Indirect Objects

Compléments d’objet indirect (COI)

French indirect objects
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An indirect object is a person that someone or something does something to indirectly. In the simplest sentences, the indirect object directly follows a verb + preposition, so it’s very easy to see the effect that the verb has on that person.

Par exemple…

Il donne des fleurs à son amie.   He’s giving flowers to his friend.
J’achète un chien pour mes enfants.   I’m buying a dog for my children.

Characteristics of indirect objects

  1. Are connected to the verb with a preposition (à or pour)
  2. Cannot be removed without altering the meaning of the sentence
  3. Can be found by asking "to whom?" or "for whom?"*

Par exemple…

To whom is he giving flowers? – His friend
For whom am I buying a dog? My kids

 * The person following "for" is only an indirect object when they are a recipient, as in "I bought it for you." When "for" means "on behalf of," as in "I think I speak for everyone when I say this," the noun after it is called an object of the preposition.

Indirect object pronouns

In order to avoid repeating nouns in a series of sentences or when answering questions, both French and English replace indirect objects with indirect object pronouns.

To whom is he giving flowers?  His friend her.
Il lui donne des fleurs.  He’s giving her flowers.
For whom am I buying a dog?  My kids them.
Je leur achète un chien.  I’m buying them a dog.

 En comparaison…

Je lis à mes enfants.
Je lis à mes enfants chaque soir.
  I’m reading to my kids.
I read to my kids every evening.
Je lis à mes enfants.
Je leur lis chaque soir.
  I’m reading to my kids.
I read to them every evening.

As you can see, the second version sounds much more natural, in both languages.

French indirect object pronouns

me (m’, moi) me   nous us
te (t’, toi) you   vous you
lui   him, her   leur them

Par exemple…

Il lui donne des fleurs.   He’s giving her flowers.
Je le leur achète.   I’m buying it for them.


+ The first and second person singular pronouns have three forms each:

  1. Normal forms: me and te
  2. Contracted forms: m’ and t’, for use in front of a vowel or h muet
  3. Stressed forms: moi and toi, for use in a particular imperative construction

+ There’s no distinction between "to him" and "to her" in French; use lui for both. If you need to make a distinction, you can add à lui or à elle: Je lui ai donné le livre, à elle.

+ The first and second person plural indirect object pronouns are identical to the first and second person direct object pronouns – learn more.

Word order

In French, indirect object pronouns generally precede the verb, whereas in English they follow it – learn more.

In addition, the French indirect object pronoun replaces both the preposition and the noun, but in English, some verbs have to keep the preposition, while other verbs have the option of keeping it.

Par exemple…

Il me parle.   He’s talking to me.
Je t’achète une chemise.   I’m buying you a shirt, I’m buying a shirt for you.
Elle nous donne son canapé.   She’s giving us her couch, She’s giving her couch to us.

 Fais gaffe !

Some French indirect objects are equivalent to direct objects in English, and vice versa.

Nous lui téléphonons une fois par semaine.
We call him once a week.

Lui is an indirect object because the French verb is téléphoner à. However, "him" is a direct object because "call" is not followed by a preposition.

Où est Luc ? Je le cherche depuis midi.
Where’s Luc? I’ve been looking for him since noon.

Le is a direct object because the French verb is chercher with no preposition. But "him" is indirect because the English verb is "to look for."

Learn more: Direct vs indirect objects

 Note: Some verbs do not allow the indirect object to be replaced by an indirect object pronoun – learn more.

 Quiz: Indirect objects

 Related lessons

Learn Spanish En español

Learn Italian In italiano

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French indirect object

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