French/Grammar/Pronouns

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Subject pronouns[edit]

A pronoun replaces a noun in a sentence. Often used to prevent repeating the noun. French has six different types of subject pronouns: the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person singular and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person plural.

Grammar
Subject Pronouns · Les pronoms soumis
1st person singular je I
plural nous we
2nd person singular tu you
plural vous* you
3rd person singular il, elle, on** he, she, one
plural ils, elles*** they (masculine)
they (feminine)

Notes:

* When referring to more than one person in the 2nd person, “vous” must be used. When referring to a single person, “vous” or “tu” may be used depending on the situation. Tu is informal and used only with well-known acquaintances. In case of unknown persons you have to use the polite form Vous. A good example, to explain that is the following: If two business acquaintances meet another, they say Vous. If they later fall in love, they say Tu. When unsure, it is better to say "vous." Also, grammatically, even the singular form of "vous" behaves as though it were a plural, so even if you are addressing only one person, you would still use verbal grammar consistent with addressing multiple people, similar to English (as in "you are", "you [all] are", "they are.") Nevertheless, the adjectives or past participles are declined according to the true number of the referring pronoun.

Examples, addressing one person:

  • Tu chantes - you sing (informal)
  • Vous chantez - you sing (polite) - (also, to address many persons)
  • Tu es grand - You are tall (informal)
  • Vous êtes grand - You are tall (polite, male)
  • Vous êtes grande - You are tall (polite, female)

Examples, addressing many persons:

  • Vous êtes grands - You are tall (informal or polite, male, many persons)
  • Vous êtes grandes - You are tall (informal or polite, female, many persons)

** - il denotes masculine nouns, elle denotes feminine nouns, and on is for indeterminate subjects (see below).

*** - While the third person plural "they" has no gender in English, the French equivalents "ils" and "elles" do. However, when pronounced, they normally sound the same as "il" and "elle", so distinguishing the difference requires understanding of the various conjugations of the verbs following the pronoun. Ils is used with all-male or mixed groups, elles is only used when all members of the group are female. Examples:

  • Jack et Philipp parlent - Jack and Philipp speak
    Ils parlent - They speak (all-male group)
  • Jack et Lucy parlent - Jack and Lucy speak
    Ils parlent - They speak (mixed group)
  • Lucy et Dina parlent - Lucy and Dina speak
    Elles parlent - They speak (all female group)

The pronoun on[edit]

French pronouns carry meanings that do not exist in English pronouns. The French third person "on" has several meanings, but most closely matches the English "one", except that it is not so formal, and is more common. It has a number of uses:

  • It is used in the same ways as the English personal pronoun one:
    • It is used in expressing generalities: « C'est en forgeant qu'on devient forgeron. » ("It is by blacksmithing that one becomes a blacksmith.")
    • It is the implicit subject for an infinitive that has no other implicit subject: « penser qu'on a raison » ("to think that one is right," i.e. "to think oneself right").
  • Because of French's limited passive voice, it is often used as an empty subject when the agent is unknown or unimportant: « On me l'a donné. » ("[On] gave it to me" or "I was given it" or "It was given to me.")
  • It is used as a less formal substitute for the subject pronoun nous (we). In this case, note that even though on always takes a third-person singular verb, it takes plural adjectives (« On est américains », "We're American"). Also, note that the other forms of nous (direct object, indirect object, and disjunctive) are not replaced by forms of on unless on is the subject as well. (Hence, « Ils nous l'ont donné », "They gave it to us," but « On se l'est donné », "We gave it to ourselves.")
  • It is not the number 1, and therefore is not used to mean "one of them." In French as in English, numbers can be used as pronouns — « Deux sont entrés et un est ressorti »,

"Two went in and one came back out" — but the number 1 is un(e), not on.

On does not have ordinary direct- and indirect-object pronouns, only the reflexive pronoun se. Similarly, its disjunctive-pronoun form, soi, is only used when on is the subject and soi refers to the same entity. The pronoun quelqu'un ("someone") can fill some of the roles of on, in the same way that one and someone are sometimes interchangeable in English.

