French (le français or la langue française) is a Romance language, belonging to the Indo-European family that is an official language in 29 countries, most of which form lafrancophonie (in French), the community of French-speaking countries. It is an official language of all United Nations agencies and of a large number of international organizations, including the European Union, NATO, WTO, and the IOC. In 2011, French was deemed by Bloomberg Businessweek to be one of the top three most useful languages for business, behind English and Chinese, but ahead of Spanish, and other European languages.

French is spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the provinces of Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick (Acadia region) in Canada, also in Haiti, the Acadiana region of the U.S. state of Louisiana, the northern parts of the U.S. states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont in the New England region, and by various communities elsewhere. Other speakers of French, who often speak it as a second language, are distributed throughout many parts of the world, the largest numbers of whom reside in Francophone Africa. In Africa, French is most commonly spoken in Gabon (where 80% report fluency), Mauritius (78%), Algeria (75%), Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire (70%). French is estimated as having 110 million native speakers and 190 million more second language speakers.

French is an Italic language descended from the spoken Latin language of the Roman Empire, as are languages such as Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, Lombard, Catalan, Sicilian and Sardinian. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl-languages historically spoken in northern France and in Belgium, which French has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Roman Gauland by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian.

According to France's Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, 77 million in Europe speak French natively. Outside of France, the highest numbers of French speakers are found in Canada (25% of the population, of whom most live in Quebec), Belgium (45% of the population), Switzerland (20% of the population) and Luxembourg. In 2013, the Ministry identified French as the second most spoken language in Europe, after German and before English. Twenty percent of non-Francophone Europeans know how to speak French, totaling roughly 145.6 million people in Europe alone. As a result of extensive colonial ambitions of France and Belgium (at that time governed by a French-speaking elite), between the 17th and 20th centuries, French was introduced to colonies in the Americas, Africa, Polynesia, the Levant, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean.

According to a demographic projection led by the Université Laval and the Réseau Démographie de l'Agence universitaire de la francophonie, French speakers will number approximately 500 million people in 2025 and 650 million people, or approximately 7% of the world's population by 2050. Estimates in 2013 suggest that French speakers will reach 1 billion by 2060.





French verbs are a part of speech in French grammar. Each verb lexeme has a collection of finite and non-finite forms in its conjugationscheme.

Finite forms depend on grammatical tense and person/number. There are eight simple tense–aspect–mood forms, categorized into theindicative, subjunctive and imperative moods, with the conditional mood sometimes viewed as an additional category. The eight simple forms can also be categorized into four tenses (future, present, past, and future-of-the-past), or into two aspects (perfective and imperfective).

The three non-finite moods are the infinitive, past participle, and present participle.

There are also compound constructions that use more than one verb. These include one for each simple tense with the addition of "avoir" or "être" as an auxiliary verb. There is also a construction which is used to distinguish passive voice from active voice.




French verbs are conjugated by isolating the stem of the verb and adding an ending. In the first and second conjugation, the stem is easily identifiable from the infinitive, and remains essentially constant throughout the paradigm. For example, the stem of parler ("speak") is parl- and the stem of finir ("finish") is fin-. In the third group, the relationship between the infinitive form and the stem is less consistent, and several distinct stems are needed to produce all the forms in the paradigm. For example, the verb boire ("drink") has the stems boi-boiv-bu-, and buv-.

The ending depends on the mood, tense, aspect, and voice of the verb, as well as on the person and number of its subject. Every conjugation exhibits some degree of syncretism, where the same (homophonous, and possibly also homographic) form is used to realize distinct combinations of grammatical features. This is most noticeable for -er verbs. For instance, the conjugated form parle can be the 1st or 3rd person singular indicative or subjunctive form of parler, or the singular familiar imperative. Furthermore, the 2nd person singular indicative and subjunctive form parles and the 3rd person plural form parlent are pronounced the same way as parle (except in liaison contexts). The prevalence of syncretism in conjugation paradigms is one functional explanation for the fact that French does not allow null subjects, unlike most of the other Romance languages.



Aside from être and avoir (considered categories unto themselves), French verbs are traditionally grouped into three conjugation classes (groupes):

The first conjugation class consists of all verbs with infinitives ending in -er, except for the irregular verb aller and (by some accounts) the irregular verbs envoyer and renvoyer; the verbs in this conjugation, which together constitute the great majority of French verbs, are all conjugated similarly, though there are a number of subclasses with minor changes arising from orthographical and phonological considerations.

The second conjugation class consists of all verbs with infinitives in -ir or -ïr and present participles in -issant or -ïssant, as well as the verb maudire. There are somewhat over 300 such verbs, all conjugated identically, with some minor exceptions. The -iss- or -ïss-in much of their conjugation is a reflex of the Latin inchoative infix -isc-/-esc-, but does not retain any aspectual semantics.

The third conjugation class consists of all other verbs: aller, arguably (r)envoyer, a number of verbs in -ir (including all verbs in -oir, which is an etymologically unrelated ending), and all verbs in -re. Nonetheless, this class is very small compared to the other two, though it does contain some of the most common verbs. This class has a few dozen subclasses, often differing substantially; indeed, this class is essentially a catch-all for verbs, besides être and avoir, that do not fit into the first two classes. There are about 370 verbs in this group, though a much smaller number are still in frequent use.




As with English verbs, French verbs have both non-finite moods (les modes impersonnels), also called verbals, and finite ones (les modes personnels).


