French Lessons

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One Word, Two Genders

You may know that all French nouns are either masculine or feminine, but did you know that some nouns can be both? A word like après-midi (afternoon), for example, can be either masculine or feminine depending on the speaker's preference:

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Vous deux, là, qu'est-ce que vous allez faire de beau cet après-midi?

You two, here, what are you going to do that's exciting this afternoon?

Caption 57, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 1

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On passe une super après-midi.

You spend a great afternoon.

Caption 90, LCM - Rétine argentique, le paradis des photographes

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Un après-midi (masculine) and une après-midi (feminine) both mean "an afternoon." But usually, when a word's gender changes, its meaning changes too. Take the word mode, for example. La mode (feminine) means "fashion," but le mode (masculine) means "mode" or "(grammatical) mood":

 

Le milieu de la mode est aussi touché hein, forcément.

The world of fashion is also affected, you know, necessarily.

Caption 36, Cap 24 Paris - Alessandro fait les Puces! - Part 1

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Le temps présent fait partie du mode indicatif.

The present tense is part of the indicative mood.

Caption 10, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode indicatif, c'est quoi?

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Like mode, a lot of dual-gender words end in -e. Another common one is poste. When masculine, it means "post" as in "position" or "job" (among other things), and when feminine, it means "post" as in "post office" or "mail":

 

J'ai trouvé mon premier poste de libraire

I found my first bookseller position

Caption 3, Gaëlle - Librairie "Livres in Room"

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Si je venais à gagner, vous m'enverrez mon chèque par la poste.

If I were to win, you'll send me my check in the mail.

Caption 27, Patricia - Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones - Part 2

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You'll most often find the word livre in its masculine form, meaning "book." When feminine, it means "pound," as in the unit of weight and currency:

 

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. 

 

Voile has related meanings in both its masculine and feminine forms. Both refer to things made of fabric—a veil (un voile) and a sail (une voile): 

 

Un niqab, c'est donc un voile intégral qui ne laisse, euh, voir que les yeux.

So a niqab is a full-length veil that only, uh, shows the eyes.

Caption 10, Cap Caen Normandie TV - Danse - Héla Fattoumi se dévoile

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Il a une seule voile.

It has a single sail.

Caption 11, Fred et Miami Catamarans - Les Bateaux

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This video takes you on a tour (un tour) of Paris, making a requisite stop at the Eiffel Tower (la Tour Eiffel):

 

La Tour Eiffel, qui est le symbole de la France.

The Eiffel Tower, which is the symbol of France.

Caption 20, Paris Tour - Visite guidée de Paris

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Gender can be tricky in French, doubly so when you're dealing with words that can be both masculine and feminine. Remembering them is just a matter of practice. You can find a comprehensive list of dual-gender words on this page.

Getting the Facts Straight

In her new sci-fi series Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones, Patricia imagines a dystopian future in which all credit card companies have merged into one:

 

Du fait de nombreuses fusions, il ne reste plus qu'une société anonyme de cartes de crédit.

Because of many mergers, there remains only one limited liability credit card company.

Caption 15, Patricia - Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones - Part 1

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Du fait de is one of several French expressions that mean "because" (you can learn more about these expressions in our past lesson on the topic). It's also one of many expressions featuring the word fait, which you might recognize as a conjugation of the verb faire (to make, to do). But fait is also a noun meaning "fact"—du fait de literally means "from the fact of." In this lesson, we'll review some other "fact"-based expressions in French. 

 

Patricia uses a similar expression to du fait de earlier on in her video—de ce fait(therefore, literally "from this fact"):

 

De ce fait, toutes les procédures de paiement sont réalisées sans argent physique.

Therefore, all payment procedures are performed without physical money.

Caption 13, Patricia - Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones - Part 1

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Now that you know that fait means "fact," you can probably guess what en fait means. Alessandro uses it when interviewing a flea market vendor: 

 

Vous, c'est une véritable passion que vous partagez tous les jours en fait.

For you, it's a true passion that you share every day, in fact.

Caption 6, Cap 24 - Paris : Alessandro fait les Puces! - Part 1

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The vendor responds in the next caption with another fait expression, tout à fait (exactly):

 

Oui, oui. Tout à fait.

Yes, yes. Exactly.

Caption 7, Cap 24 - Paris : Alessandro fait les Puces! - Part 1

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Don't confuse en fait with au fait, which means "by the way" or "incidentally":
 

Ah, au fait, j'ai parlé à Vanessa de nos nouveaux voisins.

