Are you always repeating yourself in conversation?
That’s life as a beginner in the French language.
You only know a couple ways to make sentences, and you feel wholly uninspired.
There’s nothing wrong with saying things like: “Je suis allée au cinema. Je suis arrivée au cinema à 20h.” (I went to the cinema. I arrived at the cinema at 8 pm).
You’re getting the point across and being understood.
To take things up a notch, it’s time to turn pro (nouns).
9 French Pronoun Types That Will Make Your Sentences Flow
Pronouns in French function similarly to pronouns in English.
They’re nifty little words that replace people, places, things and phrases.
When learning French, it can be a struggle to figure out which pronoun replaces what. With this guide, you’ll be able to kick those redundant nouns to the curb and make your sentences flow — all through the use of pronouns!
No, these pronouns aren’t reserved for that special someone in your life. They’re not that personal.
Personal pronouns simply replace the who or what in a sentence. They will always agree with the person or thing they represent. Here are the major players at work:
J‘ai (1) un super-pouvoir. Je peux mettre des pronoms à la place des choses.
Je les utilise (2) pour mes amis et mes parents.
Quand je parle avec eux (3), je leur (4) donne un ZAP et ils s‘en vont! (5).
(I have a superpower. I can replace people with pronouns.
I use them for my friends and my parents.
When I speak with them, I give them a zap and they leave!)
These pronouns may look tiny and insignificant but, if used correctly, they can vastly improve your sentence structure.
1. Personal Subject Pronouns
In beginner’s French, you’ve encountered these many a time. They’re the keys to conjugation, the pure essence of forming sentences! As the name suggests, subject pronouns replace the subject of the sentence. We know these as:
je/j’ — I
tu — you
il/elle/on — he/she/one
nous — we
vous — you formal, you all
ils/elles — they
John était en retard. Il était en retard.
(John was late. He was late.)
Simple enough, but we’re just getting warmed up.
2. Direct Object Pronouns
Je t’aime! Tu m’aimes! — I love you! You love me!
Did I come off too strong?
Those are phrases you probably know that use direct object pronouns. But, to understand the joys of direct object pronouns (D.O. pronouns for short), you first need to know that a D.O. is the who or what that the verb affects.
For an English example, the D.O. would be “article” in the following sentence: “You are reading an article.” That’s because the reading is happening to the article. Thus, a direct object pronoun would replace this D.O.
Here are the D.O. Pronouns in French:
me/m’ — first person singular
te/t’ — second person singular
le/la/l’ — third person singular
nous — first person plural
vous — second person plural
les — third personal plural
Now, let’s use these pronouns in a real life French sentence:
Je mange le gâteau. Je le mange. (I am eating the cake. I am eating it.)
Since le gâteau is third person singular, we replace it with le and place the pronoun before the verb.
Another example just to make it stick:
Tu aimes les films français. Tu les aimes. (You like French films. You like them.)
Pro tip: The pronoun agrees with the gender and quantity of what we replace. There’s just no escaping gender agreements in French, sorry.
3. Stressed Pronouns
No need to stress about this one. Your first French word may have actually been a stressed pronoun, like “moi!” They’re that simple.
These pronouns are useful and versatile. Most commonly, they’re used to emphasize a person in a sentence. Here’s the line-up:
moi — first person singular
toi — second person singular
lui/elle/soi — third person singular
nous — first person plural
vous — second person plural
eux/elles — third person plural
Total, there are a whopping eleven different ways in whichi stressed pronouns can be used, all with the same general idea in their function: STRESSING the person (hence the name). Here are the most common ways:
- After C’est or Ce sont.
C’est toi qui laves la salle de bain. (It’s you who is washing the washroom.)
- When there’s more than one subject in a sentence.
Michel et moi avons fait du shopping. (Michel and I went shopping).
- When asking questions.
Je suis content, et toi? (I’m happy, and you?)
- After prepositions.
chez lui, sans elle (his house, without her).
- In forming comparisons.
Nous sommes plus rapides qu’eux. (We are faster than them).
- When indicating possession.
Cette tarte est à elle. (That pie belongs to her.)
There you have it. We can quit stressing now.
4. Indirect Object Pronouns
- me, te, lui, nous, vous, leur
The slightly more confusing cousin of the direct object pronoun, an indirect object is a person or animate object (no, not pet rocks) that are preceded by a preposition (à, de). As you may have noticed, the pronouns themselves are similar to D.O. pronouns.
Pro tip: really pay attention to the distinction between the third person singular or third person plural when you’re forming sentences with direct or indirect object pronouns. Use lui/leur for indirect object and le/la/les for direct object.
Here are some examples to put it into perspective:
Je demande à ma mère. Je lui demande. (I ask my mom. I ask her).
Je donne le cadeau aux enfants. Je le leur donne. (I am giving the gift to the kids. I am giving it to them.)
Do not fret if there are two pronouns, there’s a quick trick to remembering the order of multiple pronouns at the bottom of this article.
The key to choosing between using an indirect or direct object pronoun is whether or not there’s a preposition before the person or animate object. If yes, then it’s an indirect object. Just think: since there’s a preposition, you’re going indirectly to the noun.
5. Reflexive Pronouns
Let’s close out this personal pronoun adventure with the strange world of reflexive pronouns and the verbs they come with. For English speakers, reflexive pronouns and reflexive verbs don’t always seem logical and often look redundant. But now that you’re climbing the ladder to intermediate status, it’s time to look them in the eye and accept them for who they are.
They’re easy to form once you choose the path to acceptance. And don’t you go running away, because they’re unavoidable in French.