Object Pronouns me, te, se, nous, and vous[edit]

Meanings[edit]

  • me - me, to me
  • te - you, to you (singular, informal)
  • se - to him/her (or himself/herself/itself - reflexive)
  • nous - us, to us
  • vous - you, to you (plural, formal)
  • se - to them (or themselves - reflexive)

Place in sentences[edit]

  • These pronouns are placed before the verb that they modify
    • Je te vois. - I see you.
    • Je veux te voir. - I want to see you.
  • If a perfect tense is used, these pronouns go before the auxiliary verb.
    • Je t'ai vu. - I saw you.

Direct object replacement[edit]

  • Il me voit. - He sees me.
  • Il te voit. - He sees you.
  • Il nous voit. - He sees us.
  • Il vous voit. - He sees you.

Indirect Object Replacement[edit]

  • Il m'appelle. - He calls to me.
  • Il te le jette. - He throws it to you.
  • Il nous le jette. - He throws it to us.
  • Il vous le jette. - He throws it to you.

l', le, la, and les[edit]

l', le, la, and les are pronouns which are used as direct objects and hence are called direct object pronouns. A direct object is a noun that receives the action of a verb.

  • Il jette la boule. - He throws the ball.

In the above sentence la boule is the direct object.

You have learned earlier that names and regular nouns can be replaced by the subject pronouns (je, tu...). Similarly, direct objects, such as "la boule", can be replaced by pronouns.

  • le - replaces a masculine singular direct object
  • la - replaces a feminine singular direct object
  • l' - replaces le and la if they come before a vowel
  • les - replaces plural direct objects, both masculine and feminine

The direct object pronouns come before the verb they are linked to.

  • Il la jette. - He throws it.
  • Il les jette. - He throws them.

Note[edit]

When direct object pronouns are being used with passe compose, which do not represent movement (i.e. use avoir conjugation before the past participle), some endings are added to the past participle.

Object Endings
Masculine Singular None
Feminine Singular e
Masculine Plural s
Feminine Plural es

e.g Je les ai eu(e)s.

lui and leur[edit]

Indirect objects are prepositional phrases with the object of the preposition. An indirect object is a noun that receives the action of a verb.

  • Il jette la boule à Jacques. - He throws the ball to Jack.
  • Il jette la boule à Marie. - He throws the ball to Mary.
  • Il jette la boule à Jacques et Marie. - He throws the ball to Jack and Mary.

Lui and leur are indirect object pronouns. They replace nouns referring to people and mean to him/her and to them respectively.

  • lui - replaces a singular masculine or feminine indirect object referring to a human
  • leur - replaces a plural masculine or feminine indirect object referring to a human

An example follows:

  • Il lui jette la boule. - He throws the ball to him.
  • Il lui jette la boule. - He throws the ball to her.
  • Il leur jette la boule. - He throws the ball to them.

Whether lui means to him or to her is given by context.

In English, "He throws him the ball" is also said, and means the same thing.

When used with the direct object pronouns le, la, and les, lui and leur come after those pronouns.

  • Il la lui jette. - He throws it to him.

Note that while le, la, and les are used to replace people or inanimate objects, lui and leur are not used to replace innanimate objects and things.

Also note that unlike le and la, which are shortened to l' when followed by a vowel, lui is never shortened

y[edit]

Indirect object pronoun - to it, to them[edit]

The French pronoun y is used to replace an object of a prepositional phrase introduced by à.

  • Je réponds aux questions. - I respond to the questions.
  • J'y réponds. - I respond to them.

Note that lui and leur, and not y, are used when the object refers to a person or persons.

Replacement of places - there[edit]

The French pronoun y replaces a prepositional phrase referring to a place that begins with any preposition except de (for which en is used).

  • Les hommes vont en France. - The men go to France.
  • Les hommes y vont. - The men go there.

Note that en, and not y is used when the object is of the preposition de.

Idioms[edit]

  • Ça y est! - It's done!
  • J'y suis! - I get it!

en[edit]

Replacement of a partitive construction[edit]

  • The pronoun en replaces a noun with a partitive article (l'article partitif: du, de la, de, des) at the front. In this case En goes always with the singular, even if there are many items addressed.
    • Je veux du pain. => J'en veux. - I want some bread. => I want some.

Replacement of quantified nouns[edit]

If the quantity of the object is specified, "en" is used for the replacement of the noun.

Example: Il a acheté deux pommes. => Il en a acheté deux.

Note that no agreement is needed between the past participle (le participe passé) and the object (complément d'objet direct).

