French direct object pronouns: A how-to guide

Celine Segueg

A direct object is an important part of sentence structure as it receives the action from verbs. To avoid repeatedly using the same word as a direct object, many languages commonly use direct object pronouns. French and English both use them to replace nouns when we know what’s being referred to.

You already know the direct object pronouns in English: me, you, him, her, it, us, and them. In this guide, we will concentrate on the direct object pronouns French uses: me/m’/moi, te/t’/toi, le/l’, la/l’, nous, vous, and les. We’ll also cover a unique one: en.

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We’ll start off by making sure you know just what a direct object pronoun is and how they work in French. Next, we will cover when to use each one, along with some common sentence structures featuring them. We’ll end with an overview of all the French personal pronouns so you don’t mix them up. C’est parti!

Direct object pronouns: French fundamentals

Definition of a direct object

A direct object is a part of a sentence that refers to the person, animal, or thing affected by the verb. In other words, it answers the question “who?” or “what?.”

Here are some examples of sentences using direct objects in English:

  • She ate an apple. (What did she eat? An apple.)
  • Vincent likes Clara. (Who does Vincent like? Clara.)
  • They saw birds. (What did they see? Birds.)

Definition of a direct object pronoun

Simply put, direct object pronouns are used to replace the direct object of a sentence when this one is already known. By doing so, we can make sentences clearer and shorter.

In French, they are known as pronoms compléments d’object direct or just pronoms COD. Let’s use the examples from above, but this time using direct object pronouns:

  • She ate it. (An apple)
  • Vincent likes her. (Clara)
  • They saw them. (Birds)

All the French direct object pronouns

Below is a complete list of the French direct object pronouns with their equivalents in English:

Subject pronouns: French Direct object pronouns: French Direct object pronouns: English
je, j’ me, m’ (moi) me
tu te, t’ (toi) you
il, elle, on le, la, l’ (en) him, her, it
nous nous us
vous vous you
ils, elles les (en) them


Note that French direct object pronouns reflect the gender and number of the noun they replace, just like in English. The singular third-person subjects il and elle are replaced by le and la, respectively, just as he and she are replaced by him and her. For the plural third-person subjects ils and elles, however, the direct object pronoun becomes les in French for both genders in plural.

The impersonal third-person singular subject pronoun on cannot become a direct object. This is because on is always used as a stand-in for some other subject, generally corresponding to we or they, so its corresponding direct object pronoun must rather reflect this intent. See our dedicated post to learn more about On in French.

If the action verb starts with a vowel, an elision of the pronouns me, te, le, and la is necessary. Elision is a linguistic phenomenon where one or more sounds are omitted from a word in order to facilitate pronunciation. In this case, me becomes m’, te becomes t’, and le and la become l’.

In the case of an affirmative imperative sentence, the direct object pronouns me and te will respectively turn into moi and toi. These are sentences where we’re giving orders. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Look at me right now! – Regarde-moi tout de suite !
  • Yes, you deserve an ice cream. Spoil yourself! – Oui, tu mérites une glace. Gâte-toi !

Now, let’s go over some examples using the rest of the French direct object pronouns:

  • Your dog loves me. – Ton chien m’aime.
  • I will call you tomorrow. – Je t’appellerai demain.
  • I went to see him yesterday. – Je suis allé le voir hier.
  • Alice is looking for Charlotte. Have you seen her somewhere? – Alice cherche Charlotte. Tu l’as vu quelque part?
  • The Italian restaurant next to the station? Yes, I’m familiar with it. – Le restaurant italien à côté de la gare? Oui, je le connais.
  • The taxi left us in the middle of nowhere. – Le taxi nous a laissé au milieu de nulle part.
  • My kids saw you at the beach. – Mes enfants vous ont vu à la plage.
  • My friends arrive at 9 am. We will wait for them in front of the shop. – Mes amis arrivent à 9h. Nous allons les attendre devant le magasin.

En in French: Of it, Of them, Some, Any

As we saw earlier, the purpose of a French direct object pronoun is to replace the noun affected by the action verb in a sentence. When the direct object is a quantity, there’s a particular direct object pronoun French uses: en. The English translation of en is often some or of them, but can also be other variants depending on the context. En is only used to replace third-person direct objects, whether in singular or plural.

En is used when the action verb is followed by de before the direct object, so a good clue is when we see du, de la, or des in front of the noun. En is also used when we replace a noun that’s preceded by a number, such as two, ten, or fifty.

