I just noticed in even simple sentences the grammatical structures don't seem consistent. For example:

Vous aidez les autres.

Vous les aidez.

Why does 'you help others' and 'you help them' have the word order changed? They seem to be basically the same thing which is why they are the same in English.

I know its kind of pointless to ask really since languages only require you to become accustomed to them but I thought it was quite funny when I noticed this.

Also here:

Ils vous aident.

Ils aident les autres.

  • Ils aident les autres. There's no exception to the rule in your examples. The rule is that the direct object pronoun comes before the verb. When written in full, the direct object pronoun is usually after the verb, not always. It's true there are exceptions to the rules in French grammar, but it's the case in lots of languages.
    – None
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 6:05
  • There is effectively a lot of rules fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. Does it mean many particular cases or exceptions? Hard to say. Surely you can't think about all that when you're speaking. Usage and habit are the guideline.
    – lemon
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 7:41
  • Laurie, maybe its not an exception to a rule but its a strange rule that seems to make it different for no reason and reverses the words. Its like having a rule that states you go out every day except Thursday...its a rule but it has no real reason. But anyway this is just all entertainment, every language has weird stuff.
    – Hasen
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 13:43

1 Answer 1


The one sentence contains a noun, the other a pronoun, for the direct object.

French direct object pronouns, as well as others, are all clitics. See this answer for more detail.

In short, you can imagine that all the possible places a word can go in a sentence are like outlets and the various words are plugs (or whatever metaphor you prefer). A large plug can only fit in a large outlet and a small plug in a small outlet.

A noun phrase like les autres is a large plug. It carries new information. But a clitic like les that refers back to that is a small plug. It's hardly a complete word in the eyes of the grammar system. It only carries information that is already known and "rounds out" the verb's conjugation.

This may not be a very satisfying answer, but compare this behaviour with Spanish, a sister language, in phrases like ¿Puedes darmelo? The second word is actually three pieces: dar "give", me "to me", lo "it". "Can you give it to me?" But those two details -- give what? and to whom? -- are seen as less significant and are tacked onto the end of the verb like suffixes. French (and other languages) see those details the same way.

As for your question's original title... all languages are dense forests of rules and exceptions. :) Whether we say there are a few broad rules and a lot of exceptions, or we say there are a million precise rules and no exceptions, the situation is the same: lots of elements behaving in lots of different ways. Actually, no language has yet been completed mapped out by grammarians, despite decades of effort, e.g. in the generative grammar tradition that Noam Chomsky started. However, since this particular case is pretty consistent in French -- as Laure said, direct object pronouns come before the verb -- I think we can call it a rule, even if it's a perplexing one.

  • 1
    About the "why" in the question. Latin origin, with some explanations here: books.google.fr/…
    – lemon
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 13:35
  • Thanks for your explanation. You're right, every language has oddities, I just didn't expect it with something that appears constantly and that you will come across every time you hear the language. But like I said, language requires us to become accustomed to it is all. It could be analysed to death like you say but would serve no purpose.
    – Hasen
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 13:45
  • 1
    Great explanation. It's worth noting that some languages almost always put the object first, like Japanese, but the rule in question is also sometimes found in English: give it to me / give me that thing, etc. We just don't do it the same in all cases, and of course not in the case OP cited (they helped them / they helped the others). Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 13:36

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