I am suspecting that the grammar system used to analyse French, that is taught in France (and maybe Québec and other French-speaking regions) has a slightly different framework than the grammar system(s) used to analyse French that are taught to English speakers. For example, when I see words like Substantif and Complément d'Object Indirect, I get a vague feeling that these are slightly different than the ideas of Noun Phrase or Indirect Object.

Here are two frameworks about French grammar that disagree with each other, that are taught to English speakers.

1) Thoughtco's View: Indirect Objects (that aren't indirect object pronouns) start with à, or sometimes pour, and never any other preposition.

All of the five or six websites I looked at last night seem take this view. For example, here are quotations from thoughtco.com webpage:

Thoughtco says that person/things preceded by de cannot be replaced by an object pronoun:

When deciding between direct and indirect objects, the general rule is that if the person or thing is preceded by the preposition à or pour, that person/thing is an indirect object. If it's not preceded by a preposition, it is a direct object. If it's preceded by any other preposition, it can't be replaced by an object pronoun. (https://www.thoughtco.com/french-indirect-objects-1368865)

And that the only two types of object pronouns are Indirect Object Pronouns and Direct Object Pronouns:

Object Pronouns in French There are two types of object pronouns:

Direct object pronouns (pronoms objets directs) replace the people or things that receive the action of the verb in a sentence.
Indirect object pronouns (pronoms objets indirects) replace the people in a sentence to/for whom the action of the verb occurs. (https://www.thoughtco.com/french-object-pronouns-1368886)

And that the indirect object pronouns do not include "en":

The French direct object pronouns are:

Me / m' –> me Te / t' –> you Le / l' –> him, it La / l' –> her, it Nous –> us Vous –> you Les –> them

The French indirect object pronouns are:

me / m' me te / t' you lui him, her nous us
vous you leur them

Since "de + noun" is not an indirect object in their framework, and since "en" is not an indirect object pronoun in their framework, what do they consider the pronoun en to be? Answer: They consider en to be an Adverbial Pronoun. (In their framework, the pronouns are: Indirect Object Pronouns, Direct Object Pronouns, Adverbial Pronouns, and Reflexive Pronouns.)

Adverbial Pronouns In addition, adverbial pronouns work in conjunction with the object pronouns:

Y replaces à (or another preposition of place) + noun

En replaces de + noun

Reflexive Pronouns Reflexive pronouns also come into play, particularly when trying to figure out word order for double object pronouns. (https://www.thoughtco.com/french-object-pronouns-1368886)

So, according to this framework, "de + noun" is not an indirect object, and cannot be replaced by an object pronoun; it is instead replaced with the adverbial pronoun en.

2) A certain textbook's view: Indirect Objects sometimes start with de, and the pronoun en that can replace them is indeed called an indirect object pronoun.

(The following are quotations from "Advanced French Grammar" by Monique L'Huiller.)

This framework does consider y and en to be indirect object pronouns:

enter image description here

(page 494, chapter "31 Personal Pronouns", section 2.2.1)

In the following quotation, "de + noun" is referred to as being an indirect object, and "en" as a pronoun that replaces that indirect object:

enter image description here

(p.502, "Chapter 31 Personal pronouns", Section

(Bonus evidence? : The following is a comment from a WordReference forum thread, that takes a similar view as the textbook):

The following quotation is one of the few places on the internet that considers "de + noun" to be an indirect object:

A verb is indirect transitive if it takes an indirect object. An indirect object is an object that is preceded by a preposition (especially à and de, but also sur, dans, en, avec, etc.) (https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/fr-verbe-transitif-indirect.570123/)


According to the grammar system taught in the Francophonie, is "de + noun" an indirect object? If so, do you have a category of pronouns called "Adverbial Pronouns"?

