Verbs of Perception: Word Order

Verbes de sensation : Ordre des mots

French verbs of perception
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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?

Answer

  • 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.

More about French verbs of perception

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 word order with verbs of perception

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