The actual greatest guide ever to 12 types of French pronouns

One of the areas with the biggest payoffs for your French fluency is the world of pronouns.

Any new language speaker needs to embrace repetition. And not just repetition as in vocabulary memorization, but also repetition as in saying the same thing over and over again. This happens when you haven’t yet mastered the pronouns, so you have to keep referring to people, places, and things by their name.

If this sounds like you, then this blog post will help you overcome your repetition challenges. Pronouns help us avoid this repetition by giving us little words that replace the name of a thing or a person who has already been introduced earlier in the conversation.

Learning how to use the French pronouns not only will save you a lot of time but will also make you sound more like a native. Just think about all the English pronouns that you use all the time: he, she, it, etc. Would you sound natural if you could only speak without pronouns? Of course not!

So, if you’re ready to move out of the beginner French level and into the intermediate French realm, keep reading to learn them all!

What is a French pronoun?

A pronoun is a short word that is used to replace a noun in spoken or written language. There are different kinds of pronouns that are used in different circumstances to replace different nouns.

Pronouns help us avoid calling the same thing over and over by its name. Instead of repeatedly mentioning someone’s or something’s name, pronouns help us quickly and naturally refer to them.

While this may not sound like a big deal, pronouns play a huge role in everyday life. In fact, you probably couldn’t say a few sentences without using pronouns. That’s how important they are in everyday life!

Don’t believe me? Check out this short clip from the Disney movie, The Emperor’s New Groove.

Emperor's New Groove (8/8) Best Movie Quote - Kuzco's Poison (2000)

In the clip above, Kronk (who is not known for his smarts) uses the word ‘poison’ five times in under ten seconds. Of course, this scene was written like that for comedic purposes, but this is unfortunately what we sound like when we’re learning a new language and haven’t learned to use pronouns yet!

How are French pronouns different from English pronouns?

Every single pronoun has a gender

In English, most nouns are neutral. Save for people and pets, we can get away with neutral pronouns like “it” most of the time. That’s not the case with French.

As a heavily gendered language, you’ll find that every noun has its own gender. That means that pronouns need to match the gender of the noun they are replacing. So, in most cases, there will be a masculine and a feminine version of the same pronoun.

There is no “it” pronoun

Now that you know that everything is gendered in French, it’s time we break the news: there is no “it” pronoun in French. Yep, one of the most frequently used words in English does not exist in French whatsoever.

You might think that the pronoun il is used sort of similarly to “it.” And you’d be right, except that il doesn’t mean “it” – it means “he.” Since masculine is the default grammatical gender of French nouns, you could say that it’s the closest French has to an “it” pronoun.

There are way, way more pronouns in French than English

English does have pronouns: he, she, they, mine, yours, one, etc. However, French pronouns blow English pronouns out of the water.

Not only are there gender distinctions, but there are many different kinds of pronouns out there with a lot of encoded information about the noun they’re replacing. While English pronouns are relatively broad, French ones are very specific.

This means that there are over a dozen French ones, while English has only seven. Luckily, we’ll cover all the most important ones in this blog!

Free downloadable pronoun booklet

Master French pronouns with our free 22 page booklet including the most important types of pronouns. We give you examples on how to use pronouns in everyday life, to improve your French beyond beginner level.

Free French Pronouns booklet.

1. French subject pronouns (pronoms sujets)

French subject pronouns are the most common type of pronouns. In fact, one of the most common French expressions includes a subject pronoun: je t’aime.

Subject pronouns are personal pronouns that replace the subject of a sentence. If you have trouble identifying what the subject of a sentence is, just remember that the subject is the one doing the action in the sentence.

You need to be careful to use the right subject pronoun as the verb always needs to agree with the pronoun. If you’ve been learning French for a while now, you’re probably familiar with French conjugation rules. No matter how you feel about them, French verbs include a lot of important information thanks to conjugation rules.

When you use a subject pronoun, you will need to make sure that the verb and pronoun agree with each other. Because of this, you need to choose the correct subject pronoun when replacing the subject of your sentence.

