The Definitive Guide to French Agreement: Verbs, Nouns, Adjectives and More
One of the trickiest aspects of French grammar for language learners are the agreements or les accords.
But don’t be too hard on yourself… even native speakers can get confused about agreements!
In this article, we’ll guide you through the agreements using examples and by explaining the rules.
As you read this, you’ll see that you can get a good knowledge base pretty easily, and then continue to fine-tune your grammar by applying it as you learn.
- Subject-verb Agreement
- Agreement with the Past Participle in the Passé Composé
- Noun Gender Agreement
- Adjective-noun Agreement
As in English, French grammar requires that a verb agrees with its subject in a sentence.
In French, the verb changes form depending on who is performing the action, when it happened and other factors.
For more on this topic, we have an entire post on just French verb agreement.
Basics of French verb conjugation
The process of making the verb ending correspond to the appropriate pronoun (plus the correct tense and mood) is called conjugation.
Here’s an example:
Pauline travaille à la banque. (Pauline works at the bank.)
Ses enfants ne travaillent pas encore. (Her children do not work yet.)
In the first sentence the verb travaille agrees with the subject Pauline, whereas in the second sentence the verb changes to travaillent for the plural subject ses enfants.
Luckily, you won’t have to memorize how to conjugate every single verb separately. A large number of French verbs can be split into certain distinct groups that follow patterns.
There are three French verb endings: –er, –ir and –re. Verbs are conjugated by removing the ending of the basic infinitive form and adding a new ending based on a set of patterns and rules.
The conjugation patterns demonstrated below for each ending. We’ll also demonstrate irregular verbs which don’t follow the typical conjugation patterns.
Regular -er verbs
Example: laver (to wash)
je lave (I wash)
tu laves (you wash)
il/elle lave (he/she washes)
nous lavons (we wash)
vous lavez (you [all] wash)
ils lavent (they wash)
There are also categories of -er verbs called stem-changing verbs that behave like regular -er verbs except that the stem doesn’t stay consistent for all the conjugations.
Regular -ir verbs
Example: finir (to finish)
je finis (I serve)
tu finis (you serve)
il/elle finit (he/she finishes)
nous finissons (we finish)
vous finissez (you [all] finish)
ils finissent (they serve)
Regular -re verbs
Example: vendre (to sell)
je vends (I sell)
tu vends (you sell)
il/elle vend (he/she sells)
nous vendons (we sell)
vous vendez (you [all] sell)
ils/elles vendent (they sell)
Irregular verbs are verbs that are not conjugated according to the usual patterns.
Once you’ve learned the irregular verbs, you’ll notice quite a few patterns among some of them and they’ll become easier to remember.
Here are a few common irregular verbs:
Example: être (to be)
je suis (I am)
tu es (you are)
il/elle est (he/she is)
nous sommes (we are)
vous êtes (you [all] are)
ils sont (they are)
Example: avoir (to have)
j’ai (I have)
tu as (you have)
il/elle a (he/she has)
nous avons (we have)
ils ont (they have)
Example: aller (to go)
je vais (I go)
tu vas (you go)
il/elle va (he/she goes)
nous allons (we go)
vous allez (you go)
ils/elles vont (they go)
Here are some basics to remember no matter what verb, or group:
- The personal pronoun tu always calls for an s at the end of the conjugated verb in the present tense.
- The personal pronoun nous always calls for ons at the end of the conjugated verb (except with être !).
- The personal pronoun vous always calls for ez at the end of the conjugated verb.
- The personal pronoun ils/elles (they) always calls for nt at the end of the conjugated verb.
Agreement with the Past Participle in the Passé Composé
The passé composé is a past tense verb form. It’s made up of an auxiliary or “helping” verb (avoir or être) plus a past participle.
Elles ont raté leur bus. (They have missed their bus.)
In this sentence, ont is the auxiliary form of avoir. Raté is the past participle of the verb rater (to miss).
The past participle won’t agree with the subject with auxiliary verb avoir (to have), but it will agree for the most part with the auxiliary être (to be).
As you can see, the verb rater (to miss) is not agreeing with the feminine-plural subject elles, because avoir is used.
