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For example if I wanted to say

'I would develop a system that would make kids want to learn',

I would say

'desarrollaría un sistema que haría los niños quieren aprender.'

However the correct sentence is supposedly

'desarrollaría un sistema que haría que los niños quieren aprender.'

I don't understand the purpose of the que here. Under what circumstances is this grammar structure used?

  • que los niños quieran aprender is a structure called 'oración subordinada de complemento directo'. The que here is used to connect a verb with the Direct Compliment (los niños quieran aprender), being the CD a sentence with its own verb and subject – SaudiBombsYemen Feb 1 '16 at 15:07
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The meaningful translation is: "Desarrollaría un sistema que haga que los niños quieran aprender".

First, you need to use the correct verb mood (present tense of subjunctive mood). Look at "Haga" and "Quieran" forms. Both are present of subjunctive mood from "Hacer" and "Querer", respectively.

Second, as a rule, subjunctive mood should have normally the relative pronoun "que", for example, "que yo haga", "que yo quiera", etc. This is to express wish.

When subjunctive mood is used with the conjunction "si", to express condition, normally past tense subjunctive mood is used, for example, "si yo hiciera", "si yo quisiera"

You can learn more of subjunctive mood in several places over the internet, for example, http://spanish.about.com/od/verbmoods/a/when_to_use_subjunctive.htm.

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  • I disagree. I think "Desarrollaría un sistema que haría los niños quieran aprender" is perfectly grammatical. Why are you changing "haría" to "haga"? Also, I don't see any wish here. – Yay Feb 1 '16 at 17:37
  • @Yay Creo que cuando dice para expresar deseo no se refiere a wish, sino a la actitud hacia el hablante, solo que está mal redactado. – Alejandro Feb 1 '16 at 20:10
  • The way you are translating has no sense. In fact, "Desarrollaría un sistema que haría" sounds strange for me. I am from Chile, and you? Maybe in your country conditional could be used. Where is the wish? Well... it is clear: the wish is that the kids to learn. So, developing a system for which inspiration (or wish)? The kids to learn. – jstuardo Feb 1 '16 at 20:12
  • @jstuardo Soy chileno, y también me doy cuenta que esa construcción la hallo bastante rara. Usaría el imperfecto de subjuntivo. – Alejandro Feb 1 '16 at 20:45
  • Yo soy de España. @Ustanak No se trata de que una suene más correcta que la otra, sino de son cosas distintas: usando el subjuntivo, se expresa intencionalidad; con el indicativo, no necesariamente. Por ejemplo, en Sin medidas de aislamiento, se producirían inundaciones que destrozarían los cimientos de las casas se ve claramente que destrozaran suena mal porque una inundación no puede tener "intenciones". A lo mejor el subjuntivo te suena mejor porque estás interpretando en la oración original una intención que, estrictamente hablando, no está ahí (+) – Yay Feb 1 '16 at 21:30
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Note: this is what I’ve been taught in high-school. Generally, grammar in high-school isn’t too accurate, but I hope it'll do here.

Tl;dr: you need a "que" to mark a change in the subject. It's optional in the cases where the subject of the subordinate is present (both as a subject or as an object) in the main clause, being necessary if the subordinate clause is finite, and unnecessary if it's nonfinite.


First of all, pretty much all finite (personal) subordinate clauses require an introductory “que” in Spanish. Sometimes that “que” works as a pronoun, and others it is just a linker with no semantic content. The sentence at hand would be an example of the latter.

Secondly, it is note-worthy that if you translated your sentence to Spanish word by word, you’d get something like:

Desarrollaría un sistema que haría a los niños querer aprender.

Note how the verb “want” is an infinitive in English, not an inflected form. This is made evident by changing the subject to a third person singular:

I would develop a system that would make her want [not wants] to learn.

The problem with the literal translation is that whereas it is quite common to add a subject to impersonal forms in English, it is not so in Spanish. The only case where a verb in its impersonal form would take a subject in Spanish is when the subject in the main clause is the same as the one in the subordinate clause, so it becomes an implicit subject, or when there’s a noun or a pronoun in the main clause that marks the subject of the subordinate clause. Compare:

Quiero cantar. (I want to sing)

Quiero que cantes. (I want you to sing)

In the first case, the subject of the main clause ("quiero") is “yo”, so the subordinate verb (“cantar”) is in an impersonal form (an infinitive) with the same implicit subject (I want [me] to sing). In the second case, the subject of the subordinate clause is “tú”, which is not the same as the one in the main clause (“yo”). Since impersonal forms can only take subjects that are present in the main clause, and given that “tú” isn’t present in “quiero”, you must use a personal form (“cantes”), even though you would use an impersonal form in English (“to sing”). Now let’s take a look at a different and grammatically relevant example:

Me gustaría cantar. (I’d like to sing)

Me gustaría que cantes. (I’d like you to sing)

The subject of the main clause is the same in both sentences: the subordinate clause (keep in mind in Spanish, the subject of the verb “like” is the object liked, not the one who likes). In the first sentence the subject of the impersonal form of the verb “cantar” is an implicit “yo”. Here, the subject of the main clause isn’t “yo”; however, the personal pronoun “me” works as a marker of the implicit subject of the subordinate clause. That’s why you can use an impersonal form. In the second sentence, there’s no pronoun whatsoever marking the subject of the subordinate clause (“tú”, “te”), so an impersonal form wouldn’t work here.