English French masculine French feminine French example English translation
I Je Je Je veux manger. I want to eat.
You Tu Tu T’aimes bien aller à la plage. You like going to the beach.
He / she Il Elle Elle est rentrée hier soir. She came back last night.
We Nous Nous Nous sommes Américains. We are Americans.
You (plural + plural formal) Vous Vous Vous avez de la chance ! You are lucky!
They Ils Elles Ils parlent l’allemand. They speak German.
You (singular formal) Vous Vous Voulez-vous prendre un café ? Do you want to grab a coffee?

The French pronoun on

Although French has many fascinating pronouns, there’s one that needs special attention: on. This is without a doubt one of the most unique pronouns in French, and it’s one of the most widely used, too!

On technically translates to “one”, such as “one would think that learning French was difficult, but it’s really not!” However, in modern French, on actually means “we” in colloquial use.

Your French classes may have taught you that nous means “we” – and they’re not wrong. However, you’ll probably never hear a French person use nous in casual, spoken conversation.

The pronoun on has all but replaced nous as the go-to subject pronoun for the first person plural. Anytime you speak French out loud and want to say “we”, you should be using on instead of nous.

Just keep in mind that on is third person singular, so any accompanying verbs should be conjugated as such. Here are some sample sentences:

French English
On est en retard ! We are late!
On y va ! We are on our way!
On veut manger de la pizza. We want to eat pizza.

While on is considered informal, it’s not so informal to be considered French slang. You’ll see people of all ages using this nifty pronoun all the time.

In written French, nous is still very common. It’s just not as common in spoken French. Truthfully, you can stick to nous for both written and spoken French if you’re still working on mastering the pronouns. Just keep in mind that your goal should be to use nous in formal written French and on in spoken French!

2. French stress pronouns (pronoms disjonctifs)

As their name implies, these pronouns are used whenever you want to stress who is doing the action. King Louis XIV famously saidL’état, c’est moi” to unequivocally proclaim the absolute power of his monarchy by stating that HE was the state. He could’ve just said “Je suis l’état,” but that wouldn’t have been as dramatic.

If you, like Louis XIV, want to stress the subject of a sentence, then you need to start using stress pronouns, which are also known as the prepositional pronouns.

English French masculine French feminine French example English translation
Me Moi Moi Moi, je n’aime pas voyager. Myself, I don’t like traveling.
You Toi Toi Je pense à toi. I’m thinking of you.
He / her Lui Elle Elle, je l’aime ! Her, I love her!
Us Nous Nous Nous, nous sommes déjà rentrés. As for us, we’ve already come back.
You (plural) Vous Vous Vous, vous avez dit non ! You had said no yourselves!
Them Eux EllesMais eux, ils veulent manger de la pizza. But them, they want to eat pizza.
You (formal) Vous Vous C’est vous, Madame Dubois ? Is that you, Miss Dubois?
Oneself Soi Soi On va rester chez soi. We are going to stay (in our own) home.

Quick note on the last one since there is no real English equivalent. Soi is a pronoun that roughly translates to oneself/themself/yourself. It is used when referring to something each person can do on their own. For example:

FrenchEnglish
Demain, on va tous rester chez soi. Tomorrow, we will all stay home.
C’est important d’être soi-même. It’s important to be yourself.
On doit regarder devant soi. One needs to look ahead of oneself.

3. French direct object pronouns (pronoms compléments d’objet direct)

Direct object pronouns serve to replace the noun that the sentence’s action is being done to. In other words, it’s the thing or person directly involved with the verb (other than the subject). For example, if you eat a hamburger, the hamburger is receiving the action (it is being eaten). To identify what the direct object is, you have to ask the questions “who?” and “what?”

Let’s take a look at the following example.

  • Jimmy eats a hamburger.

The subject is the person doing the action, in this case Jimmy. The verb is the action, in this case “eats”. So, to identify the direct object, you have to ask a question:

Subject + verb + who/what? = direct object

So, in our example above, our question would look like:

Jimmy + eats + who/what?

We don’t know Jimmy, but since his name isn’t Hannibal, we can rule out “who” as a possible question for our scenario. So, our question ends up being “Jimmy eats what?”

Jimmy, of course, eats a hamburger, which ends up being our direct object in this scenario.

Now you know how to identify the direct object of any sentence!

