French Pronouns - Relative Pronouns - in Ordinary Relative Clauses

In Ordinary Relative Clauses

If the relative pronoun is to be the subject of the clause's verb, qui is ordinarily used: « l'homme qui a volé ma bicyclette » ("the man who stole my bike"). Note that qui in this use does not change form to agree in any way with its antecedent: « les bicyclettes qui ont été volées » ("the bikes that were stolen"). That said, it may occasionally be replaced with a form of lequel to specify the antecedent's gender or number. For example, while the phrase « Jean et Marie, qui vole(nt) des bicyclettes » ("Jean and Marie, who steal(s) bicycles") is ambiguous in speech (since vole and volent are homophones), the phrases « Jean et Marie, laquelle vole des bicyclettes » ("Jean and Marie, who steals bicycles") and « Jean et Marie, lesquels volent des bicyclettes » ("Jean and Marie, who steal bicycles") are not: in the former, only Marie is being described, while in the latter, both Jean and Marie are. This substitution is very rare, however.

If the relative pronoun is to be the direct object of the clause's verb, que (or qu' before a vowel; see elision) is ordinarily used: « la bicyclette qu'il a volée » ("the bicycle that he stole"). Like qui, que does not change form to agree with its antecedent, and may occasionally be replaced with a form of lequel for the sake of clarity.

If the relative pronoun is to be the grammatical possessor of a noun in the clause (usually marked with de), dont is used: « le garçon dont j'ai volé la bicyclette » ("the boy from whom I stole the bicycle", "the boy whose bicycle I stole"). Note that unlike in English, the object of possession is not moved to appear immediately after dont; that is, dont, unlike whose, is not a determiner.

Traditionally, if the relative pronoun was to be the object of a preposition in the clause (other than the de of possession), or the indirect object of the clause's verb, a form of lequel was used, with the preposition placed before it: « la femme de laquelle j'ai parlé » ("the woman about whom I spoke"). (Note that here, as in the interrogative case described above, à and de contract with most forms of lequel.) Nowadays, the form of lequel is typically replaced with qui when the antecedent is a human: « la femme de qui j'ai parlé ». Further, if the preposition is de, even if it is not the de of the possession, dont has started to be used (with both human and non-human antecedents): « la femme dont j'ai parlé ». (However, dont has not started to be used in the case of compound prepositions ending in de, such as à côté de, loin de, and à cause de: « la femme à cause de laquelle j'ai parlé », "the woman because of whom I spoke").

Alternatively, if the relative pronoun is to be an adverbial complement in the clause, introduced by the preposition à (or a similar preposition of time or place), may be used: « la ville j'habite » ("the city where I live"), « au moment il a parlé » ("at the moment that he spoke").

Read more about this topic:  French Pronouns, Relative Pronouns

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