Cela, ce, ca, cette, c'est
Can somebody please clarify when is the best time to use the various forms of the French words for This and that? Sometimes I get it right but it's often just luck.
All these words are demonstrative, ie something you point to.
Ce, cet, cette, ces are demonstrative adjectives, to be used in front of a noun:
- ce fruit (masculine, sincular), cet ananas (= ce + addition of "t" as a liaison in front of a word starting with a vowel), cette orange (feminine, singular), ces fruits / ces oranges (masculine or feminine, plural).
Ceci, cela, ça are demonstrative pronouns, to be used alone:
- ceci est à moi (this is mine) = cela est à moi (that is mine)
- ça va ? (are you OK?) = ça is a familiar, oral contraction of "cela".
C'est (plural: ce sont) + inanimated object = that/this is: - c'est mon crayon = this/that is my pen OR it is my pen - ce sont des pommes = these/those are apples
C'est + human being in all forms, including names and pronouns: - c'est une femme = she is a woman - ce sont mes cousins = these/those are my cousins OR (better) they are my cousins - c'est un policier = this/that is a policeman OR (better) he is a policeman On this specific issue, please re. http://french.about.com/library/weekly/aa032500.htm
At last, two other words for you:
Voici/voilà (meaning "see here or see there) = here is or here are: - voici/voilà mon fils/ma fille = here is my son/my daughter.
I think you still have questions about "c'est ce dont nous avons parlé", in particular the use of "ce" without a noun afterwards.
- ce que = what: j'aime ce que je vois = I like what I see
- ce qui = what: je sais ce qui me manque = I know what I miss
- ce dont = of/about what/which: tu sais ce dont je parle = you know what I am talking about
- ce à quoi = to what/which: tu sais à quoi je me réfère = you know what I am referring to
In the above examples, ce is accompanied by a relative pronoun (que/qui/dont/quoi) and stands roughly for "the thing": I like the thing that I see; I know the thing that I miss; you know the thing that I am talking about, etc. "ce" is used as an antecedent of the relative clause (starting with qui/que/dont/quoi).
The form of the relative pronoun itself depends on the construction of the verb and of its function: subject (qui), direct object (que) or indirect object :
- "dont" is used with verbs using preposition "de"
- "quoi" is used with verbs using any other preposition
For further explanations: http://french.about.com/od/grammar/a/indefiniterelativepronouns.htm
"ceci est à moi", "c'est à moi" and "c'est le mien (la mienne...)" are all correct to express that what you are showing belongs to you.
This/that is great = c'est super
Il est super = he is great (man) or c'est super (thing, situation)
It is great = il/elle (a real thing) est super.
"Cela est super" is not often used because of the hiatus between "celA" and "Est". In conversations, please use 'ça, c'est super".