Elles sont montées dans le bus. (They got in the bus.)
Here both verbs agree with the feminine plural subject elles since the auxiliary être is used.
Les filles sont rentrées dans la maison. (The girls went back into the house.)
In this case, the verb rentrer (to enter/to come in) has to agree with the subject in the sentence. Les filles is the subject, thus the verb rentrer needs to agree with the feminine plural mark, which is ées.
Les garçons sont rentrés dans la maison. (The boys went back into the house.)
Here, les garçons is the subject in the sentence. So the verb rentrer needs to agree with the masculine plural mark, which is és.
Noun Gender Agreement
In French, each noun has a gender: either masculine or feminine.
Agreement between nouns and articles
An article is a word like “the” or “a” in English.
In French, each noun has to agree with its article in terms of gender as well as number.
Le (“the”) and un (“a”) are masculine articles that are used with masculine nouns.
La (“the”) and une (“a”) are feminine articles that are used with feminine nouns.
Before vowels and the majority of words that start with the letter h, you’ll use l’ to mean “the.” This is the contracted form of both le and la.
So, while we say le garçon (the boy), when he becomes a man, he becomes l’homme.
Plural noun agreement
In the plural form, le and la both become les. Un and une become des.
For example, le livre (the book) is singular and masculine. But if there’s more than one book you’re referring to, it changes to les livres (the books).
From the previous example, you’ll have noticed that livre takes on an s when pluralized, in the same way that “book” changes to “books” in English. This is the case with a lot of French nouns. There are, however, exceptions.
Nouns ending in eau, au and eu usually don’t end with the regular plural mark s, but with x.
Here are some examples of such words:
un cadeau (a gift) —> des cadeaux (gifts)
un oiseau (a bird) —> des oiseaux (birds)
un feu (a fire) —> des feux (fires)
Nouns ending in ou end with the regular s except for seven specific words that end in x. You’ll have to memorize these just like French kids do:
- un chou (a cabbage) —> des choux (cabbages)
- un bijou (a jewel) —> des bijoux (jewels)
- un joujou (a toy) —> des joujoux (toys)
- un genou (a knee) —> des genoux (knees)
- un caillou (a pebble) —> des cailloux (pebbles)
- un hibou (an owl) —> des hiboux (owls)
- un pou (a louse) —> des poux (lice)
French teachers have a sentence to help students remember all those words at once:
Viens mon chou, mon joujou, mon bijou, sur mes genoux, pour jeter des cailloux à ce hibou plein de poux.
A literal English translation will make no sense, but in essence this sentence says… “come my honey, my jewel, on my knees and throw pebbles to that bad owl full of lice.”
There are some words that already have s or x as a final letter. These words are not modified at all, whether they are singular or plural.
You’ll have to tell from context whether a noun is singular or plural, but you’ll always have the articles from the previous section to help you out in a pinch!
Here are a few examples:
une fois (one time) —> deux fois (two times)
un bois (a wood) —> des bois (woods)
une noix (a walnut) —> des noix (walnuts)
In the case of adjectives, the agreement is also formed depending on the gender of the noun.
Remember that if you’re unsure of the gender of a noun, you can identify the gender by its article.
you can modify the masculine singular version of the adjective by adding…
- -e to make it feminine.
- -s to make it masculine plural.
- -es to make it feminine plural.
Here are some examples:
un petit placard (a small closet)
une petite chaise (a small chair)
un livre intéressant (an interesting book)
une série intéressante (an interesting TV series)
There are exceptions to these adjective forms. Here’s are some examples:
une baguette délicieuse (a delicious baguette)
un dessert délicieux (a delicious dessert)
un homme fier (a proud man)
une femme fière (a proud woman)
un petit garçon sot (a silly little boy)
une petite fille sotte (a silly little girl)
un homme actif (an active man)
une femme active (an active woman)
And there you have it!
Here’s a tutorial video about general agreements with masculine and feminine genders that will give you even more examples with the right French pronunciation.
These are the main agreement rules of the French language that will help you improve your French grammar as well as your spoken French.
Happy French agreements learning!