Replacing people with lui, leur = him, her, them (indirect object pronouns)

Tip: If the words "indirect object pronoun" strike horror and panic into your heart, scroll to the cartoon video in the examples explaining what indirect objects are. They're actually pretty easy to figure out. And of course, you can also have a look at our Jargon Busters at the bottom of the lesson!

Or, just learn by example.  Notice how lui and leur are used in these examples:

Je lui parle.I'm speaking to him (or her)

Je leur demande où sont les WC.I'm asking them where the toilets are.

Tu lui demandes quelque chose.You're asking him (or her) something.

Il va leur téléphoner.He's going to telephone them

Je lui téléphone.I phone him/her.
-> Note here that in French we say téléphoner à quelqu'un (to telephone *to* someone), therefore using lui or leur as object pronouns.

Pour calmer mes enfants, je leur lis une histoire.To soothe my children, I read them a story.
To soothe my children, I read a story to them.
-> Note that you say lire quelque chose à quelqu'un (to read something *to* someone), therefore using lui or leur as object pronouns.

 

ATTENTION

  • lui means either him OR her (depending on the context) and
  • leur means them, irrespective of the the group's gender.  

BUT we only use these words when the verb being used normally goes with à:

  • téléphoner à <quelqu'un> (to telephone <someone>)
  • demander à <quelqu'un> (to ask <someone>)

 

How and when to turn people into lui or leur (like magic...)

Look how these sentences change when specific people are replaced with pronouns:

Je parle à Paul. -> Je lui parle.
I'm speaking to Paul. -> I'm speaking to him.

Je demande à mes amis où sont les WC. -> Je leur demande où sont les WC.
I'm asking my friends where the toilets are. -> I'm asking them where the toilets are.

Il va téléphoner à ses parents. -> Il va leur téléphoner.
He's going to telephone his parents. -> He's going to telephone them.

In each case, the verb in the original sentence is followed by à, which disappears when the specified person is replaced by lui or leur, which also skips in front of the verb.  

When NOT to use lui and leur (indirect object pronouns)

Contrast this with the following example where the verb is not followed by à = appeler <quelqu'un>.


Il va appeler ses parents.  ->  Il va les appeler.
He's going to call his parents.  ->  He's going to call them.
We see here that instead of leur, les is used to say them. 
Lui and leur are only used with verbs usuallly followed by à.  Other pronouns are used for the other cases.
 
Grammar note: Remember verbs always have a subject (je/tu etc.) but only some have objects. Use object pronouns to replace nouns that are the object of the verb. Objects can be direct or indirect - they are indirect if separated from the verb by à

See also Position of direct and indirect object pronouns with negation 

 

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Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Je lui téléphone.I phone him/her.
Tu lui demandes quelque chose.You're asking him (or her) something.
Je leur demande où sont les WC.I'm asking them where the toilets are.
Subject, verbs and objects (direct and indirect) MADE EASY!
Il va leur téléphoner.He's going to telephone them
Pour calmer mes enfants, je leur lis une histoire.To soothe my children, I read them a story.
To soothe my children, I read a story to them.
Je lui parle.I'm speaking to him (or her)
Clever stuff underway!