French › Level one lessons › People and things · Les gens et les choses

By the end of this lesson, you should understand:
Qu’est-ce que c’est ? C'est une colombe.
Voici les deux garçons !

Grammar · Gender of nouns · Genre des nomsEdit

Nouns are words that represent something perceived or conceived, like an apple or a thought. In French, all nouns have a grammatical gender; that is, they are either masculine (m) or feminine (f).

Most nouns that express people or animals have both a masculine and a feminine form. For example, the two words for the cat in French are le chat (m) and la chatte (f).

However, there are some nouns that talk about people or animals whose gender is fixed, regardless of the actual gender of the person or animal. For example, la personnethe person is always feminine, even when it's talking about your uncle; le professeurthe teacher is always masculine, even when it's talking about your female professor or teacher.

The nouns that express things without an obvious gender (e.g., objects and abstract concepts) have only one form. This form can be masculine or feminine. For example, la voiturethe car can only be feminine; le stylothe pen can only be masculine.

Supplementary grammar · Common endings Edit

Masculine nouns
-age le fromage the cheese
-d le pied the foot
-g le rang the rank
-isme le matérialisme materialism
-ment le mouvement the movement
-n le ballon the balloon
-r le professeur the teacher
-t le chat the cat
Feminine nouns
-ce la grâce the grace
-che la touche the touch
-ée la durée the duration
-ie la boulangerie the bakery
-ion la nation the nation
-ite/-ité la stabilité stability
-lle la fille the girl
-nce la balance the scales
-nne la personne the person
-ure la figure the figure

ExceptionsEdit

There are many exceptions to gender rules in French which can only be learned. There are even words that are spelled the same, but have a different meaning when masculine or feminine; for example, le livre means the book, but la livre means the pound. Some words that appear to be masculine (such as la photo, which should be masculine but is not because it is actually short for la photographie) are in fact feminine, and vice versa. Then there are some that just don't make sense; la foi is feminine and means faith or belief, whereas le foie is masculine and means liver.

Vocabulary · Example nouns Edit


Masculine nouns
le cheval   /ʃəval/ the horse
le chien   /ʃjɛ̃/ the dog
le livre   /livʁ/ the book
le bruit   /bʁɥi/ the noise
Feminine nouns
la colombe   /kɔlɔ̃b/ the dove
la chemise   /ʃə.miz/ the shirt
la maison   /mɛ.zɔ̃/ the house
la liberté   /li.bɛʁ.te/ the liberty

Grammar · Articles Edit

The definite article · L'article définiEdit

In English, the definite article is always the.

In French, the definite article is changed depending on the noun's:

  1. gender
  2. number
  3. first letter

There are three definite articles and an abbreviation. Le is used for masculine nouns, La is used for feminine nouns, Les is used for plural nouns (both masculine or feminine), and L' is used when the noun is singular and begins with a vowel or silent h (both masculine or feminine). It is similar to English, where a changes to an before a vowel.

singular feminine la   /la/ (lah) la fille (lah fee-yuh) the daughter
masculine le   /lə/ (luh) le fils (luh fees) the son
singular, starting with a vowel sound l’ /l/ l’enfant (lah(n)-fah(n)) the child
plural les   /le/ (lay) les filles (lay fee-yuh) the daughters
les fils (lay fees) the sons
les enfants (lay-zah(n)-fah(n)) the children

Unlike English, the definite article is used to talk about something in a general sense, a general statement or feeling about an idea or thing.

ElisionEdit

Elision refers to the suppression of a final unstressed vowel immediately before another word beginning with a vowel. The definite articles le and la are shortened to l’ when they come before a noun that begins with a vowel or silent h. When pronounced, the vowel sound is dropped.

(le) ami l'ami (lah-mee) the (male) friend
(la) amie l'amie (lah-mee) the (female) friend
(le) élève l'élève (lay-lehv) the pupil
(la) heure l'heure (lewr) the hour, the time

Elision does not occur on an aspired h:

(le) héros: le hérosthe hero

In addition to the definite article, elision will also occur with other words, such as que, je, le, ce, ne, and de. The details on these words will be covered in later sections of the book.

The indefinite article · L'article indéfiniEdit

In English, the indefinite articles are a and an. Some is used as a plural article in English.

Again, indefinite articles in French take different forms depending on gender and number. The articles un and une literally mean one in French.

singular feminine une /yn/ (ewn) une fille[1] a daughter
masculine un /œ̃/ (uh(n)) un fils a son
plural des /dɛ/ (deh) des filles some daughters
des fils[2] some sons

^ une is often (more often than not) pronounced (ewnuh) in poetry and lyric.
^ Des fils does mean some sons, but is a homograph: it can also mean some threads (when pronounced like   /fil/ ).

SomeEdit

Note that des, like les, is used in French before plural nouns when no article is used in English. For example, you are looking at photographs in an album. The English statement I am looking at photographs. cannot be translated to French as Je regarde photographies. because an article is required to tell which photographs are being looked at. If it is a set of specific pictures, the French statement should be Je regarde les photographies.I am looking at the photographs. On the other hand, if the person is just browsing the album, the French translation is Je regarde des photographies.I am looking at some photographs.

Plurality, pronunciation, and exceptionsEdit

The plural of most nouns is formed by adding an -s. However, the -s ending is not pronounced. It is the article that tells the listener whether the noun is singular or plural.

Most singular nouns do not end in -s. The -s is added for the plural form of the noun. Fils is one exception. Whenever the singular form of a noun ends in -s, there is no change in the plural form.

le fils
the son
les fils
the sons
un fils
a son
des fils
(some) sons
le cours
the course
les cours
the courses
un cours
a course
des cours
(some) courses

The final consonant is almost always not pronounced unless followed by an -e (or another vowel). Fils /fis/ is also an exception to this rule.

