Me, Te, or Lui? Learn Indirect Object Pronouns in French

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Learn about French indirect object pronouns

Your Guide to Indirect Object Pronouns in French

There’s a lot of components in French grammar. One important aspect you need to learn about is the indirect object pronouns in French. While this concept may seem complicated, it’s an everyday part of the French language. We’ll break down how you can use and identify indirect object pronouns in French sentences. Use these pesky pronouns comfortably, and develop your French fluency.

French Sentences with Indirect Object Pronouns

Before we dive into the examples of indirect object pronouns in French, it’s important to understand the logic being them. Luckily, understanding this part of grammar is easier, because the logic is the same in English and in French. The concept remains the same, but the forms are different. Let’s take a simple French sentence as an example:

  • J’aime les fleurs. – I like flowers.

Every sentence in French has a subject (Je (J’) – I), a verb (aime – like), and this example even has an object (les fleurs – flowers). Very often, the verb conveys an action that affects someone or something else. Such as:

  • Pierre donne des fleures à moi. – Pierre gives flowers to me.

But, this sentence can also be said as:

  • Pierre me donne des fleurs. – Pierre gives me flowers.

This second version is the more natural-sounding option. Pierre was the subject, but his action affected me. So, in French, the more natural-sounding grammar for a sentence like this includes a direct object pronoun. In this instance, it’s “me”. Object pronouns refer to the recipient of action in a sentence.

Compléments d’objet indirect (COI)

These indirect object pronouns French replace animate indirect objects in the sentence:

Person

Singular

English

First
me/m’
me
Second
te/t’
you
Third
lui
him/her

Person

Plural

English

First
nous
us
Second
vous
you
Third
leur
them

Me and te change to m’ and t’ when the next word:

  • starts with a vowel,
  • starts with a mute h,
  • is the French word “y” (which refers to location or replaces the preposition à (“to”) that comes before the indirect object, moving now to between the indirect object pronoun and the verb. This process is called emission.

Moi and toi are stressed forms of me and te, respectively, that are used in certain constructions. It’s worth noting that these indirect object pronouns are identical to the direct object pronouns, though context makes it clear which is which.

indirect object pronouns in french are a difficult concept to understand

The Difference Between Direct and Indirect Object Pronouns in French

Object pronouns refer to the recipient of an action in a sentence. These can be further divided into indirect and direct object pronouns. Direct object pronouns receive the subject’s action directly. For example, in “I see the sun,” “I” is the subject, “see” is the verb, and “the sun” is the direct object because it receives the action of seeing without any intermediary. Indirect object pronouns, on the other hand, are involved in an action taken by the subject, but indirectly. For example, in “I give you a book,” “I” is the first subject, while “give” is the verb, leaving two objects, namely “you” and “a book.” Here, the book is the object that is physically being given to the other person, who is a recipient but indirectly.

Examples of Indirect Object Pronouns in French

Here are some examples to illustrate the rules of indirect object pronouns French:

  • Tu m’as donné un chat. – You gave me a cat.
  • Comment tu t’appeles? – What is your name?” (literally “How do you call yourself?”)
  • Tu m’appeles. – You call me.

In the first of the last two examples, appeler is used with an indirect object (te/t’). Here, the name of the person whose name you are asking is the direct object, whereas the person is the indirect object. In the second example, appeler is used with a direct object (me/m’). Here, “call” is a transitive verb, that is, one that the person hearing it is directly receiving. The person is not called by a name, but rather is contacted by voice or some other means.

Levels of Formality

  • Donne/Donnez moi un livre. – Give me a book.

This sentence demonstrates that there are levels of formality you can use in making requests. Donne is the imperative form of the pronoun tu (“you”). Donnez is both an indicative conjugation of donner (“to give”) and a polite request using the pronoun vous, which can mean either a formal “you” or refer to a group of individuals you are addressing.

Different Sententence Structure with Y

  • Je m’habitue à la ville. – I get used to the city.
  • Je m’y habitue. – I get used to it.
  • Je m’habitue à toi. or Je me t’habitue. – I get used to you.

These last examples illustrate another rule, namely that the indirect object pronouns listed in the table, like the word y, replace the preposition à that comes after the verb and before the object, instead coming after the subject and before the verb.

Genders in French Indirect Object Pronouns

  • J’écris à Pierre.I’m writing [to] Pierre.
  • = Je lui écris.I’m writing [to] him.
  • J’écris à Suzanne.I’m writing [to] Suzanne.
  • = Je lui écris. I’m writing [to] her.

Note here that while the singular subject pronouns il and elle are gendered, their indirect object pronoun counterparts are not, so lui can mean “to/for him” or “to/for her” based on the context. The same is true of ils (“to/for them [all-male or mixed-gender group]”) and elles (“to/for them [all-female group]”) and leur (“to/for them”). If you wish to specify, you can use à lui (“to him”) or à elle (“to her”) if you wish to specify the gender of the recipient.

Writing to someone can be said as an indirect object pronoun

Imperative Commands and Indirect Object Pronouns in French

In the case of the imperative, that is a command, the word order can be switched if the indirect object has already been established previously. For example, Donne du lait au chat means “give the cat some milk,” while donne-lui du lait means “give it some milk,” where lui replaces au chat and comes after the imperative verb rather than the direct object, here du lait or “milk.”

Watch Out for False Cognates

In French, there are many false cognates and indirect object verbs which are very different from English. Sometimes, their meanings are even reversed. Here are some examples of these verbs you should look out for:

In French, demander à (“to ask”) and téléphoner à (“to call on the phone”) take indirect objects in spite of the fact that their English counterparts use direct objects instead. So “He phones them every evening” translates into French as Il leur téléphone tous les soirs rather than Il les téléphone tous les soirs, where les is the direct object pronoun.

Meanwhile, French verbs like attendre (“to wait for”), chercher (“to look for”) and regarder (“to look at”) take direct objects in spite of the fact that their English counterparts use indirect objects instead. So “I’ll wait for them outside the train station” translates into French as Je les attends devant la gare rather than Je leur attends devant la gare, where leur would be the indirect object pronoun.

Rules of Indirect Object Pronouns in French

Indirect objects have certain common characteristics, namely that they:

  1. Are linked to the verb with a preposition
  2. Cannot be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence
  3. Can be answered by asking “to whom?” or “for whom?”

As mentioned previously, if the indirect object has already been established, indirect object pronouns can be used as a quicker reference, so you don’t have to repeat yourself. As an example, let us take the French sentence:

  • Je cuisine pour ma maman. Je cuisine pour ma maman chaque soir. – I cook for my mom. I cook for my mom every night.

Since the first of the two sentences establishes that the speaker’s mom is the indirect object, the second sentence can replace it with the indirect object pronoun:

  • Je cuisine pour ma maman. Je lui cuisine chaque soir. – I cook for my mom. I cook for her every night.

The indirect object pronoun avoids repetition, and make the sentence sound more natural in both English and French. So, feel free to place these pronouns where appropriate. By knowing these, you’re one step closer to French fluency.

examples of french indirect object pronouns

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