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Learning French

Learning French in France – The Personal Pronoun Complements: Part 1

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The Personal Pronoun Complements

This week on my French Intensive course for adults in Montpellier we were introduced to many new things as always. One of the great things about doing a French language stay is the speed at which you progress and living in France means you can track your progress as more and more things in the world around you start to become clear. I have been trying to read more articles and newspapers in French recently but I’ve found it hard not to get hung up on the little one or two letter words that are scattered all over each paragraph. They really bugged me because I knew they were important to my understanding of the text. This week though help arrived and on my intensive French course we discussed ‘Les pronoms personnels compléments’ (PPC) or the personal pronoun complements. You will have probably seen some of the words before but used slightly differently. You will be introduced to this at some point during your B2 french classes but it’s still helpful to know a bit ahead of time.

The PPCs replace nouns used earlier in the speech or text. This will stop you having to say the name of the thing over and over again and give your language a much more natural sound so they are great to master but the order and choosing which one is correct can be tricky.

Primarily they are placed before the verbs in simple and composed forms (i.e present/l’indicatif or perfect tense/passé compose).

‘’Tu te souviens qu’on part demain? Bien sûr je m’en souviens.’’
In this phrase:
en= on part demain. The phrase could be written in full like this:
Bien sûr je me souviens que on part demain‘’

Things stay simple enough when we are just talking about specific nouns on their own where we use only: le, la, les.

The PPC ‘y’ works in much the same way with verbs constructed using ‘à’.
E.g ‘Elle va encore en Bretagne ? Non, elle n’y est pas allée depuis longtemps.
For negations the PPCs are placed in between the first negation (the ‘ne’ out of ‘ne pas’) and the verb:
E.g “Je ne les ai pas vus depuis longtemps
So the order changes a bit for the imperatif form i.e when you are making a command but for now let’s stick with the standard present form.

Ok so you have the basic idea and it’s a completely different way of structuring the sentence compared to English so it may feel a bit odd at first. It’s common that French students say the verb first and quickly have to correct themselves and it’s particularly common amongst native English speakers. You can however, with just a bit of practice overcome this difficulty and this is exciting because this little change in word order will have you think a little differently about the sentence. You’ll be thinking about the whole sentence before you say it and not talking yourself into a corner which is common.

Ok lets turn it up; with 2 PPCs. There is a specific order to where each type of PPC is placed and once you have got used to these combinations of sounds (they are all close to one syllable) it will really expand your comprehension.

There are 5 different levels in the order:

  • me, te, se, nous, vous
  • la, le, les
  • lui, leur
  • y
  • en

Also bare in mind the contractions too. These are often what makes the PPCs look a bit scary to those who are new to them.

E.g :

  • elle me le donne (she gave it to me)
  • je m’y intéresse – je t’y invite (i’m interested (in that))
  • il m’en donne – (he gave me some (of that))
  • je le lui donne
  • tu lui en donnes

You may not be completely sure about some of these pronouns and what they are used to represent but don’t worry we will go into that in more detail in Part 2. I assume that you are comfortable with the first set in the order above and each one of the pronouns once understood will seem as clear as these. So for now memorise this order and then in Part 2 everything should fall into place.

This subject is well worth committing a bit more time to because it will be the snow ball that causes an avalanche in terms of your development and it’s well worth going over some of the elements if your understanding is a bit patchy. Like the COD or COI (‘compléments d’objet direct’ or ‘compléments d’objets indirect’) which we will use a lot in understanding the new pronouns.

So I hope this forms a base that will help you on your intensive immersion course at the French Language School. This is one of the subjects I’ve come across whilst learning French in Montpellier that doesn’t require much work but gives you a massive boost.