French For Football/Appendices/Basic Grammar
G: Gender of nouns
In French, all nouns have a grammatical gender; that is, they are either masculin (m) or feminin (f).
Most nouns that represent people or animals have both a masculine and a feminine form. For example, the two words for "the player" in French are le joueur (m) and la joueuse (f). The two words for "the spectator" are le spectateur (m) and la spectatrice (f).
However, there are some nouns that talk about people or animals whose gender are fixed, regardless of the actual gender of the person or animal. For example, la personne (f) (the person) is always feminine, even when it's talking about your uncle! L'entraîneur (m) (the coach) is always masculine, even when it's talking about a female coach!
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 victoire (victory) can only be feminine; le surnombre (numerical advantage) can only be masculine.
Here is a chart which depicts some tendencies of French nouns. Eventually, you will be able to guess the gender of a noun based on patterns like this:
|-age||le sauvetage||the save|
|-aire||le partenaire||la partenaire||the team mate|
|-l||le sol||the ground / soil|
|-ment||le dégagement||the clearance|
|-n||le terrain||the pitch|
|-r||le buteur||the striker|
|le mur||the wall|
|-t||le but||the goal|
|le sifflet||the whistle|
|-e||la surface||the (penalty) area|
|-ée||la demi-volée||the half-volley|
|-ie||la sortie de but||the goal kick|
|-ion||la finition||the finishing|
|-ise||la mainmise||the stranglehold|
|-ite/-ité||la rivalité||the rivalry|
|l'indemnité||the (transfer) fee|
|-lle||la balle||the ball|
|-nce||la concurrence||the competition|
|-ne||la tribune||the stand|
|-se||la défense||the defence|
|-tte||la pichenette||the flick|
^ In this book, the definite article will come before a noun in vocabulary charts. If the definite article is l' due to elision, (m) will follow a noun to denote a masculine gender and (f) will follow a noun to denote a feminine gender.
G: Definite and indefinite articles
The definite article
In English, the definite article is always “the”.
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.
In French, the definite article is changed depending on the noun's:
- First letter of the word
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 begins with a vowel or silent "h" (both masculine or feminine). It is similar to English, where "a" changes to "an" before a vowel.
|singular||masculine||le||le tir||the shot|
|feminine||la||la parade||the save (parry)|
|singular, starting with a vowel sound||l’||l’avis||the opinion|
|plural||les||les tirs||the shots|
|les parades||the saves|
|les avis||the opinions|
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 (e.g. le/les) that tells the listener whether the noun is singular or plural.
^ Avis: Most singular nouns do not end in -s. The -s is added for the plural form of the noun. Avis is one exception. Whenever the singular form of a noun ends in -s, there is no change in the plural form.
Secondly, the final consonant is almost always not pronounced unless followed by an -e (or another vowel).
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 - lahmee - the (male) friend
- (la) amie - l'amie - lahmee the (female) friend
- (le) équipe - l'équipe - lay keep - the team
- (la) heure - l'heure - leur - the hour/the time
Elision does not occur on an aspirated h:
- (le) héros - le héros - a legendary 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 further sections of the book.
The indefinite article
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||oon||une séance||a session|
|masculine||un||uh||un plongeon||a dive|
|plural||des||day||des séances||some sessions|
|des plongeons||some dives|
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 (uhnahmee) - a (male) friend
- (un) élève - unnélève (uhnay lev) - a student
Compare the pronunciation to words without liaison:
- un garçon (uh gehrsoh) - a boy
Une is unaffected by liaison.
Liaison also occurs with les and des.
- (les) amis - leszamis (layzahmee) - (some) (male) friends
- (des) amis - deszamis (dayzahmee) - (some) (male) friends
- (des) amies - deszamies (dayzahmee) - (some) (female) friends
In this book, you will see liaison denoted with n or z between two words.
As with elision, an aspirated h isn't liaised.
- (les) huitièmes - leszhuitièmes (layzweetyem) - the eighths (the round before the quarter-finals)
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 randomly browsing the album, the French translation is "Je regarde des photographies." ("I am looking at some photographs.")
|la personne||person||pehr son|
|Gender and Age|
|la fillette||little girl||fee yet|
Qu’est-ce que c’est?
To say What is it? or What is that? in French, Qu’est-ce que c’est? (pronounced kehss keuh say) is used.
- Qu’est-ce que c’est ? - What is it?
Literally, Qu’est-ce que c’est? translates to What is it that it is? You will be using Qu'est-ce que...? 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 billet. - It's a ticket.
- C'est un sifflet. - It's a whisle.
Remember that the indefinite article (un or une) must agree with the noun it modifies.
- C'est une civière. - It's a stretcher.
Il y a and voici/voilà
Il y a (pronounced eel ee ah) is used to say there is or there are. Il y a expresses the existence of the noun it introduces.
- Il y a un os. - There's a snag (lit. a bone).
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 os. - There are (some) snags / bones.
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.
You will soon learn that a is the present third person singular form of avoir, the verb meaing to have, and that y is a pronoun meaning there. The phrase il y a, then, literally translates to he has there. You will see this phrase used in all French tenses. It is important to remember that verb stays as a form of have and not be.
This page is based on an original text from French/Lessons/Basic grammar dated 4 September 2009.