Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 89): les pronoms objets


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.

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.

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.”

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

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.

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.

Give it to me.

Sell us some.

Find it for me.

Talk to us there.

Send it to him.

Va-t’en !
Go away!

Word order for most tenses and moods

te le lui
se la y en
nous les leur

Word order for affirmative imperative

le moi / m’ nous
la toi / t’ vous y en
les lui leur

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.


One Response to Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 89): les pronoms objets

  1. Pingback: Apprendre la Langue Française (96e partie): communication et savoir-faire, les sommaires (deuxieme partie) « coffeechat with perkyperps

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