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Gender of Inanimate Nouns and Concepts

Memorizing the gender of nouns referring to things is one of the most difficult parts of learning French, as assigning gender to an object or concept is unfamiliar to native English speakers. Is there any logic to this process? In many cases, it seems arbitrary, and there’s no way of guessing. Fortunately, some categories of nouns do follow logical rules. 

 

For example, it is indeed possible to identify the gender of a country based on its ending. La France is a feminine noun because it ends in e. (Note that we say la France even though it’s a proper noun. Unlike in English, all names of countries are preceded by an article in French.)

 

Le nom de la France vient du mot "Franc"

The name of France comes from the word "Franc" [Frank]

Caption 3, Le saviez-vous? D'où vient le nom de la France?

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That said, there are always exceptions. Even though it also ends in an e, le Mexique (Mexico) is masculine:

 

Maintenant avec leur aide, partons sur-le-champ conquérir le Mexique!

Now with their aid, let's leave at once to conquer Mexico!

Caption 29, Il était une fois: Les Amériques 9. Cortés et les Aztèques - Part 8

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But as for countries that don’t end in an e, it’s easy! They are automatically masculine: le Canada, le Japon, le Luxembourg (Canada, Japan, Luxembourg).

 

Pierre Trudeau, Premier Ministre du Canada, a dit que c'était une loi de fou.

Pierre Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, said it was a crazy law.

Caption 28, Le Québec parle aux Français - Part 3

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What about cities? Do they follow the same rule as countries? Not exactly. The Académie Française (the official French language watchdog, if you will) doesn’t give a definite answer, noting that people tend to prefer masculine although feminine is often used in literary contexts. 

 

In the video below, we can tell that Paris is masculine because of the masculine past participle traversé (intersected):

 

Car Paris était traversé à l'époque par un aqueduc

For Paris was intersected at the time by an aqueduct

Caption 39, Voyage dans Paris Le Treizième arrondissement de Paris - Part 2

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French speakers often get around the gender ambiguity by using the expression c’est (it’s), which always requires a masculine agreement. Instead of saying Paris est belle or Paris est beau (Paris is beautiful), Sophie uses the phrase c’est + masculine to describe Paris:

 

C'est beau Paris comme ça.

Paris is beautiful like this.

Caption 1, Sophie et Patrice Paris, c'est gris

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The gender of languages is much more clear-cut. All languages are masculine, from le français (French) to le thaï (Thai):

 

Je crois que le français est une langue géniale.

I believe that French is a great language.

Caption 11, Allons en France Pourquoi apprendre le français?

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Note, however, that if you say "the French language" or "the Thai language" instead of just "French" or "Thai," you have to use the feminine, because the word langue (language) is feminine: la langue françaisela langue thaïe.

 

Most foreign words are also masculine, in particular sports names and terms borrowed from English. It’s a simple matter of putting a masculine article like le (the) in front of the loanword:

 

Il aime le football.

He likes soccer.

Caption 33, Lionel L Les liaisons et le h aspiré

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On the other hand, native French sports terms are either masculine or feminine. For example, we have two words for “bicycle”: le vélo, which is masculine, and la bicyclette, which is feminine.

 

Tu peux faire du vélo

You can ride a bike

Caption 31, Amal et Caroline Le Parc de la Villette

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Most inanimate nouns follow no predictable pattern when it comes to gender. When we talk about feelings, for example, we say le bonheur (happiness) but la joie (joy): 

 

Y a de la joie. On est avec les petits.

There's good cheer. We are with the little ones.

Caption 45, Actu Vingtième Fête du quartier Python-Duvernois

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C'est quand le bonheur?

When is happiness?

Caption 9, Cali C'est quand le bonheur

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To complicate things further, some words take both genders, and their meaning changes depending on whether they're masculine or feminine (we discuss this at length in our lesson One Word, Two Genders). For example, un livre is "a book," but une livre is "a pound": 

 

L'extérieur d'un livre s'appelle la couverture.

The outside of a book is called the cover.

Caption 4, Manon et Clémentine Vocabulaire du livre

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Une livre équivaut à environ quatre cent cinquante-quatre grammes. 

One pound is equal to around four hundred fifty-four grams.

 

And there is a small group of noun pairs that have slightly different meanings in the masculine and feminine that aren't conveyed in English. For example, the words an and année both mean "year," but the masculine an emphasizes a point in time or a unit of time, while the feminine année stresses duration: 

 

Un manuscrit de mille deux cents ans

A one thousand two hundred year old manuscript

Caption 9, Télé Lyon Métropole Un manuscrit vieux de 1200 ans découvert à Lyon

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Ça fait des années et des années qu'ils cherchent à être logés.

For years and years they've sought housing.

Captions 35-36, Actus Quartier Devant la SNCF

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Whether you’ve been studying French pendant des années (for years) or you’ve only just begun, with practice, remembering the gender of nouns will become easier. Thank you for reading the final lesson of this series!

