Table of Contents
- §45-48. Commentary
- Essential Word Review II pp83-85
§45. Object Pronouns
So, yes, it is true: in French pronoun objects normally go in front of the verb.
When we say “the verb” here, we mean: the personal, conjugated verb. So, in a compound-tense verb, the pronoun object(s) will go in front of the auxiliary. Thus:
|simple tense (present)||compound tense (passé composé)|
|Nous les regardons.
(We observe them.)
|Nous les avons regardés.1
(We observed them.)
Negative particles wrap around all pronoun objects as well as the personal (conjugated) verb:
|simple tense||compound tense|
|Nous ne les regardons pas.
(We don’t observe them.)
|Nous ne les avons pas regardés.
(We didn’t observed them.)
Two “exceptions” to the above rule of order. First, imperatives (command forms). To make an (affirmative) imperative out of an ordinary statement, you remove the pronoun subject, and you place any pronoun objects behind the verb.
|Nous les regardons.
(We observe them.)
(Let’s observe them!)
|Vous les regardez.
(You observe them.)
For more on the command forms, see the Language File The Imperative Mood.
The second exception is when you have a main verb and a dependent infinitive. In this case, most often pronoun objects go in front of the dependent infinitive.
- Nous aimons les regarder. (We like to observe them.)
- Nous hésitons à les regarder. (We hesitate to observe them.)
- Nous essayons de les regarder. (We try to observe them.)
(Note that, in the latter two cases, the prepositions à and de do not contract with the form les. )
The pronouns Stack presents here are all “personal” pronouns. “Personal” here does not mean persons as opposed to things, but the three persons: first (the one speaking), second (the one spoken to), and third (the one spoken about). In English, “it” is a personal pronoun (except when it is a mere place-holder). “You” can also be a thing (if somebody addresses it), and “I/me” can be a thing (in fairy stories).
There are also two non-personal pronoun forms that Stack will introduce later: y and en. They also precede the verb.
All these pronoun forms are “conjunctive,” which is to say that they are “conjoined” to the verb. Coming before the verb, they form a unit with it; they cannot be specially emphasized. (Pronoun subjects are also conjunctive forms, for the same reason.) When a pronoun must occur apart from the verb, special forms are used, called “disjunctive.”
§46. Case of Personal Pronouns
Me, te, nous, vous, and se (1st-person, 2nd-person, and reflexive 3rd-person) can be either direct object or indirect object:
- Direct object: Il me déteste. (He hates me.)
- Indirect object: Il me parle. (He speaks to me.)
Third-person pronoun objects distinguish between direct object (le la les) and indirect object (lui leur).
- Direct object: Il la déteste. Il le déteste. Il les déteste. (He hates her, him, them.)
- Indirect object: Il lui parle. Il leur parle. (He speaks to hurrim. He speaks to them.)
§47. Order of Two Pronoun Objects
You can have as many as two personal pronoun objects in front of the verb. When that happens, one of the pronouns will be a direct object, and one an indirect object. You will always be able to tell which is which, because one and only one of the two will be le, la, or les, which are clearly direct object forms.
- Il me les donne. (He gives them to me.)
- Il les leur donne. (He gives them to them.)
For a table showing the proper order of any and all object pronouns, see this page at LanguageGuide.org.
§48A. Compound Tenses: the Passé Composé
At long last, Stack “formally” “introduces” the passé composé here (in §48C), and even now spends precious little time on it. It is, however, the most important of the compound tenses (not that you can do without any of them).
Passé composé indicates a finished action (and “finished” means completely accomplished, not merely interrupted), OR a change of state (when something begins or ends).
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, this tense was restricted to functioning rather like our present perfect (“I have spoken”), but gradually became the usual tense in conversation for any action, the completion of which one wants to emphasize.
In formal written French, the passé simple was and sometimes still is the preferred tense for this purpose (to indicate completed or “perfect” aspect).
