Pronouns are words that are used to replace nouns, for example ‘it’, ‘him’, ‘her’, ‘us’, ‘you’, ‘them’. It may seem a little strange to English speakers, who say ‘I saw it’ or ‘we called them’, whereas French speakers say the equivalent of ‘I it saw’ or ‘we them called’. In other words, the object pronoun follows the verb in English, but precedes it in French.
The direct object pronoun ‘le‘ means ‘him’ or ‘it’ (replacing masculine nouns); ‘la‘ means ‘her’ or ‘it’ (replacing feminine nouns); ‘les‘ means ‘them’, referring to people or things. Here are some examples of how these pronouns are used:
J’ai donne un croissant à Jean. Il le mange. – I gave John a croissant. He’s eating it.
Catherine est mon amie. Je la vois souvent. – Catherine is my friend. I often see her.
Les pommes sont bonnes. On les achete au marché. – The apples are good. We buy them at the supermarket.
If we use ‘le‘ or ‘la‘ in front of a vowel, they are shortened to l’:
Paul est mon ami. Je l’aime beaucoup. – Paul is my friend. I love him very much.
In the negative:
Je ne le veux pas. – I don’t want it.
Sometimes, if we have two verbs – an infinitive following another finite verb – the object pronouns will be placed between the two verbs. Thinking of the meaning will help to decide on the position of the pronouns. For example:
Nous avons deux voitures. Nous allons les vendre. – We have two cars. We are going to sell them.
J’ai un cousin en Australie. J’espère le rencontrer un jour. – I have a cousin in Australia. I hope to meet him one day.
When using object pronouns with compound tenses such as the perfect or passe compose, the pronouns precede the auxiliary verb:
Est-ce que tu as vu mon livre? Je l’ai perdu hier soir. – Have you seen my book? I lost it last night.
If the pronoun is feminine, we add an ‘e’ to the past participle, and if it is plural we add an ‘s’:
Ta robe était sale. Je l’ai lavée ce matin. – Your dress was dirty. I washed it this morning.
Les enfants ne sont pas à la maison. On les a amenés au cinéma. – The children aren’t in the garden. They’ve been taken to the cinema.
Les clés ne sont pas sur la table. Vous les avez prises? – The keys aren’t on the table. Have you taken them?
With the imperative or command form, the object pronoun usually follows the verb:
Ramassez-le! – Pick it up!
An exception to this is the negative imperative:
Ne me regardez pas comme ça. – Don’t look at me like that.
With thanks to Elizabeth Allen