I'm trying to better understand verb phrases with indirect objects. My starting point is that indirect object is usually marked with à, but à can also be "just a preposition", and the reliable way to tell a difference is to see whether the object can be replaced by an indirect object pronoun:

  • Je parle à Jean => Je lui parle (indirect object)
  • Je pense à Jean => *Je lui pense (NOT indirect object)
  • Je vais à Paris => *Je lui vais (NOT indirect object)

Apparently sometimes the same verb can sometimes use à to mark an indirect object, and other times use à "as a preposition":

  • J'envoie mes livres à Marie (indirect object)
  • J'envoie mes livres à Paris (NOT indirect object)


  1. Is the above correct? Is there a standard way to call phrases like "penser à Jean" or "envoyer à Paris", if they're not verbs with indirect objects?

  2. What prepositions can be used to introduce indirect objects? I thought it was only à, but then saw an example with "acheter pour" which apparently is also considered a verb taking an indirect object. Is there a fixed list of prepositions that can introduce indirect objects? In particular, can de ever introduce an indirect object?

  3. Is there a list of all verbs taking indirect objects, such that e.g. "donner à" and "parler à" are in it, but "penser à" and "aller à" are not? I understand that some very frequent verbs are such, e.g. donner and parler, but is it otherwise a large category of verbs, or a small set that can be usefully enumerated?

  • Je pense à Jean : indirect object => Je pense à lui. lui is a pronoun, and the associated question is "à qui je pense" to whom I'm thinking. / Je vais à Paris : not a indirect object, the associated question is Where do I go , Où vais-je ? Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 7:13
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    @EmmanuelBRUNO, but if we call "Je pense à Jean" an indirect object construction, then how do we understand the difference between "Je parle à Jean" and "Je pense à Jean"? In one case it's possible to say "Je lui parle", in the other it's impossible to say "*Je lui pense". If both are indirect objects, where does the difference come from? Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 7:21
  • It's about verbs being "transitifs" or not. It depends on the meaning you give to the verb : Je pense quelquechose (transitif direct) : quelquechose is what I think, it is the thought, the object (content) of the thought. Je pense à quelqu'un (transitif indirect) : quelqu'un is to whom (or to what) I think. It's not the thought itself but the subject of the thought. Finally, je pense (used as intransitif) describes the action, without saying neither the content nor the subject. Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 8:00
  • You can also use both : je pense quelquechose de quelqu'un with the preposition de introducing the indirect object (your question 2). Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 8:03
  • Som verbs are always intransitifs : je marche, I walk. You can't say I walk something or I walk of | at something. (you can say to or towards somewhere but then it's not object). And some verbs are always transitifs like dire, to say. You always say something, you can't just say I say. Finally, it's the same in french and english. Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 8:08

1 Answer 1


1. Je pense à Jean : à Jean is complément d'objet indirect, J'envoie à Paris : à Paris is complément circonstanciel de lieu (unless it's Paris Hilton)

2. Prepositions are more often à or de (je dépends de quelqu'un), but can also be pour, contre (je me bats contre lui), en (je crois en Dieu), sur (je compte sur toi), envers, avec (il est bon envers, avec moi)... (I hope everything is correct here, but people will correct me if not).

3. I think I finally got the answer :

  • There are verbs not pronominal and not transitive like courir. Here, no question.

  • Verbs not pronominal and transitive direct : like prendre. Je prends quelquechose => Je le/la prends. You can put a pronoun and it's le/la/les because the pronoun is put for the direct object.

  • Verbs that can be pronominal but only reflexive (self), like penser.

    • When used in its pronominal form, you can put a pronoun (of course) : me/te/se/nous/vous/se, reflexive pronouns. Je me pense comme quelqu'un de bien (a bit weird I admit)
    • Used in a not pronominal form as a transitive indirect verb, like in Je pense à Jean, je crois en Dieu, you can't put a pronoun.
    • Used in a not pronominal form and transitive direct : Je pense quelquechose, je crois ma femme, then you can put a pronoun : le/la/les (Je le pense, Je la crois...)
  • Verbs that can be reciprocal pronominal (each other), like (se) parler, (s')aimer, (se) rencontrer, can take a pronoun.

    • If the verb is transitive and the pronoun is put for the direct object it's le/la/les : je rencontre les gens : je les rencontre, j'aime Jean : je l'aime. (l' being a form of le).
    • If the verb is not transitive, the pronoun is put for the indirect object, then the pronoun is lui/leur : je parle à Jean => Je lui parle, je parle à mes parents => je leur parle, etc...
    • Finally if the verb is transitive BUT also has an indirect object : J'écris une lettre à mes parents, then it depends on what the pronoun is put for. If it's for the direct object, it's l'/le/la/les : Cette lettre, je l'écris à mes parents, and if it's for indirect object, it's lui/leur : Je leur écris une lettre. And wait, just for fun, you can use both : Je la leur écris.

Who said french is not simple ? Is it not wonderful ?

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