But in the course of the twentieth century, the passé composé began to appear even here. Nowadays you may find both tenses (serving the same function) in the same text.
Usually the correct translation for a verb in the passé composé is the English simple past. If that doesn’t sound right, try the present perfect.
Translating the Passé Composé into English
→ 1 “I spoke”
→ 2 “I have spoken”
§48B. The Verb Être
Well, it’s a very important verb, and you need to be completely familiar with all its forms. Complete paradigm is found in Appendix B, pages 190-92. The same can easily be had on the web, for instance at WordReference.com.
§48C. The House of Être
Most verbs are conjugated with avoir.
“Transitive” verbs (those that can take a direct object) are always conjugated with avoir. They can of course be put into the passive voice, in which case être is used with the past participle of the “meaning” verb.
|Active Voice||Passive Voice|
|Il observe l’échantillon.
(He observes the specimen.)
|L’échantillon est observé.
(The specimen is observed.)
(Note that the tense in both the above cases is the present.)
However, a special group of intransive verbs, not in the passive, always use the auxiliary être to form compound past tenses, rather than avoir. They consist of:
1) verbs indicating movement in a certain direction (not just movement tout court, or kind of movement):
entrer, sortir, arriver, partir, etc.
2) verbs indicating a passage from one state to another:
- naître (Passage into this world from…?)
- mourir (passage out of this world into…?)
- devenir (passage from any state to a different state)
3) lastly, a single verb, indicating non-movement or non-passage (at a point when movement or passage was possible)
- Elle n’est pas sortie; elle est restée à la maison.(She didn’t go out; she stayed at home.)
- Elle n’est pas devenu riche; elle est restée pauvre. (She didn’t get rich; she stayed poor.)
For the whole story on verbs conjugated with être, see the Language File House of Being Verbs.
§48D. Other Compound Tenses
Stack throws (almost) all the other compound tenses at you here. And why not?
For a more attractive table of these same tenses (and more!), together with their correct names in French and English, see The Other Compound Tenses.
Remember that always (except in one very special case that I don’t want you to think about now and perhaps ever) the passé composé is translated as a simple past or a present perfect, never as a pluperfect:
|J’ai couru.||“I ran, I have run.”|
Only the pluperfect should be translated as a pluperfect!
|J’avais couru.||“I had run.”|
The matter is so important I’m putting it in a rule box.
Only a pluperfect should be translated as a pluperfect.
1. We are examining this case. We find (are finding) it complicated.
2. The newspaper describes the accident. It describes it in detail.
3. The professor is explaining his theories to the students. He explains it to them patiently.
4. The dervish will give the camels to the three sons. He will give them to them according to their father’s formula.
5. The minister will present his project to us tomorrow. He will present it to us at 2 o’clock.
6. The students give (hand in) their homework to the teacher. They turn them in to him before leaving the (class)room.
7. If I see Marie, I will tell her the news. If I run into Pierre, I will tell it to him. (CONDITIONAL SENTENCE TYPE 1.)
8. When I finish (Literally: will have finished) the report, I will give it to you right away.
9. I won’t give it to you before checking it.
10. If Jean knew the answer, he would tell it to me. (CONDITIONAL SENTENCE TYPE 2.)
11. It was at the beginning of 1975 that the supersonic airplane Concord was placed in service between Paris and New York.
I call this C’est… que… formation the Isolating-Emphasizing Construction. Note that I translate the present-tense est as “was.”
12. A person who witnessed the disaster of the French fleet at Aboukir described it to us.
13. Is this machine necessary? Yes, it is (necessary).
14. The king looked (was looking) at the astrologer. He didn’t find him likeable, but he didn’t tell him so.2
15. Oxygen is essential for the crew’s breathing; you must give them some3 on board the submarine.
16. The director arrived at the entrance of (“before”) the building. He went up to the fourth floor; then he went in to his office.