 
Grammar

It's All in the Past! - Part 4 - Third-Group Verbs

In Part 3, we explored the passé composé of third-group verbs whose infinitives end in -ir with a present participle ending in -antIn this lesson, we will discuss the remaining third-group verbs, whose infinitives end in -oir, like vouloir (to want), and verbs ending in -re, like comprendre (to understand). 

 

Like irregular -ir verbs mentioned in our previous lesson, most -oir and -re verbs also have a past participle ending in -u, but, of course, there are a few exceptions which we’ll discuss further on.

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

First, let’s take a look at third-group verbs with an infinitive ending in -oir, which have a regular past participle ending in -u, as in voulu (wanted):  

 

Hier, j'ai voulu me rendre au travail.

Yesterday, I wanted to get to work.

Caption 16, Amal et Caroline - Jurons

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The past participle voulu (wanted) is built on the regular infinitive stem voul- to which you add the ending -u.  

 

The verb falloir (to have to) works in much the same way, with a regular past participle fallu (had to):

 

Il a fallu que je fouille pour apprendre la vérité!

I had to search to find out the truth!

Caption 18, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Nos bébés ont été échangés...

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It’s worth noting that falloir (to have to) is an impersonal verb that only exists in the third person. It simply expresses a need or necessity.  

 

So far so good, but as always, there are exceptions. Verbs like savoir (to know) have an irregular past participle that is not built on a regular stem. Its past participle is su (known):

 

Non mais j'ai toujours su que j'avais du goût.

No, but I always knew that I had taste.

Caption 52, Elisa et Mashal - Les fringues

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Other verbs also have very short past participles of just one syllable. Pouvoir (to be able to) becomes pu (was able to) in the past tense: 

 

Et elle a pu rentrer

And she was able to get in

Caption 45, Amal et Caroline - Quartier du Louvre

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The same thing happens with devoir (to have to), which becomes (had to):

 

Et en fait, ils ont tout simplement arrêter

And in fact, they simply had to stop

Caption 34, Lionel L - Le "Canard" a 100 ans

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Did you notice the circumflex accent in ils ont dû (they had to)? This tiny accent is the only thing that differentiates  from the indefinite article du (some). Accents sometimes make a big difference!

 

So, to sum up, the past participles of savoir, pouvoir, and devoir are su, pu, and dû (don’t forget the circumflex!).

 

Now let’s look at some -re verbs with a regular past participle, more specifically verbs that end in -endre, like vendre (to sell), which becomes vendu (sold):

 

Et donc, euh... la propriétaire a vendu son appartement.

And so, uh... the landlady sold her apartment.

Caption 103, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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Verbs like descendre (to go down) and défendre (to defend) have past participles that rhyme with vendu (sold): descendu (went down), défendu (defended).

 

dont le niveau était descendu de cent mètres.

the level of which had dropped one hundred meters.

Caption 32, Il était une fois: Les Amériques - 1. Les premiers Américains

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But this isn't the case for all verbs ending in -endre. Some of these have an irregular past participle that ends in -is instead of -uFor example, prendre (to take) becomes pris (take) in the past tense:

 

Pourquoi est-ce que tu n'as pas pris le bon train vers, euh... Versailles

Why didn't you take the right train toward, uh... Versailles

Caption 37, Claire et Philippe - Je suis en retard

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Incidentally, all the derivatives of prendre, like apprendre (to learn), surprendre (to surprise), reprendre (to take back) follow the same pattern. Just take out the ending -prendre and tack on -pris to form the past participles appris (learned), surpris (surprised), repris (took back), etc.

 

Similarly, the past participle of mettre (to put) is mis (put), and its derivatives follow the sampe pattern: promettre (to promise) > promis (promised), admettre (to admit) > admis (admitted). The past participle of promettre is easy to remember, since promis is close to “promise” in English.

 

Les syndicats ont promis d'intensifier la mobilisation jusqu'à mardi prochain

The unions have promised to intensify their mobilization until next Tuesday

Caption 23, Le Journal - Grève de l'EDF à Lille

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Finally, another subgroup of verbs whose infinitives end in -ire, like dire (to say, tell), tend to have a past participle ending in -it or -is, like dit (said, told):

 

Comme je vous l'ai dit...

As I've told you...

Caption 41, Adrien - Rue des Martyrs

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Comme nous l'avons dit, irregular verbs are legion in the passé composé. The world of verbs is filled with surprises and peculiarities. To help you master these verbs, click here for a list of common irregular third-group verbs.

Grammar

Just Kidding!

The verb se moquer is used in two recent videos, in two slightly different senses:

 

Et il n'est pas le seul à se moquer.

And he's not the only one making fun.

Caption 40, d'Art d'Art - "Impression, soleil levant" - Monet

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Non mais tu te moques de moi?

No but are you kidding me?

