El que – Relative Pronoun

El que - relative pronoun
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Pronombre relativo

A relative pronoun links a dependent / relative clause (i.e., a clause that cannot stand alone) to a main clause. The Spanish relative pronoun el que usually means "who" or "whom" and has four different forms:

  Singular Plural
masc el que los que
fem la que las que

Characteristics of el que

  1. Joins a main clause to a dependent or relative clause
  2. Replaces one or more words
  3. May refer to people or things
  4. Agrees in gender and number with the noun it replaces
  5. Is used almost exactly like el cual – they are nearly always interchangeable*

Non-restrictive clauses

A non-restrictive clause does not limit the noun it replaces, but rather adds additional information that could be omitted without substantially changing the meaning of the sentence. In non-restrictive clauses, el que can be the subject or the object.

Por ejemplo…

El profesor va a ayudarnos. Él vive en Barcelona.    The teacher is going to help us. He lives in Barcelona.
El profesor, el que vive en Barcelona, va a ayudarnos.   The teacher, who lives in Barcelona, is going to help us.
     
Conocí a esas mujeres ayer. Ellas son hermanas.   I met those women yesterday. They are sisters.
Conocí a esas mujeres, las que son hermanas, ayer.   I met those women, who are sisters, yesterday.

Restrictive clauses

In restrictive clauses, where the information after the relative pronoun is essential to the meaning of the sentence, el que simultaneously replaces an antecedent and is the object of a preposition.

Por ejemplo…

Hay una mesa. Como en esa mesa.   There’s a table. I eat at that table.
Esa es la mesa en la que como.   That’s the table at which I eat. / That’s the table I eat at.
     
Ana quiere al hombre. Yo lo vi.   Ana loves the man. I saw him.
Ana quiere al hombre al que yo vi.   Ana loves the man (that) I saw.
     
Los estudiantes están aquí. Hablaba de ellos.   The students are here. I was talking about them.
Los estudiantes de los que hablaba están aquí.   The students about whom I was talking are here.
The students (whom) I was talking about are here.

 * El que is less formal than el cual, but otherwise, they are nearly always interchangeable (see exceptions).

 Accents matter! El que is a relative pronoun while qué is an interrogative pronoun.

 Related lessons

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el que la que los que las que