17. The IBM programmer arrived at the airport around 10:00 a.m.
18. He took a taxi to go to the hotel. He got out of the taxi in front of the Lutetia Hotel.
19. The engineers stayed in Paris for three days. They have already left.
20. The student returned to the library, where she remained for one hour.
21. Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was completed in 1245. It had been begun in 1163.
22. This event having occurred, the other will occur.
For the form étant in number 22 consult, if you will, The -Ant Form of the Verb. The complete verb form, étant arrivé, is what we call, in English, a “present perfect participle.”
23. Napoleon was born in Corsica but he died at Saint Helena in 1821.
24. The door is closed; somebody shut it before midnight.
25. If the general had had (the) time, he would have stayed longer. (CONDITIONAL SENTENCE TYPE 3.)
26. The mechanic got up at six am; he got dressed. Then, he left the house and went by car to his work.
Atomic Submarines p80
If your field is not in the sciences you might give this reading a pass.
 The first applications of moveable (Or, of course: “mobile.”)) nuclear reactors will certainly be of importance for4 ship propulsion, and first of all for submarine propulsion.
 The chief advantage to be expected5 from them is an almost unlimited radius of action without fuel replenishment and without oxygen consumption.
 A submarine could continue submerged6 for a very long time without coming to the surface, so long as7 you provided the crew with enough oxygen to breathe and removed8 the additional carbon dioxide they exhaled – both problems that were solved a long time ago.
 problèmes résolus il y a longtemps – Literally, “problems solved a long time ago.” il y a as a temporal expression the Author speaks of in Chapter 12 §67C. — You will note that I have transformed the adjective phrase beginning résolus into a relative clause, as if the French text were problèmes qui ont été résolus il y a longtemps. French descriptive adjectives, and particularly participles, can have particular weight, because they come after the noun rather than before it, and because they receive so much intonational emphasis; occasionally, translating them simply as adjectives may not convey all their importance.
 The water around the hull of a submarine provides a very effective natural protection against radiation (“rays”).  Only the partition between the nuclear reactor and its adjoining parts, on the one hand, and the rest of the ship, on the other, will need (an) appropriate shielding. (will have to receive…)  In harbor, the ship will need (to have available) specially built shelters and docks.
 The replenishment of partially burned fuel will be made easier by the fact that one can9 submerge the cylinders intended for purification either in receptacles in the ports, or at sea at certain well-marked points where the salvage teams will come to get them.
 Two prototypes of propulsive installations for submarines are being studied in the United States, one by General Electric at Knolls Laboratory, the other by Westinghouse, in collaboration with Argonne Laboratory at the Arco Center in Idaho.  The first is to use an intermediate-neutron reactor with cooling by means of a molten metal.10
 The second, of which construction has (already) begun, will use slow neutrons and probably helium for the cooling of the reactor.  The cost of developing the prototype is estimated at 26 million dollars.
The Sea p81
 The surface of the earth is composed of great land masses called continents, and great water basins called seas.  To tell the truth there is only one single sea that reaches from one pole to the other, covering about three quarters of the earth’s surface.  For convenience11 this sea has been divided into several sections to which different names have been given.  The outer seas, which surround the continents and islands, are distinguished from the inner or mediterrannean seas, which are contained between the continents, but which nevertheless communicate with the outer sea by means of a portion of water pressed12 between two land areas, and which, depending on the countries, is called “narrows,” “strait,” “channel,” or “arm.”
 The sea penetrates into certain bodies of land and forms indentations there that are called gulfs or bays, when they have a certain size; if they are of a smaller size suitable for13 sheltering vessels, they take the name of port, harbor, cove, or [I’ve run out of words].
 Sea water contains rock salt14 (sodium chloride), sodium sulfate, calcium chloride, and magnesium chloride.
 The color of the sea varies a great deal; it is bottle-green in (the part of) the Atlantic that bathes the coasts of France, Holland, and Germany; blue in the Mediterranean and in high altitudes, especially when it [scil., the sea] is calm.  In the Gulf of Guinea the sea is white, bright red in the Gulf of California, and black in the approaches to the Maldives.  The Black Sea deserves its name on a stretch of the coasts of southern Russia.
