French Grammar Guide for non-francophones

Indirect Object Pronouns (e.g.: me, te, lui, etc.)

Overview of Indirect Object Pronouns

An indirect object comes after a preposition that follows the verb. It is called "indirect" because of the intervening preposition. Consider the following:

  • a) Je vois Jean.
  • b) Je parle à Jean.

In a), Jean is a direct object since it follows the verb directly; in b) Jean is an indirect object since there is a preposition between it and the verb. Indirect object pronouns replace the second type of noun, for example:

  • Je téléphone à mon ami > Je lui téléphone ("I phone him").
  • Elle parle à Robert > Elle lui parle ("She speaks to him").

An indirect object answer the question "to whom?". For example, in the previous example, we can ask "To whom did she speak?" (Robert). We know then that the pronouns that replace these are indirect object pronouns.

French indirect object pronouns appear in the following table:

English French Example
"to me" me Il me parle ("He speaks to me").
"to you" (tu) te Il te parle ("He speaks to you").
"to him" lui Il lui parle ("He speaks to him").
"to her" lui Il lui parle ("He speaks to her").
"to them" leur Il leur parle ("He speaks to them").
"to us" nous Il nous parle ("He speaks to us").
"to you" (vous) vous Il vous parle ("He speaks to you").

Position of Indirect Object Pronouns

Unlike English, French indirect object pronouns come immediately before the verb, e.g.:

  • Je lui téléphone.
  • Elle me donne de l'argent.
  • On leur propose une solution.

When used in the passé composé, they precede the verb avoir, e.g.:

  • Je lui ai téléphoné.
  • Elle m'a donné de l'argent.
  • On leur a proposé une solution.

However, when used with other conjugated verbs followed by an infinitive, indirect object pronouns come after the first verb and before the infinitive, e.g.:

  • Je peux te téléphoner.
  • Elle doit me donner de l'argent.
  • On va leur proposer une solution.

The one context where indirect object pronouns do in fact follow the verb is in an imperative (a command), e.g.:

  • Parlez-lui!
  • Téléphone-moi!

Note that, as in the last example, me becomes moi (and te becomes toi) in an imperative. Note also that in imperatives, the indirect object is attached to the verb with a hyphen.

Past Participle Agreement

When an indirect object precedes the verb, the past participle does NOT agree with it in number or gender, e.g.:

  • ... à une fille ...  je lui ai parlé
  • ... à mes amis ... je leur ai téléphoné

 You can find more information about past participle agreement here.

 

  • Be sure to place indirect object pronouns before the main verb, e.g.: Je lui parle (with the exception of penser, e.g.: Marie pense à nous).
  • Make sure me, te, change to m', and t' if the next word begins with a vowel, e.g.: Paul m'aime.
  • Be sure NOT to make the past participle agree with an indirect object pronoun (only direct object pronouns show past participle agreement).
  • Use direct object pronouns with the verbs aimer and aider, e.g.: Je les aide and NOT Je leur aide (since we say aider quelqu'un and NOT aider à quelqu'un).

 

 
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