French Pronouns: Ceci and Cela
Ceci (“this”) and cela (“that”) are the formal versions of the indefinite demonstrative pronoun ça (“this” or “that”). These are used when pointing something out, referring to something indefinite (like an idea), or referring back to something already mentioned.
Je connais cela. — I know about that.
Je veux ceci. — I want this.
Ceci is usually only used when making a distinction between “this” and “that”. Otherwise, cela is preferred in writing and ça is preferred in speech.
CE OR CELA?
Remember that ce can only be used with être, including devoir être and pouvoir être.
C’est un très bon vin ! – This is a really good wine!
Ce doit être ton fils. — It must be your son.
However, cela and ceci can also be used with être for emphasis.
C'est le mien. — It’s mine.
Non, ceci est le mien. Cela est le tien. — No, THIS is mine. THAT is yours.
Cela/ceci/ça should used with all other verbs.
Cela arrive souvent. — It happens often. / That happens often.
Ceci contient un bonbon. — This contains a candy.
Demonstrative pronouns (e.g. “this one”, “that one”, “these”, “those”) replace a demonstrative adjective + noun for the sake of avoiding repetition. Like most other pronouns, they agree in gender and number with the noun they replace.
Masc. Sing.ce + noun ⇒ celui - the one / this one / that one / this
Masc. Plur.ces + noun ⇒ ceux - the ones / these ones / those ones / these
Fem. Sing.cette + noun ⇒ celle - the one / this one / that one / this / that
Fem. Plur.ces + noun ⇒ celles - the ones / these ones / those ones / these / those
Demonstrative pronouns refer to a very specific thing and cannot stand alone. They must be used in one of three constructions.
DEMONSTRATIVE PRONOUN + RELATIVE PRONOUN
A relative pronoun and dependent clause can follow the demonstrative pronoun. For instance, you can use que when the relative pronoun is the direct object and use qui when it’s the subject.
Celui qui est dans ma poche. — The one that is in my pocket.
Ceux que je connais. — The ones that I know. / The ones whom I know.
DEMONSTRATIVE PRONOUN + PREPOSITION
The preposition de can appear after the demonstrative pronoun to indicate possession.
À qui est cette balle ? – Whose ball is this?
C'est celle du chien. — It’s the dog’s. (Literally: “It is the one of the dog.”)
Demonstrative pronouns are often used in comparisons or choices between alternatives.
Ce tableau est moins beau que celui de Rembrandt.
This painting is less beautiful than that by Rembrandt.
Quelle robe préfères-tu ? Celle de Paris ou celle de Tokyo ?
Which dress do you prefer? The one from Paris or the one from Tokyo?
They can also be used within prepositional phrases.
Je pense à celles qui sont en vacances.
I am thinking about the ones who are on vacation.
Ce repas est pour ceux qui aiment les oignons
This meal is for those who like onions.