This lesson is brought to you by the letter Z. Why the letter Z? Because few French nouns contain the letter Z. On the other hand, most verbs do, which is a handy thing to know when playing French Scrabble, as the letter Z is a high-scoring letter.
Almost all verbs in the second-person plural vous (you) end in -ez, as in vous savez (you know). What’s more, this is the case in pretty much all moods and tenses.
In the present tense:
Et toujours, vous savez, la langue est toujours liée à la culture.
And always, you know, a language is always tied to its culture.
Caption 42, Allons en France Pourquoi apprendre le français?Play Caption
In the imperfect tense:
Did you know?
Caption 1, Le saviez-vous? L'art culinaire françaisPlay Caption
In the future tense:
Maintenant vous saurez que à chaque fois que vous entendez un verbe qui se termine par le son "é", c'est un verbe du premier groupe
Now you will know that each time you hear a verb that ends with the sound "é," it's a first-group verb
Captions 42-45, Le saviez-vous? Les verbes du 1er groupePlay Caption
In the conditional mood:
Sauriez-vous jouer au Scrabble en français?
Could you play French Scrabble?
While most verbs conjugated with vous (you) end in -ez, there are not as many nouns ending in Z. But a few of them are very commonly used, such as chez (at/to the home of), le riz (rice), le nez (nose), le raz-de-marée (tidal wave), and le rez-de-chaussée (ground floor):
Bienvenue chez moi
Welcome to my home
Caption 7, Stromae Bienvenue chez moiPlay Caption
Elles mangent du riz.
They are eating rice.
Caption 28, Farid et Hiziya Boire et mangerPlay Caption
ce Milanais qui vous peignait une courgette en guise de nez
this Milanese man who painted you a zucchini as a nose
Captions 23-24, d'Art d'Art "Les quatre saisons" - ArcimboldoPlay Caption
Mieux encore, les racines des palétuviers amortissent les effets des raz-de-marée et des fameux tsunamis.
Better still, the mangrove roots absorb the impact of tidal waves and notorious tsunamis.
Captions 19-20, Il était une fois: Notre Terre 9. Les écosystèmes - Part 7Play Caption
J'habite au rez-de-chaussée, donc je n'ai pas besoin de monter les escaliers.
I live on the ground floor, so I don't need to go up the stairs.
Caption 6, Joanna Son appartementPlay Caption
As you can hear in the examples above, Z at the end of a word is almost always silent in French. So then why do we pronounce the Z in gaz (gas), for example? That’s because it's usually pronounced in words of foreign origin:
Factures: téléphone, gaz, électricité.
Bills: telephone, gas, electricity.
Caption 30, Extr@ Ep. 1 - L'arrivée de Sam - Part 1Play Caption
Le français a une bande passante qui fait mille, deux mille hertz
French has a bandwidth that measures one thousand, two thousand hertz
Caption 34, Lionel Langue sous hypnosePlay Caption
When Z comes at the beginning or in the middle of a word, it is always sounded just as it is in English. Here are a couple of interjections starting with Z:
Come on, let's go!
Caption 111, Claire et Philippe La campagnePlay Caption
Je pourrais dire "zut" aussi.
I could also say "zut" [darn].Play Caption
You'll also find the letter Z in certain numerals, such as quinze (fifteen), seize (sixteen), and zéro (zero):
Et voilà, me voilà parée pour, sortir par, moins zéro, moins quinze degrés.
And there we have it, here I am dressed to go out in below zero, negative fifteen degrees.
Caption 14, Fanny parle des saisons S'habiller en hiverPlay Caption
Now that you’ve zipped through this lesson, we trust that you will apply this newfound knowledge with le zeste (zest) and le zèle (zeal)!
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]Play Caption
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!Play Caption
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 3Play Caption
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 aqueductPlay Caption
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 grisPlay Caption
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?Play Caption
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 française, la 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 aspiréPlay Caption
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 VillettePlay Caption
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-DuvernoisPlay Caption
C'est quand le bonheur?
When is happiness?
Caption 9, Cali C'est quand le bonheurPlay Caption
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 livrePlay Caption
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 manuscriptPlay Caption
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 SNCFPlay Caption
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!
Like many other types of nouns, nouns referring to animals often have both male and female versions, and sometimes even separate names for each gender. Many of them, however, are exclusively masculine or feminine, as we'll see in this lesson.
Nouns referring to animals work in a comparable way to those referring to people. The most common way to feminize a noun is to add an -e at the end, and, in many cases, double the final consonant, as in un chien/une chienne (a male dog/a female dog). Note that whenever you double a final consonant, the normally silent consonant (like the -n in chien) becomes pronounced, as you can hear in the example below:
Certains noms masculins vont doubler leur consonne finale. Un chien donne... -une chienne, deux "n", "e". Et un chat donne une chatte, deux "t", "e".
Some masculine nouns will double their final consonant. "Un chien" [dog] gives... -"une chienne," two "n's," "e." And "un chat" [a cat] gives "une chatte," two "t's," "e."
Captions 25-27, Manon et Simon - Le masculin et le fémininPlay Caption
On a side note, you may want to exercise caution when using the words chatte and chienne, as they can both be offensive terms referring to women.
Here is another example of a noun that changes spelling and pronunciation in the feminine form. The word for "lion" follows the same pattern as chien/chienne:
Tu as vu? Le papa lion et la maman lionne se suivent partout.
Did you see? The dad lion and the mom lioness follow each other everywhere.
Caption 23, Les zooriginaux - Léa jacta est - Part 1Play Caption
On the other hand, some animal nouns ending in -n don’t double their final consonant in the feminine, as in un lapin/une lapine (male/female rabbit), but the change in pronunciation still applies. Pay attention to the nasal -in sound in this fairy tale video:
Il y attrapa un beau lapin gras et le mit dans sa bourse.
He caught a nice fat rabbit there and put it in his purse.
Caption 25, Contes de fées - Le chat botté - Part 1Play Caption
Likewise, un renard (a fox), with a silent d, doesn’t have a double consonant in the feminine, but the d will be pronounced: une renarde.
Le renard femelle adulte s’appelle la renarde.
An adult female fox is called a vixen.
Sometimes, in addition to the -e ending, there are some unexpected spelling changes in the feminine, as in un loup/une louve (male/female wolf):
Par exemple, un loup donne... -une louve.
For example, "un loup" [a male wolf] gives... -"une louve" [a female wolf].
Caption 53, Manon et Simon - Le masculin et le fémininPlay Caption
As in un prince (a prince) and une princesse (a princess), some animal nouns take the suffix -esse in the feminine:
Un âne? -Une ânesse. -Bien!
"Un âne" [a donkey]? -"Une ânesse" [a jenny]. -Good!
Caption 41, Manon et Simon - Le masculin et le fémininPlay Caption
In short, there are diverse ways to feminize an animal noun. However, many animals have separate names for male and female specimens, as in English. For example: une vache/un taureau (a cow/a bull).
Et là on voit déjà si c'est une vache ou des taureaux [sic: un taureau]? -Là, c'est une femelle.
And can we already tell here if it's a cow or a bull? -Here, it's a female.
Caption 43, Lionel à la fermePlay Caption
Male and female animal names can be quite specialized and hard to remember. If you don’t know the special name for a female animal, you can do what Automne does in the video below and refer to her as, for example, la maman cochon (the mommy pig) or le cochon femelle (the female pig) instead of the more technical term la truie (the sow). (The term cochonne actually exists, but usually it means something entirely different! It’s a way of insulting a sloppy human, or "a pig"—une cochonne for females and un cochon for males.)
Y a même le bébé de la maman cochon.
There's even the mommy pig's baby.
Caption 56, Lionel et Automne - PlaymobilPlay Caption
Fortunately, there is no need to be technical in everyday situations. If gender is not important or unknown, we tend to use the generic masculine, like the couple does in the video below:
Premièrement, le chat met des poils partout.
First, the cat sheds fur everywhere.
Caption 8, Marie & Jeremy - Le chatPlay Caption
In fact, most nouns referring to animals don’t have feminine and masculine versions—they only come in one gender, assigned arbitrarily regardless of the sex of the animal. In this case, you will need to memorize the gender of the animal along with its name as there is no logic or way of guessing.
For example, some insects, like une mouche (a fly), are always feminine. Some rodents are feminine, as in une souris (a mouse), while others are masculine, as in un écureuil (a squirrel). Some snakes are masculine, as in un serpent (a snake), or feminine, as in une vipère (a viper). Some birds are feminine, as in une hirondelle (a swallow), and some are masculine, as in un perroquet (a parrot).
In the video below, apart from le lion, all the names of the endangered species—la panthère (panther), la girafe (giraffe), l'autruche (ostrich), and l'hyène (hyena)—are feminine in gender, but don't necessarily refer to individual females:
Certaines espèces ont quasiment disparu, telles que la panthère, autruche, hyène, girafe et lion.
Some species have almost disappeared, such as the panther, ostrich, hyena, giraffe, and lion.
Captions 27-30, Nader Fakhry - À la recherche des derniers éléphants - Part 1Play Caption
As these nouns only have one grammatical gender, you will need to specify the sex of the animal with the term mâle (male) or femelle (female). In the documentary below, the speaker refers to une panthère femelle (a female panther):
Malgré la présence d'une panthère femelle juste à côté...
Despite the presence of a female panther right next door...
Caption 20, Le Journal - Espèces en voie de disparitionPlay Caption
There you have it! We’ve explored some of the grammatical quirks and intricacies of the animal kingdom. Remember that not all animal names have a masculine and feminine counterpart, but only a single grammatical gender just like nouns referring to objects, which will be the topic of our next lesson. So stay tuned!
