Que and Qui – Relative Pronouns

Que and Qui - French relative pronoun
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Pronoms relatifs

When used as relative pronouns, qui doesn’t necessarily mean "who" and que doesn’t always mean "that"; depending on the context, either one can mean either one.*

Que = direct object

Que replaces the direct object in a relative clause, whether it’s a person or a thing.

Par exemple…

Le médecin fait des visites à domicile, et je le connais.

The above sentence with two independent clauses is perfectly grammatical, but there’s another way to say it: combine them into a main and relative clause.

Le mĂ©decin que je connais fait des visites Ă  domicile.   The doctor (whom) I know does house calls.

 In English, the relative pronoun is often optional, but in French it is always required.

Another example:

Il va acheter une maison. J’ai vu la maison.

It sounds silly to say maison twice, right? Since it’s a direct object in both sentences, we can join them and replace the second maison with que, and there are two different ways to do this:

J’ai vu la maison qu’il va acheter.   I saw the house (that) he’s going to buy.
Il va acheter la maison que j’ai vue.**   He’s going to buy the house (that) I saw.

One more example:

J’aime bien certaines choses. Le théâtre est une de ces choses.

Le théâtre est une des choses que j’aime bien.   The theater is one of the things I really like.
Une des choses que j’aime bien, c’est le théâtre.   One of the things I really like is the theater.

In summary, que serves as a direct object in order to connect two clauses and avoid repetition.

Qui = subject

Qui, on the other hand, replaces the subject of the subordinate clause, whether it’s a person or a thing.

Par exemple…

J’ai un fils. Il joue au tennis.

Using two short, related sentences like this is stilted, so we combine them into one:

J’ai un fils qui joue au tennis.   I have a son who plays tennis.

Here’s another look at the very first example with que:  you can word it another way to replace the subject rather than the object:

Le médecin fait des visites à domicile, et je le connais.

Je connais le mĂ©decin qui fait des visites Ă  domicile.   I know the doctor who does house calls.

 Remember that qui doesn’t always mean "who" when it’s a relative pronoun.

Voici le livre. Le livre Ă©tait sur la table.

Voici le livre qui Ă©tait sur la table.   Here’s the book that was on the table.

The subject of the second sentence is le livre, so when combining the two sentences into one, it becomes qui.

Qui = indirect object

Qui has another function as a relative pronoun: it replaces the indirect object after a preposition.

Par exemple…

Je pense à ma sœur. Elle vient de déménager en France.

Ma sĹ“ur Ă  qui je pense vient de dĂ©mĂ©nager en France.   My sister I’m thinking about just moved to France.

 Note that you can also say Je pense Ă  ma sĹ“ur qui vient de dĂ©mĂ©nager en France, where qui is the subject of the subordinate clause. It’s just a matter of figuring out what you’re replacing with the relative pronoun.

J’ai pris un pot avec un collègue. Il a Ă©tĂ© virĂ© le lendemain.

Le collègue avec qui j’ai pris un pot a Ă©tĂ© virĂ© le lendemain.   The colleague I had a drink with was fired the next day.

Alternatively, the “qui as subject” version: J’ai pris un pot avec un collègue qui a Ă©tĂ© virĂ© le lendemain.

J’ai mangĂ© chez un ami. Il est chef de cuisine.

L’ami chez qui j’ai mangĂ© est chef de cuisine.   The friend whose house I ate at is a chef.

Or, J’ai mangĂ© chez un ami qui est chef de cuisine.


  1. After the preposition de, the relative pronoun is dont.
  2. After any other preposition, qui can be the relative pronoun only when the indirect object is a person. When it’s not a person, the relative pronoun is lequel.

 En rĂ©sumĂ© : Que vs Qui

As a relative pronoun, que is a direct object (person or thing), and qui is either a subject (person or thing) or the object of a preposition (person only).

Some teachers will tell you that the difference is much simpler: "Qui is always followed by a verb, que is followed by any other part of speech." While that’s often true, it falls apart when inversion comes into play.***

Par exemple…

l’appartement que mes parents ont achetĂ©    the apartment my parents bought
l’appartement qu’ont achetĂ© mes parents

The fact that we’ve inverted the subject and verb does not change the grammatical function of the relative pronoun. It’s still que, regardless of what comes after it, because it’s still a direct object. (If you changed it to qui, the meaning would change to "the apartment that bought my parents.)


* Unlike when they are interrogative pronouns, in which case qui means "who" and que means "what."

** Why vue instead of vu? It’s direct object agreement.

*** Also, it’s rarely just a verb on its own – it’s often a noun or pronoun plus a verb, so already the "any other part of speech" part of the rule falls flat.

 Relative Pronouns Quizzes

Think you’ve got it? Test yourself on French relative pronouns with these fill-in-the-blanks exercises:

Note: You must be logged into your Progress with Lawless French account to take these tests. If you don’t have one, sign up – it’s free!

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Que vs qui - French relative pronouns

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Que vs qui

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