A quick outline of French pronouns

Hello everyone,

I've seen that this has caused a lot of confusion, and I hope to clear a few things up for you.

In French, direct objects (the item that takes the action) go after the verb if not a pronoun. If it is a pronoun, it goes before the verb. Also, it corresponds in gender and number. Here is a list of direct object pronouns.

Les = them

Le = it (masculine singular)/him

La = it (feminine singular)/her

Me = me (or myself, if the subject is je)

Te = you (or yourself, if the subject is tu) (informal singular)

Vous = you (or yourself, if the subject is vous) (formal singular)

Vous = you all (or yourselves, if the subject is vous in the plural)

Nous = us (or ourselves, if the subject is nous)

Se = himself, herself, or themselves

Here a few examples:

Je les ai = I have them.

Je le connais = I know him.

Je la connais = I know her

Il m'aime = He loves me

Je t'aime = I love you

Je dois vous aider = I have to help you

Je dois vous aider = I have to help you all

Il nous connaît = He knows us

Il se sent mal = He feels bad (literally "He feels himself bad")

There's an extremely tricky bit of grammar in the passé composé involved with direct object pronouns.

Remember, the passé composé is constructed with two words: the auxiliary and the participle. When direct object pronouns are involved though, it gets complicated.

See, the participle has to agree in gender and number with the direct object's antecedent. That's a lot of big words, but what that means is that the second word in the passé composé (the one that's actually the verb) has to match the thing that the pronoun is talking about.

Let's say we have the following sentences: Jean-Luc aime porter ses bottes brunes. Il a porté ses bottes.

Now let's change "bottes" to the pronoun "les."

Ok, so in the passé composé, direct objects go before the auxiliary, which is avoir in this case. Therefore, we get the sentence "Il les a porté." However, we're not done. "Les bottes" is feminine and plural, so the word "porté" gets an extra "e" and an extra "s." Finally, we get the correct sentence; Il les a portées (He wore them).

The extra letters don't change pronunciation. In spoken French, you don't need to acknowledge that this rule even exists.

Indirect objects are objects in a sentence that are recipients of the direct object. That's about the best way I know how to explain it. I'll give an example.

"He gave me the book."

"The book" is the direct object, because it's the object being given, and "me" is the indirect object. Not all sentences have these. Anyway, here are the French indirect objects.

Leur = them

Lui = him

Lui = her

Me = me (or myself)

Te = you (or yourself)

Vous = you (or yourself) (formal)

Vous = you all (or yourselves)

Nous = us (or ourselves)

Se = himself, herself, or themselves

Here are some examples of them being used.

Je leur ai donné des bonbons. I gave them candy. (Note: indirect objects don't affect the spelling of the passé composé's participle)

Je lui donne un ballon. I am giving him a balloon.

Je lui ai donné une jupe. I gave her a skirt.

Je t'ai envoyé plusieurs lettres. I have sent you several letters.

Je vous dois dix euros. I owe you ten euros.

Je vous ai dit la même blague trois fois. I told you the same joke three times.

Nous nous achetons une bouteille de vin. We bought ourselves a bottle of wine.

The last group of pronouns is the stressed pronouns. These are used after prepositions or to emphasize who you are speaking to.

Eux = them (masculine)

Elles = them (feminine)

Lui = him

Elle = her

Vous = you (plural)

Vous = you (singular formal)

Toi = you (informal singular)

Moi = me

Nous = us

Soi = oneself

Here are some examples of using them to stress who I'm talking to.

Moi, je viens des États-Unis. Me, I'm from the United States. I'M from the United States.

Je pense que tu manges trop, toi. I think that YOU eat too much.


Here are some examples of it used as an object of a preposition.

Vous cherchez les Dupont? J'habite assez près d'eux. Are you looking for the Dupont family? I live quite close to them.

There's a French Catholic hymn called "Plus près de Toi, mon Dieu." This translates to "Nearer to you, my God." It's their equivalent of the English hymn "Nearer my God to Thee."

I hope I helped!

EDIT: Removed a few examples where I made mistakes on my part.

May 15, 2015


Thank you. I found that very helpful. I doubt I will ever get the hang of pronouns and where they go but your posting has certainly clarified a few of my difficulties with French pronouns.

May 15, 2015

This is great, Nate! Pronouns require a lot of practice and memorization. I always forget when to used le/la vs. lui, so it's nice to see such a clear explanation of when to use them with examples. One thing that I find difficult is when there is both a DO pronoun and an IO pronoun in the sentence. For example: I gave the boys the ball. I gave them it. Do you think you could add on a part about that?

May 15, 2015

This gets a bit complicated, but it usually follows this pattern.

The indirect object pronoun goes before the direct object pronoun in most cases. Je te l'ai dit = I told it to you.

There is a major exception to this, however. In the third person, it's reversed. Il le m'a dit = He told it to me. It works like this in the plural too.

In compound tenses (like the passé composé or the plus-que-parfait), the objects both go before the auxiliary verb (avoir or être depending on the verb).

Oh, in the imperative (when telling someone to do something), "me" and "te" become "moi" and "toi." I don't know why. I guess it just sounds better.

Montre-les-moi! Show them to me!