 When the sea is phosphorescent, its entire surface appears to be on fire.  This phenomenon, caused by the presence of various protozoans and noctilucæ, occurs commonly in the seas of warm countries, where one sees it in all its beauty; however, it can also be observed in the high latitudes.
 The sea is crisscrossed in all directions by currents.  In the Atlantic, the largest is the Gulf Stream, which, beginning at the Gulf of Mexico, continues to the North Cape and Spitzberg, to which it carries fruits and wood from tropical America.  It divides15 into various branches, one of which, larger than all the others, climbs back down the western coast of Africa.
 sillonnée – Literally, “furrowed.” Un sillon = “a furrow.” Dans le sillon de = “in the wake of.” This last expression can be used with the sense of “following in the footsteps of.”
 de toutes parts – Can also be translated “on all sides” or “from all sides.” Please learn: d’une part… d’autre part… = “on the one hand… on the other hand.” Also: Je viens de la part de X = “X said I should get in touch with you.”
 Sometimes the sea is completely calm.  When the wind blows, the length and height of its waves vary according to the strength of the wind, the proximity and the form of the continents.  The highest waves ever observed do not seem to have exceeded twenty meters.  However, a giant wave the height of which exceeded thirty-four meters was observed in 1933.
The Stranger p82
You might consider letting Albert Camus’s l’Étranger be the first novel you read all the way through in French. It has these advantages: 1. Rather famously, it uses passé composé as its chief narrative tense, rather than passé simple, and in other ways the syntax is mostly quite simple. 2. It tells a compelling story.
 I worked hard all week; Raymond came and told me he had sent the letter.  I went to the movies twice with Emmanuel, who doesn’t always understand what is happening on the screen.  So then you have to give him explanations. Yesterday was Saturday, and Marie came.  We took a bus and went a few miles from Algiers, on a beach squeezed between rocks and bordered with reeds on the landward side.
 ce qui se passe – Again, the indefinite relative pronoun: ce qui = “that which” = “what.”
 This morning, Marie stayed and I told her that we would lunch together. I went out16 to buy meat.
 In front of the door, we talked with Raymond, and then we decided to take the bus. The beach wasn’t far, but we would go quicker that way.  Raymond thought that his friend would be glad to see us get there early.  We were about to leave when Raymond motioned to me to look across the street. I saw a group of Arabs leaning against the storefront of a tobacco-store.17  They were watching us in silence. We walked towards the bus stop, which was a little farther, and Raymond informed me that the Arabs were not following us.  I turned back. They were still there, in the same place, and they were looking with the same indifference at the spot we had just left.
If you are interested in the question of Aspect in French Past Tenses, a good exercise is to go over the verbs of this passage and answer for yourself why those in passé composé are in passé composé, and those in imparfait are in imparfait.
Essential Word Review II pp83-85
To the Author’s list I add the following notes:
- arriver = a. to arrive, b. to happen, c. to manage to do something
- For the second meaning, “to happen,” a synonym is the pronominal verb se passer.
- chercher – To its basic meaning you can add that of chercher à + infinitive = “to try to (infinitive).” It is one of three French verbs with this meaning:
- chercher à: Elle cherche à oublier sa vie passée. (She is trying to forget her past life.)
- essayer de: J’essaie de gagner ma vie. (I’m trying to earn my living.)
- tenter de: Nous avons tenté de l’assassiner à plusieurs reprises. (We tried to murder him on several occasions.)
- comprendre = 1. to understand, 2. to include, 3. to sympathize with. With regard to sense 3,
- Je vous comprends can mean: “I sympathize with you, I understand your situation, the problems you are having to deal with.”
- compréhensif can have either of the last two meanings: 2. “comprehensive,” or 3. “understanding.”
- Il faut comprendre, il faut être compréhensif. (You’ve got to understand, you’ve got be understanding.)
