'ai rencontré</emphasis>.</p></td> <td><p>I remember the day I met him.</p></td> </tr> </tbody> </tgroup> </table> <div class="npsb"> <h2></h2> <p>The relative pronoun où looks a lot like the conjunction ou, which means “or.” Don't confuse the two. In written French, the accent must appear over the <emphasis>u</emphasis> when the word is used as a relative pronoun, because they are two different and distinct words. In spoken French, you cannot hear any difference in the pronunciation.</p> </div> <p>If the relative pronoun represents a location and is being used with a preposition, the relative pronoun <emphasis>où</emphasis> replaces the preposition. In English, this can be translated a number of ways; “in which,” “where,” “at which,” and “from which” are examples. If the antecedent is a place where something else occurs, you'll want to use the pronoun <emphasis>où</emphasis>:</p> <table frame="none" width="100%"> <title/> <tgroup cols="2"> <colspec colname="col1" colnum="1" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <colspec colname="col2" colnum="2" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <tbody> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>J'ai vu le magasin où tu as acheté ces livres</emphasis>.</p></td> <td><p>I saw the store at which you bought these books.</p></td> </tr> </tbody> </tgroup> </table> <p>Just because the antecedent is a location, however, doesn't always mean that the relative pronoun <emphasis>où</emphasis> will be used. When there is no preposition in front of the relative pronoun, you must use the regular <emphasis>que</emphasis> or <emphasis>qui</emphasis> form, depending on whether it represents the direct object or indirect object of the subordinate clause.</p> <h2>Reported Speech</h2> <p>Sometimes you want to construct a sentence in which you say what someone else said, but without quoting that person directly. This is known as reported speech; you're simply recounting the events rather than using the words that were actually spoken. In English, we do this using the word “that”: “He said that he was going to the store.”</p> <p>In French, speech is reported using the relative pronoun <emphasis>que</emphasis>. Simply begin the sentence with something that introduces the phrase, like <emphasis>il m'a dit</emphasis> for “he told me,” and continue with your sentence.</p> <table frame="none" width="100%"> <title/> <tgroup cols="2"> <colspec colname="col1" colnum="1" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <colspec colname="col2" colnum="2" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <tbody> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>Il dit que je suis leur copain</emphasis>.</p></td> <td><p>He says that I am their friend.</p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p><emphasis>Elle m'a dit que le film commençait à deux heures</emphasis>.</p></td> <td><p>She told me that the film starts at two o'clock.</p></td> </tr> </tbody> </tgroup> </table> <h2>Pronouncing Demonstrative and Relative Pronouns</h2> <p>In these sections, you learned about demonstrative and relative pronouns. Listen to the CD for the pronunciation.</p> <div class="npmo"> <img src="http://0.tqn.com/d/np/french/track.jpg"> <div class="npcp"><p><B>TRACK 46</B></p></div> </div> <p><emphasis>Veux-tu ce livre-ci ou ce livre-là?</emphasis></p> <p><emphasis>C'est l'homme qui m'a fait un cadeau</emphasis>.</p> <p><emphasis>Une femme qui avait été ma voisine m'a rendu visite</emphasis>.</p> <p><emphasis>La jeune fille que j'ai rencontrée à Paris m'a rendu visite</emphasis>.</p> <p><emphasis>C'est la chemise pour laquelle j'ai dépensé beaucoup d'argent</emphasis>.</p> <p><emphasis>Céline est la fille à laquelle j'ai donné mon cahier</emphasis>.</p> <p><emphasis>Donnez-moi le livre dont j'ai besoin</emphasis>.</p> <p><emphasis>Je me rappelle du jour où je l'ai rencontré</emphasis>.</p> <!--/gc--> <div id="pagination"><ul><li class="prev"><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/french/objects-prepositions-and-pronouns/demonstrative-pronouns.htm" title="Demonstrative Pronouns">Demonstrative Pronouns</a></li><li class="next"><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/french/objects-prepositions-and-pronouns/activit-9.htm" title="Activité 9">Activité 9</a> </li></ul></div></div> <div id="coda"> <div id="rel"><div class="n5">Related Articles</div><ul> <li><a href="http://www.netplaces.com/french/objects-prepositions-and-pronouns/relative-pronouns.htm" zT="18/1YL/Zn"> Relative Pronouns - French </a></li> <li><a href="http://french.about.com/od/grammar/a/relativepronouns.htm" zT="18/1YL/Zn"> French Relative Pronouns - Qui Que Dont Où Lequel </a></li> <li><a href="http://esl.about.com/od/grammarstructures/a/g_rclauses.htm" zT="18/1YL/Zn"> Using Relative Clauses for ESL - Relative Clause Usage </a></li> <li><a href="http://esl.about.com/od/grammaradvanced/a/relative_clause.htm" zT="18/1YL/Zn"> How To Use A Relative Clause - English Relative Clause Usage </a></li> <li><a href="http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/wmbaskervill/bl-wmbaskervill-grammar-parts-pronouns.htm" zT="18/1YL/Zn"> Pronouns - An English Grammar - W. 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