Verbs of Perception: Word Order

Verbes de sensation : Ordre des mots

Word order with French verbs of perception depends on two things:

  1. Does the infinitive have a subject and/or a direct object?
  2. Is the subject and/or object a noun or pronoun?

Nominal direct object

When the infinitive has a non-pronoun direct object and no subject, the object must be placed after the infinitive.

J’entends jouer le piano.   I hear the piano being played.
Je vois abattre l’arbre.   I see the tree being cut down.

 Q. How do you know whether the noun/pronoun used with a French verb of perception is the subject or the direct object?

A. If it’s performing the action of the infinitive, it’s the subject. If it’s being performed by the infinitive, it’s the direct object.

Nominal subject

When the infinitive has a non-pronoun subject and no object, the subject can be placed either before or after the infinitive:

J’entends le chien aboyer.   J’entends aboyer le chien.   I hear the dog barking.
Je vois les feuilles tomber.   Je vois tomber les feuilles.   I see the leaves falling.

Subject and Object

When the infinitive has a non-pronoun subject and object, you must place the subject in front of the infinitive and the object after it.

J’entends le chien laper de l’eau.   I hear the dog lapping up water.
Je vois les arbres perdre leurs feuilles.   I see the trees losing their leaves.

When the subject is a pronoun, it precedes the verb of perception:

Je l’entends laper de l’eau.   I hear it lapping up water.
Je les vois perdre leurs feuilles.   I see them losing their leaves.

When the object is a pronoun, it precedes the infinitive:

J’entends le chien en laper.   I hear the dog lapping some up.
Je vois les arbres les perdre.   I see the trees losing them.

When the subject and object are both pronouns, the subject goes in front of the verb of perception and the object goes after it:

Je l’entends en laper.   I hear it lapping some up.
Je les vois les perdre.   I see them losing them.

One Pronoun

When the infinitive has just one pronoun, whether subject or direct object, the pronoun goes in front of the verb of perception:

Subject

J’entends le chien aboyer.
   > Je l’entends aboyer.
  I hear the dog barking.
   > I hear it barking.
Je vois les feuilles tomber.
   > Je les vois tomber.
  I see the leaves falling.
   > I see them falling.

Object

J’entends jouer le piano.
   > Je l’entends jouer.
  I hear the piano being played.
   > I hear it being played.
Je vois abattre l’arbre.
   > Je le vois abattre.
  I see the tree being cut down.
   > I see it being cut down.

 Further reading

Page 1: Introduction to verbs of perception
Page 2: Word order with verbs of perception
Page 3: Agreement with verbs of perception

 Related lessons

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French verbs of perception
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