French Relative Pronouns QUI – QUE – OÙ – DONT

What is a relative pronoun?

Relative pronouns are words that are used to link a dependent clause to a main clause. 
A dependent clause is a group of words with a subject and a verb. It does not express a
complete thought so it isn’t a sentence and can’t stand alone. 

Master French Relative Pronouns – Included in my Bundled French Lessons

Unlike in French, relative pronouns are often optional in English.
For example, in English we can say either “the movie I saw last night” or “the movie that I saw last night”.


QUI as a question word means WHO. 
As a relative pronoun it can mean WHO or WHAT. 
QUI replaces the subject in the dependent clause.
In these examples QUI means WHO:

Je téléphone à ma mère.Elle est en Louisiane.  Je téléphone à ma mère qui est en Louisiane.
I am calling my mother.She is in Louisiana. I am calling my mother who is in Louisiana.
In these examples QUI means WHAT:

Je vais lire le livre.Il est dans mon sac. Je vais lire le livre qui est dans mon sac.
I am going to read the book.It is in my bag. I am going to read the book that is in my bag.
QUI can also replace an indirect object (a person) after a preposition:

J’appelle une amie. J’étais au lycée avec cette amie.  J’appelle une amie avec qui j’étais au lycée. 
I’m calling a friend. I was in high school with this friend.  I’m calling a friend with whom I was in high school.

It sounds kind of strange when you translate it this way to English, but you can see that it means WITH WHOM. 


QUE replaces the direct object in a dependent clause. 
Direct objects answer the questions WHO or WHAT?
Many times the relative pronoun QUE will be followed by a subject or subject pronoun. 

Je fais rôtir le poulet. Mon mari l’a acheté.  Je fais rôtir le poulet que mon mari a acheté. 
I am roasting the chicken. My husband bought it.  I am roasting the chicken that my husband bought. 
In the passé composé, QUE replaces a direct object.  You need to make agreement with the past participle in gender and number.

Je prépare les légumes. Mon mari les a achetés. Je prépare les légumes que mon mari a achetés. 
I’m preparing the vegetables. My husband bought them. I’m preparing the vegetables that my husband bought. 
Sometimes you may come across sentences that are put together a little differently:

Les bonbons que mange mon petit frère sont trop sucrés. 

This one is a little difficult to translate into English. It means “The candies that my little brother is eating are too sweet.”

You’ll notice that the verb MANGE in this sentence actually is placed before the subject, mon petit frère.  This is not a very common construction. 

As a relative pronoun, OÙ not only indicates place as its English translation would suggest, but it can also indicate time.
OÙ often means WHERE when used as a relative pronoun.

OÙ means WHERE in this sentence:
La fromagerie OÙ j’ai acheté le camembert est en ville. The cheese shop where I bought the camembert is in town. 
OÙ as a relative pronoun can also refer to time. Be careful! OÙ can be translated to mean WHEN in English. 

When referring to time we want to use the word QUAND because it means WHEN.  However, QUAND is not a relative pronoun, so you can’t use it as if it were. 
C’est le moment où…This is the time when… 

Would you have been tempted to use QUAND instead of OÙ?
Il pleuvait le jour où nous sommes arrivés. It was raining the day when we arrived. 


DONT replaces people or objects that come after DE. 
This is an example of a person preceded by DE. 

Tu vois cette dame? Je t’ai parlé de cette dame. C’est la dame dont je t’ai parlé. 

Do you see that lady? I spoke to you about that lady. That’s the lady I talked to you about. – That’s the lady of whom I spoke. 
The trickiest part about using DONT isn’t understanding the rules, but  knowing which verbs and expressions are followed by DE. 

J’ai besoin d’un couteau. Le couteau est sur la table. Le couteau dont j’ai besoin est sur la table. 
I need a knife.The knife is on the table.The knife that I need is on the table.

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