Direct- and indirect object in French

Direct Object

This is much easier to explain with an example.

Look at this phrase:

  • I listen to a song

In English, we use the preposition “to” between the verb (listen) and the noun (song).

Now look at the same sentence in French:

  • J’écoute une chanson

We do not use any type of preposition for this phrase in French.

Why? Because “écouter” is constructed with a direct object.

Let us look at another phrase.

In this example, we will use the verb “regarder”, which means “to watch”.

  • I’m watching a series

In this phrase, we use “a” to connect the verb (watching) and the noun (a series).

Now we can take a look at the same phrase in French:

  • Je regarde une série

This gives us the same result. We do not need a preposition to make the sentence grammatically correct.

Are you starting to get the hang of it? 😊

Here are some other verbs that are constructed in the same way:

  • Aimer= To like/love
  • Appeller= To call
  • Aider= To help
  • Chercher= To look
  • Regarder= To watch
  • Voir= To see
  • Connaître= To know
  • Manger= To eat

Areas of application

Direct object can be used to shorten sentences.

There are specific pronouns that are linked to this concept (we’ll get to them soon).

We can start by looking at this sentence:

  • I love my parents

We can shorten this sentence by adding a pronoun instead of “my parents”:

  • I love them

Now we can do the same thing in French:

  • J’aime mes parents
  • Je les aime.

You may have noticed that the placement of the pronoun changes in French. We need to put the pronoun in front of the verb.

We will only focus on the ones in bold. You will understand why, when we begin with the indirect object later in this article.

There is one more important concept to understand. Both “le” and “la” becomes “l’” in front of a vowel. For instance:

  • J’aime mon frère (I love my brother)
  • Je l’aime (I love him)

In theory, we should have written “Je le aime”. However, this does not sound good.

“Aimer” begins with a vowel “A”. We will therefore remove the “e” from “le”, which gives us “l’”.

Now we can look at more examples.

  • Elle mange une pomme (She eats an apple)
  • Elle la mange (She eats it)
  • Il cherche la valise (He is looking for the bag)
  • Il la cherche (He is looking for it)
  • Nous comprenons le texte (We understand the text)
  • Nous le comprenons (We understand it)
  • J’écoute ces chansons (I listen to these songs)
  • Je les écoute (I listen to them)
  • Il appelle ses amis (He calls his friends)
  • Il les appelle (He calls them)
  • J’aide ma tante (I help my aunt)
  • Je l’aide (I help her)

Indirect object

We need to add a preposition between the verb and the noun when we use an indirect object.

This is the opposite of what we have done so far. Let us see how it looks in practice.

  • Elle ecrit à son ami.
  • She writes to her friend.
  • Tu donnes un cadeau à ton ami.
  • You give a gift to your friend.

You could say that we use “à” to connect the sentence.

Let us look at a couple of verbs that use this construction:

  • Écrire: To write
  • Donner: To give
  • Dire: To say
  • Parler: To speak
  • Répondre: To answer
  • Téléphoner: To call

Areas of application

Two of the pronouns are in bold, which correspond with the pronouns for direct object.

You may have noticed that there are only two pronouns that differ between the two?

Let us put them next to each other to verify this.

Now we can continue with lui/leur and the indirect objects. We need to clarify one important aspect before going through several examples.

Look at these phrases:

  • Elle parle à son père (She speaks with her father)
  • Elle lui parle (She speaks to him)
  • Il parle à ma mère (He speaks with her mother)
  • Il lui parle (He speaks with her)

You have probably noticed that we use “lui” both for men and women?

Remembering this will help you understand their different areas of application.

Now we can look at more examples.

  • Il dit à sa mère de ne pas venir (He tells his mother not to come)
  • Il lui dit de ne pas venir (He tells her not to come)
  • Nous téléphonons à mes frères (We call my brothers)
  • Nous leur téléphonons (We call them)
  • On répond à ton frère (We answer your brother)
  • On lui répond (We answer him)
  • Nous donnons un bracelet à ma tante (We give a bracelet to my aunt)
  • Nous lui donnons un bracelet (We give her a bracelet)
  • Il écrit un message à ses amis (He writes a message to his friends)
  • Il leur écrit un message (He writes them a message)

The negative form

The structure of the negative form is easy to understand. However, you need to get used to putting the verbs and pronoun together.

Let us look at a couple of examples:

  • Je la vois (I see her)
  • Je ne la vois pas (I don’t see her)
  • Elle la voit (She sees him)
  • Elle ne la voit pas (She doesn’t see him)
  • Je leur écrit un poème (I write them a poem)
  • Je ne leur écrit pas un poème (I don’t write them a poem)
  • Nous lui téléphonons (We call him)
  • Nous ne lui téléphonons pas (We don’t call him)
  • Ils leur donnent un cadeau (They give them a present)
  • Ils ne leur donnent pas un cadeau (They don’t give them a present)
  • Je le regarde (I look at him)
  • Je ne le regarde pas (I don’t look at him)
  • Ils les écoutent attentivement (They listen to them carefully)
  • Ils ne les écoutent pas attentivement (They don’t listen to them carefully)

These examples should help you to better understand the placement of the negation.

However, you may have noticed that I have mixed direct- and indirect objects?

  • Lui, leur= Indirect object
  • Le, la, l’, les= Direct object

Don’t worry if you have not noticed the difference. You can always look at the categories in this article, where I have divided them under different chapters.

And it should also be noted that it takes time to learn the difference.

Let us therefore talk about why you should take some time to understand this concept 😊.

Difference between the languages

There are direct and indirect objects in many languages. This can cause a problem for someone trying to learn French. Why?

Because a verb can be constructed with a direct object in French. In English, the same verb can be constructed with an indirect object.

It is therefore a good idea to be careful with jumping to conclusions when you translate something in your head.

It is, however, important to know the construction of basic verbs.

Let us return to the example in the beginning. In French, we would say:

  • J’écoute une chanson

We don’t need to insert a preposition between the verb “écoute” and the noun “une chanson”.

In English, we need to insert a preposition.

  • I listen to a song

These differences are important to understand. They often constitute phrases that we use in everyday life. A majority of French learners want to become as fluent is possible.

It is difficult to sound fluent if you don’t know where to insert prepositions.

In this article, we have also talked about how you can shorten sentences. We have talked about the different pronouns between indirect and direct objects.

I would say that this part is not as crucial as understanding the use of prepositions. However, if you learn how the verbs are constructed (with a direct or indirect object), you will also be able to shorten sentences without making mistakes.

Leave a Reply