Replacing people with lui, leur = him, her, them (indirect object pronouns)

Tip: If the words "indirect object pronoun" strike horror and panic into your heart, scroll to the cartoon video in the examples explaining what indirect objects are. They're actually pretty easy to figure out. And of course, you can also have a look at our Jargon Busters at the bottom of the lesson!

Or, just learn by example.  Notice how lui and leur are used in these examples:

Je lui parle.
I'm speaking to him (or her)

Je leur demande où sont les WC.
I'm asking them where the toilets are.

Tu lui demandes quelque chose.
You're asking him (or her) something.

Il va leur téléphoner.
He's going to telephone them

Je lui téléphone.
I phone him/her.

-> Note here that in French we say téléphoner à quelqu'un (to telephone *to* someone), therefore using lui or leur as object pronouns.

Pour calmer mes enfants, je leur lis une histoire.
To soothe my children, I read them a story.
To soothe my children, I read a story to them.

-> Note that you say lire quelque chose à quelqu'un (to read something *to* someone), therefore using lui or leur as object pronouns.

 

ATTENTION

  • lui means either him OR her (depending on the context) and
  • leur means them, irrespective of the the group's gender.  

BUT we only use these words when the verb being used normally goes with à:

  • téléphoner à <quelqu'un> (to telephone <someone>)
  • demander à <quelqu'un> (to ask <someone>)

 

How and when to turn people into lui or leur (like magic...)

Look how these sentences change when specific people are replaced with pronouns:

Je parle à Paul. -> Je lui parle.
I'm speaking to Paul. -> I'm speaking to him.

Je demande à mes amis où sont les WC. -> Je leur demande où sont les WC.
I'm asking my friends where the toilets are. -> I'm asking them where the toilets are.

Il va téléphoner à ses parents. -> Il va leur téléphoner.
He's going to telephone his parents. -> He's going to telephone them.

In each case, the verb in the original sentence is followed by à, which disappears when the specified person is replaced by lui or leur, which also skips in front of the verb.  

When NOT to use lui and leur (indirect object pronouns)

Contrast this with the following example where the verb is not followed by à = appeler <quelqu'un>.


Il va appeler ses parents.  ->  Il va les appeler.
He's going to call his parents.  ->  He's going to call them.
We see here that instead of leur, les is used to say them. 
Lui and leur are only used with verbs usuallly followed by à.  Other pronouns are used for the other cases.
 
Grammar note: Remember verbs always have a subject (je/tu etc.) but only some have objects. Use object pronouns to replace nouns that are the object of the verb. Objects can be direct or indirect - they are indirect if separated from the verb by à

See also Position of direct and indirect object pronouns with negation 

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Tu lui demandes quelque chose.
You're asking him (or her) something.


Je leur demande où sont les WC.
I'm asking them where the toilets are.


Subject, verbs and objects (direct and indirect) MADE EASY!


Il va leur téléphoner.
He's going to telephone them


Pour calmer mes enfants, je leur lis une histoire.
To soothe my children, I read them a story.
To soothe my children, I read a story to them.


Je lui parle.
I'm speaking to him (or her)


Je lui téléphone.
I phone him/her.


Q&A

Robert

Kwiziq community member

21 March 2019

0 replies

The following link was sent to me which includes a longer explanation of verbes transitive Indirect

https://www.conjugaisonfrancaise.com/verbes/liste-verbes-transitifs-indirects.html

Marilyn

Kwiziq community member

11 February 2019

3 replies

Lui confusion

Hi, Ive just done the question 'What does Je lui parle mean? to which I answered I am speaking to him, and I am speaking to her (I ticked both boxes.) My answer was marked  nearly right but my understanding is that lui can refer to both him or her. Can you explain why it was marked this way please.

Alan

Kwiziq community member

11 February 2019

11/02/19

You're right, it can mean either. 

I imagine that somehow the system thinks you only ticked one box, and so you're only "nearly right". If you check the answers again, I think you'll find that you've supposedly only chosen one option.

Sometimes this seems to happen - even when I'm sure I've ticked both boxes, one doesn't register. Some kind of bug? 

Gruff

Kwiziq language super star

11 February 2019

11/02/19

HI Marilyn - sorry to hear this happened. 

In this case, only "I am speaking to her" was recorded as your given answer.

We have had a few reports of people saying they ticked more than one answer but only one registered.

We haven't yet been able to get to the bottom of this and we haven't been able to reproduce it unfortunately so whatever is causing it isn't obvious enough to fix yet. Please do keep an eye out for this in case it happens again and let us know.

Thanks.

Marilyn

Kwiziq community member

11 February 2019

11/02/19

Thank you, I thought it was odd, but that explains it. 

Dyrce

Kwiziq community member

12 January 2019

1 reply

What's the difference between "a tort" and est "tort"?

