How To Use Direct & Indirect Object Pronouns In French

What are the direct and indirect object pronouns in French?

Object pronouns are words which replace nouns. I eat pizza -> I eat it. I look at the lady -> I look at her.

In French, direct object pronouns are used for verbs which aren’t followed by prepositions: Me (me), te (you), nous (us), vous (you), le (him or it), la (her or it), les (them). For example, Je vois le garçon. Je le vois. (I see the boy. I see him).

Indirect object pronouns replace nouns for verbs following by the preposition à (to or at): Me (me), te (you), nous (us), vous (you), lui (him or her) and leur (them). For example, Je parle à la fille. (I speak to the girl. I speak to her).

Indirect object pronouns y and en are used for inanimate things and ideas for verbs followed by à and de.

French Direct and Indirect Object Pronouns: Complete Guide For Beginners.

Direct object pronouns

SingularPlural
me (m') menous us
te (t's) you (familiar)vous you (you plural or formal)
le (l') him or it (masculine)les them (masculine or feminine)
la (l') her or it (feminine)

In language, a direct object is the noun that receives the action of a verb. It’s called direct because there’s no preposition following the verb and preceding the noun.

For sentences expressing “to” or “at” me, you and us with verbs not followed by prepositions, the verb endings must agree with the subject. Here are a few example sentences.

  • Je te regarde. I look at you.
  • Vous me regardez. You look at me.
  • Ils vous regardent. They look at you.
  • Nous vous regardons. We look at you.

The following list of common verbs are not followed by the preposition à and thus take a direct object.

  • aimer to like, love
  • acheter to buy
  • écouter to listen
  • attendre to wait
  • inviter to invite
  • comprendre to understand
  • prendre to take
  • connaître to know

Direct object pronoun for him, her, it and them

In French, the direct object pronoun must agree in gender and number with the noun it replaces. Here are some example sentences with the third-person singular and plural direct object pronouns (he, she, it and them).

  • Je regarde le film. Je le regarde. I watch the movie. I watch it.
  • Tu regardes la fille. Tu la regardes. You look at the girl. You look at her.
  • Je connais Jean. Je le connais. I know Jean. I know him.
  • Tu connais Sylvie. Tu la connais. I know Sylvie. I know her.
  • Je connais Jean et Sylvie. Je les connais. I know Jean and Sylvie. I know them.

Negation rule for direct object pronouns

To negate a sentence with a direct object pronoun, wrap ne…pas around both the object pronoun and the verb.

  • Je ne mange pas le steak. Je ne le mange pas. I don’t eat the steak. I don’t eat it.
  • Je ne connais pas Marc. Je ne le connais pas. I don’t know Marc. I don’t know him.

Passé composé rule for direct object pronouns

In the passé composé, the direct object pronoun comes before the auxiliary verb. The past participle must agree in number and gender when the direct object pronoun precedes the verb.

  • J’ai mangé le pain. Je l’ai mangé. I ate the bread. I ate it.
  • J’ai mangé la pizza. Je l’ai mangée. I ate the pizza. I ate it.
  • J’ai mangé les frites. Je les ai mangées. I ate the French fries. I ate them.

Imperative rule for direct object pronouns

In the affirmative imperative, the direct object pronoun comes after the verb with a hyphen. The pronouns me (m’) and te (t’) become moi and toi. In the negative imperative the direct object pronoun stays before the verb.

  • Regarde-moi! Look at me!
  • Ne me regarde pas! Don’t look at me!
  • Mange le pain! Mange-le! Eat the bread! Eat it!
  • Ne mange pas le pain! Ne le mange pas! Don’t eat the bread! Don’t eat it!

Direct object pronoun preceding an infinitive

Direct object pronouns preceded infinitives. In the negation, ne…pas gets wrapped around the modal verb and the direct object pronoun precedes the infinitive.

  • Je vais manger le gâteau. Je vais le manger. I’m going to eat the cake. I’m going to eat it.
  • Je ne vais pas manger la pizza. Je ne vais pas la manger. I’m not going to eat the pizza. I’m not going to eat it.

Indirect object pronouns

SingularPlural
me (m') menous us
te (t's) you (familiar)vous you (you plural or formal)
lui him, her (masculine)leur them (masculine or feminine)

Indirect object pronouns are words used to replace nouns for verbs followed by the preposition à (to or at). For sentences covering “to” or “at me, you and us, there is no difference between the direct object pronoun. Here are some examples:

  • Je te parle. I’m speaking to you.
  • Vous me parlez. You’re speaking to me.
  • Ils vous parlent. They’re speaking to you.
  • Nous vous parlons. We’re speaking to you.

The following common verbs are all followed by à and thus take an indirect object pronoun.

  • parler à quelqu’un to speak to somebody
  • répondre à quelqu’un to answer, respond to somebody
  • écrire à quelqu’un to write to to write to somebody

The following common verbs follow a similar format but include “something”.

  • donner quelque chose à quelqu’un to give something to somebody
  • envoyer quelque chose à quelqu’un to send something to somebody
  • expliquer quelque chose à quelqu’un to explain something to somebody
  • demander quelque chose à quelqu’un to ask somebody for something

Indirect object pronouns for him, her and them

The indirect object pronouns for him her and the are lui and leur. The word “lui” looks like it should be masculine only but it also means her. Here are some example sentences.

