I read Hour 12 of Alpha Teach Yourself French in 24 Hours (ATYF) today, and it is a doozy. The main topic is conjunctions, and ways of linking ideas. This includes great detail on relative pronouns and associated expressions. It’s a lot to grasp.
UPDATED: Wow, so did not mean to post this last night! It was too late to go through and reread the chapter taking notes, then post on my blog – so was going to do that today, and get a good night’s sleep last night. Looks like I accidentally published it anyway. Oh well, now I have a great link to share with you, with a tip of the hat to Mike Aubrey.
Relative pronouns replace a noun or noun-phrase (whether made explicitly or not). Their purpose is to show relationships between clauses, to link them together. Three sets or relative pronouns exist, each with varying usages:
Qui and Que
Qui is the subject relative pronoun, while que is the object relative pronoun (though it is a simple conjunction as well):
- C’est Georges qui parle français le mieux. “It is George who speaks French best.”
You might remember doing this in grade school, but most likely in reverse, and in English; This is made up from the two sentences, C’est Georges. “That is George.” and Georges parle français le mieux. “George speaks French best.” Notice in the combined sentence, qui replaces Georges, its antecedent (the noun it refers to), as the sentence subject in the secondary clause.
- C’est Georges que j’aime. “It is George that I like.”
Similarly, this sentence can be broken down into two sentences, C’est Georges. “That is George.” and J’aime Georges. “I like George.” This time, que replaces Georges as the object of the second phrase in the combined sentence.
The book has an example that as far as I can tell is just wrong. ATYF is trying to demonstrate the relative pronoun que, using the expression, Je préférerais que tu viennes avec nous. “I would prefer that you come with us.” Then it states:
que: object of the verb venais (that you come with us)
It may be just me, but that just doesn’t make any sense! For starters, venir is intransitive. It takes no object! Even if it did, what would que refer back to? As far as I can tell, there is nothing it can refer to. I would read this as a conjunction, not a relative pronoun. But I’m willing to be proven wrong…
It is important to remember that even though qui does not change to agree with its antecedent, the verb that follows must agree with the antecedent, since qui is the subject.
Ce Qui and Ce Que
Note in both the previous examples involving George, there is a clear antecedent (Georges) in the first clause. When this is not the case, or the antecedent is fuller expression, rather than an object or person, then ce qui or ce que is used instead of qui or que alone, with ce taking the place of the missing antecedent. Ce qui remains the subject relative pronoun, while ce que is the object relative pronoun, as you might have expected.
An extension of this is tout ce qui or tout ce que, “everything that…” The two examples used by the book indicate an interesting structure: The expression tout ce qui or que, followed by a comma, and then a normal sentence, with either object or subject missing (depending on whether qui or que was used).
Lequel (Lesquels, Laquelle, Lesquelles)
Qui can also be used with prepositions, at least when qui refers back to persons and not things: à qui “to whom”, de qui “of whom, whose”, avec qui “with whom”, en qui “in whom” are all used as examples.
When a preposition is to be followed by a relative pronoun referring to an object, not a person, the relative pronoun lequel is used instead, with limited exception: in the case of the prepositions parmi “among” and entre “between”, lequel is used regardless of the antecedent being a person or an object. Lequel, as you can see, is formed by combining the article and the interrogative adjective quel. So, as you might guess, when combined with the prepositions à or de, it contracts:
The Contraction Dont
No, not don’t. Dont. Dont is a contraction of de and either qui or forms of lequel. Unlike the other contractions we have seen, dont is not a required contraction. In fact, many prepositions are made up of two words, with the second being de (côté de, près de). De in these formations never contracts to dont. Dont translates to “of whom” or “of which”. It can also be translated as “whose”, but without the structural gymnastics that occur in English.
The Contraction Où
We have already seen this translated “where”, and in the case of its use as a contraction – if that is the right word – it is still easily translated “where”. Où replaces (can replace, does not have to) a preposition combined with a relative pronoun referring to a location. You can guess even from English equivalents how this might work: “at which” easily becomes “where”, as does “in which”, “from which”, “above which”, and “under which”. French has this same thing happen.
Hmmm. Well, I have some more notes, but it is already really late. So here is what I will do: Lessons in Essential French (EF) are typically short. Tomorrow I will finish the remaining notes from this chapter and the next EF lesson. You’ve been warned.