As an aspiring francophone, it's best to express yourself in French at every opportunity! Whether you're speaking French with other students in your French class, or with native French speakers around your neighbourhood, or best on a summer holiday in France...
Conversing in the French language at every chance is your best way to learn the language. However, it's best to remember some common grammar errors that students make when learning the romantic French language.
It they look at you with a questionable look when you're attempting to speak French, it could be because you are committing an unintentional grammar faux-pas: common French mistakes that every new language learner makes until they reach an intermediate level of fluency.
Superprof provides you with this concise list of French grammar no-nos or errors, which can be pinned to a wall in your study area to help you internalise them via passive learning.
Some Errors in Using French Articles
The use of the French Article does tends to be rather tricky; not the least of which is the issue of gender to consider.
The English language does not use grammatical gender; rules of agreement tend more towards indefinite versus definite articles.
The French language has the same English rules of agreement, and adds to them their rules for gender.
Therefore the most common errors made when learning French is the use of the wrong gender article. The easiest way to avoid those errors is to learn the rules for gender assignment in the French language.
Let's consider some particular instances where these rules are most often broken.
Definite articles in French are: le, la and les; which all correspond to English's "the".
Unlike in the English language, these articles are not the default in French; the indefinite and partitive articles are.
Indefinite article: un and une, is equivalent to "a and an", with the plural form des being equivalent to "some".
Partitive article: du, de la, represent masculine and feminine singular, and des is the plural form for either gender. They correspond to English language's "some or any".
Using the correct articles in French depends on knowing the gender of the noun: you must use a masculine article with a masculine gender noun, and feminine article with a feminine noun.
Also, the correct article usage depends on the number: if the noun is plural, so too must the article be plural.
Finally, some extra conditions may apply if the noun in question starts with a vowel, or with a mute H, in which case it would contracted to de l', rather than a wholly written article.
Mon ordinateur a besoin de l'electricité – my computer needs electricity.
This sentence demonstrates the use of article contraction, as well as the lack of article in the English translation.
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Misusing Indefinite and Partitive Articles
in English, we use different articles for countable and uncountable nouns:
For example; Some water versus a bottle of water. Bottles can be counted but water itself cannot.
An exception to that rule would be ordering a water in a restaurant, or buying a water. In these instances, it is because the definer was needed: a glass of water, or a bottle of water.
In French the same rules hold true. Still, many students get this wrong. Here is the way it should be:
- use partitive articles for uncountables
- du blé, de la crème – some wheat, some cream
- use indefinite articles for countables
- un livre, une maison – a book, a house
You should only use definite articles if pertaining to something specific:
- the blue car = la voiture bleue
- the green hat = le chapeau vert
- the porcelain cups = les tasses en faience.
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Some Common Errors When Using Verbs
The French language has multiple tenses and moods, it can at times be the most challenging and confounding process when learning French.
In addition the most often used verbs corresponding to english's "to be" and "to have", are irregular verbs and are therefore used in various French verb forms!
Verbs Used To Describe a Condition
We English speakers describe certain conditions or states that affect us using "to be":
- I am hungry/thirsty
- I am cold/warm
- I am scared
But in the French Language they use "to have" to describe the same states:
- J'ai faim/soif
- j'ai froid/chaud
- J'ai peur
However, in the following examples, the French match us, be for be:
- I am tired Je suis fatigué(e)
- I am sick Je suis malade
- I am angry Je suis en colère
- I am happy Je suis content(e)
For a good study on how and when to use être – to be, you might want to take a look at this tutorial.
Therefore, when describing a human condition, you would use either to be "être" or to have "avoir". However, to describe an environmental condition, like the weather you would use the verb faire - "il fait"
It is hot outside translates to il fait chaud dehors, literally: he makes hot outside.
To describe such situations, always use the masculine singular pronoun + fait + the condition.
Examples: a windy day = Il fait du vent, the weather is nice = il fait beau
Mixing up Verbs of Similar Meaning
Any French lessons, will surely cover the verbs dire (to say) and parler (to speak).
In English, both of these verbs represents the concept of talking, but with slightly different meaning.
Je veux parler means I want to talk. Je veux dire... means I want to say...
To use the word parler on its own, with no direct object, suggests the very meaning described above. However, using it with a preposition, specifically à or au, indicates that you are speaking with someone.
Le gendarme parle au voyous, or le maître parle à ces étudiants.
You can use the verb dire to report what someone else said. Dire, followed by a direct object is also acceptable.
Tu dis qu'il fait chaud?
Another verb pair with similar meaning is voire and regarder.
Again in English there exists a similar pair: to see and to look.
You can use je vois in the same way you use I see: to express understanding. This verb is also commonly used with a direct object, yielding the same sentence as in English.
How to say we saw something beautiful in French?
Regarder is reserved for things actively looked at; in this sense, it corresponds more to our verb to watch.
Regarder la tele means watching the telly.
How do you say look at that girl?
The final verb pair to not confuse is connaître and savoir: to know and to know – but not interchangeably!
You can aver that you know a location, a person, or a possession by using connaître, in the sense that you are familiar with them.
Savoir is reserved for actual accrued knowledge.
Using Possessives Properly
It is an innocuous action, and everybody should do it: wash their hands.
In English, we are compelled to assign as the sentence's object whose hands were washed: Marie washed her hands.
In French, those hands are only identified as Mary's by the pronominal verb construction that precedes it:
Marie s'est lavée les mains, translated into English, is: Marie washed herself the hands.
Often, this is incorrectly expressed as: Marie s'est lavéeses mains.
In fact, using the possessive pronoun ses would make the her in her hands redundant, as the sentence already expresses that Marie has washed herself.
The rule is: any time you invoke body parts, from hair to toes, use pronominal verbs but not possessive adjectives.
Why So Much Trouble?
Native speakers, those who grew up in French speaking countries, do not commit such crimes against grammar.
Thanks to their immersion – surrounded by French language and culture, they are quick to pick up on words and phrases and use them correctly... most of the time.
Often, one can hear parents gently improve their youngsters' spoken French: ça se dit..., Chéri(e).
Today, you're doing your best to excel at language learning, and you may get understandably frustrated at making these niggling spelling and grammar mistakes on your way to being bilingual.
There's the thing about mistakes: they are vital to learning how to speak French.
If you want to learn French fast, we urge you to direct your efforts more to absorbing French vocabulary, how to use words in proper context, and exercising French pronunciation.
To understand French better, listening to French audio online and participating in French conversation is the way to go.
Naturally practicing conjugation of French verbs is a must, in each tense and mood!
Partaking of French culture, learning new words, the greetings - bonjour and merci beaucoup!, developing your comprehension and accent: these are all aspects of French learning that will soon make you fluent.
To further improve your second language, we now offer a list French words that are used in English, but with a decidedly different meaning!
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