Oh, by the way, I spoke to Vanessa about our new neighbors.

Caption 22, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 8

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En fait and au fait are easily confused not only because they look similar, but also because the t is pronounced in both of them. In most other instances of the word fait, the t is silent.  

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If someone has done a good job on something, you can say, Bien fait! (Well done!) In this case fait isn't a noun but the past participle of the verb faire:

 

Oui, chef. Bien fait!

Yes, chief. Well done!

Caption 46, Il était une fois... L’Espace - 3. La planète verte - Part 2

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As a noun, fait doesn't only mean "fact." It can also mean "event" or "occurrence" depending on the context:

 

Cette histoire est inspirée de faits réels.

This story is inspired by real events.

Caption 21, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 1

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This lesson is now a fait accompli (accomplished fact). Thanks for reading! 

 

Important Phrases with "Importer"

The verb importer has two different meanings: “to import” (goods or merchandise, or even a computer file) and “to be important” or “to matter.” You can use the phrase il importe as a more formal alternative to il est important (it is important) when giving a warning or instruction:

Il importe de se laver les mains avant de manger. 
It is important to wash your hands before you eat. 

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But more often, you’ll see the verb used in two set expressions to refer to things that aren’t important, or whose specific identity doesn’t matter. The first of these expressions is peu importe, which means “little does it matter”:

 

Peu importe si je veux ça, mes larmes en vain, et peu importe des lendemains si je t'aime

Little does it matter if I want it, my tears in vain, and little do the tomorrows matter if I love you

Caption 11, Peach FTL - L'Empreinte

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The other expression is not as straightforward but probably even more common. Take a look at this sentence:

 

C'est le seul art que tu peux faire n'importe où, n'importe quand.

It's the only art that you can do anywhere, anytime.

Captions 7-8, B-Girl Frak - La Danse

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You’ll have to watch the video to find out what artform B-Girl Frak is referring to (though you might be able to guess from the title), but for now, let’s focus on the phrases n’importe où and n’importe quand. Literally translated, they mean “doesn’t matter where” and “doesn’t matter when,” which are roundabout ways of saying “anywhere” and “anytime.” In French, the construction “n’importe + interrogative word (où, quand, qui, quoi, comment, quel)” corresponds to English phrases beginning with “any” (anywhere, anytime, anyone, etc.).

Depending on context, this construction can function as a few different parts of speech. For instance, while n’importe où and n’importe quand act as adverbs, n’importe qui (anyone) and n’importe quand (anytime) act as indefinite pronouns: 

 

Et qui l'achète? Ah, n'importe qui.

And who buys it? Ah, anyone.

Captions 4-5, Le Journal - La bougie du sapeur

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Le marché Dauphine, une véritable caverne d'Ali Baba, ici on trouve n'importe quoi.

The "Marché Dauphine" [Dauphine Market], a veritable Ali Baba's cave, here we find anything.

Caption 2, Cap 24 - Paris : Alessandro fait les Puces!

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N’importe quoi can also be used more informally to mean “ridiculous” or “nonsense”: 

 

Là, je trouve ça n'importe quoi, parce que, voilà, chacun a ses... a sa religion.

I think it's ridiculous because, you know, everyone has ... has his or her own religion.

Caption 16, Grand Lille TV - Sondage: le voile intégral

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If you want to be a bit more specific than “anyone” or “anything,” you can use the expression n’importe quel/quelles/quels/quelles, which is always followed by a noun: 

 

Vous parlez comme n'importe quel homme.

You talk like any other man.

Caption 31, Bande-annonce - La Belle et La Bête

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Lequel, laquelle, lesquels, and lesquelles can be used to replace “quel/quelle/quels/quelles + noun” (more on that here). Likewise, you can also put n’importe in front of those words to express indifference:

Tu veux aller à la plage ou à la piscine? -N’importe laquelle
Do you want to go to the beach or to the pool? -Either one

Finally, there’s the adverb phrase n’importe comment, which literally means “any how,” but is usually translated as “any way” or “any which way.” The French house artist Toxic Avenger devoted an entire song to this phrase: 

 

Bouge ton corps n'importe comment

Move your body any which way

Caption 24, The Toxic Avenger - N'importe comment

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In informal speech, you’ll even hear n’importe used as a standalone phrase to mean “it doesn’t matter” or “I don’t care” (or even just "whatever"). We hope that you do care about all of the different ways to use importer!

Vocabulary

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