Relative Pronouns in Spanish Translation I

Relative pronouns serve identical functions in English sentences and their Spanish counterparts. Their task is acting as a linking word between two clauses. For example, ‘I have seen the films that you liked so much/He visto las películas que le gustaron tanto a usted.´

Some of the most commonly used English relative pronouns are ‘who´, ‘that´, ‘which´ and ‘whom´. All the English relative pronouns have a single Spanish translation, namely, ‘que´. The Spanish ‘que´ can be used to refer to both persons and things, to both singular and plural.

Rules For Relative Pronouns in Spanish Translation

Translators must remember the following rules while using ‘que´ in Spanish translation:

  • It is not usual to use ‘que´ with longer prepositions.
  • If ‘que´ is used to refer to a thing or a place, then it must occur in conjunction with the prepositions ‘a´, ‘con´, ‘de´ and ‘en´.
  • ‘que´ must always come after the preposition in a Spanish sentence. Hence, the translator will have to change the word order of the English sentence during Spanish translation. ‘The beach that I was speaking of is fantastic´ (the relative pronoun ‘that´ comes before the preposition ‘of´ and they are not juxtaposed) will be translated into Spanish as ‘La playa de que hablaba es fantástica´ (the relative pronoun ‘que´ comes immediately after the preposition ‘de´).
  • ‘que´ does not serve the sole function of acting as a relative pronoun. It can also be used for comparison, as a conjunction, and in order to introduce indirect questions.

A few more Spanish relative pronouns, namely ‘quien´ and quienes´, ‘el que´ and ‘el cual´, ‘lo que´ and ‘lo qual´ and cuyo. We will examine the problems they might cause during Spanish translation.

‘Quien´ and its plural form can be used in the following instances:

  • to refer to persons
  • instead of ‘que´ in nonrestrictive clauses
  • as a Spanish translation of the English expressions ‘he who´, ‘the one who´, those who´, etc.

While referring to a person, ‘quien/quienes´ must be placed immediately after the prepositions. For example, ‘Los señores de quienes hablaba le esperan en el aeropuerto.´ (The gentlemen of whom I was speaking are waiting for you at the airport.)

‘El que´, ‘el cual´ and their feminine and plural forms can be used in the following instances:

  • instead of ‘que´ when it is required to specify the gender of the person
  • as objects of prepositions
  • like ‘quien´, as a Spanish translation of the English expressions 'he who', 'the one who', ‘those who', etc. in nonrestrictive clauses.

For example, ‘Los que tienen dinero deben saber gastarlo.´ (Those who have money should know how to spend it.)

‘Lo que´ and ‘lo cual´ are neuter relative pronouns, that is they cannot be used to refer to objects with gender. They can only be used to refer to ideas and complete statements. For example, ‘Lo que usted me propone es muy interesante´ (What you are proposing to me is very interesting.)

‘Cuyo´ is the Spanish translation of the English relative pronoun ‘whose´. ‘Cuyo´ must be in agreement with the number and the gender of the noun that it is referring to. For example, ‘Es un director cuyas películas son famosas por toda Europa.´ (He is a director whose films are famous throughout Europe.)


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