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How to use subject pronouns and stressed pronouns in French?

By: Agnés Finot Thu Mar 21 2024
French
Sentence Structure, Pronouns

In French, we use subject pronouns to replace the subject of a sentence and stressed pronouns to refer to people in order to add emphasis.

subject pronoun

- Est-ce que tu aimes la glace?

- Do you love ice cream?

stressed pronoun

- Oui, et toi?

- Yes, do you?

In the example above, you can see that French subject pronouns function much like the English subject pronouns “I,” “you,” “he,” etc. On the other hand, French stressed pronouns are not always used in the same ways as you’ll find them in English. Don’t worry! In this post, we’ll reveal all the rules of both subject pronouns and stressed pronouns. First, we’ll review the subject’s role in a sentence, and then we’ll tackle the nine French subject pronouns. Did you know that French has two forms of “we,” two forms of “you,” and, guess what, two forms of “they”? Once you’ve mastered these differences, you’ll learn the French stressed pronouns, as well as how and when to use them. Let’s dive in!

Table of Contents

    How to identify the subject and replace it with a French subject pronoun?

    To identify the subject of a sentence and replace it with a subject pronoun, first remember that the subject is who or what is performing an action or is being described. Follow the steps below to locate the subject of a sentence and replace it with a subject pronoun:

    • Step 1: Ask yourself who or what is performing the action of the verb.

      Charlotte prend le bus.

      Charlotte is taking the bus.

      Who is taking the bus? ⇒ Charlotte. Therefore, this is the subject of the verb prend.

    • Step 2: Use a subject pronoun to avoid repetition.

      Charlotte prend le bus. Charlotte est en retard.

      Charlotte is taking the bus. Charlotte is late.

      In the sentences above, the second instance of “Charlotte” can be replaced by “she,” which is elle in French:

      Charlotte prend le bus. Elle est en retard.

      Charlotte is taking the bus. She is late.

    If you’d like some more practice with identifying the subject of a sentence, check out these tips!
    Now, let's review the French subject pronouns.

    What are the French subject pronouns?

    The French subject pronouns are je, tu, il , elle, on, on, nous, vous, and elles.

    Person/Number
    Singular
    English
    Plural
    English

    1st person

    je

    I

    nous

    we

    2nd person

    tu

    you (sing. / informal)

    vous

    you (plural / formal)

    3rd person

    il

    he, it (masc.)

    ils

    they (masc. / masc. & fem.)

    elle

    she, it (fem.)

    elles

    they (fem. only)

    on

    we (informal), one

    If you think of a pronoun as “pro + noun” (meaning “instead of noun”) you will remember that the pronoun replaces the noun! A noun can be a person, an animal, a place, or a thing. French nouns fall into two categories: feminine or masculine. This category is referred to as the gender of a noun in French. Pay attention to this to choose the correct subject pronoun.

    Now that you are aware of the subject pronouns, let’s take a closer look at some of them.

    How to use the subject pronoun ‘je’ in French?

    The subject pronoun je is used for the first person singular to mean “I.” Je has a few particular rules:

    • Je is capitalized only at the beginning of the sentence, unlike the English “I.”

    • Je becomes j' in front of a vowel or the letter h.

      J’y vais.*

      I’m off.

      *Did you know?

      In the French alphabet, the letter y is also a vowel.

    Exception!

    Use je in front of French verbs starting with an aspirated h (an "h" which is pronounced.) Here are some examples.

    haïr

    to detest

    Je hais les embouteillages !

    I detest traffic jams!

    hurler

    to scream

    Je hurle quand je suis en colère.

    I scream when I am angry.

    hacher

    to chop

    Je hache les oignons.

    I chop the onions.

    How to use the French subject pronoun ‘on’?

    There are five ways to use the subject pronoun on.

    • To refer to people in general:

      En France, on mange beaucoup de pain !

      In France, people eat a lot of bread!

    • To say “you,” meaning “one” or “everyone”:

      On doit se brosser les dents deux fois par jour.

      You must brush your teeth twice a day.

    • To say someone:

      On m’a dit que Mme Deleau a déménagé.

      Someone told me / I was told that Mrs. Deleau has moved house.

    • When referring to unknown people:

      On va lui faire une piqûre.

      He is going to be given an injection.

    • To say “we”: let’s explore below ↴

    How to choose between the French ‘on’ and ‘nous’?