In our previous lesson on nouns referring to humans, we learned that many nouns have dual genders that often end in -e in the feminine, which is especially useful for the feminization of job titles. In this lesson, we’ll focus on the many ways to feminize a job title and discuss what happens when there is no feminine equivalent.
Most profession names are masculine in French, regardless of whether they refer to men or women:
On a donc un kit de montage complet opérationnel à la portée d'un bon bricoleur ou d'un plombier
So we have a completely operational mounting kit within the capability of a good handyman or a plumber
Captions 30-31, Salon Eco Habitat: Primacalc, système anti-calcairePlay Caption
When no feminine title is available, we default to masculine. So, when referring to a woman pilot, for instance, we would simply say un pilote or une femme pilote (a woman pilot). (You may come across the feminine title une pilote, but it's relatively rare.)
Deux femmes pilotes parlent de leurs parcours : sexisme et regard des passagers.
Two female pilots talk about their journeys: sexism and passengers’ stares.
We also resort to the masculine when referring to a profession in general, as in les enseignants (teachers), or when we don’t know the gender of the person in question:
Parce que je dispose d'excellents liens avec les enseignants de mon master,
Because I have excellent connections with my master's degree instructorsPlay Caption
For all that, many job titles do have a feminine equivalent, which often ends in -e, as in une députée (a female deputy):
Madame George Pau-Langevin, la députée de la quinzième circonscription
Ms. George Pau-Langevin, the deputy for the fifteenth constituencyPlay Caption
Note that you can only add an extra -e to an accented -é (-ée). Nouns that already end in -e (no accent) don’t change in the feminine form, as in un/une dentiste (a male/female dentist), the profession chosen by the girl’s schoolmate in the following video from Côte d'Ivoire:
Je veux être une dentiste.
I want to be a dentist.
Caption 96, Nader Fakhry: L'école pour tousPlay Caption
(Bear in mind that usually, you would omit the article un/une when the job title comes directly after the verb être, but this may vary from one French-speaking country to another.)
In many cases, though, feminizing a job title is not as simple as adding an -e and requires making changes to the noun.
Sometimes switching to feminine will cause a change in pronunciation for words ending with a consonant, as in un enseignant/une enseignante (teacher). The t in enseignante (female teacher) is sounded, but the t in enseignant (male teacher) is not:
Je suis enseignante de français langue étrangère, à l'Université Nancy Deux
I am an instructor of French as a foreign language at the University of Nancy Two
Caption 2, Yabla à Nancy: Université Nancy 2Play Caption
Other times, you will need to add a grave accent (è) and an extra -e to nouns ending in -er, as in infirmier/infirmière (male/female nurse). The suffix -er becomes -ère:
Je voulais être médecin. -C'est vrai? -Ouais, et je suis infirmière.
I wanted to be a doctor. -Is that true? -Yeah, and I am a nurse.
Caption 55, Micro-Trottoirs: Rêves d’enfantsPlay Caption
Nouns ending in -en often change to -enne in the feminine, as in chirurgien/chirurgienne (male/female surgeon). In the following example, we have the masculine version, un chirurgien, with a silent -n:
Françoise Artigues accuse son chirurgien, le docteur Cujasse
Françoise Artigues is accusing her surgeon, Doctor CujassePlay Caption
Nouns ending with the suffix -eur in the masculine form are a little bit more complicated, as they can take on different endings in the feminine.
Un professeur (a male professor) simply becomes une professeur in the feminine or, less often, une professeure:
Et j'ai pris sa suite avec la même professeur [or professeure] en fait.
And I followed in her footsteps with the same teacher, actually.
Caption 42, LCM Concert: La Folia à l'abbaye Saint-VictorPlay Caption
Un auteur (a male author) can be feminized in two different ways. You can call a female author une auteure, a term borrowed from Canada, or you can say une autrice, the suffix -trice being more popular in France:
Enfin, en 2012, l’Académie française propose à son tour l’adoption du mot « auteure ».
Finally in 2012, the Académie Française in turn proposes the adoption of the word “auteure” (female author).
Indeed, in Canada, they use the -eure suffix, as in traducteure (female translator), more frequently than in France, where they say traductrice instead:
Euh, ça m'a permis beaucoup de voyager et d'être parfois même la traducteure pour mon père ou ma mère
Uh, it's allowed me to travel a lot and to sometimes even be the translator for my dad or my mom
Captions 21-22, Annie Chartrand: Grandir bilinguePlay Caption
The French usually prefer to use the suffix -trice, as in un acteur/une actrice. In the example below, Melissa Mars introduces herself as une actrice (an actress), among other things:
Bonjour! Je suis Melissa Mars. Je suis actrice, chanteuse, française ou martienne.
Hello! I am Melissa Mars. I'm an actress, singer, French or Martian.
Caption 1, Melissa Mars: Melissa et son premier albumPlay Caption
She also introduces herself as a singer, une chanteuse. Here we have yet another feminine form of -eur: -euse. So une chanteuse is un chanteur in the masculine, and une serveuse (a waitress) is un serveur (a waiter):
La serveuse t'aime bien Nico.
The waitress likes you, Nico.
Caption 16, Extr@ Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 5Play Caption
You might also see the suffix -esse, as in docteur/doctoresse (male/female doctor) and maître/maîtresse (school master/schoolmistress), but it's pretty dated.
The Académie Française, the French authority on language, has introduced many new feminine job titles, but it’s up to people to adopt them. Sometimes, women themselves don’t systematically adopt newly feminized titles. In the following video, the female judge introduces herself as le juge Beaulieu (Judge Beaulieu) even though she could have introduced herself as la juge:
Bonjour, je suis le juge Beaulieu.
Hello, I am Judge Beaulieu.Play Caption
As you can see, the feminization of job titles is a work in progress, fraught with ambiguity and, sometimes, controversy. Just be sure to follow the correct grammatical rules applying to both masculine and feminine titles, as they are not negotiable in most cases.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for our next lesson on the gender of nouns referring to animals.
In our previous lesson we learned that all French nouns have a gender, and that it is up to the speaker to remember whether a word is masculine or feminine. In this lesson, we’ll focus on the gender of nouns referring to humans, which is usually predictable, although occasionally some situations require making difficult choices.
For the most part, assigning gender to nouns referring to people is straightforward, as it coincides with the gender of the person. For example, you would expect the word frère (brother) to be masculine, and sœur (sister) to be feminine.
We also learned that masculine nouns are typically introduced by un/le (a/the), as in un frère (a brother):
Il est comme un grand frère pour moi.
He's like a big brother to me.Play Caption
Feminine nouns are preceded by une/la (a/the), as in une sœur (a sister):
Hé Sam! Et peut-être qu'elle a une amie ou une sœur...
Hey Sam! And maybe she has a friend or a sister...
Caption 39, Extr@ - Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 3Play Caption
It is also possible to introduce a noun with other little words or determiners, in addition to the articles un/une and le/la mentioned above. In the example below, to express her feelings toward her deceased father, the daughter uses various turns of phrase: mon père (my father), un père (a father), l’image du père idéal (the image of the ideal father):
C'est mon père.... J'ai eu un père. Il était loin de l'image du père idéal
He's my father.... I had a father. He was far from the image of the ideal father
Captions 11, 39-40, Le Jour où tout a basculé Mon père n'est pas mort - Part 8Play Caption
A few nouns, like enfant (child), can be preceded by either a masculine or a feminine article, as those words refer to people of any gender:
Elle a un enfant et c'est...
She has a child [masculine] and she's...Play Caption
Je suis une enfant du monde
I am a child [feminine] of the world
Caption 31, Indila - Dernière dansePlay Caption
Usually, though, a given noun will have a masculine and a feminine version. Many feminine nouns end in -e (though not all nouns ending in -e are feminine, as we'll see below). So, we have two words for “friend": une amie (a female friend) and un ami (a male friend).
Et c'est une amie à moi canadienne
And it's a Canadian friend of mine
Caption 18, Amal et Caroline - Quartier du LouvrePlay Caption
When used as nouns, nationalities are capitalized and also take an -e in the feminine form. For example, a Frenchwoman is une Française, and a Frenchman is un Français:
Les habitants de la France, les Françaises et les Français, sont plus de soixante-six millions.
The inhabitants of France, Frenchwomen and Frenchmen, are more than sixty-six million.Play Caption
Here is another example with nationalities. Note that you pronounce the s in Française, which is a "z" sound, but not in Français. When a noun ends with a silent consonant in the masculine form, that letter usually becomes sounded in the feminine form:
Parce que c'est l'histoire toute simple d'un amour entre un Américain et une Française.
Because it's the very simple story of a love between an American boy and a French girl.
Captions 47-48, Extr@ - Ep. 5 - Une étoile est née - Part 2Play Caption
Endings in -e are especially useful for the femininization of job titles:
Madame George Pau-Langevin, la députée de la quinzième circonscription
Ms. George Pau-Langevin, the deputy for the fifteenth constituencyPlay Caption
Here, la députée (the female deputy) is the feminine form of le député (the male deputy).
Some masculine nouns already end in -e and therefore are equivalent to their feminine counterparts, as in un artiste/une artiste (a male/female artist). In this case, only the article in front determines the gender. Karine Rougier, for example, refers to herself as une artiste:
Du coup, le processus pour devenir une artiste, je pense que... il est à l'intérieur de moi
So, the process to become an artist, I think that... it's inside me
Captions 42-43, Le saviez-vous? - Karine Rougier présente son art - Part 4Play Caption
However, there are times when people use the masculine form of the job title even when referring to women. This happens for various reasons, some of them subtle. Earlier in the video series on Karine Rougier, the curator of the gallery introduces her as un artiste, not une artiste. Why?
