Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns are pronouns that mean “this (one)”, “that (one)”, “these (ones)”, “those (ones)”. These pronouns can act as the subject or object of verbs, or stand after prepositions in place of a noun.

There are three groups of French demonstrative pronouns:

  1. ce
  2. ceci/cela/ça
  3. celui/celle/ceux/celles

Uses of “ce”

The pronouns ce can act as the subject of être, or of devoir/pouvoirêtre.

  • C’est mon frère.
  • It’s my brother.
  • Ce doit être lui qui arrive.
  • It must be him arriving.
  • Ce pouvait être le bruit d’une moto.
  • It could have been the noise of a motorcycle.

Ce can be inserted before être to emphasize the subject of a sentence, even though English does not include “it” in such cases. This use of ce to refer to a noun or pronoun, or to an infinitive use as a noun is optional:

  • Sa défaite, c’était inévitable.
  • His defeat was inevitable.
  • Quitter un bon ami, c’est toujours pénible.
  • Leaving a good friend is always painful.

The insertion of ce to refer back to the subject is almost always necessary when a relative or subordinate clause provides the subject of être:

  • Tout ce que je peux vous dire, c’est que la décision sera annoncée bientôt.
  • All I can tell you is that the decision will be announced soon.
  • Qu’il refuse (subject) de nous aider, ce n’est pas ce qui me choque.
  • That he should refuse to help us is not what shocks me.

Uses of ceci/cela and ça

Ceci and cela (or colloquially ça) mean “this” and “that”. They can be used to refer to a statement or idea, or to an object which has not been specifically named. Since ceci and cela/ça are non-specific, they only occur in the “one” (masculine singular) form, whatever the statement, object, or idea referred to:

  • Il a promis d’arriver avant midi, mais cela m’étonnerait.
  • Il a promis d’arriver avant midi, mais ça m’étonnerait.
  • (cela/ça = qu’il arrive avant midi)
  • He promised to arrive before noon, but that/it would surprise me.
  • Si tu veux porter ceci, je prendrai la valise.
  • If you can carry this, I’ll take the suitcase.
  • Ne fais pas cela, c’est dangereux.
  • Ne fais pas ça, c’est dangereux.
  • Don’t do that, it’s dangerous.

Cela/ça translates the indefinite use of “it” (not referring back to a specific noun) when “it” is the subject of a verb other than être:

  • Nous ne lui écrirons plus. Cela ne servira à rien.
  • We shouldn’t write to him/her anymore. It won’t achieve anything.
  • Quand tu essaies de danser, ça me fait rire.
  • When you try to dance, it makes me laugh.

Uses of celui/celle/ceux/celles

The demonstrative pronouns celui (masculine singular, celle (feminine singular), ceux (masculine plural), celles (feminine plural) are used to refer to a specific noun or nouns already mentioned. The form of this demonstrative pronoun corresponds to the number and gender of the noun referred to. Celuicelle, etc. are commonly followed by a relative pronoun (i.e.: celui qui/que/dont… meaning “the one who/whom/whose”).

  • J’ai vu tes deux voisines. Celle qui est la plus jeune travaille à l’hôpital.
  • I’ve seen your two neighbours. The one who is younger works at the hospital.
  • Parmi tous les projets, ceux que nous avons retenus sont les deux suivants.
  • Of all the projects, those which we have accepted are the following two.

Celui, celle, etc. are also commonly followed by de, meaning “that of”/”those of”.

  • C’est ton appareil ? -Non, c’est celui de mon frère.
  • Is this your camera? -No, it’s my brother’s.

The forms celui qui, celle qui, etc. can be used as indefinite pronouns meaning “he who”/”whoever”/”she who”, etc.

  • Celui qui vous a dit cela ne connaît pas les règles.
  • The person who/Whoever told you that does not know the rules.
  • Ceux qui n’ont pas reconfirmé leurs billets doivent se présenter au guichet.
  • Those who have not reconfirmed their tickets should go to the counter.

The endings -ci and -là can be added to celui, celle, etc. to mean “this one” and “that one”.

  • Voici les deux photos. Celle-ci est plus floue que celle-là.
  • here are the two photos. This one is less sharp than that one.

I hope this post wasn’t too long! Happy reading, everyone!

A bientôt !

Courtney

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