Table of Contents
The definite demonstrative pronoun is a compound of the demonstrative adjective ce (this, that…[noun]) and the third-person tonic pronouns lui (he-him), elle (she-her), eux (they-them, masc.), elles (they-them, fem.), thus:
|ce + lui =||celui|
|ce + elle =||celle|
|ce + eux =||ceux|
|ce + elles =||celles|
The ce part makes the forms demonstrative (= pointing); the lui, etc. part makes them definite, i.e., having a definite gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural), which is to say that these forms stand for a specific noun, while pointing to a particular case of it. Of a plurality of persons or things, which one or ones do you mean? Answer: “The one(s)…”
It is the nature of these forms that they cannot not appear alone. They have to be immediately followed by a modifier, which can be one of three kinds:
- A relative clause (introduced by qui, que, or dont); or –
- A prepositional phrase, ideally introduced by de; or –
- Failing both the above two, one of the add-on adverbs of place -ci (=near), -là (=far).
In all these cases, this form is doing the same thing: replacing a specific noun (with a specific number and gender) and pointing to a more specific instance of it. The English equivalent however is likely to differ considerably.
When In Doubt
The definite demonstrative pronoun, or DDP as I shall refer to it, can have very different English equivalents in different situations. If ever you are in doubt about which is called for, you can always1 move forward by simply replacing the DDP with the noun it is standing in for, which will always be a noun in the preceding sentence or clause with the same gender and (usually) the same number.
For instance, supposing you need to translate –
Quelle voiture allons-nous prendre? Celle de maman ou celle de papa?
– and you are quite puzzled over how exactly to translate the form celle. Celle is feminine singular. In the preceding sentence, the only noun that is feminine singular is voiture. Substitute voiture for celle –
Quelle voiture allons-nous prendre? La voiture de maman ou la voiture de papa?
– and translate accordingly:
“Which carriage are we going to take? The carriage of mama or the carriage of papa?”
I. The Form Followed by a Relative Pronoun (qui, que, or dont)
The English equivalent is likely to be: “he who, she who, the one who, the one that, they who, those who”
- Quel homme devrais-je épouser? Celui qui m’aime ou bien celui que j’aime? (What man should I marry? The one who loves me or the one [whom] I love?)
- «Quelle pièce vas-tu lire? —Celle dont le professeur a parlé hier.» (“What play are you going to read?” “The one [that] the teacher talked about yesterday.”)
- Ceux qui ne sont pas d’accord avec nous sont priés de quitter la salle. (Those who don’t agree with us are asked to leave the room.)
II. The Form Followed by the Preposition De
The English equivalent can be “the (descriptive word) one.“
- Quel train prends-tu? Celui de Paris ou celui de Genève? (What train are you taking? The Paris one or the Geneva one?)
You may also be able to make do (in English) with: “that of…“:
- Quel train prends-tu? Celui de Paris ou celui de Genève? (What train are you taking? That of Paris or that of Geneva?)
But very often, when the object of the preposition is a person, in English the mere possessive “‘s” added to it will do:
- Quelle voiture allons-nous prendre? Celle de maman ou celle de papa? (What carriage are we going to take? Ma’s or Pa’s?)
- Quel cours d’algèbre suivez-vous? Celui de M Smith ou celui de Mme Jones? (Which algebra course are you taking? Mr Smith’s or Ms Jones’s?)
- La philosophie de Descartes a trouvé son accomplissement dans celle de Kant. (Descartes’s philosophy found its fulfillment in Kant’s.)
- Dans une telle situation, il est difficile de prendre une décision. Cependant, celle du président a été désastreuse. (In such a situation, it is difficult to make a decision. However, the president’s2 has been disastrous.)
Purists do not like it, but occasionally a different preposition than de may follow the DDP3 :
- (Dans le wagon-lit:) Quel lit veux-tu? Celui en haut ou celui en bas? ([In the sleeping-car:] Which bed do you want? The top one or the bottom one?)
- Quelle montre préfères-tu? Celle en or ou celle en argent? (Which watch do you prefer? The gold one or the silver one?)
- Quelle tasse veux-tu utiliser? Celle avec une félure ou celle avec une brêche? (Which mug do you want to use? The one with a crack or the one with a piece missing?)
The DDP3 may also be followed by a present participle:
- Quel type faut-il que je descende? Celui fumant une pipe ou celui traînant une jambe? (Which guy am I supposed to kill? The one smoking a pipe or the one dragging a leg behind him?)
The above construction is quite understandable as a variation on the DDP followed by a relative pronoun:
- …celui qui fume une pipe ou celui qui traîne une jambe? (…The one who is smoking a pipe or the one who is dragging a leg behind him?)
For more on the present participle, see The Form of the Verb Ending in -ant.
III. The Form Followed by –ci or –là
Failing anything more elaborate, the DDP must at least have coming after it the adverbial –ci or –là, indicating nearer or farther. Note the following cases and their English equivalents.
A. “this one, that one, these, those”
- Quel anneau vas-tu acheter? Celui-ci ou celui-là? (Which ring are you going to buy? This one or that one?)
- (Ces-hommes-ci sont plus intelligents que ces hommes-là →) Ceux-ci sont plus intelligents que ceux-là. (These4 are more intelligent than those5.)
B. “the latter, the former”
- Il y a de grandes différences qui distinguent la Première Guerre mondiale de la Deuxième. Celle-ci a été beaucoup plus destructrice, en fin de compte, que celle-là. (Great differences distinguish the First World War from the Second. The latter was, in the final analysis, much more destructive the former.)
- Hippolyte était un grand propriétaire; Jean-Luc était un pauvre laboureur. Celui-ci enviait la vie aisée de celui-là. (Hippolyte was an owner of much property; Jean-Luc was a poor farm-worker. The latter envied the easy life of the former.)
Since the –ci particle means “near(er),” using it with the DDP necessarily points to the nearer of the two instances of the word in the preceding sentence. Consequenctly, celle-ci = the nearer instance = the latter. Likewise, –là points to the instance that is farther away and comes earlier in the sentence: what we call “former.” Note the resulting contrast: whereas in English we naturally speak of the former before the latter, this order is reversed in French, in which it is of course natural to speak of the nearer before the farther.
The Default Is: DDP-là
When there is no real contrast of near and far, you still have to put in one or the other (-ci or –là), since the sheer forms (celui, celle, etc., with nothing following) are not allowed. In such cases the default form is DDP-là.
- Il faut le retenir, celui-là. (You gotta restrain this/that guy.)
- «Lequel veux-tu? Celui-là, ou celui-là? —Celui-là.» (“Which one do you want? This one, or this one?” “This one.”)
Commentary: Person A is asking which of two things (of the same kind) Person B wants; the two are equidistant from either speaker, and A uses gestures to distinguish them. Person B also uses a gesture and points to the one preferred, saying: “This/That one.”
- I say “always,” but there will be no visible antecedent when the DDP is representing a generic human. In the latter case, you will have to imagine a noun phrase like l’homme and insert it in place of the DDP.
- Scil., the president’s decision.
- DDP = Definite Demonstrative Pronoun
- Scil., these men
- Scil., those men
Quotations illustrating this grammatical feature
Le prophète est celui qui s’oppose à ce que le moyen devienne fin, à ce que la forme extérieure soit cherchée et servie pour elle-même.
The prophet is a person opposed to the means becoming an end, to the exterior form’s being sought for and served for its own sake. –Yves Congar, Vraie et fausse réforme dans l’Eglise (p201)