French Relative Pronouns Qui vs Que

Overview

French indirect pronouns are pronouns that are used in place of indirect objects. An indirect object is the part of the sentence that tells you to whom or what something is being given. In English, these are words like 'her,' 'them,' and 'us.'

Who is it

The concept of indirect object pronouns in French is the same as it is in English. An indirect object pronoun replaces the indirect object in a sentence. In English, indirect objects can be understood as saying something is being done to someone. That means, most indirect objects replace a person or group of people. Read the following two example sentences:

I am writing the check to Béatrice.   =   “Béatrice” is the indirect object of the sentence.

Samuel gives the gifts to the girls.     =   “The girls” would be the indirect object of the sentence.

An indirect object is usually identified by asking the questions “To who?” or “To whom?” in regards to the verb found in the sentence. For the first sentence example, the question you could ask is, “I am writing the check to who?” and the response (or the indirect object) would be “Béatrice.” For the second example sentence, the question you could ask is, “Samuel is giving the gifts to who?” and the response (or the indirect object) would be “the girls.”

In French, indirect object pronouns function the same. The major difference is where they’re placed in the sentence. Indirect object pronouns are placed before the conjugated verb in a sentence. Also, the indirect object pronoun that is used depends on the gender and number of the indirect object it’s replacing.

Indirect Object PronounEnglish Translation
meto me
teto you (singular)
luito him/her*
nousto us
vousto you (formal or plural)
leurto them*

*Notice that the third person singular and plural forms do not have different indirect object pronouns for masculine and feminine genders.

Steps to Using a Direct Object Pronoun:

  • Identify the indirect object in the original sentence by asking “To who?” or “To whom?” in relation to the verb.
  • Identify whether that indirect object pronoun is replacing a masculin or feminine & singular or plural person/group of people
  • Choose the appropriate indirect object pronoun from the chart above.
  • Rewrite the French sentence placing the indirect object pronoun before the conjugated verb. In the passé composé, this means the indirect object pronoun will go before the auxiliary verb (être or avoir). If there are two verbs (one conjugated verb and one infinitive) in the sentence, such as in le futur proche, put the indirect object pronoun between the two verbs, or in front of the infinitive.

Example:

Noémie téléphone à sa mère

  1. Direct object: sa mère (Noémie calls (to) who? Her mother…)
  2. sa mère = feminine, singular
  3. Indirect object pronoun: lui = “to her”
  4. Noémie lui télé

Don’t forget to take out the indirect object from the sentence after you replace it with a pronoun.

If you wanted to make this sentence negative, you would place the “ne” and the “pas” around both the indirect object pronoun and the verb → Noémie ne lui téléphone pas.

*When the indirect object of the sentence is a person (and is specific and gives the person’s name), then you must follow the à with a tonic stress pronoun. To review tonic stress pronouns in French, see the previous module in A1.1.

Example Sentences:

Parles-tu à tes amis?                            →                    Leur parles-tu?

Vous répondez à votre professeur.     →                    Vous lui répondez.

Tu ne raconte pas d’histoire à Solène. →                    Tu ne raconte pas d’histoire à elle.    

Je vais écrire à vous et votre sœur.     →                   Je vais vous écrire.

Hint:

The clue for spotting an indirect object is often the preposition, à. The Quizlet set in this module lists several verbs that are accompanied by this preposition (like, for example, téléphone à) which are followed by an indirect object. For this lesson, all of the indirect objects will be people.

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The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
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Spoken Interaction:
I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I can’t usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself.
Reading:
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Listening:
I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.