One of the things French students struggle with a lot is deciding when to use COD or COI. They are so similar after all. I don’t blame you. They are confusing, especially when you have to use both in the same sentence. Why aren’t they simpler? Well, it’s one of the beauties of French. Remember all languages are different, and some rules might not make sense to us.
Well, that’s fine, but what is the difference between COD and COI? I’m glad you asked. Today we will talk about them and explain when to use each. By the end of this post, you should have a better idea of how they work. They’re hard but not impossible to learn. Are you ready? C’est parti!
What Are COD and COI?
Simply put, COD stands for complément d’objet direct (direct object), while COI stands for complément d’objet indirect (indirect object). Does that tell you something now?
Remember those English classes in school? They will come in handy when trying to understand these two concepts in French.
The COD is the direct object of a sentence. In other words, it is what receives the action of the verb. Example: Je regarde la télé (I watch TV). Télé is the COD in this case.
On the contrary, the COI is the recipient of the COD. While the COD receives the action of the verb, the COI receives the direct object. Example: Il donne des fleurs à sa mère (He’s giving his mother flowers). Can you guess the COI? That’s right! Sa mère is the COI since it is what receives the COD (des fleurs).
How to Tell Them Apart
There are a couple of things you should remember to differentiate COD from COI:
- A COI is usually preceded by the preposition à.
- A COD answers the questions what or who, while a COI answers the questions to whom or for whom.
J’aime ma mère (I love my mother). COD= ma mère.
Il achète des bonbons pour ses enfants (He’s buying candy for his children). COI= ses enfants, COD= des bonbons.
Replacing COD and COI with Pronouns
So far, so good. To avoid repetition, we can incorporate pronouns. First, let’s take a look at the list of COD pronouns:
|Singular COD Pronouns||Plural COD Pronouns|
Remember we have to drop the vowel from me, te, le, and la when they precede a word starting with another vowel. Therefore, me becomes m’, te becomes t’, and le and la become l’.
Now, let’s take a look at the list of COI pronouns:
|Singular COI Pronouns||Plural COI Pronouns|
As you can see, me, te, nous, and vous can be used both as COD and COI pronouns. The only difference comes when we replace the third person. In this case, le/la/les become lui/leur.
In English, the order of a sentence is Subject + Verb + Object, but in French, the order is Subject + Object + Verb.
Je donne un cadeau à mon ami (I’m giving my friend a present). = Je lui donne un cadeau (I’m giving him/her a present).
Elle parle à ses parents (She talks to her parents). = Elle leur parle (She talks to them).
To complicate things more, we can include both COD and COI pronouns in the same sentence.
Il donne de l’argent à ses enfants (He gives his children money). = Il le leur donne (He gives it to them).
Nous vous montrons les jouets (We’re showing the toys to you). = Nous vous les montrons (We’re showing them to you).
Normally, the COI precedes the COD, but when the COI is in the third person singular/plural, it follows the COD instead. In the two examples above, can you spot this? Exactly! In the first example, we have Subject + Direct Object + Indirect Object + Verb, while in the second one, we have Subject + Indirect Object + Direct Object + Verb. Complicated, huh?
What About Other Tenses?
All the examples above are in the simple present tense, but what happens with other tenses like the past and future? If simple present wasn’t complicated enough, it gets a little bit tricky with other tenses.
How would the above examples look in the past tense? Let’s take a look:
*We have to conjugate the verb in plural form (montrés, not montré) since it modifies a plural COD (les).
In the case of simple future, word order is the same as in simple present. Thus Je lui donne becomes Je lui donnerai. The same applies to the rest. However, it becomes a little bit more complicated when using the futur proche. Look at the following examples:
It just keeps getting better, right?
What About Negative Sentences?
It becomes even more complicated when we want to express a negative idea. Let’s take a look at three different examples for each tense (present, past, and future):
Can you form the negative of the rest of the examples we saw above? Leave them in the comments section below, and I will correct you if necessary.
Verbs We Use With Indirect Objects
Deciding whether an object is direct or indirect is not always a straightforward process. Our first instinct is looking for the preposition à. However, the good news is we can also look for certain verbs that will help us identify the correct classification of the pronoun. The following verbs usually precede indirect objects (COI):
- donner (give)
- dire (tell)
- demander (ask)
- montrer (show)
- obéir (obey)
- offrir (offer)
- pardonner (forgive)
- parler (talk)
- permettre (allow)
- promettre (promise)
- prouver (prove)
- rappeler (remind)
- répondre (reply)
- téléphoner (telephone, call on the phone)
Using COD and COI is not easy. You have to practice a lot. The more you practice, the more chances you have of mastering these concepts. Try to complete the sentences below. You can check the correct answers at the end of this post.
- J’aime mes parents. Je ___ aime.
- Elle n’a pas téléphoné à son amie. Elle ne ___ a pas téléphoné.
- Mon chef m’a rappelé la réunion. Mon chef me ___ a rappelé.
- Nous demanderons une explication à nos enfants. Nous ___ demanderons une explication.
- Avez-vous vu l’accident? __ avez-vous vu?
- Il m’a dit son dilemme. Il ___ ___ a dit.
- Nous allons montrer la vérité à ces gens. Nous allons ___ ___ montrer.
- Il n’obéit pas à ses parents. Il ne ___ obéit pas.
- J’ai offert du vin rouge à mes invités. Je ___ ____ ai offert.
- Ella va conduire la voiture verte. Elle va ___ conduire.
Try to remember the patterns we learned earlier. Play with the tenses and convert them to present, past, and future in both affirmative and negative sentences. In no time, you will get a grasp of it.
I also recommend you check out the following videos by Vincent, one of my favorite French teachers. He clearly explains COD and COI and how to use them.
As you can see, COD and COI are complicated concepts. Even advanced learners make mistakes when using them. It’s not always easy to use them in sentences. It becomes even more complicated when using them in negative sentences or other tenses like the passé composé (simple past), but don’t worry about that now. It’s better to start practicing in the simple present and then move on to other tenses. One step at a time.
Remember there are some ways to differentiate COD from COI like the presence of the preposition à or some verbs.
Using COD and COI is even more complicated when replacing them with pronouns. Their order in the sentence varies depending on the pronouns. We wish it were easier, but the only way to master them is by practicing.
Well, folks, that’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed the lesson. Feel free to leave your questions and comments below, and I will do my best to get back to you as soon as possible. Au revoir, les amis!
Answers to the Quiz Above
- me, l’
- la, leur
- le, leur
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