- me, te, se, nous and vous
me, te, se, nous and vous are the pronouns. You’ll see them used with reflexive (or pronominal) verbs as shown below.
se laver — to wash oneself
se casser — to break (a body part)
s’habiller — to get dressed
We conjugate them with help of our reflexive pronouns:
Je me lave.
Tu te laves.
Il se lave.
Nous nous lavons.
Vous vous lavez.
Ils se lavent.
(I wash myself, you wash yourself, etc.)
You might feel funny saying nous nous, but reflexive pronouns always agree with the subject and are used with reflexive verbs.
No, these aren’t the pronouns you use to be rude and cold-hearted.
Impersonal pronouns simply aren’t in agreement with the subject. I’ve rounded up the most common impersonal pronouns below:
Je sais que je peux remplacer des choses qui ne sont ni COD ni COI.
C’est mon super-pouvoir!
J’en trouve un et ZAP!
Il y a plusieurs pronoms que je peux utiliser.
(I know that I can replace things that are neither direct objects nor indirect objects.
It’s my super-power!
I find one and ZAP!
There are several pronouns that I can use.)
6. Impersonal Subject Pronouns
- ce, il
This is IT. No really, this is IT. In English, our impersonal subject pronoun is IT. In French, you use ce or il. They can often be used interchangeably (yay flexibility), but ce is more informal.
Il est possible que… — It is possible that…
C’est moi. — It’s me
Il est nouveau. — It is new.
C’est fini! — It’s finished!
Pretty straightforward. Now for more of the fun stuff.
7. Relative Pronouns
These pronouns are the link. They connect dependent clauses with the main clauses, or in other words, they connect the part of the sentence without a subject to the part of the sentence with a subject. There are five relative pronouns, all with their own special purpose.
Replaces the Direct Object (remember those?) in the dependent clause. It functions kind of the same as the word “that” in English. The major exception is that “that” is often optional in English and que is a must!
Example: Où est la chose que j’ai achetée hier? — Where is the thing (that) I bought yesterday?
Here, que is referring to la chose (the thing) which is the direct object of the verb acheter (to buy).
Replaces the subject (either person or thing) in the dependent clause. Kind of like the word “who” in English.
Example: Je voudrais un prof qui ne donne pas de devoirs. — I would like a teacher who doesn’t give homework.
Word of warning, however! This qui has nothing to do with people:
Cependant, le prof donne des devoirs qui nous aident à apprendre. — However, the teacher gives us homework that helps us learn.
Here, qui is referring to devoirs (homework) which is the subject of the verb aider (to help).
Replaces an indirect object after a preposition.
Be careful, though. If the noun is a person, you need to use the preposition + qui. There are some more advanced contractions using lequel that you may run into later on, but let’s stick to basics right now. Think of it as “which” in English.
Example: Je n’ai pas lu la lettre à laquelle tu as répondu. — I didn’t read the letter to which you responded.
Replaces an object followed by de. The English equivalent is “whose” or “that.” It’s used often with phases like: parler de (speak of), avoir besoin de (to need) and avoir peur de (be scared of).
Example: Le pronom dont j’ai peur! — The pronoun that I’m scared of!
- Où replaces a place. This one is more straightforward. It’s also the question word for “where,” which makes it easy to remember.
Example: C’est là où j’ai mangé hier. — It’s where I ate yesterday.
It can also be used to replace a time.
Example: Mercredi, c’est le jour où je pars. — Wednesday, it’s the day that I leave.
8. Adverbial Pronouns
Luckily, there are only two of these: y and en.
Y is used to replace à + a noun (often a place), while en is used to replace de + a noun or phrase.
En can also be used to replace quantities + a noun. These are very important pronouns, and you’ve probably heard before: Il y a… (There is…) or J’en ai un (I have one). Let’s see them in their natural habitats.
Je voudrais aller à Paris BECOMES Je voudrais y aller. — I would like to go to Paris. I would like to go there.
Il pense à l’été dernier BECOMES Il y pense. — He thinks of last summer. He thinks of it.
Pro tip: Make sure you’re using y in instances of à + an object. Don’t confuse it with lequel (which is used to link clauses), or with lui/leur which is for indirect objects that are people or animate objects. If you have à + an inanimate object, then y is your guy.
Get it? Got it? Good.
Ma mère prépare des pâtes. Ma mère en prépare. — My mom is preparing some pasta. My mom is preparing some.
In addition, you can use en when a quantity word is involved.
Il a beaucoup de bonbons. Il en a beaucoup. (He has a lot of candy. He has a lot of it.)
Elle a deux livres. Elle en a deux. (She has two books. She has two of them.)
Pro tip: you need the pronoun En when talking about quantities. For instance, you can’t say *J’ai un. This simply means nothing, or will be taken as the beginning of a sentence J’ai un… livre (I have a… book). You need to squeeze en in there for your intended effect: J’en ai un (I have one).
9. Indefinite pronouns
These pronouns are unspecific words that you can use to kick nouns to the curb. They can be used as the subject of a sentence, the object of a verb or as a preposition. They’re pretty useful. Here are some of them with their English equivalents:
d’autres — others
chacun(e) — each one
certain(e)s — certain ones
plusieurs — several
quelque chose — something
quelqu’un — someone
tout — everything
tout le monde — everyone
Pro tip: Use the third person singular or plural when the subject is an indefinite pronoun and you’re conjugating verbs.
Now you know the meat of the pronoun world. These are more than enough to get you speaking like a native and cutting out unnecessarily repeated nouns.
In a case of more than one pronoun used in a phrase, there’s a correct order to place them in.
Sing the following little diddy to the tune of “Frère Jacques” if you’re feeling musical and need a way to remember it.
me, te, nous, vous
me, te, nous, vous
le, la, les
le, la, les
Now you can say things like, “Je le lui ai donné” (I gave it to him) with zero stress!