I am reading Discours de la méthode. Here is the first sentence I encountered in the text.

Si ce discours semble trop long pour être lu en une fois, on le pourra distinguer en six parties.

I tried to translate it into English as

If this discourse seems too long for being read in once, one can distinguish it in six parts.

I don't see how that "le" works.

1 Answer 1


It is just an outdated usage to place the direct object pronoun in front of the first verb. Nobody does that any more.

In 21st French we would write:

  • ... on pourra le distinguer en six parties.

According to Grevisse (Le bon usage) this was frequent (but not systematic) until the 17th c. when there were two verbs, the second being in the infinitive (this is the case here). Examples they give:

D'autres aiment la vie je la dois haïr. (Corneille)

On nous veut attraper. (La Fontaine)

Grevisse gives some examples until the 19th c. The latest being found in writers who lived across the 19th and 20th centuries.

  • I would have said usage rather than fashion. Otherwise great examples.
    – Denis
    Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 15:43
  • @Denis I might have misused the word, I meant it as manner.... but you're right usage is better.
    – None
    Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 16:19

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