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Une dame et
un petit garçon
le paysage.
Masculine and feminine nouns
How adjectives behave
Verbs from the first group
Verbs and prepositions
French is not so very far from English. Both languages have the same historical
origins and this is a great help for learners, especially when it comes to acquiring
But there are important differences in the structures of the two languages. And if
you understand those from the beginning, you'll build your knowledge on a firm
Let's start with the simple sentence:
Une dame et un garçon regardent tranquillement le paysage.
The basic elements are the same in French as in English:
Une dame et un garçon regardent tranquillement
A lady and a boy
le paysage
at the countryside
Now let's look at the differences.
1) The masculine and feminine genders
Le genre masculin et le genre féminin
Where in English we have 'a lady' and 'a boy', in French we have:
une dame et un garçon
Une is French for a - the indefinite article - when the noun that follows is feminine.
Un is French for a when the noun that follows is masculine.
And in French, all nouns are either masculine or feminine.
une fleur et un arbre
a flower and a tree
une maison ou un appartement
a house or a flat
As for the word the - the definite article - in French it's la for feminine nouns and
le for masculine nouns:
la péniche et le bateau
the barge and the boat
la dame et le monsieur
the lady and the gentleman
le chat et la souris
the cat and the mouse
When you learn a noun, memorise the article that goes with it at the same
time: «la maison» and not simply «maison». Confidence over the gender of
nouns will greatly improve your fluency.
Plural nouns take the same indefinite article whether they are masculine or
feminine - des:
un café
des cafés
a coffee - some coffees
une voiture
des voitures
a car - some cars
And plural nouns also take the same definite article whether they are masculine or
feminine - les:
les chats et les souris
the cats and the mice
2) How adjectives behave
Le comportement des adjectifs
Adjectives must agree with nouns in terms of number, singular or plural, and
gender, masculine or feminine.
More often than not, making an adjective feminine involves adding an e to the
masculine version.
is masculine for black and
is the feminine for black.
Sometimes you will find the root of the word changes a little too, for example:
le mur blanc
the white wall
la maison blanche
the white house
When you learn an adjective, learn its two gender forms at the same time.
blanc / blanche
heureux / heureuse
happy, lucky
Often, making nouns and adjectives plural involves adding an s.
le chat noir
les chats noirs
the black cat - the black cats
la voiture noire
les voitures noires
the black car - the black cars
Sometimes though, particularly when there is a group of vowels at the end of the
word, making a word plural involves adding an x:
Les bateaux noirs quittent le port.
The black ships leave the port.
Neither the s for the plural nor the x for the plural is pronounced.
The adjective noir goes after the noun
le café noir
the black coffee
la marée noire
the black tide: the oil slick
unlike the English 'black', which goes before 'coffee' or 'tide'. This isn't a rule
for all adjectives - but in spoken French the adjectives of colour go after the
For other adjectives, it's a question of learning by experience. Sometimes the word
order changes the meaning:
un homme grand
a tall man
un grand homme
a great man
3) The conjugation of verbs
La conjugaison des verbes
La Rochelle la côte atlantique
La Rochelle the Atlantic coast
Verb endings change according to whether the subject is singular or plural:
le sujet
le verbe
Le bateau noir
le port.
The black boat
the port.
Les bateaux
le port.
The boats
the port.
Verb endings also change according to whether the subject is the first person
the second person
you (singular)
you (plural or formal)
or the third person
he, it
she, it
ils, elles
Here are the endings for the verb parler - 'to speak':
parler - to speak
je parle
nous parlons
I speak
we speak
tu parles
vous parlez
you speak
you speak
il parle
ils parlent
he speaks
they speak
elle parle
elles parlent
she speaks
they speak
With the verb parler - and all regular verbs ending in er - the pronunciation is the
same for the first, second and third person singular and the third person plural.
je parle
tu parles
il parle
elle parle
ils parlent
elles parlent
4) The construction of verbs
La construction des verbes
Look again at the sentence which began this lesson.
Une dame et un garçon regardent tranquillement
A lady and a boy
le paysage
at the countryside
In English there is the additional word 'at'. The sense of 'at' is included in the
French verb regarder. There are some verbs in French which stand on their own,
where in English you need a preposition:
to look at
Nous regardons la rivière.
We look at the river.
to look for
Elle cherche le journal.
She looks for the newspaper.
And there are some verbs in French which take a preposition, where the English
equivalent stands alone:
entrer dans
to enter
Il entre dans le bureau.
He enters the office.
And sometimes the meaning of a verb can change when it's followed by a
to look for
chercher à
to try to
Elle cherche à comprendre.
She tries to understand.
When you learn a verb, always learn the construction that goes with it at the
same time.