Genders and articles in French

What is grammatical ‘gender’?‎

All French nouns have a grammatical gender - they are either masculine or feminine. It’s ‎important to learn the gender of a word as you go along.

With masculine words, use le (the) or un (a/an) and with feminine words, use la (the) or une ‎‎(a/an). With plural words, use les (the) or des (some). With all words that start with a vowel ‎or ‘h’, use l’, regardless of whether it’s a masculine or feminine noun.‎

How do you know if a word is masculine or feminine?‎

With some words, it is easy to know whether they are masculine or feminine, because ‎they describe male or female people.‎

  • le père - father
  • la mère - mother

All female family members are feminine and all male family members are masculine.‎

To know whether other nouns are masculine or feminine, consider the following rules, ‎but remember there are often exceptions to the rules.‎

Words that end in the following letters are often masculine:‎

endingexampleexceptions
‎-agele visage‎ (face)la page (page), l’image (image)
‎-mentun appartement ‎‎(apartment)‎
‎-eaule gâteau (cake)‎l’eau (water)‎
‎-ismele racisme (racism)‎
‎-in‎le jardin‎ (garden)‎la fin (end)‎

A lot of ‘new’ French words, which often come from English, are masculine:‎

  • Internet is masculine (although it never has an article) eg: J’aime passer du temps ‎sur Internet - I like spending time on the internet.‎
  • le week-end - weekend
  • le sandwich - sandwich

Words that end in the following letters are often feminine:‎

endingexampleexceptions
‎-sion / -tionla télévision (television) la ‎natation (swimming)‎
‎-urela voiture (car)‎
‎-éeune année‎ (year)le musée‎ (museum), le lycée ‎‎(high school)
‎-eriela boulangerie (bakery)‎
‎-téla qualité (quality)‎

How do you form plurals?‎

To turn most French nouns into plurals, you need to add an ‘s’ to the end of the word. ‎Use les (the) or des (some) with plural nouns:‎

  • le père - les pères (father - fathers)‎
  • une table - des tables (a table - some tables)‎

With some nouns, the endings change slightly when they become plural.‎

Words ending in -eau and -ou usually have an ‘x’ when they become plural:‎

  • le gâteau - les gâteaux (cake - cakes)‎
  • un chou - des choux (a cabbage - some cabbages)‎

If a word ends in -al, you normally take off the ‘l’ and add ‘ux’ to make it plural:‎

  • un animal - des animaux (an animal - some animals)‎

Some words are completely different in the singular and plural:‎

  • l’œil - les yeux (eye - eyes)‎

However, some words, particularly ones that end in -s, -z or -x, don’t change when they ‎become plural.‎

  • le jus - les jus (juice - juices)‎
  • un nez - des nez (a nose - some noses)‎
  • la voix - les voix (voice - voices)‎

Definite articles and when to use them

The definite article is the word the. There are three words for the in French, depending on ‎whether a word is masculine, feminine or plural.‎

masculinefeminineplural (masculine and feminine)
lelales

The definite article is used a lot more in French than it is in English. Here are some ‎examples of where you use the definite article in French, where it is not needed in ‎English.‎

After aimer (to like) or détester (to hate):‎

  • J’aime les chats - I like cats.‎
  • Ma mère déteste les oignons - My mum hates onions.‎

Talking about things in general:‎

  • Les chiens sont super - Dogs are great.‎
  • Le lundi, je vais chez mes grands-parents - On Mondays, I go to my grandparents’ ‎house.‎

With school subjects:‎

  • J’étudie les maths - I’m studying maths.‎
  • Mon copain voudrait apprendre le français - My friend would like to learn French.‎

Indefinite articles and when to use them

The words for ‘a/an’ and ‘some’ change in French, depending on whether the noun is ‎masculine or feminine.‎

masculinefeminineplural (masculine and feminine)
ununedes

The indefinite article is used very similarly in French and English:‎

  • Je voudrais un hamburger - I would like a hamburger.‎
  • Tu as une armoire dans ta chambre? - Do you have a wardrobe in your bedroom?‎
  • Ma sœur mange des fraises - My sister is eating (some) strawberries.‎

Quiz

Find out how much you know about genders and articles in French in this short quiz.

Where next?

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Adjectives in French
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