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Learning French in France – The Personal Pronoun Complements: Part 2

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The Personal Pronoun Complements

So here we will continue examining the ‘pronoms personnels compléments’ and build on Part 1 where we learnt the order that the pronouns are arranged and why they are used. I hope this is useful for you and keeps you on top of your language studies at the French Immersion School in Montpellier and enhances your experience of learning French in France.

A quick recap: PPCs replace nouns and are placed before the verb in the following order:

  1. me, te, se, nous, vous
  2. la, le, les
  3. lui, leur
  4. y
  5. en

I am going to assume that you are familiar with the top 2 in this list and start with 3. Lui, leur

Lui’ and ‘leur’ are used when talking about a person or people who are the COI (complements d’objet indirect) in the sentence. That means that the verb operates with them indirectly; an action is done TO them. It can be a little tricky to quickly determine whether somebody is the COI or the COD in a sentence but a quick cheat is to look out for the preposition ‘à’ which is used in a similar way to the English ‘to’.
e.g: Tu téléphones souvent à Paul ? —— Oui, je lui téléphone souvent.

If the COI is multiple people then the pronoun is ‘leur
Tu téléphones souvent à tes parents? —- Oui, je leur téléphone souvent.

Le’, ‘en’ and ‘y

These pronouns replace the subject of a groups of words rather than single nouns and do not have a gender and are not singular or plural.

<le> or <l’> are used with a verb with direct construction. <l’> is the same thing as <le> but is used when the next word begins with a vowel. This is one of those things where explaining the technical constructions makes it sound way more complicated than it is and it’s better to just see some examples in action:
Vous êtes fatigué, je le vois. (le =que vous êtes fatigué) —-You are tired, I see it (it = that you are tired)
J’ai appris que tu t’étais marié ; c’était Marie qui me l’a dit (l’ = que tu t’étais marié)—–
I learnt that you were married ; it was Marie who told me that (that = that you were married)

One key difference here is that this can be used with adjectives or nouns that are constructed with ‘être’:

‘Elle était en colère? Ah oui, elle l’était vraiment. (l’ = en colère)
en’ is used with a verb or an adjective constructed with ‘de’:
e.g. Êtes- vous content de la nouvelle organisation du service? Oui j’en suis très content. (en = qu’on ait réorganisé le service)
Are you happy with the new organisation of the service? Yes I am very happy with it. (it = the new organisation of the service)

y’ used with a verb constructed with ‘à’ / ‘au’ / ‘en’ :
e.g. Tu es allé en Belgique? / Tu es allé à Bruxelles? ——— Oui, j’y suis allé.
You went to Belgium? / You went to Brussels? ——— Yes, I went there.

Now those of you who have been paying attention may have realised that we have now spoke about pronouns to replace things constructed with the preposition ‘à’ twice now. Once for ‘y’ and also for ‘lui’ and ‘leur’. As a very general rule the second to pronouns are only used for people and the first is used for everything else.

Now this is just the foundation of this topic to get you started there are some nuances and irregularities that will require more discussion. See this as a foundation to be built upon on your French immersion course. With this you will be able to communicate more fluidly and although it might feel a bit clunky at first once you get used to it you flexibility will completely open up and your experience of learning French in France will reach a new level. I sincerely think this has been a big jump in my French studies and it’s worth a bit of extra time to perfect.