Spanish Relative Pronouns

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  • 0:04 Relative Pronouns
  • 1:22 Forms of Relative Pronouns
  • 3:11 Que, Quien, Quienes
  • 4:33 El Que & El Cual
  • 5:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Janet Long

Janet has taught college Spanish and English courses and has master's degrees in Spanish literature and TESOL.

Using relative pronouns is an easy way to add descriptions to what you say and write. This lesson will teach you the different relative pronouns in Spanish, how to choose the correct form, and how to use each of them in a sentence.

Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns are something that you use every day. When you say, ''Give me the book that is on the table,'' you're using the relative pronoun ''that.'' Relative pronouns are found at the beginning of a group of words that provide a description or additional information about a word or an idea that comes before it in the sentence.

Spanish has four relative pronouns:

Relative Pronoun Meaning
que that, which, who, whom
quien who, whom
el que that, which, who, whom
el cual that, which, who, whom

Notice that quien can only mean ''who'' or 'whom'', so it can only be used when describing people. All of the other relative pronouns can mean ''that,'' ''which,'' ''who,'' or ''whom'' depending on the context. In a sentence, relative pronouns always come after the word they describe and before the additional information about that word, as shown in the following sample sentences:

Example Translation
El libro que está en la mesa es de Julia. The book that is on the table is Julia's.
Tu hermano fue el que me ayudó. Your brother was the one who helped me.

Forms of Relative Pronouns

Que only has one form, so you'll never need to change it. Quien is used to describe one person, and has just one other form. You use quienes to describe more than one person. For the other relative pronouns, el que and la cual, you change the form to match the gender and number of the word or idea it's describing. Here's what those forms look like:

Masculine Singular Feminine Singular Masculine Plural Feminine Plural
el que la que los que las que
el cual la cual los cuales las cuales

For example, Tu hermana fue quien me ayudó (or, ''Your sister was the one who helped me'') uses the feminine singular form of la que to match the word hermana (sister).

Here's how we pronounce the relative pronoun forms:

Relative Pronoun Pronunciation
Que kay
Quien, quienes kee-ayn, kee-ay-nays
El que, la que, los que, las que ehl kay, lah kay, lohs kay, lahs kay
El cual, la cual, los cuales, las cuales ehl kwahl, lah kwahl, lohs kwah-ehs, lahs kwahl-ehs

It can be difficult to know when you need to use each of the different possible relative pronouns, but you can divide them into two groups: que, quien, quienes and el que, el cual to remember when to use them in your sentences. Each group has different rules that you'll follow, so let's explore each group of relative pronouns.

Que, Quien, Quienes

The first group is for relative pronouns that are used immediately after the idea that they describe. This means that the relative pronoun is the next word after the noun in the sentence. There are only three words in this group: que, quien, and quienes. You use que right after the word, like in the example sentence: El libro que está en la mesa es de Julia. Here que is the relative pronoun, and it comes right after the words El libro. The words está en la mesa, which are after the word que, describe libro.

You can also have a comma or a short preposition, like a, de, or en, between the idea that you're describing and que, quien, or quienes. Some examples are:

  • Esa es la clase en que aprendí mucho. (That's the class in which I learned a lot.)
  • Juan es el hombre a quien di mi libro. (Juan is the man to whom I gave my book.)

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