What's the difference between qui and que?

Dialogue section for the page explaining the difference between qui and que in French

As qui and que look and sound similar, the difference between these two relative pronouns can be a great source of confusion.

The answer is simple: qui replaces the subject whereas que links the subject to the complement. If you are not familiar with the two words subject and complement, go to the Grammatical terms page.

Arrow section for the page explaining the difference between qui and que in French

Qui replaces the subject

 
 
Arrow section for the page explaining the difference between qui and que in French

Qui is a little grammatical word that allows you to replace the subject of a sentence. Qui can refer to a human being, an animal or an object.

La dame qui est tombée est ma soeur.

The woman who fell is my sister.

 

In this sentence, qui links the subject la dame to the verb est tombée. Qui is a subject pronoun as it replaces the subject la dame to avoid unnecessary repetition. 

 

If you don't add the pronoun qui, your sentence would sound redundant and clumsy. It would be La dame est tombée. La dame est ma soeur.

 
Arrow section for the page explaining the difference between qui and que in French

Que links the complement to the subject

 
 
 
Arrow section for the page explaining the difference between qui and que in French

Que is also a grammatical word that enables you to link an object to its complement. Again, que can replace a human being, an animal or an object.

La dame que tu vois est ma soeur.

The woman whom/that you can see is my sister.

 

In this sentence, que links the complement la dame to the subject tu. Tu is the subject as it's doing the action (vois/see) and la dame is the complement because it's undergoing the action.

 

The inverted sentence would be Tu vois la dame. C'est ma soeur. However, if you use the first sentence La dame que tu vois est ma soeur, you stress the complement first by putting it at the very beginning of the sentence. Therefore, que allows you to link the complement la dame to the subject tu.

Arrow section for the page explaining the difference between qui and que in French

To put into practise what you have just learnt, scroll down and do the grammar exercise.

 

If you have any questions or if you would like to brush up on your French knowledge, please contact Tanguy. Private French lessons for adults with Tanguy, a native French tutor are offered whenever you want.

 

Grammar exercise - qui/que

1. C'est l'homme                                             était assis là-bas.

2. Tu sais, le restaurant                                            est près de la Seine est très bon.

3. Les animaux                                           tu vois à la télé sont en voie de disparition.

4. Toutes les personnes                                      tu avais invitées sont désormais parties.

5. Les objets                                           sont sur la table sont à jeter.

6. Ces destinations                                            t'intéressent restent très chères !