Understanding Object Pronoun Verb Order in French

Understanding Object Pronoun Verb Order in French

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Mistakes will always be made in French, and now you can learn from them.

There are two kinds of object pronouns, direct and indirect. Beginning students of French tend to misplace them and the result can be nonsense to the French ear. The rule of thumb: Place object pronouns before the verb, with the indirect going before the direct object pronoun.

When the verb is in the passé composé or another compound verb that includes an auxiliary verb, the pronoun precedes the entire verb; in other words, before the auxiliary verb, which is the conjugated avoir or être.

The Correct Format

It's never correct to say J'ai lui dit. The pronoun lui goes before ai, which begins the compound verb, like this: Je lui ai dit (I'm telling him). The major exception is the imperative mood (l'imperatif), when object pronouns follow the verb: Donne-le-lui (Give it to him/her). Here are some examples of the correct format:

  • Tu l'as vu? > Have you seen it?
  • Je lui ai dit la vérité. > I told him/her the truth.
  • Il leur achète des livres. > He buys books for them.
  • Elle m'a écrit. > She wrote to me.
  • *Je te l'avais bien dit! > I told you so!

*In this example, there is both an indirect (te) and direct (le) object. Remember, the indirect object always comes first. The verb is still compound, but now the tense is plus-que-parfait (pluperfect) with the auxiliary verb in the imparfait (imperfect). So the object pronouns precede avais, which is the auxiliary verb here.

Indirect Object Pronouns

For indirect objects, the verb's action occurs to or for a person or other animate noun.

I'm talking to Pierre. > Je parle à Pierre.
To whom
am I talking? To Pierre.

Indirect object pronouns are the words that replace the name of the indirect object. They include:

  •    me / m' me
  •    te / t' you
  •    lui him, her
  •    nous us
  •    vous you
  •    leur them

Me and te change to m' and t', respectively, in front of a vowel or mute H.

Direct Object Pronouns

Direct objects are the people or things in a sentence that receive the action of the verb. To find the direct object in a sentence, ask who or what.

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

Direct object pronouns are the words that replace the direct object, so that we can avoid endlessly repeating the name of the object. They include:

  •    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'.

Remember that both indirect object pronouns and direct object pronouns precede the verb, with the indirect object pronoun going first.

When deciding between direct and indirect objects, the general rule is that if the object is preceded by the preposition à or pour, that object is an indirect object. If it's not preceded by a preposition, it's a direct object. If it's preceded by any other preposition, it can't be replaced by an object pronoun.

If you have an indirect object that's not a person or animal, it can only be replaced with the adverbial pronouns y and enY stands in for à + a noun and usually means "there" or "to it." En replaces de + a noun and usually means "some," "any," "one," or "of it/them."


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