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  • Je parle à mon frère. Je lui parle. I speak to my brother. I speak to him.
  • Je parle à ma soeur. Je lui parle. I speak to my sister. I speak to her.
  • Je parle à mon frère et soeur. I speak to my brother and sister. I speak to them.

Negation rule for indirect object pronouns

The negation rule for indirect object pronouns is the same as direct object pronouns. Wrap ne…pas around both the indirect object pronoun and the verb.

  • Je ne parle pas à Marc. Je ne lui parle pas. I’m not speaking to Marc. I’m not speaking to him.
  • Je ne parle pas à Marc et Sylvie. Je ne leur parle pas. I’m not speaking to Marc and Sylvie. I’m not speaking to them.

Passé composé rule for indirect object pronouns

Unlike direct object pronouns, there is no need to make the past participles agree in number and gender when the verb is preceded by the indirect object pronoun n the passé composé.

  • J’ai parlé à Marc. Je lui ai parlé. I spoke to Marc. I spoke to him.
  • J’ai parlé à Sylvie. Je lui ai parlé. I spoke to Sylvie. I spoke to her.

Imperative rule for indirect object pronouns

In the affirmative imperative, the indirect object pronoun comes after the verb and is hyphenated. Me (m’) becomes moi and te (t’) becomes toi. In the negative imperative, the indirect object pronoun remains before the verb.

  • Parle-moi! Speak to me!
  • Ne me parle pas! Don’t speak to me!
  • Parle-lui! Speak to him!
  • Ne lui parle pas! Don’t speak to him.

Indirect object pronouns and infinitives.

The same rules at applied for direct object pronouns and infinitives apply for indirect object pronouns. The pronoun comes before the infinitive and ne…pas gets wrapped around the modal verb.

  • Je vais parler à Marc. Je vais lui parler. I’m going to speak to Marc. I’m going to speak to him.
  • Je ne vais pas parler à Syvie. Je ne vais pas lui parler. I’m not going to speak to Sylvie. I’m not going to speak to her.

Indirect object pronouns y and en

The indirect object pronouns y and en are used to replace inanimate objects (ideas and things). Y is used to replace inanimate objects for verbs followed by à and en is used for inanimate objects for verbs followed by de.

Examples with y

  • Je pense à ton idée. J’y pense. I’m thinking about your idea. I’m thinking about it.
  • Je réponds à la question. J’y reponds. I’m answering the question. I’m answering it.
  • Je m’habitue à la situation. I’m getting used to the situation. I’m getting used to it.

Examples with en

  • Je parle de la situation. J’en parle. I talk about the situation. I talk about it.
  • J’ai besoin de l’ordinateur. J’en ai besoin. I need the computer. I need it.
  • Je me souviens de mes vacances. Je m’en souviens. I rembmer my vacation. I remember it.

Common expressions and usages of y and en

The indirect object pronouns y and en have many common usages.

Y when used with aller

In association with verb aller (to go), “y” means there. For example, “Je vais à la banque” becomes “J’y vais” for “I go there”.

Both “Vas-y” and “Allez-y” mean “Go ahead” when telling somebody to speak or move ahead in line, for example.

En when used with vouloir and faire

The verb vouloir (to want) is often followed by “de + noun” when using the partitive article.

For example, “Je veux du fromage” (I want some cheese), “Je veux de la soupe” (I want some soup) or “Je veux des fraises” (I want some strawberries). For all these sentences, “J’en veux” means “I want some”.

The verb faire (to make, do) is followed by “de + noun” as well.

For example, “Je fais du yoga”, (I do yoga), “Je fais de la méditation” and “Je fais des exercises” (I do exercises). For all of these sentences, “J’en fais” means “I do it”.

Double object pronouns

When two object pronouns occur in the same sentence, the rule is for the indirect object pronoun to appear before the direct object pronoun.

The exception to this rule is when there are when both direct and indirect object pronouns appear in the third-person. In this situation, the direct object pronoun precedes the indirect object pronoun.

This can be summarized in the following table:

me
tele, l'lui
sebeforela, l'beforeleurbefore ybeforeen
nous les
vous

The following example sentences are indirect object pronoun followed by direct object pronoun.

  • Il me donne la pizza -> Il me la donne. He gives me the pizza. He gives it to me.
  • Je vous envoie la lettre. -> Je vous l’envoie. I send you the letter. -> I send it to you.
  • Il nous dit la vérité. -> Il nous la dit. He tells us the truth. -> He tells it to us.

The following example sentences have both the direct and indirect object pronouns in the third-person.

  • Il explique la situation à son ami. -> Il la lui explique. He explains the situation to his friend. He explains it to him.
  • Elle offre le cadeau à son fils. -> Elle le lui offre. She offers a gift to her son. She offers it to him.
  • Il sert un repas à ses amis. Il le leur sert. He serves a meal to his friends. He serves it to them.

The following example sentences use y and en. When in doubt on the order of the object pronouns, use the table above.

  • Elle m’ammène à la plage -> Elle m’y ammène. She brings me to the beach. -> She brings me there.
  • Il te donne du fromage. -> Il t’en donne. He gives you (some) cheese. -> He gives you some.

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