Declarative sentences and word order in French

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What is a declarative sentence?

A declarative sentence (une phrase affirmative simple) makes a statement, gives an opinion, shares a thought, declares a fact etc. Declarative sentences usually have the following word order: subject – verb – object. In French, as in English, the subject has to come at the beginning of the sentence.

Read on for a summary of everything you need to know about word order in French declarative sentences. Once you’re done, why not put your newfound knowledge to the test in the free exercises?


Le chien attrape la balle.

In French, just like in English, it is impossible to change the position of the subject (the dog) and the object (the ball) without completely changing the meaning of the sentence.

If we switch the positions, we understand something completely different:
La balle attrape le chien.

Word order in French sentences

Normal word order is: subject – verb – object. If one clause has both a direct object and an indirect object, the direct object usually comes before the indirect object.

Subject Verb Direct Object Indirect Object
Sandrine a montré le chemin à ses amis.Sandrine showed her friends the way.

However, if the direct object has a relative clause attached to it, then the indirect object usually comes first.

Subject Verb Indirect Object Direct Object Relative Clause
Elle a montré à ses amis le chemin qui mène à sa maison.She showed her friends the road that leads to her house.

Direct/Indirect Objects

The object of a sentence is the recipient of the action expressed by the verb. There are two kinds of objects; direct and indirect.

  • A direct object (complément d’objet direct) is an object that receives the action of the verb directly. It is never preceded by a preposition. A direct object responds to the questions who? or what?.
  • An indirect object (complément d’objet indirect) is separated from the verb by the prepositions à or de. We can identify an indirect object via the questions to whom?, with whom?, to what? etc.

To avoid repetition, we can replace objects with object pronouns. In this case, the object pronoun comes before the verb.

Elle me l’a montré.She showed it to me. (indirect object, direct object)
Elle le leur a montré.She showed it to them. (direct object, indirect object)

Whether the direct object or the indirect object comes first depends on the pronoun. In order to get the order right, we just need to look at the following diagram of object pronouns:

What is mise en relief?

Mise en relief is emphasis. We can use certain structures to draw attention to particular elements of a sentence.

C’est / Ce sont … qui / que / dont …

The most common way to create emphasis is with c’est/ce sont … qui / que / dont …

This places the element we want to emphasise at the beginning of the sentence.

  • Use c’est/ce sont … qui … to emphasise the subject: c’est/ce sont + subject + qui
Simon a mangé la dernière part de gâteau.Simon ate the last piece of cake.
C’est Simon qui a mangé la dernière part de gâteau.It was Simon who ate the last piece of cake.
Simon = subject: it was Simon who …
  • Use c’est/ce sont … que … to emphasise the object: c’est/ce sont + object + que
Simon avait fait ce gâteau.Simon had made the cake.
C’est le gâteau que Simon avait fait.It was the cake that Simon had made.
le gâteau = object: it was the cake that/which …
  • Use c’est/ce sont … dont … to emphasise an object that is introduced by the preposition de: c’est/ce sont + object + dont
Je t’ai parlé de ces amis.I told you about these friends.
Ce sont les amis dont je t’ai parlé.These are the friends that I told you about.
parler de qqn = talk about someone

These structures are followed by the stressed subject pronouns (moi, toi, lui, elle, nous, vous, eux, elles).

Je t’ai appelé hier soir. → C’est moi qui t’ai appelé hier soir.I called you last night. → It was me who called you last night.
je becomes moi

The verb that follows c’est/ce sont … qui … is conjugated according to the subject being emphasised.

Tu m’as appelé hier soir ? → C’est toi qui m’as appelé hier soir ?Did you call me yesterday? → Was it you who called me yesterday?
2nd person singular

Ce qui / Ce que / Ce dont …, c’est/ce sont

The second option is slightly longer and places the element we want to emphasise towards the end of the sentence.

  • Use ce qui …, c’est/ce sont when you want emphasise the subject: ce qui + verb + …, c’est/ce sont + subject
Ces chaussures plaisent beaucoup à Julie.Julie really likes these shoes.
Ce qui plaît beaucoup à Julie, ce sont ces chaussures.What Julie likes are these shoes.
  • Use ce que …, c’est/ce sont when you want to emphasise the object: ce que + subject + …, c’est/ce sont + object
Julie aimerait acheter ces chaussures.Julie would love to buy these shoes.
Ce que Julie aimerait acheter, ce sont ces chaussures.What Julie would love to buy are these shoes.
  • Use ce dont …, c’est/ce sont when you want to emphasise an object introduced by the preposition de
Julie rêve d’acheter ces chaussures.Julie dreams of buying these shoes.
Ce dont Julie rêve, c’est d’acheter ces chaussures.What Julie dreams of is buying these shoes.
rêver de qqc = dream of something

Emphasis via stressed pronouns

We can also create emphasis by using the stressed pronouns.

Place the 1st and 2nd person stressed pronouns (moi, toi, nous, vous) before the subject and the 3rd person pronouns (lui, elle, eux, elles) after the subject. Always place the stressed pronoun between commas.

Françoise aime beaucoup nager.Françoise really likes swimming.
Françoise, elle, aime beaucoup nager.Now Françoise, she really likes swimming.
Je ne suis pas d’accord avec toi.I don’t agree with you.
Moi, je ne suis pas d’accord avec toi.Personally, I don’t agree with you.


Adverbs and adverbial phrases can come at the beginning of a sentence, in the middle, or at the end.

Demain, Charles ira faire du vélo.
Charles ira demain faire du vélo.
Charles ira faire du vélo demain.Charles will ride his bike tomorrow.

Adverbs are placed in a sentence according to their importance. If they are put at the end of a sentence, their importance is emphasised.

Elle n’a pas pu aller au parc d’attraction à cause de sa jambe cassée.She couldn’t go to the amusement park because of her broken leg.
À cause de sa jambe cassée, elle n’a pas pu aller au parc d’attraction.Because of her broken leg, she couldn’t go to the amusement park.

To Note

Sentence structure can change in some circumstances. If a sentence begins with aussi, à peine, peut-être, or sans doute, the verb comes before the subject.

Sans doute ne pleuvra-t-il pas demain.It surely won’t rain tomorrow.