There are six Spanish relative pronouns (pronombres relativos): que, quien, el que, el cual, cuando, and donde. We use them to connect relative and main clauses in the sentence.
Spanish relative pronouns can be subjects, direct objects, or objects of a preposition. Reflective pronouns are required in Spanish, though they are sometimes optional in English.
El café que te gusta está allá.
The café (that) you like is over there.
Here’s an overview of Spanish relative pronouns with their functions and possible English translations:
|Reflective Pronoun||Function(s)||English Equivalent|
|el cual||subject / direct object / object of preposition||who / whom / which, whom, that|
|el que||subject / direct object / object of preposition||who / whom / which, whom, that|
|que||subject / direct object||that, which, who / that, which, whom|
|quien||subject / object of preposition||who / which, whom, that|
Note: In Spanish, non-defining relative clauses (oraciones explicativas) provide additional information and are written between commas. Defining relative clauses (oraciones especificativas) identify what is being described and they are not written between commas.
Rule 1: We use the relative pronoun que to refer to any type of noun - a person, an animal, a thing, a concept, or an event. We can use que in both defining and non-defining relative clauses.
El hombre que ves en la foto es mi hermano.
The man (whom) you see in the photo is my brother.
Rule 2: We always use quien (and its plural form quienes) to refer to a person and it is usually separated by a comma or preposition. It's commonly used after prepositions like para and con.
Mi tía, quien es doctora, me va a visitar hoy.
My aunt, who is a doctor, is going to visit me today.
Rule 3: The relative pronouns el que, la que, los que and las que can be used to refer to people and things.
Los aguacates, los que están maduros, son deliciosos.
Avocados, those which are ripe, are delicious.
Note: If there is no preposition before el que, we can only use it in non-defining relative clauses. If there is a preposition before el que, we can use it in both defining and non-defining relative clauses.
Rule 4: The relative pronouns el cual, la cual, los cuales and las cuales are the same as the relative pronoun el que and its related forms - to refer to people and things. However, they're usually used when there is more distance between the relative pronoun and the word it refers to - for example when a compound preposition is used.
Caminamos por el parque cerca del cual está un café muy bueno.
We walked through the park near which there is a good café.
Lo Que / Lo Cual
Rule 5: We use relative pronouns lo que and lo cual to refer to a complete sentence rather than a noun. The difference between the two is that lo cual always refers to something explicit from the clause before.
No se acuerda de lo que pasó.
I don't remember what happened.
Rule 6: The relative pronoun cuyo and its variants (cuya/cuyos/cuyas) are always followed by a noun with which it agrees in gender and number. It is never followed by a verb, which makes it different from other relative pronouns.
Anna, cuya jefa es tambien mi jefa, es una buena compañera.
Anna, whose boss is also my boss, is a good colleague.
Rule 7: We use the word cuando as a relative in the meaning of "when."
La escribió cuando estudiante.
She wrote it when she was a student.
Rule 8: We use the word donde as a relative in the meaning of "where," but its use is a bit broader than in English and can sometimes be translated as "which" or "in which."
Es la casa donde nació mi madre.
It's the house where my mother was born.
Complete the sentence. Este es el libro ___ estoy leyendo.