Sometimes the preposition à is used with an indirect pronoun:

Je vais lui téléphoner.

Je leur ai demandé de m'aider.

Sometimes it is used with a tonic pronoun:

Je pense à elle.

Je crois qu'il s'intéresse à moi.

When I look up a dictionary, I can't distinguish between these two cases, because the entries are téléphoner à qn, penser à qn, etc.

Is there a way to tell if a certain verb should belong to one of the cases? For example, if I see the entry s'appliquer à qn, how can I know whether I should say

Cette règle ne s'applique pas à nous.


Cette règle ne nous s'applique pas.

I think it should be the first one, but I don't know a good rule to use to tell which one it should be.


2 Answers 2


I've found an interesting attempt to give a rule on this topic: http://forum.wordreference.com/threads/je-lui-parle-je-pense-%C3%A0-lui-pronom-indirect-conjoint-disjoint.812023/?hl=fr

Of course there are counterexamples. And counter-counterexamples. And other rules mixing with this one.

The explanation is:

  • When you can say verb + something + to someone, you use the indirect pronoun

  • When you can only say verb + to someone, you use the tonic pronoun (but not if it's verb + to something)

Parler de quelque chose à quelqu'un = Je lui parle de mon voyage Faire attention à quelqu'un = Je fais attention à lui Faire attention à quelque chose = J'y fais attention

Téléphoner à is one of the exceptions.

Now I don't know if there are too many exceptions to make this a rule.

  • Thanks. For s'appliquer à qn, it is Cette règle ne s'applique pas à nous, right?
    – user11550
    Dec 14, 2016 at 15:16
  • @user11550 Yes.
    – Destal
    Dec 14, 2016 at 16:57

I agree with Simon's comment : there is no rule, this is part of vocabulary learning, like for French people learning English, we need to learn weather a verb is transitive or not.

In french, verbs can be intransitive or transitive. But transitive verbs can be separated again between "transitifs directs" et "transitifs indirects". The first ones are followed by a "complément d'objet direct", so without the "à" préposition, and indirect transitives ones are followed by a "complément d'objet indirect", and require a préposition ("à" or "de").

Yeah... French is quite tricky ^^ As I heard recently, we can say that in French, every time there is a rule, there is an exception to this rule and an exception to this exception !

Here is a link for further information and exercices : http://la-conjugaison.nouvelobs.com/regles/grammaire/les-verbes-transitifs-et-intransitifs-152.php

  • 1
    Hum, this is not the question. The question is about intransitive verbs with the preposition à and why sometimes we use the indirect pronoun (me, te, lui, nous, vous, leur) and sometimes the preposition à with the tonic pronoun (à moi, à toi, à lui, à elle, à nous, à vous, à eux, à elles). Penser à quelqu'un = je pense à toi, parler à quelqu'un = je te parle.
    – Destal
    Dec 14, 2016 at 10:03
  • Hum exact, I see... even more tricky I guess. As expressed by user11550, there is this "feeling" of what sounds right...
    – Manu310
    Dec 14, 2016 at 10:09
  • Woops sorry, new to StackExchange, <Enter> sent the comment... I wanted to add that, again, I think it's part of vocabualry learning, like for English verbs say (to someone) and tell (someone) if I'm not mistaken... (or again with "hear something" and "listen to something") I may ignore it if it exists, but I don't think there is a rule in English for these examples others than knowing the expressions ?
    – Manu310
    Dec 14, 2016 at 10:16

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