English French masculine French feminine French example English translation
Me Me Me Tu m’aimes vraiment. You really love me.
You Te Te Je te donne de l’attention. I give you attention.
Him / her / it Le La Jimmy va la manger. Jimmy will eat it.
Us Nous Nous Il va nous faire bâiller ! He’ll make us yawn!
You (plural + plural formal) Vous Vous Je vais vous appeler mes amis. I will call you my friends.
Them Les Les On va les attendre un peu. We will wait for them a little bit.
You (singular formal) Vous Vous Je vous suis. I follow you.

4. French indirect object pronouns (pronoms compléments d’objet indirect)

Indirect object pronouns serve to replace the noun to whom the action is being done. An indirect object is similar to a direct object, except that they answer the questions “to whom?” and “for whom” instead.

Let’s break down an example:

  • Roméo gives Juliette a box of chocolates.

Roméo is the one doing the action in this situation, and the action is “gives.” Let’s use our direct object formula from the section above to first identify the direct object of this sentence.

Subject + verb + who/what? = Romeo + gives + what?

The answer to our question is a box of chocolates. That’s our direct object! Now, to find the indirect object, let’s use the following formula:

Subject + verb + direct object + to whom/for whom? = Indirect object

Since we’ve already identified all three variables, let’s just plug them in to find our indirect object question:

Romeo + gives + a box of chocolates + to whom? = Juliette.

And there you go! Juliette is our indirect object. Now you know how to identify both direct and indirect objects like a pro!

English French masculine French feminine French example English translation
Me Me Me Il m’a donné un café. He gave me a coffee.
You Te Te Je veux te téléphoner. I want to call you.
Him / her Lui Lui Roméo lui donne une boîte de chocolat. Romeo gives her a box of chocolates.
Us Nous Nous Elle ne nous voit plus. She doesn’t see us anymore.
You (plural + plural formal) Vous Vous Je veux vous acheter un café. I would like to buy you all a coffee.
Them Leur Leur Je leur téléphone tous les jours. I call them every day.
You (singular formal) Vous Vous Attendez, s’il vous plaît, je vous donne mon numéro de téléphone. Wait, please, I will give you my phone number.

Quick note on indirect pronouns: you may have spotted what may seem like a mistake. The French masculine singular pronoun for indirect objects is lui, and so is the feminine singular pronoun. Shouldn’t the feminine pronoun be elle?

If you did notice this, great catch! Lui is usually only for masculine nouns, such as in the stress pronoun case. However, for indirect objects only, lui is used both for both masculine and feminine nouns. Now you know!

5. French reflexive pronouns (pronoms réfléchis)

Reflexive pronouns may seem redundant if not useless to English speakers. There are no reflexive pronouns in English, and we do just fine without them, right?

Well, reflexive pronouns play a huge role in spoken and written French. Whenever someone is doing something to themselves, you will need to use a reflexive pronoun.

Remember how to identify direct objects? You ask who or what the subject of the sentence is doing the action to. So, what happens when the subject is both doing and receiving the action? That’s where reflexive pronouns come in.

English French masculine French feminine French example English translation
I Me Me Je me souviens… I remember…
You Te Te Tu t’es déjà vu dans le miroir ? Have you seen yourself in the mirror yet?
He / she Se Se La musique ne s’arrête pas ! The music doesn’t stop!
We Nous Nous Demain, nous devions nous réveiller très tôt. Tomorrow, we have to wake up very early.
You (plural + plural formal) Vous Vous Je serai là pour vous, où que vous vous trouvez. I will be there for you, wherever you find yourselves.
They Se Se Les enfants, ils s’habillent soi mêmes ! The kids can get dressed by themselves!
You (singular formal) Vous Vous Attention de ne pas vous blesser ! Careful, don’t hurt yourself!

6. French relative pronouns (Pronoms relatifs)

Relative pronouns help us relate two different nouns or actions to each other. These nifty words allow us to describe nouns much more accurately, as we can attach them to additional information, which may or may not have been shared before.

For example, check out some sample sentences in English of how relative pronouns can help us be much more accurate in our speech.

