If you hear the sentence:

...a l’habitude de passer Noël avec ses grands-parents.

Which means:

...are used to spend christmas with his grand parents.

But what if we replace ses with ces. Then we get:

...are used to spend christmas with these grand parents.

So how do we know if we hear a ces or ses in this case? I think the sound the same. Because we don't know if the grand parents are the ancestors or just someone else's grand parents.

  • "...a l'habitude..." will translate to "...is used to..." – Laurent S. Mar 14 at 12:03

Like all languages, it will depend on who is saying it, the context, and the situation that arises from such, but for question the answer is probably the first one, the second one isn't linguistically wrong but it doesn't make much sense, if he is spending Christmas with some grand parents, one should give more information about their identity, like a l'habitude de passer Noël avec les grands-parents de son ami, sa femme, ....

  • 9
    In any case 'ses' and 'ces' are pronounced the same way (until someone comments it's pronounced differently where he/she lives ;)) – vc 74 Mar 10 at 20:10
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    As a matter of fact, I do pronounce "de" and "d'eux" differently. – G. Fougeron Mar 11 at 11:03
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    @user10191234: as G Fougeron says, there is a difference: de is pronounced differently from deux (and "d'eux" which is the same as "deux"). – psmears Mar 11 at 11:32
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    @psmears I'm not sure such a general statement can be made since it depends heavily on regional variations and people's accent. – Sacha Mar 11 at 14:15
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    Après 10 commentaires on peut noter que personne n'a encore dit que ces et ses ne sont pas des homophones dans leur région. Certaines différences ne sont pas pertinentes pourvu qu'il y ait équivalence, par exemple je prononce presque systématiquement la finale de ces deux homophones grammaticaux comme le son é, de sorte qu'ils sont homophones même si ma prononciation est probablement régionale, parce qu'elle est identique dans les deux cas. – baie d'euzellecité Mar 11 at 21:03

The determiners ces and ses are homophonous (des homophones) and are therefore pronounced the same; more precisely, we're talking about grammatical homophones (see more of those). The sentence « X a l'habitude de passer Noël avec ces grand-parents » without any prior reference to which grand parents we're talking about, is unlikely. Generally people are not called grand parents out of the blue i.e. it's not generic substitute for gens, personnes, (membres d'une) famille etc.

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    This is the best answer, as the only one that provides sources. – Philippe-André Lorin Mar 12 at 14:20

Native French speaker here.

In my experience, I have never intentionally made a difference between the pronunciation of "ces" and "ses" myself, I've never heard there was a difference, and I've never been able to tell a difference when other people spoke.

So, purely phonetically speaking, those two words are (again, in my experience) exactly identical.

To answer your question "So how do we know if we hear a ces or ses in this case?" more precisely, here are my two cents : I do think (as other have mentioned) that "ses" is more or less the only choice, but you can't know only by ear, and context of the discussion wouldn't help. The disambiguation context here is purely cultural (imo) here. What I mean by that is that even though the sentence using "ces" is grammatically correct, no native speaker in their right mind would ever say it out loud. If they wanted to convey the meaning of "ces" (namely "those"), they would probably say "ces grands-parents là" (word for word, this gives "those grandparents there"). This habit is so common to allow for diambiguation that it feels like using "ces" is a mistake. Not a grammatical mistake, but an instance where the desired meaning will NEVER be properly conveyed in a discussion between native French speaker (from France. I don't know if it still holds for other populations).

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