Please do the exercises if you are already familiar with the grammar.
Choosing between relative pronouns usually includes identifying the subject and the object.
Students are often confused by this concept.
Let us therefore focus on an easier method that actually works. I have used this method since I began studying French. And trust me, it works 😊.
Before beginning, we need to define a very important rule.
- Please get rid of the concept that “qui” only can refer to people as in the English translation “who”.
Now let us begin.
The method I am talking about includes identifying who or what is doing something after we insert “qui” or qui”.
- We will use “que” if someone else is doing something after we insert “qui” or “que”.
This is easier to understand with examples. I have therefore prepared many examples for you😊:
- C’est le livre (..?) je viens d’acheter – It is the book that I just bought.
So who is doing something after we add “qui” or “que?” It is not the book. The action changes to myself, it is I who has bought the book. We will therefore use “que.”
Let us look at another example:
- Je vais trouver un livre (..?) ma mère veut lire – I am going to find a book that my mum wants to read.
Here is an example that begins with me finding a book. It is, however, a book that my mum wants to read. We will therefore use “que.”
Here is another interesting sentence:
- C’est la maison (…?) nous avons vue – It is the house that we saw.
Who is doing something? It is “nous/we”. We will therefore insert “que.”
Are you starting to get the hang of it?
Let us go through two more examples.
- J’aime bien la voiture (..?) vous avez acheté – I like the car that you have bought.
Who has bought the car? It is you, we will therefore insert “que:”
- Elle veut acheter une jupe (..?) les autres aiment – She wants to buy a skirt that the others like.
This is yet another example of a person who starts by doing something. After we insert the relative pronoun, the action changes. It is the others who will do something. We will therefore use “que”.
So, you only need to identify who or what is doing something after we insert the relative pronoun. This is a method that works in writing as well in speech.
Let us continue with “qui.” The concept is the same, we just need to change the rules a bit.
- We will use “qui” If the object or the person is doing something after we insert “qui” or “que”.
- We will also use “qui” if we describe characteristics that belong to the person or the object.
This is easier to explain with examples:
- C’est mon frère (…?) va m’aider – It is my brother that will help me.
Who will help me? It is my brother that will help me. He will do something. We will therefore use “qui.”
- Les gens (…?) ont faim souffriront toujours – The people who are hungry will always suffer.
Who or what is hungry? In this sentence, it is the people who are hungry. We will therefore use “qui.”
- Il a trouvé un ami (..?) organisera la fête – He has found a friend that will organize the party.
Who will do something after we insert our pronoun? It is his friend, so we will use “qui.”
Starting to get the hang of it?
Let us continue with some objects:
- Là, c’est le livre (…?) est trés intéressant – There is the book that is interesting.
Who or what is doing something after we insert “qui” or “qui?” It is the book that is interesting. We will therefore insert “qui.”
Let us look at another example.
- Je veux acheter une voiture (….?) est rouge et rapide – I want to buy a car that is red and fast.
In this example, the car is not necessarily doing something. But we are describing characteristics that belong to the object. And we can conclude that it is not someone else that is doing something. It is still the car that is being described.
We will therefore use “qui.”
Let us look at another sentence:
- Je cherche l’homme (…?) porte un manteau bleu – I am looking for the man who is wearing a blue coat.
This is yet another example of describing someone else, and we can conclude that we are describing characteristics that belong to another person than the one starting the sentence.
We will therefore use “qui.”
So, why is “dont” not included in the exercises?
It is not pivotal for understanding the difference between the most common relative pronouns.
“Dont” follows a different pattern that can’t be facilitated with the method I presented earlier.
“Dont” can and should be used in relation to verbs that are constructed with “de.”
Let us look at an example:
- C’est le livre dont tu as parlé – It is the book that you talked about.
In this sentence, we should have used “que” from what we learned earlier. However, the verb “parler” is constructed with “de.” We will therefore use “dont.”
Here is another example with “avoir besoin de”, which means “to be in need of.” This verb is also constructed with “de”:
- J’ai trouve la veste dont tu avais besoin – I found the jacket that you needed.
Here are some other verbs that are constructed with “de”:
- s’arrêter de → To stop
- se souvenir de → To remember
- avoir oublier de → To forget
You should not put too much effort into learning them one by one. The focus should be on learning the difference between “que” and “qui.”
However, there are more areas of application for “dont.” It can be used to say “whose.” Let us look at a couple of sentences.
- Je connais la fille dont le père est docteur – I know the girl whose father is doctor.
- Elle a rencontré un homme dont la mère vient des États-Unis – She has met a man whose father is from the United States.
“With” can be another translation of “dont”. This area of application is not super important as you could also use “avec” and get your point across. However, this translation can be important to know in order to understanding the French language.
- J’ai trouvé le magasin dont la fenêtre est blue foncé – I found the store with a dark blue window.
- Elle a vu l’homme dont la barbe est rogue – She saw the man with a pink beard.
Relative pronouns are very important. They will help you to form sentences and to express yourself in French.
In this article, we have talked about the important difference between “qui” and “que.” Understanding these two relative pronouns will definitely help you on your way to become conversational.
You have probably already found yourself in a position where you cannot continue a sentence. Let us therefore cover one more relative pronoun that will help you.
It is spelled differently depending on its meaning.
Let us begin with the translation “when.” In this case we will use the spelling “où”:
- C’est le jour où mon frère est arrivé – It is the day when my brother arrived.
- J’aime les saisons où il fait beau – I like the seasons when the weather is good.
“Où” can also be translated to “where”:
- Où se trouve mon téléphone? – Where is my telephone?
- Il est né où? – Where is he born?
- D’où viens-tu? Where are you from?
Finally, when it is spelled “ou” it is not a relative pronoun. The translation in this case is simply “or”.
- Tu veux manger au restaurant ou à la maison? – Do you want to eat at the restaurant or at home?
I hope this article has been informative and easy to read. I always try to create easy examples without losing focus on the concept.
Explaining relative pronouns and their areas of application has been the purpose of this article, and you have probably noticed by now that they are important keys for speaking French.
Many students find them useful early on in their language studies. A common misconception is that “qui” always focuses on people. I have explained why this is not the case in this article.
However, if you only refer to a person, you need to use “qui.” I think this is the reason for this misconception.
This has not been relevant in this article as we have focused on connecting words in different phrases.
You are more than welcome to leave a comment if you have any questions. I enjoy responding to comments as it helps me to understand the grammar from different perspectives.