What is the order of object pronouns in French?

The order of French object pronouns places some pronouns (such as me, te, nous, vous) before others (like le, la, les). French object pronouns are a great tool to reduce repetition because they replace the direct object or indirect object of a sentence: a person or a thing.

 

Can you spot a difference between the French and the English?

 

Nous le regardons.

We are looking at him.

 

Unlike English, in French, object pronouns are usually placed before the verb. You’ll want to commit this structure to memory: 

📌 subject – pronoun – verb

But what happens if you are using several pronouns within one sentence? Read on and find out! In this post, we’ll review how to order direct and indirect object pronouns in French, along with how to order pronouns in negative sentences and sentences with two verbs. Let’s take a look!

Table of Contents

For a review of grammar terms used in this post, make sure to check out the Unpacking the grammar section at the end.

How to order direct and indirect object pronouns in French?

To order French direct and indirect object pronouns, there’s a particular sequence to follow. When using pronouns, here are the two paths to take (depending on how many pronouns you are using): 

  • Place the object pronoun before the verb if you are using one pronoun only.
  • If you use two different pronouns — usually you only use a maximum of two within a sentence — here is the order to follow:

Check out this fun horsey song (aka, the finale to Rossini’s “William Tell Overture”) to memorize the pronoun order!

⤷TIP: Keep in mind that the object pronouns follow the same order as the object in the sentence:

direct object → indirect object.

La maman chante la chanson à son bébé. → La maman la lui chante.
                         direct object ↵                              ⤷ indirect object
The mother sings the song to her baby. → She sings it to her.

Exception!

Look at the table below…Can you work out the exception by yourself? When should you not put the pronoun before the verb?

TenseFrenchEnglish
PresentJe le lui donne. I give it to him.
PerfectJe le lui ai donné. I gave it to him.
Future Je le lui donnerai. I will give it to him.
Imperative affirmative Donne-le-lui ! Give it to him!
Imperfect Je le lui donnais. I used to give it to him.
ConditionalJe le lui donnerais.I would give it to him.

Well done! You’re a superstar! 🤩It’s the French imperative affirmative. When you feel bossy and you want to give an order or a command, remember this sentence structure:

VERB in the imperative
le
la
les

moi*
toi*
lui
nous
vous
leur

*Moi and toi are actually French stressed pronouns. 

When I remind my students about their homework assignments, I say:

Rendez-les-moi avant vendredi ! Hand them in to me before Friday!

⤷TIP In writing, remember to add hyphens between the verbs and the pronouns when using the imperative affirmative!

IMPORTANT

In the perfect tense (passé composé), if the pronoun is in front of the auxiliary, the past participle must agree with the direct object. (Refresh your memory of the passé composé in Unpacking the grammar.)

J’ai pris les photos. → Je les ai prises.                I took the pictures. → I took them.
feminine plural ↵                               ⤷add -es

How to order object pronouns in negative sentences in French?

In a French negative sentence, always place the pronoun after ne (not). C’est facile, non ? (It’s easy, isn’t it?). And you’re going to love this: it works in all tenses, and in the imperative!

TenseFrenchEnglish
PresentJe ne le lui ai pas donné.I haven’t given it to him
Past Perfect Je ne le lui avais pas donné.I hadn’t given it to him.
PresentJe ne le lui donne pas.I won’t give it to him.
FutureJe ne le lui donnerai pas.I won’t give it to him.
Imperative affirmative Je ne le lui donnais pas. I didn’t use to give it to him.
ImperfectJe ne le lui donnerais pas.I wouldn’t give it to him.
ConditionalNe le lui donne pas ! Don’t give it to him.

👓This article has some examples of negative sentences with object pronouns.

How to order object pronouns in sentences made of two verbs in French?

There are also rules for placing object pronouns when it comes to sentences made up of two verbs in French.

  • Certain verbs, like vouloir (to want), pouvoir (to be able to, can), or aimer (to love), are followed by a French infinitive verb. We call them semi-auxiliary verbs. In this situation, the object pronoun goes between the conjugated semi-auxiliary verb and the infinitive verb.
  • It is the same when you use:
    • the near future: je vais + verbe à l’infinitif (I’m going to + infinitive verb)
    • the recent past: je viens de + verbe à l’infinitif (I’ve just + infinitive verb)
Object pronouns with semi-auxiliary verbs:Object pronouns with compound tenses:

Semi-auxiliary verb + infinitive:

Je veux leur rendre visite à Pâques.

I want to visit them at Easter.

Nous pouvons les apprendre par cœur !

We can learn them by heart !

Il aime lui offrir des fleurs.

He loves offering her flowers.

Near future:

Je vais le lui dire. 

I’m going to tell (it) to him.

Recent past:

Elle vient de vous les vendre.

She has just sold them to you.

Here is a list of common French semi-auxiliary verbs.

Recap of the French object pronoun orders

When using multiple object pronouns in French, remember the rules listed in the chart below.

Type of structure

Object ordering formula

Using one pronoun

subject – pronoun – verb

Using double pronouns in all tenses but the imperative affirmative

subject

me 

te 

nous 

vous 

le 

la 

les 

lui 

leur 

verb

Using the imperative affirmative

verb

le

la

les

moi 

toi

nous 

vous

Using a negative structure

ne – pronoun – verb – pas

Using semi-auxiliaries

subject – semi auxiliary – pronoun – infinitive verb

Are you feeling confident about using double object pronouns? Test your skills with our exercises on ordering object pronouns in French!

Unpacking the grammar

Stressed pronouns in French refer to people and animals only. They are often used to add emphasis, but they can also be used with comparisons, after words and phrases like et (and), c’est (it is), être à, and certain prepositions, and with commands.

  • Stressed pronouns are words like moi (me), toi (you), lui (him/it), elle (her/it), nous (we), vous (you), eux (them), and elles (them].

Donnez-moi la recette, s’il vous plaît. 

Give me the recipe, please.

The passé composé is the perfect tense in French. It is used to talk about unique, completed actions in the past. 

              Hier, j’ai mangé un biscuit.                   

              Yesterday, I ate a cookie.

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