It’s because the speaker is using the term artiste in a generic sense. He is talking about the tradition of giving carte blanche to an artist (in general) every year and is not referring to Karine Rougier specifically yet:
Comme chaque année au mois d'octobre, nous faisons une carte blanche à un artiste. Et cette année, c'est Karine Rougier
Like every year in the month of October, we're giving carte blanche to an artist. And this year, it's Karine RougierPlay Caption
In the following video, the speaker also uses the masculine because he's speaking in generic terms about un élève (a student) of unknown gender:
Ce sac à dos est à un élève, non?
This backpack belongs to a student, right?Play Caption
Whenever there is no way of identifying the gender of a person, French speakers often default to the masculine. When the couple in the example below expresses a desire to avoir un enfant (have a child) one day, they're not specifically talking about a boy, but rather a child of any gender:
Quelle décision? Avoir un enfant.
What decision? To have a child.Play Caption
To recap, while the masculine usually applies to males, it's also used when the gender is not known, or when it refers to people in a generic sense. The use of the feminine is more straightforward, as it applies exclusively to women and girls. The difficulty here lies in which ending you’re going to use, as not all feminine nouns end in -e. Many of them look different from their masculine counterparts, especially job titles and animals, both of which will be explored in future lessons.
Unlike in English, all nouns are either masculine or feminine in French, without exception, whether they refer to a person, an animal, or an inanimate object. So, every time you learn a new word, you will also need to memorize its gender, which is one of the difficulties of the French language.
As Lionel remarks in his lesson, English speakers don’t have to worry about the gender of nouns:
Voilà. Vous êtes chanceux en anglais: vous avez pas tous ces problèmes de sexe et de langue...
There you have it. You are lucky in English: you don't have all these gender and language problems...
Caption 24, Lionel L - Les genresPlay Caption
Perhaps we can blame the Romans for this predicament, as most Romance languages (derived from Latin) assign a gender to nouns. For example, in Spanish, masculine nouns end in o, as in chico (boy), and feminine nouns end in a, as in chica (girl). In French, you can’t always guess the gender of a noun by its ending. Instead, it’s better to check the article that comes before it.
Masculine nouns are preceded by the masculine indefinite article un (a) or the definite article le (the). For example, we say un garçon (a boy) or le garçon (the boy), and therefore garçon is masculine:
Le masculin s'utilise par exemple pour le mot "garçon". C'est masculin: "Le garçon".
The masculine is used, for example, for the word "garçon." It's masculine: "Le garçon" [the boy].
Caption 5, Yabla à Nancy - Le masculin et le fémininPlay Caption
Feminine nouns are introduced by the indefinite article une (a) or the definite article la (the). The noun fille (girl) is feminine, so we say une fille (a girl) or la fille (the girl):
Le féminin s'utilise pour le mot "fille", par exemple, "la fille."
The feminine is used for the word "fille," for example, "la fille" [the girl].
Caption 7, Yabla à Nancy - Le masculin et le fémininPlay Caption
So far so good. It seems quite logical to ascribe a feminine gender to une fille (a girl) and a masculine gender to un garçon (a boy).
However, when it comes to inanimate objects, you'd think it would make more sense to assign them a neuter gender, or “it”. Unfortunately, there is no such thing in French. So, an object or concept is arbitrarily either masculine or feminine. There is often no rhyme or reason for this, as Lionel jokingly points out:
Pourquoi est-ce que la chaise est une femme? Je sais pas.
Why is the chair a woman? I don't know.
Caption 6, Lionel L - Les genresPlay Caption
Since there’s little logic in the gender-assigning process, it’s up to you to memorize the gender of each noun and match it with the correct article: le (the) or un (a) for masculine and la (the) or une (a) for feminine. Or you could talk about everything in multiples, as the plural has its definite advantages. Why? Because you don’t need to worry about feminine and masculine articles! Les ("the," plural) and des (some) work for both masculine and feminine plural nouns:
Au pluriel, on utilise le mot "les". Ça marche pour le masculin et pour le féminin.
In the plural, we use the word "les." That works for the masculine and for the feminine.
Caption 16, Yabla à Nancy - Le masculin et le fémininPlay Caption
Une maison (a house) becomes des maisons (houses).
La maison (the house) becomes les maisons (the houses).
Un garçon (a boy) becomes des garçons (boys).
Le garçon (the boy) becomes les garçons (the boys).
In addition to les (the) and des (some) pairing with both masculine and feminine plural nouns, the definite singular article l’ (another form of “the”) can also go with either gender, as in l’arbre ("the tree," masculine) or l’idée ("the idea," feminine).
Note that l' is only used with a noun starting with a vowel or silent h. In other words, le and la turn into l’ in front of a vowel or silent h. This phenomenon is called euphony, which is when a word is modified for a purely phonetic purpose, without changing its meaning.
Thus, we can’t say le arbre in French. As Patricia explains, we have to say l’arbre:
Je ne dis pas: "Voici le arbre". Je dis: "Voici l'arbre".
I don't say: "Voici le arbre" [here's the tree]. I say: "Voici l'arbre" [here's the tree].
Captions 34-37, Le saviez-vous? - L'élision - Part 1Play Caption
And the same rule applies to feminine nouns. Instead of la oreille (the ear), we say:
"L'oreille" [the ear].
Caption 20, Le saviez-vous? - L'élision - Part 1Play Caption
To summarize, here's a table outlining the gender of nouns and articles in French:
|Masculine singular||Masculine plural||Feminine singular||Feminine plural|
|un chapeau (a hat)||des chapeaux (hats)||une maison (a house)||des maisons (houses)|
|le chapeau (the hat)||les chapeaux (the hats)||la maison (the house)||les maisons (the houses)|
|l'arbre (the tree)||les arbres (the trees)||l'amitié (the friendship)||les amitiés (the friendships)|
Once you’ve memorized the gender of a noun, it’s a matter of using the correct article mentioned in the table.
Fortunately, if you forget the gender of a word, you can always consult a dictionary. However, you should know that nouns usually aren't listed with un/une or le/la in front. Instead, gender will often appear in the form of an abbreviation: nm (nom masculin, masculine noun) and nf (nom féminin, feminine noun). You'll also see npl (nom pluriel, plural noun).
So far, we’ve covered the basics of the gender of nouns and articles, but there is a lot more to explore. Dans une prochaine leçon (in a future lesson), we’ll discuss nouns referring to people and animals.
Until then, happy reading!
Do you know what Parlez-vous céfran means? It’s Parlez-vous français? (Do you speak French?) in verlan, a form of slang in which a word’s syllables are inverted. In verlan, français (French) becomes céfran. The term verlan is itself an instance of verlan, standing for l’envers ("backward" or “back to front”), as Lionel puts it in his lesson:
"Verlan", c'est "l'envers" à l'envers.
"Verlan" is "l'envers" [backward] reversed.
Caption 5, Lionel L - Le verlanPlay Caption
Although verlan is widely used among young people today, the practice of reversing syllables goes back a long way (and is not exclusive to the French language). French Enlightenment writer François-Marie Arouet, aka Voltaire, is said to have made up his pen name by reversing the syllables of his hometown of Airvault. More recently, singer/rapper/songwriter Stromae (né Paul Van Haver) built his stage name around the word maestro, which in verlan became Stromae! Verlan was even used as a coded language among prisoners during World War II.
But it was not until the seventies and eighties that verlan really started to take off and become a form of expression for the disenfranchised in the poorer suburbs of Paris. It became part of the language of immigrants, namely second-generation French North Africans straddling two cultures, who called themselves beurs (arabes in verlan). (Incidentally, the term rebeu, a variation of beur, has become so mainstream that it is now entered in Le Petit Robert dictionary!)
The term beur (Arab), featured in the video below, is part of the catchphrase black, blanc, beur (black, white, Arab), which has become a symbol of racial diversity:
La Marianne, c'est le symbole de la République avant tout. Je vous dirais qu'elle soit noire, beur, ou blanche, c'est pareil.
Above all, Marianne is the symbol of the Republic. I'm telling you, whether she's black, Arab, or white, it's all the same.
Captions 16-17, Le Journal - MariannePlay Caption
By the same token, immigrants don’t want to abandon their roots and compromise their values to fit in. According to filmmaker Alain Etoundi, minorities are misrepresented in French movies, such as the comedy Les Kaïra, in which black characters are stereotyped as funny, harmless rogues. The title of the movie Les Kaïra is based on caillera, the verlan term for racaille (riffraff, scum):
Vous aimez valider des films de pseudo "Kaïra" ["caillera", verlan "racaille"]
You like to endorse pseudo-"Kaïra" films [riffraff]Play Caption
In addition to movies, music, especially hip-hop, helped verlan spread beyond the suburbs from the nineties onwards. In 2013, Congolese-born hip-hop artist Maître Gims made liberal use of verlan in his song "Bella":
Les gens du coin ne voulaient pas la "cher-lâ" [lâcher]
The local people would not leave her alone
Caption 54, Maître Gims - BellaPlay Caption
Turning two-syllable words into verlan is quite straightforward. In the example above, Maître Gims just switches the syllables of lâcher (to let go/to leave alone) around to make cher-lâ. But with one-syllable words, it’s a little trickier. For example, pieds (feet) becomes iep:
Rends-moi bête comme mes "iep" [pieds]
Make me stupid as my feet [thick as a brick]
Caption 59, Maître Gims - BellaPlay Caption
And chien (dog) becomes iench:
Je suis l'ombre de ton "iench" [chien]
I am the shadow of your dog
Caption 61, Maître Gims - BellaPlay Caption
Rapper Grand Corps Malade also uses verlan in his song "Roméo kiffe Juliette" (Romeo Likes Juliet):
Le père de Roméo est vénère [énervé], il a des soupçons
Romeo's father is irritated, he has suspicions
Caption 25, Grand Corps Malade - Roméo kiffe JuliettePlay Caption
And in "Plan B", Grand Corps Malade refers to a girlfriend as a meuf:
Quand ta meuf c'est Kardashian et que tu rêves d'une vie planquée
When your chick is a Kardashian and you dream of a secluded life
Caption 21, Grand Corps Malade - Plan BPlay Caption
The word femme (“woman” or “wife") becomes meuf in verlan, which can also mean “girlfriend” or, more slangily, "chick."
