French for Beginners: A Guide

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In our guide for French for beginners, we’ll look at the building blocks of language: grammar. Without these rules, you won’t be able to create sentences in a way that’s understandable to a native. Getting grammar right means you’ll sound more fluent and will find it easier to make clear what you’re trying to express.

Let’s find out more about these most fundamental rules, including how you can make what you’re describing in your sentences more vivid and explicit with the help of adjectives and verbs. We’ll also recommend some Busuu guides along the way to help you take your grammar learning journey one step further! While this might seem like a lot to remember in one reading, consider this as a guide that you refer to when you get stuck with the basics. So, let’s begin by looking at what the foundations of French are, and what grammar rules you’ll need to remember.

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Adjectives in French help you to describe in more detail the qualities of people, places, and things. Most adjective endings change when they describe a noun that is feminine. For the feminine form, we usually add an -e at the end of the word. It changes the pronunciation if the masculine form of the adjective ends with a consonant. However, it doesn’t change the pronunciation if the masculine form of the adjective ends in a vowel.


You use superlative adjectives to show when an object or subject has the most or least of a quality. Here are two examples to show you how to express when something has the most or least of something:

  • C’est le journal le plus divertissant. (It’s the most entertaining newspaper.)
  • C'est le journal le moins divertissant. (It’s the least entertaining newspaper.)

It’s also important to know that the superlative form changes depending on gender of the noun (singular masculine or feminine) and number (plural).

  • Masculine noun: C’est le journal le plus divertissant. (It’s the most entertaining newspaper.)
  • Feminine noun: C’est l'émission la plus divertissante. (It’s the most entertaining show.)


Comparative adjectives in French help you to make comparisons between people, objects, and places. In English, you’ll use “more [adjective] than” to demonstrate this. In French, the grammatical rules are fairly similar. You’ll say:

plus + adjective + que

Here’s an example sentence using this grammatical rule:

  • Léa est plus patiente que Rémi. (Léa is more patient than Rémi.)

The same rules apply for expressing when something is less than, except you replace plus with moins. For example:

  • Léa est moins patiente que Rémi. (Léa is less patient than Rémi.)

Want to express that two things have the same quantity or quality? You use aussi instead of plus or moins.

  • Léa est aussi patiente que Rémi. (Léa is as patient as Rémi.)

Possessive adjectives

Possessive adjectives show who something or someone belongs to. We write them before the noun they accompany, which they agree with in number (singular or plural) and gender (masculine or feminine).

Possessive adjective examples

Ma mère My mother
Ton frère Your brother
Ses enfants His/her children

Each personal pronoun has its own corresponding possessive adjectives. Below, you’ll find a table which shows you the French adjectives for my, your (singular), and his/her:

Subject pronouns and possessive adjectives

Subject pronouns Possessive adjectives
Je mon, ma, mes
Tu ton, ta, tes
Il/elle son, sa, ses

Demonstrative adjectives

In French, we use demonstrative adjectives to indicate a person or object. We always match the demonstrative adjective with a noun’s gender, quantity, and word ending. Singular demonstrative adjectives refer to “this” or “that”, while plural ones refer to “these” or “those”.

Below is a table to help you understand how the adjective matches the noun:

Demonstrative adjectives and noun agreement

Demonstrative adjective Noun agreement
Ce Masculine
Cet Masculine + vowel or a silent “h” at the beginning of the next word
Cette Feminine
Ces Plural

To gain a better understanding of how demonstrative adjectives are used in a sentence, look at some examples below:

  • Ce terrain de football est loin de la bibliothèque. (This/that football pitch is far from the library.)
  • Cet endroit est magnifique. (This/that place is magnificent.)
  • Cette librairie est grande. (This/that bookshop is big.)
  • Ces restaurants sont fermés. (These/those restaurants are closed.)


One of the first grammatical rules we’ll be looking at concerns articles. In English, the two articles are the indefinite articles “a/an” or “some”, and the definite article “the”. Meanwhile, in French, you also have indefinite and definite articles. The article you’re using also has to agree with the gender of the noun, as well as the quantity and the first letter of the noun.

Articles are part of a grammar category that’s known as les déterminants or “the determiners”, which also includes possessive determiners and demonstrative determiners. You use possessive determiners to show when an object belongs to you. Demonstrative determiners help us to talk about “this” or “that” thing – so to pick a specific object or subject out of a group.

There are three different types of articles in French, which we’ll look at below.

Partitive articles

In French, there are several ways to express quantity. If we know the exact quantity of something, we use numbers in a sentence, However, if we don’t know the exact quantity or we can’t quantify something, we use partitive adjectives. The partitive adjective to use depends on the gender of the noun as well as if its first letter is a vowel or not. Du is used for masculine nouns, de la is used for feminine nouns, and de l’ is used for both masculine and feminine nouns starting with a vowel or with a silent “h”.

