The Spanish relative pronouns el que, la que, los que and las que are used to refer to both people and things. They can be translated as the one/ones that/who in English.
These relative pronouns can be placed either at the beginning of a sentence with no antecedent or in the middle of a sentence with an antecedent.
With no antecedent
In these cases it is "understood" who or what the antecedent is.
El que tiene ojos verdes es el novio de Sara.The one who has green eyes is Sara's boyfriend.
El que tiene la primera página rota, es mío.The one that has the first page torn is mine.
In both sentences above, although there is no antecedent, it is understood that:
- in the first sentence "el que" refers to un hombre, a man.
- in the second sentence "el que" refers to un libro, a book.
These must have been mentioned previously in the conversation so that the other person knows what they are referring to.
Now, have a look at some examples that refer to a feminine noun:
La que está sentada en la mesa de la esquina se llama Verónica.The one who is sitting at the corner table is called Verónica.
Las que tienen forma redonda me gustan más.The ones that have a round shape are more appealing to me.
In the first example, it is understood by the context that it refers to a woman.
In the second example, we know by the context that it refers to some objects. These would have been mentioned in the conversation previously.
Apart from the articles el/la/los/las which give us a clue as to the gender and number, there are other elements in the sentence that help. These other elements agree in gender and number with the relative pronoun.
For example, on this example:
La que me insultó era una chica morena.
The one who insulted me was a dark-haired girl.
The verbs insultó and era are singular, in agreement with la. There is also agreement in number and gender with una chica morena.
La que enseñaba francés, se jubiló el año pasado.The one who used to teach French, retired last year. [one = feminine]
Las que comimos en ese restaurante, estaban deliciosas.The ones that we ate in that restaurant, were delicious. [ones = feminine plural]
Las que me atraen más son rubias y altas.The ones that I am attracted to the most are blond and tall. [ones = feminine plural]
Los que se fabrican en Rusia, son de buena calidad.The ones that are made in Russia, are of good quality.
Los que hayan reservado con antelación pueden ir a esa ventanilla.The ones who booked in advance can go to that desk.
Las que conocimos en Cuba, vivían en Estados Unidos.The ones that we met in Cuba, lived in the USA. [ones = feminine plural]
Los que han suspendido todas las asignaturas, tendrán que repetir curso.The ones who have failed to pass all subjects, will have to repeat the year.
In these cases we generally find it preceded by the verb ser.
El profesor de historia es el que me castigó.The history teacher is the one who gave me detention.
Esas casas de allí son las que José quería comprar.Those houses over there are the ones José wanted to buy.
Ellos han sido los que me han insultado.They were the the ones who insulted me.
Mis amigas fueron las que me animaron a ir al viaje.My (female) friends were (the ones) who encouraged me to go on the trip.
With antecedent (between commas)
When we have an antecedent followed by a relative (el que, la que, los que, las que) but we are adding information to clarify which specific group within that subject we are referring to, we add commas and the meaning of the sentence changes:
Aquella mujer, la que tiene el pelo negro, es la madre de Antonio.That lady, the one who has black hair, is Antonio's mum.
Here we are being very specific about who we are talking about, clarifiying which lady we are referring to.
Coge un par de plátanos, los que estén más maduros. Grab a couple of bananas, the ones that are more ripe.
The speaker is being specific here about which bananas his friend should take. You can imagine a bowl full of bananas, some of them ripe and some not ripe.
Quien / quienes
Bear in mind that el que, la que, los que, las que can be replaced by quien/quienes without changing the meaning, only in the cases where they refer to people, not things.
Quien dirija ese departamento debe ser muy listo.The one who/Whoever leads that department must be very smart.
El que dirija ese departamento debe ser muy listo.The one who/Whoever leads that department must be very smart.
Quienes lleguen a la cima recibirán un trofeo.The ones who/Those who reach the top will receive a trophy.
Los que lleguen a la cima recibirán un trofeo.The ones who/Those who reach the top will receive a trophy.
See also Pronombre relativo
Want to make sure your Spanish sounds confident?
We’ll map your knowledge and give you free lessons to focus on your
gaps and mistakes. Start your Braimap today »