Semi-Auxiliary Verbs: Word Order

Ordre des mots avec deux verbes

French word order
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It’s very common to have two verbs in a row in both English and French.

Par exemple…

J’aime danser.   I like to dance.
Il veut manger.   He wants to eat.

The word order here is very straightforward:

subject + conjugated semi-auxiliary verb + infinitive*

It gets more complicated when additional grammatical structures are introduced, like

I. Adverbial pronouns

Adverbial pronouns (en, y) always go right front of the infinitive.

Par exemple…

J’aime y danser.   I like to dance there.
Il veut en manger.   He wants to eat some (of that).

Including when the semi-auxiliary verb requires a preposition.

J’hésite à y danser.   I hesitate to dance there.
Il essaie d’en manger.   He’s trying to eat some (of that).

II. Object pronouns

Direct object pronouns (me, te, le, la…) and indirect object pronouns (me, te, lui …) precede the verb they modify. Usually, this is the infinitive.

Par exemple…

J’aime le danser.   I like to dance it. (e.g., the tango)
Il veut la manger.   He wants to eat it. (e.g., the apple)

But sometimes the object pronoun is modifying the conjugated semi-auxiliary verb, in which case the pronoun has to precede that verb.

Je te choisis de répondre.
  vs
Je choisis de te répondre.
  I choose you to respond.
  vs
I choose to respond to you.
Elle m’aide à étudier.
  vs
Elle aide à m’étudier.
  She’s helping me study.
  vs
She’s helping to study me.

 Note how in French, the pronoun precedes the verb it modifies, while in English it follows the verb it modifies.

I + II

When there’s an adverbial pronoun and an object pronoun, the adverbial comes second – see Double pronoun order.

J’aime l’y danser.   I like to dance it there.
Il veut nous en donner.   He wants to give us some.
Elle m’aide à y étudier.   She’s helping me study there.

III. Reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns (me, te, se …) have to stay in front of the reflexive verb, which is almost always the infinitive.

J’aime me peigner.   I like to comb my hair.
Il veut s’incrire.   He wants to enroll.

Exception:

Je m’efforce de danser.   I force myself to dance.

I + II + III

When there’s a reflexive pronoun and an adverbial or object pronoun, the Double pronoun order rules again come into play.

J’aime me les peigner.   I like to comb it.
Il veut s’y incrire.   He wants to enroll.

IV. Negation

When the sentence is negative, ne directly precedes the conjugated verb** and the second part of the negation (pas, plus, jamais …) directly follows it.

Je n’hésite pas à y danser.   I don’t hesitate to dance there.
Il n’essaie jamais d’en manger.   He never tries to eat some (of that).
Je n’aime plus l’y danser.   I don’t like to dance it there any more.
Il ne veut jamais nous en donner.   He never wants to give us any.
Je n’aime pas me les peigner.   I don’t like to comb it.
Il ne veut plus s’y incrire.   He doesn’t want to enroll there any more.

** The only exception is when a reflexive or object pronoun precedes the semi-auxiliary – in that case, ne precedes the pronoun.

Je ne te choisis pas de répondre.   I’m not choosing you to respond.
Elle ne m’aide jamais à y étudier.   She never helps me study there.
Je ne m’efforce plus de danser.   I no longer force myself to dance.

 À noter

With compound tenses/moods (like the passé composé), the word order is considerably less complicated:

Word order with compound tenses and moods

 Related lessons

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Word order with semi auxiliary verbs

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