Easy Learning French

Personal pronouns: subject - Easy Learning Grammar French

What is a subject pronoun?
A subject pronoun is a word such as I, he, she and they, which performs the action expressed by the verb. Pronouns stand in for nouns when it is clear who is being talked about, for example, My brother isn’t here at the moment. He’ll be back in an hour.

1 Using subject pronouns

  • Here are the French subject pronouns:
SingularMeaningPluralMeaning
je (j’)Inouswe
tu or vousyouvousyou
ilhe
it
ilsthey (masculine)
elleshe
it
ellesthey (feminine)
onone
(we/you/they)
 
Je pars en vacances demain.I’m going on holiday tomorrow.
Nous habitons à Nice.We live in Nice.
Tipje changes to j’ in front of words beginning with a vowel, most words beginning with h, and the French word y.
J’arrive!I’m just coming!
Bon, j’y vais.Right, I’m off.

2 tu or vous?

  • In English we have only one way of saying you. In French, there are two words: tu and vous. The word you use depends on:
  • whether you are talking to one person or more than one person
  • whether you are talking to a friend or family member, or someone else
  • If you are talking to one person you know well, such as a friend, a young person or a relative, use tu.
Tu me prêtes ce CD?Will you lend me this CD?
  • If you are talking to one person you do not know so well, such as your teacher, your boss or a stranger, use vous.
Vous pouvez entrer.You may come in.
TipIf you are in doubt as to which form of you to use, it is safest to use vous and you will not offend anybody.
  • If you are talking to more than one person, you have to use vous, no matter how well you know them.
Vous comprenez, les enfants?Do you understand, children?
  • Note that the adjectives you use with tu and vous have to agree in the feminine and plural forms.
Vous êtes certain, Monsieur Leclerc? (masculine singular)Are you sure, Mr Leclerc?
Vous êtes certains, les enfants? (masculine plural)Are you sure, children?
Grammar Extra!Any past participles (the form of the verb ending in -é, -i or -u in French) used with être in tenses such as the perfect also have to agree in the feminine and plural forms.
Vous êtes partie quand, Estelle? (feminine singular)When did you leave, Estelle?
Estelle et Sophie – vous êtes parties quand? (feminine plural)Estelle and Sophie – when did you leave?

3 il/elle and ils/elles

  • In English we generally refer to things (such as table, book, car) only as it. In French, il (meaning he, it) and elle (meaning she, it) are used to talk about a thing, as well as about a person or an animal. You use il for masculine nouns and elle for feminine nouns.
Il est déjà parti.He’s already left.
Elle est actrice.She’s an actress.
Il mord, ton chien?Does your dog bite?
Prends cette chaise. Elle est plus confortable.Take this chair. It’s more comfortable.
  • il is also used to talk about the weather, the time and in certain other set phrases, often in the same way as some phrases with it in English.
Il pleut.It’s raining.
Il est deux heures.It’s two o’clock.
Il faut partir.We/You have to go.
  • ils (meaning they) and elles (meaning they) are used in the plural to talk about things, as well as about people or animals. Use ils for masculine nouns and elles for feminine nouns.
Ils vont appeler ce soir.They’re going to call tonight.
‘Où sont Anne et Rachel?’ – ‘Elles sont à la piscine.’‘Where are Anne and Rachel?’ – ‘They’re at the swimming pool.’
‘Est-ce qu’il reste des billets?’ – ‘Non, ils sont tous vendus.’‘Are there are any tickets left?’ – ‘No, they’re all sold.’
‘Tu aimes ces chaussures?’ – ‘Non, elles sont affreuses!’‘Do you like those shoes?’ – ‘No, they’re horrible!’
  • If you are talking about a masculine and a feminine noun, use ils.
Que font ton père et ta mère quand ils partent en vacances?What do your father and mother do when they go on holiday?
‘Où sont le poivre et la moutarde?’ – ‘Ils sont déjà sur la table.’‘Where are the pepper and the mustard?’ – ‘They’re already on the table.’

4 on

  • on is frequently used in informal, everyday French to mean we.
On va à la plage demain.We’re going to the beach tomorrow.
On y va?Shall we go?
  • on can also have the sense of someone or they.
On m’a volé mon porte-monnaie.Someone has stolen my purse.
On vous demande au téléphone.There’s a phone call for you.
Tipon is often used to avoid a passive construction in French.
On m’a dit que tu étais malade.I was told you were ill.
  • You can also use on as we use you in English when we mean people in general.
On peut visiter le château en été.You can visit the castle in the summer.
D’ici on peut voir les côtes françaises.From here you can see the French coast.
TipThe form of the verb you use with on is the same as the il/elle form.
  • For more information on Verbs, see .
Key points
  • The French subject pronouns are: je (j’), tu, il, elle, on in the singular, and nous, vous, ils, elles in the plural.
  • To say you in French, use tu if you are talking to one person you know well or to a young person. Use vous if you are talking to one person you do not know so well or to more than one person.
  • il/ils (masculine singular/plural) and elle/elles (feminine singular/plural) are used to refer to things, as well as to people or animals. il is also used in certain set phrases.
  • If there is a mixture of masculine and feminine nouns, use ils.
  • on can mean we, someone, you, they, or people in general. It is often used instead of a passive construction.

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