Construction of a sentence – Place of the subject Part I

The the Eiffel tower was build in 21 months as of summer 1887…

Each of the 18 000 pieces of the Tower is designed and calculated before being drawn to the tenth of a millimeter and assembled by elements of five meters. On the site, between 150 and 300 workers are involved in assembly of this gigantic Meccano .

All the pieces are fastened by rivets a well-tested method of construction at the time of the construction of the Tower. Likewise, the construction of a sentence in French is almost as logical as a Meccano…with its exceptions!

(Part 1) Tips to overcome the difficulties of the sentence structure in French 

Place the subject in the sentence:

Tu as un chat. You have a cat.

Peut-être viendra-t-il ? Maybe he will come.

« Je suis contente » dit sa mère. «I am pleased », my mother said.

Le garçon dont  je connais le frère. The boy whose brother I know.

Je vous demande où il travaille. I am asking you where he works.

General rule

French is a SVO language, or Subject-Verb-Object. Unlike other romance languages, French does not drop the subject in most cases. In order to build even the simplest French sentence, you will need two or three elements. If a sentence uses an intransitive verb, it will be a SV sentence:Je suis. — I am.If a sentence uses a transitive verb, it will be a SVO sentence:Tu as un chat. –– You have a cat.


  • The subject is placed after the verb

a) The subject personal pronoun and the subjects pronoun “ce” and “on” are followed after the verb when the sentence begins with:

-Peut-être (perhaps)

-Sans doute (no doubt, without a doubt)

-A peine (scarcely, hardly)

-Aussi (therefore)

-Du moins (at least)

Peut-être pourrais-tu venir avec moi ? Maybe you could come with me?

A peine avait-il parlé qu’elle se leva. Hardly had he spoken when she got up.

b) When the subject is a noun, a demonstrative pronoun or an indefinite pronoun (quelqu’un, tout…), the subject is placed before the verb However it is taken back by a pronoun placed in this case after the verb.

A peine les élèves étaient-ils arrivés que la cloche sonna. Hardly had the students arrived when the bell rang.

c) In the colloquial language, we often avoid doing the reversal after “Peut-être”:

-Either by using Peut être que at the beginning of the sentence

-Or by avoiding placing Peut être at the the beginning of the sentence

Peut-être que la candidate pourra répondre? 

Le candidate pourra peut être répondre?

d) In the reported speech, the subject is placed after the declaration verb.

« Chérie, où es-tu? » a crié mon père. « Darling, where are you? » my father shouted.

“Mademoiselle” dit-il, “vous pouvez venir”. « Mademoiselle », he said, « you may come in ».

“Oui”, répondit-elle. “Yes”, she replied.


Contrary to English, we do not do the reversal of the subject in French when the sentence begins with:

Non seulement (Not only)

Pas une fois (not once).

Non seulement il est venu mais il est resté. Not only did he come but he stayed.

Pas une fois son père ne lui a fait un reproche. Not once did his father reproach him.

We do not do the reversal after a negative coordination (et ne…pas…non plus). 

Je ne l’ai pas salué et il ne m’a pas salué non plus.

I didn’t greet him, nor did he greet me.

To underline an increase or a decrease related with another increase (or decrease), we use the structure “plus…plus, moins…moins, plus…moins, mois…plus”.

The subject is placed immediately after “plus” or “moins”.

Plus elle est riche, moins elle est satisfaite.

The richer she is, the less she is satisfied.

EXERCICES: Translate

  • “Are you ready?” he asked
  • “We will never capitulate”, they replied
  • “Show in the prisoners”, he said severely
  • “Not on your life”, he answered
  • “Get out!” he screamed


(on our Facebook page next week and in the comments below)

“The most expensive part of building is the mistakes.”
― Ken FollettThe Pillars of the Earth

“Ce qui coute le plus cher dans une construction ce sont les erreurs.” 


This week in Paris

LOST IN FRENCHLATION presents: ‘Chocolat’ (2016) with ENGLISH SUBTITLES

Lost in Frenchlation are back this Friday 18th March with ‘Chocolat’ – the much anticipated 2016 French box office hit starring Omar Sy (2012 César Award winner, Best Actor, ‘Intouchables’) ! Join them at Studio 28 in the heart of Montmartre from 8pm for cocktails before the screening starts at 9:15pm.


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