English without relative pronouns English with relative pronouns French with relative pronouns
The book is really interesting. The book that I bought is really interesting. Le livre que j’ai acheté est très intéressant.
The runner is my cousin. The runner who won the race is my cousin. Le coureur qui a gagné la course est mon cousin.
The city is very small. The city where I was born is very small. La ville je suis née est très petite.

As I’m sure you’ll agree, the sentences with relative pronouns include a lot more information about the nouns in question. Mastering the relative pronouns will undoubtedly help you easily give more detailed descriptions of anything that may be going on in your daily life.

One thing to note, though, is that relative pronouns can sometimes be optional in English. For example, in the first sample sentence in our table above, you could just as well say “The book I bought is really interesting” in English.

In French, you cannot omit the relative pronoun! Being aware of this rule will help you improve your French significantly, as omitting the relative pronoun (or using the incorrect one!) is one of the most common mistakes French learners make.

Here are the relative pronouns, except for a very important one: dont. This relative pronoun is special, so we’ve written a whole section on it. Keep reading to learn more.

English French masculine French feminine French example English translation
That Que Que Tu sais que je t’aime. You know that I love you.
Who Qui Qui C’est toi qui me manques. It’s you I miss.
Which Lequel Laquelle Le resto dans lequel j’ai mangé. The restaurant in which I ate.
Which Lesquels Lesquelles Les feuilles dans lesquelles j’avais fait mes devoirs sont perdues ! The sheets of paper in which I had done my homework are missing!
Where, when La ville je suis née est très petite. The city where I was born is very small.

The French pronoun dont

Dont is easily one of the hardest parts of the French language for foreign speakers to fully grasp. This pronoun doesn’t really have an English counterpart beyond “that,” which–as we know–is also the direct translation of many other French words. It can also translate into any of the following:

  • Whose
  • Of which
  • Of whom
  • From which
  • From whom
  • Including

So, how do you use this chameleon of a pronoun? For the most part, it’s used to replace the object of a de verb that also indicates possession. These verbs include avoir besoin de, parler de, avoir envie de, etc. Here are some examples:

French without dont French with dont English meaning
Elle est ma collègue. Je t’ai parlé de ma collègue. Elle est ma collègue dont je t’ai parlé. This is my colleague that I told you about.
Tu as besoin d’un livre pour faire tes devoirs. As-tu ce livre ? As-tu le livre dont t’as besoin pour faire tes devoirs ? Do you have the book you need to do your homework?
J’ai rencontré un Américain. La femme de cet Américain est Française. J’ai rencontré un Américain dont femme est Française. I met an American whose wife is French.
Hier soir, on est allé au resto. J’avais envie de manger dans ce resto. Hier soir, on est allé au resto dont j’avais envie de manger. Yesterday, we went to the restaurant that I had wanted to try.

7. French indefinite pronouns (Pronoms indéfinis)

Indefinite pronouns are some of the most handy types of pronouns in the French language. They let you replace almost any noun with a handy pronoun so you don’t have to keep repeating yourself.

Indefinite pronouns are also very common in English, so if you’ve got a good handle on those, you should have no problem dealing with the indefinite pronouns in French.

English French masculine French feminine French example English translation
Another Autre Autre Je ne veux pas manger cette pomme, je voudrais une autre. I don’t want to eat this apple, I would like another one.
Certain one, some, a few Certain Certaine On a mangé certains de ses repas. We ate some of their meals.
Each one Chacun Chacune Chacun de vous doit faire ses devoirs. Each one of you has to do the homework.
Several Plusieurs Plusieurs Plusieurs de mes amis m’ont dit que je ressemble à Brad Pitt. Several of my friends have told me that I look like Brad Pitt.
Something Quelque chose Quelque chose Veux-tu manger quelque chose ? Do you want to eat something?
Someone Quelqu’un Quelqu’un Je reviens toute suite, quelqu’un me demande. I’ll be right back, someone is looking for me.
Some Quelques-uns Quelques-unes J’ai invité tous mes amis, mais quelques-uns ne peuvent pas venir. I invited all of my friends, but some won’t be able to come.
Oneself Soi Soi Il faut faire ses devoirs soi-même ! You have to do the homework by yourself!
One Tel Telle Il aime manger du fromage à tel point qu’il en mange tous les jours ! He likes to eat cheese so much that he eats it every day!
Everything Tout Toute Tout est parfait ! Everything is perfect!
Everyone Tous Toutes Tous sont invités à ma fête d’anniversaire ! Everyone is invited to my birthday party!
One, a Un Une Oui, j’en veux une ! Yes, I want one!

