French personal pronouns

Je, tu, il, nous, vous, ils… You know those words. But when a personal pronoun is used as a direct object, or indirect object, the matter changes. Here you can read when to use which word.

In Dutch you probably do it right automatically, and you don’t have to parse a sentence. In French it is necessary to know whether you are dealing with a direct or indirect object.

direct object

You find the direct object in a sentence by asking Who? or what? (what ? Quoi ?) to set.
I see him walking. > Him is the object here. (Who do you see walking? Him.)
The personal pronouns you use as direct objects are in French:
me/m’, te/t’, la/la/l’, nous, vous, les.
Tu m’entends? (Do you hear me?)
Your pense que je te vois. (I think I see you.)
Je la vois marcher. (I see her walking.)
Il va nous rencontrer. (He’s going to meet us.)
Elle vous connais bien. (She knows them well/She knows you well.)
J’ai les oublie. (I forgot them/I forgot them.)

Good to know: verbs like aimer, attendre, donner, ecouter, parler, regarder… automatically ask for a direct object.

Indirect object

You recognize an indirect object because the word ‘on’ is already in front of it, or you can add ‘on’ to it in your mind: the qui? the quoi? here? quoi?
I gave him the letter. > Him is the indirect object here. (Who did you give the letter to? To him.)
The personal pronouns that you use as indirect objects are in French: me/m’, te/t’, lui, nous, vous, leur.
Tu m’as donné un gift. (You gave me a present.)
Il t’achète une bague. (He buys me a ring.)
Je lui ai donné la lettre. (I gave him the letter.)
Elle nos interested. (We’re interested in her.)
Je vous appelle bientôt. (I’ll call you soon.)
Tu leur as expliqué les circumstances ? (Did you explain the circumstances to them?)

Place in the sentence

The personal pronouns come before the finite verb. Unless there is a whole verb in the sentence, because then it comes before it.
In a negation you put ne…pas around the direct or indirect object and the verb: Je ne la vois pas (I don’t see her). Je ne lui donne pas de present (I didn’t give him a present).
If there is a whole verb in the sentence, then that verb falls outside, but the direct object is inside: Je ne vois pas la marcher (I don’t see her walking). If you are dealing with an indirect object, you put both the personal pronoun and the entire verb outside the negation: Je ne vais pas lui donner mes nouvelles (I’m not going to tell him my news.)

For the advanced: ‘À’, ‘sur’ and ‘de’

Some verbs followed by à, sur, or de require the words lui, elle, eux, or elles .
This is the case for the following verbs + à:

penser à + lui, elle, eux, elles (to think of)
renoncer à + lui, elle, eux, elles (renounce, give up on someone)
tenir à + lui, elle, eux, elles (to be fond of, to care about someone)
avoir affaire à + lui, elle, eux, elles (to be helped/served by someone)
songer à + lui, elle, eux, elles (to think/dream about someone)
avoir recours à / recourir à + lui, elle, eux, elles (to appeal to someone)
faire appel à + lui, elle, eux, elles (to call on someone for help)

with sur
Je compte sur Benoît.> You compte sur lui. (I’m counting on Benoît.> I’m counting on him.)
Je compte sur les médecins.> Je compte sur eux. (I’m counting on the doctors.> I’m counting on them.)

with the or d’
Je voulais parler de lui. (I wanted to talk about him.)
On attend tout d’elles. (Everything is expected of them.)