Pronouns & Articles

Pronouns take the place of nouns, and articles indicate what type of reference is being made to the noun. Some examples of pronouns in English: he, him, it, that, mine, us, they. Some examples of articles in English: the, some, our, their, my, several. You won't ever see articles and pronouns being used together, but I grouped them together on this page because several of the categories have very similar corresponding vocabulary, and I feel it's less confusing to learn them together. If you're a little confused, not to worry. Once we explore the different types of pronouns and articles you'll be on the right track.

Definite ArticlesThere are no definite pronouns, but definite articles are generally the first ones you learn, even if you aren't aware that's what they're called. The only definite article in English is "the." In French, however, there are 4 definite articles (all of which mean "the") that correspond to the gender and number (single or plural) of the noun they modify.

  • le - when the noun is masculine singular
  • la - when the noun is feminine singular
  • les - when the noun is masculine plural
  • l' - when the noun is singular and begins with a vowel or vowel sound (soft h)

Indefinite & Partitive Articles, Adjectives and PronounsIndefinite articles describe a noun that isn't specifically being referred to. In English indefinite articles are: a, an, some, several, much, many, little, few, any, all, no. In French, the indefinite articles are those below which mean "a, an" or "some." Partitive articles use the word "de" (of) to indicate "some." The rest of the words are considered indefinite adjectives but their function is the same. See further below for indefinite pronouns.
  • un - a, an (when the noun is masculine singular)
  • une - a, an (when the noun is feminine singular)
  • des - some
  • de - of, from
  • du - some (an indefinite amount of a singular quantity, eg "some milk, some water") (example: du rosbif=some roast beef)
  • de la - some (when the noun is feminine) (example: de la laitue=some lettuce)
  • de l' - some (when the noun starts with a vowel sound) (example: de l'eau=some water)
  • beaucoup de - much
  • plusieurs - several
  • quelques - some, any
  • peu de - few
  • aucun/aucune - no (quanitity)
  • tout/toute - all
  • tous/toutes - all (plural)
  • chaque - each (used for masculine and feminine)
  • autre - another
  • autres - other
When many of the above articles and adjectives stand alone (meaning they do not modify a noun), they become indefinite pronouns. Some of them need an entirely different form however. Let's get to know the indefinite pronouns (you'll notice the translation is essentially the same):
  • un - one
  • en - some (goes before a verb) (example: j'en voudrais=I would like some)
  • beaucoup - much, a lot, many
  • quelque chose - something
  • quelqu'un - someone
  • peu - a little
  • personne - no one, nobody
  • aucun - none
  • rien - nothing
  • tout - everything
  • tout le monde - everyone
  • un(e) autre - another (one)
  • autres - others

Subject Pronouns
And now for a group of pronouns that have no corresponding set of articles. Subject pronouns are the most common, and, as the title would suggest, they replace the subject of a clause (the doer of the action), when the subject is a person. In English they are: I, you, he, she, it, we, they.
  • je - I
  • tu - you (singular, friendly)
  • il - he
  • elle - she
  • on - can be used to mean "you" in general or "one"
  • nous - we (masculine or mixed)
  • vous - you (plural, singular formal)
  • ils - they (masculine or mixed)
  • elles - they (all feminine)

Direct Object Pronouns
Just as subject pronouns replace the subject of a clause, object pronouns replace the direct object in a clause. Assuming there's a possibility you don't know what a direct object is, I'm going to explain that to you now. A direct object receives the action in a clause (which the subject does the action). If the object as a "to" in front of it in English, then it is probably an indirect object, so don't confuse these (see below for indirect object pronouns).
NB:
Direct object pronouns in French, unlike in English, go BEFORE the verb. An example: "Yo lo tengo" means "I have it." If a pronoun that ends in an vowel precedes a verb that begins with a vowel, the vowel will be removed from the pronoun and replaced with an apostrophe (example: Je t'aime=I love you). Also, in the case of the direct object in the passé composé, the past participle must agree in gender and number with the direct object (example: Nous les avons vues [les filles]=We saw them [the girls].)
  • me - me (example: Marie m'invite=Marie invites me)
  • te - you (example: Ils te comprennent=They understand you)
  • le - him, it (example: Jean le regarde=Juan watches him/it)
  • la - her, it (example: Sandrine la voit=Cara sees her)
  • nous - us (example:Il nous a rencontrés =He/she met us)
  • vous - you (example: Je vous aide=I help you)
  • les - them (example: Je les connais=I know them)

Indirect Object PronounsThe concept of indirect object pronouns is a hard one to grasp, because in English they often look like direct object pronouns. Basically an indirect object receives the action, but there is a "to" (sometimes a "for") in front of it. A clause can have both a direct and indirect object. An example in English: I bought the gift for her (gift is the direct object, her is the indirect object). Some of the words look identical to the direct object pronouns, but they have a different meaning.NB: Indirect object pronouns in French, unlike in English, go BEFORE the verb.
  • me - to/for me (example: Alice m'a donné un cadeau=Alice gave [to] me a gift)
  • te - to/for you (example: Je te dirai quelque chose=I will tell [to] you something)
  • lui - to/for him/her (example: Nous lui parle=We talk to him/her)
  • nous - to/for us (example: Il nous a donné le devoir=He/she gave [to] us the homework)
  • vous - to/for you (example: Elle vous téléphone=She calls [to] you)
  • leur - to/for them (example: Je leur ai acheté=I bought [for] them a book)

