Content Warning: Explicit Depiction of Domestic Violence

The following is a passage from a book1 I'm reading:

Le beau-père derrière l’attrape par les cheveux, Roxane devine un cri sous l’archet voluptueux. Roxane, prisonnière de la scène, avale l’absurde chorégraphie.
Sa mère, par terre, le visage déformé, peine à se relever. Lui la tient par le cou. Elle mord, il frappe, elle crie.
Roxane pétrifiée.
La musique.
Le visage de sa mère.
La musique.
Sa mère par terre qui se relève.
Lui part vers la cuisine.
Elle, en criant, le suit.

Here are the following sentences where "lui" is used instead of "Il"; for each, I write a version that uses "il" instead:

  • 1a. Lui la tient par le cou.
    1b. Il la tient par le cou.
  • 2a. Lui part vers la cuisine.
    2b. Il part vers la cuisine.

What connotation does the "Lui" version have, compared to the "Il" version? (My guess is that "lui" has a connotation of making the step-father less human, and "lui" is used to indicate that the step-daughter feels like he is more of a monster and less of a human? But this is just a guess). What are common cases that someone might use a tonic pronoun like "lui" as the subject of a sentence?

1. (Je Voudrais Q'on M'Efface, by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, Chapter 4)

  • 1
    It is not the subject of the sentence. It is an emphatic pronoun and the subject pronoun is implied: Lui, [il part] vers la cuisine. In the third person, il or elle or their plurals use these emphatic pronouns and do not always use the subject pronouns.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 16:41
  • @Lambie: would you be willing to put this in an answer? i'd like to be reminded of this when i re-read this question a few months or years from now. (i don't trust that comments will last!)
    – silph
    Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 17:58

1 Answer 1


Emphasis and opposition1.

You use a tonic third person pronoun to insist on the fact they do something but others don't.

Lui parle français. That one speak French (but not the other ones)

J'ai trouvé quelle route prendre pour arriver ici, eux se sont perdus.

With the first and second person, we need to double the pronoun and insert a comma:

Moi, je parle français.

Toi, tu t'es perdu/ Vous, vous vous êtes perdus (you, you got lost)

Nous, nous nous sommes perdus (more commonly: Nous, on s'est perdu, see "Nous on sera les bons")

Vous, vous vous trompez ! You, you are mistaken.

The third person plural doesn't need to:

Eux ont pris le train.

Note that the feminine third person pronouns can also be used alone. Despite the fact the tonical pronoun is the same than the non tonical one, we make a difference in pronunciation (stress on elle) between:

Elle a gagné.

Elle a gagné. (= Elle, elle a gagné)

Elles ont gagné. (mandatory liaison, elles "z'ont" gagné)

Elles ont gagné. (tonic pronoun: no liaison)

See also: Pronoms toniques employés seuls and Lui peut être sujet mais pas moi.

1 Only emphasis and no opposition when aussi or non plus are used: Je parle français, lui parle français aussi. Je ne parle pas japonais, lui non plus ne parle pas japonais.

  • so, is "Lui" being used in the passage from the book, to oppose the step-father from the mother (ie, emphasize that he and the mother are in a conflict, and are not in harmony with each other)? that is, i'm having trouble seeing how the explanation that a tonic pronoun insists that that the person did something that others did not, for the sentences with "lui" in the passage from the book i quoted? (i also noticed only now that "il frappe" does not say "lui frappe". i wonder why? perhaps i should add this observation to my question..?)
    – silph
    Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 10:26
  • 1
    There is an opposition between their respective actions.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 10:34
  • 2
    Liaison-less "Elles ont" is a new one for me. Cool!
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 13:23
  • 3
    I'd like to add that it's common in french to use "elle" and "lui" when talking about a couple. For example "Elle aime la forêt, lui préfère la mer." or "Elle est avocate, lui est encore aux études." There's not always an opposition in their actions, we could say "Elle aime la forêt, lui aussi".
    – Ben
    Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 13:24
  • 1
    @Ben That's right for how people actually speak. It is a shortened form of: Elle aime la forêt, alors que lui, il aime la mer. //Lui, [il] parle français. The il is often omitted. "He speaks French. OR "He does speak French".
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 16:36

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