Have a look at those two examples, one with a specified quantity and the other with an unspecified quantity:

Specified and unspecified quantities

Specified quantity J'ai quatre œufs et deux paquets de sucre. (I have four eggs and two packets of sugar.)
Unspecified quantity Je vais acheter de la viande, du fromage et de l’eau. (I am going to buy some meat, cheese and water.)

Definite articles

Definite articles – like their English equivalent – are used to talk about specific objects, places, and people. In English, you only have one definite article: “the”. But in French, there are four definite articles: le, la, l’, and les. That’s because your definite article needs to agree with the gender of the noun, the quantity of the noun, and whether the word begins with a vowel or consonant.

Let’s look at three examples to demonstrate this:

Definite articles genders

Gender Example article
Masculine le chat (the cat)
Feminine la piscine (the swimming pool)
Noun begins with a vowel or a silent “h” l’orange (the orange); l’homme (the man)
Masculine/feminine plural les chats (the cats)

Indefinite articles

Indefinite articles on the other hand are used to talk about objects, places and people in general. You use “a”, “an” and “some” in English in order to talk about things generally. In French, indefinite articles have to agree with the same conditions as definite articles. Here’s a table of examples for each:

Indefinite article genders

Gender Example article
Masculine un avion (a plane)
Feminine une autoroute (a highway)
Masculine/feminine plural des voitures (some cars)

To learn more about French articles, we’ve created a useful guide to help you explore ideas like the differences between definite and indefinite articles, how to use them correctly, and partitive articles. Also explore our thorough guide to definite articles, and indefinite articles.


What is an adverb? It’s a word that provides you with extra information about an action. Usually they answer the question: how? If you’re wondering how to form them, it’s fairly easy. Firstly, you take an adjective, then you transform it into its feminine form, and finally add the ending -ment. This table below will help you with a few examples:

Forming an adverb

Adjective (masculine) Adjective in feminine -ment ending to form adverb
général (general) générale généralement (generally)
actif (active) active activement (actively)
heureux (happy) heureuse heureusement (happily)

In a sentence, the adverb is generally placed right after the verb. So, the structure is:

Subject + verb + adverb.

Here’s an example sentence for you to remember:

  • Je dessine généralement le weekend. (I generally draw on the weekends.)

Masculine and feminine

As you can see from the examples we’ve already provided above, the gender of a noun changes the spellings of pronouns and adjectives. That's because every part of a French sentence needs to “agree” with the gender and quantity of the noun. Here are a couple of examples showing how gender agreement works::

  • Le chat noir. (The black cat.)
  • La grande orange. (The big orange.)

So if masculine and feminine are so important in French, how can you tell when a noun is masculine or feminine? Well, it’s not always that obvious just by looking at the spelling of the word. However, there are some tricks for working out when a noun is generally either masculine or feminine.

Thanks to our guide to masculine and feminine in French, you can find out more about when a noun is likely to be either masculine or feminine – as well as some exceptions to gender agreement rules that you must remember!

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In French, we use prepositions in order to link different sentences together. We usually place them in front of a noun or a pronoun. You can use them to provide more information about direction, time, location, and their relationship with other objects. Below is a table of French prepositions and their English translations:

French prepositions

French Preposition English translation
à at, to
après after
avant before
avec with
chez at the home of
contre against
dans in
de of, from
depuis since
derrière behind
devant in front of
durant during
en in, on
entre between
hors outside of
jusque until
malgré despite
par by
parmi among
pendant during
pour for
sans without
sauf except
sous under
sur on
vers towards

For more information on French prepositions, why not read our comprehensive guide? It covers how to use them properly in a sentence, as well as rules for using prepositions of place.


In French, there are 12 different types of pronouns. You can use them to replace nouns and proper nouns in a sentence, in order to improve fluency or just to add some variety to your sentences. We’ll look at just a few: direct object pronouns, indirect object pronouns, relative pronouns, and subject pronouns.

Direct Object Pronouns

A direct object is the person or thing that comes straight after the verb in a sentence. In the examples below, you can see the direct object marked clearly in bold:

  • Paul lit le livre. (Paul reads the book.)
  • Je connais la fille. (I know the girl.)

To identify the direct object in a sentence, we can ask two questions: “quoi?” (what) and “qui?” (who). Have a look at the example below. You can see the question words and the direct objects in bold:

  • Paul lit quoi? (What is Paul reading?)

  • Paul lit le livre. (Paul reads the book.)

