How to use qui and que in French

Many French language students are confused with the difference between qui and que

Here are some explanations with concrete examples to understand the use of qui and que.

Grammatical difference between qui and que

In the field of grammar, qui and que are named relative pronouns. We use these pronouns to avoid a repetition.

Qui is a subject pronoun, it replaces the subject of the sentence.

Example: Je prends le train. Le train va à Paris.
I’m taking the train. The train is going to Paris.

In order to avoid repeating « le train », you can use a relative pronoun.

In that sentence, “le train” is the subject. You can therefore create one single sentence out of the two. To do this, you can use the pronoun qui.

Example: Je prends le train. Le train va à Paris.
Je prends le train qui va à Paris.
(I’m taking the train which is going to Paris).

Que is a direct object pronoun, it replaces the object of the sentence

Example: Le train va en Normandie. Je prends le train.
(= The train is going to Normandie. I’m taking the train.)

Let’s use a pronoun to avoid repeating « le train ».
In the second occurrence / sentence, “le train” is the direct object. It’s not the subject, it’s not doing the action. The subject is “je”.

In order to create one single sentence, you need to use the direct object pronoun que.

Le train que je prends va en Normandie
(= The train that I’m taking is going to Normandie).

How to choose between que and qui in French

If grammar is not your forte, here’s a simple tip for you: to decide between qui and que, pay attention to the structure of the sentence:

Qui is a subject, it will therefore be followed by the verb.
Je prends le tgv QUI VA à Paris.
Je regarde l’homme QUI MARCHE dans la rue.

Que is a direct object, so the sentence will also need to have a subject. The structure will be:
Le tgv QUE JE PRENDS va à Paris.
L’homme QUE JE REGARDE marche dans la rue.

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