  • I bought a brioche for breakfast. Do you want some of it? – J’ai acheté une brioche pour le petit-déjeuner. Tu en veux?
  • I saw cats in the garden this morning. There were so many of them! – J’ai vu des chats dans le jardin ce matin. Il y en avait plein!
  • I think I have ten of them at home. – Je pense que j’en ai dix à la maison.

Note that en is used when the quantity is intentionally vague, while we use the other specific direct object pronouns when the quantity is clear.

  • I bought a dozen donuts. Do you want any? – J’ai acheté douze beignes. Tu en veux ? (Do you want one or more donuts?)
  • I bought a dozen donuts. Do you want them? – J’ai acheté douze beignes. Tu les veux ? (Do you want all twelve donuts?)
  • There’s a bowl of blueberries in the fridge. Take it out and eat some. – Il y a un bol de myrtilles au frigo. Sortez-le et mangez-en.

To go into more detail on this unique French pronoun, as well as its indirect object pronoun counterpart y, check out our post on how to use En and Y in French.

Direct object pronouns: French word order

Now that you know how French direct object pronouns work, let’s see where to place them in a sentence.

Before conjugated verbs

If there are no infinitive verbs or affirmative imperative verbs in a sentence, the general rule is that the French direct object pronoun precedes the conjugated verb.

  • I am looking for them. – Je les cherche.

When a sentence is negative, the direct object pronoun and the conjugated verb are placed between the negation: ne + [direct object pronoun] + [conjugated action verb] + pas.

  • I don’t like him. – Je ne l’aime pas.

In the passé composé and other compound tenses, the direct object pronoun precedes the conjugated auxiliary verb.

  • We have a new car. Did you see it? – Nous avons une nouvelle voiture. Vous l’avez vue?
  • No, we didn’t see it yet. – Non, nous ne l’avons pas encore vue.

After affirmative imperatives

When used in the affirmative imperative form, the French direct object pronoun comes after the action verb. If the sentence is negative, then it comes before the imperative action verb.

  • I don’t need this key anymore. Keep it. – Je n’ai plus besoin de cette clé. Garde-la.
  • Don’t say it. – Ne le dis pas.

Also, remember that in these affirmative cases me and te will turn into moi and toi.

  • Listen to me! – Écoute-moi !

Before infinitive verbs

In a sentence including a conjugated verb and an infinitive verb, the French direct object pronoun comes between the conjugated action verb and the infinitive verb.

  • Can you help us please? – Vous pouvez nous aider s’il vous plait?
  • I need to return it before Thursday. – Je dois le rendre avant jeudi.

For word order in French sentences that include both direct and indirect object pronouns, check out our explanations in our post on indirect object pronouns in French.

List of personal pronouns in French

In this post, our focus has been on the French direct object pronouns. These are just one category of French personal pronouns. In order to help you differentiate between them all, let’s look at them side-by-side in this table.

Subject pronouns, French Direct object pronouns, French Indirect object pronouns, French Reflexive pronouns, French Stressed pronouns, French
je, j’ me, m’ (moi) me, m’ me, m’ moi
tu te, t’ (toi) te, t’ te, t’ toi
il, elle, on le, la, l’ lui se, s’ lui, elle, soi
nous nous nous nous nous
vous vous vous vous vous
ils, elles les leur se, s’ eux, elles


In this post, we covered the French direct object pronouns me/m’/moi, te/t’/toi, le/l’, la/l’, nous, vous, and les. Before we go, let’s just do a quick recap on using direct object pronouns in French.

First, you need to find the direct object in the sentence, which is the noun affected by the action verb. Next, you switch it with the correct direct object pronoun and place it in its right place in the sentence.

To choose the right direct object pronoun, remember that sometimes they are shortened (to m’, t’, or l’ before a word that starts with a vowel), and sometimes they need to change completely (to moi or toi when used in affirmative imperative sentences). We also saw that we need to use en when replacing a third-person direct object that describes a quantity.

In simple sentences, the direct object pronoun is placed before the conjugated verb. We nonetheless saw some variations for other sentence structures, such as with imperative sentences or where the action also involves an infinitive verb.

Now that you know what are French direct object pronouns, how to use them, and how to differentiate them from other personal pronouns, you can be sure to use them correctly in your spoken and written French. Bonne chance!