7 Spanish Relative Pronouns You Need to Add to Your Vocabulary
Usually if you’re stringing several sentences together, you’ll need to find a way to relate them to each other.
This is where relative pronouns like “that,” “which” and “whose” come in!
Knowing these pronouns and how to use them will take your Spanish skills to the next level by introducing a more natural flow to your speech.
This post will introduce you to 7 different Spanish relative pronouns and how to use them so your sentences connect together more smoothly!
- What Is a Relative Pronoun?
- Spanish Relative Pronouns
- How to Practice Spanish Relative Pronouns
What Is a Relative Pronoun?
A relative pronoun is an expression that refers back to a noun that comes before it, called the antecedent. Relative pronouns connect two clauses and help sentences sound more cohesive.
The Spanish relative pronouns are que, quien, el que, el cual, lo que, lo cual, cuyo, cuando and donde, which equate to the English that, which, who(m), whose, when and where.
Él es el hombre que vino ayer. (He is the man who came yesterday.)
In this sentence él es el hombre (he is the man) is the first clause. If you just left it as is, this phrase would make no sense.
Which man are you referring to? This is where the relative pronoun comes in: que is able to link the first clause to the second clause, vino ayer.
The que is able to clarify who we are actually talking about!
Here are the Spanish relative pronouns:
|Que||That, which, who||El coche que te compraste es muy lento. (The car that you bought is very slow.)|
|Quien(es)||Who(m)||La mujer de quien hablas es mi prima. (The woman you are talking about is my cousin.)|
|El que||That, which, who||La mujer con la que tuvimos la entrevista es Rosa. (The woman we had the interview with is Rosa.)|
|El cual||That, which, who||Este es el libro acerca del cual te hablé ayer. (This is the book about which I told you yesterday.)|
|Lo que||What||Lo que dices no tiene sentido. (What you say is nonsense.)|
|Lo cual||Which||Me gusta el invierno, lo cual para algunos es algo extraño. (I like winter, which for some is something strange.)|
|Cuyo/a(s)||Whose||Esta es la mujer cuya hija trabaja en Londres. (This is the lady whose daughter works in London.)|
|Cuando||When||No recuerdo el momento cuando te vi por primera vez. (I cannot remember the moment when I saw you for the first time.)|
|Donde||Where||Esta es la escuela donde enseñaba mi madre. (This is the school where my mom used to teach.)|
Important Things to Remember About Relative Pronouns in Spanish
- You cannot omit the relative pronoun. In English, we tend to leave out the relative pronoun (e.g I bought the pizza [that] you like), but in Spanish you must always include the relative pronoun.
- You must keep relatives and prepositions together, unlike in English. If we look at the sentence “The park in which we are is very big,” we know that in English, you could also say “The park we are in is very big.” In Spanish, we cannot rearrange the relative pronouns to write the sentence differently. This sentence will always be written as El parque en el que estamos es muy grande.
- Spanish has more options for relative pronouns than English. English relative pronouns are usually rather straightforward as they are used in certain situations. Spanish, however, has a plethora of options when it comes to which relative pronoun to use.
Spanish Relative Pronouns
1. Que — That, Which, Who
Que is practically universal in Spanish; it can refer to people, animals and things, both in the singular and in the plural.
Although it can be translated as “which” and “who,” que can be better compared to “that” in English because of its universality:
Los libros que encargaste acaban de llegar. (The books that you ordered have just arrived.)
El perro que ves allí es mío. (The dog that you see over there is mine.)
2. Quien — Who(m)
Quien and its plural form quienes are used to refer back to people. These are the Spanish equivalents of the English pronoun “who(m).”
Almost every Spanish student tends to think that quien works like “who,” and that you can use it in Spanish any time you have a personal antecedent, but that is not completely true.
If you use it exactly like “who,” you could end up having a lot of grammatically incorrect sentences. For example:
El hombre quien amo no me conoce. (The man I love doesn’t know me.)
Yes, this sentence has a personal antecedent and the relative quien, but it’s not grammatically valid in Spanish.
Use quien when you have a one-word preposition (en, con, a, de, sin, para, etc.) before the relative pronoun and the antecedent is a person. You need to have both the preposition and the person, or the sentence will be grammatically incorrect.
Here you have some grammatically correct examples:
Los hombres con quienes está María han venido a verte. (The men María is with have come to see you.)
Las chicas a quienes regalé rosas son hermanas. (The girls I gave roses to are sisters.)
3. El Que — That, Which, Who
El que is almost as universal as que and has multiple forms depending on number and gender: el que, la que, los que, and las que. It can be used with people, animals and things and it agrees in gender and number with the antecedent.
However, there is a little difference between que and the el que forms. El que forms require a preposition to appear in a sentence.
El que and quien also mean the same thing, but remember that while quien needs a one-word preposition (or para), el que can make use of any preposition in the Spanish language.
Let’s have a look at some examples:
El libro del que te hablé es “Alicia en el País de las Maravillas.” (The book I told you about is “Alice in Wonderland.”)
