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Subject and object pronouns

The category of pronouns covers a wide range of short words that can make a huge difference to your (correct) understanding of a sentence.

We have already come across subject pronouns (je, tu, il, etc.) but there are many other sub-categories to consider. Before we look at each of them, remember that a pronoun stands in place of a noun (a person, a thing, a concept, for example) or a group of nouns.

The gender and the role of the noun(s) a pronoun replaces can make a difference as to which pronoun is chosen. By 'role' we mean whether the noun being replaced is the subject, direct object or indirect object in the sentence.

Let's consider the noun la ministre (the minister, female) in the three sentences below:

  1. La ministre annonce une nouvelle loi. (The minister is announcing a new law)
  2. Le président reçoit la ministre. (The president is seeing the minister)
  3. Les journalistes parlent à la ministre. (The journalists are talking to the minister)

If you consider the English translation of these sentences, you will soon realise that 'the minister' can easily be replaced by a pronoun in all of them:

  1. She is announcing a new law.
  2. The president is seeing her.
  3. Les journalists are talking to her.

1

It is the same in French, but with a slight difference. Can you try and understand why?

1- Elle annonce une nouvelle loi.

2- Le président la reçoit.

3- Les journalistes lui parlent.

In the first sentence, la ministre is the subject of the verb. It is therefore replaced by the subject pronoun elle.

In the second sentence, la ministre is a direct object. It is thus replaced by the feminie direct object pronoun la.

In the third sentence, la ministre is an indirect object pronoun. It must then be replaced by the indirect object pronoun lui.

Note that the object pronouns will be placed before the verb and not after as it is the case in English.

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Depending on its 'role' in connection to the rest of the sentence, a noun will therefore be replaced by different pronouns.

The grid below indicates the different possible forms depending on the function of the pronoun:

pronouns_table.png

Note:

1) le is the direct object used instead of a masculine noun while la is used instead of a feminine noun

2) m', t' and l' are used in front of a vowel.