French Object Pronouns – How to Use These Tricky Words
Nouns are words that represent people, places, things or ideas. There are also words that can be used to substitute for nouns. One such case is the object pronoun, which replaces nouns that have been affected by verbs. Correctly using these pronouns is critical to speaking French naturally, so let’s dive into French object pronouns!
What Are Indirect and Direct Object Pronouns?
1. Pronoms objets indirects (Indirect Object Pronouns) take the place of nouns (people) that the action of the verb happens to or for.
2. Pronoms objets directs (Direct Object Pronouns) take the place of nouns (people or things) that receive the action of the verb.
Two other theories work alongside object pronouns:
- Les pronoms réfléchis (Reflexive Pronouns): These (me, te, se, nous etc.) are essential to determining word order in sentences with double object pronouns (can be two of the following: object pronouns, reflexive pronouns or even adverbial pronouns).
- Les pronoms adverbiaux (Adverbial Pronouns): En substitutes for the partitive articles (de, du, de la, d’, de l’, des) that come before a noun of place or quantity. Y replaces prepositions of place (à, en, au, aux etc.) that come before a noun.
Don’t Tense Up, It’s Simple: Simple and Compound Tenses
Object pronouns are placed before the verb, no matter the tense (except affirmative imperative, which we’ll discuss in a moment). For compound tenses using être and avoir, the pronoun falls before the auxiliary or “helping” verb.
Elles vont nous aider. (They will help us.) – Simple
Elles nous auraient aidé. (They would have helped us.) – Compound
Dealing With Duality: Dual-Verb Constructions
Object pronouns still go before the verbs, but in the case of dual-verb constructions, they fall right before the second verb.
Elles doivent nous aider ! (They must help us!)
The Exception: Affirmative Imperative
The object pronoun will always come after the verb in the affirmative imperative.
Fais-le ! (Do it!)
So, to briefly summarize object pronoun placement so far:
Object, reflexive, and adverbial pronouns are placed before the verb in all tenses and moods (except affirmative imperative).
In the affirmative imperative, pronouns follow the verb and are marked by hyphens.
Here’s a good recap on how to use French Object Pronouns:
Ordering Double Object Pronouns
Double object pronouns follow a regular pattern relating to the verb construction. The table below illustrates the correct order.
|Double Object Pronoun Order|
Il nettoie la vaisselle avec son ami. – Il la nettoie avec lui.
(He’s washing the dishes with his friend.) – (He’s washing them with him.)
* As you can see from the table, la comes before lui.
The following table shows double object pronoun order in the affirmative imperative. Remember, they follow the verb and are marked by hyphens.
|Double Object Pronoun Word Order in Affirmative Imperative|
Dis-le-lui-y. (Say it to him there.)
* Observe the table and find the order in the example.
Direct or Indirect Object Pronoun?
These rules will help you understand the distinction.
If a person precedes either à or pour (meaning there is a receiver), then the word is replaced by an indirect object.
Vera a réalisé une performance pour son père.
(Vera did a performance for her father.)
Vera lui a réalisé une performance.
(Vera did a performance for him.)
If any other preposition precedes a person, you cannot use an object pronoun.
Elle a chanté la chanson de Jeanne. (She sang Jeanne’s song.)
Elle l’a chantée. (She sang it.)
* de Jeanne is altogether eliminated.
If a noun doesn’t have a preposition before it, then it is replaced with a direct object pronoun.
Il a déchiré le papier. (He tore the paper.)
Il l’a déchiré. (He tore it.)
If a thing follows a preposition, you cannot use an object pronoun.
Elle l’a bu pour le marathon. (She drank it for the marathon.)
*le marathon can’t be replaced.
It’s important to note that often you can’t simply convert the English grammar to French. There are instances where a verb in French uses prepositions while it doesn’t in English, and vice versa.
The same goes for direct and indirect objects: An indirect object in English could be a direct object in French (écouter is an example of this) and vice versa.
And in some cases, prepositions aren’t actually written but implied. To learn more about French prepositions, click here.
So, don’t blindly convert but be a bit mindful.
Now that we’ve reviewed object pronouns in French and some exceptions, spend an hour or so to master this topic. The next time you take a break to surf social media, you’ll be able to construct perfect compound tenses and impress your online French friends.
If you need more help to reach your French learning goals, connect with our online French tutors. See you next post!