Relative pronouns – qui, que
A relative clause is a type of subordinate clause that gives information about a
preceding noun. It is linked to the main clause by means of a relative pronoun
(e.g. in English who, that or which, or in French qui, que or dont). Take, for
example, the following sentence:
The man who works in the garage is competent.
In this sentence, who is the relative pronoun and works in the garage is the
Qui acts as the subject of a relative clause:
Janine, qui étudie, doit passer un examen.
Donnez-moi le livre qui est sur le bureau.
Note that qui is used for both people and things unlike English which has two
equivalents: one for people – who – and two for things – which and that.
Qui never contracts to qu’.
For example, you cannot say *Le livre qu’est sur le bureau.
Que acts as the direct object of a relative clause:
L’homme, que tu attendais, a téléphoné.
Le vase que je viens d’acheter est sur la table
As with qui, que is used for both people and things. English also has two
equivalents, one for people – whom – and two for things – which and that.
Que contracts to qu’ before a vowel:
Elle, qu’on n’a pas vu depuis dix ans, vient demain.
While these can be omitted in English, que is never omitted in French:
Heureusement le vase qu’il a cassé n’avait pas de valeur
Luckily the vase he broke wasn’t valuable
Where que is used with a compound tense like the perfect, the participle will agree
with the noun to which que is referring. This is because the que is a preceding
direct object :
La femme que nous avons rencontrée est notre voisine
Les questions que le journaliste a posées étaient difficiles
Pour aller plus loin :