- demander never means “to demand” (almost never). For that, French has:
- exiger = “to demand, to insist on.”
- devoir – The Author will present this verb in more detail in Chapter 11. I have a Language File on it, which you will consult later, if not today.
- prendre – A much used verb. The Author gets to it in the next chapter, at which time I will send you the French Language topic Prendre.
- sortir – The Author gets to the conjugation of verbs like this one in Chapter 16 §84. Here is what I have to say about this verb: Sortir.
- tenir à – The Author presented the verb tenir in Chapter 5 §37.
- voir – The Author will present this verb in Chapter 10 §58.
- endroit – Of the three French nouns meaning place, this one, un endroit, is the most commonly used. The two others are un lieu and une place. Un lieu tends to be used chiefly literally, for physical location in space (except for in au lieu de = “instead of” and avoir lieu = “to take place”). Be careful with la place, which cannot be used interchangeably with English “place.” Its basic meaning is: “a portion of space that can be physically occupied.” The meanings of une place include:
- “a seat” one can reserve, in a train, a theater, etc.
- another person’s shoes. Mettez-vous à ma place! (Put yourself in my shoes!)
- room in which one can fit something. Y a-t-il encore de la place? (Is there any room left?)
- town square (i.e., public open space in a city).
- le sens – This noun has three important meanings. 1) meaning; 2) direction (of the compass); 3) one of the five senses. The final s is always pronounced: [sɑ̃s].
- le temps – Better learn the different uses of the various French words for “time.”
- le temps – The most general word. Time as duration. Also: the weather.
- la fois – Time as repetition.
- heure, f. – Time of the clock.
- même – Review its meanings here if you need to.
- moyen(ne) – It is an adjective as well as a noun (le moyen = the means).
- l’homme moyen = “the average man”
- noun: la moyenne = the average.
- où versus ou – On the use of the grave accent to help distinguish words that are otherwise identically similar, see the French Language topic Grave Accent.
- chez – In addition to “at the place of activity of” and “in the home of,” it can also mean “in the country of” and “in the works of.”
- en effet – The expressions deserves a death mark (†), since it means something very different from English “in effect.” Similarly,
- effectivement does not mean “effectively,” but the same as en effet: “in fact.”
- si adverb must not be confused with si conjunction. See the Language File Si, the Many Meanings of.
- vers has two meanings: 1) towards; 2) around (a certain time or place).
- The past participle is here agreeing with the preceding direct object. See the French Language topic Agreement with Preceding DO.
- Literally, il ne le lui dit pas = “He didn’t say it to him.” dit is in either simple past or historical present.
- In Il faut leur en fournir, en is the pronominal adverb. It is standing in for the partitive noun phrase de l’oxygène = “(some) oxygen.”
- The verb here is intéresser; neither of the meanings the Author gives in the glossary (“interest; concern”) works well here. Perhaps “involve” would do.
- escompté = “expected”; “the chief advantage expected.”
- naviguer. sail? swim? nagivate?
- N’oublions pas!
- fixer = “fixed, attached,” i.e., got the carbon dioxide settled down somewhere out of the air being breathed.
- “can” = pourra = “will be able to.”
- ??? I have yet to have someone explain to me how metal in a molten state can be used to cool something. — Fondu can also, when referring to metal, mean cast, i.e., metal that was once molten and allowed to cool in a particular shape.
- Literally, Pour plus de commodité = “for greater (more) convenience.” Learn this faux ami: commode = “convenient.”
- resserrée = “constricted”
- My attempt to deal with d’une étendue assez peu considérable pour offrir un abri, which I find extraordinarilly awkward.
- Also known as “table salt.”
- I would have said “it branches,” but the noun branches was coming up.
- Je suis descendu. In France and its colonies, people live in apartments above the ground floor; hence, to go out you have to go down.
- The French word is tabac, for which “tobacco shop” is a very inadequate translation.