Turbo Master Class: Pronouns

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1.3. Pronouns

You certainly know what je t’aime means: I love you. In what is undoubtedly one of the major advances in human civilisation, you have

  1. the so-called personal subject pronoun je I


  1. the so-called personal object pronoun te you

Let’s delve a few inches beneath the pronoun surface. Take, for example, the outstanding désirer. Of course, in France, désirer to want, to desire is most often used in the pretty exclusive sexual sense of wanting to kiss, caress, suck and make love.

Je te désire. I want you.
Tu me désires. You want me.
Il la désire. He wants her.
Elle le désire. She wants him.
Nous vous désirons. We want you (plural).
Vous nous désirez. You want us.
Ils les désirent. They (boys, men) want them (boys, girls, men, women).
Elles les désirent. They (girls, women) want them (boys, girls, men, women).

The preceding table showing personal subject pronouns (PSPs) in red and personal object pronouns (POPs) in blue is one of the most important tables you’ll see in your entire French lifetime. Listen to the audio and learn all sentences by heart now! (Yes, please!)

The table holds another suite of gems: the bold-faced endings of désirer: -e, -es, -e | -ons, -ez, -ent. In English, you need to modify the present tense of want only when associated with he and she; in this case, you add an –s: he/she wants. In French you have different endings all over the place. Note that the six endings -e, -es, -e | -ons, -ez, -ent are a pillar of the French language! Again, memorize them before this day ends – you’ll see them later again and again and again.

Give me time for just two more words, lui and leur, shown in green in the following table. You’ll use lui (instead of ‘le/la’) and leur (instead of ‘les’) with words like résister à to resist that take indirect objects in French. (More about that on page 262.) The equivalents for lui in German are ihm/ihr, in Italian gli/le and in Spanish le. The equivalents for leur in German is ihnen, in Italian gli or loro and in Spanish les.

Je te résiste. I am resisting* you.
Tu me résistes. You are resisting me.
Il lui résiste. He is resisting  her.
Elle lui résiste. She is resisting him.
Nous vous résistons. We are resisting you (plural).
Vous nous résistez. You are resisting us.
Ils leur résistent. They (boys, men) are resisting them (boys, girls, men, women).
Elles leur résistent. They (girls, women) are resisting them (boys, girls, men, women).

* Note that the French language has no equivalent for the English continuous tense. Translate the continuous tense with the French present tense.



Word cloud 1.4 – 15 personal pronouns | Relative frequency as calculated from 17 novels by Émile Zola.


The news of the day: The 15 personal pronouns je, tu, il, elle, on, nous, vous, ils, elles, me, te, le, la, les, lui, leur alone represent 70% of all French pronouns you’ll ever hear and see. The remaining 40+ pronouns are sometimes tricky, but relatively easy to master.

The ‘God’ article without jokers, articles and pronouns. What do you see?

Dieu existe-t-il ? Inégalités, injustices, violences, tortures, viols, meurtres, guerres, génocides, la shoah, l’esclavageImpardonnable, n’est-ce pas ? On vous dira que Dieu se planque pour mettre les hommes à l’épreuve et les amener à choisir entre le bien et le mal. En tout cas, si moi je vous jouais des tours pareils, vous me traiteriez de sadique !

Regardez l’histoire de l’humanité et les innombrables crimes commis au nom de Dieu ! Et regardez le présent : des États qui persécutent au nom d’un Dieu, torturent et tuent au nom d’un Dieu, et refusent aux femmes le droit d’avorter, toujours au nom d’un Dieu.

Pauvre Dieu, nom de Dieu, aurait-il tout foiré ? Souhaitons-lui – à ce petit Dieu qui ne serait qu’un pauvre diablede ne pas exister car nous le jugerions pour crimes contre l’Humanité. Nous avons guillotiné Louis XVI pour moins que cela.

Fifty percent of the words are gone, the fog has lifted. With all soft parts hammered out, only granite remains: nouns, adjectives, action words. The language landscape comes into focus.

The 50% percentage – give it some points more, some points less – is a rather constant value, not only in French but in most other European languages. In other words, around 300 French peanuts always account for 50% of any subset of 100,000 possible French words in any given text. Do you arrive at the same conclusion as I do? Yes, indeed, you’re right: You should know these words rather this week than next week! Learning the peanuts as soon as possible is one of the best investments you can ever make in your future French skills. You’ll see that many peanuts are difficult to memorize, but you’ll have to go through it now! Start with the jokers. You can! And we’ll help you!