'Lequel,' a Difficult French Pronoun, Explained

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"Je veux la pomme là-bas. > Laquelle ?" (I want the apple over there. > Which one?). Bo Zaunders / Getty Images

Lequel, which usually means "which," is arguably the most difficult French pronoun. Lequel has four basic forms because it has to agree in gender and number with the noun it replaces. In addition, lequel has several contracted forms—like the definite articles le and les, lequel contracts with the prepositions à and de.

Lequel is usually either an interrogative pronoun or a relative pronoun. The only way for French-language learners to use lequel correctly is to examine how it functions in various grammatical situations.

As an Interrogative Pronoun

French has three main interrogative pronouns: quique, and lequel, which are used to ask questions. They all have different meanings and usages. Lequel can also serve as an​ interrogative pronoun. When it does, lequel replaces quel + noun, as in these examples:

  • Quel livre veux-tu? Lequel veux-tu? > Which book do you want? Which one do you want?
  • Je veux la pomme là-bas. Laquelle? > I want the apple over there. Which one?
  • Je pense à mon frère. Auquel penses-tu ? [À quel frère...] > I'm thinking about my brother. Which one are you thinking about?

As a Relative Pronoun

Like its English counterpart, a French relative pronoun links a dependent or relative clause to a main clause. As a relative pronoun, lequel replaces an inanimate object of a preposition. (If the object of the preposition is a person, use qui.) The following examples demonstrate the proper usage:

  • Le livre dans lequel j'ai écrit... > The book in which I wrote...
  • La ville à laquelle je songe... > The town about which I'm dreaming...
  • Le cinéma près duquel j'ai mangé... > The theater near which I ate... / The theater I ate near...

As an Adjective

As noted, lequel is usually a pronoun, but it can also be a relative adjective. Relative adjectives are placed in front of nouns to indicate a link between that noun and an antecedent (the same noun previously stated or implied).

In both English and French, relative adjectives are used mainly in legal, administrative, or other highly formal language.

As it does when used as a pronoun, lequel has to agree in gender and number with the noun it modifies when used as a relative adjective. As in other uses, lequel,  when used as relative adjective, also contracts with the prepositions à and de, as the table demonstrates.

 SingularPlural
 Masculine  FeminineMasculine  Feminine
Formslequellaquellelesquelslesquelles
à + lequelauquelà laquelleauxquelsauxquelles
de + lequel  duquelde laquelle  desquelsdesquelles

Example Uses and Tips

French-language students can benefit by seeing lequel used in the context of common dialogue, as in these sentences:

  • Il y a cinq témoins, lesquels témoins vont arriver demain. > There are five witnesses, who will arrive tomorrow.
  • Vous payerez 500 $, laquelle somme sera... > You will pay $500, which sum will be...
  • Il est possible que le défendeur tue encore, auquel cas... > It's possible that the defendent will kill again, in which case...

The difference between lequel as a relative adjective and lequel as a relative pronoun is the same as the difference between any adjective and pronoun. The relative adjective precedes a noun, as in: 

  • Laquelle somme sera... > The total (or sum) will be ...

The relative pronoun replaces a noun:

Avez-vous la clé? Laquelle? > Do you have the key? Which one?