Using "Qui" as an Indefinite Relative Pronoun

Hello, Duo! I was recently reading over the lyrics for Papaoutai, and I have a question about the grammar in a sentence of the song.

"Dites-nous qui donne naissance aux irresponsables ?"

Here, "qui" seems to act as an indefinite relative pronoun, or maybe, the start of a new and entirely separate clause to serve as more of a complement to the verb. Therefore, my question comes in two parts:

  1. Since the standard indefinite relative pronouns "ce que" and "ce qui" can refer only to objects, is there a way to refer to a person with an indefinite relative pronoun, such as in the English example "Bring who you want?"

  2. Is this a set way to ask a question indirectly? For example, if it were an object, would I say "Dis-moi que tu fais," "Dis-moi que fais-tu," or "Dis-moi ce que tu fais" (with the indefinite relative pronoun).

Thanks to everyone in advance! Hoping some natives can enlighten me.

January 30, 2018


Great questions.

The "qui" in the lyric is simply a pronoun, not a relative one. It's interrogative in function. It would be the same construction as in "Dites-nous pourquoi tu as raison." You can consider "pourquoi tu as raison" as the direct object of "dites" just like "qui donne..." is the object of "dites" in the lyric above. This grammar point is called "l'interrogation indirecte" or even "le discours indirect." (The latter term is more involved.) Other examples:

  • Quand as-tu du temps ? → Je ne sais pas quand tu as du temps.
  • Où est la gare ? → Il me demande où est la gare.

In the two examples above, the "direct interrogation" is turned into an "indirect interrogation".

To answer your other questions:

  1. Bring who you want = Amenez qui vous voulez. The "qui..." part of the sentence is the object of "amenez." It's not a separate clause. Also, as you found out, "quiconque" exists. Not as common in speech, but valid nonetheless. I would personally very rarely use it.

  2. It's not a set way, as the rule is slightly different with "que", partly because "que" can be confused as a relative pronoun. We say "Dis-moi ce que tu fais."

In "Dis-moi que tu fais", "que" acts as a relative pronoun. You will notice that the sentence is incomplete as it's translated as "Tell me that you are doing." You're not mentioning what "you" are doing. Also, I don't believe your second proposition is grammatically correct. (It's not how "le discours indirecte" is treated in French.)

January 30, 2018

Thank you so much for your response, but I have some problems with your answers.

  1. If "qui" weren't a separate clause, then "vous voulez" would not be conjugated as such. You are correct in saying that "qui" is the object of "amenez" but it is also the object of the second implied infinitive "amener" that would come after "voulez," such as in "Bring who you want (to bring)," which leads me to believe that it is indeed an indefinite relative pronoun.

  2. This would also hammer home my point that "qui" would act as an indefinite relative pronoun, for "ce que" is one as well. I know that indirect speech exists, but the point of indirect speech is still to link two ideas. Even in the two examples you gave, "quand" and "où" can act as relative adverbs, not strictly interrogative ones.

Therefore, I propose another question: Has "qui" replaced "quiconque" in informal speech?

Thank you again so much for your time. Have a few lingots for putting up with me.

January 31, 2018

French is so hard, but it's so worth it.

January 30, 2018

Amen, brother. Or sister.

January 31, 2018

Thanks for your response, but this article does not answer my questions. Again, as I stated, I know the indefinite relative pronouns, but in this case, "qui" is clearly used differently.

January 30, 2018

I'm not a native speaker, but I suggest you google it and see if you find any good articles, but if you can't find any I guess you'll have to wait until a native speaker helps you out.

January 30, 2018

Yeah, I've done some research, but I can't find anything. That's why I turn to the Duo community, lol.

January 30, 2018

However, I found some information on the pronoun "quiconque," which is supposedly the indefinite relative form for a person, but most websites say that it is never used.

January 30, 2018

Comme George a dit, dans la phrase que tu donnes en exemple "qui" est un pronom interrogatif.

January 30, 2018

Regarde ma réponse, s'il te plaît. "Qui" crée un lien entre deux idées, d'après moi.

January 31, 2018

I notice a similar construction in a song lyric today “Dans la danse qui separe l’espace de tes choix” in the song Premonition by Cœur du Pirate and was also wondering about the use of qui to refer to an abstract concept rather than a person.

January 30, 2018

Actually, in this case, "qui" is simply a relative pronoun and refers to "la danse." "Qui," when it is a simple relative pronoun, is used as the subject of the following clause, regardless of whether it is a person or an object. In my case, "qui" has no antecedent.

January 30, 2018
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