Relative Pronouns (que, quien, el que, el cual) in Spanish

Relative expressions are something we all use in every day conversation but rarely think about. Relative pronouns are "related" to a noun that has been previously introduced in a sentence and are used to create relative expressions. In English, relative pronouns include that, which, who, and whom. In many instances in English the relative pronoun is omitted (The car (that) you took was mine). In Spanish, however, the relative pronoun is always required (El coche que tomaste fue mio). Relative pronouns are also used to combine two short sentences into one sentence. Consider the following examples of relative pronouns. Read and listen to each one, then repeat them out loud.

English
Spanish
John took a car. The car is mine.
Juan tomó un coche. El coche es mio.
John took a car that is mine.
Juan tomó un coche que es mio.


The house has a black roof. The house is over there.
La casa tiene un techo negro. La casa está allá.
The house that has a black roof is over there.
La casa que tiene un techo negro está allá.

Que and Quien

The most commonly used relative pronouns in Spanish are "que" and "quien". Que and quien are similar in spelling to interrogative words qué and quién, but without the accents. Que may refer to a person, place, or thing and means that, who, whom or which. Quien, however, only means whom or who and always refers to a person. When referring to more than one person, quien becomes quienes.

Que

Que usually comes immediately after the antecedent. However, it occasionally may be separated from the antecedent by a short preposition or a comma. Study and listen to the following examples, then repeat each out loud.

The man who lives here is my uncle.
El hombre que vive aquí es me tio.
The woman that is sitting over there is very pretty.
La mujer que está sentada allá es muy bonita.
The restaurant that you like is right there.
El restaurante que te gusta está allí.
The pen that you have is mine.
La pluma que tienes es mia.
This is the house in which I turned fifteen.
Ésta es la casa en que cumplí quince años.
Have you guys been to the restaurant I was talking about?
¿Han ido al restaurante del que hablaba?

Quien

Quien (or it plural form quienes) is used when the antecedent refers to a person (or persons). There is always a short distance between quien and the antecedent – usually separated by a preposition or comma. Read and listen to the following examples, then repeat each one out loud.

He isn’t the boy I talked to.
No es el chico con quien hablé.
Where are the little girls to whom I told the short story?
¿Dónde están las niñas a quienes les conté el relato corto?
My uncle, who is a carpenter, is going to visit me tomorrow.
Mi tío, quien es carpintero, me va a visitar mañana.
Have you seen Mario, whom Rosa is in love with?
¿Has visto a Mario, de quien está enamorado Rosa?
The woman, with whom I went to the movies, is my mom.
La mujer, con quien fui al cine, es mi madre.


Either que or quien may be used when they are in the direct object position and refer to a person. Consider the following examples. Listen to each, then repeat them out loud.
The man whom I met yesterday is Miguel's father.
El hombre que conocí ayer es el padre de Miguel.
The man whom I met yesterday is Miguel's father.
El hombre a quien conocí ayer es el padre de Miguel.
She is the woman I'm thinking about.
Ella es la mujer en quien estoy pensando.
She is the woman about whom I am thinking.
Ella es la mujer en quien estoy pensando.

El que and El cual

When speaking Spanish you won't use el que and el cual nearly as much as que or quien, but they're still very important relative pronouns to know how to use. They are particularly useful when distinguishing between multiple possible antecendents.

El que

El que has four forms: el que, la que, los que, and las que. Each form must agree with the noun it modifies in number (singular vs plural) and gender (masculine vs feminine). To help avoid confusion with porque, sin que, and para que, el que is often used in connection with por, para, and sin, instead of just que. Read and listen to the examples below, then repeat each one out loud.

I need the tools without which I can’t fix the car.
Necesito las herramientas sin las que no puedo arreglar el coche.
The bananas, which are rotten, are very sour.
Los plátanos, los que son podridos, son muy asquerosos.
Do you remember the mountains about which we were talking the day before yesterday?
¿Recuerdas las montañas de las que hablamos anteayer?

El cual

El cual has four forms: el cual, la cual, los cuales, and las cuales. Together these relative pronouns can be used in place of el que, la que, los que, and las que. Each form must agree with the noun it modifies in number (singular vs plural) and gender (masculine vs feminine). Review the following examples. Listen to each one, then repeat them out loud.

My brother is fixing the truck, on top of which is a tool box.
Mi hermano está arreglando el camión, por encima del cual hay una caja de herramientas.
I shut the car door, behind which the girl stayed seated.
Cerré la puerta del coche, detrás de la cual la chica se quedó sentada.
We walked through the city center near which there is a reputable restaurant.
Caminamos por el centro de la ciudad cerca del cual está un restaurante de buena reputación.