Relative pronouns: ce qui, ce que and dont in French

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Relative pronouns: ce qui, ce que and dont

The French relative pronouns ce qui, ce que and ce dont can mean ‘what’ or ‘which’ depending on the context. These pronouns replace la chose qui, la chose que, or la chose dont.
Elle ne comprend pas ce qui se passe
(Elle ne comprend pas la chose qui se passe).
She doesn’t understand what is happening.

Tu ne sais pas ce que tu perds
(Tu ne sais pas la chose que tu perds).
You don’t know what you’re losing.

Elle écoute ce dont je parle.
(Elle écoute la chose dont je parle).
She’s listening to what I’m saying.
Ce qui (what) is the subject of the verb which follows it.
Ce qui est certain, c’est qu’on va bien s’amuser ! (ce qui sujet de est certain) What is certain is that we’re going to have a good time!
Tu sais ce qui me ferait plaisir ? (ce qui sujet de ferait plaisir) Do you know what I’d like?
Ce que or ce qu’ (what) is used as a direct object. It is generally followed by a subject and a verb.
Ce qu’il demande, c’est du respect ! (ce qu’ = complément direct de il demande) What he’s asking for is some respect!
Tu peux dire ce que tu veux, je ne t’écoute pas. (ce que = complément direct de tu veux) You can say what you want, I’m not listening to you.
Ce dont (what, which) is used as the object of the preposition de.
Ce dont Victor a peur, ce sont les araignées. (Victor a peur des araignées). What Victor is afraid of, is spiders.
Elle m’a confirmé ce dont je me doutais : Gérard Therrien a une maîtresse ! (se douter de) She confirmed what I suspected: the boss has a mistress.
Note : If we want to stress a point, we can use the construction ce qui / que / dont + c’est or ce sont :
Ton sourire me plaît.
I like your smile.
Ce qui me plaît, c’est ton sourire.
What I like is your smile.

A Paris, j’aime les musées.
In Paris, I like the museums.
À Paris, ce que j’aime, ce sont les musées.
In Paris, what I like is the museums.

J’ai besoin d’un café fort.
I need a strong coffee.
Ce dont j’ai besoin c’est un café fort.
What I need is a strong coffee.

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