As singers have popularized the use of verlan, it's become part of everyday conversations among young people. In the video below, Elisa uses verlan in a conversation with her mother, whom she accuses of being relou (annoying):
Bah oui! T'es... t'es super relou ["lourd" en verlan], on le sait hein!
Well yes! You're... you're really annoying, we know that, right?
Caption 8, Elisa et sa maman - Comment vas-tu?Play Caption
It's not just people who can be relou. Activities like housework can be as well:
Et très vite j'allais comprendre qu'il y avait plus relou que le ménage.
And very quickly I was going to understand that there were more frustrating things than housework.
Captions 73-74, Mère & Fille Tâches ménagèresPlay Caption
As you can see, verlan words pepper conversations and songs all across the French-speaking world. If you want to try your hand at verlan, just switch some syllables around, and don’t forget check out the videos featured in this Blaya (Yabla) lesson!
The verb craquer (to crack)—not to be confused with croquer (to crunch/bite)—is an interesting word as it can be used in a variety of ways, often in situations that involve strong emotions, either positive or negative. When used informally, craquer has many meanings that range from “breaking down” to “falling in love."
In a negative context, craquer can mean to crack up, or crack under pressure:
François est dégoûté. Il craque.
François is disgusted. He's cracking up.
Caption 35, Oldelaf Le monde est beauPlay Caption
Craquer can also describe something or someone cracking under pressure:
Continue à faire des films aussi flingués et les cités vont craquer.
Continue making gun movies like always and the housing estates are going to crack.
Captions 51-52, Alain Etoundi Allez tous vous faire enfilmer! - Part 1Play Caption
It can also refer to someone "giving in" or "caving":
Bon, j'ai craqué parce que...
Well, I caved because...Play Caption
While craquer means to crack under pressure, faire craquer quelqu’un means to cause someone to crack or to break someone’s spirit, like the mother in the video below who tried to faire craquer (break down) her son’s girlfriend:
Sa mère voulait me faire craquer.
His mother wanted to break me down.Play Caption
At the other end of the spectrum, however, craquer can describe a positive experience. It's slang for “to fall in love." In the example below, the French pianist Christine Ott is asked:
C'est ce qui t'a fait craquer, toi, pour cet instrument?
Is that what made you fall in love with this instrument?
Caption 4, Alsace 20 Femmes d'exception: Christine OttPlay Caption
And the singer Melissa Mars "fell head over heels" for her project "Et Alors!":
Et voilà, donc du coup, ben évidemment j'ai craqué sur ce projet,
And there, so as a result, well of course I fell head over heels for this project,
Caption 23, Melissa Mars Et Alors!Play Caption
In the following example, shoppers "fell" for some Christmas ornaments:
Et ben on a craqué sur des choses un petit peu typiques, euh...
And, well, we fell for things that are a little bit typical, uh...
Caption 10, Alsace 20 Ouverture du marché de Noël de ColmarPlay Caption
And, of course, craquer sur also means to fall for a person:
J'avais complètement craqué sur elle
I'd completely fallen for herPlay Caption
Likewise, faire craquer can mean to make someone fall for someone:
Je pouvais avouer, ouais, qu'elle m'a fait craquer
I could confess, yeah, that she made me fall for her
Captions 32-33, Harmelo Mets Ton Masque Ft. Jade L x GhettoPlay Caption
On a spookier note, craquer can mean to creak, as in the sound the floor makes in this couple’s haunted apartment:
Ah, c'est le plancher qui craque.
Ah, it's the floor that's creaking.Play Caption
And for a little bit of humor, craquer (to rip) can describe a wardrobe mishap. In this video, Elisa and Mashal look at old photographs, and Mashal remembers when her pants ripped in the middle:
Enfin, quand j'avais dansé mon pantalon qui avait craqué au mil'...
Well, when I'd been dancing, my pants, which had ripped in the mid'...
Caption 82, Elisa et Mashal PhotosPlay Caption
Or when referring to shoes, you can say that they are sur le point de craquer (about to burst). In "J'aurais bien voulu," the singer of the ska band Babylon Circus talks about his battered ego sagging down to his socks to the point that his godasses (shoes) are sur le point de craquer (about to burst):
J'ai l'ego dans les chaussettes et les godasses sur le point de craquer
My ego's in my socks and my shoes are about to burst
Caption 30, Babylon Circus J'aurais bien vouluPlay Caption
There’s another colloquial expression that paints a similar picture, plein à craquer, which means “bursting at the seams” or “overcrowded”:
Les hôpitaux sont pleins à craquer.
The hospitals are completely overcrowded.
Don't confuse craquer with the English loanword cracker, which means "hacker":
Des crackers ont piraté le logiciel.
Some hackers hacked into the software.
(Un cracker can also be of the edible kind… a cracker!).
The noun un craque doesn’t refer to "cracking" at all. It's slang for un mensonge (a lie):
Mais si tous mes craques t'indiffèrent
But if all my lies leave you indifferent
Caption 28, Mademoiselle K (avec Zazie) Me taire te plairePlay Caption
The English noun “crack,” as in a crack in the wall, is une fissure in French, and the verb is fissurer (to crack), as mentioned in this video about the Liverdun Church during the Second World War:
Parce qu'elle a été fissurée pendant la dernière Guerre mondiale.
Because it was cracked during the last World War.
Caption 76, Lionel L'église de Liverdun - Part 2Play Caption
There are other instances when “crack” doesn’t translate as craquer in French. For example, “to crack a joke” is simply raconter une blague (to tell a joke), Lionel’s specialty in his Yabla videos:
Lionel adore raconter des blagues sur Yabla.
Lionel loves telling jokes on Yabla.
And when you "crack up" at a joke, you éclater de rire (burst out laughing):
Les blagues de Lionel me font toujours éclater de rire.
Lionel's jokes always crack me up.
One last thing you can do with craquer in French is craquer une allumette (strike a match):
On peut craquer une allumette pour voir dans le noir.
We can strike a match to see in the dark.
Nous espérons que vous avez craqué sur cette leçon (We hope you fell for this lesson)!
We've discussed the differences in meaning between the two ways of saying “day" (jour/journée), “morning” (matin/matinée), and “evening” (soir/soirée). Now we’ll take a look at the remaining word pair, an/année (year).
An/année works similarly to the other word pairs. The masculine term (un an) usually refers to a specific point in time with an emphasis on quantity, while its feminine counterpart (une année) focuses on duration, content, and quality.
However, there are many exceptions, mostly with année. So, let’s begin with time expressions that call for année exclusively.
The demonstrative adjective ce (this) is always paired with année: cette année (this year).
Cette année, nous avons décidé d'interviewer Vincent Glad
This year, we decided to interview Vincent Glad
Caption 20, Caroline et l'ExpressPlay Caption
Even though we can say ce matin/soir/jour (this morning/evening/day), we can never say cet an! Logic doesn’t always apply…
We also always use année with ordinal numbers like première/deuxième/dernière (first/second/last). So we say la première année (the first year):
Et c'est la première année qu'on a autant de monde qui reste à la party.
And this is the first year that we had so many people stay at the party.
Caption 27, Ultimate frisbee KYM, le tournoiPlay Caption
Année is also required with the indefinite adjective quelques (a few): quelques années (a few years). In the conversation below, two friends discuss what they did il y a quelques années (a few years ago):
Oh, j'y allais beaucoup avec ma fille, il y a quelques années.
Oh, I used to go there a lot with my daughter a few years ago.
Caption 47, Claire et Philippe La campagnePlay Caption
The same rule applies to indefinite plural article des (some), as in depuis des années (for years). In the video below, Caroline tells her friend Amal, who has been singing depuis des années (for years), that she should stop because she’s an awful singer. Apparently, Caroline has been putting up with her bad singing for years:
Euh... je sais que tu fais ça depuis des années.
Uh... I know that you've been doing this for years.Play Caption
And Amal is wondering what took Caroline so long to finally tell her what she really thinks. After all, they’ve been friends depuis plusieurs années (for several years):
Justement on est amies depuis plusieurs années.
As it happens, we've been friends for several years.
Caption 45, Amal et Caroline Je n'aime pas quand tu chantesPlay Caption
Although we say chaque jour (each day), we can’t say chaque an, even though we're referring to a specific point in time. We have to say chaque année (every/each year). In the video below, a journalist asks people on the street if they come to the gay pride parade “every year," first using tous les ans, then chaque année.
Tous les ans (every year) is more or less equivalent to chaque année, except it emphasizes the quantity of years. It literally means "all the years":
Vous venez tous les ans ou pas? -Oui, tous les ans.
Do you come every year or not? -Yes, every year.
Captions 11-12, Gay Pride La fiertéPlay Caption
Then the journalist uses chaque année (every year) to emphasize the experience itself:
Et pour vous c'est important de... chaque année renouveler, euh...?
And for you is it important to... every year, to repeat, uh...?
Caption 13, Gay Pride La fiertéPlay Caption
The journalist could have also asked the people combien d’années (how many years) they had been going to the parade:
Vous y allez depuis combien d’années?
