Are you having a little difficulty understanding French pronouns?
Let’s be honest, there are many different French pronouns (and types), so it can be difficult to know where to begin!
To become a fluent French speaker, French pronouns are something you need to learn very early on.
Thankfully, learning French pronouns is pretty straightforward.
All it takes is a little practice and knowledge of each group of pronouns that exist in the French language.
So, if you want to master French pronouns, this guide will help.
What do we mean by ‘pronoun’?
To put it simply, pronouns are words that stand in place of a noun.
They are used to avoid repetition and make communication more succinct.
So, to make the following sentences simpler and avoid repetition, you could use the pronoun elle instead of the subject of the sentence.
Take a look:
Sophie aime faire de l’exercice.
Sophie aime courir tous les jours.
Sophie aime manger sainement.
These sentences would become:
Elle aime faire de l’exercice.
Elle aime courir tous les jours.
Elle aime manger sainement.
But there are many different types of French pronouns. So…
…What are the different types of French pronouns?
The main different types or groups of French pronouns that you will come across, are:
- Subject pronouns
- Reflexive pronouns
- Direct object pronouns
- Indirect object pronouns
- Relative pronouns
I’m going to go through each of these French pronouns step by step, so continue to the end to get all the facts!
French subject pronouns
I’ve touched on these briefly already in this article, but we are going to cover it in more depth here.
French subject pronouns stand in place of the noun.
What are the French subject pronouns?
The French subject pronouns are:
|French Pronoun||English Translation|
These French subject pronouns differ from their English equivalent.
To start with, the English subject pronouns don’t feature the vous subject pronoun (which means ‘you all’, or ‘all of you’).
Then, you will notice that there is no French equivalent to the English subject pronoun ‘it’.
This is because all nouns in French are either masculine or feminine and have to be replaced with either il or elle.
How to use French subject pronouns
If you wanted to shorten the sentence ‘Julia, Louisa and Elouise all ate ice cream for breakfast’, this is where the French subject pronouns are useful.
The shortened version would be:
Elles mangent de la glace pour le petit déjeuner.
In this example, all three nouns in the sentence (Julia Louisa and Elouise) can be substituted with the pronoun elles, which means ‘they’.
This principle works with all subjects of a sentence — simply replace the noun (or subject of the sentence) with the personal pronoun that corresponds to the subject (indicated in the table above).
Reflexive pronouns can be a bit tricky, but with the help of this section, you’ll have no trouble understanding them.
Let’s start by identifying the main French reflexive pronouns.
What are the French reflexive pronouns?
The French reflexive pronouns are:
|Me / m’||Myself|
|Te / t’||Yourself|
|Se / s’||His/herself|
|Se / s’||Themselves|
Note, if the reflexive pronoun comes before the letter ‘h’ or a vowel, you should use m’, t’, or s’.
When are French reflexive pronouns used?
A French reflexive pronoun is a pronoun used to describe a reflexive action.
To clarify this a bit more, a reflexive action is an action done by a person to themselves.
For example, in English, a reflexive action might be:
I cut myself when I shaved my beard.
The reflexive pronoun, in this case, is ‘myself’. But what would this be in French, any ideas?
Well, here is the French equivalent of the above example:
Je me suis coupé en me rasant.
In this case, the reflexive pronoun is me, meaning ‘myself’.
Where are reflexive pronouns placed in French?
Reflexive pronouns always follow the subject pronoun and precede the verb. Take a look at the following example:
So, if you were still a bit confused, take note — the reflexive pronoun, in this case, is m’ (me), and it is sandwiched between the subject pronoun je and the verb habille.
It follows the subject pronoun and goes before the verb.
French direct/indirect pronouns
Things are about to get slightly more difficult! In this section and the following one, we’re going to focus on the difference between direct and indirect pronouns.
First up — direct pronouns.
What are direct pronouns?
In French, the direct pronouns are:
When do we use direct pronouns?
We use direct pronouns to show who or what is being affected by the action of the sentence.
Direct pronouns substitute a direct object — the person or object being directly affected by the verb — without any preposition standing between them.
The direct pronoun goes before the verb when substituting the noun.
Here is an example of how to substitute a direct object with a direct pronoun:
Il connaît Didier. Il le connaît.
As we mentioned, in this example, the direct pronoun (le) comes before the verb (connait).
