The following is an example sentence, in the grammar text I'm reading:

Malheureusement, il n’a pas pu venir nous aider comme il l’ avait promis.

(EDIT for strikethrough text: I didn't read the WordReference entry carefully enough; the text I struck through is false! But my question still stands.) But when I look at the WordReference entry for promettre, I see the following entries:

  • promettre (à [qqn]) de faire [qch]
  • prommetre de faire [qch]

That is, there doesn't seem to be an entry that takes a direct object; both of these entries use "de", as well as do the example sentences, such as "Mes parents m'ont promis de m'amener à la fête foraine.".

I'm confused why the object pronoun (in the example sentence in the grammar text) is l' (that is, a direct object pronoun), instead of "en" (an indirect object pronoun used for "de + object") ?

That is, if I was to "undo" the pronoun l' in "il l'avait promis", my guess would be the following: " il avait promis de venir nous aider ". But if this is correct, shouldn't the pronoun should be "en" instead of "l'"?

  • also, completely off topic, but why can't i bold the l' in the quoted text?! i find markdown so frustrating sometimes!
    – silph
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 10:09
  • Because there's a space missing after l' . There must be a space before ** and another one after the second pair of **
    – None
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 10:23
  • 1
    well, it looks ugly to have a space after the l' when that's not how you write *l'avait", but whatever! thanks.
    – silph
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 10:29
  • could someone help me understand why my was question is considered to be Off Topic? (it received a vote to close it, for being Off Topic)
    – silph
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 15:28
  • 1
    Related question: french.stackexchange.com/questions/8168/…
    – Maroon
    Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 18:45

1 Answer 1


"Promettre" isn't constructed only with infinitive clauses (promettre de + inf.clause); here are the common constructions.

  • promettre qqc                              Elle lui a promis la lune.
  • promettre de + inf.clause             Il lui a promis de décrocher la lune.
  • promettre que                              Ils ont promis qu'il iraient sur la lune avec eux.

In all those cases the element in italics (noun or noun phrase, infinitive clause, conjunctive clause introduced by "que") is a "cod" and "promettre" is a transitive verb.
Those two sorts of clauses are called "complétive infinitive" and "complétive subordonnée" or complétive conjonctive" or also "complétive introduite par « que »".

In your sentence the antecedent is "venir nous aider".

It is a good idea to keep in mind the information that is gathered in the following article (due to http://research.jyu.fi/grfle/216.html);

On appelle « antécédent » l’élément ou l’objet de pensée auquel renvoie le pronom dans la relation ana­pho­rique. Cet antécédent peut être un groupe nominal, un autre pronom, un verbe, une proposi­tion ou, de façon plus vague, une idée ou un élément sous-entendu qui peut se déduire du contexte ou d’au­tres indices. Dans les exem­ples ci-dessous, l’antécédent du pronom est en [italique et le pronom aussi] :

Toi tu es content, moi je le suis moins.
N’oublie pas de téléphoner. → Je le ferai.
Les élèves ne sont pas habitués à ce qu’on leur fasse des critiques. → Ils n’y sont pas habitués.
Nos jeunes voisins si sympathiques ont décidé de divorcer. → C’est bien triste.

[particularly important]

L’antécédent n’est pas toujours exprimé ou identifiable de façon nette. Dans certains cas, l’identifi­cation de l’antécédent repose sur des données qui ne sont pas immédiatement disponibles, mais qui existent. On peut imaginer par exem­ple quelqu’un qui rentre chez soi et découvre sur son bureau un paquet-cadeau, et dit à une autre personne :

Ah, tu y as pensé !

Le pronom y renvoie ici par exem­ple à mon anniversaire, mê­me si ce mot n’a été prononcé nulle part. Mais il peut se déduire de la date ou d’autres indices, par anaphore associative (voir les diffé­rents types d’ana­phore dans GMF p. 1035-1044). La forme mê­me de l’antécédent n’est pas forcé­ment claire. Dans cet exem­ple, dans l’esprit du locuteur l’antécédent pourrait tout aussi bien être on est au­jour­d’hui le 22 jan­vier.

