Adorable, furry kittens.
What do all of these have in common?
They are all nouns!
You know what nouns are!
You might remember from English class that a noun is a person, place, thing or idea.
Simple, right? But what about in French?
Luckily for you, French nouns are easy to understand, and once you master a few basic rules, they are even easier to place into sentences.
Let’s dive right in and study French nouns!
Resources for Practicing and Researching French Nouns
Even something as simple as nouns can become complex. Luckily, there are some great resources out there to learn new nouns (vocabulary), practice writing sentences and research doubts.
“Schaum’s Outline of French Vocabulary”
I can attest that Schaum’s is one of the best textbook resources for learning French vocabulary.
“Schaum’s Outline of French Vocabulary” introduces the vocabulary group, then offers over 300 exercises to practice what you have learned. It is a great resource to gain some initial experience with French nouns.
There are some great classic French dictionaries out there, and even though I have copies of some of them, I honestly use online dictionaries for 99% of my word look-ups.
Of all the online dictionaries, I think WordReference is the most comprehensive. Every word includes its gender, part of speech, an example sentence and references to forum questions about the word.
With FluentU, you will have access to a huge video library of authentic French content and get to use interactive subtitles to easily learn about new vocabulary words.
Plus, with customized vocabulary lists, dynamic flashcard sets and fun quizzes, you will be able to keep practicing and testing your knowledge!
French Games has several lessons focused on vocabulary and their use in sentences.
Sometimes the best way to make progress is to play games. Each lesson includes a theoretical introduction, exercises, games and a quiz. For example, on the home page, click the “lessons” tab, and then click “full tutorial” for a complete lesson on several fundamental vocabulary groups.
French Nouns 101: The Comprehensive Guide You’ve Been Waiting For
All French Nouns Have Genders
Unlike in English, French nouns are either masculine or feminine. It is extremely important to understand how the gender of a noun modifies the words around it.
Articles Modifying Masculine, Singular Nouns
An article is a word that says if we are talking generally or about something in particular. Indefinite articles (a, an) talk about nouns generally, and definite articles (the) talk about a specific person, place, thing or idea.
In French, the indefinite articles are:
un (a, masculine nouns)
une (a, feminine nouns)
For masculine, singular nouns, we naturally use un (a) as the indefinite article.
Check out these examples:
un chat (a cat)
un chien (a dog)
un arbre (a tree)
A word of note on French pronunciation: Since the first letter of chat (cat) is a consonant, we separate the pronunciation of un (a) and chat (cat), but when words start with a vowel, such as with arbre (tree), we pronounce the last letter of the preceding word as part of the word that follows. In this case, it sounds like “unarbre.”
The definite article we use for masculine, singular nouns is le (the), as shown:
le chat (the cat)
le chien (the dog)
l’arbre (the tree)
You might be asking why we did not just say le arbre? When a masculine noun starts with a vowel sound, the le (the) that precedes it, which also ends in a vowel, must be combined with the noun using an apostrophe. As for the pronunciation, we drop the e of le (the) and pronounce it as “larbre.”
Articles Modifying Feminine, Singular Nouns
The indefinite article for feminine, singular nouns is une (a):
une pomme (an apple)
une chaise (a chair)
une église (a church)
No major surprises here. On the other hand, for definite articles modifying feminine, singular nouns, we use la (the).
la pomme (the apple)
la chaise (the chair)
l’église (the church)
Note that église (church) starts with a vowel, so we have to combine la (the) and église (church) with an apostrophe.
Rules for Determining a Noun’s Gender
Unlike other languages, it is unfortunately not easy to guess a word’s gender in French. In many cases, you just have to memorize the gender.
However, there are some rules and patterns you can use to guess the gender with surprising accuracy.
One of the easiest ways to determine the gender of the noun is by looking at the word’s ending. There are certain stems (-age, -eau, -il) that are generally masculine and others (-euse, -ée, -tion) that are usually feminine.
la situation (the situation) (feminine)
le chameau (the camel) (masculine)
Other words where the genders can be guessed are the male and female versions of animals or job titles. For example:
le loup (the wolf) (masculine)
la louve (the wolf) (feminine)
le politicien (the politician)
la politicienne (the politician)
Key Rules for Writing Plural Nouns
In French, writing nouns in the plural is not as simple as just tacking an s onto the end of the word. Although you can do that with most nouns, there are exceptions.
