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French Word Order - Ordre des mots

Dual-Verb Constructions

The order of words in a French sentence can be very confusing, due to dual-verb constructions, object and adverbial pronouns, and negative structures.

Dual verb constructions consist of a conjugated semi-auxiliary verb, such as pouvoir, devoir (these two are called modal verbs in English), vouloir, aller, espérer, and promettre, followed by a second verb in the infinitive. The two verbs may or may not be joined by a preposition. 

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Compound verb tenses
Modal verbs
Pouvoir, Devoir 
Reflexive verbs
Semi-auxiliary verbs
Verb conjugation
Verbs with prepositions

Dual-verb constructions have a slightly different word order than compound verbs tenses.

I. Object and reflexive pronouns are usually* and adverbial pronouns are always placed between the two verbs, after the preposition (if any) that follows the conjugated verb.

Je dois me brosser les dents. I need to brush my teeth.
Je dois me les brosser. I need to brush them.
Je vais te le donner. I'm going to give it to you.
Nous espérons y aller. We hope to go there.
Je promets de le manger. I promise to eat it.
Il continuera à t'en parler. He'll continue to talk to you about it.

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More word order

*Sometimes the object pronoun must precede the first verb. In order to determine this, think about which verb is being modified, because in French, the object pronoun has to go in front of the verb it modifies. The wrong place may give you a grammatically incorrect sentence or may even change the meaning of the sentence.

X Il aide à nous travailler. X He's helping work us.
Il nous aide à travailler. He's helping us work.
X Elle invite à me venir. X She's inviting to come me.
Elle m'invite à venir. She's inviting me to come.
X Je promets de te manger. X I promise to eat you.
Je te promets de manger.   I promise you that I'll eat.
Je promets de le manger.   I promise that I'll eat it.
Je te promets de le manger.   I promise you that I'll eat it.

II. Negative structures surround the conjugated verb and precede the preposition (if any).

Je ne vais pas étudier. I'm not going to study.
Nous n'espérons jamais voyager. We never hope to travel.
Je ne promets que de travailler. I only promise to work.
Il ne continue pas à lire. He's not continuing to read.

III. In a sentence with pronouns and a negative structure, the order is  ne + object pronoun (if applicable) + conjugated verb + part two of negative structure + preposition (if any) + object pronoun(s) + adverbial pronoun(s) + infinitive

Je ne vais jamais te le donner. I'm never going to give it to you.
Nous n'espérons pas y aller. We don't hope to go there.
Il ne continue pas à y travailler. He isn't continuing to work there.
Je ne promets pas de le manger. I don't promise to eat it.
Je ne te promets pas de le manger. I don't promise you that I'll eat it.
Je ne te promets pas d'y aller. I don't promise you that I'll go there.


Test on dual-verb word order

Modal verbs   Negation   Prepositions   Pronouns   Word order

Grammar Glossary

French Grammar Lessons     French Verbs


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