Addition subsequent to user Silph's request for details

With "N’oublie pas de téléphoner. → Je le ferai.", I'm still surprised that it is "le" instead of "en". Can you explain this to me? I have a similar question on why "il avait promis de venir nous aider" is made into "il l' avait promis" instead of "il en avait promis"

When they tell you as a rule that "Le pronom « en » remplace un nom introduit par « de » ou par un article partitif ou indéfini qui expriment une quantité indéfinie." you shouldn't take it as meaning that "de" should figure in the terms that precede, as for instance in the next example.

  • Vous avez envie de chocolat ? Oui, nous en avons envie !

The gist of this rule is that the verb or verbal locution of which "en" is a complement must be constructible with "de" (in most cases).

  • Tu aime le chocolat ? J'en ai dans mon placard mais je n'y touche pas. ([partitive art. "de"] avoir de la bière, avoir du pain, avoir du temps, [indefinite art. "de"] avoir des maisons, avoir un ami … . This construction of "avoir" in this particular sense of "to possess", is what calls for "en".)

In "Noubliez pas de téléphoner. Oui, je le ferai." you are dealing with the verb "faire" which is not constructed with "de" when followed by a verb. It is constructed with "de" when followed by a noun and only with a special meaning.

  • faire de la voile, faire de la confiture, faire de la présentation de mode, faire du yoga, etc.

The verb we are concerned with here ("Je le ferai.") is "faire qqc" as in the following.

  • faire une soupe, faire un poème, faire un appel téléphonique, faire un sandwich, etc.

Here is now another type of construction with "de" and the reason why you can't have "en" instead of "le" in "Je le ferai.".

  • La confiture est bonne. J'en prend. ("prendre de qqc", i.e. "have a helping"; the verb does not call for a "cod".)
  • La confiture est sur l'étagère. Je la prend. ("prendre qqc", i.e. "take something by means of your hands"; "qqc" is a "cod", the verb is transitive.*)

Here, the verb is "faire qqc", in which "qqc" is a "cod" and "faire" a transitive verb. As it's been said in the article I provided above, the antecedent is not always neatly formulated in what precedes; in certain cases we extrapolate much formulation from a given term in the background, here "téléphoner". If you want to construct your sentence with a specific replacement for "le" you might try first "Je "téléphoner" ferai.", but you can't say that, it's not correct. You can't say either "Je ferai "téléphoner", which is no better. Instead of such a factual substitution there is a nominalisation which takes place in the mind and which yields a correct formulation: "Je ferai la chose qui est celle de vous téléphoner"¹. So, the antecedent is really "cette chose qui est de téléphoner", which satisfies the pattern of construction of the verb ("faire qqc"). You have now another example of what the article is talking about and you might try yourself at constructing the antecedents in some cases, so as to satisfy your curiosity.

¹There is no unique form for this nominalisation; it is enough that it should describe the antecedent; ex. alternative: "Je ferai l'action de vous téléphoner."

  • now i'm really frustrated with this WordReference dictionary; "promettre qqc" is a construction not mentioned at all in this dictionary. Like, this shouldn't be too much to expect from a dictionary, if it's a common construction! Unless I'm misreading the entries (which I might very well be). Edit: Yes, I missed an entry. It's my mistake!
    – silph
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 10:45
  • however, i'm still unsure what exactly the l' is replacing in my example sentence. Could you tell me what it is replacing? That is, if you were to rewrite "il l'avais promis" by removing the pronoun l', what would you add (eg, "il avais promis _____ ") ?
    – silph
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 10:47
  • @silph You are right, that is basics and it should be mentioned. That is why I advised you to take a look at a more comprehensive dictionary, such as the TLFi; before long you should find that there is a lot that you can understand. I do not understand everything in it myself, yet I used it all the time and it helps me very much.
    – LPH
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 10:50
  • (my level of understanding french is just so, so, so poor. It's good that you mentioned the TLFi, but currently I'm nowhere near being able to use it. I would get far too frustrated if was to try.)
    – silph
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 10:54
  • 1
    With "N’oublie pas de téléphoner. → Je le ferai.", I'm still surprised that it is le instead of en. Can you explain this to me? I have a similar question on why "il avait promis de venir nous aider" is made into "il l' avait promis" instead of "il en avait promis"
    – silph
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 11:28

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