  • 3
    Lambie, your comment hurts me because it comes across as unnecessarily hostile. I included the WordReference quotation because I thought it might add evidence. I made this "long and confusing" question because it is a question I am wondering about, and I thought that it was worth displaying the different frameworks used to teach English people, in order to make it make sense why I'm even asking about the system used in the French speaking world.
    – silph
    Aug 9, 2021 at 19:08
  • To me, it is long and confusing. I can't even see the differences because it is so long. Maybe you need to separate the points better. Or put them into categories. To properly answer this question, I would have to print this out and use a marker and carefully read everything and put comments in the margin of my print out and then come back here. It requires a very detailed reading.
    – Lambie
    Aug 9, 2021 at 20:33
  • Then, I realized what the problem is: You have not looked at the Thoughtcompany's explanation of impersonal pronouns, of which en is a prime example. thoughtco.com/french-pronouns-1368927 I think that is what the main issue is here: impersonal pronouns, not "personal".
    – Lambie
    Aug 9, 2021 at 20:41
  • I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. Really. But so much text is really a bit overwhelming in a question. In fact, there was just a nomenclature issue. No grammar is taught differently in one country than another unless the teaching is really bad. Not usually the case on these major sites, French or American.
    – Lambie
    Aug 9, 2021 at 20:50
  • @silph This is going to be long answer to a very interesting question. But since it does not have its place on FL (might have on LL I do not want it to be an answer. The naming of grammatical objects has been an issue for centuries. To be continued
    – None
    Aug 10, 2021 at 8:10

2 Answers 2



It is true that sometimes teaching of French as a foreign language is carried out through the use of principles that might differ slightly from what could be called a norm, or be approximations, but a similar problem exists in the grammar as expounded by French grammarians.

There is a lot of error in the first grammatical statement (1)). The statement you extract from the site "ThoughtCo" is not complete; "the general rule is that if the person or thing is preceded by the preposition à or pour, that person/thing is an indirect object" is true, but not only for the prepositions stated, and the most common are "à" and "de".

(aidenet) Ce COI est très souvent rattaché au verbe à l'aide des prépositions "à" ou "de", ou encore une des prépositions "après, avant, avec, chez, contre, dans, depuis, derrière, devant, en, malgré, par, parmi, pour, sans, sous, sur, vers...". "If it's preceded by any other preposition, it can't be replaced by an object pronoun." is essentially correct, as shows the third refence below: the "pronom COI" corresponds to the question "à qui" (which can be replaced (roughly) by "pour" (pour qui)).

(Scribbr) Définition du COI

Le COI, complément d’objet indirect, est un complément d’objet introduit par une préposition (à, de, dans, par…) répondant aux questions “à qui”, “à quoi”, “de qui”, “de quoi”, “pour qui”, “pour quoi”, “contre qui”, contre quoi”… > Distinguer le COI (complément d’objet indirect) du COD (complément d’objet direct)

Alors que le COD répond aux questions “qui” et “quoi’, le COI répond aux questions avec préposition (“à qui”, “à quoi”, “de qui”, “de quoi”…). Qui plus est, contrairement au COD, le complément d’objet indirect est le plus fréquemment introduit par une préposition, sauf quand il prend la forme d’un pronom.

On utilise les pronoms compléments d’objet indirect pour remplacer un nom de personne ou d’animal. Ce nom ou groupe nominal a la fonction de COI. Il répond à la question "à qui" ?

There is an imprecision in this refrence (ThoughtCo), as the reference below will show: "pronom personnel" rather than "pronom adverbial".

This reference you mention (THoughtCo) does not mention that "en" cannot be an indirect object.

Let's make precise first that given the construction "de + noun" after a verb, the indirect object is not "de + noun" but "noun". No, on the contrary, after "de" the noun is an indirect object, but the word "en" used is not an adverb in that case, it is a pronoun.

(Français Facile)

  • Des poissons rouges, les chats en ont mangé quelques-uns...
    En est un pronom personnel complément.
  • Les chats restent devant l'aquarium, ils ne veulent plus s'en éloigner !
    En est un adverbe (appelé aussi pronom adverbial).
  • En bons amis, les deux mistigris espèrent partager une proie.
    En est une préposition.

