French Pronoun Order

Instructor: Emily France

Emily has experience teaching English and French and has a master's degree in International Studies

In this lesson, we will learn how to use French pronouns. We will explore when and where to use subject pronouns, direct object pronouns, indirect object pronouns, and stressed pronouns in multiple verb tenses.

Introduction

Sally is on a date with a suave new French-speaking someone named Jacques, and he asks some typical get-to-know-you questions. He wants to know about some of her favorite things. Here's a bit of their conversation:

Jacques: Aimes-tu les films romantiques? (Do you like romantic movies?)

Sally: Oui, je les aime. (Yes, I like them.)

Jacques: J'ai un frère. As-tu des frères? (I have a brother. Do you have any brothers?)

Sally: Oui, j'en ai deux. (Yes, I have two.)

At the end of the evening, Jacques asks Sally to call him by saying appelle-moi, to which she responds Je t'appellerai (I will call you) or, if things didn't go well, je ne t'appelerai pas. You'll notice that all of Sally's responses require the use of pronouns to refer to the nouns in Jacques' statements, such as les films, le fromage, des frères, etc.

Doing this in English is pretty simple. Objects and the pronouns that replace them go in the same place; 'he looks at his watch' simply becomes 'he looks at it.' In French, however, things are a little more complicated. Object pronouns in French rarely fall at the end of a sentence (unless you're using a command), so knowing where to place these pronouns is crucial in making sure you get your meaning across.

Knowing how and where to use pronouns in French is useful during a first date.
Two people on a date

List of Pronouns

Before clarifying where an object pronoun should go in a sentence, let's go over all the pronouns you might need to use, as seen below:

Subject pronoun Direct object pronoun Indirect object pronoun Stressed pronoun
I je (zhuh) me (muh) me (muh) moi (mwah)
You (singular & informal) tu (too) te (tuh) te (tuh) toi (twah)
He/she/it/one il/elle/on (eel/el/ohn) le/la (luh/lah) lui (lwee) lui/elle (lwee/el)
We nous (noo) nous (noo) nous (noo) nous (noo)
You (plural or formal) vous (voo) vous (voo) vous (voo) vous (voo)
They ils/elles (eel/el) les (lay) leur (lör) eux/elles (öh/el)

It's important to note that, in French, the pronouns you use to replace direct and indirect objects are sometimes different.

To clarify: if you were to say 'I'm talking to him,' you would use the indirect object pronoun for 'him,' which is lui, to say je lui parle. But if you're using a direct object, such as in 'I see him,' you would use the direct object pronoun le to say je le vois. You'll want to use the above indirect object pronouns for any object introduced with the preposition à (pronounced 'ah'), which means 'at' or 'to.'

Other Pronouns:

En (pronounced 'ahn') is a tricky pronoun that doesn't really have an English equivalent. Basically, you use en to replace objects that are introduced with un, une, or any form of de. So j'ai deux livres (I have two books) would become j'en ai deux (I have two of them). In these cases, en can be roughly translated as 'of it/them.'

Y is a relatively simple pronoun used to refer to places. For instance, if someone asked you Vas-tu au magasin ce soir? (Are you going to the store this evening?), you could reply oui, j'y vais (yes, I'm going there).

Where Do They Go?

Subject pronouns in French are pretty straightforward. You use these pronouns pretty much exactly the same as you do in English. They almost always fall at the beginning of basic sentences. Subject pronouns do, however, follow the verb when asking a question, as in, for example, aimes-tu la musique? ('do you like music?'). In this setup, you simply reverse and hyphenate the subject and the verb - pretty easy!

Object pronouns are a little different than English, but they follow a few simple rules. Generally speaking, in present tense, a direct or indirect object pronoun will be before the verb and after the subject pronoun, such as in je t'aime. Similarly, in compound tenses, such as simple past tense, the object pronoun falls before the helping verb, e.g., je l'ai vu. Even when a verb is negative, the object pronoun sticks with the verb, like in the example il ne l'a pas (he doesn't have it). Both direct and indirect object pronouns precede the verb.

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