To return to my favorite theme, my Louis Segond translation of the Bible has this for Exodus 1:8:

Un nouveau roi vint à régner sur l'Égypte, lequel n'avait pas connu Joseph.

I would expect qui here. Indeed, the other translations I've checked use different wordings:

Un nouveau roi vint au pouvoir en Egypte; il ne connaissait pas Joseph. (BDS 1992)

Il s'éleva sur l'Égypte un nouveau roi, qui n'avait point connu Joseph. (LS 1910, Génève 1979)

Un nouveau roi parvint au pouvoir en Egypte, un roi qui n'avait pas connu Joseph. (LS 2007)

English Wiktionary doesn't even list the subject use of lequel, but French Wiktionary does:

S’emploie à la place de qui, surtout pour éviter une équivocité.

Its only example is from 1911, but the TLF entry brings it up to 1938, if I read it right.

Does it still have this use today or has it been mostly reduced to the English Wiktionary uses — i.e. only after a preposition or to ask "which one"?

3 Answers 3


According to H. Ferrar's A French Reference Grammar, Oxford University Press (p. 231), lequel is used in the Nominative, in written language only, in order to avoid ambiguity, where the normal use of qui would leave some doubt as to which antecedent was referred to. The book is a little bit old (my reprint dates from 1988) but I guess this is relevant even nowadays.

La poignée du couteau, laquelle était en ivoire.

Here laquelle, being feminine, must refer to poignée.

If both antecedents are of the same gender and number, lequel is considered to refer to the former one.

Une amie de sa sœur, laquelle venait parfois le dimanche. (i.e. une amie)

Trying to translate from the Greek Bible this particular verse:

And a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.

The Revised Standard Version (Nelson) has:

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.

In Greek language we have a pronoun (o opoios in modern Greek, ostis in old Greek) which is essentially like lequel as relative subject pronoun. That is, it may be used to avoid ambiguity. So I think

Il s'éleva sur l'Égypte un nouveau roi, lequel n'avait pas/point connu Joseph.

is the closest to the Greek text.

  • This answer seems to contain the most detail. Merci ! P.S. Not sure of the relevance of the Greek; the original text is in Hebrew, where the word אֲשֶׁר asher "which" is actually ambiguous as to the referent (though the verbal agreement on "know" might work since it seems to be 3ms for מֶלֶך melekh "king" and not 3fs for מִצְרָיִם Mitzraim "Egypt"). I don't seem to see ostis in the Septuagint, but I'm a very unpracticed reader of the Greek alphabet.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jul 24, 2018 at 3:25
  • @LukeSawczak The greek text I referred to is written in the so called katharevousa (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katharevousa). The version of Septuagint (Ἀνέστη δὲ βασιλεὺς ἕτερος ἐπ᾿ Αἴγυπτον, ὃς οὐκ ᾔδει τὸν Ἰωσήφ) uses indeed ὃς which interpreted in the modern greek by "Αλλά, μετά καιρούς, ήλθεν άλλος βασιλεύς εις την Αίγυπτον, ο οποίος δεν εγνώριζε τίποτε περί του Ιωσήφ ". The Greek text does not leave any ambiguity. It refers to the king and not to Egypt. I think Louis Segond uses lequel for this reason. With qui it might be a little unclear.
    – Dimitris
    Jul 24, 2018 at 9:18
  • ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/septuagint/… 8 ᾿Ανέστη δὲ βασιλεὺς ἕτερος ἐπ᾿ Αἴγυπτον, ὃς οὐκ ᾔδει τὸν ᾿Ιωσήφ. 8 And there arose up another king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph. The English translation (with who) has this ambiguity or not?
    – Dimitris
    Jul 24, 2018 at 9:21
  • Oh, interesting! Thanks. Since Louis Segond was translated from the Hebrew, I still don't see any cause and effect from the Greek to the French, but it is good to know that this is how they interpreted it too. In English "who" is unambiguous since it refers to sentient beings — the alternative meaning would be written "Egypt, which" or "the Egyptians, who".
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jul 24, 2018 at 12:23
  • The Bible is a great place to learn/study another language. My wife learnt Greek in this way:-)! Myself, I use it to learn German. I am happy being useful. You have helped me a lot with your answers!
    – Dimitris
    Jul 24, 2018 at 12:43

In your sentence, lequel is used because if qui was used, it would reference l'Égypte:

Un nouveau roi vint à régner sur l'Égypte, qui sortait d'une guerre contre [...]

There are other ways to formulate this as you mentioned, but this phrasing is kind of elevated and ceremonial, so it fits well in writings like the Bible.

It's not very common in spoken French, but it can be found in written texts, especially when they're elevated.


Lequel is still used as a subject today in non interrogative phrases, but essentially in written French.

Just google lequel a déclaré or lequel a refusé to find common examples.

  • Does this work for objects too? La question trois sur le test, laquelle le prof voulait poser à la classe.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Mar 5, 2019 at 2:39
  • 1
    @LukeSawczak We would use que or celle que here: La troisième question du test, celle que le professeur voulait poser à la classe. P.S. It took me almost four years to answer to your comments, but I didn't work on it full time ;-)
    – jlliagre
    Feb 28, 2023 at 22:18

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