Learning the French pronouns lui and leur can be quite difficult because they are used only in certain situations. Lui and leur are indirect object pronouns, which answer the questions: to whom or for whom.
Meaning and Usage
The indirect object French pronouns lui and leur are used to express the idea of "to him/her" (lui) or "to them". Not all sentences have an indirect object - only sentences where the verb is being done to someone. Intransitive verbs never take an object. Transitive verbs can take indirect and direct objects.
An example is the transitive verb 'give'. When you give something, there is always something being given, and sometimes there is someone to whom it is being given expressed in the sentence as well. For example, if you say Je donne le livre à Pierre, the direct object is the book that is being given, and the indirect object is Pierre because he is receiving the book that is being given. The same sentence can also be expressed in the following way: Je lui donne le livre, (which translates to: 'I him give the book', or 'I give him the book'). The book can also be replaced by a direct object pronoun (in this case 'le' because the word book is masculine), which would result in: Je le lui donne ('I it him give' or better yet: 'I give it to him'). As you can see, the word order and prepositional usage is different between English and French, but French, like English, uses both indirect and direct object pronouns to replace objects and people that have already been mentioned in the discourse.
Examples of Indirect Object French Pronous Lui and Leur
In order to better understand how these pronouns are used, take a look at the following examples:
- Je lui ai dit (I told him)
- Je le lui ai dit (I told him that)
- Je lui ai dit de ne pas y aller (I told him not to go there)
- Je lui donne la photo (I give him the photo)
- Je la lui ai donné (I gave it (fem) to him)
- Je leur ai dit (I told them)
- Je le leur ai dit (I told them that)
- Je leur ai dit de ne pas y aller (I told them not to go there)
- Je leur donne la photo (I give them the photo)
- Je la leur ai donné (I gave it (fem) to them)
Notice how the sentences are all constructed with the following word order:
subject + direct object (if applicable) + indirect object + verb
Stressed Personal Pronouns
In addition to the above usage as an indirect pronoun, lui (but not leur) can also be used as a stressed personal pronoun. For example, if someone asks you to whom you gave something, you might answer by pointing at a guy and saying lui (him). Make sure you only do this with the pronoun lui; leur is not used in this context (the correct masculine plural form for a stressed pronoun is eux. Some examples:
- Je donne la photo à lui (I give him the photo.)
- J'enseigne la photographie à lui (It's to him that I teach photography-not someone else.)
Learning all of these details about French may seem daunting, but there are plenty of resources available to help you, such as online practice with pronouns. Practice applying what you have learned in class and read here. If you have a sheet with all the French pronouns on it that you can refer to, you'll find yourself flying through the exercises and mastering French pronouns in no time.