As you learn French and improve your language skills, you will start making more complex sentences. You will need to link two or more clauses to provide more information or express a more complex idea. This is where THE RELATIVE PRONOUNS become useful to you French learners. In this lesson, we are going to learn what a RELATIVE PRONOUN is and what it accomplishes in the French language.
What are the French RELATIVE PRONOUNS ?
|LES PRONOMS RELATIFS (The relative pronouns)|
|who, which, that, whom||whom, what, that, which||when, where, which, that||of which, from which, that, whose||what, that, which|
Note: In the first part of this lesson, I will focus only on QUI, QUE, and OÙ.
What is their functions in a sentence?
- RELATIVE PRONOUNS attach a main clause to a dependent clause (also called subordinate or relative clause). Ex: Je regarde la fille qui porte un chemisier blanc. (I look at the girl who is wearing a white blouse.) Here, the main clause is: “Je regarde la fille” and the subordinate/relative clause is “…qui porte un chemisier blanc.” We call it a “main clause” because it is self-sufficient in meaning (“I look at the girl” ) and can be understood without any external clause. On the other hand, “…(who) is wearing a white blouse” is not self-sufficient. It needs a main clause to get full value or meaning.
- RELATIVE PRONOUNS also provide more information about the main clause. In the above sentence , the words that follow qui (porte un chemisier blanc) provide more details about the girl I’m looking at.
When to use QUI as a relative pronoun?
QUI replaces the subject in the main clause (that’s why it’s called a PRONOUN). Use QUI when the noun that precedes the relative pronoun – (this noun is called the ANTECEDENT) - is the subject of the verb used in the dependent clause. In other words, the antecedent of the main clause does the action in the dependent clause. When QUI is used, a verb follows directly the relative pronoun (RELATIVE PRONOUN + VERB –> QUI).
Examples: (Pay attention to the antecedents below in each example and notice how they are the subjects of the verbs in the dependent clause; they do the actions in the dependent clauses. Notice also how QUI is followed directly by a verb.)
- Le garçon qui vient s’appelle Rémi. (The boy who is coming is called Rémi.) –> “Le garçon” (The boy) is the antecedent in the main clause AND it is the subject of the verb “vient” (is coming) in the dependent clause. The verb “vient” follows directly the relative pronoun.
- C’est le chien qui a mangé mon bonbon. (This is the dog that has eaten my candy.) –> “le chien” (the dog) is the antecedent in the main clause AND it is the subject of the verb “a mangé” (has eaten) in the dependent clause. This verb follows directly the relative pronoun.
- J’ai rencontré l’acteur qui joue dans ce film. (I met the actor who plays in this movie). –> The antecedent “l’acteur” (the actor) is also the subject of the verb “joue” (plays) in the dependent clause.
When to use QUE as a relative pronoun?
QUE replaces the direct object of the main clause. Use QUE when the antecedent in the main clause is the direct object of the verb used in the dependent clause. In other words, the antecedent here is undergoing the action of the verb in the dependent clause, NOT doing the action. When QUE is used, a subject + verb will directly follow it (RELATIVE PRONOUN + SUBJECT + VERB –> QUE).
Examples: (Notice how the antecedents in each example below are the direct objects of the verbs in the dependent clause. Again, the antecedent is the noun that precedes directly the relative pronoun).
- La voiture que tu conduis est belle. (The car that you drive is nice.) –> The antecedent “La voiture” (The car) is the direct object of the verb “conduis” (drive) – “you drive what?”–> “the car” (direct object of verb drive). Also notice how with QUE a subject follows directly the relative pronoun. With QUI, (see previous examples), a verb was directly following the relative pronoun, NOT a subject.)
- Voici l’étudiant que j’enseigne. (Here is the student whom I teach.) –> The antecedent “l’étudiant” (the student) is the direct object of the verb “enseigne” (teach). I teach who? –> “the student” (direct object of verb teach.) The subject j’ (je) follows directly the relative pronoun.
- J’ai lu le livre que tu as suggéré. (I have read the book which you suggested). –> The antecedent “le livre” (the book) is the direct object of the verb “ai lu” (have read). I have read what? –> “the book” (direct object of verb have read.) The subject tu follows directly the relative pronoun.
When to use OÙ as a relative pronoun?
As an interrogative pronoun, OÙ means “where“. First, OÙ is a pronoun which replaces a noun indicating a place. Use it when the antecedent of your main clause indicates a place. But beyond its original meaning, OÙ has an additional meaning. As a relative pronoun, OÙ also serves to indicate a point in time something happens (as a time indicator). The following examples will give you the various uses of OÙ in both cases.
Examples: (Notice how the antecedents in the examples below serve to indicate either a place or a time when something occurred.)
- Le magasin où elle travaille s’appelle Chanel. (The shop where she works is called Chanel. ) –>”Le magasin” (The shop) is here the antecedent and it indicates a place.
- Minneapolis est la ville où nous habitons depuis 3 ans. (Minneapolis is the city where we have lived for 3 years). –>”la ville” (the city) is here the antecedent of the main clause and it evokes the notion of place.
- 2009 est l’année où je me suis marié. (2009 is the year (that) I got married). –> “l’année” (the year) is the antecedent and it indicates a moment in time when an event occurred. Caution! As this example shows, do not always assume that QUAND (when) is used to evoke the moment something happened. The relative pronoun où can also play this role.
- Jeudi, c’est le jour où nous passerons notre examen. (Thursday is the day (that) we will take our exam.) –>Here, too, “le jour – mercredi” (the day – Wednesday) indicates the moment when an action is going to happen.
AVOID THE CONFUSION: Read carefully this sentence: (The school which I attend is big). Obviously, the antecedent in this sentence (The school) is a name evoking a place. But should we use OÙ as a relative pronoun here or QUE ? If you say QUE, you are correct. (Translation: L’école que je fréquente est grande.) –I attend what? The school (direct object of the verb “fréquente” (attend)) – use QUE as a relative pronoun.