How to Use French Direct Object Pronouns
French has seven direct object pronouns (DOPs) — and three more when you count the forms with an apostrophe. Here are the direct object pronouns and their English equivalents.
me (m’ in front of a vowel or mute -h) (me)
te (t’ in front of a vowel or mute -h) (you [singular informal])
le (l’ in front of a vowel or mute -h) (him/it [masculine])
la (l’ in front of a vowel or mute -h) (her/it [feminine])
vous (you [singular formal or plural informal and formal])
Because it replaces a noun, a pronoun takes the appearance of the noun as much as possible, kind of like a chameleon! The pronoun must match the noun in gender and number. For example, when talking in the third person:
If the noun to be replaced is masculine (such as le père, which means the father), the pronoun must be masculine (le).
If the noun to be replaced is feminine (such as la voiture, which means the car), the pronoun must be feminine (la).
If the noun to be replaced is plural masculine or feminine (such as ses enfants, which means his/her children), the pronoun must be plural (les).
Know when to use a French direct object pronoun
When you can go directly from a verb to its object (what the verb acts upon), you are dealing with a direct object (I give money). If there is a preposition (I give to charity) between the verb and an object, then you have an indirect object.
You can use a direct object pronoun to replace any noun, as long as the following two conditions are met:
The noun to be replaced refers to a person or a thing. For example:
Elle aime ses enfants. (She likes her kids.) → Elle les aime. (She likes them.)
Il aime le fromage. (He likes cheese.) → Il l’aime. (He likes it.)
The noun you want to replace is specific — that is, it’s preceded by a specific determiner such as a definite article (le, la, or les [the]), a possessive (mon [my], ton [your], and so on), or a demonstrative (ce [this]). If the noun you want to replace is preceded by an indefinite determiner such as un, une, or des (a, an, some), don’t use the DOP.
Here’s a little trick that will really make the process of deciding if the object is specific easier for you. Proceed like this:
Question: Is the object I’m considering an it/them or a some?
Answer: It’s an it/them → Use the DOP.
Answer: It’s a some → Don’t use the DOP, and read the later section about the pronouns en and y.
For example, in I like my comfort (J’aime mon confort), my comfort is definitely an it, but in I want some comfort (Je veux du confort), you would not be able to use the direct object pronoun to replace it because of the word some (du).
How to writing a sentence with a direct object pronoun
Now you’re ready to start building sentences that include a DOP. Here’s how to proceed:
Find the noun or phrase that is the direct object of the verb.
For example, Paul aime les pommes. (Paul likes apples.)
Choose the DOP that matches the direct object in number (singular or plural) and gender (feminine or masculine).
Les pommes is feminine plural, so the corresponding DOP is les.
Remove the entire direct object from your sentence.
In this example, you’re left with Paul aime.
Replace the direct object with the pronoun and place the pronoun properly in the sentence.
In most sentences, you place the pronoun before the verb, but exceptions exist. In this example, you wind up with Paul les aime.