8. French possessive pronouns (pronoms possessifs)

Possessive pronouns work very similarly to possessive pronouns in English. You’re surely familiar with the English ones already: mine, his, hers, ours, etc.

There are a few important differences between how French and English possessive pronouns are used. The first is – you guessed it – gender! These pronouns are always gendered in French, so don’t forget to pay attention to the noun’s gender when trying to claim something as yours (or anyone’s!). Note that these pronouns change based on the noun’s gender, not the owner’s gender!

Another difference is that French possessive pronouns do make a distinction between singular and plural nouns, whereas English possessive pronouns don’t. So, you’ll also have to be careful to use the correct pronoun for plural or singular.

Finally, there is no gender distinction based on the person or thing that possesses something. In English, you would say hers or his depending on whose it is. There is no such distinction in French! The only gender you have to worry about is the object’s gender.

English French masculine French feminine French example English translation
Mine (singular) Le mien La mienne Si ton stylo ne marche pas, tu peux prendre le mien. If your pen doesn’t work, you can use mine.
Mine (plural) Les miens Les miennes J’aime bien tes chaussures, mais je préfère les miennes. I like your shoes, but I prefer mine.
Yours (singular) Le tien La tienne Ma voiture est chez le garagiste, alors je vais prendre la tienne. My car is at the mechanic, so I’m going to take yours.
Yours (plural) Les tiens Les tiennes Ne joue pas avec mes jeux, tu as les tiennes ! Don’t play with my toys, you have yours!
His/hers/theirs/its (singular) Le sien La sienne Elle n’a pas pris ta pomme, elle a la sienne ! She didn’t take your apple, she has hers!
His/hers/theirs/its (plural) Les siens Les siennes J’ai mes sports préférés et il a les siens. I have my favorite sports and he has his.
Ours (singular) Le nôtre La nôtre Votre appartement est plus grand que le nôtre. Your apartment is bigger than ours.
Ours (plural) Les nôtres Les nôtres Voulez-vous acheter vos serviettes, ou voulez-vous prendre les nôtres ? Would you like to buy your own towels, or would you like to use ours?
Yours (singular) Le vôtre La vôtre Ma maison est plus petite que la vôtre. My house is smaller than yours.
Yours (plural) Les vôtres Les vôtres J’ai mon opinion et vous avez les vôtres. I have my opinion and you all have yours.
Theirs (singular) Le leur La leur Ils ne doivent pas entrer dans une salle de cours que n’est pas la leur. They shouldn’t go into a classroom that isn’t theirs.
Theirs (plural) Les leurs Les leurs Ces lunettes de soleil sont-elles les miennes ou les leurs ? Are these sunglasses mine or theirs?
Yours (formal, singular) Le vôtre La vôtre Excusez-moi Madame, quel manteau est le vôtre ? Excuse me Miss, which coat is yours?
Yours (formal, plural) Les vôtres Les vôtres J’ai déjà pris mes clés, avez-vous pris les vôtres ? I already grabbed my keys, have you grabbed yours?

9. French interrogative pronouns (pronoms interrogatifs)

If you want to hammer down on any areas that can give away a foreign speaker from a native speaker, then this is one you need to pay close attention to. Just as English interrogative pronouns “who” and “whom” are hard to master (even for native speakers!), interrogative pronouns will require a ton of practice.

Luckily, there are only three interrogative pronouns: qui, que, and lequel. Let’s take a closer look at how to use each one.

How to use the pronoun qui in French

Qui in French corresponds to “who” in English. The problem is that it also corresponds to “whom,” which complicates things a little bit.

As a refresher, in English, we use “who” when speaking about the subject, and “whom” when speaking about the object. In other words, “who” is used to ask about someone, whereas “whom” is used to ask about something pertaining to someone.

The same is true in French, except that qui is used in both situations. So, how do you differentiate between the two?

