Using Object Pronouns

Object pronouns are used so that an object noun doesn't have to be continuously repeated. This allows for a more free‐flowing conversational tone. When using object pronouns, make sure your conjugated verb agrees with the subject and not the object pronoun. Table 1 lists direct and indirect object pronouns:

The forms me, te, se, nous, and vous are both direct, indirect object, and reflexive pronouns.

Direct object pronouns

Direct objects (which can be nouns or pronouns) answer the question as to whom or what the subject is acting upon. It may refer to people, places, things, or ideas. A direct object pronoun replaces a direct object noun and, unlike in English, is usually placed before the conjugated verb.

  • Tu regardes le film. (You watch the movie.): Tu le regardes. (You watch it.)
  • Je t'aime. (I love you.)
  • Tu m'aimes. (You love me.)

Indirect object pronouns

Indirect objects (which can be nouns or pronouns) answer the question of to or for whom the subject is doing something. They refer only to people. An indirect object pronoun replaces an indirect object noun, and, unlike in English, is usually placed before the conjugated verb. As a clue, look for the preposition à (to, for), which may be in the form of au (the contraction of à + le) , à l', à la, or aux (the contraction of à + les), followed by the name or reference to a person.

  • Elle écrit à Jean. (She writes to John.): Elle lui écrit. (She writes to him.)
  • Tu m'offres un sac à main. (You offer me a purse.)
  • Je t'offre un sac à main. (I offer you a purse.)

Verbs that take an indirect object in English do not necessarily take an indirect object in French. The following verbs take a direct object in French:

  • attendre (to wait for)
  • chercher (to look for)
  • écouter (to listen to)
  • espérer (to hope for/to)
  • faire venir (to call for)
  • payer (to pay)

Verbs that take a direct object in English do not necessarily take a direct object in French. The following verbs take an indirect object in French because they are followed by à:

  • convenir à (to suit)
  • désobéir à (to disobey)
  • faire honte à (to shame)
  • faire mal à (to hurt)
  • faire peur à (to frighten)
  • obéir à (to obey)
  • plaire à (to please)
  • répondre à (to answer)
  • ressembler à (to resemble)
  • téléphoner à (to call)

The expression penser à (to think about) is followed by a stress pronoun; for example, Je pense à lui/elle. (I think about him/her).

The following verbs require an indirect object because they are followed by à. Note the correct preposition to use before the infinitive of the verb.

  • apprendre (teach) à quelqu'un à + infinitive
  • enseigner (teach) à quelqu'un à + infinitive
  • conseiller (advise) à quelqu'un de + infinitive
  • défendre (forbid) à quelqu'un de + infinitive
  • demander (ask) à quelqu'un de + infinitive
  • ordonner (order) à quelqu'un de + infinitive
  • pardonner (forgive) à quelqu'un de + infinitive
  • permettre (permit) à quelqu'un de + infinitive
  • promettre (promise) à quelqu'un de + infinitive
  • rappeler (remind) à quelqu'un de + infinitive
  • reprocher (reproach) à quelqu'un de + infinitive

With the French verbs plaire (to please), falloir (to be necessary), and manquer (to miss), the French indirect object is the subject in the English sentence:

  • Ce cadeau me plaît. (I like this gift. This gift is pleasing to me.)
  • Il me faut un stylo. (I need a pen. A pen is necessary for me.)
  • Tu me manques. (I miss you. I am missing to you.)

The adverbial pronoun (y)

The adverbial pronoun y (pronounced ee) 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:

  • Je vais à Paris. (I'm going to Paris.) J'y vais. (I'm going there.)
  • Il répond à la note. (He answers the note.) Il y répond. (He answers it.)
  • Tu restes dans ton lit. (You stay in the hotel.) Tu y restes. (You stay in it.)

Y is used to replace de + noun only when de is part of a prepositional phrase showing location: L'hôtel est près de l'aéroport. (The hotel is near the airport.) L'hôtel y est. (The hotel is there.)

Never use y to replace à + a person. Indirect object pronouns are used for this purpose: Je parle à Luc. (I speak to Luke.) Je lui parle. (I speak to him.)

Sometimes y is used in French but is not translated into English: Il va au cinéma? (Is he going to the movies?) Oui, il y va. (Yes, he is.)

The adverbial pronoun (en)

The pronoun en refers to previously mentioned things or places. En usually replaces de + noun and may mean some or any, of it/them, about it/them, from it/them, or from there:

  • Je veux de la glace. (I want some ice cream.) J'en veux. (I want some [of it]).
  • Tu ne bois pas de lait. (You don't drink any milk.) Tu n'en bois pas. (You don't drink any.)
  • Il parle de l'examen. (He speaks about the test.) Il en parle. (He speaks about it.)
  • Vous sortez du café. (You leave the cafe.) Vous en sortez. (You leave [from] it.)

En is always expressed in French even though it may have no Engish equivalent or is not expressed in English: As‐tu du temps? (Do you have any time?) Oui, j'en ai. (Yes, I do.)

Note the following rules governing the use of en:

  • En is used with idiomatic expressions requiring de.
    • J'ai besoin de film. (I need film.) J'en ai besoin. (I need some.)
  • En is used to replace a noun (de + noun) after a number or a noun or adverb of quantity.
    • Je prépare six gâteaux. (I'm preparing six cakes.) J'en prépare six. (I'm preparing six [of them].)
    • Tu bois une tasse de thé. (You drink a cup of tea.) Tu en bois. (You drink a cup [of it].)
  • En only refers to people when de means some. In all other cases (when de + a noun mean “of” or “about” a person), a stress pronoun is used.
    • I have a lot of sons. (J'ai beaucoup de fils.) I have a lot of them. (J'en ai beaucoup.)

The position of object pronouns

An object pronoun is placed before the verb to which its meaning is tied, usually before the conjugated verb. When a sentence contains two verbs, the object pronoun is placed before the infinitive:

  • Je le demande. (I ask for it.) Je ne le demande pas. (I don't ask for it.)
  • Il va en boire. (He is going to drink some of it.) Il ne va pas en boire. (He isn't going to drink some of it.)

In an affirmative command, an object pronoun is placed immediately after the verb and is joined to it by a hyphen. The familiar command forms of ‐ er verbs (regular and irregular — retain their final s before y and en to prevent the clash of two vowel sounds together. Put a liaison (linking) between the final consonant and y or en: Restes‐y! (Stay there!) But: N'y reste pas! (Don't stay there!)

In compound tenses, the object pronoun is placed before the conjugated helping verb: J'ai parlé à Nancy. (I spoke to Nancy.) Je lui ai parlé. (I spoke to her.)

Double object pronouns

The term double object pronouns refers to using more than one pronoun in a sentence at a time, as follows:

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

  • Before the conjugated verb: Elle me la donne. (She gives it to me.)
  • Before the infinitive with two verbs: Vas‐tu m'en offrir? (Are you going to offer me any?)
  • In the past tense: Tu le lui as écrit. (You wrote it to her.)
  • In a negative command: Ne me le montrez pas. (Don't show it to me.)

But note the difference in an affirmative command: Montrez‐le‐moi, s'il vous plaît. (Please show it to me.)

In an affirmative command, m oi + en and toi + en become m'en and t'en respectively:

  • Donne‐m'en, s'il te plaît. (Please give me some.)
  • Va t'en. (Go away.)