Finite moods

The finite moods are the indicative (l'indicatif), the imperative (l'impératif), and the subjunctive (le subjonctif). As discussed below, sometimes the conditional is recognized as a fourth mood. While the rules that determine the correct mood are quite complex, they are simplified and summarized in the following table:



used in most independent clauses

used in affirmative and negative statements and questions

used in dependent clauses that are certainly true

used when no other mood applies

« Où êtes-vous ? » ("Where are you?")

« Je suis ici. » ("I am here.")


used in many dependent clauses

used to express a doubtful, desired, or requested event

used to express an event to which the reaction is of most significance

used to express a third-person imperative

used much more than in English

« Il se peut qu'il vienne demain. » ("It may be that he will come tomorrow.")

« J'ai demandé qu'il parte. » ("I asked that he leave.")

« Je suis heureux qu'il soit venu. » ("I am glad that he came.")

« Vive le roi ! » ("Long live the king!")


used in commands and requests

only possible with first-person plural and second-person singular and plural subject

the subject is implied

almost exactly as in English

« Fais tes devoirs ! » ("Do your homework!")


Many linguists recognize a fourth mood, the conditional (le conditionnel), which is used in almost exactly the same circumstances as the conditional in English. In French, « Je le ferais si j'avais assez de temps » is "I would do it if I had enough time" in English. Other linguists consider the conditional to be a tense of the indicative mood. The two camps do not disagree on the rules for when and how to use the conditional. A third camp recognizes both "conditionnel présent / conditionnel passé" (for use in conditional sentences), and "indicatif futur du passé / indicatif futur antérieur du passé" (for tense concords, "future from a past point-of-view"), but they recognize also that both are conjugated the same.


Non-finite moods

The infinitive has a present tense, with a perfect: "faire" means "to do," while "avoir fait" means "to have done."

There is a present participle, with a perfect construction: "faisant" means "doing," while "ayant fait" means "having done." As noted above, this participle is not used in forming a continuous aspect. Further, it cannot be used as a noun, in the way that present participles in English have the same form as gerunds; the only noun verbal is the infinitive.

There is a gérondif ("gerundive", but different from the Latin gerundive), formed with the clitic en and the present participle: "en faisant" means "by doing" or "while doing." (It is analogous to the English "in doing," but in English, since "doing" can act as a noun, "in doing" is taken as a prepositional phrase rather than as a separate verb form. That interpretation is not available for "en faisant.") Similarly, "en ayant fait" means "by having done."

There is a separate past participle: "fait" means "done." As in English, it can be used in the passive voice, in the perfect form, or on its own as an adjective. The past participle has no perfect, except arguably in the special surcomposé tense.


Tenses and aspects


Tenses and aspects of the indicative mood

The indicative mood has five "simple" (synthetic) tense-aspect forms, conveying four tenses (times of action) (future, present, past, and future-of-past) and two aspects (fabrics of time) (perfective, conveying an action viewed in its entirety without its time frame being considered in more detail, and imperfective, conveying an action that occurs repetitively or continuously). The tense-aspect forms of the indicative mood in French are called the present (le présent: present tense, imperfective aspect), the simple past (le passé simple: past tense, perfective aspect), the imperfect (l'imparfait: past tense, imperfective aspect), the future (le futur: future tense, unspecified aspect), and the conditional (le conditionnel: future-in-past tense, unspecified aspect). Note that, as discussed above, in some uses the conditional can be considered a separate mood completely, while in other uses it is the future-in-past tense of the indicative. The use of the various tense forms is described in the following table:



used to describe ongoing events in the present

sometimes used to describe upcoming events

used in a protasis (if-clause) when the apodosis (then-clause) is in the future tense or imperative mode

often used in describing historical events

much like in English, except that it also conveys ongoing present action

« Le mardi, je joue au tennis. » ("On Tuesdays, I play tennis.")

« Demain, je joue au tennis avec Marc. » ("Tomorrow, I am playing tennis with Marc.")

« Si je joue au tennis avec vous mardi, jouerez-vous aux échecs avec moi mercredi ? » ("If I play tennis with you on Tuesday, will you play chess with me on Wednesday?")

« En ce moment, je joue au tennis. » ("At the moment, I am playing tennis.")

simple past
(past perfective)

used to describe past events in a perfective or aorist aspect; that is, with a sense of completion, with a definite beginning and end

a literary tense that is rarely used in spoken language

« Et la lumière fut. » ("And there was light.")

« Il naquit en 1930 et mourut en 1998. » ("He was born in 1930 and died in 1998.")

« Hier, il plut. » ("Yesterday, it rained.")

« Il rangea la salle tandis qu'elle faisait la vaisselle. » ("He cleaned the room while she was washing the dishes.")

(past imperfective)

used to describe past events or situations in an imperfective aspect; that is, ongoing, repetitive, or habitual past events or situations

often used in conjunction with the simple or compound past to indicate an event that was ongoing while another took place

used in a contrary-to-fact protasis (with the apodosis in the conditional)

often analogous to English past continuous ("was doing") or to the construction "used to do"

« Quand j'étais jeune, j'habitais à Paris. » ("When I was young, I lived in Paris.")

« Il rangea la salle tandis qu'elle faisait la vaisselle. » ("He cleaned the room while she was washing the dishes.")

« Si je le savais, je te le dirais. » ("If I knew [it], I would tell you.")

simple future

used to describe future events

mostly the same as in English, except that it is a simple (one-word) tense in French

« Je le ferai demain. » ("I will do it tomorrow.")

conditional (future-in-past)

used in an apodosis when the protasis is contrary to fact (in the imperfect)

used to describe a past event from the standpoint of an even-earlier event

mostly the same as in English, except that it is a simple (one-word) tense in French

« Si je le savais, je te le dirais. » ("If I knew it, I would tell you.")