How many years have you been going there?
Finally, we have one more instance that requires année: de/en quelle année (from/in what year). In the example below, Lionel asks de quelle année (from what year) the cloister dates:
Et le cloître, il date de quelle année?
And the cloister, it dates from what year?
Caption 1, Lionel La Cathédrale de Toul - Part 2Play Caption
Interestingly, to answer the question de quelle année (from what year), we revert to the masculine term an(s) to refer to the specific point in time:
La plus vieille structure que l'on ait trouvée date de six mille cinq cents ans avant Jésus-Christ.
The oldest [umbrella] structure that was found dates back to six thousand five hundred years before Jesus Christ [BC].
Captions 74-76, Pep's Réparation de parapluiesPlay Caption
We almost always say an with numbers and dates. So, we use an to date a building or an object and, of course, to describe the age of a person:
Pierre a alors vingt-six ans quand est déclenchée la Seconde Guerre mondiale.
Pierre was twenty-six years old then when the Second World War started.
Captions 36-37, TV Vendée Vendée : Pierre Zucchi, 104 ans, raconte ses mémoiresPlay Caption
With time expressions like pendant (for/during), we tend to use ans for counting the years. In the first part of this video, the journalist tells the story of a woman who decided to give up sugar pendant un an (for a year), with an emphasis on a definite time:
Elle a décidé de supprimer le sucre de son alimentation pendant un an.
She decided to remove sugar from her diet for a year.Play Caption
Then the journalist switches to pendant une année (for a year) to emphasize the woman's experience:
Et vous avez raconté cette expérience de supprimer le sucre de votre alimentation dans cet ouvrage, "Zéro sucre", pendant une année.
And you recounted this experience of removing sugar from your diet in this book, "Zero Sugar," for a year.
Captions 10-12, Le Figaro Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 1Play Caption
As you may have noticed, there is some flexibility within those guidelines depending on the situation. So much so that, sometimes, the choice is entirely yours! For example, the expressions l’an prochain/dernier and l’année prochaine/dernière (next/last year) are pretty much interchangeable, as the difference in meaning is negligible.
Here, the speaker uses l’an dernier to refer to a point in time, but l’année dernière would have worked too:
L'an dernier, huit départements français avaient participé à cette enquête.
Last year, eight French departments had participated in this survey.
Caption 17, Canal 32 Les secrets des cailles des blésPlay Caption
And in this example, the speaker uses l’année dernière, as the exact timing is not as important as what happened. But he just as well could have said l’an dernier:
Ça a commencé l'année dernière.
It started last year.Play Caption
Here are a few examples of idiomatic expressions with an/année.
To refer to New Year’s, the public holiday, we say le Nouvel An:
...au lendemain du réveillon du Nouvel An.
...to the day after the New Year's Eve celebration.Play Caption
(Note, however, that when referring to the “new year” in general, we say la nouvelle année.)
And au Nouvel An, on New Year’s Day, it’s customary to wish everyone bonne année et bonne santé (Happy New Year and good health), which is what this Good Samaritan did while visiting the homeless:
Merci beaucoup. Bonne année et bonne santé.
Thank you very much. Happy New Year and good health.
Caption 27, Dao Evolution Noël pour les sans-abrisPlay Caption
Le Nouvel An (New Year’s Day) may be a time to reflect on the old days, like les années cinquante (the fifties), which was a time of decline for the Hôtel Negresco in Nice:
La crise économique de mille neuf cent vingt-neuf ralentissent le fonctionnement de l'hôtel qui se trouve au bord de la faillite dans les années cinquante.
The economic crisis of nineteen twenty-nine slow down the operation of the hotel, which finds itself on the verge of bankruptcy in the fifties.
Captions 27-30, Le saviez-vous? L'hôtel Negresco - Part 1Play Caption
And if nothing fazes you, you might use the slang phrase:
Je m’en moque comme de l’an quarante.
I couldn’t care less (literally, "l don't care about it like [I don't care about] the year forty").
For more idiomatic expressions, click here.
In conclusion, the choice between an and année is somewhat subjective and contradictory with its many exceptions, so let’s recap.
Expressions that go with année are as follows:
la dernière/première/deuxième année (the last year/first year/second year)
pendant l’année (during the year)
plusieurs années (several years)
quelques années (a few years)
chaque année (each/every year)
toute l’année (all year)
durant/pendant des années (for years)
cette année (this year)
combien d'années (how many years)
quelle année (what year)
Expressions that go with either an or année include:
l’année dernière/l’an dernier (last year)
l’année prochaine/l’an prochain (next year)
Just remember that in general, an is used to refer to a point in time and année to emphasize duration.
Bonne journée et bonne lecture! (Enjoy your day, and happy reading!).
In our last lesson, we discussed the differences in meaning between the two ways of saying "day" in French, le jour and la journée. The masculine term jour refers to a specific moment in time, or a unit of time with an emphasis on quantity, while its feminine counterpart journée emphasizes quality, content, and duration. We also mentioned that there were other words pairs, namely matin/matinée (morning), soir/soirée (evening), and an/année (year), that work similarly.
In this lesson, we will focus on the word pairs soir/soirée and matin/matinée.
Like jour (day), matin (morning) and soir (evening/night) indicate a point in time. You can use them to specify the time of day, as in six heures du matin (six o’clock in the morning).
To clarify whether it’s morning or afternoon on the twelve-hour clock, simply add du matin (in the morning) and du soir (in the evening) to the time:
New York, six heures du matin
New York, six o'clock in the morning
Caption 2, Boulbar New York, 6 heures du matinPlay Caption
(Du matin is equivalent to “a.m.” and du soir is equivalent to “p.m.”).
You can also combine matin/soir with other time expressions, as in le lendemain matin/le lendemain soir (the next morning/evening):
Le lendemain matin, Jean-Paul est rongé par la culpabilité.
The next morning, Jean-Paul is consumed with guilt.Play Caption
Similarly, you can pair matin/soir with hier (yesterday). In the example below, we have hier soir (last night):
T'étais où hier soir?
Where were you last night?Play Caption
The nouns le soir and le matin aren't necessarily accompanied by an adverb of time. They can be used on their own to indicate a time of day. In the example below, the restaurant owner explains how many people typically come for lunch or dinner:
Cinquante personnes le midi, cinquante personnes le soir
Fifty people at noon, fifty people in the evening
Captions 31-32, Christian Le Squer Je ne fais que goûter!Play Caption
In the example below, Elisa and Mashal discuss what they usually have for breakfast, and Elisa is surprised to hear that Mashal likes to eat a slice of chicken le matin (in the morning).
Le matin? -Ouais. Une tranche de poulet le matin?
In the morning? -Yeah. A slice of chicken in the morning?
Captions 5-6, Elisa et Mashal Petit-déjeunerPlay Caption
Unlike in English, you don't need a preposition in French to say "in the evening/in the morning." You can simply say le soir/le matin (in the evening/morning).
When the time is less specific or crucial, and the emphasis is on what happened during that time, it’s better to use the feminine version dans la matinée/soirée (in the morning/evening). This time, the preposition dans (in) is included.
Let’s look at what Alexandre and Sophie were doing dans la soirée (in the evening) in the example below. What matters most is what happened during the evening—Alexandre calling Sophie:
Dans la soirée, Alexandre appelle Sophie.
In the evening, Alexandre calls Sophie.Play Caption
In the next example, Alexandre calls Sophie at a different time: en fin de matinée (in the late morning). Since timing is approximate, we use matinée:
Alex, l'agent de Sophie, m'a appelée en fin de matinée.
Alex, Sophie's agent, called me in the late morning.Play Caption
You can substitute matinée (morning) with soirée (evening) here: en fin de soirée (in the late evening).
When estimating how long it might take to perform a task, use the suffix -ée to indicate duration. In the example below, the person needs la matinée (the whole morning or the better part of the morning) to do her shopping:
Je vais faire des courses. J'en ai pour la matinée.
I'm going to do some shopping. I'll be out for the morning.Play Caption
When describing how much you can accomplish in the span of a morning, you say dans une matinée (in a morning). Watch the video below to find out how many madeleines this amazing baker makes dans une matinée (in a morning):
Mais vous, tout seul, dans une matinée, vous faites combien de madeleines?
But you by yourself, how many madeleines do you make in a morning?Play Caption
Unlike the baker in the example above, the lady in the video below decides to prendre la matinée (take the morning off):
Elle a pris sa matinée aujourd'hui.
She took her morning off today.Play Caption
Taking the morning off is a great opportunity to faire la grasse matinée (to sleep in; literally, "to do the fat morning"). That is precisely what the animal in this funny zoo recommends doing while on holiday:
Pas question. Vacances égalent grasse matinée.
Out of the question. Vacations equal sleeping in.
Caption 33, Les zooriginaux Repos corsé - Part 3Play Caption
And if you’re in the mood, you can watch a matinée performance. Une matinée can stretch into an early afternoon, the start of the day for very late risers.
For evening people, how you spend la soirée (the evening) is more important. In the video below, Cinderella was having such a good night out that la soirée (the evening) flew by:
Avec la musique et la danse, la soirée passa comme dans un rêve.
With the music and the dancing, the evening passed like in a dream.
Captions 21-22, Contes de fées Cendrillon - Part 2Play Caption
Elisa and Mashal also remember a memorable evening, cette soirée (that evening), as they look at old photos:
C'est vrai. Je me rappelle de cette soirée.
That's true. I remember that evening.
Caption 53, Elisa et Mashal PhotosPlay Caption
If it had been a formal event, une soirée (a soirée), Elisa and Mashal might have worn une robe de soirée (an evening gown).
