Neuter Object Pronoun

Pronom objet neutre

Direct object pronouns are personal: they replace specific people and things and have masculine, feminine, and plural forms. But le, the normally masculine singular direct object pronoun, can also be impersonal and neuter. This le facultatif is formal and therefore found mainly in writing.

Characteristics of the neuter object pronoun

  1. Used with transitive and intransitive verbs
  2. Impersonal, neuter, invariable
  3. Never preceded by a preposition
  4. Formal
  5. Usually written
  6. Often has no English equivalent

Using the neuter object pronoun

1) In English, sentences like "I am" and "No, I’m not" are grammatical and complete, but this is not the case in French. Whatever idea is implied (I am what? I’m not what?) must be expressed with the neuter object pronoun in French. In essence, this means le can replace intangible concepts, including adjectives, verbs, and clauses.

Il est fâché, et je le suis aussi.   He’s angry and I am too.
J’étais prof mais je ne le suis plus.   I was a teacher but I’m not any more.
– Christine va divorcer.
– Oui, je le pense aussi.
  – Christine is going to get divorced.
– Yes, I think so too.
Que fait-il ? Je vais le lui demander.   What is he doing? I’m going to ask him.

2) Similar to the above, the neuter le is used in the subordinate clause of comparisons, to refer back to the adjective or concept being compared in the main clause.

Vous êtes plus charmante que je ne le suis.   You are more charming than I (am).
C’est moins difficile que nous ne le craignions.   It’s less difficult than we feared.
La pièce est encore pire qu’il ne l’avait pensé.   The play is even worse than he thought.

 Confused by ne in these examples? It’s called the ne explétif.

The neuter le is particularly common with – though not limited to – these verbs:

Comme vous le dites, il faut toujours continuer à apprendre.   As you say, we always have to keep learning.
Approche si tu l’oses !   Come over here if you dare!
– Est-ce qu’il va manger avec nous ?
– Je le pense, oui, s’il le peut.
  – Is he going to eat with us?
– I think so, if he can.
– Finis tes épinards.
– Je ne le veux pas.
(Comparer : Je ne les veux pas.)
  – Finish your spinach.
– I don’t want to.
(Compare: I don’t want them.)

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French object pronouns


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4 Responses

  1. Heather 14 June 2017 / 5:43

    Merci — très utile! But if this construction is largely formal and written, what happens in informal or spoken French?

    • lkl 14 June 2017 / 6:05

      Bonjour Heather,

      Nothing – it’s left out, so you’d say e.g. Oui, je pense aussi.

  2. Nancy Colby 13 June 2017 / 12:51

    Are the neuter object and “en” ever used similarly. I think I understand the neuter object pronoun but have a ways to go with “en”.

    • lkl 13 June 2017 / 13:12

      Bonjour Nancy,

      No, not at all. Other than in a few fixed expressions like s’en aller, en always replaces something specific: a quantity, a place, or de + something. Le replaces intangibles like adjectives.

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