What are indirect pronouns?
The indirect pronouns in French are:
|Me / m’||Me|
|Te / t’||You|
Though they are similar to the direct pronouns (except for ‘him/her’ and ‘them’), they are used differently.
When to use an indirect pronoun in French
An indirect pronoun also replaces a noun (person or thing), but only when the noun is the indirect object.
The indirect object is the object to which something is being done and features a preposition that indicates the action is being done to or for that object.
The best way to identify the indirect object of a sentence is with an example.
Nous parlons à nos amis tous les jours.
In this case, the indirect object is the person or thing who receives the action (nos amis).
We can replace the indirect object nos amis with the indirect pronoun leur to make it simpler and more coherent.
The sentence would become:
Nous leur parlons. Nous leur parlons tous les jours.
Now let’s turn our attention to relative pronouns. These differ from the pronouns we have talked about above, but they are slightly less complicated, thankfully!
What are the French relative pronouns?
The French relative pronouns are:
|Qui||Who / which / that|
|Que||That / which|
|Où||When / where|
|Lequel||Which / that|
|Dont||Whose / Of which|
What are French relative pronouns used for?
French relative pronouns are used to link together distinct ideas or join two concepts into one.
You might have two concepts that you want to talk about.
If you wanted to say that you watched a movie and that it was epic, you might say — in English:
I saw an epic movie. I watched it last night.
But this can be a pretty long-winded way to say something, and there is an easier option to bring these concepts together into one sentence.
Here’s the altered version:
The movie that I watched last night was epic.
Now, let’s dive into French grammar!
Using qui and using que
We use qui when we are referencing a person or a thing.
It is used to represent the indirect object of the sentence.
With que, we are normally referring to a direct object.
Here are some examples to clarify:
L’enseignant qui travaille de longues heures boit du café.
C’est la voiture que nous voulons louer.
That little qui, means ‘who’ in English, bringing together two concepts into one sentence, in the same way, que joins together the two sentences in the second example.
We use the French relative pronoun où when referring to moments in time and locations, to bring two separate ideas together into one main sentence.
Here are two examples:
C’est le mois où il a commencé à neiger.
C’est l’endroit où il a plu toute la semaine.
Keep in mind, when using lequel, that there are various forms of this word.
And when you’re using it, it should always agree with the noun it refers to.
The main forms of the word lequel include:
Lesquels (masculine plural)
Lesquelles (feminine plural)
Also remember that in this article, we are referring to the relative pronoun, and not the adjective or interrogative pronoun.
If you want to know how it’s used, just take a look at the example we have lined up just below:
C’était la maison dans laquelle je vivais.
If you wanted to change this example to ‘the apartment in which I used to live’, you would need to use the masculine version of lequel:
C’était l’appartement dans lequel je vivais.
The same applies if you wanted to use a noun that takes the feminine plural form and the masculine plural form — you would have to use either lesquelles or lesquels.
This way the noun and the relative pronoun agree in terms of their forms.
Dont is normally used when you want to way ‘whose’ in French.
It demonstrates ownership when referring to how someone or something relates to a person you have already mentioned.
The example below will make this clearer for you.
J’ai épousé un homme dont l’enfant était très intelligent.
The dont, in this case, indicates that the child is owned by the man.
It makes it faster and more succinct to describe two separate ideas — the fact that the subject married a man, and the fact that the man has an intelligent daughter.
Two final tips about French pronouns
There are quite a few French pronouns. You’ll need a way to remember them all.
But don’t get overwhelmed.
If you’re a beginner, start with the simpler ones, because, at A1 level, knowing the subject pronouns is essential.
Start with these and then build-up to the more complex ones, such as the reflexive pronouns and the direct/indirect pronouns.
If you’re at an intermediate level, keep in mind that not everyone will get to grips with French pronouns by simply looking at the tables we have included in this post.
You’ll need to listen, write, read and speak the language to get a feel for how and when these pronouns are used.
Using French resources is an excellent idea for boosting your understanding.
Use the resources to help you, practice the grammar with some exercises and balance this out with a French playlist and a channel or two on YouTube.
Study and become a French pronoun pro
Regular practice is important, so don’t forget to learn in your spare time.
Knowing how French pronouns fit into the bigger picture is important, so read and listen to examples regularly.
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