Replacement of phrases with de[edit]

  • The pronoun en replaces prepositional phrases beginning with de if the object of the preposition is referring to a thing or place.
    • Je viens de Paris. - I come from Paris.
    • J' en viens. - I come from it.
  • Note that stress pronouns, and not en are used if the object refers to a person or persons.

Pronoun order[edit]

Order chart[edit]

If a sentence uses no infinitive, the pronouns are embedded as follows:

Subject
Pronoun
(or noun)
Neg Direct or
Indirect
Direct Obj
Pronouns
Indirect
Objects
Neg
je
tu
il (elle)
nous
vous
ils (elles)
ne me
te
nous
vous
se (reflexive)
le
la
l'
les
lui
leur
y en conjugated
verb
pas
plus
etc...
past
participle

If a sentence uses an infinitive, the pronouns are embedded as follows:

Subject
Pronoun
(or noun)
Neg Neg Direct or
Indirect
Direct Obj
Pronouns
Indirect
Objects
je
tu
il (elle)
nous
vous
ils (elles)
ne conjugated
verb
pas
plus
etc...
past
participle
me
te
nous
vous
se (reflexive)
le
la
l'
les
lui
leur
y en infinitive

Order rules[edit]

  • When a sentence uses the indirect object pronouns me, te, nous, and vous with the direct object pronouns le, la, and les, me, te, nous, and vous go first.
    • Il me le donne. - He gives it to me.
  • When a sentence uses the indirect object pronouns lui and leur with the direct object pronouns le, la, and l', le, la, and les go first.
    • Il le lui donne. - He gives it to him/her.
  • When y is used in the same sentence as other pronouns, y goes after all of them with the exception of en.
    • Il m'emmène à Paris. - He takes me to Paris.
    • Il m'y emmène. - He takes me there.
  • Y in conjunction with en is only used in a few cases.
    • Il y en a. - There exist several ones.
    • Est-ce qu'il y a des pommes? (Oui,) il y en a. (No,) il n'y en a (pas/plus). - Are there any apples (left)? Yes, there are. No, there aren't.
  • When there are two pronouns in a sentence, en always go last.

L'impératif[edit]

When expressing positive commands, there are several rules one must remember when using object pronouns. These are:

  • The pronouns are attached to the verb with a hyphen.
    • Retrouve-la. - Find it.
  • Me and Te become moi and toi.
    • Donnez-moi les vidéos. - Give me the videos.
  • Le, la, and les precede all other object pronouns.
    • Donnez-le-moi. - Give it to me.
  • For the second person singular form, an "s" is added if the object (in the pronoun form) begins with a vowel or "y".
    • Va au tableau. - Go to the blackboard. BUT Vas-y. - Go (there).
    • Vas-y. - Come on.
    • Achète des pommes. - Buy some apples. BUT Achètes-en. - Buy some.

Possessive pronouns[edit]

Possessive pronouns replace possessive article + noun sets.

Grammar
Possessive Pronouns · Les pronoms possesifs
mon copain
my friend
ton copain
your friend
son copain
his/her friend
notre copain
our friend
votre copain
your friend
leur copain
their friend
le mien
mine
le tien
yours
le sien
his/hers
le nôtre
ours
le vôtre
yours
le leur
theirs
mes copains
my friends
tes copains
your friends
ses copains
his/her friends
nos copains
our friends
vos copains
your friends
leurs copains
their friends
les miens
mine
les tiens
yours
les siens
his/hers
les nôtres
ours
les vôtres
yours
les leurs
theirs
ma copine
my friend
ta copine
your friend
sa copine
his/her friend
notre copine
our friend
votre copine
your friend
leur copine
their friend
la mienne
mine
la tienne
yours
la sienne
his/hers
la nôtre
ours
la vôtre
yours
la leur
theirs
mes copines
my friends
tes copines
your friends
ses copines
his/her friends
nos copines
our friends
vos copines
your friends
leurs copines
their friends
les miennes
mine
les tiennes
yours
les siennes
his/hers
les nôtres
ours
les vôtres
yours
les leurs
theirs
  • Vous avez votre voiture? - You have your car?
  • Oui, nous avons la nôtre. - Yes, we have ours.

À + a stress pronoun is used when the noun replaced is also the subject of the sentence. This usually occurs in sentences with être.

  • Elle est ta voiture? - Is that your car?
  • Oui, elle est à moi. - Yes, it is mine.