On the other hand, une robe de soirée (an evening gown) would not be appropriate for a job interview, as Mashal jokingly points out:
On va pas se ramener, euh... -Avec une robe de soirée, quoi.
We're not going to show up, uh... -In an evening gown, right?
Caption 67, Elisa et Mashal CVPlay Caption
In any case, it’s always good form to wish someone bonne soirée (have a good evening) when parting ways, and save bonsoir (good evening) for the beginning of the evening, as it’s a greeting.
Now that we’ve explored soir/soirée (evening) and matin/matinée (morning), we’re ready to tackle an/année (year) in a future and final lesson.
You probably came across the word jour (day) very early on, when you learned the greeting bonjour (hello). But did you know that bonjour has a feminine counterpart, bonne journée (have a nice day)?
And are you aware that there are two words in French not only for "day," but also for "year," "morning," and "evening"?
day un jour une journée
year un an une année
morning le matin la matinée
evening le soir la soirée
Is there a difference between the masculine and feminine versions? If so, which one should you choose?
The shorter masculine nouns un jour, un an, un matin, un soir refer to a specific point in time, a unit of time, with an emphasis on quantity. The longer feminine nouns une journée, une année, la matinée, la soirée emphasize duration and quality.
Although the masculine and feminine versions of each word translate more or less the same way, they have different shades of meaning that are not necessarily conveyed in English and that can be difficult for French learners to grasp.
In this lesson, we'll explore the differences between jour and journée (day), and we will cover the remaining words in a future lesson.
So, let’s take a closer look at jour (day) first. As mentioned earlier, the shorter masculine word jour refers to a day as a unit of time, or a point in time.
You always use jour when referring to a calendar day, as in:
Quel jour sommes-nous?
What day is it? (literally, "What day are we?")
You would never say, Quelle journée somme-nous?
A point in time doesn’t have to be specific. Un jour can also mean "one day" or "someday":
Un jour le destin lui donnera une occasion de régler ses comptes.
One day, fate will give her an opportunity to settle her score.Play Caption
In any case, jour often does refer to a specific or even a special day. In the example below, Sam explains to his mother that today was a special day: lotto day.
Aujourd'hui, c'était le jour du loto
Today was lotto day
Caption 3, Extr@ Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 5Play Caption
And it’s a special day for his friend Nico too, who picked up two girls in a single day:
Ouais. Deux filles en un seul jour.
Yeah. Two girls in a single day.
Caption 17, Extr@ Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 5Play Caption
Note that en une seule journée (in a single day) would be grammatically and semantically acceptable, but maybe not the best choice here. It would mean something like "in the span of a single day." En une seule journée wouldn’t sound quite as striking, as Nico wants to emphasize the record time it took him to pick up two girls!
Meanwhile, Annie is celebrating Sacha’s lottery win. She tells her:
C'est ton jour de chance.
It's your lucky day.
Caption 4, Extr@ Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 4Play Caption
Unfortunately, her jour de chance turns out to be un jour de malchance:
Quel jour de malchance!
What a day of bad luck!
Caption 59, Extr@ Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 8Play Caption
The expression is usually un jour de malchance, since the emphasis is on the unlucky event, but you could say une journée de malchance if you wanted to shift the emphasis onto the duration of the day—perhaps referring to a day filled with unlucky events!
It was also un jour de malchance for the mother in the example below, who remembered ce jour-là (that day) as the day when she found out that her baby was switched at birth:
Ce jour-là, je savais que ma vie ne serait plus jamais la même.
That day, I knew that my life would never be the same again.Play Caption
We use the construction ce jour-là (that day) to look back on a significant day, or event.
And to convey the passage of time and repetition, we have the expression au fil des jours (day by day/as the days go by):
Pourtant, au fil des jours, Edna se laisse peu à peu séduire par René.
However, as the days go by, Edna lets herself be seduced by René little by little.Play Caption
It makes sense to use jours with adjectives of quantity like plusieurs (several) and tous (every), as we are counting the days:
Il s'apprête à passer plusieurs jours en province.
He is getting ready to spend several days outside of Paris.Play Caption
You also use jours combined with the plural adjective tous (every/all) to explain what you do every day:
Et je travaille ici tous les jours.
And I work here every day.
Caption 4, Fred et Miami Catamarans Les BateauxPlay Caption
But watch what happens when you use the feminine form of tout, toute (all, whole):
Et donc, j'ai passé la journée à faire comme ça. J'ai fait Cluzet toute la journée.
And so I spent the day going like that. I did Cluzet all day.Play Caption
By switching to the feminine form, toute la journée (all day/all day long), the emphasis is now on duration rather than a point in time. When describing how you spend your day, you need to use journée. You would never say tout le jour to mean “all day”: only toute la journée.
Just like toute, prepositions of duration like pendant or durant (during) also pair with journée:
Deux minutes en moyenne d'attente pendant la journée
Two minutes of waiting on average during the day
Captions 69-70, Adrien Le métro parisienPlay Caption
And when referring to a day dedicated to a specific cause, such as International Yoga Day, you would also use journée:
Donc c'est la deuxième année qu'est célébrée cette Journée Internationale du Yoga
So it's the second year that this International Day of Yoga is being celebratedPlay Caption
Finally, le jour can also mean "day" as a general unit of time, the opposite of la nuit (night):
Une demi-heure dans un simulateur de conduite toutes les quatre heures, de jour comme de nuit.
Half an hour in a driving simulator every four hours, day and night.
Caption 19, Le Journal Apnée du sommeilPlay Caption
As you can see, jour and journée are so similar, yet so different. The rules are somewhat flexible, but there are certain situations that call for one word over the other.
Au fil des jours (over time), by watching Yabla videos tous les jours (every day), you’ll find it easier to choose the correct word!
And stay tuned for a lesson on an/année (year), soir/soirée (evening), and matin/matinée (morning) in the future.
In our previous lesson on present participles, we discussed how they can be used as verbs or as adjectives. In this lesson, we’ll focus on present participles used as verbs, known as le gérondif.
Basically, the gérondif is the construction "en + present participle," as in en faisant (while doing). Like all present participles used as verbs, present participles in the gérondif don’t take agreement.
In addition, the gérondif construction "en + present particple" never changes in French, but it will translate differently in English depending on context and function.
The gérondif usually indicates simultaneity and causation, and can be translated as "while x-ing," "by x-ing," or "as x."
When the gérondif is used to emphasize two actions taking place at about the same time, it usually translates as "while x-ing," as in en attendant (while waiting):
Bon... en attendant que notre pâte lève, on s'attaque au bredele?
Good... while waiting for our dough to rise, shall we tackle the bredele?Play Caption
En attendant can also be used on its own as an idiomatic expression ("in the meantime/meanwhile"):
En attendant, les communes doivent payer des ramassages quotidiens
In the meantime, towns must pay for daily collection
Caption 31, Le Journal - Marée verte en BretagnePlay Caption
The construction "en + present participle" can also be equivalent to "as + verb" in English when indicating simultaneity:
Mais... en partant, elle m'a donné son numéro de téléphone.
But... as she left, she gave me her phone number.
Captions 35-36, Extr@ - Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 3Play Caption
To further emphasize simultaneity between two actions or to indicate opposing actions in French, you can use the construction "tout en + present participle" (all while x-ing), as in tout en parlant (all while speaking). This construction is especially useful when you're talking about multitasking:
Je joue sur mon téléphone et parle avec mes amis tout en regardant la télé.
I play on my phone and talk to my friends, all while watching TV.
The gérondif can also indicate a means to achieve something, equivalent to the construction "by x-ing" in English:
Parents, veuillez surveiller bien vos enfants en leur apprenant à respecter les animaux.
Parents, please supervise your children well by teaching them to respect the animals.
Caption 12, Voyage en France - Chantilly - Part 3Play Caption
The gérondif can also describe the way an action is performed:
Est-elle rentrée en chantant?
Did she come in singing?Play Caption
Here, the translation is straightforward. En chantant simply means "singing."
However, when that sentence is put in the negative form, you must use the infinitive and not the present participle. As Patricia explains in her video, en chantant (singing) becomes sans chanter (without singing). The preposition sans (without) must be followed by the infinitive:
Non, elle est rentrée sans chanter.
No, she came in without singing [she didn't come in singing].Play Caption
The present participle is much more prevalent in English, whereas French favors the infinitive instead. In English you can follow a conjugated verb by an infinitive or a present participle. In French, it’s preferable to use the infinitive. For example, when talking about something you like doing or like to do, you cannot say j’aime faisant (I like doing). You have to say j’aime faire (I like to do):
J’aime faire des dessins.
I like drawing./I like to draw.
Similarly, when a person witnesses someone doing something, it’s better to use the infinitive after a conjugated verb:
Je les ai vues chanter.
I saw them sing./I saw them singing.
Another word of caution: the present participle is never used to form a progressive tense, simply because there is no such tense in French. You must use the present indicative instead. For example, "I am thinking" (present progressive) and "I think" (present indicative) both translate as je pense.
The construction je suis pensant, the literal translation of "I am thinking," simply does not exist! The only option is the present indicative: je pense (I think).
If you really want to emphasize an action in progress in French, you can use the expression être en train de (to be in the process/in the middle of):
On est en train de réchauffer la pâte en fin de compte.
We are in the process of warming up the dough in the end.Play Caption
To sum up, French uses the infinitive in many instances where English uses the present participle, and the gérondif construction "en + present participle" can take various forms in English.
There you have it for present participles! En passant (incidentally), we hope this lesson will be useful to you!
You know all about past participles from our lessons on the passé composé, but are you familiar with present participles?
