I remember when I tried to explain the concept of French noun gender to my mom.
I’d just started learning French in the eighth grade. I was enamored with the language, soaking up every new word and already dreaming of the day I would stroll with confidence down the streets of Paris.
I eagerly went home and shared with my monolingual mom the new things I was learning. I happily impressed her, saying my name in French, rattling off the basic French pleasantries and, of course, describing gendered words.
To this day, she doesn’t understand why a table is feminine and a book is masculine.
And who can blame her? The idea sounds like utter nonsense to someone whose only language is English.
Even longtime French learners can become frustrated by what seems to be an arbitrary and downright unnecessary grammar quirk.
But no matter what you think of it, French noun gender is unavoidable for all language learners. With regular practice and some smart memorization techniques, it can be mastered.
In this post, we’ll give you three patterns to help you determine a French noun’s gender.
We’ll also show you 40+ common French nouns with their genders that exemplify each pattern (as well as some of the inevitable exceptions).
But first, maybe you need a little more convincing.
Why Bother Learning French Noun Genders?
When dealing with a grammatical concept as seemingly arbitrary as gender, it can be tempting to ask why such a system is even necessary. Can’t we just kind of, you know, gloss over this area?
Well, grammatical gender isn’t as simple as just knowing whether to put un or une (a/an) and le or la (the) before a noun.
A noun’s gender also impacts an accompanying adjective’s spelling and pronunciation. (Here’s an in-depth guide on how that works.)
So, whether you’re writing or speaking French, it’ll definitely be noticeable if you’re not paying attention to gender. I know it seems like an unnecessary hassle, but keeping nouns’ genders straight is simply essential to mastering French.
And we’ll help you get there.
Where to Practice French Noun Gender
As you dive into the words and patterns below, you’ll want to have some go-to tools to apply what you’re learning. Here are some helpful places to practice French noun gender:
- This article gives you ideas for games, both by yourself or with others, to reinforce nouns and gender in your mind.
- This Sporcle quiz gives you just a word ending, and you type in “m” or “f,” indicating which gender most regularly characterizes that noun. Talk in French also has a simple 10-question quiz that asks you to identify the gender of a given French noun.
(Note that these quizzes do include some endings/words not covered in this article).
- FluentU is one of the best tools to naturally build your vocabulary without neglecting noun gender. That’s because you’ll be learning new words in the context of real-life French.
FluentU personalizes the experience by suggesting new videos based on what you’ve watched. Check out the free trial for an entertaining way to learn French as native speakers really use it—all while actively building your vocabulary and noun gender stockpile.
- Turn your house into a French gender goldmine with Vocabulary Stickers. These durable (but easy-to-remove) stickers let you label objects all around your home with their French name. It’s another fun method to learn French words organically. And best of all, each label is color-coded for gender, adding a visual element for even easier memorization.
There are more than 130 labels for items in your kitchen, closet, office and much more. Check all of them out here.
The Easiest Way to Learn French Noun Genders: Common Patterns for Masculine and Feminine Words
These three patterns are much easier to learn than every single word gender out there. We’ll show you how to recognize them, with plenty of common French nouns as examples.
The bad news is, of course, that there are exceptions. There are several masculine nouns that follow feminine-noun patterns, and vice-versa. Therefore, the best way to keep genders straight is to always learn new words with their genders. When you’re making flashcards or repeating French nouns aloud, don’t just say chaise (chair). Make sure you say une chaise (a chair) or la chaise (the chair) so your brain gets used to that word’s gender from the beginning.
But we’re not perfect. Even when we faithfully practice a new word with the appropriate article, when we actually want to use it, there are going to be times when we can’t quite remember. That’s where these patterns can come in handy. Here are some to look out for so you can predict a noun’s gender that you don’t know.
Pattern 1: Gendered Noun Endings
Endings of Masculine Nouns
Nouns with one of the following endings will usually be masculine:
Le cerveau (the brain)
Un collège (a middle school, not a university)
Un thème (a theme)
Le fer (iron)
Le poulet (chicken)
Le christianisme (Christianity)
Un moment (a moment)
Endings of Feminine Nouns
Nouns with one of the following endings will usually be feminine:
La souffrance (suffering)
Une frontière (a border)
La sagesse (wisdom)
Une baguette (a baguette)
La chaleur (heat)
La philosophie (philosophy)
Common Nouns with Gendered Endings
Let’s take a look at a few examples of nouns with endings following these rules and put them in context. We’ll start with some masculine nouns:
Mon père porte toujours un chapeau. (My dad always wears a hat.)
