Ce qui vs Ce que in French


indefinite relative pronouns (pronoms relatifs indéfinis)


ce que (what) -> indefinite direct object in a relative clause

A learner of French can struggle with the difference between qui and que. However, it actually makes more sense to understand first what ce and qui/que refer to. To keep it simple ce qui and ce que are indefinite relative pronouns. But what does that even mean? Well, first of all, they are pronouns because their replace a noun, like a human being, an animal, an object, or something abstract. Also, they are relative pronouns because they are part of a clause that is introduced with a relative pronoun (qui or que) aimed to link to clauses into one. They are also indefinite because we can’t really figure out what they are precisely grammatically speaking when we say ce qui. Is ce an animal, a tree or a woman?

Does that make more sense? If yes, good for you. If not, the examples below will be easier to illustrate what I said. Alright, now let’s get down to business with real examples from everyday conversations. I added extra explanations next to each example so that you understand better how it works.

Je ne comprends pas ce que tu racontes -> Je ne comprends pas les informations que tu racontes

Ce que tu vois est faux -> Les réponses que tu vois sont fausses

All in all, ce gives less information because you actually replace the complement with a general, unspecified pronoun.

Tu vois les réponses. Elles sont fausses. (2 independant sentences or clauses with one subject, one verb and one complement for each clause).

Les informations que tu vois sont fausses. (1 sentence with one subject, one verb, one complement linked with a relative preposition)

Ce que tu vois est faux. (1 sentence with one subject, one verb, one complement linked with a indefinite relative pronoun)

ce qui (what) -> indefinite subject in a relative clause

Je ne sais pas ce qui est dans la boîte.

Ce qui me plaît, c’est le soda.

J’ai vu ce qui est bizarre.

C’est ce qui me dérange.

J’ai entendu ce qu’elle a raconté -> J’ai entendu toute l’histoire qu’elle a raconté

C’est ce que nous pensons. Ce sont toutes les choses que nous pensons.

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