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French Grammar Lesson 2

Masculine and Feminine Nouns in French

Many English speakers try and predict whether a given French noun will be masculine or feminine – for instance, they reason that if “table” and “armchair” are masculine, all pieces of furniture must be masculine as well. Nice try, but often it’s just not logical at all:

Un appareil photo = a camera (photo)

Une caméra vidéo = a video camera

Un vélo = a bicycle

Une moto = a motorcycle

Un car = a (touring) bus

Une voiture = a car

Un café = a coffee or a coffee bar

Une tasse de café = a cup of coffee

Un verre de bière = a glass of beer

Une bière = a beer

Un verre de vin = a glass of wine

Une bouteille de vin = A bottle of wine

Un fauteuil = an armchair

Une chaise = a chair

Un plat = a dish (serving dish)

Une assiette = a plate

 

When you want to refer to a specific item rather than a general class – for example, when you want to say “the bicycle” instead of “a bicycle,” you use the masculine form LE or the feminine form LA. However, when the noun begins with a consonant (a, e, I, o or u), use L’ for both masculine and feminine nouns.

L’appareil photo = the camera (photo)

La caméra vidéo = the video camera

Le vélo = the bicycle

La moto = the motorcycle

L’autocar = the (touring) bus

L’omelette = the omelet

La lampe de poche = the flashlight

L’ampoule = the light bulb

La clé = the key

L’ordinateur = the computer

Le clavier = the keyboard

L’écran = the monitor

Le café = the coffee or the coffee bar

 

Please note that some words starting with the letter H are treated as if they began with a vowel (a “mute” H), and others are treated as if they began with a consonant (an “aspirated” H). Here are a few examples.

These words start with a “mute” H:

L’homme = the man

Les hommes = the men

L’hamburger = the hamburger

Les hamburgers = the hamburgers

L’herbe = the grass

L’habit = the clothing

L’hélice = the propeller

L’histoire = history or the story

L’habitude = the habit

L’huile = oil or the oil

 

These word start with an “aspirated” H:

La hache = the axe

Le hot-dog = the hot dog

Le hamster = the hamster

La housse = the (seat) cover

La Hollande = Holland

La hauteur = the height

Le haricot = the bean

Le hasard = the hazard

Le huit (juillet) = the eighth (of July)

 

You may be tempted to say “This is crazy! How am I supposed to be able to remember which nouns are feminine and which are masculine?” Very simple. Always, always, always learn the article with the noun. When you’re learning the word for “book,” you don’t learn “livre.” You learn “le livre.” That way you will always remember that “livre” is masculine, and you won’t have problems.

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