A team of pronouns


When I was learning French, our excellent teacher gave us a mnemonic for learning the positions of the personal pronouns – other than the subject forms – in relation to the verb. It was in the form of a football team:

me nous te vous se

le la les

lui leur


(en was the substitute)

This was in the days before team managers developed their own theories of team structure – 4-2-4, 4-3-3, etc, and before more than one substitute was allowed, and then only in case of injury. The goalkeeper was number one, although he never wore a number on his back (I think Yashin, the great Soviet goalkeeper, may have been an exception). The other positions were right back (2), left back (3); right half (4) centre half (5), left half (6); outside right (7), inside right (8), centre forward (9), inside left (10) and outside left (11).

The pronouns are placed in the order of “forwards” first, then “halfbacks”, then “backs” and then the goalie. If necessary, the substitute follows the goalkeeper. So, “Chaque jour il me donnait les clefs” becomes “Chaque jour il me les donnait” when “les clefs” is replaced by a pronoun (forward before halfback); but “Il les leur donnait” (halfback before back) if he gave them to some other people; “Il s’en alla” (forward before substitute); “Il y en a” (goalkeeper before substitute).

It works, but now that we have all the different formats of football teams, depending on the whim of the manager at the time, or according to what he perceives to be the need when playing against a particular opponent, how do you teach pupils the position of French pronouns?


  1. I was taught them in the same genial way, but at that time I neither knew nor cared anything about football.

    I just picked up the rhythm of the lines: 5-3-2-1-1 – worked for me.

    But then, I’ve always been one of your natural languagers. Pupils to whom every foreign lingo is a trap laid by God to make school life hell probably never got anywhere with the mnemonic in the first place.

  2. I never had the benefit of this little trick when I began learning French in the 50s, but I learned the correct order anyway. This is doubtless because I had good positional sense. As the right back of the school team, I stood resolutely on the right corner of the penalty area, waiting for the opposing team’s left winger to come in range, upon which I tackled him, or – more often – he nipped past me and scored a goal.

  3. Do you know, I played right back for Harrowby Road Junior School on the same principles. However, any left winger who nipped past me was unlikely to score. The left back was Denis Smith, later of Stoke City, who was good at covering tackles of such ferocity that for the rest of the game most left wingers preferred to let me take the ball off them.
    Erm, so what has this to do with this blog?
    Erm, I know. Is the plural of Denis, Denise (by analogy with analyses) or Denises?
    And talking of lots of /s/s, our childhood (Graham’s and mine) saw a huge consumption of Smith’s crisps. The blue one was always too salty, though.

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