Independent Pronouns
Prepositional pronouns come after prepositions or are used for emphasis (eg Moi, j'aime les fruits=Me, I like fruit). Review the Prepositions page if you are unfamiliar with this term. Unlike direct object or indirect object pronouns, the prepositional pronouns go right after the preposition, just as in English. An example in English is "He came with me to the party," where "me" is a prepositional pronoun.
  • moi - me
  • toi - you
  • lui - him
  • elle - her
  • nous - us
  • vous - you
  • eux - them (masculine or mixed)
  • elles - them (feminine)

Demonstrative Pronouns and AdjectivesDemonstrative indicate "this, that, these, those." Demonstrative pronouns stand alone ("I like this") and demonstrative adjective act as articles ("I like this book, etc."). Here are the demonstrative adjectives (remember, they need a noun to follow them):
  • ce - this, that (m.s.)
  • cet - this, that (m.s., before a vowel)
  • cette - this, that (f.s.)
  • ces - these, those
How do you know whether it means this or that? Often the French will add a "-ci" on the end of the word to indicate that it means this or these (example: ce chemisier-ci=this blouse) or "-là" to indicate that it means that or those (example: ces choses-là=those things)

And now for the demonstrative pronouns (remember, these stand alone and should not have a noun after them):
  • ceci=this
  • cela=that
  • ça=this, that, it (more informal, more common)
  • ce=this, that, these, those (only as a subject)
  • celui-ci=this one (m.s.)
  • celle-ci=this one (f.s.)
  • ceux-ci=these ones (m.pl.)
  • celles-ci=these ones (f.pl.)
  • celui-là=that one (m.s.)
  • celle-là=that one (f.s.)
  • ceux-là=those ones (m.pl.)
  • celles-là=those ones (f.pl.)

Possessive Pronouns & AdjectivesPossessive pronouns and adjectives are used to indicate to whom or to what something belongs. Here are the possessive adjectives (which agree in gender and number with the noun they precede):
  • mon=my (m.s.)
  • ma=my (f.s.)
  • mes=my (pl.)
  • ton=your (m.s.)
  • ta=your (f.s.)
  • tes=your (pl.)
  • son=his/her (m.s.)
  • sa=his/her (f.s.)
  • ses=his/her (pl.)
  • notre=our (s.)
  • nos=our (pl.)
  • votre=your (s.)
  • vos=your (pl.)
And the possessive pronouns:
  • le mien=mine (m.s.)
  • la mienne=mine (f.s.)
  • les miens=mine (m.pl.)
  • les miennes=mine (f.pl.)
  • le tien=yours (m.s.)
  • la tienne=yours (f.s.)
  • les tiens=yours (m.pl.)
  • les tiennes=yours (f.pl.)
  • le sien=his/hers (m.s.)
  • la sienne=his/hers (f.s.)
  • les siens=his/hers (m.pl.)
  • les siennes=his/hers (f.pl.)
  • le/la nôtre=ours (s.)
  • les nôtre=ours (pl.)
  • las nuestras=ours (f.pl.)
  • le/la vôtre=yours (s.)
  • les vôtres=yours (pl.)

Reflexive PronounsReflexive pronouns are used if the subject is doing something to itself. They are used in place of direct object or indirect object pronouns and go before the verb as well. An example: Je me lave=I wash myself.
  • me=myself
  • te=yourself
  • se=himself/herself/themselves
  • nous=ourselves
  • vous=yourselves

Relative PronounsRelative pronouns only appear in subordinate clauses, clauses that cannot stand alone in a sentence (eg "which I like"). They mean "who, that, which, whom, etc." These are the most common relative pronouns:
  • qui=who, that, which (subject) (example: Le prof qui m'a enseigné le français=The teacher who/that/which taught me French)
  • que=whom/that/which (object) (example:Le repas que j'ai préparé=The meal that I prepared)
  • où=where (example: L'endroit où j'habitais=The place where I used to live)
  • dont=whose, of which (example: L'élève dont les notes n'étaient pas bonnes=The student whose grades were not good)

Interrogative Pronouns and AdjectivesInterrogative pronouns and adjectives are very similar to relative pronouns except they ask a question, they can appear in any type of clause. Interrogative pronouns and adjectives are generally all lumped together in one category:
  • qui=who
  • quoi=what
  • quel(s)/quelle(s)=what, which
  • lequel, laquelle, lesquels, lesquelles=which one(s)
  • combien (de)=how much/many
  • quand=when
  • comment=how

Order of Pronouns
Sometimes you'll have a sentence with many different pronouns and you'll wonder what order to put them in. Well, order does matter, moreso than in English in this case. Remember this order when combining any of these parts:
  • Subject pronoun - indirect object pronoun (UNLESS it's lui or leur) - direct object pronoun - indirect object pronoun (ONLY if it's lui or leur) - en - y (there) - verb - prepositional phrase

3 comments:

  1. Wow! It is what I call a thorough explanation of all the "little annoying words" in French...

    I insist a lot on those... because without them, people sound like "cavemen"!

    I enjoy your blog and I'm adding it to my blogroll!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Samantha, I don't know how it happened, but anonymous is me: La Dame dragon!

    ReplyDelete
  3. The example, "Yo lo tengo" is in Spanish ;) But very thorough list.

    ReplyDelete

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