« Ils disaient que je réussirais. » ("They said that I would succeed.")


Additionally, the indicative has five compound (two-word) tense-aspect forms, each of which is formed analogously to the perfect in languages such as English (e.g., "have done") (though in French this form does not indicate the perfect aspect) as applied to one of the above simple tense forms. These tense forms are used to indicate events before the corresponding simple tense forms; for example, « À ce moment-là, il se souvint de ce qu'il avait promis » ("At that moment, he remembered what he had promised"). In addition, except in literature or very formal speeches, the present perfect form is used in modern French wherever the simple past would have been used in older or more literary writing. Since this use is much more common than its use as a true present perfect, it is usually called the compound past (le passé composé). Further, where older or more literary French would have used the perfect form of the simple past tense (le passé antérieur) for the past-of-the-past, modern non-literary French uses the pluperfect (le plus-que-parfait; the perfect of the imperfect), or sometimes a new form called the surcomposé (literally, "over-compound"), which re-applies the perfect to the compound past, resulting in a structure like « Je l'ai eu fait » (literally, "I it have had done").


Unlike English or Spanish, French does not mark for a continuous aspect. Thus, "I am doing it" (continuous) and "I do it" both translate to the same sentence in French: « Je le fais. » However, the distinction is often clear from context; and when not, it can be conveyed using periphrasis; for example, the expression être en train de [faire quelque chose] ("to be in the middle of [doing something]") is often used to convey the sense of a continuous aspect. (For example, "I am doing it" might be expressed as « Je suis en train de le faire », "I am in the middle of doing it.") In the case of the past tense, neither the simple nor the compound past tense is ever used with a continuous sense; therefore, the imperfect often indicates a continuous sense (though it does have other uses, as discussed above).


Similarly to English, the verb aller (to go) can be used as an auxiliary verb to create a near-future tense (le futur proche). Whereas English uses the continuous aspect (to be going), French uses the simple present tense; for example, the English sentence "I am going to do it tomorrow" would in French be « Je vais le faire demain » (literally, "I go it to do tomorrow"). As in English, this form can generally be replaced by the present or future tense: "I am doing it tomorrow", "I shall do it tomorrow", « Je le fais demain », « Je le ferai demain ».


Tenses and aspects of the subjunctive mood


The subjunctive mood has only two simple tense-aspect forms: a present (le présent du subjonctif) and an imperfect (l'imparfait du subjonctif). Of these, only the present is used nowadays; like the simple past indicative, the imperfect subjunctive is only found in older and more literary works. When both tense-aspect forms are used, there is no difference in meaning between the two; the present is used in subordinate clauses whose main clauses are in a present or future tense, as well as in the few main clauses that use the subjunctive, and the imperfect is used in subordinate clauses whose main clauses are in a past tense form (other than present perfect). Except in literature and very formal speeches, modern French uses the present subjunctive even where an older or more literary work would use the imperfect subjunctive.

As with the indicative, the subjunctive also has one compound tense form for each simple tense form. The difference between the present perfect subjunctive (le passé du subjonctif) and the pluperfect subjunctive (le plus-que-parfait du subjonctif) is analogous to the difference between the present subjunctive and imperfect subjunctive; of the two, only the present perfect subjunctive is found in modern French.



The subjunctive in French is used almost wherever it would be in English, and in many other situations as well. It is used in que ("that") clauses to indicate emotion, doubt, possibility, necessity, desire, and so forth. For example, as in English one says

J'aime mieux qu'il le fasse, "I prefer that he it do", "I prefer that he do it"

But also, unlike in English, the subjunctive is used in, for example,

Je veux qu'il le fasse "I want that he it do", "I want him to do it"

Je crains qu'il ne parte "I fear that he (subjunctive particle) leave", "I am afraid that he will leave"

Je cherche un homme qui sache la vérité "I seek a man who knows the truth", "I am looking for a man who knows the truth"

Sometimes the subjunctive is used in the interrogative and the negative but not in the affirmative:

Penses-tu qu'il soit sympa? (subjunctive) "Do you think that he is nice?"

Oui, je pense qu'il est sympa. (indicative) "Yes, I think that he is nice"

Non, je ne pense pas qu'il soit sympa. (subjunctive) "No, I do not think that he is nice."

In addition to situations of doubt, negatives stated with certainty take the subjunctive:

Il n'y a rien que nous puissions faire. "There is nothing that we can do."

Superlatives also can optionally be accompanied by the subjunctive in a que clause, if the speaker feels doubt:

C'est le meilleur livre que j'aie pu trouver. "That is the best book that I could find."

Finally, as in English, counterfactual conditions in the past are expressed by backshifting the apparent time reference. In English this backshifted form is called the pluperfect subjunctive, and unless it is expressed in inverted form it is identical in form to the pluperfect indicative; it is called subjunctive because of the change in implied time of action. In French, however, there is a distinction in form between the seldom used pluperfect subjunctive and the pluperfect indicative, which is used in this situation. For example,

Si on l'avait su (pluperfect indicative), on aurait pu (conditional perfect) l'empêcher. "Had we known (pluperfect subjunctive) it, we would have been able (conditional perfect) to prevent it.


Tenses and aspects of the imperative mood



used to give commands

« Fais-le. » ("Do it.")