  • Tu connais qui? (Who do you know?)

  • Je connais la fille. (I know the girl.)

What happens if we don’t want to repeat what we’ve just said? We can replace direct objects with direct object pronouns. Let’s see how this works in action using our previous examples:

  • Paul lit le livre. (Paul reads the book.)

  • Paul le lit. (Paul reads it.)

  • Je connais la fille. (I know the girl.)

  • Je la connais. (I know her.)

In the present tense, you can see that the direct object pronoun is placed before the verb.

Want to learn more about direct object pronouns? Check out our guide.

Indirect Object Pronouns

In French, an indirect object is usually introduced by the preposition “à”. You can identify an indirect object by asking the question “to whom” or “for whom” the action happens to. Here’s an example sentence:

  • Je donne le livre à Pierre. (I give the book to Pierre.)

Pierre is the indirect object of the verb donne (give) because he is the one to whom the book is given. Below is a table to help you familiarize yourself with how indirect object pronouns work according to the different pronouns:

French indirect object pronouns

French Pronoun English Example
Me/m' to me, for me Il me parle. (He speaks to me.)
Te/t' to you (informal, singular), for you (informal, singular) Je te donne. (I give to you.)
Lui to him, for him, to her, for her Je lui écris. (I write to him/her.)
Nous to us, for us Elle nous achète des cadeaux. (She buys gifts for us.)
Vous to you (formal or plural), for you (formal or plural) Je vous vois. (I see you.)
Leur to them, for them Ils leur parlent. (They speak to them.)

Indirect object pronouns are placed before the verb, regardless of tense and mood.

With our guide to indirect object pronouns, you can learn more about their rules.

Relative Pronouns

Qui and que can both replace a person or thing, and we use them similarly to the English “that” or “which”. We use them to avoid repetition and link two sentences. The difference between them is what they refer to in a sentence. Qui replaces the subject and is followed by a verb. For example:

  • La jupe qui est jolie ne me va pas. (The skirt that is pretty doesn’t suit me.)
  • La femme qui attend le bus a l’air triste. (The woman waiting for the bus looks sad.)

Want to find out more about relative pronouns? Explore more grammatical rules with our guide.

Subject Pronouns

French has some pronouns which don’t have a clear English equivalent, which is why it’s important to practice using them correctly. With our guide to the 12 French pronouns, you’ll be able to familiarize yourself with their specific rules. We also provide some example sentences, so you can see how they work in a sentence.

You’ll commonly be using subject pronouns in French, as you’ll be using them in sentences where you need to describe yourself or other people. The six French subject pronouns are:

  • Je/j’ (I)
  • Tu (You, singular)
  • Il/Elle/On (He/She/We)
  • Nous (We)
  • Vous (You, plural)
  • Ils/Elles (They, masculine/They, feminine)

Want to find out more about subject pronouns in particular? Our guide explores how to use single subject pronouns, plural subject pronouns, as well as their formal and informal use.

The negative

The rules for the French negative are straightforward. To form the sentence, just follow the following sentence structure:

ne/n’ + verb + pas

Below are a few sentences so you can see how this works:

  • Je ne vais pas travailler. (I am not going to work.)
  • Il ne comprend pas. (He doesn’t understand.)
  • Elle n'aime pas ça. (She doesn’t like it.)

As you can see from the last example, ne changes to n’ if the verb begins with a vowel. Refer to our helpful guide on French negatives if you want more examples to memorize!


You use verbs in a sentence to describe an action. French has regular and irregular verbs, with irregular verbs not following any regular conjugation rules. Verbs also change according to different moods and tenses.

The verb être

We’re going to see that all of the singular conjugated forms of être – or “to be” – in the present tense end with either “s” or “t”. As etre means “to be”, we can use it to describe different emotions. Here’s a table to help you memorize the different conjugations of être according to the subject pronoun:

Subject pronoun être conjugations

Subject pronouns Être conjugation
Je suis
Tu es
Il/elle/on est
Nous sommes
Vous êtes
ls/elles sont

The verbs être and avoir

As you know now, être means “to be”. However, sometimes you’ll use avoir or “to have” in order to describe qualities you or another person or object has. It can get confusing knowing when to use either être or avoir. That’s because sometimes you use avoir in a way that translates into English as “to be”. We usually use it in this way when we want to talk about if we are hot or cold, right or wrong, hungry or thirsty.

For example:

  • J’ai chaud. (I am hot.)
  • Tu as faim. (You are hungry.)
  • Elle a soif. (She is thirsty.)
  • Nous avons tort. (We are wrong.)

