While gender doesn’t play an important role in English, it’s very important to know when to use the French masculine or feminine. That’s because every single noun has a gender, as well as subject pronouns, indefinite and definite articles. Plus, you’ll also need to stay conscious of gender agreements throughout the entire sentence.
What makes this more difficult is that there aren’t any straightforward rules for when a noun is masculine or feminine. However, it’s much more simple remembering subject pronoun genders, as well as those for definite and indefinite articles. This might feel like a lot to take on, so we’ll help break this down for you!
Let’s start with masculine and feminine nouns, before looking at other gender rules in French.
French masculine or feminine nouns
As we’ve mentioned just before, there are no clear-cut criteria for determining French masculine or feminine nouns. However, there are a few tricks that can help you determine the gender of a French noun in some cases. One way is by looking at the ending of the noun. Some endings are masculine, while others are feminine.
Masculine endings usually include:
It’s much easier, however, to work out whether a noun is masculine or feminine in most cases by checking whether a noun ends in a vowel or a consonant (check out our dedicated article on vowels and consonants in the French alphabet). Most feminine nouns end in the vowel -e, or if they don’t, they tend to end in -ion.
Some examples of typical feminine noun endings include:
However, there are some exceptions to the rule.
The following endings are generally masculine, and have the vowel -e at the end:
But besides that, it’s usually easy to spot a masculine or feminine noun on the basis of that rule.
Tip: If you know the sex of the person or animal you are referring to in French, you can use their gender instead of referring to the gender of the noun. Also remember that countries can have a masculine or feminine too, as do abstract concepts!
So, when else does the French masculine or feminine crop up? Let’s look at gender agreement in sentences, and how it’s integral to everyday writing and conversation in French.
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Gender agreement in French sentences
In French, all parts of a sentence need to be in agreement with the gender of the subject or object. When you use an adjective, for example, it’ll need to be in gender agreement with the gender of the subject. This also applies to the definite or indefinite article that needs to be in gender agreement with the subject.
We can demonstrate this by comparing two examples:
- Le grand sac. (The large bag.)
- La grande sacoche. (The large satchel.)
In French, sac or bag is a masculine noun, which means that the definite article here is le, which is its masculine form. Also note that the adjective grand takes the masculine form. This means that the entire sentence is in agreement with the gender of the masculine noun “sac”.
In our second example, the feminine gender of the noun sacoche or satchel means that the definite article here becomes la instead. The adjective grand now comes with the ending -e making it grande, as the adjective now has to be in agreement with the feminine noun sacoche.
Besides gender agreement, you’ll find that French sentences (for more examples check out our article on French greetings) will also have to be in grammatical agreement with other elements like whether the noun is singular or plural, as well as the person or group of people that is the subject of a sentence (such as “I”, “you”, or “we”).
You’ll have to learn how to keep sentences in gender agreement while also bearing in mind these other agreement rules.
Exceptions to gender agreement rules
Sometimes, a noun will end in -e regardless of whether it’s masculine or feminine. In this case, you don’t need to change the ending so that it’s in agreement with a feminine noun. It simply stays the same with both masculine and feminine nouns.
There’s also another exception when an adjective ends in -x – when you’re applying gender agreement with a feminine noun, you’ll need to make sure that the ending is changed to se instead.
- Elle est jalouse. (She is jealous.)
The masculine form of the feminine jalouse is jaloux, meaning that this adjective subscribes to this rule.
There are also other gender agreement exceptions to be aware of. Take for example some adjectives and nouns ending in -er end in -ère in the feminine form – these include boulanger/boulangère (baker), as well as cher/chère (dear).
Furthermore, adjectives and nouns ending in -eur sometimes end in -ice or -esse in the feminine form. For example: acteur (actor)/actrice (actress).
Finally, adjectives and nouns ending in a consonant sometimes double it in the feminine form. For example, chien/chienne (dog), or gentil/gentille (kind).
As you can see, this gives you even more of a reason to learn the different genders of French nouns – it makes it much easier to know how a sentence should be in agreement with the gender of its noun, which is important to get right when building a sentence in French.
With this guide to French masculine and feminine, you’re better equipped for building sentences that are in gender agreement. While it’s not always easy to tell when a noun is masculine or feminine, there are some helpful ways to spot the difference between the two by their endings.
Also try to remember the exceptions to gender agreement rules, and when they come up!
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