French Relative Pronouns - Pronoms Relatifs

French Relative Pronouns are called Pronoms Relatifs. « Pronoms relatifs » help in combining two sentences when both of them speak about a common element. « Pronoms Relatifs » help in avoiding unnecessary repetitions while communicating by linking a dependent clause to the main clause.

There are four relative pronouns in French. They are - Qui, Que, Dont and Où

Let us see what each of them mean and how they are used in a sentence.

QUI

« Qui » replaces the subject in the dependant clause which generally represents persons or things. « Qui » can be roughly translated as "who", "which", "whom" or "that" in English. Let us glance through some examples with the relative pronoun « qui ».

Je connais une femme qui enseigne l'allemand. :: I know a woman who teaches German.

Il a remplacé son portable qui ne marche pas. :: He has replaced his cell phone that
doesn't work.

Let us take a look at each example individually.

Je connais une femme qui enseigne l'allemand.

This sentence can be divided into two parts.

1. Je connais une femme.     2. La femme enseigne l'allemand.

Now instead of speaking of the same woman in two different sentences; one single sentence can be formed by using the French Relative Pronoun « qui ».

Il a remplacé son portable qui ne marche pas.

Again this sentence can be broken in two parts.

1. Il a remplacé son portable.   2. Il (le portable) ne marche pas.

Even in this case, we form a single sentence using the French Relative Pronoun « qui ».

As you may have observed in the above examples, we talk about a common factor that is prevalent in both the parts of the sentence. That common factor is essentially the subject in the subordinate clause.

« Que » replaces the direct object in a subordinate clause. « Que » will again generally replace a person or a thing. It can be roughly translated as "whom", "which", "what" or "that". Let us explain this concept to you with the help of examples.

J'ai beaucoup aimé le livre que vous m'avez donné :: I loved the book that you gave me.
Marcie parle à la fille que tu ne peux pas supporter. :: Marcie is talking to the girl whom you cannot tolerate.

Let us again divide these examples in two parts each.

J'ai beaucoup aimé le livre que vous m'avez donné.

1. J'ai beaucoup aimé le livre. 2. Vous m'avez donné ce livre.

Marcie parle à la fille que tu ne peux pas supporter.

1. Marcie parle à la fille. 2. Tu ne peux pas supporter cette fille.

As you can see, « que » is essentially used to replace the direct object in the subordinate clause in the above sentences.

« Que » turns to « qu' » when it precedes a word commencing with a vowel.

* Since in English the relative pronouns are almost the same for « qui » and « que », French learners often are confused between these two relative pronouns. Initially if you have a problem while using these two, try to break the sentence in two parts; recognize the subordinate clause and then observe if you are replacing the subject or the direct object in the clause.

DONT

« Dont » is used to replace a noun, a possessive adjective or a group of words that indicate possession with the preposition "de".

J'ai une amie dont le père est dans l'armée. :: I have a friend whose father is in the Army.

C'est le restaurant dont je vous ai parlé. :: This is the restaurant which talked to you about.

We can divide the above sentences in the following way.

J'ai une amie dont le père est dans l'armée.

1. J'ai une amie. 2. Son père est dans l'armée.

C'est le restaurant dont je vous ai parlé.

1. C'est le restaurant. 2. Je vous ai parlé de ce restaurant.

In the first sentence, « dont » replaces the possessive adjective « son ». While in the second sentence, it replaces the « de ce restaurant ».

In general, « dont » means “of which/whom”, “about which/ whom”.

« Où » replaces the words related to time or place. « Où » basically represents ‘the time when' or ‘the place where'.

C'est la ville je suis né. :: This is the city where I was born.

Tu te rappelles l'incident j'ai parlé fortement dans la classe ? :: Do you remember the incident when I spoke loudly in the class?

Here are a few exercises for you to practice with the Pronoms Relatifs.