Vous voyez dans le texte ci-dessus, que 'en' peut être un pronom, un adverbe, une préposition.


To repeat what I mentioned previously, the object is the noun phrase.

(LBU, § 281) Le complément d'objet indirect. Le complément d'objet indirect (ou simplement objet indirect) est rattaché au verbe indirectement, c'est-à-dire par l'intermédiaire d'une préposition : Nuire à SON PROCHAIN. Se souvenir de SON ENFANCE. Les cambrioleurs ont profité de MON ABSENCE.

Here is another evidence of that (ref.).

enter image description here

Yes, of course, "de" does introduce a "complément d'objet indirect" and the adverbial pronoun also does exist but that it can't have the fonction of object.

  • Le PO a parlé de pronoms personnels. Or, en est un pronom impersonnel. Et voilà la raison pour laquelle la question est devenue alambiquée. Le site ThoughtCompany présente les deux idées separément.
    – Lambie
    Aug 10, 2021 at 16:45
  • 1
    @Lambie Vous vous trompez là-dessus : « en », dans cet usage est un pronom personnel.
    – LPH
    Aug 10, 2021 at 16:50
  • Je veux bien, d'accord. Le site met le y et le en dans une table. Alors, c'est une faute? Défini comme pronoms adverbiaux. C'est faux ou pas? thoughtco.com/french-pronouns-1368927 Peut-être eux, ils n'auraient pas du faire cette classification ainsi. Pourtant, on peut comprendre pourquoi.
    – Lambie
    Aug 10, 2021 at 17:59
  • 1
    Ils disent: These aren't as cold as they sound—"impersonal" here simply means that, unlike personal pronouns, these pronouns do not change according to grammatical person. However, some of them change to agree in gender and number with the noun that they replace. For details, click the name to read the lesson on that type of pronoun.
    – Lambie
    Aug 10, 2021 at 18:02
  • @Lambie D'après la nomenclature (« pronom adverbial » n'est qu'un nom alternatif pour « adverbe »), donc, ils se sont bien trompés, ce n'est pas l'adverbe mais le pronom personnel; cela est clair à partir de la référence « Français Facile » dans ma réponse : elle montre que c'est une nomenclature alternative pour l'adverbe ( « en » a alors une fonction de complément circonstanciel de lieu, plus de complément d'objet indirect). La definition de « pronom impersonnel » de ThoughtCo est vraiment fantaisiste , faite en dépit du bon sens: pourquoi introduire des ambigüités ; (1/2)
    – LPH
    Aug 10, 2021 at 18:51

It depends on the sentence, "de + noun" can either be direct or indirect.

When I learned direct and indirect objects, I was taught that to know if an object is direct or indirect, you have to know if it answers the question "qui/quoi ?" or "à qui/à quoi ?". If it is the former, it is a direct object, if it is the latter, it is an indirect object.

Let me give you two examples.

  1. Je mange de la soupe. I eat soup.

In this example, "de la soupe" is a direct object. It can anwser the question "Je mange quoi ?"

  1. Je mange la soupe de ma mère. I eat my mother's soup.

In this example, "de ma mère" is an indirect object. It can anwser the question "Je mange la soupe de qui ?"

  • That "de ma mère" is an indirect object really, really surprises me. I would have thought that it was something that modified "la soupe" (and had nothing to do with the verb)! Can others confirm William's idea that "de ma mère" can be considered to be an indirect object, in some grammar frameworks?
    – silph
    Aug 11, 2021 at 1:26
  • @silph Correct. de ma mère is not an indirect object. It is part of the direct object which is la soupe de ma mère. de ma mère on its own qualifies soupe. A serious short explanation about complément du nom, a nice explanation for 9/10 years old schoolchildren. continued.
    – None
    Aug 11, 2021 at 11:19

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