Using the Spanish ‘Que’ as a Conjunction

Connecting word is often omitted in translation to English

man with basket of coffee beans
A man in rural Colombia carries a basket containing coffee beans.

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Using the Spanish Although que is most often used as a relative pronoun in Spanish it is also frequently used as a subordinating conjunction.

The distinction may not seem obvious to English speakers, because que in both cases is usually translated as "that." However, the distinction is important in some situations, such as those listed below when translating "that" after a noun.

Forming Sentences With Que as a Conjunction

Que is used as a conjunction in the following sentence construction:

  • Main or independent clause + que + dependent clause.

The main clause includes a subject and verb, although the subject may be understood rather than explicitly stated. The dependent clause also has a subject and verb (although the subject again may be implied) and could stand alone as a sentence, but it depends on the main clause to indicate its significance.

The usage is similar in English:

  • Main clause + "that" as a conjunction + dependent clause.

The main difference is that in English it is common to omit "that," while que is nearly always mandatory.

A simple example should make this clearer. In the sentence "Olivia sabe que Francisco está enfermo" (Olivia knows that Francisco is sick), "Olivia sabe" (Olivia knows) is the main clause, que is a conjunction, and "Francisco está enfermo" (Francisco is sick) is the dependent clause. Note that "Olivia sabe" and "Francisco está enfermo" each has a subject and verb.

Note that when que functions as a conjunction, it never is accented to form qué, which is a pronoun.

Examples of Que as a Conjunction

Here are some other examples of que as a conjunction:

  • Todos creemos que fue un asesinato. (We all believe (that) it was a murder.)
  • Esperamos que este fin de semana sea más productivo. (We are hoping (that) this weekend will be more productive.)
  • Quiero que me quieras. (I want you to love me. Literally, I want that you love me.)
  • No creí que fuera fisicamente posible. (I didn't believe (that) it was physically possible.
  • Predigo que la banca móvil expandirá en el futuro. (I predict (that) mobile banking will expand in the future.)

When De Que Should be Used

If the main clause ends in a noun, de que is used as a conjunction instead of que:

  • Tengo el miedo de que sea un virus. (I am afraid (that) it is a virus.)
  • ¿Tienes celos de que Andrew pase tiempo con Lauren? (Are you jealous (that) Andrew is spending time with Lauren?)
  • Hizo el anuncio de que el primer sencillo de su segundo álbum se llamaría «Move». (He made the announcement (that) the first single from his second album would be called "Move.")

Note, however, that when que is used as a relative pronoun after a noun, de que cannot be used. An example: Hizo an anuncio que nos sorprendió. He made an announcement that surprised us.

One way whether you can tell that que in the above example is a relative pronoun is that you could translate it as "which" and still make sense (i.e., he made an announcement which surprised us). But in the examples above where de que is used, "that" and not "which" must be used in translation.

When a verb or a phrase is commonly followed by de and an infinitive or noun, often de que followed by a clause can be used instead:

  • Estoy cansado de que me mientan. (I am tired of them lying to me. Literally, I am tired that they lie to me.)
  • Estamos felices de que haya boda. (We are happy (that) there was a wedding.)
  • No me olvidó de que la literatura puede servir de entretenimiento. (I didn't forget (that) literature can serve as entertainment.)

Using the Subjunctive Mood with Que

It is very common for the verb in the clause following que or de que to be in the subjunctive mood. This typically occurs with the clause before que is used to express doubt, hope, negation, or an emotional reaction.

  • Dudamos que su coche pueda funcionar. (We doubt (that) her car can run.)
  • Tus amigos y yo esperamos que vengas pronto. (Your friends and I hope (that) you're coming soon.)
  • No existe la posibilidad de que las plataformas de Xbox y PlayStation se unan. (The possibility doesn't exist (that) the Xbox and PlayStation platforms will merge together.)
  • Me sorprendió que la pizza se sirve con piña. (It surprised me (that) the pizza is served with pineapple.)

Key Takeaways

  • Que functions as a conjunction when it comes between two clauses.
  • When the first clause ends in a noun, the conjunction becomes de que.
  • Que or de que as a conjunction is usually translated as "that," which is often optional in English.