French › Level one lessons › People and things · Les gens et les choses
- Qu’est-ce que c’est ? C'est une colombe.
- Voici les deux garçons !
- 1 Grammar · Gender of nouns · Genre des noms
- 2 Vocabulary · Example nouns
- 3 Grammar · Articles
- 4 Vocabulary · People · Les personnes
- 5 Vocabulary · Expressions
- 6 Exercises
- 7 Supplementary exercises
Grammar · Gender of nouns · Genre des noms
Nouns are words that represent physical objects, like an apple. In French, all nouns have a grammatical gender; that is, they are either masculine (m) or feminine (f).
However, there are some nouns that talk about people or animals whose gender is fixed, regardless of the actual gender of the person or animal. For example, la personnethe person is always feminine, even when it's talking about your uncle; le professeurthe teacher is always masculine, even when it's talking about your female professor or teacher.
The nouns that express things without an obvious gender (e.g., objects and abstract concepts) have only one form. This form can be masculine or feminine. For example, la voiturethe car can only be feminine; le stylothe pen can only be masculine.
Supplementary grammar · Common endings 
|-age||le fromage||the cheese|
|-d||le pied||the foot|
|-g||le rang||the rank|
|-ment||le mouvement||the movement|
|-n||le ballon||the balloon|
|-r||le professeur||the teacher|
|-t||le chat||the cat|
|-ce||la grâce||the grace|
|-che||la touche||the touch|
|-ée||la durée||the duration|
|-ie||la boulangerie||the bakery|
|-ion||la nation||the nation|
|-lle||la fille||the girl|
|-nce||la balance||the scales|
|-nne||la personne||the person|
|-ure||la figure||the figure|
There are many exceptions to gender rules in French which can only be learned. There are even words that are spelled the same, but have a different meaning when masculine or feminine; for example, le livre means the book, but la livre means the pound. Some words that appear to be masculine (such as la photo, which should be masculine but is not because it is actually short for la photographie) are in fact feminine, and vice versa. Then there are some that just don't make sense; la foi is feminine and means faith or belief, whereas le foie is masculine and means liver.
Vocabulary · Example nouns 
|le cheval||/ʃəval/ (help·info)||the horse|
|le chien||/ʃjɛ̃/ (help·info)||the dog|
|le livre||/livʁ/ (help·info)||the book|
|le bruit||/bʁɥi/ (help·info)||the noise|
|la colombe||/kɔlɔ̃b/ (help·info)||the dove|
|la chemise||/ʃə.miz/ (help·info)||the shirt|
|la maison||/mɛ.zɔ̃/ (help·info)||the house|
|la liberté||/li.bɛʁ.te/ (help·info)||the liberty|
Grammar · Articles 
The definite article · L'article défini
In English, the definite article is always the.
In French, the definite article is changed depending on the noun's:
- first letter
There are three definite articles and an abbreviation. Le is used for masculine nouns, La is used for feminine nouns, Les is used for plural nouns (both masculine or feminine), and L' is used when the noun is singular and begins with a vowel or silent h (both masculine or feminine). It is similar to English, where a changes to an before a vowel.
Unlike English, the definite article is used to talk about something in a general sense, a general statement or feeling about an idea or thing.
Elision refers to the suppression of a final unstressed vowel immediately before another word beginning with a vowel. The definite articles le and la are shortened to l’ when they come before a noun that begins with a vowel or silent h. When pronounced, the vowel sound is dropped.
|(le) ami||→||l'ami||(lah-mee)||the (male) friend|
|(la) amie||→||l'amie||(lah-mee)||the (female) friend|
|(le) élève||→||l'élève||(lay-lehv)||the pupil|
|(la) heure||→||l'heure||(lewr)||the hour, the time|
Elision does not occur on an aspired h:
- (le) héros: le hérosthe hero
In addition to the definite article, elision will also occur with other words, such as que, je, le, ce, ne, and de. The details on these words will be covered in later sections of the book.
The indefinite article · L'article indéfini
In English, the indefinite articles are a and an. Some is used as a plural article in English.
Again, indefinite articles in French take different forms depending on gender and plurality. The articles un and une literally mean one in French.
|singular||feminine||une||(ewn)||une fille||a daughter|
|masculine||un||(uh(n))||un fils||a son|
|plural||des||(deh)||des filles||some daughters|
|des fils||some sons|
^ une is often (more often than not) pronounced (ewnuh) in poetry and lyric.
^ Des fils does mean some sons, but is a homograph: it can also mean some threads (when pronounced like /fil/ (help·info)).
