Unit 15: Past perfect subjunctive, word families, relative pronouns, and passive voice

15.3 Relative Pronouns

You have already seen many relative pronouns, the most common of which are que (“that,” “which,” “who” [referring to objects or people]) and quien/-es (“who” [referring only to people]). There are, however, dual “long” forms of the relative pronouns that may replace both que and quien/-es, in the masculine singular and plural as well as in the feminine singular and plural, and which may refer either to objects or to people:

Masculine Feminine
singular el que la que
plural los que las que


Masculine Feminine
singular el cual la cual
plural los cuales las cuales

Rules exist that govern when “long” relative pronouns must be used (e.g., after “long” [two syllables or more] prepositions), but after “short” (usually monosyllabic) prepositions, there can be great flexibility. The “short” relative pronouns (que and quien/-es) are more succinct, while the longer ones may be used for stylistic effect, without altering the meaning:

La choza en que vivían fue destruida.
La choza en la que vivían fue destruida.
La choza en la cual vivían fue destruida.
The hut in which they lived was destroyed.

The long forms of the relative pronouns always agree in number and gender with the noun to which they refer. This is useful to know when there are two conceivable antecedents that are not the same in number and/or gender. In such cases the long form is necessary to specify to which antecedent it refers:

El esposo de la alcaldesa, el que (el cual) está viajando por el estado, regresará para asistir a la apertura. The mayor’s husband, who is traveling through the state, will return to attend the opening.

¡Ojo! Although the forms are identical, do not confuse the meaning of the relative pronoun el que and the forms of el que that mean “he who,” “the ones who,” “she who,” etc. (See section 10.4.) This should pose no problem in context: Ayudaremos a los que podamos (“We’ll help the ones we may be able to”); Los apartamentos en los que viven son muy amplios (“The apartments in which they live are very spacious”).

Be careful not to confuse the preposition hacia (no accent) (“toward”) with hacía.

Remember the neuter relative pronouns, lo que (“what,” “that which,” “which”) and lo cual (“which”).


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