Les hommes parlent sans cesse.

If I were to frame the question which brought out this response, would it be:

Qui parle sans cesse?


Qui parlent sans cesse?

I felt that it should be the second one, but my textbook states that the first one is correct.



Since "qui" is the subject in "Qui parle sans cesse?", it is singular.

It would be different if you said "Qui sont ces hommes qui parlent sans cesse?", in which case the subject would be "les hommes", which is plural.

  • Oh I see. Does that mean 'qui' (used as a subject) is always followed by a singular verb? – JustSomeoneYouMightSee May 7 at 11:49
  • @JustSomeoneYouMightSee Yes – vc 74 May 7 at 12:38

The interrogative word qui always triggers masculine singular agreement. You can see it as lacking number and gender features, and thus agreement defaults to the least marked number and gender: "Je vois que tu as eu peu de visiteurs, qui est venu ?" (even though you know there's been several visitors, the verb is still singular)

The relative pronoun qui however, can trigger all sorts of agreement, because it carries its antecedent's gender and number features to the relative clause: "je ne connaissais pas les femmes qui sont venues"

So you need to be able to recognise which qui you're dealing with if you want your verb to behave correctly. Indirect questions like "je ne sais pas qui est venu" are a trap in this respect, since they look superficially similar to relative clauses, but aren't.


If the verb is "être", then it will be in the plural: "Qui sont les parents?" or (to steal vc 74's example) "Qui sont ces hommes qui parlent sans cesse?"

Otherwise, it will generally be in the singular.

English is exactly the same in this regard: "Who is making all that noise?" vs "Who are the people making all that noise?" (The "is" in the first sentence is just an auxiliary verb, used to construct the present continuous form "is working"; the "are" is a fully-fledged inflection of the verb "be".)

  • 3
    I think it's not only about whether the verb is "être", but whether qui is the subject of the clause: a sentence like "Qui est là" would still be in the singular for a group, just like in English we would rather say "Who is/Who's here/there?" than *"Who are here/there?" The reason we say "Who are the people making all that noise?" and "Qui sont les parents?" is because the subjects in those sentences are really "the people making all that noise" and "les parents". – sumelic May 8 at 6:50
  • @sumelic exactly, we'd never ask "Qui sont là ?" – Rafalon May 17 at 13:03

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