The grammar and grammatical structure of a language are some of the most basic rules required to learn, no matter what language you are studying.  The process of learning grammatical rules,  also includes learning when the rules don't apply, or learning the exceptions to the rules.

Exceptions can be learnt through exercises and textbooks, but simply through the course of the learning process, through reading, practising and speaking a new language.

This article, will go through some of the most common French grammar mistakes that you are sure to encounter when learning the French language.

Practice subject pronouns in both genders to speak French correctly
Learn French gender rules for grammar Source: Pixabay Credit: 3dman_eu
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Gender Agreement In French

You'll learn very early on when you are beginning to learn the French language that each noun is assigned either a male or female gender, and is usually preceded by the article "le" for the feminine or "la" for the masculine noun.

For example: La voiture versus le camion, for example.

Learning your french nouns also means learning the article or the le or la that signals the noun!  Therefore, you will surely fill an entire notebooks with gender-assigned French vocabulary for memorising.  However, this might be an easier task if you learn the rules.

In the English language there is no gender assignment, so this is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of learning the French language, especially for beginner students whether they take lessons online or face-to face. It's one of the first concepts and challenges to learning the language.

In addition to this rule that is equally important to remember, is not only must the articles and pronouns be in accord with the noun's gender, but so must the verb endings, and any adjectives!

We will only introduce exceptions to the rule that indicate noun ending changes in the face of gender.

The Rule: for most adjectives ending in -eur or -eux, you must change that ending to -euse if the noun it must agree with is feminine.

Heureux = heureuse; Affreux = affreuse; Peureux = peureuse

The Exception: adjectives that end in -teur.

The T before -eur causes the feminine form to become -rice

Acteur = actrice; conservateur = conservatrice

Oddly enough, the word interpreteur does not have a female form! So, if your job consists of real time translation of dialogue and you are female, this is one profession that accords you a male job title!

Let us now suppose you are describing two objects, one masculine and one feminine, that are both white.

The Rule: gender confusion is to be avoided at all cost.

You would say:

  1. Une chemise blanche – a white shirt
  2. Un chandail blanc – a white jumper

What if you wanted to talk about both garments in the same sentence?

The Exception: it is perfectly acceptable to combine opposite gender objects in the same sentence, provided you remember that the masculine gender prevails:

Des chemises et chandails blancs.

Please note that the article has been changed to plural to suit the fact that there is more than one object being described, and the ending of blanc has been treated to an additional S, to reflect the plural.

As noted in the sample sentence above, certain colours have both a masculine and feminine form. Others do not require an extra E at the end so that they will agree with their noun.

The colours that change are: blanc/blanche, noir/noire, vert/verte, bleu/bleue

The colours that do not change are: rouge, jaune, marron, orange

To understand this concept, it's helpful to think of the colour spectrum to help you remember  whether a hue should or shouldn't have a feminine form: those on the red end don't, those on the blue end do!

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Think of colour genders in context of this spectrum
A French language colour tip: colours at the red end of the spectrum do not change form for feminine! Source: Pixabay Credit: Geralt

Final Note on Grammatical Gender

Surely, in your French language course, you will have learned the rule that every single noun in the language is assigned to a gender, even uncountable nouns such as soap (masculine) and air (feminine).

These same rules apply were you to study Spanish, or learn Italian!

Concepts are usually free from this burden of designation... but their are exceptions!

The Exceptions:

La jalousie – In english we would never say "the jealousy"

L'amour: " the love" – again,  is not considered proper English.

La fainéantise – and of course saying "the laziness" doesn't make sense in English.

The Mute Versus Pronounced H

The letter H is rather particular in French expressions, but the general rule is that it is silent.

However, that can change when using contractions: sometimes H acts like a vowel and is so treated, and sometimes not.  Therefore, at times the H can be silent when contracted l' , or pronounced when treated as a consonant.

Consider these French nouns that all start with what is called the mute H:

  • homme – l'homme – les hommes
  • hôtell'hôtel – les hôtels
  • hiver – l'hiver – les hivers
  • humeur – l'humeur – les humeurs
  • huile – l'huile – les huiles
  • hygiène – l'hygiène

Not only does the definite article contract as though the H were not present at all, but they connect as though the H were a vowel: lay zhum (les hommes) for example.

Now, let us look some words for example that start with H, in which that letter is treated as a consonant:

  • le haillon

  • la haine

  • la halte

  • le hamburger

The article for each of these words is treated as separate; no liaison possible because the words in question start with a consonant.

Remember that, in all cases, the H is not spoken in proper French pronunciation! This distinction is made solely in spoken French for the purposes of contracting articles and linking with their object pronouns.

You may  view an entire list of H words and their proper distinctions here.

Let this anecdote serve as a lesson to you, beginner or intermediate learner of French: learn to distinguish French speech patterns, so that you can tell a noun and its adjective apart!

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The OE Vowel Combination

When studying the French, you will discover 7 common words in the francophone language that are spelled with this linguistic ligature, so they are called.

However, when those French words are pronounced, they sound just like words written without those bound vowels! For example the vowel combination of oe and eu usually have the same sound when pronounced.

The vowel sound in words such as heure and peur are equivalent to the one in soeur and coeur.

It is tempting to think of any word with the oe vowel combination as one that would make the eu sound, but there is an exception in the case of the word moelleux, this time the rule does not apply.

Moelleux is an exception to the next rule:  Now consider when an accent is present. 

For other vocab containing oe, such as poêle and poésie, you'll note the accent placed on the E, which indicates it is a syllable onto itself.

Fortunately, Canadians are somewhat attuned to the oe combination because some of our words still have it. Feel sorry for the American students of French, whose use of such ligature is completely alien!

Your Basic French class should have taught you how to use a French dictionary to study French
From your beginner French course, you can learn language with a dictionary Source: Pixabay Credit: PDPics

To Learn French Grammar

Unlike in English where, for every rule there is at least one exception, French grammar is fairly straightforward.

To be sure, French has its irregular verbs – être and avoir being two important ones, but the list of irregular verbs in French is substantially shorter than the one in English.

Verb conjugation, on the other hand, tends to be a bit more intricate because of its expanded list of pronouns that includes male and female, and a formal you.

Furthermore, the verbs in French,  are subject to nearly double the number of tenses that English verbs are, although some would argue that the French verbs have more moods, rather than more tenses.

Subjunctive, interrogative, indicative and imperative are all considered finites in French. Conditional is sometimes considered finite, as well.

The three non-finites are infinitive, past participle and present participle, in case you were wondering.

While studying your French course, and even if you learn French online, you will surely not encounter too many grammar rule exceptions.

That is because there aren't that many!

Our recommendation of the best way to learn French would be:

1.Learn expressions, words and phrases

2. Make ample use of your dictionary; not just for translations, but also for the gender transitions for any pronoun or article you might use.

3. Build your language skills and listening comprehension; using the language daily

4. Listen to French audio and talk with native French speakers at every chance.

5. Practice French phrases as you commute or shop.

Immersion into French culture wouldn't hurt, either. 

Click here to find out more about French spelling. With Superprof finding a French tutor couldn't be easier; simply search for French courses London and you'll you be surprised by the results.

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Yvette

Yvette is a freelance Canadian writer living in Paris. She spends her time between Toronto and Paris and likes to travel and learn. She's the proud mom of two strong minded women and enjoys her free time giving back to her communities.