A pronoun is a word that is used to replace a noun (a person, place, thing, idea, or quality). Pronouns allow for fluidity by eliminating the need to constantly repeat the same noun in a sentence.
A subject pronoun replaces a subject noun (the noun performing the action of the verb). Just as in English, French subject pronouns are given a person and a number (singular or plural), as shown in Table 1:
Unlike the English pronoun “I,” the pronoun je is capitalized only when it begins a sentence. Je becomes j' before a vowel or vowel sound ( y and unaspirated h — meaning that no puff of air is emitted when producing the h sound):
- J'adore le français. (I love French.)
- Voilà où j'habite. (There's where I live.)
Tu is used to address one friend, relative, child, or pet and is referred to as the familiar form of “you.” The u from tu is never dropped for purposes of elision: Tu es mon meilleur ami. (You are my best friend.)
Vous is used in the singular to show respect to an older person or when speaking to a stranger or someone you do not know very well. Vous is the polite or formal form of “you:” Vous êtes un patron très respecté. (You are a very respected boss.)
In addition, vous is always used when speaking to more than one person, regardless of the degree of familiarity.
Il and elle
Il (he) and elle (she) may refer to a person or to a thing (it):
- L'homme arrive. (The man arrives.) Il arrive. (He arrives.)
- Le colis arrive. (The package arrives.) Il arrive. (It arrives.)
- La dame arrive. (The lady arrives.) Elle arrive. (She arrives.)
- La lettre arrive. (The letter arrives.) Elle arrive. (It arrives.)
On refers to an indefinite person: you, we, they, or people in general. On is often used in place of nous, such as in the following: on part (we're leaving).
Ils and elles
Ils refers to more than one male or to a combined group of males and females, despite the number of each gender present. Elles refers only to a group of females.
- Anne et Luc partent. (Ann and Luke leave.) Ils partent. (They leave.)
- Anne et Marie partent. (Ann and Marie leave.) Elles partent. (They leave.)
The pronoun ce (it, he, she, this, that, these, those), spelled c' before a vowel, is most frequently used with the verb être (to be): c'est (it is) or ce sont (they are). Ce replaces il, elle, ils, and elles as the subject of the sentence in the following constructions:
Before a modified noun: C'est un bon avocat. (He's a good lawyer.)
But, when unmodified, the following is correct: Il est avocat. (He's a lawyer.)
- Before a name: C'est Jean. (It's John.)
- Before a pronoun: C'est moi. (It is me.)
- Before a superlative: C'est le plus grand. (It's the biggest.)
- In dates: C'est le dix mars.(It's March 10th.)
- Before a masculine singular adjective that refers to a previously mentioned idea or action: Il est important. (He is important.) C'est évident. (That's obvious).
- Before an adjective + à + infinitive (the form of any verb before it is conjugated): C'est bon à savoir. (That's good to know.)
Use il in the following constructions:
- To express the hour of the day: Il est deux heures. (It's 2 o'clock.)
- With an adjective + de + infinitive: Il est bon de manger. (It's good to eat.)
- With an adjective before que: Il est important que je travaille. (It is important that I work.)