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How Do French Pronouns Work? We'll Show You

French pronouns

Like in any other language, pronouns in French are basically “stand in” words: they stand in for other words to avoid constant repetition.

Pronoms personnels / Personal Pronouns:

Like in any other language, these pronouns in French are used to stand in for the subject of sentences, whether they are simple nouns, or complex, lengthy clauses.

Je, j’I
TuYou
Il, elle, onHe, she, it
NousWe
VousYou
Ils, ellesThey

Examples:

Le maire a été élu en novembre. Il a promis de baisser les impôts.
The mayor was elected in November. He promised to lower taxes.

La reine a ouvert le bal. Elle a dansé avec le roi.
The queen opened the ball. She danced with the king.

Pronouns in French are used almost the same way they’re used in English. There are however significant differences.

Whereas there are no differences in the use of you in English, the use of “tu” and “vous” is very specific in French. “Tu” is a familiar address. It should only be used with close intimates, family friends, or children, NEVER with people you don’t know, superiors or people in position of authority.

If you use “tu” with law enforcement agents after a traffic stop, you’re asking for a big fat fine. This goes both ways: if someone that you do not know uses “tu” to address you, you should take this as a mark of slight disrespect (this is variable however. In some contexts, say happy hour, “vous” would be considered too stuffy).

Examples:

To a child: Comment t’appeles-tu? / What are you called?
To a police officer: Pouvez-vous m’indiquer le chemin? / Could you give me
directions?

INCORRECT: (To your boss) Comment va-tu? / How you doin’?

Pronoms Possessifs / Possessive Pronouns:

These words are used to stand for possessions.  They indicate both number and gender of the possessed.

Masculin singulierMasculin plurielFéminin singulierFéminin pluriel
Le mien /  mineLes miens/ myLa mienne / mineLes  miennes / my
Le tien / yoursLes tiens /yoursLa tienne /yoursLes tiennes /yours
Le sien / his-hersLes siens/ his-hers /his-hersLa sienne/ his-hers /his-hersLes siennes/ his-hers
Le nôtre/oursLes nôtres/oursLa nôtre/oursLes nôtres/ours
Le vôtre/yoursLes vôtres/ yoursLa vôtre/yoursLes vôtres/ yours
Le leur/theirsLes leurs/theirsLa leur/theirsLes leurs/theirs

Note how the French possessive pronouns differ from their English counterparts: where in English the pronoun is subject dependent  (his è he, hers è she),  in French the pronoun depends solely on the object it qualifies.

Examples:

Cette maison est la sienne. / This house is his. (maison = feminine, singular => la sienne = feminine, singular)

Ces livres sont les vôtres. / These books are yours. (livres = masculine, plural => les vôtres = masculine, plural)

Cette voiture, c’est la mienne. / This car, it is  mine. (voiture = feminine, singular => la mienne = feminine, singular)


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