Learn how and when to use the relative pronouns in Spanish
Qué, Quién: Relative Pronouns in Spanish
Que: relative pronouns
One way to view relative pronouns is to recognize that they combine two sentences that share a common noun.
In the following examples, the common nouns are “butter” or “mantequilla”; “homework” or “tarea”
¿Dónde está la mantequilla? – Where is the butter?
Compraste mantequilla. – You bought butter.
¿Dónde está la mantequilla que compraste? – Where is the butter that you bought?
¿Dónde está la tarea? – Where is the homework?
Hiciste la tarea – You did the homework
¿Dónde está la tarea que hiciste? – Where is the homework you did?
Note: Another way to view relative pronouns is to recognize that they are used to introduce a clause that modifies a noun.
Terminé el trabajo anoche. – I finished the job last night.
Era demasiado el trabajo. – It was to much work.
El trabajo que terminé anoche era demasiado – The work I finished last night was too much
The most common relative pronoun and the one used in the previous two examples is “que”. It can be used to refer to both persons and things, in either the subject or the object position. “Que” is the Spanish equivalent of the English words: “who, whom, which, and that”.
El hombre que es pobre … (person, subject) – The man who is poor…
Los libros que son extensos … (thing, subject) – The books which are long …
La señorita que conocí … (person, object) – The young lady whom I met …
La carta que leíste … (thing, object) – The letter that you read …
Tip: The relative pronoun is often omitted in English, but it is never omitted in Spanish.
La casa que compramos es nueva. – The house (that) we bought is new.
El programa que miraba era cómico. – The show (that) I was watching was comical.
Quien: relative pronouns
Note: The relative pronoun “quien” is used only to refer to people, and has a plural form “quienes” (There is no masculine/feminine distinction)
Mi sobrina, quién es estudiante de la universidad, participará en el concurso. – My niece, who is a student at the university, will participate in the contest.
El muchacho, con quien hablaste, es mi hermano – The boy, with whom you spoke, is my brother
Quien habla mucho, hace poco – Who talks a lot, do little
Note: When the relative pronoun refers to a person and is in the direct object position, either “que” or “a quien” may be used. Notice that the personal “a” is used with “quien” but is not used with “que”.
La chica que ayudé, era muy alta – The girl whom I helped was very tall
La chica a quién ayudé, era muy alta – The girl whom I helped was very tall
Note: When the relative pronoun occurs after a preposition and refers to a person, “quien” must be used. After a preposition, “que” is only used to refer to things.
Los estudiantes, con quienes competimos, eran más inteligentes – The students, with whom we compete, were smarter
El libro en que pienso es caro, no es barato – The book that I think about is expensive, it’s not cheap
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