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How to order French object pronouns?

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Object pronouns are a great tool to reduce repetition because they replace the direct object or indirect object of a sentence: a person or a thing.

Can you spot a difference between the French and the English?

Nous le regardons.

We are looking at him.

Unlike English, in French, object pronouns are usually placed before the verb. You’ll want to commit this structure to memory:

📌 Subject - pronoun - verb


But what happens if you are using several pronouns within one sentence? Read on and find out!

Ordering French direct and indirect object pronouns

  • Place the object pronoun before the verb if you are using one pronoun only.

Screen Shot 2021-09-13 at 11.27.13 AM
  • If you use two different pronouns — usually you only use a maximum of two within a sentence — here is the order to follow:

Screen Shot 2021-09-13 at 11.29.14 AM

Check out this fun horsey song (aka, the finale to Rossini’s “William Tell Overture”) to memorize the pronoun order!

⤷TIP: Keep in mind that the object pronouns follow the same order as the object in the sentence:

direct object → indirect object. 

La maman chante la chanson à son bébé. → La maman la lui chante.
direct object ↵                    ⤷ indirect object            
The mother sings the song to her baby. → She sings it to her.

   Exception!

Look at the table below…Can you work out the exception by yourself? When should you not put the pronoun before the verb?

Screen Shot 2021-12-21 at 1.13.37 PM

Well done! You’re a superstar! 🤩It’s the imperative affirmative. When you feel bossy and you want to give an order or a command, remember this sentence structure:

Screen Shot 2021-09-13 at 11.35.34 AM

*These are stressed pronouns. For more information on stressed pronouns, see “Unpacking the grammar.”

When I remind my students about their homework assignments, I say:
Rendez-les-moi avant vendredi !       Hand them in to me before Friday!

 

⤷TIP: In writing, remember to add hyphens between the verbs and the pronouns!

 

  IMPORTANT 

In the perfect tense (passé composé), if the pronoun is in front of the auxiliary, the past participle must agree with the direct object. (Refresh your memory of the passé composé in “Unpacking the grammar.”)

J’ai pris les photos. → Je les ai prises               I took the pictures. → I took them.
feminine plural ↵                               ⤷add -es

Ordering pronouns in negative sentences

In a negative sentence, always place the pronoun after ne [not]. C’est facile, non ? [It’s easy, isn’t it?]. And you’re going to love this, it works in all tenses, and in the imperative!

Screen Shot 2021-09-13 at 11.53.44 AM

👓This article has some examples of negative sentences with object pronouns.

Ordering pronouns in sentences made of two verbs

  • Certain verbs, like vouloir [to want], pouvoir [to be able to, can] or aimer [to love], are followed by an infinitive verb. We call them semi-auxiliary verbs. In this situation, the object pronoun goes between the conjugated semi-auxiliary verb and the infinitive verb.

  • It is the same when you use:

    • the near future: je vais + verbe à l’infinitif [I’m going to + infinitive verb]

    • the recent past: je viens de + verbe à l’infinitif [I’ve just + infinitive verb]

Screen Shot 2021-09-13 at 11.58.43 AM

Here is a list of common semi-auxiliary verbs.

Recap of the French object pronoun orders

Screen Shot 2021-09-13 at 12.01.53 PM

Are you feeling confident about using double object pronouns ? Try this quiz and our exercises!

Unpacking the grammar

  • Stressed pronouns in French refer to people and animals only. They are often used to add emphasis, but they can also be used with comparisons, after words and phrases like et [and], c’est [it is], être à, and certain prepositions, and with commands.

    • Stressed pronouns are words like moi [me], toi [you], lui [him/it], elle [her/it], nous [we], vous [you], eux [them], and elles [them].

Donnez-moi la recette, s’il vous plaît. 
Give me the recipe, please.

  • The passé composé is the perfect tense in French. It is used to talk about unique, completed actions in the past.

Hier, j’ai mangé un biscuit.

Yesterday, I ate a cookie.

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Agnès Finot

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