With negation, both objects are placed in between "ne" and the verb, with the same order that they would have had if there were no negation. In compound tenses (like the passé composé or the plus-que-parfait), "ne" goes before both objects, and both objects go in between "ne" and the auxiliary verb (être or avoir).

Your sentence "I gave the boys the ball" in French would be "J'ai donné la balle aux garçons" or "I gave the ball to the boys." With direct and indirect object pronouns, it would become "Je leur l'ai donnée." "I gave it to them."

Good luck on your quest, Inigo Montoya.

EDIT: Fixed to fit with what frogfish28 said.

May 15, 2015

It's less thorough than your post, but I like the page:

After reading it, repeating the sentences at the very bottom a few times cleared up most of my direct/indirect object confusion.

May 17, 2015

Thanks for sharing!

May 17, 2015

As a native french speaker I'd like to help with the pronouns

"The indirect pronoun goes before the direct object pronoun in most cases" "There is a major exception to this, however. In the third person, it's reversed" -- that is perfectly correct but the examples you give are incorrect

you wrote: Je lui le donne = I am giving it to him -- but "lui" is an indirect pronoun of the third person so if you follow the rule it goes after the direct pronoun "le" and you should say: je LE LUI donne

here are some more examples: -Je donne une pomme à Paul = Je la lui donne (I give it to him) -Je donne une pomme aux enfants = Je la leur donne (I give it to them)

-Je donne un livre à Paul = Je le lui donne (I give it to him) -Je donne un livre aux enfants = Je le leur donne (I give it to them)

-Je donne des pommes à Paul= Je les lui donne (I give them to him) -Je donne des livres à Paul = Je les lui donne (I give them to him)

-Je donne des pommes aux enfants = Je les leur donne (I give them to them)

Now the place of the indirect pronoun at others persons:

-Je me donne une nouvelle chance -- je me la donne (I give myself another chance .....hope that's english)

-Je te donne une pomme-- je te la donne (te=indirect; la=direct) (I give you an apple)

-Je nous donne une nouvelle chance --je nous la donne (I give us another chance)

-Je vous donne une pomme --je vous la donne (I give you an apple)

"Your sentence "I gave the boys the ball" in French would be "J'ai donné la balle aux garçons" or "I gave the ball to the boys." With direct and indirect object pronouns, it would become "Je leur l'ai donnée." "I gave it to them."

-- sorry but NOPE the correct sentence is: je la leur ai donnée "leur"=indirect pronoun third person so it goes before direct pronoun "la"

Pronouns are a difficult part in french grammar and even french people don't always use them properly, in particular at the imperative form. For instance it is not rare to hear: "Donne-moi le" instead of "Donne-le moi"

Hope I've been of help :)

May 18, 2015

Thanks for all the help! There is a lot of stuff here to think about, and my head is spinning right now. I will definitely be coming back to review this lots of times!

May 18, 2015

yep it's kind of high grammar level ;) One must go step by step with it :)

May 18, 2015

You will never make a mistake if you memorize the two tables at the very bottom of this page:

This way you can avoid the confusion that arises from attempting to deduce the order based on whether the pro-named thing is a direct or indirect object.

May 18, 2015

Thank you very much! I have a question though. Does the third person inversion happen in concordance with the indirect object being third person or the SUBJECT being third person? I thought it was the subject, but that doesn't seem right.

I fixed my posts to fit with what you said to the best of my ability.

May 18, 2015

it has to do with the person of the indirect object the subject is not at all involved here

Let's say "le"=un livre and "lui"=Paul If you change the subject it has no impact at all on the rest:

Je LE LUI donne Tu LE LUI donne Il/elle LE LUI donne Nous LE LUI donnons Vous LE LUI donnez

The pronominal form is a different matter actually: it's when the beneficiary of the action is the subject itself; and then it changes the auxiliary at composed tenses: Je m'achète un livre Je me suis acheté un livre

Hope it is the explanation you asked for.....if not so please give me concrete examples and I'd try again

May 18, 2015

This is exactly what I was asking for, thank you.

May 18, 2015

Merci beaucoup! You're right: That does get complicated. I will definitely refer back to this in the future!

May 15, 2015

Still to be fixed ;):

Je lui le donne = I am giving it to him. Il le m'a dit = He told it to me

May 18, 2015

Excellent reference. Thank you!

May 15, 2015

That's a great job you've done and I'd like to correct a few things:

--Je m'ai acheté un gâteau. I bought myself a cake----->> we say: "je me suis acheté un gâteau" It would be the same for: tu t'ES acheté / Nous nous SOMMES acheté/ Vous vous ETES acheté / Ils se SONT acheté un gâteau

But we say: je t'ai acheté, je lui ai acheté / je nous ai acheté / je vous ai acheté / je leur ai acheté un gâteau

Same case with: Il s'a envoyé une lettre = He sent himself a letter---->> we say: "Il s'EST envoyé une lettre"

The pronominal conjugaison is very tricky

May 18, 2015

Ah, thanks. I just removed these examples.

May 18, 2015

Sorry for a wall of text :p

May 15, 2015

Lifesaver! This is really helpful.

May 16, 2015

Thanks heaps.

May 16, 2015

thanks. really helped

May 18, 2015

Thank you! Am a beginner to French and Duolingo so your your post has helped to clear my confusion in this area :)

May 19, 2015
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