Relative Pronouns in Spanish
Relative pronouns are used to refer back to something, usually a noun, that was talked about previously. The noun, pronoun, or phrase to which the relative pronoun refers is called an antecedent. Relative pronouns are often used to connect two short sentences.
|Individual Sentences||Sentence with Relative Pronoun|
|Juan lent you a book. The book is mine.||Juan lent you a book that is mine.|
|The house has a red roof. The house is over there.||The house that has a red roof is over there.|
Que and Quien
Que and quien are two relative pronouns that you'll use a lot.
- Que can refer to a person, place, or thing and mean that, which, who, or whom.
- Quien can only refer to a person and means who or whom.
- Quien must match its antecedent (the who it refers to) in number. if the antecedent to which it refers is singular, you use quien; if it is plural, you use quienes.
Note that the relative pronouns que and quien are spelled the same as the interrogative words qué and quién, minus the accent over the e.
Que vs. Quien
In general, relative pronouns are used according to their length and the distance between them and their antecedent. The farther the relative pronoun is from the antecedent, the longer the relative pronoun is (the more letters it has).
Que, being the shortest relative pronoun, is used when the relative pronoun comes immediately after the antecedent. Nothing separates the relative pronoun from the antecedent, not even a comma.
As you can see in the examples above, relative pronouns are often optional in English. This is not the case in Spanish!
Que can also be used after a very short separation from the antecedent when referring to places or things. However, if the relative pronoun follows a preposition and refers to a person, you must use quien.
Que is not used after the prepositions sin, por, or para because such combinations could be confused with the adverbial conjunctions sin que, porque, and para que.
Quien (and its plural form quienes) is used when the antecedent refers to a person and there is also a short distance between the antecedent and relative pronoun (usually a comma or a one or two syllable preposition). It's also used after certain prepositions, like para and con.
Quien is not used when the relative pronoun immediate follows the antecedent, even if it refers to a person. Que is used instead.
El que and El cual
El que and el cual (and their other forms) are not very common in speech, but are much more so in written Spanish. They each have four forms that much with the antecedent in number and gender.
El que and its other forms (la que, los que, las que) must agree in gender and number with the noun they modify. El que is generally used when there is more distance between the antecedent and the relative pronoun, such as a comma or a one-word preposition. It can be used with the prepositions sin, por, and para instead of just plain que to help avoid confusion with sin que, porque, and para que.
El cual and its accompanying forms (la cual, los cuales, las cuales) also must match the antecedent they refer to in number and gender. They're used when there is the more distance between the antecedent and the relative pronoun, such as when a compound preposition is used.