The imperative only has a present tense, with a rarely-used perfect: "fais-le" and "aie-le fait" both mean "do it", with the latter implying a certain deadline (somewhat like English "have it done").




Like English, French has two voices, the unmarked active voice and the marked passive voice. As in English, the passive voice is formed by using the appropriate form of "to be" (être) and the past participle of the main verb.


Temporal auxiliary verbs


In French, all compound tense-aspect forms are formed with an auxiliary verb (either être "to be" or avoir "to have"). Most verbs use avoir as their auxiliary verb. The exceptions are all reflexive verbs and a number of verbs of motion or change of state, including some of the most frequently used intransitive verbs of the language:


  • aller — to go
  • arriver — to arrive
  • décéder — to pass away
  • descendre¹ — to descend
  • devenir — to become
  • entrer¹ — to enter
  • monter¹ — to climb/mount
  • mourir — to die
  • naître — to be born
  • partir — to leave or part
  • passer — to pass by
  • rester — to stay
  • retourner — to return
  • sortir — to go out
  • tomber — to fall
  • venir — to come


Verbs that are derived from these by prefixation may continue to select être, but this is not always the case. For example:

with être

derived from venir: advenir, intervenir, parvenir, provenir, survenir

prefix re-: redevenir, remonter, renaître, rentrer, ressortir, revenir, etc.

with 'avoir'

derived from venir: circonvenir, contrevenir, convenir, prévenir, subvenir

transitive verbs: démonter, surmonter, dépasser, outrepasser, surpasser, etc.

(The verbs marked with "¹" above combine with être in their intransitive uses, and avoir when used transitively.)


A small number of verbs, including some already mentioned above, can in fact be found with either auxiliary (croîtremonterdescendreconvenirparaîtreapparaîtretrépasser). There may be a subtle change of meaning depending on the auxiliary chosen, and one auxiliary is usually more literary or archaic than the other.

The distinction between the two auxiliary verbs is important for the correct formation of the compound tense-aspect forms and is essential to the agreement of the past participle.


Past participle agreement


The past participle is used in three ways in French: as an adjective, in the passive construction, and in the compound tense-aspect constructions. When it is used as an adjective, it follows all the regular adjective agreement rules. In passive constructions, it always agrees with the passive subject.

In compound tense-aspect forms, more complicated agreement rules apply.


A. The auxiliary verb is avoir.

If there is no direct object (the verb is intransitive) or the direct object appears after the past participle, then the past participle does not agree (i.e., it takes the default masculine singular form).

(intransitive) Elles ont dormi. ("They (fem.) slept.")

(direct object after verb) Claire a vu deux baleines. ("Claire saw two whales.")

If there is a direct object and it appears before the past participle, then the participle must agree with it. Three cases:

(pronoun before the auxiliary) Il y avait deux baleines. Claire les a vues. ("There were two whales. Claire saw them.")

(clause-initial wh-question element) Quelles baleines Claire a-t-elle vues ? ("Which whales did Claire see?")

(relative clause introduced by queles deux baleines que Claire a vues ("the two whales that Claire saw")

The above rule is one of the most difficult in French, and even native speakers have trouble with it, and ignore it in colloquial speech. Since, when spoken, for most verbs, the different forms sound the same (for example, vu vus vue vues "seen" are all pronounced /vy/, this is usually not noticeable. There are however, past participles like fait "done" and mis "put" whose feminine forms sound different when spoken, and only the most careful speakers will be heard applying the rule.


B. The auxiliary is être, and the verb is not reflexive. The past participle agrees with the subject:

Elles sont arrivées. ("They (fem.) arrived.")


C. The auxiliary is être and the verb is reflexive. The agreement rules are in fact the same as those for structures with avoir in A, keeping in mind that the reflexive pronoun corresponds to either the direct object or the indirect object of the verb.


There is no direct object, or the direct object appears after the past participle → no agreement. In these cases, the reflexive pronoun expresses the indirect object.

(no direct object) Elles se sont succédé. Nous nous sommes parlé. ("They (fem.) succeeded. We spoke with each other.")

(direct object after verb) Elles se sont posé des questions. ("They (fem.) asked each other some questions.")


There is a direct object and it appears before the past participle. → The past participle agrees with this object.


The first three cases are the same as in A. above (the reflexive pronoun is the indirect object).

(direct object pronoun) J'ai fait une tarte. Les enfants se la sont partagée. ("I made a pie. The children shared it.")

(wh-question) Quelle tarte se sont-ils partagée ? ("Which pie did they share?")

(que relative) la tarte que les enfants se sont partagée ("the pie that the children shared")


The reflexive pronoun can itself be the direct object, in which case the participle agrees with it (and therefore with the subject). This also includes "inherently reflexive" verbs, for which the reflexive pronoun cannot be interpreted semantically as an object (direct or indirect) of the verb.

(ordinary reflexive) Elles se sont suivies. Nous nous sommes salués. ("They (fem.) followed each other. We greeted each other.")

(inherently reflexive) Ils se sont moqués de moi. Nous nous sommes souvenus de l'événement.
("They made fun of me. We remembered the event.") (exception: Elles se sont ri du danger. "They (fem.) laughed at the danger.")







In French, all nouns have a grammatical gender; that is, they are either masculin (m) or feminin (f).

Most nouns that express people or animals have both a masculine and a feminine form. For example, the two words for "the actor" in French are l'acteur (m) and l'actrice (f). The two words for "the cat" are le chat (m) and la chatte (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! Le professeur(m) (the professor) is always masculine, even when it's talking about your female professor/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 voiture (the car) can only be feminine; le stylo (the pen) can only be masculine.




