Demonstrative Pronouns in French

Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

Demonstrative pronouns take the place of singular or plural things already described. They can also indicate whether the things are near or far. In French, demonstrative pronouns also indicate whether a noun is masculine or feminine.

I'm a Pronoun, You're a Pronoun

'I' and 'you' are both pronouns. A pronoun takes the place of a noun that has already been used. Pronouns save time. When they are used, they prevent writers or speakers from having to repeat the same nouns over and over again. In English, we use the pronouns he, she, it, him and her, among others. Here is an example of pronouns in action:

Alice loved Christmas. It was her favorite holiday.

That second sentence used two pronouns. It replaced 'Christmas' and we substituted her for 'Alice.' Otherwise we would have to say, 'Alice loved Christmas. Christmas was Alice's favorite holiday.' Using pronouns helps us avoid repetition.

Linguists break down the broad category of pronouns into lots of little categories. For example, personal pronouns replace people. In the example sentence above, her was a personal pronoun because it referred to Alice. 'You' and 'I' are both personal pronouns too.

Demonstrative pronouns replace things, not people. The main demonstrative pronouns in English are this, that, these, and those. You can break them down even further into demonstrative pronouns that take the place of single or plural objects: this refers to one thing, these refers to multiple things. You can also break them down into proximity or how close or far away an object is. For example, these refers to things that are nearby, while those usually refers to things that are farther away.

Number Close Far
Singular this that
Plural these those

French Demonstrative Pronouns

Things work pretty much the same way in French. Demonstrative pronouns still indicate the number of things and whether they are near or far. However, things are complicated by the fact that French nouns are gendered. The house (la maison, pronounced leh may-ZEHN) is feminine, and the garage (le garage, pronounced luh GARE-ahzh) is masculine. The day (le jour, pronounced luh zhoor) is masculine but the night (la nuit, or leh nyooee) is feminine. Since the pronoun is going to replace the noun, you'll have to know what gender your noun is in addition to whether it is single or plural, near or far.

Singular Nouns

If you are replacing a feminine noun, and it's just one object, you would use celle, pronounced just like 'sell.' Masculine singular nouns are replaced with celui (SUH-looee). The French also tack on -ci (see) if the object is nearby or -là (lah) if the object is far away. This means that if you're replacing a feminine noun in your sentence, celle-ci means 'this one,' and celle-là means 'that one.'

Here are some examples. In each example, the first sentence is in French, the second sentence is the phonetic representation of the sentence, or how the sentence would sound if you said it in French, and the third sentence is the translation of the French sentence into English.

Alice a acheté deux robes pour ses soeurs; celle-ci est bleue, celle-là est rouge.
A-LEES ah ASH-tay doouh (r)obe poor say sur; sell-SEE ay bloouh, sell-LAH ay roozh.
Alice bought two dresses for her sisters; this one is blue, that one is red.

Since the word for 'dress,' la robe, is a feminine noun, we replace it with the pronoun celle. The blue dress must have been near the speaker, since it is replaced with celle-ci, and you can tell that the red dress is further away because the speaker said celle-là.

Alice ont également acheté deux cadeaux pour ses frères. Celui-ci, le train de jouet, est pour Antoine. Celui-là, le soldat de jouet, est pour Victor.
A-LESS ah ay-gal-MONT ASH-tay doouh CAH-doe poor say frare. Suh-looee-SEE, luh trehn duh zhoo-AY, ay poor an-TWAHN. Suh-looee-LAH, luh sol-DAH duh zhoo-AY, ay poor VEEK-tore.
Alice also bought two gifts for her brothers. This one, the toy train, is for Antoine. That one, the toy soldier, is for Victor.

In this example we use celui because both toy trains and toy soldiers are nouns that are considered masculine in French. We can tell that the toy train is closer to the speaker because she used celui-ci, or 'this one,' and the toy soldier is further away because she used celui-là, 'that one.'

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