    To choose between on and nous, remember that you will use on 90 percent of the time. The English pronoun “we” has two possible translations in French. On is used in speaking and informal writing, and nous is used in formal speech and writing. If I sent my friends a text, I would type, On va au ciné ?(Shall we go to the cinema?) But the French president would say Nous devons rester unis(We must stay united).

    Important

    Did you know? When we use on as the subject, the verb is conjugated in third person singular in most tenses, although it often refers to a group of people. So, you would say on mange to mean "we eat."

    But in compound tenses that use the auxiliary verb être(to be), an agreement between the French past participle and the subject in gender and number must take place. For example, in the following sentence, the past participle takes the plural mark -s:

    Hier, on est allés à la patinoire.

    Yesterday, we went to the ice rink.

    So, we have two forms of “we,” because on is informal and nous is formal. Now, why do you think we have two forms of “you”?

    How to use ‘tu’ and ‘vous’ in French?

    Use tu(you) in informal situations and vous(you) in formal contexts:

    • Use tu to address people informally: with your family, your friends, your colleagues, and with children. Children and young people use tu among themselves. Beware when random people in the street stop addressing you with tu, it's seen as a sign of aging!

      Marc, tu t’occupes d’organiser la réunion ?

      Marc, are you organizing the meeting?

      TipSound like a native!

      In informal speech, replace tu with t' when the verb starts with a vowel:

      T’as de la monnaie ?

      Do you have any change?

      T’es où ?

      Where are you?

      But remember not to use t' with an aspirated h (see above.)

    • Use vous:

      • to address people formally, e.g. to talk to someone with respect, like your teacher or your director, or to address a person you don’t know well, like your dentist or a shop assistant.

        Bonjour madame, est-ce que vous vendez des piles ?

        Good morning, madam, do you sell batteries?

      • to talk to a group of people, regardless of if they are your friends or people you don’t know.

        Jean et Nicolas, vous voulez un jus de fruit ?

        Jean and Nicolas, would you like a fruit juice?

      Important

      It is best to use vous when you meet an adult for the first time, because some people might get offended by too much familiarity. Your interlocutor will offer to switch to the informal tu by asking "On se tutoie ?" or “On peut se tutoyer ?”(Shall we use tu?)

    If you’d like a little more information on how to say “you” in French, take a look at this handy resource.

    So far, you’ve seen that on and tu are informal and nous and vous are formal. What do you think about ils and elles(they)?

    How to use ‘il(s)’ and ‘elle(s)’ in French?

    Use il(s) and elle(s) to say “he,” “she,” or “they.” Remember that nouns have a gender: masculine or feminine. Gender is the reason why we have two ways to say “they,” not formality! Here are the rules for using il, elle, ils and elles:

    Subject pronoun
    Type of noun it replaces
    (remember it can be a person, an animal, a place, or an object)
    Example

    il

    a masculine, singular noun

    un smartphone

    a smartphone

    mon père

    my father

    Marc

    Mark

    elle

    a feminine, singular noun

    la cuisine

    the kitchen

    une poule

    a hen

    Marie

    Mary

    ils

    a masculine plural noun

    les brocolis

    the broccolis

    les vélos

    the bikes

    a group of men

    les garçons

    the boys

    a group of men and women

    Sophie et ses frères

    Sophie and her brothers

    elles

    a feminine plural noun

    les photos

    the pictures

    les maisons

    the houses

    a group of women

    les filles

    the girls

    iel*
    (combination of il and elle)

    a person whose gender is nonbinary

    Iel aime ce groupe de musique.

    They like this band.

    *Did you know?

    Iel is very much seen on social media, although it is not yet officially recognized as a pronoun by the Académie Française (the institute which standardizes the French language). There are other, less common, forms of spellings used for iel. You can see them in this article.

    What are the French stressed pronouns?

    The French stressed pronouns are moi, toi, lui, elle, nous, vous, and elles. Stressed pronouns are used in French to refer to people and animals in order to add emphasis. There are specific instances in which a stressed pronoun will be required in French. For example, when I greet my English speaking friend with Bonjour, ça va ?(Hello, how is it going?), a reply I often hear is Oui, et tu? The correct answer should be Oui, et toi ?(Yes, and you?). Here, toi is a stressed pronoun. Let’s find out about the other stressed pronouns and how and when to use them.

    First, here are all of the French stressed pronouns, as well as their corresponding subject pronouns:

    Subject pronoun
    Corresponding stressed pronoun
    English

    je

    moi

    me

    tu

    toi

    you

    il

    lui

    him / it

    elle

    elle

    her / it

    on, nous

    nous

    us

    vous

    vous

    you

    ils

    eux

    them

    elles

    elles

    them

    Important

    Stressed pronouns refer to people and animals only. You cannot use a stressed pronoun for an object, place, idea, etc.