Common endings used with masculine nouns

le cheval

the horse


le fromage


the cheese

le chien

the dog


le professeur


the teacher

le livre

the book


le chat


the cat

le bruit

the noise


le capitalisme




Common endings used with feminine nouns

la colombe

the dove


la boulangerie


the bakery

la chemise

the shirt


la nation


the nation

la maison

the house


la fraternité



la liberté



la balance


the scales



la fille


the girl





the Indian


Irregularities and exceptions

There are three nouns in French where gender is altered when put in the plural form:

  • amour (un amour passionné → des amours passionnées)
  • orgue
  • délice

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 (m) means the book, but la livre (f) means the pound. Some words that appear to be masculine (like le photo, which 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 a belief, whereas le foie means liver.




As in English, nouns are inflected for number. The plural is usually formed from the singular by adding -s (cf. maison > maisons 'houses'). Nouns ending in -au, -eu, and -ou often take the ending -x (cf. jeu > jeux 'games'). However, since the endings -s and -x are generally mute, these plural forms have the same pronunciation as the singular. The actual plural mark in spoken French is therefore not the plural form of the noun itself, but that of its preceding article or determiner (cf. la maison [la mɛzɔ̃] 'the house' > les maisons [lɛ mɛzɔ̃] 'the houses'; mon frère [mɔ̃ fʁɛːʁ] 'my brother' > mes frères [mɛ fʁɛːʁ] 'my brothers'). Nouns which end in -s, -x or -z in the singular are left unchanged in the plural in both pronunciation and spelling (cf. croix > croix 'crosses', both pronounced [kʁwa]).

Liaison between a plural noun and a following adjective is only common in careful speech, for example, by newsreaders. In this case the plural ending -s or -x may be pronounced: des fenêtres ouvertes [dɛ fənɛtʁəz‿uvɛʁt] ("open windows"). In common speech this is almost never done, so singular and plural forms are homophonous in all contexts.

However, some French nouns have distinguishable spoken plural forms. This includes most of those ending in -al, whose plural form is -aux (cf. cheval [ʃəval] > chevaux [ʃəvo] 'horses'), as well as a few nouns ending in -ail which also follow this pattern (cf. travail [tʁavaj] > travaux [tʁavo] 'works'). Three nouns form completely irregular plurals: aïeul [ajœl] > aïeux [ajø] 'ancestors'; ciel [sjɛl] > cieux [sjø] 'heavens'; and œil [œj] > yeux [jø] 'eyes'. Three other nouns have regular plurals in spelling but have irregular pronunciations: bœuf[bœf] > bœufs [bø] 'oxen, cattle'; œuf [œf] > œufs [ø] 'eggs'; and os [ɔs] > os [o] 'bones'.

As with English, most uncountable nouns are grammatically treated as singular, though some are plural, such as les mathématiques 'mathematics'; some nouns that are uncountable in English are countable in French, such as une information 'a piece of information'.




Nouns in French are not inflected for any other grammatical categories. (However, personal pronouns are inflected for case and person.)



Articles and determiners


In French, articles and determiners are required on almost every common noun, much more so than in English. They are inflected to agree in gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural) with the noun they determine, though most have only one plural form (for masculine and feminine). Many also often change pronunciation when the word that follows them begins with a vowel sound.

While articles are actually a subclass of determiners (and determiners are in turn a subclass of adjectives), they are generally treated separately; thus, they are treated separately here as well.




French has three articles: a definite article, corresponding in many cases to English the; an indefinite article, corresponding to English a/an; and a partitive article, used roughly like some in English.


Definite article

The French definite article derives from a Latin distal demonstrative. It evolved from the Old French article system, which shared resemblance to modern English and acquired the marking of generic nouns. This practise was common by the 17th century, although it has been argued that this became widely used as early as in the 13th century. In French, the definite article is analogous to the English definite article the, although they are sometimes omitted in English. The French definite article can vary according to the gender (feminine or masculine) and number (singular or plural) of the noun. The definite article takes the following forms:





before consonant

before vowel or mute h








Like the, the French definite article is used with a noun referring to a specific item when both the speaker and the audience know what the item is. It is necessary in the following cases:




General categories and abstractions

La patience est une vertu.
Patience is a virtue.

Name and adjective clusters

Le vieux Londres est fascinant.
Old London is fascinating.

Languages and academic subjects

Je comprends l'allemand.
I understand German.


Je veux visiter la France.
I want to visit France.


Le printemps est ma saison favorite.
Spring is my favourite season.

Titles, family names

Voici les Moreau.
Here are the Moreaus.

Parts of the body

Il se lave les mains.
He washes his hands.


Je sors le vendredi soir.
I go out every Friday night.


Unlike the, the French definite article is also used with mass nouns and plural nouns with generic interpretation, and with abstract nouns. For example:

« J'aime le lait. » ("I like milk.")

« J'aime les romans. » ("I like novels.")

« Le capitalisme a transformé ce pays. » ("Capitalism has transformed this country.")


Indefinite article

The French indefinite article is analogous to the English indefinite article a/an. Like a/an, the French indefinite article is used with a noun referring to a non-specific item, or to a specific item when the speaker and audience do not both know what the item is; so, « J'ai cassé une chaise rouge » ("I broke a red chair"). Unlike a/an, the French indefinite article has a plural form, often translated as some but usually simply omitted in English; so, « Il y a des livres là-bas » ("There are some books over there." or "There are books over there").