Participles are verb forms that come in two tenses, past and present. For example, the past participle of manger (to eat) is mangé (eaten) and its present participle is mangeant (eating).
Present participles introduce a dependent clause indicating an action or state related to a main verb. You can recognize a present participle by its -ant ending (corresponding to -ing in English). For example: penser > pensant (think > thinking). To form a present participle, take the nous (we) form of the present tense—e.g., pensons (we think)—drop the -ons ending and replace it with -ant: pensant (thinking).
Fortunately, this rule has very few exceptions. There are only three irregular present participles in French: sachant (knowing), ayant (having), and étant (being).
Sachant and ayant are not derived from the nous form of the present indicative (savons and avons), but rather from the present subjunctive (sachons and ayons):
Sachant que le but c'est de créer de la magie
Knowing that the goal is to create magicPlay Caption
Moi-même, quoique ayant un problème de dos
Myself, despite having a problem with my back
Caption 28, Bicloune - Magasin de vélos à ParisPlay Caption
Interestingly, the word savant does exist in French. Un savant is a scholar or scientist, or a savant, someone with extraordinary mental ability. And of course there's the word avant (before), which isn't related to avoir.
Étant (being) isn't derived from the present indicative or the present subjunctive, but from the infinitive, être (to be):
Mais écoute, Nicolas, mon épouse étant originaire de Dinsheim
Well listen, Nicolas, my wife, being a native of DinsheimPlay Caption
In addition to being two irregular present participles, ayant (having) and étant (being) can also act as auxiliary verbs, combined with a past participle, as in ayant vu (having seen) and étant né (being born). In this case, the past participle follows the same agreement rules as in the passé composé. See our lessons on past participle agreement with avoir and with être for more on that.
A present participle is often equivalent to the construction "qui/que (who/that/which) + verb." For example:
Le public était habitué à ces jeunes filles en tutu, faisant des pointes.
The public was used to these girls in tutus, dancing on pointe.
Captions 11-12, d'Art d'Art - "La petite danseuse de 14 ans" - DegasPlay Caption
Instead of faisant des pointes (dancing on pointe), the speaker could have said:
Le public était habitué à ces jeunes filles en tutu qui faisaient des pointes.
The public was used to these girls in tutus who danced on pointe.
Here is another example of a present participle that could be replaced with the construction qui + verbe:
La nuit, le bâtiment se reflète sur la mer, attirant encore plus de tourisme
At night, the building is reflected on the sea, attracting even more tourism
Captions 38-39, Le saviez-vous? - Le casino ou la guerrePlay Caption
La nuit, le bâtiment se reflète sur la mer, qui attire encore plus de tourisme
At night, the building is reflected on the sea, which attracts even more tourism
Attirant (attracting/appealing) is an example of a present participle that can be used as an adjective, in which case it's subject to adjective agreement rules. Here's an example of attirant used as an adjective:
Bémol: En quatre ans les graphismes évoluent. Neutros sera-t-il encore attirant?
A drawback: In four years, graphics will have evolved. Will Neutros still be appealing?
Caption 18, Le Mans TV - Apprendre la sexualité par Neutros!Play Caption
Here, attirant agrees with the proper masculine noun Neutros, so it doesn't change. However, if it were used in a sentence with a plural feminine subject, we would have to add -es to it:
Les célébrités sont souvent très attirantes.
Celebrities are often very attractive.
If you're not sure whether a word ending in -ant is an adjective or a present participle, sometimes its spelling can give you a clue. For example, the word for "tiring" in French is fatigant when used as an adjective and fatiguant, with a -u, when used as a present participle (Both fatigant and fatiguant sound the same.)
Des fois c'est vrai que c'est assez fatigant quoi
Sometimes it's true that it's quite tiring, you know
Caption 104, Miniji MichelPlay Caption
On doit éviter les activités fatiguant les yeux.
You should avoid activities that tire out your eyes.
Besides the u, how do we know that we're dealing with a present participle, not an adjective, in the second example, and therefore don't need to make an agreement? First of all, we could easily replace fatiguant with qui fatiguent les yeux (that tire out/are tiring for the eyes). Second, we can see that les yeux is the direct object of fatiguant. Only verbs take direct objects, not adjectives.
If we were to rewrite the sentence using the adjective, it would be:
On doit éviter les activités fatigantes pour les yeux.
You should avoid activities that are tiring for your eyes.
Besides dropping the u, we add -es to the adjective to agree with the feminine plural noun activités. And we add pour (for) before les yeux, which no longer acts as a direct object.
We hope this lesson was intéressante (interesting) and not too fatigante (tiring), as we have another passionnante (exciting) lesson in store for you! We’ll be discussing a special kind of present participle known as the gerund.
En attendant (in the meantime), have fun watching some more Yabla videos!
A reflexive verb generally refers to an action that reflects back on the subject (something you do to yourself or to each other). You will recognize a reflexive verb in the dictionary by the reflexive pronoun se (oneself) preceding the infinitive, as in se laver (to wash oneself).
Reflexive verbs usually agree… with themselves! That is, the past participle agrees in gender and number with both the subject (such as je) and the object (such as me) at the same time. For example:
Ce matin, je me suis réveillée avec le coq.
This morning, I woke up with the rooster.Play Caption
In the example above, we assume that the subject pronoun je and the reflexive pronoun me are referring to Patricia, the speaker, so the past participle réveillé (woke up) takes an -e at the end to become feminine.
On the other hand, in the example below, the husband wakes up his wife. In this case, the verb réveiller (to wake [someone] up) is no longer reflexive.
Il a même réveillé sa femme qui dormait.
He even woke up his wife, who was sleeping.
Caption 52, Dao Evolution - Noël pour les sans-abrisPlay Caption
In this case, you use the auxiliary avoir (to have) because he isn't waking up himself—he's waking up his wife.
Many reflexive verbs like se réveiller can also be non-reflexive (without the se). The verb dire (to say, to tell), for instance, can be used both ways:
C'est ce que je me suis dit.
That's what I told myself.
Caption 52, Claire et Philippe Je suis en retardPlay Caption
C'est ce que j'ai dit à ma sœur.
That's what I said to my sister.
The verb se dire also belongs to a category of reflexive verbs whose past participles never require agreement. We call these verbs intransitive, because their reflexive pronouns act as indirect objects, not direct objects. You can tell that a reflexive verb is intransitive because its non-reflexive form is usually followed by the preposition à (to). For example: se parler (to speak to each other, to speak to oneself), parler à quelqu’un (to speak to someone). For a complete list of these verbs, click here.
When a reflexive verb is intransitive, the se acts as an indirect object pronoun and thus indicates that the verb doesn’t require agreement:
Ils se sont parlé tous les jours.
They spoke to each other every day.
When a reflexive verb, whether transitive or intransitive, is followed by a direct object, the past participle also doesn't agree:
Ils se sont lavé les mains.
They washed their hands.
Because there's already a direct object in this sentence (les mains), the reflexive pronoun se is “demoted” from its direct object status and acts as an indirect object. And since the direct object is placed after the verb, no agreement is necessary.
However, if the verb is not followed by a direct object, the past participle agrees with the subject and the reflexive pronoun, as we discussed earlier:
Ils se sont lavés.
They washed (themselves).
On the other hand, if a reflexive verb is followed by an indirect object, agreement does occur:
Mes grand-parents, ils se sont beaucoup occupés de moi.
My grandparents, they looked after me a lot.Play Caption
You add an -s at the end of occupé (looked after) to agree with ils (they, masculine plural). The indirect object de moi (after me) doesn’t affect anything.
That about does it for our suite of lessons on the passé composé! It’s a lot to take in, so in case you’re not quite "in agreement" with all these rules yet, here is a summary:
• Verbs conjugated with the auxiliary avoir (to have) don't agree in gender and number with the subject, unless a direct object appears before the verb.
• Non-reflexive verbs conjugated with the auxiliary être (to be) always agree with the subject.
• Reflexive verbs are conjugated with être and usually agree with the subject, unless the verb is intransitive or a direct object appears after the verb.
Before we embark on agreement rules, let’s find out which verbs are conjugated with être (to be) rather than avoir (to have) in the passé composé. Strictly speaking, only a limited number of verbs use the auxiliary être in the passé composé. These verbs are encapsulated in the popular mnemonic device known as DR. & MRS. VANDERTRAMP:
Devenir, Revenir, Monter, Rester, Sortir, Venir, Aller, Naître, Descendre, Entrer, Rentrer, Tomber, Retourner, Arriver, Mourir, Partir (to become, to come back, to go up, to remain, to go out, to come, to go, to be born, to go down, to enter, to go back in, to fall, to retrun, to arrive, to die, to leave)
The basic agreement rule for these verbs conjugated with être is that they must agree in gender and number with the subject. Patricia conjugated a few of these verbs and explained how they work in her video, Le saviez-vous? - Exception dans les verbes du 1er groupe au passé composé:
Et lorsque l'on dit: "elles sont tombées", on mettra "es" à la fin de "tombé" car "elles" sont des sujets féminins et pluriels.
And when we say, "they fell," we'll put "es" at the end of "tombé" because "elles" [they] are feminine and plural subjects.Play Caption
Knowing that the pronoun elles (they) is feminine plural makes the agreement with the past participle tombé quite straightforward, but when faced with non-gender-specific pronouns such as tu (singular you) or je (I), you need to know from context who the subject pronoun stands for.
In the example below, we need to know who je (I) represents to establish the gender of the subject. In this case, we know from the video that the speaker is male, so the past participle doesn’t change. (A past participle is considered masculine singular by default.)
Je suis allé en Grèce pour la première fois.
I went [masculine singular] to Greece for the first time.
