Pronouns

Learning to use pronouns well and naturally is key to become a fluent speaker of French.

Subject pronouns

A subject pronoun replaces a subject noun (the noun performing the action of the verb) and is given a person and a number (singular or plural), as shown in Table 1.

 

 

Object pronouns

Object pronouns replace object nouns to allow for more free‐flowing expression. There are direct object pronouns and indirect object pronouns.

Direct object nouns or pronouns refer to “whom” or “what” the subject is acting upon: people, places, things, or ideas:

  • Cette chemise? Je la prends! (That shirt? I'll take it!)
  • Ils vont m' aider. (They are going to help me.)
  • Attends‐nous. (Wait for us.)

Indirect object nouns or pronouns refer to “to” or “for” whom the subject is doing something and refer only to people. As a clue, look for a form of the preposition à (to, for) followed by the name or reference to a person:

  • J'écris à Luc. Je lui écris. (I write to Luke. I write to him.)
  • Il va te donner un paquet. (He's going to give you a package.)
  • Lis‐ moi. (Read to me.)

Keep the following in mind about object pronouns:

  • Make the conjugated verb agree with the subject rather than with the object pronoun.
  • Place the object pronoun before the verb to which its meaning is tied, usually before the conjugated verb.
  • When a sentence contains two verbs, place the object pronoun before the infinitive.
  • In an affirmative command, place an object pronoun immediately after the verb and join it to the verb with a hyphen. In an affirmative command only, me changes to moi and te changes to toi.

The minitable below shows direct and indirect object pronouns:

 

The adverbial pronoun y

The adverbial pronoun y means “there” when the place has already been mentioned. Y can also mean “it,” “them,” “in it/them,” “to it/them,” or “on it/them.”

Y usually replaces the preposition à + the noun object of the preposition, but it may also replace other prepositions of location or position, such as chez (at the house [business] of), dans ( in), en ( in), sous (under), or sur (on) + noun. In familiar affirmative commands (the tu form), ‐er verbs retain their final ‐s:

 

 

The adverbial pronoun en

The pronoun en refers to previously mentioned things or places. En usually replaces de + noun and may mean “some,” “any,” “of it/them,” “about it/them,” “from it/them,” or “from there.” In familiar affirmative commands (the tu form), ‐er verbs retain their final ‐ s:

 

 

Double object pronouns

Two pronouns may be used in a sentence at the same time. The following examples show how double object pronouns are used before the conjugated verb, before the infinitive when there are two verbs, in the past tense, and in a negative command. In the past tense, past participles agree in number and gender with the preceding direct object pronoun. See Table 2.


 

 

Note the different order of the pronouns in the affirmative command:

  • Il te l' offre. (He offers it to you.)
  • Va‐t‐elle m'en donner? (Is she going to give me any?)
  • Je la leur ai achetée. (I bought it for them.)
  • Ne nous les montrez pas. (Don't show them to us.)

But note the difference in an affirmative command, where moi + en and toi + en become m'en and t'en, respectively:

  • Dites‐le‐nous, s'il vous plaût. (Please tell it to us.)
  • Donne‐m'en. (Give me some.)
  • Va t'en. (Go away.)

The invariable le

The pronouns le, la, and les are variable, meaning that they change according to gender and number when used to replace a previously mentioned modified noun:

  • Es‐tu la petite amie de Raymond? Oui, je la suis. (Are you Raymond's girlfriend? Yes, I am.)

BUT: The invariable le replaces a previously mentioned infinitive, clause, adjective, or unmodified noun, as the four examples below show:

  • J'espère gagner le prix. Je l'espère aussi. (I hope to win the prize. I hope so, too.)
  • Je pars tout de suite si tu le veux. (I'll leave immediately if you like.)
  • Est‐il occupé? Non, il ne l'est pas. (Is he busy? No, he isn't.)
  • Êtes‐vous actrices? Oui, nous le sommes. (Are you actresses? Yes, we are.)

Independent pronouns

Independent pronouns (see Table 3) may stand alone or follow a verb or a preposition. They are used to emphasize a fact and to highlight or replace nouns or pronouns.

Independent pronouns are used as follows:

To stress the subject:

  • Lui, il est vraiment sérieux. (Him, he's really serious.)

