When you start learning a language, you say and write simple sentences and tend to repeat the same words like this:
«J’ai une soeur. Ma soeur s’appelle Coralie»
(I have a sister. My sister’s called Coralie).
Then you start using pronouns like that:
«J’ai une soeur et elle s’appelle Coralie»
(I have a sister and she’s called Coralie).
But the crème de la crème is using a relative pronoun to connect, just like the following:
«J’ai une soeur qui s’appelle Coralie»
(I have a sister who’s called Coralie).
Are you willing to upgrade your French and give it rhythm, harmony, fluidity?
You’re at the good place because, in this blog post, I’m going to show you how to do it.
Table of Contents
What are relative pronouns in French?
The topic of the blog post is relative pronouns. Let’s examine the words themselves:
«Pronoun» because we substitute something we already know (the person, object, concept, situation…).
«Relative» means there’s a relationship between 2 sentences.
Time to get visual:
Watch this video to have a short introduction about French relative pronouns and how to use QUI and QUE
Why do we use relative pronouns?
Before learning relative pronouns, we should ask ourselves why they exist. If you take 2 separate sentences with a common element, you understand it better:
«La pomme est verte. La pomme est sur la table.»
(The apple is green, The apple is on the table).
This is how we speak when we learn a language. There’s nothing wrong here.
But you want to get better, n’est-ce pas? So to do this, we don’t repeat the same word to give rhythm and harmony, and we insert a relative pronoun like this:
«La pomme qui est sur la table est verte» (The apple which is on the table is green).
Therefore relative pronouns allow us to connect 2 sentences and avoid repetition.
How many relative pronouns are there in French?
Relative pronouns fall into 2 categories: the simple and the complex.
The simple relative pronouns are the ones we use the most and are easier to manipulate.
What are they? There are 4: QUI, QUE, OÙ and DONT.
LEARN MORE ABOUT COLORS IN FRENCH: Learn colors, tones and expressions with colors in French
In the other category, the relative pronouns are complex because contrary to the simple ones, they vary according to the gender and number.
What? Oui, oui, you should know very well what you’re going to substitute:
Is it masculine or feminine? Singular or plural?
We are not going to study them in this post since we are already processing a lot of information. Do you agree?
But I don’t want to leave frustrated, so I’m giving you the complex relative pronouns here: (there are many combinations…)
THE FUN FORMULA
We talked about relative pronouns. With some formulas, you’ll be able to have the correct structure in French.
How to use the relative pronoun QUI in French.
Remember to put QUI in your sentence to connect 2 sentences with the same subject. And because they share the same subject, you don’t have any subject after QUI.
It’s a good tip for you in case you hesitate between QUI and QUE (I’m thinking of Spanish-speaking people who use the same QUE for QUI and QUE).
So if you have 2 sentences related to the same element, start with one sentence with the element, put QUI and without repeating the element, add the other sentence.
The pattern is as the following:
Sentence A: «La pomme est verte.» (The apple is green).
Sentence B: «La pomme est sur la table.» (The apple is on the table).
Sentence C: «La pomme (element) QUI est sur la table (sentence B) est verte(sentence A) »
(The apple which is on the table is green).
What’s the difference between QUI and QUE?
As you know now, the relative pronoun QUI is for subjects and QUE for objects.
In other words, in a sentences with the relative pronoun QUE, you have 2 different subjects.
If you identify the 2 subjects, you know for sure you’re going to use QUE to link them.
However when you connect them, you’ll have a subject and an object. In the following example «exercice» becomes an «object» since «tu» is your main subject in sentence C.
Sentence A: «Tu fais un exercice» (You are doing an exercise). Subject: tu.
Sentence B: «L’exercice est difficile.» (The exercise is hard). Subject: l’exercice.
Sentence C: «L’exercice (object) QUE tu (subject) fais (verb 1) est(verb 2) difficile ».
(The exercise you are doing is hard).
The formula is like this ( Simply translate into English if needed) :
The French relative pronoun OÙ for places and time.
This is something NOT natural for you if you’re an English-speaking person.
Indeed, we don’t refer to the same pronoun when speaking about a specific moment or a location.
«The office where I work is big»
>>> «Le bureau OÙ je travaille est grand».
So far, so good.
«The days when I don’t work are Mondays and Saturdays».
>>> «Les jours OÙ je ne travaille pas sont le lundi et samedi».
Whaaaaat? Oui! Oh la la… I know. Please don’t translate literally.
Simply remember the relative pronoun OÙ works for places and time.
How does DONT work in French?
When you refer to someone or something, your friend will be the relative pronoun DONT (by the way, never pronounce the «t»).
The idea goes like this:
You start talking : «La femme…» (the woman), then you refer to someone related to that person «DONT le fils étudie…» (whose son studies).
You start talking : «Les films…» (the movies), then you have a French verb with the preposition DE liker parler de «DONT tu parles…» (you’re talking about).
Here is the list of common verbs with the preposition DE:
The formula with DONT is like the following:
Note the object is the center of the attention. We talk about the person or the object.
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THE IDEA IN ENGLISH
You’re an English-speaking person? If yes, remember in French there is ALWAYS a relative pronoun. Indeed, in English, it’s optional for «who», «which» and «that».
Moreover be prepared to «embrace» the relative pronoun of OÙ for time as well.
Are you a Spanish-speaking person? You’re lucky because in your language you have «que» for the French QUI, QUE and OÙ. Therefore when speaking /writing French,as k yourself:
* Am I talking about a person or an object? (>>>> QUI)
* Is the person or object «doing» something (>>>> QUI) or is there another main subject? (>>>> QUE / QU’)
* Am I talking about a date or moment? (>>>> OÙ)
The 4 French relative pronouns and their English translations
Let’s review with visuals. Here are the variations of QUI in English:
And if you want to translate QUE or QU’ into English, you can choose from 4 different options:
The French «DONT» is a bit tricky. Think about a possessive or the verbs with the preposition «de». You have 3 ways to say it in English:
Finally the one you should remember is OÙ because, yes it’s for places but it can also be for dates!
GRAMMAR IN ACTION
Understand is great but implementing is even better. What does it look like in real life? Have a look at the following examples and be sure to create your own.
If you’re like more a visual learner like me and if you want a fun flowchart about how to conjugate your French verbs using the present tense, you’ll enjoy this freebie.
Fill in the form below and receive your flowchart directly to your email box to ask you the right questions while conjugating any French verb for the present tense.