This is from Proust:

Même à l’heure où elle se manifestait par cette grâce, la conduite de mon père à mon égard gardait ce quelque chose d’arbitraire et d’immérité qui la caractérisait, et qui tenait à ce que généralement elle résultait plutôt de convenances fortuites que d’un plan prémédité

I don't get why 'ce' precedes 'quelque chose'. I think if 'ce' were deleted the passage would have the same meaning. Of course I'm aware of the pitfalls of saying "you wouldn't do x in English, therefore you should not do x in French", but still, it looks like the passage translates to 'this something'. You would only say "this something" if you wanted to be funny, such as: "I heard something" and then someone responded: "well, what is this something that you heard?"

  • What's good? My question or your answer or something else?
    – bobsmith76
    Jan 23 at 5:56

3 Answers 3


I'm not an expert, but here is my opinion as a French native speaker.

"Ce quelque chose" is something I use hardly ever in French, even if I know this is correct. I'm more used to say "un petit quelque chose", which has the same logic. In my opinion, it refers to something you can't really define in French (their is no concrete words to say that), but on which you want to insist. In this context, I believe it is a way for Proust to emphasize on the father's conduct. He could have written:

la conduite de mon père à mon égard était arbitraire et imméritée

But this sounds odd, maybe because "arbitraire" and "imméritée" doesn't fit very well with "conduite". It would be better to say "se conduisait de manière arbitraire et imméritée". He could also have written:

la conduite de mon père à mon égard gardait quelque chose d’arbitraire et d’immérité

This would fit better, but their is no enhancement of the "quelque chose". Moreover, adding "qui la caractérisait" without the "ce" seems incorrect to me (I wouldn't have said that).

In conclusion, I think this is a pretty way to insist on the father's behaviour towards the narrator, but you could have found a way to express the same (or something very similar) without using "ce quelque chose".

  • 1
    Cool, thanks for the input. I appreciate you helping me out.
    – bobsmith76
    Jan 23 at 10:47

Bien que je sois généralement d'accord avec les analyses du sens et de l'utilisation du pronom démonstratif (même si je ne suis pas d'accord avec le fait qu'il soit requis ici, contrairement aux cas où, par exemple, l'antécédent d'une proposition relative est une partie de phrase ; LBU14 § 709 e ; néanmoins, je crois qu'il fait de quelque chose, qui est initialement un complément ici, un sujet « plus fort » de la relative en vertu de la thématisation qu'il crée), je crois qu'au-delà de cela, il remplit une fonction cataphorique (voir par exemple cet article qui s'intéresse au sujet et qui inspire mon analyse)...

Elle permet notamment de définir le point de vue distinct de l'auteur par rapport au lecteur à ce moment précis du texte (ce qui nécessitera davantage d'explications) et est justifiée rétroactivement par la présence des multiples propositions relatives qui suivent. Elle met l'accent sur cette "sorte d'arbitraire et d'immérité" et permet de la relier à une autre relative qui est plus spécifiquement rattachée à l'expérience personnelle du narrateur (la deuxième relative, qui ne pourrait être énoncée sans l'expérience personnelle de ce "comportement").

Although I generally concur with the analyses of the meaning and use of the demonstrative pronoun (even though I disagree it is required here, as opposed to cases where for instance the antecedent to a relative clause is a partial sentence; LBU14 § 709 e ; still, I believe it makes quelque chose, which is initially a complement here, a "stronger" subject of the relative clause by virtue of the thematization it creates), I believe beyond this it serves a cataphoric function (see for example this article which deals with the subject and on which I base my analysis)...

Features of this include setting the distinct viewpoint of the author in relation to the reader at that very point in the text (which will require some relating and explaining) and is further justified retroactively by the presence of the multiple relative clauses which follow. It adds emphasis to this "sort of arbitrariness and undeservedness" and enables its linking to another clause which is more specific to the personal experience of the narrator (the second relative, which could not be stated without personal experience of the "behaviour").

  • 1
    cool beans. i really appreciate you helping me out.
    – bobsmith76
    Jan 24 at 5:16

Ce quelque chose is pretty standard to my ears and I might still use that expression.

Here, it is not any quelque chose d'arbitraire et d'immérité but the specific one that characterized him, so it seems to match the "this something" you refers to in your question, albeit without any implicit funny effect. In colloquial speech, that might be: ce petit truc here.

Ce quelque chose appears in many books (although slightly overestimated in the NGram graphic because of est-ce quelque chose).

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Anatole France wrote (bold is mine):

— Mais, dites-vous, tout cela n'est pas l'univers. — J'en ai bien aussi quelque soupçon, et je sens que ces immensités ne sont rien et qu'enfin, s'il y a quelque chose, ce quelque chose n'est pas ce que nous voyons.
Le jardin d'Epicure, 1894

It has been translated by that anything:

But, you say, all this does not constitute the universe. Yes, I have a shrewd suspicion you are right ; I feel these immensities are nothing, in fact I am convinced that, if there is anything, that anything is not what we see.
The garden of Epicurus, 1920

Ce petit truc wouldn't work here, that would be cette chose.

    – bobsmith76
    Jan 24 at 5:14

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