Los niños para los que estamos construyendo este hospital tienen cáncer. (The children for whom we are building this hospital have cancer.)
Estas son las cosas sobre las que suelo leer. (These are the things I used to read about.)
4. El Cual — That, Which, Who
The el cual group means exactly the same thing as the el que group and also has different forms depending on number and gender: el cual, la cual, los cual, and las cual. We can use it with people, animals and things, and depending on the antecedent, you will have to change the form.
El cual forms also need a preposition to appear in a sentence, so we can safely say that you can use the el que and el cual groups interchangeably.
There are two little things you need to remember:
- Firstly, el cual is used almost exclusively in formal language.
- Secondly, even though both el que and el cual groups work with any Spanish preposition, there is a tendency to use el cual when dealing with compound prepositions.
A compound preposition is a simple preposition accompanied by another word that’s needed to explain the relationship. For example cerca means “close” but is usually paired with de to make the compound preposition cerca de (close to).
It would be impossible to mention all the compound prepositions in the Spanish language, but here are some examples so that you can see the el cual group at work:
Esta es la ventana a través de la cual saltó el ladrón. (This is the window through which the robber jumped.)
Las chicas junto a las cuales está mi esposa son mis hijas. (The girls to whom my wife is close are my daughters.)
Los coches delante de los cuales has aparcado son de Francia. (The cars in front of which you have parked are from France.)
5. Lo Que/Cual — What, Which
Lo que and lo cual are neuter relative pronouns, so they will not refer to any specific masculine or feminine antecedent (the noun described by the previous clause), but to a situation, a concept or a whole sentence.
When it comes to their differences, it is very simple. You have to use lo que when you don’t have an antecedent in the sentence:
No puedo decirte lo que quieres oír porque sería una mentira. (I cannot tell you what you want to hear because it would be a lie.)
If you already have an antecedent in the sentence you can use either of them, and both will be correct:
Llegamos muy tarde, lo cual preocupó a mamá. (We came back very late, which worried Mom.)
Llegamos muy tarde, lo que preocupó a mamá.
6. Cuyo — Whose
I have included cuyo (whose) in this post because it is a relative. However, cuyo is not actually a relative pronoun, but a relative adjective.
And as every adjective in Spanish, it has to agree in number and gender with a noun.
But (and please pay attention because this is utterly important) cuyo and its forms don’t agree with the antecedent, but with the noun they modify.
Here you have some examples:
En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme… (In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind…)
La casa cuyas ventanas son verdes es de mi hermano. (The house of which the windows are green is my brother’s.)
Este es Mario, cuyos libros han sido vendidos en todo el mundo. (This is Mario, whose books have been sold worldwide.)
Unlike English, where you use “whose” or “which” also to ask about the owner of an object or the relation of a person with another, you cannot make questions in Spanish by using cuyo. Instead, you will need to use ¿De quién?:
¿De quién es este paraguas? (Whose umbrella is this?)
¿De quién son estos libros? (Whose books are these?)
7. Cuando and Donde — When and Where
These two are actually adverbs, but as it happens in English, cuando (when) and donde (where) can also be used as relatives.
You need to remember that cuando and donde when working as relative pronouns are not question words, so you cannot use the accent mark. Have a look:
No recuerdo el momento cuando te vi por primera vez. (I cannot remember the moment when I saw you for the first time.)
Esta es la escuela donde enseñaba mi madre. (This is the school where my mom used to teach.)
If you want, you can substitute cuando and donde for en el que/la que/los que/las que, much as you would substitute “when” and “where” for “in/on which” in English:
No recuerdo el momento en el que te vi por primera vez. (I cannot remember the moment in which I saw you for the first time.)
Esta es la escuela en la que enseñaba mi madre. (This is the school in which my mom used to teach.)
How to Practice Spanish Relative Pronouns
The quickest way to learn Spanish relative pronouns is to practice them as much as possible. Here are some tips and resources to help you do just that:
- Do activities and exercises. You can find some interesting practice exercises here and here. Doing these types of exercises help you practice applying concepts yourself.
- Try virtual immersion. There are several ways of doing this, either on your own or with language learning programs. FluentU, for example, uses short, culturally-relevant videos made by native speakers along with interactive subtitles to teach Spanish. It makes it easier to spot these relative pronouns (and other elements of the language) while you’re hearing them used in context. Plus, FluentU is available on iOS or Android.
- Read a Spanish book. Reading Spanish books is a great way to immerse yourself in the language and you’re sure to pick up on a lot of relative pronouns as well as other vocabulary and grammar concepts.
- Watch a Spanish movie. Not only are movies entertaining, but you’ll be able to listen for those relative pronouns and hear how they’re used in natural speech.
- Practice incorporating them into your own speech. The best way to learn how to use Spanish relative pronouns is to try using them yourself. By speaking them out loud, you’ll get a grasp on how they fit into sentences. I recommend finding a native speaker to have a conversation with so they can give you feedback on your speech!
Using relatives will make your speech and writing more fluid, so I hope this post will help you take the next step down your road to fluency!