Mon nouveau logement coûte moins que l’un dans le centre-ville. (My new apartment costs less than the one downtown.)
Nous avons perdu notre chien parce que nous avons oublié de l’attacher au piquet. (We lost our dog because we forgot to tie him to the post.)
Here are a few examples of feminine French nouns that follow the rules:
Dans toute ma vie, je n’ai jamais goûté quelque chose de si délicieuse! (In all my life, I have never tasted something so delicious!)
Elle a justement commencé sa carrière médicale. (She just started her medical career.)
Ma petite soeur rêve de faire la connaissance d’une vedette de cinéma. (My little sister dreams of meeting a movie star.)
Common Exceptions to the Gendered Endings Pattern
Now, this is where we get to some common nouns that feel extra rebellious and break the rules. First, we’ll look at a few masculine nouns that have traditionally female endings:
Ma tante a besoin de la chirguie du cœur. (My aunt needs heart surgery.)
Dans ma classe d’anatomie, mon professeur a nous montré un squelette. (In my anatomy class, my teacher showed us a skeleton.)
L’incendie a détruit leur maison. (The fire destroyed their house.)
Finally, we’ll take a look at (you guessed it!) French feminine nouns that have traditionally masculine endings:
Ma maison est près de la mer. (My house is near the sea.)
Vous devez boire beaucoup d’eau pendant l’exercice. (You must drink lots of water during exercise.)
J’applique souvent la lotion pour ma peau sèche. (I apply lotion often for my dry skin.)
Pattern 2: Gendered Noun Categories
Certain categories of nouns tend to be masculine or feminine. Better yet, the gender of the generic noun category will also usually match the gender of the sub-categories as well.
For example, since la mer (the sea) is feminine, names of specific seas, such as la Méditerranée (the Mediterranean) are feminine as well. You’ll see many more examples of how this works in our list below.
Masculine Noun Categories
Un mois (a month)
Le décembre (December)
- Planes (e.g. names of planes)
Un avion (a plane)
Le Concorde (the Concorde)
Le fromage (cheese)
Le Roquefort (Roquefort)
Le français (French)
Exception! Une langue (a language) is feminine.
Le printemps (spring)
Cet hiver (this winter)
Exception! Une saison (a season) is feminine.
Feminine Noun Categories
- Scientific fields
La science (science)
La physique (physics)
Une banane (A banana)
Exception! Un fruit (a fruit) is masculine.
Pattern 3: Gendered Careers
When you first learn the names of job titles in French, you’ll notice that in many cases the word is masculine and only masculine. This is the result of language not catching up with culture. Since many professions have traditionally been closed to women, there was no linguistic need to have a feminine form of the word.
Today, although it would make logical sense to have feminine forms, that idea is met with resistance for complex reasons. Some men are threatened by it, while some women find it demeaning for attention to be drawn to their gender in that way (like thinking of someone as a “female doctor” instead of simply a “doctor”).
In other cases, the problem is logistical. Continuing with the medical example, following the standard rules of feminizing a masculine French word, un médicin (a doctor) would become une médicine, which already exists and refers to the field of medical science.
Some professional titles, however, have widely accepted feminine forms. For example, un acteur (an actor) smoothly becomes une actrice. Nevertheless, many still only have masculine forms. This is especially true in France, where the conservative Académie Française (French Academy) has final say in the rules of the French language. Places such as Francophone Quebec and Switzerland tend to be more open to feminized job titles.
Now, we’ll take a closer look at some common job titles, both those that have masculine and feminine forms, as well as those that remain obstinately masculine.
Masculine Career Names
- Un professeur (a teacher) has no widely accepted feminine form.
- While une chef (a chef) is commonly accepted in Switzerland and Francophone Quebec, only un chef is generally used in France.
- Un écrivain (a writer) is usually only employed in the masculine.
Feminine Career Names
- Un avocat (a lawyer) smoothly becomes une avocate.
- Similarly, un ingénieur (an engineer) becomes une ingénieure.
- As un peintre (a painter) already ends with an “-e,” one could easily say une peintre.
I know. A lot of fuss over a concept that doesn’t really exist in English.
It does take time, but if you practice the tricks we showed you and always learn new words with their genders, you may very well find yourself walking confidently down the streets of Paris, ready to talk about anything!
All along, FluentU keeps track of vocabulary that you are learning. It uses that info to recommend more examples and videos and give you a fully personalized experience.
You can start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
Rachel Larsen is a lifelong francophile and freelance writer who dreams of living in France one day. She’s currently a student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. To learn more, visit her LinkedIn page.