Cleft sentencescopulativas enfáticas de relativo

Known as cleft sentences in English, copulativas enfáticas ( or oraciones hendidas) is the term used to describe constructions in which the word order of a sentence is changed to emphasize certain elements, using the verb ser to link a relative pronoun/adverb (relativo sin antecedente expreso, e.g. lo que, donde, etc.) with a focal segment.1-2


1) Example

  • Normal construction

-A ese autor le falta imaginación — That author lacks imagination 

  • In the following sentences we assume the listener is already aware that the author lacks something; the speaker may be correcting or clarifying what exactly it is that he lacks. 

-Lo que le falta a ese autor es imaginación — What that author lacks is imagination 

-Imaginación es lo que le falta — Imagination is what he lacks

-Es imaginación lo que le falta  — It's imagination he lacks


  • In the following sentences we know someone lacks imagination; the speaker is focusing on who it is that lacks it.

-A ese autor es al que le falta imaginación  It's that author/ That's the author who lacks imagination

-Es a ese autor al que le falta imaginación 


2. Example

  • Normal construction

-Mi abuela murió en esa casa — My gran died in that house

  • Focus on where the grandmother died. The listener/reader may already know that the person's grandmother died.

-Donde murió mi abuela es (fue*) en esa casa — Where my gran died is in that house (*tense can alternate -read more)

-En esa casa es donde murió mi abuela — That house is where my gran died

-Es en esa casa donde murió mi abuela — It's in that house where my gran died

  • Focus on who died in that house. The listener/reader is probably already aware that someone died there.

-Mi abuela fue quien murió en esa casa — My gran is the one who died in that house

-Fue mi abuela quien murió en esa casa — It was my gran who died in that house


Verb Agreement

As mentioned previously, when referring to people, for first- and second-person singular subjects the verb should agree with the relative pronoun/adverb, i.e. conjugated in third-person singular.
However, in conversational Spanish it is not uncommon to hear sentences like 'fuí yo el que llamé', especially when the subject goes at the end: 'el que llamé fuí yo'.

Yo lo dije — I said it

Fui yo quien lo dijo   It was me who said it / I was the one who said it

Quien lo dijo (dije) fui yo

In first- and second-person plural, meanwhile, the verb should agree with the subject; however, in the presence of the possessive adjective su, both options may be possible.4

Fuimos nosotros los que hicimos el trabajo — We were the ones who did the work

Sois vosotros los que me habéis llamado — You're the ones who called me

Los que llevan/llevamos a sus hijos al colegio todos los días somos nosotros — We're the ones who take our children to school every day



If the first half of a Spanish cleft sentence contains a preposition, the preposition must normally be repeated in the second half: in Spanish, one says 'it's with her with whom you must speak' es con ella con quien tienes que hablar.5 

Quería hablar con su jefe — He wanted to speak with his boss

→Era con su jefe con quien/el que quería hablar — It was his boss he wanted to speak with (it was with his boss with whom...)


Se trata de eso — That's the point

→Es de eso de lo que se trata — The whole point of it is that


Veo la casa desde aquí — I can see the house from here

Desde aquí es desde donde veo la casa — Here is where I can see the house from


Consiguió callarlos con una amenaza — He managed to shut them up with a threat

→Fue con una amenaza con lo que consiguió callarlos — A threat was what he managed to shut them up with


Estan de acuerdo en eso — They agree on that

En eso es en lo único en lo que están de acuerdo — That's the only thing they agree on



When referring to the future, the main verb of the cleft sentence can usually alternate between future and present subjunctive. When the focal element is at the head of the sentence the subjunctive is the most common option.

"Cuando se describe una situación futura, la relativa contagia el futuro a la copulativa, y esta, a su vez, puede inducir el subjuntivo en la subordinada".1


Serás la que tenga (tendrá) que limpiarlo — You'll be the one who has to clean it

Él será quien lo haga (hará) — He'll be the one to do it 

Eso será lo que haga (hará) — That's what he'll do


When the relative pronoun/adverb is at the head of the sentence, however, the main verb normally goes in the future tense.

Donde haremos la fiesta será aquí — Where we'll have the party is here

Quien tendrá que limpiarlo seré yo — The person who has to clean it will be me

Lo que hará será precisamente eso — What he'll do is precisely that



Another type of cleft sentence, discussed previously, is the 'copulativa enfática condicional'. Here the focal element is usually linked by the verb ser to one of the indefinite pronouns algo, alguien, and alguno.

Si comía algo era chocolate — If there was one thing he ate, it was chocolate

Si alguien sabe de estas cosas, es Juan — If anyone knows about these things, it's Juan



In Español-Avanzado Articles

-Se te ha caído


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