Knowing when to use dont in French is something that a lot of French students struggle with. Fortunately, using it correctly is actually quite easy and can be learned with just a little bit of practice. In order for you to really internalize when and where to use dont let’s go over some easy explanations with plenty of examples.
Although dont has a few different meanings in English there is one thing that is very important to remember, the French preposition de has to be involved. Because de is so versatile it makes it a little difficult for us to pin down the exact translation of dont, so it’s best to take things one step at a time. Confused? No problem. Let’s just take a look at some easy examples.
Use Dont in Order to Replace “De”
As you can see in the below sentences, when what comes after de is put before it you should use dont.
J’ai parlé du film avec mon frère – I spoke about the film with my brother – CORRECT
J’ai vu le film dont nous avons parlé – I saw the film that we spoke about – CORRECT
J’ai vu le film que nous avons parlé de – WRONG
This last sentence is incorrect, but often what those who speak English and are learning French want to say is correct.
Let’s look at some other examples of when to use dont.
Il a envie de ce verre d’eau – He wants this glass of water – CORRECT
J’ai pris le verre d’eau dont il a envie – I took the glass of water that he wants – CORRECT
J’ai pris le verre d’eau qu’il a envie de – Again, this is wrong but what many English speakers would naturally think is correct. Don’t get into the habit of saying this.
As you can see, to put things simply dont is used to replace de when what has come after de has already been mentioned.
Using « Dont » to Mean “Whose” or “Including”
Other translations of dont include “of which” and “whose” like in the following sentences. Don’t be fooled however, dont is still replacing de. Let’s look at how this works.
J’ai lu 5 livres. Deux de ces livres sont en français – I read 5 books. Two of these books are in French
J’ai lu 5 livres, dont deux en français – I read 5 books, two of which are in French
J’ai 10 voitures, dont trois sont noires – I have 10 cars, three of which are black
Nous connaissons une femme dont le frère est policier – We know a women whose brother is a police officer
Ils ont parlé au téléphone avec un homme dont le père est médecin – They spoke on the phone with a man whose father is a doctor
When to Use “Ce Dont” in French
Finally let’s look at ce dont and how and when to use it. This is a little bit different than just dont by itself. In my opinion it’s actually a bit easier. The closest equivalent to ce dont in English is what as you can see in the below sentences. Let’s take a look.
J’ai envie de rien – I do not want anything
Je ne sais pas ce dont tu as envie – I don’t know what you want
Elle a besoin d’une voiture – She needs a car
Ce dont elle a besoin, c’est une voiture – What she needs is a car
Il a rêvé de faire ça – He dreamt about doing that
Ce n’est pas ce dont il a rêvé – That’s not what he dreamt about
To put things bluntly, dont is only used when de is involved. If you keep this in mind and practice using some of the examples here you should be able to get it down without much difficulty.