Ce dont and quoi – Indefinite Relative Pronouns

Pronoms relatifs indéfinis

Ce dont - French indefinite relative pronoun
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The indefinite relative pronouns ce dont and quoi are used when replacing the indirect object of a preposition.

Ce dont

Ce dont stands in for the indefinite object of the preposition de.

Par exemple…

Ce dont il s’agit est inconnu.   What it’s about is unknown.
Je sais ce dont il est capable.   I know what he’s capable of.
C’est ce dont j’ai peur.   That’s what I’m afraid of.

 Ce dont vs dont

Ce dont is indefinite: there is no antecedent. Compare the above with these examples using the relative pronoun dont:

Le sujet dont il s’agit est inconnu.   The topic it’s about is unknown.
Je sais le potentiel dont il est capable.   I know his potential (literally, the potential he’s capable of).
C’est du dentiste dont j’ai peur.   It’s the dentist that I’m afraid of.

Quoi

Quoi is the indefinite object of any other preposition.

Par exemple…

Je ne sais pas à quoi tu penses.   I don’t know what you’re thinking about.
Il a vu dans quoi je vivais.   He saw what I was living in.
J’ai trouvé avec quoi écrire.   I found something to write with.

 Quoi vs lequel

Quoi is indefinite: there is no antecedent. Compare the above with these examples using the relative pronoun lequel:

Il y a plusieurs propositions – je ne sais pas à laquelle tu penses.   There are several proposals – I don’t know which one you’re thinking about.
Il a vu l’appartement dans lequel je vivais.   He saw the apartment I was living in.
J’ai trouvé un stylo avec lequel écrire.   I found a pen to write with.

The indefinite demonstrative pronoun ce is required when a preposition + quoi begins a clause or follows c’est.

Ce à quoi tu penses peut me faire changer d’avis.   What you’re thinking about could change my mind.
C’est ce dans quoi je vivais.   That’s what I was living in.

 Ce ___ quoi vs ___ lequel

Le voyage auquel tu penses peut me faire changer d’avis.   The trip you’re thinking about could change my mind.
C’est la maison dans laquelle je vivais.   That’s the house I was living in.

 There are two issues that make French indefinite relative pronouns particularly tricky:

  1. French verbs and English verbs don’t always use the same prepositions.
  2. Many verbs require a preposition in one language but not the other.

The important thing to remember is that it’s always the preposition used in French – if any – that determines which indefinite relative pronoun you need when replacing an indirect object:

de => ce dont
any other preposition => quoi
no preposition => ce que

 Related lessons

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