These two phrases never cease to confuse me. I always say:

  • Je les ai envoyeur mon message
  • Je les ai dit de ne pas me perturber
  • Je les avais fait comprendre la phrase ...

So on so forth. I can not distinguish when it is appropriate to use "Je leur ai...".

For me, "Je les ai.." sounds a lot similar in meaning to "I ... them"

Is there some sort of mnemonical solution to understand their use-cases?

  • To correct your 3 sentences, which are wrong : «Je leur ai envoyé mon message», «Je leur ai dit de ne pas me perturber», «Je leur avais fait comprendre la phrase» – Random Oct 14 '15 at 9:02
  • In English, "them" (as in "I sent them my message") can be an indirect object. In French, it's leur. Them sometimes is a direct object in English, as in "I gave them back to you yesterday." Then it is les in French. – Fuhrmanator Oct 18 '15 at 20:21

First, let me correct the phrases you mentioned:

  • Je leur ai envoyé mon message
  • Je leur ai demandé de ne pas me perturber
  • Je leur avais fait comprendre la phrase

Now, let's come back to your question: you are confused with leur and les.

There is one simple rule that makes a huge difference between them and which will help you to distinguish definitely between them:

  1. Remember that leur is the plural of lui. It always has the role of complément d'objet indirect.
  2. Les plays always the role of complément d'objet direct. Examples:
    • Je les ai mangés: I have eaten them
    • Elle les a oubliées: She has forgotten them
  • Nice explanation! This is off-topic, but I notice that with “leur”/coi there’s no agreement/accord with compound verbs, but with “les”/cod there is. Is the extra “e” in oubliées there because the cod “les” is replacing multiple feminine things (this is my guess) or is it somehow related to the feminine subject (Elle)? Also ( and even further off-topic, please forgive me), in “Je les ai envoyé(?**s**?)+ infinitive [chier, par exemple!] (where it seems that “envoyer” doesn’t require a oi/coi), should there be agreement with ‘les’=envoyé[e]**s**? Thanks! – Papa Poule Oct 14 '15 at 15:38
  • 1
    Your question is on topic, do not worry. Nice that you noticed oubliées : yes, I supposed she has forgotten lot of feminine things as you said :) It does not refer to Elle. I did it by intention to highlight you the idea of COD when it comes to les. For 2nd question: we say envoyées or envoyés depending on what you sent: feminine things then use the first, but use the last for masculine things – user6768 Oct 14 '15 at 15:44

There's no mnemonic - it's a question of whether the French verb needs à. Envoyer and dire do - envoyer quelque chose à qqun and dire quelque chose à qqun, so your first two are wrong. The correct grammar is

Je leur ai envoyé...

Je leur ai dit...

But the causative doesn't take à unless there's also a direct object. So je leur ai fait comprendre la phrase but je les ai fait comprendre.

  • Il faut toujours envisager le contexte : Dire quelque chose à quelqu'un, c'est lui parler ; à désigne un mouvement vers -- Dire quelque chose de quelqu'un, c'est parler de cette personne à une autre personne ; de désigne un mouvement à partir de. – Personne Oct 13 '15 at 17:09
  • This is a good example. I will see if I get more of the same before I accept it. So, for example, if I was to use the word reconter, since it is used as raconter qqun this means, the right form to use would be Je les ai ranconte? – samayo Oct 13 '15 at 17:40
  • No, once again, it's raconter qqchose à qqun, so Je leur ai raconté. Here's an example with les: Je les ai écoutés because in French it's écouter not "écouter à." – lkl Oct 13 '15 at 18:02
  • 1
    Its simply a matter of knowing which verbs use «à», which «de», which both, or which sometimes. For a learner, sometimes memorization helps but the real key is practice and correct practice. After 4 years of french, «je les ai envoyé mon message» hits my eat funny. I gave my message them? To them, thus «je leur ai ...» – D. Ben Knoble Oct 13 '15 at 18:36
  • 1
    Pour la troisième phrase, le modèle est plutôt faire comprendre qqchose à qq'un, donc l'exemple est erroné: on dit plutôt "je leur avais fait comprendre la phrase". – biozic Oct 13 '15 at 20:05

Rule of thumb (the other answers are more complete and will also explain the why):

Je leur ai fait une faveur. = I made them a favor. = I made a favor to them.
Mes devoirs, je les ai faits. = My homework, I did it. = I did to my homework.

If you are speaking of something receiving the action (COI, see Begueradj's answer), then you will use leur. If the pronoun is the object of the action (COD, same answer), then you will use les.

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