French Object Pronouns

Grammaire: Pronoms objets

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"Je lui parle." (I'm talking to him.). Hero Images / Getty Images

Object pronouns are those tricky little words in sentences that replace nouns affected by verbs. There are two types:

1) Direct object pronouns (pronoms objets directs) replace the people or things that receive the action of the verb in a sentence.

2) Indirect object pronouns (pronoms objets indirects) replace the people in a sentence to/for whom the action of the verb occurs.

In addition, adverbial pronouns work in conjunction with the object pronouns:

Y replaces à (or another preposition of place) + noun

En replaces de + noun

Reflexive pronouns also come into play, particularly when trying to figure out word order for double object pronouns.



It is important to understand each of these concepts, because they are very commonly used and without them there is a certain "bulkiness" in French. Once you begin using object and adverbial pronouns, your French will sound a lot more natural.

Use these links to learn all about object, adverbial, and reflexive pronouns, including how to use them and correct word order.

Object pronouns go in front of the verb in all* tenses, simple and compound. In compound tenses, the pronouns precede the auxiliary verb. But in dual-verb constructions, where there are two different verbs, the object pronouns go in front of the second verb.


Simple tenses

  Je lui parle. - I'm talking to him.
   Il t'aime. - He loves you.
   Nous le faisions. - We were making it.


Compound tenses


   Je lui ai parlé.

- I talked to him.
   Il t'aurait aimé. - He would have loved you.
   Nous l'avons fait. - We made it.


Dual-verb constructions


   Je dois lui parler. - I have to talk to him.
   Il peut t'aimer. - He can love you.
   Nous détestons le faire. - We hate making it.

*Except the affirmative imperative

   Fais-le. - Make it.
   Aime-moi. - Love me.

If you have trouble figuring out whether something is a direct or indirect object, consider these rules:

a) A person or thing not preceded by a preposition is a direct object.
   J'ai acheté le livre. > Je l'ai acheté.
   I bought the book. > I bought it.

b) A person preceded by the preposition à or pour* is an indirect object
   J'ai acheté un livre pour Paul - Je lui ai acheté un livre.
   I bought a book for Paul - I bought him a book.


*Pour only in the sense of a recipient (Je l'ai acheté pour toi > Je te l'ai acheté), not when it means "on behalf of" (Il parle pour nous).

c) A person preceded by any other preposition cannot be replaced by an object pronoun
   J'ai acheté le livre de Paul. > Je l'ai acheté (but "de Paul" is lost)
   I bought Paul's book. > I bought it.

d) A thing preceded by any preposition can't be replaced by an object pronoun in French:
   Je l'ai acheté pour mon bureau. > "Bureau" cannot be replaced by an object pronoun
   I bought it for my office.

Note: The above rules refer to the use of prepositions in French. Some French verbs take a preposition even though their English equivalents do not, while some French verbs don't need a preposition even though the English verbs do. In addition, sometimes the preposition is only implied. When trying to determine whether something is a direct or an indirect object in French, you have to consider whether there is a preposition in French, because what is a direct object in French can be an indirect object in English and vice versa.

See verbs with and without prepositions.

More examples:

J'ai dit la vérité à toi et Marie > Je vous ai dit la vérité. - I told you and Marie the truth > I told you (both) the truth.

When the indirect objects toi et Marie are replaced by vous, there is no preposition visible. However, if you look up the verb dire in the dictionary, it will say something like "to tell someone something" = dire quelque chose à quelqu'un.

Thus the French preposition is implied and the person you are telling ("you") is in fact an indirect object while the thing being told ("the truth") is the direct object.

J'écoute la radio. > Je l'écoute. - I'm listening to the radio. > I'm listening to it.

Even though there is a preposition in English, the French verb écouter means "to listen to" - it is not followed by a preposition and thus in French "radio" is a direct object while in English it is an indirect object.

Double object pronouns is a bit of a misnomer; it's just a shorter way of saying "two of any of the following: object pronouns, adverbial pronouns, and/or reflexive pronouns." So before studying this lesson, be sure you understand all of these types of pronouns - you'll find links to lessons in introduction to object pronouns.

There is a fixed order for double object pronouns, or rather two fixed orders, depending on the verbal contruction:

1) In all verb tenses and moods except the affirmative imperative, object, adverbial, and reflexive pronouns always go in front of the verb,* and must be in the order as shown in the table at the bottom of the page.



   Je montre la carte à mon père - Je la lui montre.
   I'm showing the letter to my father - I'm showing it to him.

   Je mets la carte sur la table - Je l'y mets.
   I'm putting the letter on the table - I'm putting it there.

   Ne me les donnez pas.
   Don't give them to me.

   Il leur en a donné.
   He gave them some.

   Ils nous l'ont envoyé.
   They sent it to us.

 

Word order for most tenses and moods
me
te
se
nous
vous
 
le
la
les

 
 
lui

leur

 


y
 
 
   

en
 
 
   
 
*See word order with object pronouns

 
2) When the verb is in the affirmative imperative, the pronouns follow the verb, are in a slightly different order, as shown in the table at the bottom of the page, and are connected by hyphens.

   Donnez-le-moi.
   Give it to me

   Vendez-nous-en.
   Sell us some

   Trouvez-le-moi.
   Find it for me

   Parlez-nous-y.
   Talk to us there

   Envoyez-le-lui.
   Send it to him

   Va-t'en !
   Go away!
 
Word order for affirmative imperative
le
la
les
moi / m'
toi / t'
lui
nous
vous
leur
 
y
 
 
en
 
                      


 
 

Summary


In affirmative commands, the pronouns are placed after the verb, attached by hyphens, and are in a specific order. With all other verb tenses and moods, the pronouns are placed in a slightly different order in front of the conjugated verb.

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Lawless, Laura K. "French Object Pronouns." ThoughtCo, Sep. 14, 2017, thoughtco.com/french-object-pronouns-1368886. Lawless, Laura K. (2017, September 14). French Object Pronouns. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/french-object-pronouns-1368886 Lawless, Laura K. "French Object Pronouns." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/french-object-pronouns-1368886 (accessed November 19, 2017).