Using French pronouns can be one of the more difficult aspects of learning the French language. This is partly due to the fact that French pronouns follow a different word order than they do in English, and this is partly due to the fact that where pronouns are sometimes optional in English - they are not optional in French.
Types of French Pronouns
Like English, there are several types of pronouns to replace various nouns. Keeping them straight can be difficult - here is a break down of the various types of pronouns and when they are used.
Adverbial Pronouns Y and En
Y replaces à + a noun and en replaces de + a noun. They are often tricky for language learners because they are not generally required in English and, in fact, using them in English makes the sentence sound awkward. However, they are required in French. On top of that, using these requires knowing which verbs take the prepositions à and de. Here are a few examples:
- Are you going to the store today? Tu vas au marché aujourd'hui?
Oui, j'y vais ce soir. (Yes, I'm going "there" tonight.)
- Do you need a dress? Tu as besoin d'une robe?
Non, je n'en ai pas besoin.
Demonstrative pronouns are pronouns that replace a previously mentioned noun. They translate as "this one", "that one", "these", or "those". In French, demonstrative pronouns have to agree in gender and number with the noun they are replacing. They are:
celui - masculine singular
celle - feminine singular
ceux - masculine plural
celles - feminine plural
If you need to demonstrate whether you mean "this one" or "that one" (it is usually inferred), then you can add the suffix "ci" as in celui-ci meaning "this one here" or celui-là meaning "that one there."
Negative pronouns are used to "negate" the nouns that they replace. Like most negative constructions in French, there are two parts that split up with the verb in between them. The negative pronouns are:
|ne. . .aucun(e)||none of, not any of|
|ne. . .nul(le)||no one|
|ne. . .pas de||not one of|
|ne. . .pas un(e) seul(e)||not a single one of|
|ne. . .personne||no one|
|ne. . .rien||nothing or not anything|
French Possessive Pronouns
Possessive pronouns replace a possessive adjective + a noun. In English they are translated as "mine", "yours", "his/hers", "theirs" and "ours." Of course, when using these French pronouns, you have to make sure they agree in both gender and number with the noun they are replacing. Another confusing part of using the possessive forms of French pronouns is that you must use them with the definite article "le" or "la". French Possessive Pronouns are as follows:
- je. . .la mienne, le mien, les miennes, or les miens
- tu. . .la tienne, le tien, les tiennes, or les tiens
- il. . .la sienne, le sien, les siennes, or les siens
- nous. . .la nôtre, le nôtre, les nôtres, les nôtres
- vous. . .la vôtre, le vôtre, les vôtres, les vôtres
- ils. . .la leur, le leur, les leurs, les leurs
Understanding French Pronouns
French pronouns are one of the trickier parts in the French language to master. They are required when in English they are not, and while some have to agree in gender and number with the noun that they replace. . .other times the same pronoun is used for both masculine and feminine contexts. As always, the best way to learn your pronouns is to study and practice!