Leçons Français

Thèmes

Gender of Inanimate Nouns and Concepts

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

 

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

 

Le nom de la France vient du mot "Franc"

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

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

 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!

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

 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 3

 Play 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 aqueduct

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

 Play 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 gris

 Play 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 françaisela langue thaïe.

 

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

 

Il aime le football.

He likes soccer.

Caption 33, Lionel L Les liaisons et le h aspiré

 Play 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 Villette

 Play 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-Duvernois

 Play Caption

 

C'est quand le bonheur?

When is happiness?

Caption 9, Cali C'est quand le bonheur

 Play 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 livre

 Play 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 manuscript

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

 Play 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 SNCF

 Play 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!

 
Grammar

Inscrivez-vous à nos leçons Français gratuites par e-mail



Sous-titre 36, 35, 34
Intermédiaire-avancé

Discovering and Retrieving

In French, there are two different verbs meaning “to find”: trouver and retrouver. Although the two verbs are often interchangeable, the major difference between them has to do with the difference between discovering and retrieving: while trouver usually refers to finding something new, retrouver (which is related to “retrieve”) usually refers to finding something you’ve lost. 

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

If you go to the fantastic food market in Arles, you’ll be overwhelmed by the incredible amount of fresh cheeses you’ll find there: 

 

On trouve les meilleurs fromages de toutes les régions.

We find the best cheeses from all the regions.

Caption 17, Arles - Le marché d'Arles

 Play Caption

 

On a more emotional note, you might be determined to find a lost love, like the subject of this music video: 

 

Elle a juré de vous retrouver vite

She swore to find you again fast

Caption 11, Yaaz - La place des anges

 Play Caption

 

“To find” doesn’t only refer to finding a person or a thing. You can also find something intangible, like a concept, feeling, or physical state:

 

Comme il trouve pas la solution

Since he can't find a solution

Caption 26, Oldelaf - Le monde est beau

 Play Caption

 

J'ai fait un cauchemar et ne pouvais pas retrouver le sommeil. 
I had a nightmare and could not get back to sleep. 

 

In English, "to find" can also be a synonym for “to think,” when expressing an opinion. Likewise, trouver can be a synonym for the standard French words for "to think," penser and croire. Like the person in this video, we at Yabla find foreign language learning to be very important: 

 

Je trouve que c'est très important de... étudier les langues étrangères.

I think it's very important to... study foreign languages.

Caption 1, Allons en France - Pourquoi apprendre le français?

 Play Caption

 

When you make trouver and retrouver reflexive, their meanings become less straightforward. Take a look at this sentence, in which the explorer James Bruce expresses his certainty about the location of the source of the Nile: 

 

Et elle se trouve sûrement là-bas!

And it is certainly over there!

Caption 10, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 15. Bruce et les sources du Nil

 Play Caption

 

Elle se trouve literally means “it is found,” but se trouver can also be translated as “to be located” or simply “to be.” Don’t confuse this with the set expression il se trouve que..., which means “it just so happens that…” or “it turns out that…”:

Il se trouve que j’ai une autre paire de gants. 
It just so happens that I have another pair of gloves. 

When you make retrouver reflexive, it has the sense of being somewhere again or meeting again: 

 

Les Marseillais ne cachent pas le plaisir de se retrouver.

The Marseille residents are not hiding the pleasure of getting together again.

Caption 32, Alsace 20 - Rencontre avec les membres d'IAM

 Play Caption

 

On se retrouve au café après l'école?
Shall we meet at the café after school? 

 

Se retrouver can also refer to finding oneself in a particular situation: 

Je me suis retrouvé le bec dans l'eau.
found myself with my beak in the water. [I was left high and dry.]

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

We hope you’ve found this lesson helpful and that you find everything you may have lost! 

Vocabulary

Vous aimerez aussi