French Pronouns

Pronouns are employed to replace nouns (thus avoiding their repetition) within a sentence. In French, these are inflicted much more frequently than they are in English. To begin, there are two major groups of French pronouns, each one of them with several subtypes, in turn:


A) PERSONAL PRONOUNS: These are inflicted according to the grammatical person they are representing, as well as the correspondent number of the latter. There are five different types of personal pronouns in French:


1. SUBJECT PRONOUNS are those capable of replacing the subject of a sentence. There is one for each grammatical person:




Tu (informal) / Vous (formal)  You
Il / Elle He/She
Nous We

You (plural)

Ils / Elles

They / They (masculine / feminine, respectively)


Note that “Vous” is always accompanied by verbs inflicted in plural, even in the case it is being used to address a single person (in an formal manner); adjectives present in the same sentence, on the other hand, may be the ones in charge to indicate whether it is one or more individuals which are being discussed. For example:


Tu es intelligent (You are intelligent) Informal way to address a single person, denoted by the adjective (masculine singular).
Vous êtes intelligent (You are intelligent)

Formal way to address a single person, denoted by the adjective (masculine singular).

Vous êtes intelligents (You are intelligent)  Addressing of more than one person, denoted by the adjective (general plural).


An additional subject pronoun, “on”, is used in some instances. For example, as an informal replacement of “Nous”, in which case, it is always accompanied by verbs in the third person singular (but adjectives in the second person plural relevant to “Nous”). Examples:


Nous sommes fatigue / On est fatigués (We are tired).
Nous sommes responsables / On est responsables (We are responsible).


2. DIRECT OBJECT PRONOUNS are those capable of taking the place of the person or thing that receives the action expressed by the verb in the sentence (i.e. the direct object!). These are:



Me; To me


You; To you

Le / La   Him; To him / Her; To her

us; To us

Vous you; To you (plural)

them; To them


Direct object pronouns are always placed in front of the verb from which they are receiving an action (in the case of perfect tenses, they also precede any auxiliary verbs). Examples:


Dieu nous aime (God loves us).
Je l’aime (I love her/him).
Marie t’ai appelé (Marie has called you).
Je vous ai écrit (I have written you –plural; I have written to you – plural).


3. INDIRECT OBJECT PRONOUNS are those can be used instead of the person or thing that receives the direct object. These are:



To me


To you

Lui To him / Her; To her (depending on the context)

us; To us

Vous you; To you (plural)

To them


Indirect object pronouns are placed right after the subject, except when they’re accompanied by a direct object that has been replaced by the pronouns “la”, “le” or “les”, in which case they follow the aforementioned words. Examples:


Elle m'a acheté deux chemises (She has bought me two shirts).
Ils lui ont donné un avertissement (They have given a warning to him /to her).
Elle les m'a acheté (She has bought them for me).
Ils le lui ont donné (They have given it to him /to her).


4. REFLEXIVE PRONOUNS are the complement to a special kind of verb known as “pronominal”, which can be found in sentences that have the main subject simultaneously performing and receiving (as a direct object) the action expressed by it. They are:



me; myself


you; yourself

Se him; himself / her; herself / it; itself

us; ourselves

Vous you; yourselves

them; themselves


Indirect object pronouns can also indicate reciprocity; they can accompany verbs that are inherently reflexive (and thus do not necessarily imply the object is the same as the subject) as in the case of the verb “se souvenier” (to remember), for instance; and they are used in certain passive constructions. Examples:


Je me souviens d'elle (I remember her) Verb is inherently reflective, cannot function without its correspondent pronoun.
Elles se regardent (They look at each other)     

Reflexive pronoun indicating reciprocity.

Il se rase tous les matins. (He shaves himself every morning)    

Pronominal verb; the object is the same as the subject.

La fenêtre se ferme. (The window is getting closed) Passive construction in which the reflexive pronoun cannot be translated by itself.


5. DISJUNCTIVE PRONOUNS are also known as “stressed” pronouns, since they have an emphasizing function within a sentence. They are:






Lui/Elle him/ her


Vous you

them (masculine / feminine, respectively)


Disjunctive pronouns are additionally used (as a general rule) in cleft sentences, in other words, they always follow the words “C’est” and/or “Ce sont”; in compound noun phrases; after prepositions; etc. Examples:


Moi, je préfère l'hiver (Me, I prefer the winter) Disjunctive pronoun emphasizing the subject pronoun (“je”).
Ce sont eux qui vont se marier (It’s them who are getting married)

Disjunctive pronoun in a clef sentence.

Toi et lui sont invités (You and him are invited)

Compound noun phrase (used instead of the subject pronoun “vous”).

Nous allons partir sans vous. (We will go without you – plural) Disjunctive pronoun following a preposition (“sans”).


B. IMPERSONAL PRONOUNS: These are NOT inflicted according to the person or the number of the subject, but sometimes do change to comply with the gender and number of the noun they are replacing. The most common impersonal pronouns in French include: the adverbial pronoun “y” (“there”); the demonstrative pronouns “celui”, “celle”, “ceux” and “celles” (two pairs of variants of “this one” and “these ones”, in masculine and feminine versions, respectively), which make reference to an already mentioned noun in a sentence; the indefinite demonstrative pronouns “ceci” and “cela” (“this” and “that”), which refer to a noun that has not been mentioned previously; the interrogative pronouns “qui”, “que” and “lequel” (“who”, “what” and “which”); etc.

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