Now you now when you need to use the impersonal form of the subordinated verb and when not to. Once you know you need to conjugate it, you also know you need a “que” working as a linker (see the first paragraph).

Now, the sentence you want to translate is a specially complicated one. Grammarians disagree about the function of subordinate clauses introduced by the verbs “hacer” and “dejar”. I actually asked a related question not too long ago, and from the answers I got it seems some grammarians consider it to be a complemento predicativo. I don’t fully agree with that, but what I can say for sure is that it is not a direct object. However, the aforementioned rule applies: if there’s any pronoun/noun in the main clause marking the subject of the subordinate one, or both clauses have the same subject, then you can use an impersonal verb form and therefore you don’t need a “que”. Otherwise, you need a personal form and therefore you need a “que”.

Your sentence, if translated literally (i.e., keeping the verb impersonal), isn’t grammatically wrong because you have mentioned the implicit subject of the subordinate clause (los niños) in the main clause ("a los niños", which can be substituted by “les”). However, it doesn’t sound just as natural as the conjugated version (which requires a “que”, as explained above):

Desarrollaría un sistema que haría que los niños quieran aprender.

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That... Which!

Pretty much anytime, in English, where you'd use the word which or that, you would use que in your translation/interpretation.

It's a fool-proof method, though, I never recommend using English as a basis for understanding Spanish, unless it actually seem relevant / has some kind of linguistic similarity

The best way to think of it, though it may be a bit advanced, but if you need to create a subordinate clause, then you're going to need to use que to initiate.

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The sentence is an if/then sentence with a subordinate clause. These are conjugated with the conditional in the "if" phrase and the subjunctive in the "then" phrase, like this (from the accepted answer):

Desarrollaría un sistema que haga que los niños quieran aprender.

but you ask "why the second que?" This is a relative pronoun (according to the accepted answer), which is just any personal pronoun that introduces a relative phrase. (There are different ways of classifying grammar. According to some sources it is a demonstrative pronoun. In any case, it is a general linguistic thing called a "determiner".)

an example in english with a relative phrase:

The cyclist who won the race trained hard.

The object the cyclist is an object of the verb of both phrases. You could imagine spelling it out: "The cyclist who won the race, he trained hard."

The relative pronoun passes that object to the subordinate phrase. So really, this example is kinda like an if/then phrase with the order reversed.

Let's reshape this into the same form as the spanish:

He should have trained hard, whoever it was that won the race.

You'll notice that, compared to where this started, we now have an extra verb. Just as in the spanish sentence.

Notice the "that" immediately after "it" in the same phrase? Why is the second pronoun "that" needed?

The same reason as it is in spanish.

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  • No, it's not a relative pronoun. Pronouns can be substituted by nouns; there's no possible noun you could use here to replace "que". Relative pronouns also have an antecedent; "que" doesn't have any atecedent here. The first "que" is a relative pronoun; the second is a mere connector with no semantic content. – Yay Feb 1 '16 at 17:25
  • "relative pronouns" are not pronouns the way you describe, they cannot be replaced by nouns. The pronouns you describe are objects (typically the subject or a direct object). However, in the spanish phrase, the second que is not the relative pronoun, it is following it. I think I illustrate that. – roberto tomás Feb 1 '16 at 19:44
  • Sure they can. That's the definition of a pronoun. In the page linked one can substitute all pronouns by their antecedents (e.g., in The cyclist who won the race trained hard, who stands for "the cyclist"). Later on, you say it's a demonstrative pronoun, which is not true for the same reason (it's not working as a noun) and a determiner, which is not true because determiners accompany nouns. "Que" is just a "nexo" (or "nexo subordinante"). In "...whoever it was that won the race", "that" is a relative pronoun, whose antecedent is the expletive "it". – Yay Feb 1 '16 at 21:55
  • You are saying it's not a relative pronoun but you compare it with a relative pronoun... This answer is really confusing. Btw, if you want someone to be notified you answered them, write @ followed by their name. In this case, you should write @Yay if you want me to know you answered my comment. – Yay Feb 1 '16 at 21:58
  • Well there is a relative pronoun, is what I say. And it is in the relative phrase that the determiner is located. I honestly feel like you are it-picking about a detail without commenting on the substance of my post. Could you read the whole thing and think about it? – roberto tomás Feb 2 '16 at 21:12
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Without "technical" complexity

'I would develop a system that would make kids want to learn',

What is what would do? I would develop a system = Desarrollaría un sistema

What is will this system would make?

kids want to learn = que los niños quieran aprender

Then add the relation (would make)

Desarrollaría un sistema que haga que los niños quieran aprender

Another way to say the same thing could be

Desarrollaría un sistema que haga a los niños desear aprender.

This form is correct but is not common to speak like this. It sounds like a bad translation.

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  • I don't see how would make = haga. – Alejandro Feb 3 '16 at 15:19

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