45 Days of French – Day 30

I read Hour 14 of Alpha Teach Yourself French in 24 Hours (ATYF) yesterday. Been away from the computer all day, and so am only now getting back to my notes for this post. Today’s major grammar topic is objects, both direct and indirect, while a large section is spent encountering vocabulary for free time. We’ll get there.

We’ve already seen the object pronouns (both direct and indirect) which are introduced in this lesson. Essential French (EF) has had us using them for a while. But the treatment of object pronouns, especially the detail regarding combined usage and placement within sentences, is staggering in comparison.

Direct and Indirect Objects
The difference is pretty simple. Direct objects attach to transitive verbs without the use of a preposition. Indirect objects attach to verbs (either transitive or intransitive) through the use of a preposition. And while in English a change in sentence structure allows us to drop the indirect object preposition (“I gave (to) Frank the bill.”), not so in French. It will always be required (or combined into the indirect object pronoun when used…).

And it should be kept in mind that French is not English. Verbal ideas can change what is the direct object and what is the indirect object between the two languages. Or prepositions that wouldn’t be expected by a wooden translation are employed. Basically, learn French usage – don’t guess from English. Well, I suppose if you simply don’t know that guessing is better than nothing. But better to learn it right, no?

Direct and Indirect Object Pronouns
We’ve already looked at a number of different sets of pronouns, both in ATYF and EF. Before we go further, let’s remind ourselves what we know (or at least where we’ve been).

  • subject pronouns – These pronouns replace (or often simple are) the subject of sentences. We’ve been dealing with them since near the beginning of our studies (Hour 2 of ATYF – well, sort of) in French. You know, je, tu, il (elle, on), nous, vous, and ils (elles).
  • possessive pronouns – These pronouns combine the article with a possessive adjective, in proper agreement with the replaced possessed object. Such as, le mien, le tien, le sien…, all seen in ATYF Hour 11.
  • demonstrative pronouns – Also seen in ATYF Hour 11, these pronouns can be used to point something out – “that!”. That is just the pronouns like celui do.
  • tonic pronouns – These are those forms like moi, and toi which are used for emphasis of the subject, or with propositions, or the other reasons we looked at (most related to the preposition).
  • relative pronouns – We’ve worked with these recently in both EF and ATYF. Qui and que (and lequel and its forms, of course), while having many other uses, help to point out things in one clause that are (usually) more explicit somewhere else.
  • “other” – by “other”, I mean things like y, the pronoun that can replace a location and is used in the idiom il y a… Though we haven’t seen them yet in ATYF, there is also a pronoun use of en, and a reflexive pronoun se.

Now we are ready to add two other pronouns, the direct object pronoun and indirect object pronoun. Here they are:

Direct English Equivalent Indirect English Equivalent
me (m’) me me (m’) (to) me
te (t’) you te (t’) (to) you
le (l’) him, it lui (to) him, her, it
la (l’) her, it
nous us nous (to) us
vous you (pl.) vous (to) you
les them leur (to) them

Note that, as we have already seen in EF, the indirect object pronoun replaces both the preposition and the indirect object noun phrase.

Sentence Structure
In the normal sentence, subject, verb and objects are placed as follows:

  • subject + verb + direct object + indirect object

Object pronouns (except when dealing with commands) come before the verb. And this creates some opportunities to do a little mind-bending. The following chart demonstrates order of the various pronouns:

[subject] or [subject pronoun] + me
+ le
+ lui
+ [verb]

You do not have to replace both the direct and indirect object (so the actual structure is a combination of the normal sentence and the object pronoun replacement position). Hmmm. That sounds too difficult. All this chart is supposed to say is that it is not as simple as saying “the direct object pronoun comes before indirect object pronoun before the verb”. Nothing as simple as that.

You will never have 2 direct object pronouns or 2 indirect object pronouns. So that makes things a little manageable. But it still leaves me with a question about a sentence like, “He assigned me to you”.

I’m fairly sure you can’t do this with object pronouns alone. At first I pondered whether it could be done. Order would be an obvious problem with an Il me te… or Il te me… My guess is those simply won’t work (nor Il nous vous nor Il vous nous nor any singular plural match). but I could be wrong. Since the first person and second person are not as likely to need replacing (as they are already pretty simple), it probably isn’t really an issue. They will likely already be using a preposition + tonic pronoun, for indirect objects.

Verbs Followed by Prepositions

As already noted, the presence and selection of prepositions are not always the same between French and English. The book gives a large number of examples of verbs whose patterns must be noticed. The way that ATYF did this was confusing at first (to me, anyway). It confused other prepositions already associated with many of the verbs, and the examples using the verb patterns only made it worse.

Take, for example, permettre “to permit”. What they provided here was permettre à. They then had an example making use of an indirect object pronoun (which hid/absorbed the preposition à) and had the verb govern an infinitive with de. I was understandably confused awhile. What would be nice at this point is to come out and say, “The reason the infinitive is not governed by à for this verb (and many others) is because that preposition governs an indirect object with this verb!” In my mind, that would be the “ah-hah” moment some need. The example should have avoided using the object pronoun, in my mind. Though maybe French avoids using the indirect object with preposition when there is an infinitive-governing preposition as well – who knows.

I’m not going to do a dump of the verbs used to point out the differences between English and French. I imagine a good dictionary would give clear indication that certain prepositions and structures are used with certain verbs. It is enough to note that we can’t trust English patterns, that verbs vary as to which prepositions are paired with them, and that not all verbs take a direct object.

Direct Object Pronoun, Meet Past Participle
As already noted somewhere in this series, verbs that take avoir in compound tenses don’t have to worry about agreement of the past participle with the subject. However, they do have to worry about the direct object. Specifically, if the direct object precedes the past participle (as it does when you use a direct object pronoun), then the past participle must agree with the direct object:

  • J’ai vu Paul au bibliothèque.Je l’ai vue au bibliothèque. “I saw Paul at the library.” → “I saw him at the library.”

The Structure of Commands
I noted above that commands don’t follow the “shuffle” of object pronouns to the front of the verb. Actually, negative commands do. But affirmative commands don’t. Instead:

  • Verb and any object pronouns are connected by hyphens
  • Order is Verb + “-” + direct.object.pronoun+”-“+indirect.object.pronoun. If one is missing, simply don’t include it and it’s preceding hyphen.
  • Me becomes moi and te becomes toi.

So, maybe some examples from ATYF:

  • Donnez-le-moi! “Give it to me!”
  • Dites-moi bonjour! “Tell me hello!”
  • Ne me le donnez pas! “Don’t give it to me!”
  • Ne me dites pas bonjour! “Don’t tell me hello!”

Direct Objects with Infinitive Constructs
We’ve had opportunity to comment on this before, but here it is put more directly. When verbal constructs involve an infinitive and a modal verb, the objects belong to the infinitive, and thus object pronouns would precede the infinitive, and come after the conjugated modal verb.

So what is a modal verb? It is a verb often combined with an infinitive to express “mood” usually, something like “may”, “might”, “must”, “can”, “could” or “should”. In French, the common modal verbs are devoir, pouvoir, vouloir, savoir, and falloir.


  • Nous devons lui parler immédiatement. “We must speak to him/her immediately.”

Finishing Up
The rest of the lesson is leisure activities (les loisirs (msc.)) – that is, vocabulary. I won’t go into detail with that here. Maybe I’ll feel motivated later to share some of the vocabulary. Maybe not. But that’s enough for now.

About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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1 Response to 45 Days of French – Day 30

  1. Pingback: 45 Days of French | σφόδρα – exceedingly

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