Apprendre la Langue Française (97e partie): les pronoms réfléchis


Reflexive pronouns are a special kind of French pronoun which can only be used with pronominal verbs. These verbs need a reflexive pronoun in addition to a subject pronoun, because the subject(s) performing the action of the verb are the same as the object(s) being acted upon. These are the French reflexive pronouns:

me / m’ me, myself
te / t’ / toi you, yourself
se / s’ him(self), her(self), it(self), them(selves)
nous us, ourselves
vous you, yourself, yourselves

Me, te, and se change to m’, t’, and s’, respectively, in front of a vowel or mute H. Te changes to toi in the imperative.

Like object pronouns, reflexive pronouns are placed directly in front of the verb in nearly all tenses and moods:*

Nous nous parlons. We’re talking to each other.
Ils ne s’habillent pas. They aren’t getting dressed.

*In the imperative, the reflexive pronoun is attached to the end of the verb with a hyphen.

Lève-toi ! Get up!
Aidons-nous. Let’s help each other.

Reflexive pronouns always have to agree with their subjects, in all tenses and moods – including the infinitive and the present participle.

Je me lèverai. I will get up.
Nous nous sommes couchés. We went to bed.
Vas-tu te raser ? Are you going to shave?
En me levant, j’ai vu… While getting up, I saw…

Be careful not to mix up the third person singular reflexive pronoun se with the direct object le.

Se, the third person singular and plural reflexive pronoun, is one of the most often misused French pronouns. It can only be used in two kinds of constructions:

1. With a pronominal verb:

Elle se lave. She’s washing up (she’s washing herself).
Ils se sont habillés. They got dressed (they dressed themselves).
Elles se parlent. They’re talking to each other.

2. In a passive impersonal construction:

Cela ne se dit pas. That isn’t said.
L’alcool ne se vend pas ici. Alcohol isn’t sold here.

French learners sometimes get confused about whether to use se or the direct object le. They are not interchangeable – compare the following:

Elle se rase. – She’s shaving (herself).
= Se is the reflexive pronoun
Elle le rase. – She’s shaving it (e.g., the cat).
= Le is the direct object
Il se lave. – He’s washing (himself).
= Se is the reflexive pronoun
Il le lave. – He’s washing it (e.g., the dog or the knife).
= Le is the direct object
Se lave-t-il le visage ? – Oui, il se le lave. – Is he washing his face? Yes, he’s washing it.
= Se and le work together

Note that se may be the direct or indirect object of a French sentence.

Ils se voient. – They see each other.
= Se means “each other” and is a direct object.
Il se lave le visage. – He’s washing his face. (Literally, “He’s washing the face of himself”)
= Se means “of himself” and is an indirect object. (Visage is the direct object)

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.

Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 88): ordres des mots


The order of words in a French sentence can be very confusing, due to dual-verb constructions, object and adverbial pronouns, and negative structures.

French has two kinds of two-verb constructions:

  1. Compound verb tenses
  2. Dual-verb constructions (conjugated verb + infinitive)

Dual-verb are constructions consisting of a conjugated semi-auxiliary verb, such as pouvoir, devoir (these two are called modal verbs in English), vouloir, aller, espérer, and promettre, followed by a second verb in the infinitive. The two verbs may or may not be joined by a preposition.

Dual-verb constructions have a slightly different word order than compound verbs.

I. Object and reflexive pronouns are usually* and adverbial pronouns are always placed between the two verbs, after the preposition (if any) that follows the conjugated verb.

    Je vais te le donner. I’m going to give it to you.

    Je dois me brosser les dents. I need to brush my teeth.

    Nous espérons y aller. We hope to go there.

    Je promets de le manger. I promise to eat it.

    Il continuera à t’en parler. He’ll continue to talk to you about it.

*Sometimes the object pronoun must precede the first verb. In order to determine this, think about which verb is being modified: remember that in French, the object pronoun has to go in front of the verb it modifies. The wrong place may give you a grammatically incorrect sentence or may even change the meaning of the sentence.

X Il aide à nous travailler.
Il nous aide à travailler.

X He’s helping work us.
He’s helping us work.
X Elle invite à me venir.
Elle m’invite à venir
X She’s inviting to come me.
She’s inviting me to come.
X Je promets de te manger.
Je te promets de manger.
Je promets de le manger.
Je te promets de le manger.
X I promise to eat you.
I promise you that I’ll eat.
I promise that I’ll eat it.
I promise you that I’ll eat it.

