In this post, you will become familiar with ce, cet, cette, ces – the four demonstrative adjectives used in everyday French conversation. We will cover when and how to use them so that by the end of this guide, you will have all the knowledge you need to navigate them easily!
French demonstrative adjectives Ce, Cet, Cette, Ces: The basics
Demonstrative adjectives in French indicate a specific thing, person, or idea by pointing at it. In French, they are called adjectifs démonstratifs, or sometimes déterminants démonstratifs.
In English, they include this, that, these, and those. While that and this in French can translate to ce, cet, or cette, these and those translate to ces.
There are 2 main points to remember when dealing with French demonstrative adjectives: they always come before a noun, and they agree with it in number and gender.
Here is a summary table of the four demonstrative adjectives in French:
Now, let’s see some examples to illustrate each one of them:
- This/that book – Ce livre (masculine)
- This/that friend – Cet ami (masculine)
- This/that apple – Cette pomme (feminine)
- These/those clothes – Ces vêtements (masculine, plural)
- These/those songs – Ces chansons (feminine, plural)
How to choose the right demonstrative adjective in French
We saw that demonstrative adjectives need to agree with the noun that precedes them. But how does it work exactly?
If you’re already familiar with the concept of gendered nouns in French, you know there’s no miracle way to know if a noun in French is masculine or feminine except by learning each noun’s gender by heart. Once you know the gender of a noun, you select the correct demonstrative adjective that goes with it.
Now let’s see which French demonstrative adjectives go with which genders.
Ce, Cet: Masculine, singular nouns
Ce in French is used for masculine, singular nouns which start with a consonant.
- This/that landscape is magnificent. – Ce paysage est magnifique.
- I have never seen this/that boy before. – Je n’ai jamais vu ce garçon avant.
Ce is also used when a masculine noun starts with an “H aspiré.” This means that the H doesn’t allow liaisons that we normally hear orally to link the last letter of the previous word with the vowel sound of the following word. For example, the word haricot (bean) starts with an “H aspiré.” Thus, French speakers pronounce “les haricots” (the beans) with a silent “s” between the two words, in contrast to other H words like “les hommes” (the men) where the “s” in “les” is pronounced (like a “z”) to link the two words.
- This/that owl has black feathers. – Ce hibou a des plumes noires.
- This/that hamburger is very expensive! – Ce hamburger est très cher!
Cet in French is used for masculine, singular nouns which start with a vowel.
- This/that friend is French. – Cet ami est Français.
- Do you know that animal over there? – Tu connais cet animal là-bas ?
Cet is also used when a masculine noun starts with an “H muet.” The “H muet” contrasts with the “H aspiré” in that it allows oral liaisons between words, just like words that begin with vowels.
- This/that man is not like the others. – Cet homme n’est pas comme les autres.
- I remember this/that hotel. – Je me rappelle de cet hôtel.
Cette: Feminine, singular nouns
Cette in French is used for feminine, singular nouns no matter what letter they start with.
- I don’t like this/that coffee brand. – Je n’aime pas cette marque de café.
- This/that scarf suits you. – Cette écharpe te va bien.
Note that cet and cette are pronounced the same way, so it’s easy to confuse the two.
- This/that (male) friend lives in Canada – Cet ami habite au Canada.
- This/that (female) friend lives in Canada. – Cette amie habite au Canada.
Ces in French is used for plural nouns no matter if they are masculine or feminine.
- I think these/those cats are hungry. – Je pense que ces chats ont faim.
- Are these/those chairs for sale? – Ces chaises sont-elles en vente?
Regarding pronunciation, you’ll need to pronounce the “s” in ces to orally link it with the following word if it starts with a vowel or an “H muet,” just like you would French articles les or des. (Remember that in this placement, the “s” is pronounced more like a “z” than an “s.”)
- These/those tools are old and rusty. – Ces outils sont vieux et rouillés. (we pronounce the “s” with a “z” sound in a liaison between ces and outils)
Adding -ci and -là: This and These vs That and Those in French
As you’ve probably noticed so far, in contrast to the English versions of this and that vs these and those, French demonstrative adjectives don’t carry the same underlying notion of distance when they’re used on their own. Now we’ll see how to be more precise when it comes to distances.
In English, this is used to refer to a thing or a person that was previously mentioned or is close in proximity. On the other hand, that refers to something farther away or not recently discussed. It’s the same with these and those for plural.
To translate this and that, vs those and these in French, we can add “‑ci” or “-là” to the end of the noun associated with the demonstrative adjective. Theoretically, -ci is added when a thing is close, and -là when a thing is far away. However, note that French speakers tend to use -là rather than -ci which can sound a bit formal.