When using the interrogative pronoun qui to ask about the object of the question, you need to:

  • Follow qui with est-ce or,
  • Use qui and follow it with an inversion of the verb and subject pronoun.

Here are a few examples.

English French “est-ce” French inversion
Who do you love? Qui est-ce que tu aimes ? Qui aimes-tu ?
Who do you know? Qui est-ce que tu connais ? Qui connais-tu ?
Who are you looking at? À qui est-ce que tu regardes ? À qui regardes-tu ?

How to use the pronoun que in French

Que translates to “that” in English, and can also refer to either the subject or the object of the question. Just like qui, the pronoun que is sometimes followed by est-ce or an inversion. Here’s how to use the interrogative pronoun que like a native.

  • If que is the subject, always follow it with est-ce qui.
  • If que is the object, you can choose from one of the two:
    • Follow it by est-ce que, or
    • Follow it with an inversion of the verb and subject pronoun.

Here are a few examples of each situation.

English French “est-ce” French inversion
What is he saying? Qu’est-ce qu’il dit ? Que dit-il ?
What do you think of this course? Qu’est-ce que tu penses de ce cours ? Que penses-tu de ce cours ?
What do you want to study? Qu’est-ce que vous voulez étudier ? Que voulez-vous étudier ?

How to use the pronoun lequel in French

Lequel is not an easy pronoun to master. However, the fact that you’re reading this blog already puts you ahead of the curve when it comes to learning the pronouns in French. Let us show you how to master this tricky pronoun.

First, you should know that lequel translates to “which,” such as “Which car is yours?” Now, let’s circle back to the purpose of pronouns: to replace other words. The words that lequel replaces are “quel/quelle + a noun.”

So, instead of saying “Which car is yours?” you can also say “What car is yours?” if you don't want to use interrogative pronouns. Let’s translate this to French now:

French without lequel French with lequel
Quelle voiture est la tienne ? Laquelle est la tienne?

See how the use of laquelle helps you avoid using voiture? That’s the whole point of this wonderful pronoun!

Now, here are the different versions of the French interrogative pronoun lequel.

English French masculine French feminine French example English translation
Which Lequel Laquelle Le sac dans lequel j’ai mis mes clés est perdu. The bag in which I put my keys is missing.
Which Lesquels Lesquelles Les célébrités pour lesquelles j’avais tant d’admiration ne sont que gens ordinaires. The celebrities for whom I had so much admiration are just regular people.

10. French demonstrative pronouns (pronoms demonstratifs)

Demonstrative pronouns are another very popular pronoun type, both in English and French. These are what you’d use to quickly refer to something within your immediate proximity or something previously mentioned, such as “this one” or “the one.”

Luckily, there are only a handful of demonstrative pronouns that you need to learn, and they work very similarly to those in English!

English French masculine French feminine French example English translation
This one Celui Celle Ce champignon n’a pas l’air comestible, mais celui-là si. This mushroom doesn’t look edible, but this other one does.
These ones, which (of these) Ceux Celles Parmi tous les pays du monde, quels sont ceux que tu as visités ? Of all the countries in the world, which are the ones you’ve visited?
This Ce Ce Ce n’est pas un problème ! This is not a problem!
This Ceci Ceci Ceci n’est pas une blague ! This is not a joke!
That Cela Cela Cela c’est terminé. That is over.
It, that Ça Ça Ça marche ? That works?

11. The French pronoun en

This adverbial pronoun is one of the hardest ones to master in the French language. But, if you manage to master it (along with the y and dont pronouns), you’ll be well on your way to speaking French like a true native!

En is usually not easy to grasp for non-native speakers because it doesn’t really translate into any other language. This is a quintessential pronoun that will force you to think like a French person in order to understand it.

Some of the possible translations include:

  • Of those
  • Some
  • One
  • Any
  • From it
  • Of it

But really, try not to translate this pronoun in your head as it really won’t make a lot of sense. Instead, try to pay close attention to which contexts it is used in and immerse yourself in French to pick up where this pronoun belongs (and where it doesn’t!).

