French Grammar For Dummies
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In the French sentence Nous parlons à nos parents (We talk to our parents), the preposition à (to) stands in the path of the verb object. Meet an indirect object! To replace those types of objects, you now need the indirect object pronoun, or IOP. French grammar has six indirect object pronouns, plus two more when you count the forms with an apostrophe.

Here are the indirect object pronouns and their English equivalents.

  • me (m’ in front of a vowel or mute -h) (me/to me)

  • te (t’ in front of a vowel or mute -h) (you/to you [singular informal])

  • lui (him/her; to him/her)

  • nous (us/to us)

  • vous (you/to you [singular formal or plural formal and informal])

  • leur (them/to them)

Note that the IOPs are the same as the DOPs, except for the third person singular (lui) and plural (leur). Also notice that the singular form has no gender distinction: both him and her are lui in French.

Know the French verbs that require an indirect object

You use an indirect object pronoun only to replace a noun that refers to a person, as in Paul parle à Marie (Paul talks to Marie). Certain verbs are always followed by the preposition à when they have a human object, so you have to use indirect objects (and IOPs) with them. Here are some common ones with their English equivalents.
  • annoncer à quelqu’un (to announce to someone)

  • donner à quelqu’un (to give to someone)

  • dire à quelqu’un (to tell to someone)

  • faire la bise à quelqu’un (to kiss someone [on the cheek])

  • obéir à quelqu’un (to obey someone)

  • parler à quelqu’un (to talk to someone)

  • poser des questions à quelqu’un (to ask someone questions)

  • prêter à quelqu’un (to lend to someone)

  • rendre visite à quelqu’un (to pay a visit to someone)

  • ressembler à quelqu’un (to look like someone)

  • téléphoner à quelqu’un (to call someone)

Some common French verbs, like regarder (to look at), écouter (to listen to), chercher (to look for), and attendre (to wait for), use direct objects when their English counterparts use indirect objects.

It goes the other way, too: Some English verbs use direct objects, like téléphoner à (to call), dire à (to tell), and rendre visite à (to visit) when their French equivalents take indirect objects. You can see the differences in the following examples where the preposition that makes the object indirect is underlined, whether in French or in English:
Nous attendons nos amis. (We are waiting for our friends.)
Je rends visite à Julie. (I visit Julie.)

When dealing with pronouns, a verb + à + a human object generally triggers the use of an IOP. But as always, you can count on a few verbs to resist the common rule, and sometimes, even if you have a verb + à + a human object, you can’t use the IOP. Zut alors! What are you to do? Well, another pronoun called the stress pronoun can save the day.

Put together a sentence with an indirect object pronoun

Use an indirect object pronoun when you have a verb + à + human object (that is, a person or group of people) in a sentence. Proceed like this to replace the indirect object by the IOP:
  1. Spot the à + object right after the verb.

    For example: Paul parle à sa mère. (Paul talks to his mother.)

  2. Choose the IOP that matches the indirect object in number only (no gender distinction with the IOP).

    The IO, à sa mère, is third person singular, so you choose lui.

  3. Remove the entire indirect object group that you have underlined, including the à.

    In this example, you wind up with Paul parle.

  4. Replace the indirect object group with the pronoun you chose and place the pronoun properly in the sentence.

    In most sentences, you place the pronoun before the conjugated verb, but exceptions exist. In this example, you finish with Paul lui parle.

The best way to identify an indirect object is by spotting the à that follows the verb. However our little à likes to play tricks and wear a mask sometimes. It will appear as au (contracted form of à + le) or as aux (contracted form of à + les). Don’t be fooled! The following examples illustrate the contracted forms of à.

Nous posons des questions au (à + le) professeur. (We ask the professor questions.)
Le prof parle aux (à + les) étudiants. (The professor talks to the students.)

About This Article

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Véronique Mazet has a doctorate in French from the University of Texas at Austin and is the author of two successful grammar books. She currently teaches French at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas.

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