The indefinite article takes the following forms:











The indefinite article becomes de (or d' if before a vowel) after a negative verb other than être: « Je n'ai pas de livre », "I do not have or any book." This use is related to expressions of quantity.

The plural form des is normally reduced to de (or d' if before a vowel) when it applies to a noun preceded by an adjective: « de nombreux livres » (many books), « d'autres livres » (other books) but « des livres reliés » (bound books).

Unlike in English the article is dropped when specifying someone's occupation: « ma soeur est avocat. » "My sister is a lawyer."


Partitive article

The French partitive article is often translated as some, but often simply omitted in English. It is used to indicate an indefinite portion of something uncountable, or an indefinite number of something countable: « J'ai du café » ("I have some coffee." or simply "I have coffee.").

The partitive article takes the following forms:





before consonant

before vowel or mute h



de l'



de la


Like the indefinite article, the partitive article becomes de (or d' if before a vowel) after a negative verb other than être and before a plural noun preceded by an adjective.

Example: Il prend de l'eau (He takes some water)

Notice that, except after a negative verb, the partitive article is formed by combining the preposition de (offrom) with the definite article. Also note that in the plural, and after a negative verb, the indefinite and partitive articles take the same form; this makes sense, as there is no clear difference in meaning in these cases. (Some grammarians actually classify des as either exclusively indefinite or exclusively partitive, and say that the other article has no plural form. This does not affect the interpreted meaning of des.)




Determiners, like other adjectives, agree in gender and number with the noun they modify (or, in this case, determine).


Possessive determiners

The possessive determiners (also called possessive adjectives or, misleadingly, possessive pronouns; analogous to English mytheir, etc.) are used to indicate the possessor of the noun they determine. They lexically mark the person and number of the possessor, and are inflected to agree with their noun in gender and number. While English distinguishes between masculine and feminine singular possessors (his vs. her), French does not. As in English, possessive determiners do not necessarily express true possession in the sense of ownership.

Their forms are as follows:







first person







second person







third person








Demonstrative determiners






cet (before vowel and mute h)





The demonstrative determiners (or demonstrative adjectives) can mean either this or thatthese or those. To be more precise or to avoid ambiguity, -ci or -là can be inserted after the noun:

cet homme-ci "this man"

cet homme-là "that man"


Interrogative determiners

The interrogative determiner quel means which or what. It agrees in gender and number with the noun it modifies:












Examples: quel trainquelle chaisequels hommes, and quelles classes.

Quel can be used as an exclamation.

« Quel film ! » (What a movie!)

« Quelle gentillesse ! » (What kindness!)



quantifier is a determiner that quantifies its noun, like English "some" and "many". In French, as in English, quantifiers constitute an open word class, unlike most other kinds of determiners. In French, most quantifiers are formed using a noun or adverb of quantity and the preposition de (d' when before a vowel).

Quantifiers formed with a noun of quantity and the preposition de include the following:

  • des tas de ("lots of")
  • trois kilogrammes de ("three kilograms of")
  • une bouchée de ("a mouthful of")
  • une douzaine de ("a dozen (of)")

Quantifiers formed with an adverb of quantity and the preposition de include the following:

  • beaucoup de ("a lot of")
  • un peu de ("a little," "a few")
  • peu de ("little," "few")
  • assez desuffisamment de ("enough of")
  • pas de ("no," "not any")

Other quantifiers include:

  • bien + the partitive article ("much" or "many")
  • quelque(s) ("some")
  • the cardinal numbers (73, 4.2, and so on)





An adjective must agree in gender and number with the noun it modifies. French adjectives therefore have four forms: masculine singular, feminine singular, masculine plural, and feminine plural.

The masculine singular, an adjective's basic form, is listed in dictionaries. The feminine singular is normally formed by adding -e to the basic form. This -e is mute, which makes many masculine and feminine forms homophonous (cf. civil > civile 'civil', both pronounced /sivil/). However, the ending causes "mute" final sounds to be pronounced, whereby masculine-feminine pairs become distinguishable in pronunciation if the masculine form ends in a mute consonant, which is the case with a great deal of adjectives (cf. lourd [luʁ] > lourde [luʁd] 'heavy'). Under certain circumstances, other minor changes occur in the formation of feminine forms, such as the placement of an accent, the doubling of a consonant, or its replacement with another, changes that often reflect the pronunciation of such endings (cf. bon [bɔ̃] > bonne [bɔn] 'good'; heureux [øʁø] > heureuse [øʁøːz] 'happy'). Irregular feminine forms include beau > belle 'beautiful', blanc > blanche 'white', and a limited number of others. If an adjective's basic form ends in -e, it is left unchanged in the feminine (cf. riche > riche 'rich').

The plural is normally formed by adding -s to the singular (masculine and feminine). This -s is usually mute, but pronounced [z] in liaison with a following noun that begins with a vowel. Unlike with nouns, this liaison is common and even obligatory in standard usage. If the basic form ends in -s, -x, or -z, an adjective is left unchanged in the masculine plural (cf. doux > doux 'soft, gentle'). A few adjectives take the (also mute) ending -x in the masculine plural (cf. nouveau > nouveaux 'new'). Plural forms that are distinguishable from the singular outside of liaison environments occur only with adjectives ending in -al. These normally have -aux in the masculine plural (cf. central [sɑ᷉tʀal] > centraux [sɑ᷉tʀo] 'central'). By contrast, the feminine plural is formed according to the general rule: centrale > centrales.

