Declarative Sentences

Introduction

Declarative sentences usually consist of a subject, a verb, and an object. In French, as in English, the subject has to come at the beginning of the sentence.

Word Order

Normal word order in main clauses and dependent clauses is as follows: subject-predicate-object. If one clause has both a direct object and an indirect object, the direct object usually comes before the indirect object.

subjectpredicatedirect objectindirect object
Sandrine a montré le chemin à ses amis.Sandrine showed her friends the way.

However, if the direct object has additional information attached to it (e.g. by way of a relative clause), then the indirect object usually comes first.

subjectpredicateindirect objectdirect objectadditional information
Elle a montré à ses amis le chemin qui mène à sa maison.She showed her friends the road that leads to her house.

If the objects are replaced with pronouns, the object pronouns come before the verb. (direct object, indirect object)

Example:
Elle me l’a montré.She showed it to me. – the way/road
Elle le leur a montré.She showed it to them.

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:

Emphasis (la mise en relief)

We can use certain expressions to emphasise the most important part of a sentence in French:

  • C’est … qui …
    Example:
    Alex a mangé la dernière part de gâteau.Alex ate the last piece of cake.
    C’est Alex qui a mangé la dernière part de gâteau.Alex was the one who ate the last piece of cake.
  • Ce qui/ce que … c’est/ce sont …
    Example:
    Ces chaussures plaisent beaucoup à Julie.Julie really likes these shoes.
    Ce qui plaît beaucoup à Julie, ce sont ces chaussures.What Julie really likes are these shoes.
  • Using a pronoun to repeat the subject:
    Example:
    Françoise aime beaucoup nager.Françoise really likes swimming.
    Françoise, elle aime beaucoup nager.Françoise, she really likes swimming.

Adverbial Modifier (le complément circonstanciel)

Adverbial modifiers can come at the beginning of a sentence, in the middle, or at the end.

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

Adverbial modifiers are placed in a sentence according to their importance. If they are put at the end of a sentence, their importance is stressed.

Example:
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 the sentence begins with aussi, à peine, peut-être, or sans doute, the verb comes before the subject.

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