Present verbs

French verbs are affected by what tense you’re using in a sentence. The present tense is known as le présent, and like in English, you use it to talk about events which are happening now. You’ll need to learn how to conjugate both regular and irregular verbs in the present tense. We’ll look at some examples of how to conjugate regular verbs in the present tense, before looking at how to conjugate irregular ones.

Conjugating regular French verbs in the present tense

Subject pronouns -er ending regular conjugation -ir ending regular conjugation
Je/j’ aim-e chois-is
Tu aim-es chois-is
Il/elle/on aim-e chois-it
Nous aim-ons chois-issons
Vous aim-ez chois-issez
Ils/elles aim-ent chois-issent

Irregular verb conjugation in the present tense: The verb aller (“to go”)

The verb aller is one of the most used verbs in French, as it can notably help building sentences in the future tense. Unfortunately, its conjugation is irregular and should be learnt by heart. Here is how it looks at the present tense:

Subject pronouns Verb aller (“to go”) conjugation
Je vais
Tu vas
Il/elle/on va
Nous allons
Vous allez
Ils/elles vont

Past verbs

If you want to use the past tense in French, you’ll need to create a past participle out of a verb. Start by finding the infinitif or stem of the verb again. Remember our -er verbs? These will now have an ending instead in the past tense.

With -ir verbs, you’ll remove the -ir instead. To conjugate regular -ir verbs in the past participle, all you have to do is remove the -ir ending and then add the ending -i. Then finally, with an infinitive that uses an -re ending, replace this with -u.

You’ll also need an appropriate conjugation of the verb être (to be) or avoir (to have) in order to create a sentence in the past tense.

Here’s a few examples:

  • J’ai choisi une destination. (I have chosen a destination.)
  • Je me suis brossé les dents. (I have brushed my teeth.)

In this last example, the verb brosser becomes brossé as the verb originally had an -er ending, while in the previous one the verb choisir becomes choisi as the verb originally had an -ir ending.

This article can help you explore French past verbs and their rules further.

Future verbs

Verb conjugations in French future tense are quite straightforward. Unlike in English, where you need the verb “will” in order to form the future tense, French usually just involves changing the verb’s ending. Regardless of whether a verb is irregular or regular, it will have the same conjugation endings. Let’s explore one conjugation example, so that you can remember the rest for future tense verbs:

Brosser future tense conjugations

Subject pronoun Stem + new ending (verb brosser - to brush)
Je brosserai
Tu brosseras
Il/elle/on brossera
Nous brosserons
Vous brosserez
Ils/elles brosseront

To find out more about French future verbs, read our article on this topic!

Subjunctive verbs

Some expressions are followed by a verb mood called the subjective. We use this mood to express a wish, hope, uncertainty, necessity or other attitudes or feelings. The subjective is always introduced by the word que.

  • C’est dommage que Marie ne m'aime pas. (It’s a shame that Marie doesn’t like me.)
  • Il aimerait qu’on appelle maman plus souvent. (He would like us to call mom more often.)

Conjugating verbs ending in -er in the present tense of the subjunctive is very easy. The conjugation for je, tu, il/elle/on, ils/elles is the same as in the present indicative. For nous and vous however, you have to take the imperfect forms.

Thanks to our guide to subjective verbs, you can learn how to use them correctly in any sentence.

Conditional verbs

Finally, let’s look at the verbs in the conditional mood. We use the conditional present to politely ask questions, express wishes, and give advice.

Here are some examples:

  • Nous voudrions aller au Louvre, s’il vous plaît. (We would like to go to the Louvre, please.)
  • Tu pourrais aussi visiter le musée d’Orsay. (You could visit the Musée d’Orsay.)
  • J’aimerais beaucoup voyager en France. (I would really like to travel to France.)

Forming the conditional present is also quite easy, particularly if you’re working with verbs that behave regularly. You take the future simple form of a verb and then add an imperfect ending. Let’s look at how they’re formed with this table:

Table of conditional verb conjugation

Future simple Imperfect ending Conditional verb
Je parler-ai ais parlerais
Tu parler-as ais parlerais
Il/elle/on parler-a ait parlerait
Nous parler-ons ions parlerions
Vous parler-ez iez parleriez
Ils/elles parler-ont aient parleraient

If you want a more detailed breakdown of the conditional mood’s grammatical rules, our dedicated article on French conditional verbs can help you here.

French for beginners: Summary

Now that you have some of the basics down, keep practicing. There are also more ways that you can take your French to the next level.

Remember that one of the best ways to learn French is to practice reading, writing and speaking French. Read, write, listen to, and converse in French with whoever you can, and if you feel comfortable enough, start watching French films or TV shows.

Practice whenever you can and if you can speak in the language to others, you will be able to pick up even faster.

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