Note that des, like les, is used in French before plural nouns when no article is used in English. For example, you are looking at photographs in an album. The English statement I am looking at photographs. cannot be translated to French as Je regarde photographies. because an article is required to tell which photographs are being looked at. If it is a set of specific pictures, the French statement should be Je regarde les photographies.I am looking at the photographs. On the other hand, if the person is just browsing the album, the French translation is Je regarde des photographies.I am looking at some photographs.
Plurality, pronunciation, and exceptions
The plural of most nouns is formed by adding an -s. However, the -s ending is not pronounced. It is the article that tells the listener whether the noun is singular or plural.
Most singular nouns do not end in -s. The -s is added for the plural form of the noun. Fils is one exception. Whenever the singular form of a noun ends in -s, there is no change in the plural form.
The final consonant is almost always not pronounced unless followed by an -e (or another vowel). Fils /fis/ is also an exception to this rule.
Remember that the last consonant of a word is typically not pronounced unless followed by a vowel. When a word ending in a consonant is followed by a word beginning with a vowel sound (or silent h), the consonant often becomes pronounced. This is a process called liaison. When a vowel goes directly after un, the normally unpronounced n sound becomes pronounced.
|(un) ami||unnami||/ɶ̃‿na.mi/ (help·info)||a (male) friend|
|(un) élève||unnélève||/ɶ̃‿ne.lɛv/ (help·info)||a pupil|
Compare the pronunciation to words without liaison:
- un garçon /ɶ̃ gaʁsɔ̃/
Une is unaffected by liaison.
Liaison also occurs with les and des.
|(les) amis||leszamis||/le‿za.mi/ (help·info)||(some) (male) friends|
|(des) amis||deszamis||/dɛ‿za.mi/ (help·info)||(some) (male) friends|
|(des) amies||deszamies||/dɛ‿za.mi/ (help·info)||(some) (female) friends|
As with elision, an aspired h isn't liaised:
- (les) hangars: les hangars le æŋgəʁ
Vocabulary · People · Les personnes
|la personne||/la pɛʁ.sɔn/ (help·info)||person|
|Gender and age|
|l'homme (m)||/lɔm/ (help·info)||man|
|la femme||/la fam/ (help·info)||woman|
|le garçon||/lə gaʁ.sɔ̃/ (help·info)||boy|
|la fille||/la fi.j/ (help·info)||girl|
|la fillette||/la fi.jɛt/ (help·info)||little girl|
| /la.mi/ (help·info)
/lə kɔ.pɛ̃/ (help·info)
| /la.mi/ (help·info)
/la kɔ.pin/ (help·info)
Vocabulary · Expressions 
Qu’est-ce que c’est ?
To say What is it? or What is that? in French, Qu’est-ce que c’est ? /kɛs kə sɛ/ is used.
- Qu'est-ce que…?What is it that ? is used often to say What…? at the beginning of sentences.
To respond to this question, you say C’est un(e) [nom]., meaning It is a [noun]:
- C'est un livre.It's a book.
Remember that the indefinite article (un or une) must agree with the noun it modifies:
- C'est une chemise.It's a shirt.
Il y a
Il y a /il.ja/ is used to say there is or there are. Il y a expresses the existence of the noun it introduces.
- Il y a une pomme.There is an apple.
The phrase is used for both singular and plural nouns. Unlike in English (is → are), il y a does not change form.
- Il y a des pommes.There are (some) apples.
The -s at the end of the most pluralised nouns tells you that the phrase is there are instead of there is. In spoken French, when both the singular and plural forms almost always sound the same, the article (and perhaps other adjectives modifying the noun) is used to distinguish between singular and plural versions.
A is the present third person singular form of the verb to have, and y is a pronoun meaning there. The phrase il y a, then, literally translates to he has there. This phrase is used in all French tenses. It is important to remember that verb stays as a form of have and not be.
Voici and voilà
Like in English, il y a… is not often used to point out an object. To point out an object to the listener, use voici /vwa.si/, meaning over here is/are or right here is/are, and voilà /vwa.la/, meaning over there is/are, or there you have it.
- Voici les deux garçons !Here are the two boys!
|C'est un chien.||It's a dog.|
|Il y a un problème.||There is a problem.|
|Il y a deux personnes ici.||There are two people here.|
|Il y a deux tables dans le salon.||There are two tables in the lounge.|
|Il n’y a pas de chat.||There is no cat.|
|il n’y a pas que toi.||You are not the only one.|
|Voici le fromage.||Here's the cheese.|
|Voila une pomme||There's an apple.|