With that said, here are the two most common ways to use the pronoun en:

To replace a thing

As you now know, pronouns replace a thing that has previously been mentioned to avoid repetition. The same is true for the pronoun en. This pronoun usually replaces the object of a verb that is used with the preposition de. If you are unfamiliar, we’ll provide some examples below.

These verbs are special because they are necessarily followed by a direct object. That is, the action has to be done to someone or something. So, using the pronoun en helps you bypass this as it helps replace the direct object (what the verb is being done to).

Here are a few examples of verbs that go with de prepositions and how to use the en pronoun to replace the object.

English verb French verb French example without en French example with en English meaning
To be scared of Avoir peur de J’ai peur des araignées. J’en ai peur. I am scared of spiders.
To come back from Revenir de Je reviens de France. J’en reviens. I’m coming back from France.
To need something Avoir besoin de J’ai besoin de ton aide. J’en ai besoin. I need your help.
To dream of Rêver de Je rêve de la remise des diplômes ! J’en rêve ! I dream of graduation day!

To talk about quantities

This one is a little trickier and will require an intuitive understanding of the pronoun to master. If you find this confusing right now, do not worry! The more you practice your French, the easier it will be to just “get” what sounds right and what doesn’t. In the meantime, here are some helpful tips to start using this pronoun right away.

The same principles from the situation above still stand: the pronoun en serves to replace a “de + noun” combo. This construction naturally happens when you talk about quantities, especially when you mention numbers or anything that can be quantifiable.

This is similar to English when you replace the object with “some of them” or “a few of them.” Although not exactly identical, this can help you contextualize the pronoun en before you start really getting a feel for it.

Let’s look at a dialogue:

— Hello. Would you like to buy some apples?

— Yes! I would like to buy some of them.

— How many of them would you like?

— I would like four of them, please.

Notice how all four sentences talk about apples, but only the first one explicitly mentions them? That’s the beauty of pronouns! As mentioned, “some of them” is one of the possible translations of the French en pronoun, so let’s take a look at the same dialogue in French to see how they compare.

— Bonjour ! Veux-tu acheter des pommes?

— Oui! J’en veux acheter.

— Tu veux acheter combien ?

— J’en veux quatre, s’il vous plaît.

Here are a few more examples to help you get a better sense of this tricky pronoun!

French example without en French example with en English meaning
J’ai dix paires de chaussures. J’en ai dix. I have ten pairs of shoes.
Je mange de la glace. J’en mange. I eat ice cream.
Elle veut un peu de sel. Elle en veut un peu. She wants a bit of salt.
Mon père a huit frères. Mon père en a huit. My father has eight brothers.

12. The French pronoun y

If the pronoun en had siblings, the pronoun y would definitely be one of them. However, if the pronoun en loves the preposition de, then the pronoun y loves the preposition à.

Just as with the en pronoun, there are two main ways the pronoun y is used. Let’s investigate each one!

To replace a place

The most common use of this pronoun is to replace a place. If you’ve been taking French classes, you’ve certainly heard of the expression “on y va !” which is very common among French speakers. If you haven’t heard it before, it means something like “let’s go!” although its literal translation is more like “one there goes!”

In this expression, the pronoun y takes the place of a previously-mentioned place or an unspecified location. Most places are preceded by the preposition “à,” although you may also spot other prepositions like “en,” “au,” “sur,” or “sous.”

French example without y French example with y English meaning
Je suis allée en France. J’y suis allée. I went to France.
Il est chez Marie. Il va chez Marie tous les jours. Il est chez Marie. Il y va tous les jours. He is at Marire’s place. He goes there every day.
J’aime bien l’école, je vais à l’école heureusement. J’aime bien l’école, j’y vais heureusement. I like school, I go there happily.

To replace a thing

Just like the pronoun en can replace the object of de verbs, the y pronoun can replace the indirect objects of à verbs. In English, these are the verbs that are normally followed by “of” or “to,” such as “thinking of” or “talking to.”

In any case, here are a few à verb examples and their corresponding sample sentences with the pronoun y:

English verb French verb French example without en French example with en English meaning
To think of Penser à Je pense à toi. J’y pense. I think about you.
To speak to Parler à Je lui parle. J’y parle. I talk to him.
To respond to Répondre à Je réponds à ma maman. J’y réponds. I respond to my mom.
To be interested in S'intéresser à Elle s'intéresse aux jeux vidéo. Elle s'y intéresse. She is interested in video games.