When the pronoun has no verb:

  • Qui parle? Elle. (Who is speaking? She is.)

After prepositions to refer to a person or persons:

  • Dinons chez eux. (Let's eat at their house.)

After c'est:

  • C'est moi qui paie. (I'm paying.)

After the following verbs: avoir affaire à (to have dealings with), être à (to belong to), faire attention à (to pay attention to), penser à (to think about [of]), se fier à (to trust), and s'intéresser à (to be interested in).

  • Je pense à lui. (I think about him.)

In compound subjects:

  • Elle et moi (nous) allons au café. (She and I [we] are going to the café.)
  • Marie et toi (vous) partez? (Are you and Marie [you plural] leaving?)

With ‐même(s) to reinforce the subject:

  • Je suis allé au concert moi‐même. (I went to the concert by myself.)

Relative pronouns

A relative pronoun (“who,” “which,” or “that”) joins a main clause to a dependent clause. This pronoun introduces the dependent clause that describes someone or something mentioned in the main clause. The person or thing the pronoun refers to is called the antecedent. A relative clause may serve as a subject, a direct object, or an object of a preposition.

Tables 4, 5, 6, and 7 summarize the use of relative pronouns.

 

The form of lequel must agree with the antecedent (the preceding noun to which it refers). For example, you are in a store and speaking about a feminine singular article: La chemise bleue est très chic (The blue shirt is very stylish). If I wanted to know to which blue shirt you were referring, I would have to use the feminine, singular form: Laquelle? Select the proper form of lequel after consulting Table 8.

 

Lequel and its forms contract with the prepositions à and de, as shown in Table 9:

 

Some examples of lequel + preposition are:

  • Ce sont les problèmes auxquels je pense. (Those are the problems I'm thinking about.)
  • C'est la voiture de laquelle (dont) il rêvait. (That's the car he was dreaming about.)

Interrogative pronouns

An interrogative pronoun is used to form a question. These pronouns may be invariable (their forms never change) or variable (their forms change to agree in gender and number with a noun or pronoun).

Interrogative pronouns may be used as the subject or object of a verb, or the object of a preposition, as shown in Table and .

The variable interrogative pronouns shown in Table express “which one?” in the singular and “which ones?” in the plural:

Contractions occur when à and de are used before the interrogative forms of lequel:

  • Auquel de ces musées es‐tu allé? (To which one of these museums did you go?)
  • De laquelle de ses filles parle‐t‐il? (About which of his daughters is he talking?)

Demonstrative pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns agree with the nouns to which they refer. They express “this/that/the one” in the singular and “these/those/the ones” in the plural, as shown in Table :

Demonstrative pronouns cannot stand alone and are generally followed by the tags ‐ci (this/the latter) or ‐là (that/the former); by de or où; or by the relative pronouns qui, que, or dont (which may be the object of a preposition):

  • Donnez‐moi ces fruits‐ci and ces légumes‐là. (Give me these fruits and those vegetables.)
  • Jean et Paul sont frères. Celui‐ci est docteur et celui‐là est dentiste. (John and Paul are brothers. The latter is a doctor and the former is a dentist.)
  • Ma voiture est sportive. Celle de mon ami est plus sportive. (My car is sporty. My friend's car [that of my friend] is sportier.)
  • À quel magasin vas‐tu? À celui où il y a de bons soldes. (Which store do you go to? To the one where there are good sales.)
  • Ceux qui étudient réussissent. (Those [the ones] who study succeed.)
  • Ces cravates sont celles que je préfère. (These ties are those [the ones] that I prefer.)
  • Cet outil? C'est celui dont j'ai besoin. (This tool? It's the one I need.)
  • Cette femme est celle pour qui je travaille. (This woman is the one for whom I work.)

The demonstrative pronouns ceci (this) and cela (that) (abbreviated as ça, which is often used conversationally) refer to objects, facts, or ideas that have been indicated but not named. Ceci generally introduces an idea, while cela refers to something already mentioned:

  • Ceci m'intéresse. (This interests me.)
  • Qu'est‐ce que c'est que cela? (What's that?)
  • Ceci est important: nos invités arriveront demain. (This is important: Our guests will arrive tomorrow.)
  • Nos invités arriveront demain; cela est important. (Our guests will arrive tomorrow; that is important.)