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Deciding When To Use Qui vs Que In French

An easy solution to an often confusing issue.

Qui and que are the French equivalents of "who", "that", and "which" in English. If you are a beginner or intermediate struggling to learn French, odds are that you are often confused about whether to use qui or que in a French sentence. Today we’re going to learn a quick and easy simplified way to tell which one to use that works 90% of the time.

Girl Walking In Paris
"Hmmm...qui or que?”

When To Use Qui

Qui and que are among a group of French words called relative pronouns. In English these include the words “that”, “which”, or “who”, as well as "whom" and "whose". Relative pronouns are used to avoid repetition in a sentence. For example, in French we could say:

Je vais aux Musée du Louvre. Le Musée du Louvre est dans le 1er arrondissement.

I’m going to the Louvre Museum. The Louvre Museum is in the first arrondissement.

But more likely we would say:

Je vais aux Musée du Louvre qui est dans le 1er arrondissement.

I’m going to the Louvre Museum which (or that) is in the first arrondissement.

Using the relative pronoun qui avoids the repetition of saying Musée du Louvre twice. Here’s another example:

Je vais prendre le bus. Le bus va à Saint Germain.

I’m going to take the bus. The bus goes to Saint Germain.

Je vais prendre le bus qui va à Saint Germain.

I’m going to take the bus which goes to Saint Germain.

Note that le bus is the subject of the sentence ”Le bus va à Saint Germainand is replaced by the subject pronoun qui when the two sentences are combined. Also notice in the examples above that when we use the pronoun qui, the next word is always a verb because subjects are followed by verbs. So here’s the simple rule that will help you to remember even if you forget the grammatical categories of pronouns: we always use qui rather than que when the next word is a verb!

Here are some more examples with qui, or ce qui, and the verb that follows highlighted in bold:

Je regarde l’homme qui a traversé la rue. I’m watching the man who crossed the street.

Qu’est-ce qui se passe ? What’s happening?

J’ai vu Henri qui est un cher ami. I saw Henry who is a dear friend.

Il a gagné Roland Garros, ce qui est impressionnant. He won the French Open, which is impressive.

Je ne sais pas ce qui m'arrive. I don’t know what’s happening to me. (Literal trans.: I don’t know that which to me is arriving.)

...always use qui rather than que when the next word is a verb!

When To Use Que

This one is just as easy. Que or ce que (“…that which”) is used when the next word is a noun or subject pronoun. Que, and the noun or pronoun that follows, are highlighted in bold in the examples below:

Le chien que j’ai vu est très grand. The dog that I saw is very large.

La robe que je veux est trop chère. The dress that I want is too expensive.

Je fais ce que je veux. I do what I want. (Lit. trans: that which I want.)

Il croit ce que le professeur lui raconte. He believes what the professor tells him.

Tu ne devineras ce que Jean a fait. You’ll never guess what Jean has done.

Camille pense a ce qu’il lui a dit. Camille thinks about what he said to her.

Élision Hint

There is élision with que : Amélie a adoré ce qu’elle a vu.

But not with qui : La tour Eiffel qui est la plus célèbre tour au monde.


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