An overview of subject pronouns
Subject pronouns usually precede the verb and indicate who is responsible for the action described by the verb. For example, je travaille, tu pars, elle rit. In general, a subject pronoun answers the question "who?" (did the verbal action). For example, we know that je is a subject pronoun in the sentence je fais mes devoirs because it answers the question qui fait mes devoirs?
French has nine different subject pronouns:
- je, tu, il, elle, on, nous, vous, ils, elles.
Let's consider each of these and concentrate on how to use them correctly:
je: this is the 1st person singular subject pronoun (that's the person who is writing or talking, "I" in English). The verb's ending must agree with je. For -er verbs, the ending is usually -e (je parle); for -re and -ir verbs, it is usually -s (e.g.: je prends, je finis. Remember to write je with a small "j" unless it is at the beginning of a sentence. Finally, before vowels, je becomes j', e.g.: j'aime (this is known as "elision").
tu: this is the 2nd person singular subject pronoun. It refers to the person being spoken to or written to. Unlike English "you", French tu can only be used to address one individual and the individual must be someone with whom you are familiar. Do not use tu to address someone you do not know well (use vous instead). When conjugating tu, remember the verb ends in -s, e.g.: tu parles or -x, e.g.: tu peux.
il: this is the 3rd person masculine singular subject pronoun. This normally means "he", but can also mean "it (e.g.: il pleut = "it is raining"). Verb forms for il end in -e for -er verbs (e.g.: il parle), but end in -t for -ir verbs (e.g.: il finit) and in -d for -re verbs (e.g.: il prend).
elle: this is the 3rd person feminine singular subject pronoun. Like il, verb forms for elle usually end in -e (e.g.: elle parle), but can also end in -t (e.g.: elle finit) or -d (e.g.: il prend).
on: traditionally, this is considered a 3rd person indefinite subject pronoun that corresponds to "one" in English (e.g.: "One should always play by the rules"). However, in all parts of the French speaking world, this is also used frequently with the meaning "we", especially when speaking. In terms of verbal endings, on follows the same patter as il and elle, i.e.: it usually ends in -e (e.g.: on parle), but can also end in -t (e.g.: on finit) or -d (e.g.: on prend).
nous: this is the standard 1st person plural subject pronoun (i.e.: "we" in English). With the exception of the verb être (nous sommes), verbs that follow nous always end in -ons (e.g.: nous parlons).
vous: this is both the 2nd person plural subject pronouns (used to address more than one person) and the 2nd person singular polite form (used to address one person that you don't know very well). Almost all verbs that follow vous end in -ez (e.g.: vous parlez). Some notable exceptions, however, are the verbs être (vous êtes), dire (vous dites) and faire (vous faites).
ils: this is the 3rd person masculine plural subject pronouns. Verbs that follow ils always end in -nt. In most cases, they end in -ent (e.g.: ils parlent), but one does find -ont with a number of verbs (e.g.: Ils vont, ils sont).
elles: this is the 3rd person feminine plural subject pronoun. Verbs that follow elles always end in -nt. In most cases, they end in -ent (e.g.: elles parlent), but one does find -ont with a number of verbs (e.g.: elles vont, elles sont).
- Subject pronouns like to appear close to a verb or another pronoun. As such, they cannot stand by themselves and cannot be separated from a verb by an adverb. For example, do NOT write je vraiment aime le chocolat, but rather j'aime vraiment le chocolat.