Compound Subjects

French compound subjects
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Sujets composés

When the subject of a French verb is nous, vous, ils, or elles, it’s obvious which verb conjugation you need, because those plural pronouns are included in verb tables. But it’s a bit trickier with compound subjects made up of multiple names, nouns, and/or pronouns, such as toi et moi and Jean et son frère.

In these cases, you need to take a moment to figure out which plural subject pronoun those items add up to, so that you know what to conjugate for.*

There are basically 4 rules:

  1. First person takes priority over 2nd and 3rd person: when moi is included with any combination of 2nd / 3rd person subjects, the compound subject is always nous.
  2. Second person takes priority over 3rd person: if toi is included with any combination of 3rd person subjects, the compound subject is always vous.
  3. The compound subject can be ils or elles only when all of the subjects are 3rd person.
  4. In the third person, masculine takes priority over feminine: the pronoun can be elles only when every subject is feminine.

Par exemple…

Toi et moi devons parler.
Nous devons parler.
  You and I need to talk.
We need to talk.
Jean et moi avons deux chats.
Nous avons deux chats
  Jean and I have two cats.
We have two cats.
Toi et lui pouvez partir tôt.
Vous pouvez partir tôt.
  You and he can leave early.
You can leave early.
Jean et sa sœur sont sympa.
Ils sont sympa.
  Jean and his sister are nice.
They are nice.

In other words…

moi + toi
le chien
la voiture
toi + lui
le chien
la voiture
lui + lui
le chien
la voiture
elle + elle
la voiture

En résumé…

moi   +   anything   =   nous
toi   +   anything except moi   =   vous
lui   +   lui / elle / name / noun   =   ils
elle   +   elle / female name / feminine noun   =   elles

 Why moi, toi, lui rather than je, tu, il? See stressed pronouns, #3.

 * If it helps, you can silently think the plural pronoun after the compound subject, but don’t say it out loud unless you mean to stress it. You’ll sound very odd if you say things like Toi et moi nous devons … all the time.

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Sujets composés

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