Caption 10, Alex Terrier "Roundtrip" et ses inspirationsPlay Caption
If the speaker had been female, it would have been:
Je suis allée en Grèce pour la première fois.
I went [feminine singular] to Greece for the first time.
And if the speaker had been a woman talking about herself and her girlfriends, it would have been:
Nous sommes allées en Grèce pour la première fois.
We went [feminine plural] to Greece for the first time.
When a plural subject involves individuals of all genders, you can be faced with a dilemma. What should you do in this case? The convention is that the masculine supersedes the feminine—even though it refers to a mixture of genders, the past participle becomes masculine plural:
Les enfants sont partis en même temps.
The kids left at the same time.
Nowadays, however, that convention often comes across as sexist. So you'll often see past participles stylized like parti(e)s or parti·e·s to be more inclusive:
Les enfants sont parti(e)s en même temps. / Les enfants sont parti·e·s en même temps.
The kids left at the same time.
There's another category of être verbs that also agree in gender and number with the subject, but in a slightly different way. These verbs are called reflexive or pronominal verbs, which we will discuss in the next lesson.
In our first four lessons on the passé composé, we focused on the conjugation of all three major verb groups:
In addition to having different endings, past participles have one more trick up their sleeves… agreement! Verbs from all three groups can take masculine, feminine, and plural endings. All verbs in the past tense have past participles that follow two sets of agreement rules depending on which auxiliary they take. Verbs conjugated with the auxiliary avoir (to have) will follow one set of rules, and those that go with être (to be) will follow another. In this lesson, we'll focus on verbs conjugated with avoir.
If a direct object comes before the verb, the past participle agrees in gender and number with the direct object. If the direct object comes after the verb, no agreement is necessary.
In the example below, the direct object mes clés (my keys) comes after the past participle vu (seen), so no agreement is necessary.
As-tu vu mes clés quelque part?
Have you seen my keys somewhere?
Caption 68, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négationsPlay Caption
A direct object answers the question “what”: Have you seen what? Mes clés (my keys).
But in the answer to that question, the direct object pronoun comes before the verb and thus has to agree with the past participle.
Non, je ne les ai vues nulle part.
No, I haven't seen them anywhere.
Caption 69, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négationsPlay Caption
Les (them), standing for les clés (the keys), comes before the past participle vu (seen). So, agreement is necessary, and vu becomes vues to agree with the feminine plural noun clés. You just add -es to make vu feminine and plural, as you would do with an adjective agreement.
Note that, unlike in English, direct (and indirect) object pronouns are always placed before the verb in French. So be on the lookout for pronouns in compound tenses!
In the passé composé, only direct object pronouns such as la (her, it) agree with the past participle, whereas indirect ones such as lui (to him, to her) do not. So make sure you know the difference between a direct and indirect object pronoun!
When a verb is normally followed by the preposition à (to) as in téléphoner à (to call/telephone), it takes an indirect object, which you can replace with an indirect object pronoun such as lui (to him, to her).
Et ta sœur, tu lui as téléphoné pour son anniversaire?
And your sister, did you call her for her birthday?
No agreement is necessary because lui (to her) is an indirect object pronoun, so you don’t need to add an -e to téléphoné even though the pronoun is feminine.
You might be tempted to say tu l'as téléphonée, but in French we say "to call/telephone to someone." It goes to show you can’t always rely on English to decide whether a verb takes an indirect object or not.
Recognizing and knowing when to use a direct and indirect object will come in handy when you use a combination of direct and indirect object pronouns before a past participle. You will be able to tell which pronoun agrees with the verb. In the example below, the direct object pronoun la (it) is followed by the indirect pronoun lui (to her) in the phrase la lui a donnée (gave it to her). (The direct object pronoun always comes first.)
Et la bague pour sa petite amie? Il la lui a donnée hier.
And the ring for his girlfriend? He gave it to her yesterday.
The past participle becomes donnée (gave) with an -e at the end to agree with the direct object pronoun la (it), which stands for the feminine singular noun la bague (the ring).
The same agreement rules apply when we use the relative pronoun que (that) instead of a direct object pronoun:
La bague qu’il lui a offerte est très jolie.
The ring that he gave her is very pretty.
Que (that) is the relative pronoun that stands for la bague (the ring), which agrees with offerte (gave, offered). Don’t forget to pronounce the “t” in offerte! And note that the relative pronoun que is not optional in French, unlike "that" in English.
Now let's see what happens when you add another complication to the scenario… an infinitive! This rule is what the French might call un casse-tête (a brainteaser or a headache), so buckle up!
When a past participle is followed by an infinitive verb, as in entendu chanter (heard singing), the past participle agrees with the direct object if the direct object performs the action expressed by the infinitive. Or looking at it from an English speaker’s perspective, a past participle followed by an infinitive in French is the equivalent of “to see/hear somebody do/doing something." French uses an infinitive for the second verb.
C’est la chanteuse que j’ai entendue chanter hier.
She’s the singer whom I heard sing/singing yesterday.
What I heard was la chanteuse (the singer) chanter (singing). La chanteuse performs the action of the infinitive chanter. So the past participle entendue has to agree with chanteuse.
On the other hand, when you see or hear something being done, the past participle doesn’t change. In this type of sentence construction, the infinitive in French is the equivalent of a passive verb in English:
C'est la chanson que j'ai entendu chanter.
It's the song that I heard being sung.
A song can’t do its own singing, so the direct object la chanson (the song) is clearly not performing the action of the infinitive chanter, which is then translated in the passive voice (sung) in English. In this case, no agreement rule applies.
Stay tuned for our next lesson, which will focus on agreement in verbs conjugated with être in the passé composé.
In Part 3, we explored the passé composé of third-group verbs whose infinitives end in -ir with a present participle ending in -ant. In 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.
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 - JuronsPlay Caption
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!Play Caption
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 fringuesPlay Caption
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 LouvrePlay Caption
The same thing happens with devoir (to have to), which becomes dû (had to):
Et en fait, ils ont dû tout simplement arrêter
And in fact, they simply had to stop
Caption 34, Lionel L - Le "Canard" a 100 ansPlay Caption
Did you notice the circumflex accent in ils ont dû (they had to)? This tiny accent is the only thing that differentiates dû 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 SNCFPlay Caption
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.Play Caption
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 -u. For 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 retardPlay Caption
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 LillePlay Caption
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 MartyrsPlay Caption
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.
In Part 2, we explored the passé composé of second-group verbs, or verbs whose infinitives end in -ir. In this lesson, we’ll discuss irregular -ir verbs, which belong to the third group.
As mentioned in our previous lesson, -ir verbs are classified, in addition to their infinitive endings, according to their present participles (equivalent to the -ing ending of a verb in English). So, all -ir verbs with a present participle ending in -issant (such as finir > finissant [finishing]) belong to the second group and have a past participle ending in -i.
On the other hand, most irregular -ir verbs have a present participle ending in -ant and a past participle ending in -u.
For example, tenir (to keep, hold) becomes tenant (keeping, holding) and tenu (kept, held):
en tenant la poêle de la main droite
while holding the pan with the right hand
Caption 33, Le saviez-vous? - La tradition de la ChandeleurPlay Caption
Mais elle a également tenu sa promesse.
But she has also kept her promise.Play Caption
It’s a good idea to learn the derivatives of a verb, as they usually share the same conjugation rules. All verbs ending in -tenir will work the same way. So, obtenir (to obtain) and retenir (to retain) also have a past participle ending in -u: obtenu, retenu.
The same applies to all the derivatives of venir (to come), such as devenir (to become) and prévenir (to warn):
Et il a prévenu les flics.
And he called the cops.Play Caption
Having said that… there’s an oddball bunch of -ir verbs that have a present participle ending in -ant and a past participle ending in -i, not -u.
For example, partir (to leave) becomes partant and parti:
Mais... en partant,
But... as she left,
elle m'a donné son numéro de téléphone.
she gave me her phone number.
Captions 35-36, Extr@ - Ep. 6 - Le jour du lotoPlay Caption
Leurs parents sont partis vivre en Australie il y a une dizaine d'années
Their parents went to live in Australia around ten years agoPlay Caption
And sortir (to go out) becomes sortant and sorti:
Drôles d'étudiants que ceux-là,
Strange students they are,
habitant l'hôtel et sortant en robe longue et nœud papillon.
living in a hotel and going out in long dresses and bow ties.
Caption 12, Le Journal - L'Institut du goûtPlay Caption
Le mec, il est sorti
The guy went outPlay Caption
Note that partir and sortir are also part of a small group of verbs that require the auxiliary être (to be) in the passé composé, which we will discuss in a future lesson.
Finally, there is a minority of -ir verbs that are quite irregular and unpredictable, with a past participle ending in -ert.
For example, the past participle of ouvrir (to open) is actually ouvert, not ouvri as its stem would suggest!
...qui a ouvert ses portes récemment à Mittelhausbergen
that recently opened its doors in Mittelhausbergen
Caption 3, Alsace 20 - Mangez bien, mangez alsacien!Play Caption
Again, to make it easier for yourself, learn how to conjugate ouvrir along with its derivatives, like découvrir (to discover), recouvrir (to cover up), couvrir (to cover), whose past participles all end in -ouvert. That will save you a lot of trouble. Speaking of trouble, the group of Canadians in the example below suffered a lot because of English…
Moi j'ai souffert beaucoup dans mon enfance de l'anglais ici.
I suffered a lot in my childhood with English here.
Caption 19, Le Québec parle - aux FrançaisPlay Caption
We hope that vous n’avez pas trop souffert (you didn’t suffer too much) learning about irregular -ir verbs in the passé composé, because we have another round of third-group verbs waiting to be discovered (découvert) in our next lesson!