Imagine a world without pronouns.
If you wanted to buy an apple, an otherwise simple conversation would sound something like this:
“I want an apple.”
“No, that apple.”
“That apple is one dollar.”
“Thanks for the apple!”
I mean, do we really have to hear the word “apple” five times?
The short answer is no—thanks to demonstrative pronouns.
These handy words make sentences more succinct and less repetitive by allowing us to replace nouns with shorter words.
However, care must be taken to use them correctly, or they can be just as confusing.
How many times have you been in a conversation where someone referred to a “she” or a “this,” and it was unclear which “she” or “this” they were talking about?
In French, it’s no different.
Not to mention, it’s easy to get confused among all the different kinds of pronouns that exist—subject pronouns, object pronouns and possessive pronouns, to name just a few.
But no worries!
This helpful guide will aptly demonstrate French demonstrative pronouns and show you how to use them.
What Are French Demonstrative Pronouns?
Loosely, French demonstrative pronouns can be translated to the English pronouns “this one,” “that one,” “these over here” or “those over there.”
However, as with most things, the French demonstrative pronouns are a bit more complicated than our English ones.
That’s because (just like other kinds of pronouns) they have to agree in gender and number with the nouns they replace.
The four French demonstrative pronouns are:
- Celui (the one/that one). Masculine singular. (Je préfère celui. — I prefer this one.)
- Celle (the one/that one). Feminine singular. (C’est celle de ma mère. — It’s the one belonging to my mother.)
- Ceux (the ones/those ones). Masculine plural. (Example: J’aime ceux qui sont sur la table. — I like the ones on the table.)
- Celles (the ones/those ones). Feminine plural. (Example: Tu préfères celles-ci ou celles-là? — Do you prefer these or those?)
To have some fun with these demonstrative pronouns, check out this song—Celui by 80s singer Colonel Reyel.
As you can see, French demonstrative pronouns are used everywhere—especially in media like songs and movies.
French Demonstrative Pronouns vs. French Determiners
There are a few pointers to keep in mind when using these pronouns. For one thing, they always need to have a clear antecedent.
In other words, avoid using them if it’s unclear what they’re referring to.
For example, you’d never say, “I prefer this one,” unless who you’re talking to knew exactly what the word “this one” meant.
If the sentence appears in isolation, it just wouldn’t make any sense.
Another important point to keep in mind: demonstrative pronouns replace a noun in a sentence.
They’re different from demonstrative adjectives (also called determiners) which precede the noun in order to point it out from others in a group.
Here’s an example to show you what I mean.
Tu vois cet homme? — Do you see that man?
Celui avec la grosse moustache? — The one with the big mustache?
In the first question, the adjective cet precedes and describes the noun (homme).
In the second one, the pronoun celui functions as a replacement for the noun (homme).
If you aren’t familiar with the French determiners, they are:
- Ce (this/that). Masculine singular. Ce garçon, ce livre. (This boy, that book.)
- Cet (this/that). Masculine singular before a vowel sound. Cet homme, cet oiseau. (That man, this bird.)
- Cette (this/that). Feminine singular. Cette femme, cette table. (This woman, that table.)
- Ces (these/those). Masculine/female plural. Ces livres, ces filles, ces hommes. (These books, those girls, these men.)
As with other pronouns mentioned here, the suffixes -ci and -là can be added for further clarification.
These suffixes would be added to the noun. Like this:
Cette maison-là — That house over there
Ces livres-ci — These books here
Cet homme-là — That man over there
Ces biscuits-ci — These cookies here
For some fun with this construction, check out M. Pokora’s video of Cette Année-Là.
What About Demonstrative Indefinite Pronouns?
There are times when a demonstrative pronoun refers to a noun that’s highly specific (“this one,” “these over here,” “that one over there”).
However, there are other times when the pronoun refers not to a thing, but to an idea or a statement.
In these cases, you’ll want to use a demonstrative indefinite pronoun.
These are pronouns that refer to a part of a sentence or to a specific clause.
In English, we commonly use the words “this” or “that” in these situations (for example, “I didn’t hear that” or “Do you understand this?”).
If you’ve been learning or speaking French for a while, then chances are you’ve already seen one of these indefinite pronouns quite often in the popular word C’est.
This word combines the demonstrative indefinite pronoun ce with a form of the verb être to mean “This is” or “That is.”
This is how we end up with phrases like C’est la vie (that’s life), C’est vrai/faux (that’s true/false), C’est tout (that’s all) and the popular expression C’est bon.
With any verb besides être, you should use the pronouns ceci or cela.
Je suis d’accord avec cela. — I agree with that.
You’ll find that in most conversations, ceci and cela are replaced by the pronoun ça.
Ça va bien? — Is that going well?
Tu trouves ça originale? — Do you find this to be original?
How to Use French Demonstrative Pronouns
Demonstrative pronouns should only be used if you need to single something out from a group without naming the noun specifically.
These pronouns always stand alone.
Unlike demonstrative adjectives, they aren’t accompanied by a noun, because they function as the noun in the sentence.
Sometimes, you have to add a suffix—either –ci or –là—to specify whether you’re referring to something nearby or something far away.
Tu aimes celui-ci? Non, je préfère celui-là. — Do you like this one here? No, I prefer that one over there.
Celle-ci est plus sympathique que celle-là. — This one here is nicer than that one over there.
When to Use French Demonstrative Pronouns
It can be confusing to try to figure out when you should use demonstrative pronouns as opposed to other kinds of pronouns.
To help with this confusion, here are a few specific situations that indicate exactly when a demonstrative pronoun should be used.
With a prepositional phrase.
The most common preposition that you’ll use with a demonstrative pronoun is de.
In this case, you’re using the pronoun to demonstrate relationship or belonging.
C’est ton livre? Non, c’est celui de ma copine. — Is that your book? No, it’s the one belonging to my friend.
Ce n’est pas ma robe; c’est celle de ma sœur. — It’s not my dress; it’s the one that belongs to my sister.
With a relative pronoun.
Just as a refresher, the French relative pronouns are qui (who), que (what), lequel/laquelle (which), dont (whose) and où (where).
These pronouns function together to introduce a dependent clause.
Ceux qui veulent réussir doivent travailler. — Those who want to succeed must work.
Voici celle dont j’ai pensé. — Here is the one that I was thinking of.
With a suffix (-ci or -là).
With no relative pronoun or prepositional phrase, you still need something to further clarify and specify what it’s referring to.
This is when you add the appropriate suffix, either -çi for something that’s close to you, or -là for something that’s further away.
Je regarde celui-ci. — I’m looking at this one here.
As-tu vu celles-là? —Have you seen those over there?
By keeping these simple pointers in mind, you’ll be well on your way to more concise language using French demonstrative pronouns.