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

17 January 2019

17/01/19

Hi Dyrce,

There are  lots of expressions using the word ‘tort’ and without more context I can’t be more specific. 

E.g.

Avoir tort = To be wrong 

Être dans son tort = To be in the wrong 

Un tort = wrong/ an injury ( in a legal context)

Hope this helps!

Graham

Kwiziq community member

5 January 2019

1 reply

I'm doing the Making a Snowman writing challenge. How is a ball of snow a person that requires lui? (Girl was rolling a ball of snow to make a head)

Steve

Kwiziq community member

5 January 2019

5/01/19

Graham,

The "lui" represents the snowman, not the ball of snow:

Martine roulait une grosse boule pour lui faire une tête.

I agree that the text in isolation is ambiguous, but this has been clarified by a hint under the text:

Martine was rolling a big ball to make it a head.

HINT: "it" = le bonhomme de neige

[In English I think we would say "Martine was rolling a big ball to make him a head".]

 

Ben

Kwiziq community member

23 December 2018

0 replies

which are the eleven verbs where indirect object pronouns are not used quelqu'un quelq

Robin

Kwiziq community member

13 December 2018

3 replies

seems like a direct object, and not an indirect object

I used les because it seemed like a direct object to me.  So I could find helpful more clarity on why this is not a direct object in the sentence.  Thank you.

Gruff

Kwiziq language super star

13 December 2018

13/12/18

Hi Robin, what was the sentence? 

Robin

Kwiziq community member

13 December 2018

13/12/18

Thank you but never mind my question please.  I just re-read a lesson and since the verb required a preposition, that made the object indirect.  I should just read more before asking a question!

Gruff

Kwiziq language super star

14 December 2018

14/12/18

No worries! Yes, if the verb the requires a preposition when used with an ordinary noun then the object is indirect (I think of the preposition as getting in the way of the object and the verb, so it's not in 'direct' contact). It's also worth bearing in mind that we can't rely on English to tell us if it's indirect or direct. Many verbs that take direct objects in English take indirect objects in French and vice versa, so you need to think about the form in French used with a noun and then work from there. 

Hope that helps!

Livie

Kwiziq community member

5 December 2018

1 reply

In the phrase, "j'arrive à manger du riz", how does one rephrase it using the indirect object pronoun method. Since lui, leur refer to people.

Chris

Kwiziq community member

5 December 2018

5/12/18

J'arrive à manger du riz. -- I manage to eat rice.

Which noun do you want to replace with a pronoun? There is only "du riz". You can't replace manger du riz as a group with a pronoun since it is an action.

J'arrive à en manger. -- I manage to eat some.

Sandra

Kwiziq community member

21 September 2018

4 replies

In the video, the phrase "je donne une pomme à Paul" was given, but what would be the correct way of replacing that sentence with the pronouns?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

21 September 2018

21/09/18

Hi Sandra,

Je donne une pomme à Paul. -- Je lui en donne une. 

Shelley

Kwiziq community member

27 October 2018

27/10/18

Je la donne a lui

Rant

Kwiziq community member

17 November 2018

17/11/18

What about -- Je lui donne une pomme?

Robert

Kwiziq community member

26 February 2019

26/02/19

Would "Je la lui donne" work also?

Linda

Kwiziq community member

13 August 2018

2 replies

But lui is male ?? Should it not be her??

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

13 August 2018

13/08/18

Bonjour Linda !

Unfortunately, I don't know what specific sentence you're referring to, but in any case, note that "lui" can apply to either masculine or feminine = to him/to her :)

Bonne journée !

Shelley

Kwiziq community member

27 October 2018

27/10/18

lui is mâle or female

David

Kwiziq community member

6 August 2018

1 reply

"Le vent lui fouettait le visage"

Which of these two is correct, or are both correct. I expected that #2 is correct but it seems the Kwiziq writing challenges expect only #1. I can see both in use elsewhere on the web but I only understand the reasoning behind #2.

1. " Le vent lui fouettait le visage"

2. " Le vent fouettait son visage"

Isn't le/son visage the direct object?

Isn't the use of lui implying that there is an indirect object?

But fouetter does not use indirect objects, does it?

Are we supposed to look at this as:
Subject: The wind

Verb: whips

Direct object: the face

Indirect object: (of) him

But why? There is no "à" in this sentence "Le vent fouettait le visage de Marcel", only a "de".

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

10 August 2018

10/08/18

Bonjour David !

Actually, in this structure, the person is the indirect object:

Literally (and very clunkily), the sentence would be "Le vent fouettait le visage- à Marcel.". 
It's like the face and the person are two different entities in that structure:
"The wind whips the face to Marcel."

It sounds very weird, I completely agree with you, but this is definitely how such sentences are structured in French :)

Bonne journée !

Clever stuff underway!