LiaisonEdit

Remember that the last consonant of a word is typically not pronounced unless followed by a vowel. When a word ending in a consonant is followed by a word beginning with a vowel sound (or silent h), the consonant often becomes pronounced. This is a process called liaison. When a vowel goes directly after un, the normally unpronounced n sound becomes pronounced.

(un) ami unnami   /ɶ̃‿na.mi/ a (male) friend
(un) élève unnélève   /ɶ̃‿ne.lɛv/ a pupil

Compare the pronunciation to words without liaison:

un garçon /ɶ̃ gaʁsɔ̃/

Une is unaffected by liaison.

Liaison also occurs with les and des.

(les) amis leszamis   /le‿za.mi/ (some) (male) friends
(des) amis deszamis   /dɛ‿za.mi/ (some) (male) friends
(des) amies deszamies   /dɛ‿za.mi/ (some) (female) friends

As with elision, an aspired h isn't liaised:

(les) hangars: les hangars le æŋgəʁ

Vocabulary · People · Les personnesEdit

la personne   /la pɛʁ.sɔn/ person
Gender and age
l'homme (m)   /lɔm/ man
la femme   /la fam/ woman
le garçon   /lə gaʁ.sɔ̃/ boy
la fille   /la fi.j/ girl
la fillette   /la fi.jɛt/ little girl
Friends
l'ami (m)
le copain
  /la.mi/
  /lə kɔ.pɛ̃/
male friend
l'amie (f)
la copine
  /la.mi/
  /la kɔ.pin/
female friend

Vocabulary · Expressions Edit

Qu’est-ce que c’est ?Edit

To say What is it? or What is that? in French, Qu’est-ce que c’est ? /kɛs kə sɛ/ is used.

Qu'est-ce que…?What is it that ? is used often to say What…? at the beginning of sentences.

To respond to this question, you say C’est un(e) [nom]., meaning It is a [noun]:

C'est un livre.It's a book.

Remember that the indefinite article (un or une) must agree with the noun it modifies:

C'est une chemise.It's a shirt.

Il y aEdit

Il y a /il.ja/ is used to say there is or there are. Il y a expresses the existence of the noun it introduces.

Il y a une pomme.There is an apple.

The phrase is used for both singular and plural nouns. Unlike in English (isare), il y a does not change form.

Il y a des pommes.There are (some) apples.

The -s at the end of the most pluralised nouns tells you that the phrase is there are instead of there is. In spoken French, when both the singular and plural forms almost always sound the same, the article (and perhaps other adjectives modifying the noun) is used to distinguish between singular and plural versions.

A is the present third person singular form of the verb to have, and y is a pronoun meaning there. The phrase il y a, then, literally translates to he has there. This phrase is used in all French tenses. It is important to remember that verb stays as a form of have and not be.

Voici and voilàEdit

Like in English, il y a… is not often used to point out an object. To point out an object to the listener, use voici /vwa.si/, meaning over here is/are or right here is/are, and voilà /vwa.la/, meaning over there is/are, or there you have it.

Voici les deux garçons !Here are the two boys!

ExamplesEdit

C'est un chien. It's a dog.
Il y a un problème. There is a problem.
Il y a deux personnes ici. There are two people here.
Il y a deux tables dans le salon. There are two tables in the lounge.
Il n’y a pas de chat. There is no cat.
il n’y a pas que toi. You are not the only one.
Voici le fromage. Here's the cheese.
Voila une pomme There's an apple.

Exercises Edit

ExerciseRespond according to the pictures.
Qu’est-ce que c’est?
C'est ….
pomme poire chat chien
 
C'est une pomme
 
C'est une poire
 
C'est un chat
 
C'est un chien
ExerciseMatching
Match each noun with its corresponding image.
une colombe
des livres
une chemise
des chevaux
une maison
         
Solution
 
une chemise
 
une maison
 
des livres
 
une colombe
 
des chevaux
ExerciseTranslation

(Highlight or hover over a line to show the answer.) Translate each phrase from English to French

the boy le garçon
the female friend l'amie, la copine
the man l'homme
the little girl la fillette
the woman la femme
the person la personne
the girl la fille
the male friend l'ami, le copain
ExerciseTranslation

(Highlight or hover over a line to show the answer.) Translate each phrase from French to English

l'amie the female friend
la fillette the little girl
la personne the person
la femme the woman
l'ami the male friend
la copine the female friend
le garçon the boy
la fille the girl
le copain the male friend
l'homme the man

Supplementary exercises Edit

ExerciseGender

(Highlight or hover over a line to show the answer.) Classify each noun as masculine or feminine based on its ending.

rapidité feminine
mutisme masculine
récréation feminine
bricolage masculine
paille feminine
découpage masculine
grenouille feminine
gallicisme masculine
robinet masculine
différence feminine
rondelle feminine
optimisme masculine
question feminine
modernisme masculine
vaisselle feminine
paysage masculine
ambulance feminine
originalité feminine
famille feminine
sévérité feminine
couronne feminine
particularité feminine
anarchisme masculine
feuille feminine
mobilité feminine
télévision feminine
oreille feminine
panne feminine
frite feminine
ordonnance feminine
professionnalisme masculine
sincérité feminine
invitation feminine
passage masculine
abeille feminine
résolubilité feminine
canne feminine
attention feminine
validité feminine
bagage masculine
coquillage masculine
créativité feminine
chance feminine
monolinguisme masculine
village masculine