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Working on better distinguishing “quel” and “ce qui” in a relative clause.

Hello. This is an issue that I have delved into before, and with some help, I was able to grasp it pretty well, I think. This issue is when to use “quel” and when to use “ce qui”. Most of the situations where it would be necessary to distinguish the difference between them are situations where the relative clause could simply be omitted, as French speakers generally prefer to do. Despite that, I still feel the need to truly understand the difference between the two when working with relative clauses. My sentence in English is “I was asked what my favorite place to spend my vacations was”, and yes, I know this sentence could be reworked without the relative pronoun “what”, but I really want to understand. The problem is that I don’t know if I should say “On m’a demandé ce qui était mon endroit préféré pour passer mes vacances” or “On m’a demandé quel était mon endroit préféré pour passer mes vacances”. Which one do I use? Both, maybe? How do I tell? Thank you for your help, I appreciate it.

July 10, 2017



Hello! Your question is kinda complex, I think that's why nobody answered, so I'll try!

It depends on the original question, on what the person asked you, given that your sentence is in indirect speech (discours indirect). Here I think you can use both; the "quel" is more formal or literary. To use "ce que" (it's "ce que" here, not "ce qui"), you put an apostrophy, because it is before a vowel (-"On m'a demandé ce qu'était [...]). With the "quel", the right question would be "Quel est ton endroit préféré pour passer tes vacances?", but people could ask "C'est quoi ton endroit préféré pour passer tes vacances?", or "Qu'est ce que c'est ton endroit préféré pour passer tes vacances?", that is when you put "ce que". Because in discours indirect, you replace the interrogative word (or group of words) by a specific one (I found a table here: http://research.jyu.fi/grfle/634.html )


All this is correct, except that we would not say nor write 'On m’a demandé ce qu'était mon endroit préféré', etc. The version with 'quel' is a bit formal, indeed. Informally, we could simply quote the question: 'On m'a demandé: « C'est quoi, ton/votre endroit préféré ? »'


I will add that it is important to put a comma after 'quoi', because the subject has already been stated (c' = ceci/cela/ça). Literally: 'It is what, your favourite place?' The comma is just as necessary in French as it is in the literal translation, because: it = your favourite place.

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