    Stressed pronouns can be used in the following contexts:

    • Adding emphasis is the main reason why you will use a stressed pronoun in French.

      Moi, je suis toujours à l’heure.

      (Me), I’m always on time.

      However, in English, you would not say “me, I…,” but you would put emphasis on “I” with the tone of your voice.

      Mais toi, tu es toujours en retard !

      But (you), you are always late!

    • List item content

      Did you know?

      Another name for stressed pronouns is “emphatic pronouns.”
      Emphatic → it emphasizes!

      Important

      If you combine the stressed pronoun with -même, you'll add even more emphasis.

      J’ai fabriqué cette maquette moi-même !

      I made this model myself!

    • After et(and) is another use of stressed pronouns that is important to know.

      Moi, ça va, et lui ?

      Me, I’m fine, and him?

      On a faim. Et eux ?

      We’re hungry. And them?

    • Stressed pronouns can also be used on their own, for example, when answering a question. How do you choose the correct pronoun? Think about who you want to describe and use the above table to help you. For example, if it is yourself, use moi(me). If it is a single man, use lui(him). Or if it is a group of women, use elles(them).

      Qui veut une barbe à papa? Moi !

      Who wants candy floss? Me!

      Qui sonne à la porte ? Lui !

      Who is ringing the doorbell? Him!

    • After the common French phrase c'est(it is):

      Coucou, c’est moi !

      Hiya, it’s me!

    • After être à, using stressed pronouns shows belonging.

      Cette trottinette est à lui.

      This scooter belongs to him.

      C’est à moi de jouer !

      It’s my turn to play!

    • After all prepositions in French, such as pour(for), chez(at), avec(with), or sans(without).

    • Stressed pronouns are used with French comparison words after que.

      • moins...que(less...than):

        Olivier est moins courageux qu’eux.

        Oliver is less brave than them.

      • plus...que(more...than):

        Rose est plus petite que lui.

        Rose is shorter than him.

      • autant...que(as...as):

        Ils sont aussi sportifs que nous.

        They are as sporty as us.

    • Use the stressed pronouns moi and toi in replacement of the object pronouns me and te in the French imperative mood.

      Donne-moi ce journal !

      Give me this newspaper!

    • Four ways to express agreement or disagreement with what someone said using stressed pronouns and the words aussi, non plus, pas, and si.

      Expression
      Use
      Example

      moi aussi

      me too

      You agree with a positive statement.

      – J’aime bien poster mes photos sur les réseaux sociaux.

      I like to post my photos on social networks.

      – Moi aussi !

      Me too!

      moi non plus

      me neither

      You agree with a negative statement.

      – Je n’aime pas les araignées.

      I don’t like spiders.

      Moi non plus !

      Me neither!

      pas moi

      not me

      You disagree with a positive statement.

      – J’adore la musique electro.

      I love electro music.

      Pas moi. Je préfère le rap.

      Not me. I prefer rap music.

      moi si

      I do

      You disagree with a negative statement.

      – Je n’ai jamais visité le musée du Louvre.

      I never visited the Louvre museum.

      Moi si.

      I have.

    The same rule applies to all stressed pronouns. For instance, lui aussi (him as well), nous non plus(we neither), pas eux(not them)

    Let's review what we've learned!

    Let’s recap

    When using French subject pronouns and stressed pronouns, remember these important points:

    • Use the subject pronouns to avoid repeating the subject of the sentence.

    • Je becomes j' in front of vowels and the letter h, except for cases where this is an aspirated h.

    • Use on when you speak, and keep nous for formal writing. If you speak to two people or more, or if you want to be polite and show respect to your elders, use vous(you) rather than tu(you).

    • Use il(s) and elle(s) to refer to people, animals, and things.

    • Use stressed pronouns in a variety of contexts. Most of the time, you will use them:

      • to emphasize the person you are talking about

      • to compare people

      • when telling people what to do

      • with prepositions like avec, sans, or chez, and after c'est.

    Want to practice? Now, you can try these exercises to practice French subject pronouns and stressed pronouns.

    Downloadable Resources

    Elevate your language-learning journey to new heights with the following downloadable resources.

    How to use subject pronouns and stressed pronouns in French~Verbs beginning with h TableHow to use subject pronouns and stressed pronouns in French~Activities

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