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'Que' and 'De Que' Following a Noun

Both Can Be Translated as 'That'

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The distinction between de que and que can confusing for English speakers because they are both frequently used to translate "that." See the following two pairs of examples:
  • El plan que quiere es caro. The plan that he wants is expensive.
  • El plan de que los estudiantes participen en las actividades es caro.The plan that students participate in the activities is expensive.
  • ¿Cuál era el concepto que Karl Marx tenía sobre el poder del estado? What was the concept that Karl Marx had about the power of the state?
  • Es común escuchar el falso concepto de que el estado no debe de ser poderoso. It is common to hear the false concept that the state shouldn't be powerful.
Structurally, all these sentences follow this pattern:
  • English: subject of sentence ("plan" or "concept") + dependent clause beginning with "that"
  • Spanish: subject of sentence (plan or concepto) + dependent clause beginning with que or de que
So why the use of que in the first sentence of each pair and de que in the second? The grammatical difference between those may not be obvious, but in the first one, que translates "that" as a relative pronoun, while in the second de que translates "that" as a conjunction.

Although que can be used as a subordinate or subordinating conjunction when it follows a verb, de que normally is used as a subordinating conjunction following a noun.

So how can you tell if you're translating a sentence of this pattern to Spanish if "that" should be translated as que or de que? Almost always, if you can change "that" to "which" and the sentence still makes sense, "that" is being used as a relative pronoun and you should use que. Otherwise, use de que. See how in the following sentences either "which" or "that" makes sense in English (although "that" is preferred by many grammarians):

  • Es una nación que busca independencia. It is a country that/which is seeking independence.
  • No hay factores de riesgo que se puedan identificar para la diabetes tipo 1. There are no risk factors that/which can be identified for Type 1 diabetes.
  • La garantía que brinda General Motors es aplicable a todos los vehículos nuevos marca Chevrolet. The guarantee that/which General Motors offers is applicable to all new Chevrolet-brand vehicles.
And here are some examples of de que being used as a conjunction. Note how the "that" of the English translations can't be replaced by "which":
  • El calcio reduce el riesgo de que el bebé nazca con problemas de peso. Calcium reduces the risk that the baby is born with weight problems.
  • Hay señales de alarma de que un niño está siendo abusado. There are warning signs that a child is being abused.
  • No hay ninguna garantía de que esta estrategia pueda funcionar. There is no guarantee that this strategy can work.
  • Ecuador admite posibilidad de que jefes de las Farc estén en su territorio. Ecuador is admitting the possibility that FARC leaders are in its territory.
  • La compañía quiere convencernos de que su producto es ideal para los jugadores empedernidos. The company wants to convince us that its product is idea for hard-core gamers.
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