French Tonic or Stress Pronouns


Disjunctive pronouns (also known as tonic or stressed pronouns) refer to people whose names have already been mentioned or whose identity is obvious from context. They are used in a variety of situations in French, most often in short answers without verbs, for emphasis, or for contrast with subject pronouns. French stressed pronouns correspond in some ways to their English counterparts but are very different in other ways. Note that the English translations sometimes require different sentence structures altogether. Stressed pronouns are used in the following ways in French:

  • To emphasize nouns or pronouns
  • After c'est and ce sont
  • When a sentence has more than one subject or object
  • To ask and answer questions
  • After prepositions
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Stress pronouns, also known as tonic or disjunctive pronouns, put stress in a sentence. In this module, we will learn about some of the most common ways to use stress pronouns in French. Using these in everyday conversation are common in the French language. In English, however, we use voice inflection and intonation emphasis to stress what we’re expressing in a sentence. Below is the list of French tonic pronouns.

moi      me

toi        you     

lui        him

elle      her

soi       one

nous     us

vous     you

eux       them

elles     them (f)

In this module we will talk about 3 common ways that stress pronouns are used. The other resources in this module may elaborate on additional ways that include more complex French grammar topics.

Usage #1: To emphasize the subject or subject pronoun

Following C’est or Ce sont (meaning It is)

                        Cest moi qui aime le petit-déjeuner pour le dîner !

It’s me who likes breakfast for dinner !

                        Ce sont elles qui adorent le vin !

It’s them who love the wine !

            Repeating the subject pronoun

                        Toi, tu cries trop fort !

You, you are shouting too loudly !

                        Moi et lui (Nous), nous sortons ce soir.

Me and him (Us), we are going out tonight.

Usage #2: After a preposition (see the Quizlet module to learn French prepositions*)

            Monsieur, il y a un cadeau devant vous.

Mister, there is a gift in front of you.

            Je ne veux pas aller avec eux à la plage.

I don’t want to go with them to the beach.

*Note that stress pronouns can only refer to people. Not all prepositions provided will make sense in this context.

Usage #3: To say, myself/yourself/himself, etc…

            Add -même to the stress pronoun

                        Je peux faire le travail moi-même.

                        I can do the work myself.

                        Nous posons les questions nous-mêmes.

                        We are posing the questions ourselves.

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

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.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate needs. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something.
Spoken Production:
I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job.
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.
I can read very short, simple texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, prospectuses, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters.
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.