How do I use direct and indirect object pronouns in French?

Let’s start with direct object pronouns. First of all, what is a direct object? The direct object of a sentence is the thing directly affected by the verb. Usually it follows the verb straight away. For example, in the sentence ‘Sally eats the apple’, ‘the apple’ is the direct object. It works the same in French: in ‘Sally mange la pomme’, ‘la pomme’ is the direct object. We use direct object pronouns to replace the direct object in a sentence. If you didn’t want to keep repeating yourself, instead of saying ‘Sally eats the apple’, you might want to say ‘Sally eats it’. Simple enough in English, but slightly more complex in French. Firstly, the direct object pronouns, as with everything in French, must agree with the noun they’re replacing. The direct object pronouns are me, nous, te, vous, le, la and les. As ‘la pomme’ is a feminine noun, we need to use ‘la’. The other key difference between English and French here is the word order. In French, the direct object pronoun comes before the verb. So, to say ‘Sally eats it’, you would say ‘Sally la mange’.


So, what’s an indirect object? An indirect object is also affected by the verb, and is the recipient of the direct object. That sounds a bit confusing, so let’s look at an example. In the sentence ‘Sally gives the apple to Jack’, ‘the apple’ is the direct object again, and ‘Jack’ is the indirect object. Usually the indirect object follows a preposition, so they’re quite easy to spot. In French, this sentence would look like this: ‘Sally donne la pomme à Jack’. So what if we wanted to say ‘Sally gives the apple to him’? We’re replacing the indirect object (‘Jack’) with a pronoun. The indirect object pronouns in French are y, en, me, nous, te, vous, lui and leur, so we would use ‘lui’ for ‘Jack’. The word order is the same as with direct objects, so we would end up with ‘Sally lui donne la pomme’.


Last but not least, let’s look at what happens if we have direct and indirect object pronouns in the same sentence. As noted, there are two objects in the sentence ‘Sally gives the apple to Jack’. What if we wanted to say ‘Sally gives it to him’? We’ve already learned that ‘the apple’ is replaced by ‘la’ and ‘Jack’ is replaced by ‘lui’. There is a specific order for pronouns in French: me, te, se, nous, vous → le, la, les → lui, leur → y → en. Therefore the sentence would end up reading: ‘Sally la lui donne’.

There’s lots more to explore with direct and indirect object pronouns, but this is the basics covered.

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