Disjunctive Pronouns in French

Instructor: Romain Chareyron

Romain teaches university French and has a PhD in French culture and cinema.

This lesson will introduce you to French disjunctive pronouns. You will see a list of French disjunctive pronouns, and you'll learn how and when to use them.

Disjunctive Pronouns in French

A man is reading the newspaper in his living room when, suddenly, a football shatters one of his windows. Furious, he walks outside and sees two kids running away. He asks one of the kids:

  • Est-ce que c'est toi qui a fait ça? ('Did you do it?')

The kid answers, pointing at his friend and saying:

  • Non, ce n'est pas moi, c'est lui! ('No, that wasn't me, that was him!')

In this short dialogue, the words toi, moi and lui are disjunctive pronouns, also called stressed pronouns (pronoms disjoints in French).

Ce n est pas moi. C est lui.
Ce n est pas moi. C est lui.

When to Use Disjunctive Pronouns

This category of pronouns is required for different contexts. For one, as illustrated in the example conversation, disjunctive pronouns are used after the expression c'est or ce sont (both mean 'it is'; the first one is used at the singular, and the second one at the plural). As you can see from the second sentence in the conversation, disjunctive pronouns will also be used when c'est/ce sont is paired with a negation (ce n'est pas/ce ne sont pas).

As the English translations indicate, the words toi, moi and lui refer, respectively, to the English pronouns 'you,' 'me,' and 'him.' In French, there is a corresponding disjunctive pronoun for each subject pronoun, as shown in the table below:

Subject Pronoun Disjunctive Pronoun
Je Moi
Tu Toi
Il Lui
Elle Elle
Nous Nous
Vous Vous
Ils Eux
Elles Elles

Note that the subject pronouns il(s) and elle(s) each have their own disjunctive pronoun.

Disjunctive Pronouns and Conjunctions

Back to our story! The man was able to stop the two kids from running away. He is mad at them for shattering his window, but one of the kids keeps blaming the other. The man tells him:

  • Je pense que toi et lui, vous êtes responsables! ('I think you and him are responsible for it!')

This sentence introduces you to another use of disjunctive pronouns: They are required whenever you have a word like et ('and'), ou ('or') or mais ('but'). These words are called conjunctions, and these three conjunctions are some of the most commonly used.

For example, the man could tell one of the kids:

  • Toi ou lui, quelqu'un doit avouer! ('Whether it's you or him, someone must confess!')

Emphatic Use of Disjunctive Pronouns

Since none of the kids will confess, the man finally says:

  • Moi, je veux parler à vos parents! Je viens avec vous pour résoudre ce problème! ('Me, I want to talk to you parents! I am coming with you to solve this problem!')

These two sentences introduce you to the last uses of disjunctive pronouns. In the first sentence, the pronoun moi is used to place emphasis on the subject pronoun je. This is why disjunctive pronouns are also called stressed pronouns, as they can be used to add a layer of intent to what someone is saying. In this specific context, disjunctive pronouns can also be used to emphasize opposite views:

  • Toi, tu penses que j'ai tort, et moi, je pense que j'ai raison! ('You, you think I'm wrong, and me, I think I'm right!')

Whenever a disjunctive pronoun is used to create an emphasis, you will need to have both the disjunctive pronoun and the subject pronoun in your sentence! In this specific case, the disjunctive pronoun will always be placed right before the subject pronoun.

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