Due to the aforementioned rules, French adjectives might have four distinguished written forms which are all pronounced the same. This is the case if an adjective's masculine and feminine forms are homophonous and if there is no liaison between the adjective and a following noun.



Written form



masc. sg.

un prince turc

œ᷉ pʀɛ᷉s tyʀk

a Turkish prince

fem. sg.

une princesse turque

yn pʀɛ᷉sɛs tyʀk

a Turkish princess

masc. pl.

des princes turcs

de pʀɛ᷉s tyʀk

Turkish princes

fem. pl.

des princesses turques

de pʀɛ᷉sɛs tyʀk

Turkish princesses


On the other hand, if the masculine and feminine forms have different pronunciations and liaison does occur, all four forms can be distinguishable in pronunciation. Adjective declension is therefore important in spoken French, though to a lesser extent than in writing. (All forms distinguished in pronunciation are also distinguished in writing, but not vice versa.)



Written form



masc. sg.

un grand empereur

œ᷉ ɡʀɑ᷉t‿ɑ᷉pʀœʀ

a great emperor

fem. sg.

une grande impératrice

yn ɡʀɑ᷉d‿ɛ᷉peʀatʀis

a great empress

masc. pl.

de grands empereurs

də ɡʀɑ᷉z‿ɑ᷉pʀœʀ

great emperors

fem. pl.

de grandes impératrices

də ɡʀɑ᷉dz‿ɛ᷉peʀatʀis

great empresses


Due to the peculiar orthography of French, which denotes mute final consonants, most female forms seem regular to the learner because they are formed by adding -e to the masculine form, e.g., grand > grande, lent > lente, persan > persane. However, if we put this etymologic orthography aside and consider only current pronunciation, the formation of French female forms becomes quite irregular with several possible "endings": [ɡʀɑ̃] > [ɡʀɑ̃d], [lɑ̃] > [lɑ̃t], [pɛʀsɑ̃] > [pɛʀsan].

Most adjectives, when used attributively, appear after their nouns: le vin rouge ("the red wine"). A number of adjectives (often having to do with beauty, age, goodness, or size, a tendency summarized by the acronym "BAGS"), come before their nouns: une bellefemme ("a beautiful woman"). With a few adjectives of the latter type, there are two masculine singular forms: one used before consonants (the basic form), and one used before vowels. For example, the adjective beau ("beautiful") changes form from un beau garçon("a handsome boy") to un bel homme ("a handsome man"). Some adjectives change position depending on their meaning, sometimes preceding their nouns and sometimes following them. For example, ancien means "former" when it precedes its noun, but "ancient" when it follows it. To give another example, un homme grand means "a tall man", whereas un grand homme means "a great man".

Many compound words contain an adjective, such as belle-mère "mother-in-law", which is distinct from belle mère "beautiful mother". Some of them use an archaic form of the feminine adjective that lacks the final -e and sometimes show an apostrophe instead of a hyphen, such as grand' route "main country road", which is distinct from grande route "long way", and grand-mère "grandmother", which is distinct from grande mère "tall mother".





French adverbs, like their English counterparts, are used to modify adjectives, other adverbs, and verbs or clauses. They do not display any inflection; that is, their form does not change to reflect their precise role, nor any characteristics of what they modify.



In French, as in English, most adverbs are derived from adjectives. In most cases, this is done by adding the suffix -ment ("-ly") to the adjective's feminine singular form. For example, the feminine singular form of lent ("slow") is lente, so the corresponding adverb is lentement ("slowly"); similarly, heureux → heureusement ("happy" → "happily").


As in English, however, the adjective stem is sometimes modified to accommodate the suffix:


If the adjective ends in an i, then -ment is added to the masculine singular (default) form, rather than to the feminine singular form:

vrai → vraiment ("real" → "really")

poli → poliment ("polite" → "politely")

If the adjective ends in -ant or -ent, then the-nt is stripped and -mment is added:

constant → constamment ("constant" → "constantly")

récent → récemment ("recent" → "recently") (-emment and -amment have the same pronunciation -> /amã/)

Some adjectives make other changes:

précis → précisément ("precise" → "precisely")

gentil → gentiment ("nice" → "nicely")

Some adverbs are derived from adjectives in completely irregular fashions, not even using the suffix -ment:

bon → bien ("good" → "well")

mauvais → mal ("bad" → "badly")

meilleur → mieux ("better"-adjective → "better"-adverb)

traditionally, pire → pis ("worse"-adjective → "worse"-adverb)

nowadays commonly, pire → pire ("worse"-adjective → "worse"-adverb)

And, as in English, many common adverbs are not derived from adjectives at all:

ainsi ("thus" or "this way")

vite ("quickly")



The placement of French adverbs is almost the same as the placement of English adverbs. An adverb that modifies an adjective or adverb comes before that adjective or adverb:

complètement vrai ("completely true")

pas possible ("not possible")

trop bien cuit ("too well cooked" or "overdone")

An adverb that modifies an infinitive (verbal noun) generally comes after the infinitive:

marcher lentement ("to walk slowly")

But negative adverbs, such as pas ("not"), plus ("not any more"), and jamais come before the infinitive:

ne pas marcher ("not to walk")

An adverb that modifies a main verb or clause comes either after the verb, or before the clause:

Lentement il commença à marcher or Il commença lentement à marcher ("Slowly, he began to walk" or "He began slowly to walk").

