Direct vs Indirect Objects

Pronoms directs vs pronoms indirects

French direct objects vs indirect objects
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Direct objects and indirect objects can be tricky to understand and use, but it’s essential to know the difference in order to speak and write French correctly. Here are some tips to help you figure out which type of object you’re dealing with.

Object is a noun

When the object is a noun, it’s a question of whether there’s a preposition, and if so, which one?

1) No preposition in front of the noun = noun is direct object

Je vois tes enfants.   I see your children.
Il fait le gâteau.   He’s making the cake.

… and can be replaced by a direct object pronoun.

Je les vois.   I see them.
Il le fait.   He’s making it.

2) The preposition à precedes an animate noun = noun is indirect object

Je parle à tes enfants.   I’m talking to your children.
Il téléphone à son grand-père.   He’s calling his grandfather.

… and can be replaced by an indirect object pronoun.

Je leur parle.   I’m talking to them.
Il lui téléphone.   He’s calling him.

 Attention : When à is followed by an inanimate noun, it cannot be replaced by an object pronoun. The different types of pronouns it can be replaced by will be addressed in a future lesson.

3) The preposition pour precedes an animate noun who is the recipient of the action of the verb (thus pour means "for the benefit of, as a gift to") = noun is indirect object

Il fait le gâteau pour Élise.   He’s making the cake for Élise.
J’achète des vêtements pour les enfants.   I buy clothes for the childrenː

… and can be replaced by an indirect object pronoun.

Il lui fait le gâteau.   He’s making the cake for her.
Je leur achète des vêtements.   I buy clothes for them.

 Attention :

    a) When pour means "on behalf of" an animate noun, the noun is replaced by a stressed pronoun.

J’achète des titres pour mes clients.   I buy stock on behalf of my clients.
 > J’achète des titres pour eux.    > I buy stock on behalf of them.

    b) When pour is followed by an inanimate noun, it can only be replaced by a stressed pronoun or indefinite demonstrative pronoun.

4) Some other preposition precedes the noun = noun is object of the preposition and cannot be replaced by an object pronoun. This will be explained further in a future lesson.

 French prepositions ≠ English prepositions

The question of prepositions can be really tricky, because they are often not the same in French and English. So it’s the French usage that dictates whether you’re dealing with a direct object or an indirect object in French.

Par exemple …

French   English
Nous écoutons nos mères.   We listen to our mothers.

There’s a preposition in English, which makes "mothers" an indirect object. However, there’s no preposition in French, so mères a direct object. Therefore, it’s replaced by a direct object pronoun:

Nous les écoutons.    We listen to them.

This goes the other way as well.

French   English
Nous téléphonons à nos mères.   We call our mothers.

Here, mères is an indirect object and must be replaced by an indirect object pronoun, even though "mothers" is direct:

Nous leur téléphonons.    We call them.

Object is a pronoun

When the object is already a pronoun, the task is even more complicated, because there’s no preposition to give you a hint. While third person pronouns have different forms depending on whether they’re direct (le, la, les) or indirect (lui, leur), first and second person direct and indirect pronouns are identical (me, nous, te, vous).

So when you need to figure out which one you’re dealing with, you have to consider the verb in order to determine whether it requires a preposition, and if so, which one. Then return to the four scenarios at the beginning of this lesson. This set of lists can help: Verbs with prepositions.

 Object Pronouns Quizzes

Think you’ve got it? Test yourself on direct and indirect object pronouns with these fill-in-the-blanks exercises:

Note: You must be logged into your Progress with Lawless French account to take this test. If you don’t have one, sign up – it’s free!

 Related lessons

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French direct vs indirect object pronouns
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