Word Endings with Different Plural Forms
For words ending in ail or al, we change the ending to aux:
le cheval (the horse)
les chevaux (the horses)
For words ending in s, we keep the word the same. For example:
le jus (the juice)
les jus (the juices)
For words ending in eu or eau, we add an x:
le bateau (the boat)
les bateaux (the boats)
Articles Modifying Masculine Nouns in the Plural
Now that we have covered how to change nouns to their plural forms, how do we change the articles?
For plural nouns, le (the) changes to les (the) and un (a) changes to des (some). For example:
l’homme (the man)
les hommes (the men)
un homme (a man)
des hommes (some men)
Note that in the plural we never combine the article with the noun it modifies.
Articles Modifying Feminine Nouns in the Plural
Just like with masculine nouns, the plural forms of la (the) and une (a) are les (the) and des (some), respectively:
la femme (the woman)
les femmes (the women)
une femme (a woman)
des femmes (some women)
In French, Adjectives Modify Nouns in Several Ways
Adjectives that modify nouns are not just static words in French like they are in English. They change depending on different characteristics of the word.
How Adjectives Are Modified by a Noun’s Gender
In French, adjectives are modified by the gender and number of the noun. In the case of genders, the ending of the adjective generally changes. Check this out:
un homme intelligent (an intelligent man)
une femme intelligente (an intelligent woman)
In the majority of cases, but not always, we add an e onto the end of the adjective when modifying a feminine noun. In the following cases, the adjectives change as follows:
- Adjectives ending in eux change to euse:
un homme paresseux (a lazy man)
une femme paresseuse (a lazy woman)
- For adjectives ending in é (note the accent) we add another e:
un homme âgé (an old man)
une femme âgée (an old woman)
- Adjectives ending in a silent e have no changes:
un homme malade (a sick man)
une femme malade (a sick woman)
- Adjectives ending in er change to ère:
un homme étranger (a foreign man)
une femme étrangère (a foreign woman)
- Adjectives ending in f change to ve:
un homme actif (an active man)
une femme active (an active woman)
Obviously, not all words fall under these categories. Several adjectives are irregular, with feminine versions that are completely different from the masculine. For example: beau vs. belle (handsome vs. beautiful).
How Adjectives Are Modified by a Noun’s Number
Adjectives in French also have to agree in number with the noun they modify. In the majority of cases, we just add an s to the adjective.
un chien intelligent (an intelligent dog)
des chiens intelligents (some intelligent dogs)
Of course, just like with nouns, we cannot just add an s to all adjectives to make the plural form. We have to apply the plural rules for different word endings we discussed above. For example:
un chat heureux (a happy cat)
des chats heureux (some happy cats)
If we have a feminine noun in the plural, we have to make sure the plural form agrees in both number and gender:
une vieille maison (an old house)
des vieilles maisons (some old houses)
Putting it All Together: Using Nouns, Articles and Adjectives in Sentences
Let’s finish by looking at a few example sentences using nouns with the appropriate articles and adjectives.
J’aime les films classiques. (I like classic movies.)
The noun in this sentence is films (movies), and the article that modifies it is les (the), taking into account that films is plural. The adjective giving us more information about the noun is classiques (classic), which is also modified to agree with the plural noun.
Let’s look at one more example:
Il veut une nouvelle maison. (He wants a new house.)
In this case, the noun, maison (house), is feminine, so we use the feminine form of nouveau, nouvelle (new). Likewise, the article has to be une (a), the feminine singular form.
You might be asking why I put the adjective before the noun in the last sentence. Although the adjective usually goes after the noun in French, a few precede the noun depending on the adjective and the context.
Nouns are like the building blocks of French sentences.
And, like building blocks, they can be put together in several ways. Once you master the different ways nouns can be put into sentences, you will be able to speak and write like a native!
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