This is just a small detail, but I came across this whilst I was practising some French.

The question is about the part in bold of this sentence (just for example): Edit changed lui to le due to comment from @Simon Dugré

pourriez-vous le contacter, autrement il sera triste.

A translation would be "could you contact him, otherwise he will be sad'. However, couldn't this also mean "it will be sad"? In this context, both would work, however, what would you do if you wanted to specifically address "he"?

My question is, how can you differentiate between "he" and "it" (the same goes for elle) in a sentence? Thank you in advance!

  • 1
    In your case, it is much more "pourriez-vous le contacter, autrement il sera triste." instead of "lui" Jun 30, 2015 at 17:51
  • @SimonDugré but aren't I saying "could you contact him"? Sorry, I only just learned objects so I am not very good with them!
    – 13509
    Jun 30, 2015 at 17:52
  • 1
    Yeah, I think it's a commun error of trying to translate word per word from english to french. The correct way is : "Pourriez-vous le contacter [...]" I probably do the same kind of mistake when talking in english ;) Jun 30, 2015 at 17:58
  • I do not have a correct way to explain why it's more "il" instead of "lui" for "him" to @parkgatedev, maybe someone can help me on this? It will be better than "Because it is like that" answer. Jun 30, 2015 at 18:16
  • @SimonDugré after a bit of research I figured out it was to do with direct and indirect objects and I had simply got them muddled up. You are saying - can you contact him, not can you contact to him, so the direct object is needed
    – 13509
    Jun 30, 2015 at 18:29

2 Answers 2


There is actually a distinction whether you want to imply the man will be sad or that the resulting situation would be a sad one

Could you contact him, otherwise he will be sad

Could be translated as you stated :

Pourriez-vous le contacter, autrement il sera triste.

Or, the one I prefer using "sinon" (a conjunction) instead of "autrement" (an adverb):

Pourriez-vous le contacter, sinon il sera triste.

On the other side, assuming this is correct English,

Could you contact him, otherwise it will be sad

Could be translated to:

Pourriez-vous le contacter, sinon cela sera triste.

Edit: as suggested by SG "cela" could be replaced by "ce" or even "ça" for lesser and lesser formality.

I find that one using that form less elegant though, but the more elegant way I think of is to complicated for me to explain. I give it anyway but I can't provide much more grammatical insight about it :

Il serait dommage que vous ne le contactiez pas.

Which I would translate to:

It would be sad that you don't contact him.

Hope this helps, sorry I can't be more "technical" about the whole stuff :-)

  • 2
    I would rather use ce than cela in this example. Cela makes the sentence slighly too solemn… Jun 30, 2015 at 20:38

"He" is related to a person itself. In french, we also use it to talk about an animal or anything which is alive. I know you guys in english much often use "it" to define an animal with the exception for pets... sometimes.

And "it" is related to something, an object, something which is not alive.

In the example you gave, it will then be "He" because we know you are talking about someone and not an object.


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