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Spanish relative pronouns

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A relative pronoun (pronombre relativo) always refers to a noun or a pronoun previously mentioned in the sentence. 

It is a link or connector between sentences or clauses. 

Examples: 

  • Luca es el profesor que enseña italiano. (Luca is the professor who teaches Italian.)
  • Esta es la periodista, quien es la amiga de mi madre. (This is the journalist who is my mother's friend.)

Relative pronoun list

There are five different types of relative pronouns

  1. que
  2. quien
  3. el que/el cual
  4. lo que/lo cual
  5. cuyo

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1. Relative pronoun que

"Que" is the equivalent of "that" and it is never omitted in Spanish. 

It refers to people, animals, things, ideas or events in the singular or plural. 

FunctionExampleEnglish 
subject of the clauseLa mujer que acaba de irse es mi madre. The woman who has just gone away is my mother. 
object of the clauseTe recomiendo al albañil que llamamos ayer. I recommend to you the bricklayer whom we called yesterday.

2. Relative pronoun quien 

The English pronouns "who" and "whom" are the equivalents of "quien" and the plural form "quienes"

Quien is commonly used in the written language and it might replace "que" when referring to a person

UseExampleEnglish
subject of a verbFelipe, quien* acaba de casarse con mi tía, es periodista.Felipe, who has just got married with my aunt, is a journalist.
object of a verb Acabo de encontrar a Luis, a quien* llamé anoche. I have just met Luis, whom I called yesterday. 

* The clause introduced with quien or quienes is separated from the main clause with commas.

3. Relative pronouns el que and el cual 

"El que" and "el cual" correspond to "that", "which", "who" and "whom"

Masculine singularFeminine singularMasculine pluralFeminine plural
el quela quelos que las que
el cualla cuallos cualeslas cuales

Examples: 

  • He hablado con Juan, el cual me dijo que tiene que mudarse a Madrid. (I have talked to Juan, who told me that he has to move to Madrid.)
  • Acabo de encontrar a María, la que es una amiga mía. (I have just met María, who is a friend of mine.)
  • Sara tiene dos faldas, las cuales están hechas a mano. (Sara has got two skirts, which are hand-made.)

Uses

UseExampleEnglish
subject of the verbEl autor de Cien años de soledad es Gabriel García Marquez, el cual escribió otras novelas. The author of One hundred years of solitude is Gabriel García Marquez, who wrote other novels.
object of the verbSaludamos a Hector, al que encontramos ayer. We said hello to Hector, whom we met yesterday. 

enlightened"Quien" and "el que" may be used as the indefinite subject of a verb and they correspond to "he who"

Example: 

                                                  Quien espera, desespera.

He who waits, loses hope: 

                                                  El que espera, desespera.

4. Lo que in Spanish 

"Lo que" and "lo cual" are neuter relative pronouns and they correspond to "that which", "which", "what" or "whatever"

UseExampleEnglish
referring to a statement, concept or idea previously mentionedTengo que ir a casa de mis suegros, lo que me irrita. I have to go to my parents-in-law' house, which irritates me.

referring to a statement, concept or idea previously discussed

Lo que te dije, no va a suceder. What I told you is not going to happen. 

5. Relative pronoun cuyo

"Cuyo" means "whose" and it refers to people and things. 

It precedes the noun it modifies and it must agree in gender and number with that noun. 

 MasculineFeminine
Singularcuyocuya
Pluralcuyoscuyas

Examples: 

  • Ésta es la señora cuyo hijo se ha casado con Marisol. (This is the lady whose son has got married with Marisol.)
  • Éste es el periodista cuyos artículos leyeron en la conferencia de ayer. (This is the journalist whose articles were read at yesterday's lecture.)
  • ¿Tenéis algún amigo cuya novia es italiana? (Do you have any friend whose girlfriend is Italian?)
  • Ése es el hombre cuyas palabras me cambiaron la vida. (That is the man whose words changed my life.)

Relative pronouns after prepositions

When relative pronouns follow a preposition, they serve as object of a verb. 

Relative pronounPrepositionExample

el que

el cual

anyJuan es un hombre en el cual se puede confiar. (Juan is a man whom you can trust.)
que

a

de

en

con* 

- Ése es el coche en que chocaron. (That is the car in which they crashed.)

- Ésta es la mujer de que hablamos. (This is the woman about whom we talked.)

quienanyEl hombre con quien se casó Lucía es de Santander. (The man whom Lucía married is from Santander.)

* "Que" may follow the preposition "con" if it does not refer to a person

Example: 

Mencionaste un objetivo con el cual estoy de acuerdo. (You mentioned a target with which I agree.)


Exercises

  1. Spanish relative pronoun practice quiz
  2. Exercise: ¿Cuyo, cuya, cuyos or cuyas?
  3. Spanish relative pronouns - Fill in the blanks

Spanish relative pronoun practice quiz


Exercise: ¿Cuyo, cuya, cuyos or cuyas?


Spanish relative pronouns - Fill in the blanks


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