Interesting FAQs

Can you skip pronouns in French?

No, you cannot skip subject pronouns in French. Unlike other Romance languages, like Spanish and Italian, French does not allow you to skip the subject pronouns.

This is because French verb conjugations are less distinctive based on the person. Whereas in Spanish, you’d be able to easily tell who the subject is based on the conjugation of a verb, the same is not true for French.

Does French use gendered pronouns?

Yes, most pronouns are gendered. This is because French is a gendered language, and all objects have a corresponding gender. Even words that you wouldn’t associate with male or female have a gender, such as chair or table. Because of this, pronouns need to be gendered so that they can match the gender of the object or person they are replacing.

What is COD and COI in French?

COD stands for complément d’objet direct and refers to the direct object of the sentence. The direct object is the thing or person the verb is being done to, such as:

  • Roméo gives Juliette a box of chocolates.

In the sentence above, the verb is “gives.” So, what is Roméo giving? A box of chocolates!

Although you may think that Juliette may be the COD because Roméo is giving the box to her, you have to pay attention to what the verb is actually being done to. Juliette isn’t the one being given in this sentence – it’s the box of chocolates!

Remember that the COD answers the questions “what?” and “who?”

COI stands for complément d’objet indirect and refers to the indirect object of the sentence. The indirect object is the thing or person receiving the action of the sentence. Let’s revisit our sentence:

  • Roméo gives Juliette a box of chocolates.

Who is receiving what Roméo is giving? Juliette, of course!

The COI answers the questions “to whom?”, “for whom?”, and “for what?”

Are there gender-neutral pronouns in French?

Traditionally, there aren't. However, two new gender-neutral pronouns have recently been introduced by French-speakers in an effort to be more inclusive: iel and iels.

These pronouns are a combination of il and elle and their corresponding plural forms. They are used similarly to the singular “they” in English, and you can use them just as you’d use il/ils/elle/elles in French.

Although these inclusive pronouns are not super common in France, the online dictionary LeRobert included them in their online dictionary. So, go ahead and use them freely if you’re trying to be inclusive!

Tips for learning the pronouns in French

Practice makes perfect

If you’ve made it through this extensive guide, you probably understand that pronouns are not something that you can just drill down in a long night at the library. Learning how and when to use each pronoun takes a lot of time, effort, and mistakes.

Don’t be afraid of using pronouns incorrectly! If you’re taking group French classes, your teacher or a fellow classmate will be able to correct you when you mess up.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

It might get boring and repetitive after a while, but that’s the name of the game. If you’re still in the beginner French level, one of the best things you can do to improve is copy what other people are saying. Word for word!

We know you’re probably dying to start making your own sentences and having conversations in French, but one of the best ways to get there is to constantly imitate what other people are saying. That will help your brain start making connections about what sounds right and what doesn’t. Eventually, you’ll be able to use pronouns like a true native!

Be patient

Mastering the pronouns is one of the hardest parts about learning French. Even native speakers mess up their pronouns every now and then. So, don’t forget to be patient with your learning journey.

You don’t have to master the pronouns in one sitting, one week, or even one semester. Working your way through the world of pronouns will undoubtedly take some time, so just relax and try to do your best.

If you feel that you need a little bit of extra help mastering the pronouns in French, you can always book a one-on-one lesson with one of our certified French teachers. Your teacher will happily walk you through any pronouns you’re having a hard time grasping.

Pronouns in French pay off!

If you’ve made it through the end of this blog, congratulations! You now know more about this subject than most. While there are many different rules on pronoun use that you'll have to learn, don’t pressure yourself into mastering the pronouns right away.

Just pay attention to your pronoun use as you speak, and you'll slowly make progress towards true mastery. And once you do master the pronouns, you’ll be that much closer to speaking French like a native!

Feel free to bookmark this page and reference back to it any time you have a specific question about any pronoun. And if you have questions about other French topics, make sure to check out our French blog for even more helpful guides and resources (all completely free!).

Find out more

Fill in the form below and we’ll contact you to discuss your learning options and answer any questions you may have.