French Demonstrative Pronouns

Instructor: Marcy Farrell
In conversation, we might want to say 'the one' or point out 'this one' - referring back to a thing or person that has already been mentioned. In this lesson, you will learn when and how to use demonstrative pronouns in French.

What Is a Demonstrative Pronoun?

Demonstrative pronouns refer back to a noun that has already been used in a conversation. In English, we often do this by using the phrase 'the one….' For example, one might say:

'I test drove a lot of 'cars' this weekend. I bought 'the one' that gets the best gas mileage.'

Here, 'the one' refers back to the noun 'cars.'

In French, we need to know how demonstrative pronouns are used to indicate one noun (or some nouns) out of a bigger group, especially when we need to say what we like, want or prefer.

Choosing from a Group

Jacques and Isabelle are a happy couple, but they have very different tastes. When Jacques says j'aime (pronounced: zhem), meaning 'I like,' Isabelle usually replies je préfère, meaning 'I prefer.' How Jacques and Isabelle talk about what they like will depend on the noun being referred to in terms of number, gender, and possession.

The One That….

Jacques and Isabelle want to buy a car, une voiture (pronounced: oohn vwah-tyuhr). They've found two cars. One car goes fast, while one car uses less gas. Jacques likes 'the one that goes fast,' or qui roule vite (prounounced: kee roohl veet). Isabelle prefers 'the one that uses less', qui consomme peu (pronounced: kee kon-suhm peuh). They say:

Jacques: J'aime la voiture qui roule vite.

Isabelle : Je préfère celle qui consomme peu.

They just can't agree on which car to buy, so they decide to consider a truck, un camion (pronounced: uhn kah-mee-ohn), but the same problem arises:

Jacques: J'aime le camion qui roule vite.

Isabelle : Je préfère celui qui consomme peu.

Number and Gender

In French, nouns have a gender: they are either masculine or feminine. For example, une voiture (a car) is a feminine noun. Un camion (a truck) is a masculine noun. In addition to having a gender, nouns are either singular or plural, which we call their number. This is important because many words in a French sentence have to match the number and gender of the noun that is used.

Demonstrative pronouns must match the nouns they refer to. So, if your noun is feminine and singular, you need a feminine and singular pronoun. If your noun is masculine and plural, you need a masculine and plural pronoun. Look at the demonstrative pronouns in the chart:

Gender Singular Pronunciation Plural Pronunciation
Masculine celui sell-wee ceux seuh
Feminine celle sell celles sell

Celui and Celle

As we saw, in terms of cars, Jacques likes 'the one that goes fast,' celle qui roule vite. The same goes for trucks - he prefers 'the one that goes fast', or celui qui roule vite. Notice that Jacques uses a masculine pronoun when he's referring to a masculine word. It's not because Jacques is a man! Jacques also uses feminine pronouns, when referring to feminine words.

Ceux and Celles

When discussing fast cars, to express 'I like the fast ones', Jacques would say, J'aime celles qui sont vites (pronounced: zhem sell kee sahn veet). When talking about trucks, if Jacques wants to say the same sentence (I like the fast ones), he has to use a masculine, plural pronoun: ceux. He would say J'aime ceux qui sont vites (pronounced: zhem seuh kee sahn veet.)

This One, That One

We can add -ci and to demonstrative pronouns.

Singular This One That One
Masculine celui-ci celui-là
Feminine celle-ci celle-là

For example, if Jacques wants to point out two cars he likes, he can tell Isabelle, 'I like this one and that one.' In French, Jacques says J'aime celle-ci et celle-là. (The word et, pronounced 'ay', means 'and.') Pointing out trucks he likes, Jacques would say J'aime celui-ci et celui-là.

These Ones, Those Ones

If Jacques wants to point out things, he can say he likes 'these ones' or 'those ones' using the plural.

Plural These Ones Those Ones
Masculine ceux-ci ceux-là
Feminine celles-ci celles-là

When discussing cars, to say 'I like these ones', Jacques would say 'J'aime celles-ci. But if the conversation was about trucks, he would say J'aime ceux-ci.

Possession

In English, we use -'s to indicate possession. For example, we can say Bill's car, Marc's house, Laura's purse, etc. French uses de (pronounced: duh), meaning 'of', to show possession. Bill's car is la voiture de Bill. Jacques' truck is le camion de Jacques.

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