II. Negative structures surround the conjugated verb and precede the preposition (if any).

Je ne vais pas étudier. I’m not going to study.

Nous n’espérons jamais voyager. We never hope to travel.

Je ne promets que de travailler. I only promise to work.

Il ne continue pas à lire. He’s not continuing to read.

III. In a sentence with pronouns and a negative structure, the order is:

    ne + object pronoun (if applicable) + conjugated verb + part two of negative structure + preposition (if any) + object pronoun(s) + adverbial pronoun(s) + infinitiveJe ne vais jamais te le donner. I’m never going to give it to you.

    Nous n’espérons pas y aller. We don’t hope to go there.

    Il ne continue pas à y travailler. He isn’t continuing to work there.

    Je ne promets pas de le manger. I don’t promise to eat it.

    Je ne te promets pas de le manger. I don’t promise you that I’ll eat it.

    Je ne te promets pas d’y aller. I don’t promise you that I’ll go there.

Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 85): pronom objet neutre – le facultatif


The French pronoun le acts as a neuter object pronoun in certain constructions. Its usage is optional, formal, and most common in written French.

There are four main constructions in which to use the French neuter object pronoun – the bold indicate both the neuter pronoun and what it is referring to – note that English often does not have a translation for this le.

I. To replace or refer to an idea contained in an adjective, noun, or clause

Si tu es satisfait, je le suis aussi.
If you’re satisified, I am too.

– Êtes-vous américain ?   – Oui, je le suis.
– Are you American?   – Yes, I am.

– Il est espion !   – Non, il ne l‘est pas.
– He’s a spy!   – No, he’s not.

Il t‘aime – j’espère que tu le comprends.
He loves you – I hope you understand that.

Je vais me venger – je le jure !
I will get revenge – I swear it!

II. In the second clause of a comparison, after aussi, autre, autrement, comme, plus, moins, mieux… (Note that the ne which shows up in the second clause of many of these examples is also optional)

Il est plus grand que je ne le croyais. He’s taller than I thought.

Cela vaut moins que tu ne le penses. That’s worth less than you think.

Elle est autre qu’il ne l’espérait. She’s different than he hoped.

Il n’est pas aussi stupide qu’on le croit. He’s not as stupid as people think.

Ce n’est pas gentil de parler des autres comme tu le fais. It’s not nice to talk about others like you do.

III. With negative expressions of opinion and desire: ne pas penser, ne pas vouloir, ne pas croire…

– Va-t-il venir ? – Je ne le pense pas.

– Is he going to come? – I don’t think so.

– Allez, viens avec nous !   – Je ne le veux pas.
– Come on, come with us!   – I don’t want to.

IV.With the following verbs: croire, devoir, dire, falloir, oser, penser, pouvoir, savoir, vouloir

Comme vous le dites, ce n’est pas juste. As you say, it’s not fair.

Viens quand tu le pourras. Come when you can.

Il pourrait aider s’il le voulait. He could help if he wanted to.

Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 84): complément d’objet direct (COD)


Direct objects are the people or things in a sentence which receive the action of the verb. To find the direct object in a sentence, ask the question Who? or What?

I see Pierre. Je vois Pierre.
Who do I see? Pierre.

I’m eating the bread Je mange le pain.
What am I eating? – Bread.

Direct object pronouns are the words that replace the direct object, so that we don’t say things like “Marie was at the bank today. When I saw Marie I smiled.” It’s much more natural to say “Marie was at the bank today. When I saw her I smiled.” The French direct object pronouns are:

me / m’ me
te / t’ you
le / l’ him, it
la / l’ her, it
nous us
vous you
les them

Me and te change to m’ and t’, respectively, in front of a vowel or mute H. Le and la both change to l’.

Like indirect object pronouns, French direct object pronouns are placed in front of the verb.

I’m eating itJe le mange.
He sees her. Il la voit.
I love you. Je t’aime.
You love meTu m’aimes.

1. When a direct object precedes a verb conjugated into a compound tense such as the passé composé, the past participle has to agree with the direct object.
2. If you’re having trouble deciding between direct and indirect objects, the general rule is that if the person or thing is preceded by a preposition, that person is an indirect object. If it’s not preceded by a preposition, it is a direct object.