How to use French Direct Object Pronouns - Les compléments d'objets directs

Les compléments d’objets directs, or Direct Object Pronouns, are used to replace direct objects in a sentence to avoid repetition. For example: Charlie goes to visit Mark. Charlie is excited to see himHim is the direct object pronoun.

What's a direct object?

Un objet direct, or a direct object, is the receiver of an action. In the example:

Je mange le pain.

Le pain is the direct object because it is receiving the action (it is being eaten). In English (and in French), to find out which word in the sentence is the direct object, ask yourself: What/who is receiving the action? or What/who is being [main action]?In the above example, we could could ask: What is being eaten? Let’s try another example:

Christine achète la table.
What is being bought? The table
Direct object: la table

What's the difference between a direct and indirect object?

In English, it is not always obvious what is the direct object and what is the indirect object. As we already know, we can ask What/who is receiving the action? to determine the direct object. For the indirect object (usually people or animate nouns), we can ask To whom/for whom is the action being done? For example:

Mary and Abdul give Cory a present.
What is being given? A present
To whom/for whom is a present given? Cory
Direct object: A present
Indirect object: Cory

In French, you can use the same questions above to find out which are the direct and indirect objects. The good thing about French is that an indirect object (usually people or other animate nouns) will always be preceded by à or pour, whereas direct objects are not preceded by any preposition.

Marie et Abdul donnent à Cory un cadeau.
What is being given? Un cadeau
To whom/for whom is a present given? À Cory
Objet direct: Un cadeau
Objet indirect: À Cory

Differences between French and English

Unfortunately, if an object is direct in English, it may not be direct in French. Most of the time, a direct object of a verb in English will also be a direct object of that same verb in French; but not always. Here are a few examples:

Example 1: We drink the milk (direct object).
Exemple 1: Nous buvons le lait (objet direct).

Example 2: They given their Mom (indirect object) a present (direct object).
Exemple 2: Ils donnent un cadeau (objet direct) à leur mère (objet indirect).

Example 3: I phone my sister (direct object).
Exemple 3: Je téléphone à ma sœur (objet indirect).

In Example 1, you can see that milk/lait are direct objects in both languages. In Example 2, you will notice that the direct objects and indirect objects are the same in both languages, however the order is different. In French, it is generally preferred to have the direct object come before indirect objects. In Example 3, the object is direct in English, but indirect in French. The reason for this change is because the verb to phone someone is téléphoner à quelqu’un. Sometimes, in French, prepositions are added or taken away from their English counterpart, so keep this in mind when using direct and indirect object pronouns.

Direct Object Pronouns

The direct object pronouns are always placed before the verb, unlike in English. For example:

Louis me voit.
Louis sees me.

Monica ne l’achète pas.
Monica doesn’t buy it.

Here is a list of all the direct object pronouns in French, with their associated English meanings:

Français English
me me
te you (singular, informal)
le, l’ him, it (masculine nouns)
la, l’ her, it (feminine nous)
nous us
vous you (formal or plural)
les them

Direct Object Pronouns with Two Verbs

When you have two verbs, where the second verb is in the infinitive form, the direct object pronouns precedes the second verb. For example:

Laure veut la cuisiner.
Laure wants to cook it.

Son père ne va pas les acheter.
Her dad is not going to buy it.

Direct Object Pronouns with an Infinitive

If there is an infinitive that uses a direct object pronoun, the pronoun still precedes the verb.

Pour les regarder, achetez un billet.
To watch them, buy a ticket.

Avant de m‘appeler, vérifie mon numéro de téléphone.
Before calling me, check my phone number.

Direct Object Pronouns with le Passé Composé

When there is a past participle (such as in the passé composé, plus-que-parfait, futur antérieur, conditionnel passé, subjonctif passé), the direct object pronoun will precede the first verb.

Je l’ai vendu mercredi.
I sold it on Wednesday.

Elle m’a vu hier.
She saw me yesterday.

The direct object pronoun will also agree with the past participle (participe passé), whereas if the direct object was not a pronoun, there would be no agreement. For example:

Nous avons lavé la table.
Nous l’avons lavée.

Ils nous avons entendus.

It is not possible to use a direct object where être is an auxiliary as all DR & MRS VAN DER TRAMP verbs are intransitive (not possible to have a direct object).

Direct Object Pronouns with Commands in the Imperative

In the imperative mood, for commands and orders, the direct object pronouns come after the verb, joined by a dash.

Regardez-les.
Watch them.

Appelle-moi demain.
Call me tomorrow.

This rule does not apply when we say a negative command.

Ne l’achète pas.
Don’t buy it.

Here is an updated list of all the direct object pronouns in French used with the imperative mood, with their associated English meanings:

Français English
moi
m’*
me
toi
t’*
you (singular, informal)
le, l’ him, it (masculine nouns)
la, l’ her, it (feminine nous)
nous us
vous you (formal or plural)
les them

* If moi or toi are going to be followed by y or en, then moi changes back to m’ and toi changes back to t’.

Direct Object Pronouns with Inversion

When you have inversion, the direct object pronoun remains in front of the appropriate verb and it’s only the subject pronoun (je, tu, il, elle, etc) that changes position.

Les étudient-ils ?
Did you study them?

Peux-tu me voir ?
Can you see me?

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