Caption 61, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Ma fille et mon mari se sont fait berner

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BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Se moquer means to make or poke fun, or to kid. If it takes an object, as in the second example, you have to add de after it (to make fun of someone). It's cognate with "to mock" in English, and can also have that sense, depending on context: 

 

Se moquer gentiment de personnages célèbres est très courant

Gently mocking famous people is very common

pendant la période de carnaval.

during the carnival period.

Caption 20, Le saviez-vous? - Le carnaval en France

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But se moquer has another meaning that isn't quite as obvious. It's the verb you use when you don't care about something, or more precisely, when you couldn't care less:

 

Je me moque des règles. 

I couldn't care less about the rules.

 

In more informal speech, se ficher is often used instead of se moquer in most of its senses:

 

On se fiche de nous ou quoi?

Are you kidding us or what?

Caption 5, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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Je me fiche des règles.

I couldn't care less about the rules.

 

Another way of saying "to make/poke fun" is taquiner (to tease):

 

Ne taquine pas ta sœur.

Don't tease your sister.

 

There are a few other verbs for "to kid" in French. If you want to say "I'm kidding" or "just kidding," use plaisanter or rigoler:

 

Je plaisante, pas du tout.

I'm kidding, not at all.

Caption 22, Elisa et Mashal - Mon chien Roméo

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Je ne ferai pas l'idiote. Non, je rigole.

I will not act like an idiot. No, I'm kidding.

Caption 52, Margaux et Manon - Conjugaison du verbe faire

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Rigoler is an informal synonym of rire (to laugh). So you can think of je rigole as "I'm just having a laugh." Plaisanter, the verb form of une plaisanterie (a joke), means "to joke" or "joke around." So je plaisante is more along the lines of "I'm just joking around."

 

If you want to say "you're kidding," as an exclamation, you can say, Tu plaisantes! Or, you can even just say, Tu parles! (literally, "You're talking!")

 

Tu parles. Impôts?

You're kidding. Taxes?

Caption 37, Patricia - Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones

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And for the phrase "no kidding," you can use the phrase sans blague (no joke). For more on that and other joke-related expressions, see our lesson Telling Jokes in French.

 

Vocabulary

Logement pour tous!

In early 2018, a group of protesters gathered in front of the headquarters of the SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français [French National Railway Company]) to demand that the company convert its empty buildings into public housing:

 

Logement! -Pour qui? -Pour tous!

Housing! -For whom? -For everyone! 

Captions 19-21, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Logement is the word for "housing" or "lodging" in general, but it can also refer more specifically to an apartment, house, or home: 

 

J'aurais pas pu avoir mon logement.

I wouldn't have been able to get my apartment.

Caption 58, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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Lorsque j'avais pas mon logement.

When I didn't have my home.

Caption 110, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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The verbal form of logementloger, means "to house" or "to accommodate." It's synonymous with héberger:

 

ces beaux immeubles vides pour héberger, pour loger les personnes qui sont à la rue.

these beautiful empty buildings to house, to provide housing for people who are on the street.

Captions 17-18, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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On the flip side, loger can also mean "to be housed," "to stay," or "to live":

 

Je loge chez mon amie
I'm staying at my friend's place.

 

If someone is mal logé, they're living in poor housing conditions:
 

La honte, la honte à ce pouvoir qui fait la guerre aux mal-logés.

Shame, shame on this authority that's waging war on the poorly housed.

Captions 28-29, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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And if someone is homeless, they're SDF—an acronym for sans domicile fixe (without a fixed abode):

 

Moi, je suis là parce que je suis SDF. Je suis sans domicile fixe.

Me, I'm here because I'm homeless. I'm without a fixed abode.

Caption 100, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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Another word for "homeless" is sans-abri (without shelter).

 

Many people lucky enough to have a fixed abode pay un loyer (rent) to un/une propriétaire (a landlord/landlady):

 

j'ai de quoi payer un... un loyer

I have enough to pay... rent

Caption 120, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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La propriétaire a vendu son appartement.

The landlady sold her apartment.

Caption 103, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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Propriétaire is also the word for "owner." Un propriétaire foncier is a property owner, such as the SNCF:

 

Faut quand même savoir que la SNCF, c'est le deuxième propriétaire foncier du pays après l'État.

You should know, however, that the SNCF is the second largest property owner in the country after the State.

Captions 43-45, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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You'll find two words for "building" in this video—immeuble and bâtiment:

 

Vous avez vu dimanche le bel immeuble vide

On Sunday you saw the beautiful empty building

Caption 10, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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Parce qu'ils ont des bâtiments vides, complètement vides

Because they have vacant buildings, completely vacant

Caption 30, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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BANNER PLACEHOLDER

While both are general terms for "building," un immeuble can also be an "apartment building" or "apartment block," which is what the protesters are hoping the SNCF will provide for those in need.

Vocabulary

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Caption 30, 10, 45, 44, 43, 103, 120, 100, 29, 28, 18, 17, 110, 58, 57, 21, 20, 19
Adv-Intermediate

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