- Do you want this book or that book? – Veux-tu ce livre-ci ou ce livre-là?
- Those flowers are really pretty. – Ces fleurs-là sont vraiment jolies.
- Can you show me the pictures? Not these pictures, the other ones. – Peux-tu me montrer les photos? Pas ces photos-ci, les autres.
Ce, Cet, Cette, Ces: Homonyms that could confuse you
Each of the demonstrative adjectives in French has several homonyms. Homonyms are words that are pronounced the same way, but which have different meanings and different spellings (think of “to” vs “too” vs “two” in English). Likewise, sometimes the same word, spelled the same way, has more than one meaning or even fits into completely different grammatical categories.
We’ll cover our French demonstrative adjective homonyms here so you can keep them all straight!
Homonyms of Ce
Ce‘s homonyms include the reflexive pronoun se and the demonstrative pronoun ceux:
- She doesn’t remember him. – Elle ne se souvient pas de lui. (reflexive pronoun se)
- I like your cookies. But I think Marie’s [ones] taste better. – J’aime tes cookies. Mais je trouve que ceux de Marie sont meilleurs. (demonstrative pronoun ceux)
The same word ce can also be used as a demonstrative pronoun.
- What I like best about France is the food. – Ce que je préfère en France c’est la nourriture. (demonstrative pronoun ce)
Homonyms of Cet and Cette
To begin with, cet and cette are pronounced the same way, so they’re homonyms of each other!
Otherwise, their homonyms include the number 7, written out as sept, and the southern French port city of Sète.
- I have been living in Japan for seven years. – Je vis au Japon depuis sept ans.
- The port city of Sète, located in the south of France, is known for its fishing industry. – La ville portuaire de Sète, située au sud de la France, et connue pour son industrie de pèche.
Homonyms of Ces
Finally, homonyms of ces include the possessive adjective ses, the letter C, and the contraction of the demonstrative pronoun “ce” with “est” to make c’est, meaning it’s.
- His shoes are all wet because of the rain. – Ses chaussures sont toutes mouillées à cause de la pluie. (possessive adjective ses)
- The first name Cécile starts with the letter C. – Le prénom Cécile commence par la lettre C. (the letter C)
- That’s the reason that I decided to study in Ireland. – C’est la raison pour laquelle j’ai décidé d’étudier en Irlande. (the contraction c’est)
Demonstrative adjectives vs Demonstrative pronouns
In the last section we saw a couple of homonyms which are actually in another grammatical category: demonstrative pronouns. In fact, since a couple of these are similar (ce is the same word in both grammatical categories, while ceux is a homonym), there’s sometimes a bit of confusion differentiating between the two groups of demonstratives. But what’s the difference?
Remember what we’ve seen so far, that the demonstrative adjectives we’ve discussed in this post are all simply used in reference to a noun. As adjectives, they technically modify the noun by adding precision, in their case by specifying which noun is being referred to.
In contrast, demonstrative pronouns replace a noun altogether. They can act as a subject or an object in a sentence, and they can take verbs which are conjugated to them.
Demonstrative adjectives vs definite and indefinite articles
Finally, let’s make sure that the difference is clear between demonstrative adjectives and French articles.
As we saw above, the demonstrative adjectives (ce, cet, cette, ces) in French are words that identify nouns. They’re used to indicate which one out of many items is being talked about.
Articles, on the other hand, serve to indicate whether an item is definite or indefinite, meaning that it indicates a specific item or just one of many. The definite articles in French are le, la, and les (the in English), while the French indefinite articles are un, une, and des (a, an, and some in English).
Here are a few examples of these definite and indefinite articles in French and English:
- The French president – Le président français
- The moon – La lune
- The traditional baguettes – Les baguettes traditionnelles
- A white dog – Un chien blanc
- A mountain in Italy – Une montagne en Italie
- [Some] racing cars – Des voitures de courses
For a full introduction to these French articles, check out our beginner post: Le, La, L’, Les, Un, Une, Des.
In this article, we covered how and when to use demonstrative adjectives in French. We learned all four of them: ce, cet, cette, ces. In English, these correspond with this/that and these/those.
We started by seeing that the right demonstrative adjective for a given noun is a factor of the noun’s gender and whether it’s singular or plural, as well as its first letter.
We followed with how to use -ci and -là to indicate a precise distance between the speaker and the noun being pointed to, corresponding better with the differentiation between this/these vs that/those in English.
Then we looked at the various homonyms related to ce, cet, cette, and ces to help you distinguish between them all. Since a couple of their homonyms are demonstrative pronouns, we took a specific look at those, and finally rounded out the post with a comparison with the French definite and indefinite articles.
With that, you now know everything there is to know to use French demonstrative adjectives in conversation and in writing!