Note that, unlike in English, this is true even of negative adverbs:

Jamais je n'ai fait cela or Je n'ai jamais fait cela ("Never have I done that" or "I have never done that")





French prepositions link two related parts of a sentence. In word order, they are placed in front of a noun in order to specify the relationship between the noun and the verb, adjective, or other noun that precedes it.

Some common French prepositions are:

  • à (to, at, in)
  • à côté de (next to, beside)
  • après (after)
  • au sujet de (about, on the subject of)
  • avant (before)
  • avec (with)
  • chez (at the home/office of, among)
  • contre (against)
  • dans (in)
  • d'après (according to)
  • de (from, of, about)
  • depuis (since, for)
  • derrière (in back of, behind)
  • devant (in front of)
  • durant (during, while)
  • en (in, on, to)
  • en dehors de (outside of)
  • en face de (facing, across from)
  • entre (between)
  • envers (toward)
  • environ (approximately)
  • hors de (outside of)
  • jusque (until, up to, even)
  • loin de (far from)
  • malgré (despite)
  • par (by, through)
  • parmi (among)
  • pendant (during)
  • pour (for)
  • près de (near)
  • quant à (as for, regarding)
  • sans (without)
  • selon (according to)
  • sous (under)
  • suivant (according to)
  • sur (on), vers (toward)


Common prepositions






1. to
2. at
3. of
4. in

Je vais à Paris. -- I am going to Paris.
Je pars à cinq heures. -- I am leaving at five
C'est un ami à moi. -- This is a friend of mine.
C'est la voiture à John. -- This is John's car.

-Expresses a report/ratio of place (to), time (at), possession (of or 's), means, manner, price.
- Introduced a complement of indirect object or a complement of attribution, a complement of the name or adjective.

à côté de

next to, besides

La salle des fêtes se trouve à côté de l'église. -- The village hall is next to the church.


à l'intérieur de


l'air à l'intérieur de la maison -- the air inside the house

Alternative: dedans (rarely used as a preposition)

afin de

in order to

Il a pressé l'orange afin d'en extraire du jus. He squeezed the orange to extract juice from it.




On mange après avoir bu. -- We eat after we drink

Also an adverb.

autour de


La Lune gravite autour de la Terre. -- The Moon orbits around the Earth.


avant (de)

before, in front

Je préfère de me coucher avant minuit. I prefer to go to bed before midnight.




Ils sont avec leurs familles. They are with their Families.



at the home of

Il est allé chez lui. He went home.




Le cheval se gratte contre la muraille. The horse is scratching against the wall.



out of, from

Les livres sont dans la bibliothèque. The books are in the library.
Mettre l'argent dans la poche. Put money into one's pocket.
Il prend le beurre dans le réfrigérateur. He takes the butter out of the fridge.

Synonym: en


1. of, from
2. about


Also an indefinite artcle.
Contractions: du, des


for; since

J'ai joué du piano depuis trois ans. I have played the piano for three years.




Vos clés sont derrière votre lit. Your keys are behind your bed.




Votez dès maintenant pour votre favori ! Vote now for your favorite!


dès que

as soon as

Je veux commencer dès que possible. I want to start as soon as possible.



in front of, ahead of

Garder les yeux sur la route devant vous. Keep your eyes on the road ahead of you.



in, by

Ils habitent en ville. They live in (the) town.
Nous allons aller en voiture. We will go by car.

Used mostly to indicate distance in time or space.
Also a pronoun.



On peut lire entre les lignes. We can read between the lines.


hors de

outside, out of

Votre téléphone est hors de portée. Your telephone is out of range.




La salle est disponible jusqu'à la fin de la semaine. The hall is available until the end of the week.


loin de

far from

Le lycée est loin de la plage. The school is far from the beach.

Without "de", "loin" is an adverb.



Je vais bien malgré le froid. I am fine in spite of the cold.



1. through
2. by, for

J'irai par la fôret. I will go through the forest.
Vous pouvez nous contacter par téléphone. You can contact us by telephone.




Paris reste parmi les villes les plus chères au monde. Paris remains among the most expensive cities in the world.



during, throughout

La lune a brillé pendant trois nuits. The moon shone for three nights.


près de


La bibliothèque est près de la mairie. The library is near the town hall.

Without "de", "près" is an adverb.



Je l'ai volé pour toi. I stole it for you.




Elles veulent avoir une fête sans alcool. They want to have a party without alcohol.




Ouvert tous les jours sauf le dimanche. Open every day except Sunday.



according to

Selon une étude récente... According to a recent study...




La Côte d'Azur est sous la neige. The Côte d'Azur is under the snow.



1. on
2. upon
3. on top of
4. above
5. out of

Il y a beaucoup de monde sur la plage. There are lots of people on the beach.
sept sur dix seven out of ten

Synonyms: au-dessus de (above)
Antonyms: sous (below, under)
Antonyms: dessous, au-dessous-de (below)


1. about, around 2. towards

L'avion devrait décoller vers 9 heures. The plane should take off around 9 o'clock.
Un ouragan se dirige vers le Texas. A hurricane is heading towards Texas.



here is/are

Voici ton vrai père ! Here is your real father!



there is/are

Voilà les escrocs ! There are the swindlers!


en face (de)

across from / face to face

Cette fille est en face de vous. That lady is across from you


au lieu de

instead of

Vous devriez aller au lieu de rester à la maison. You should go out instead of staying at home.


au fond de

at the bottom of

Il ya beaucoup de poissons au fond de l'étang There are many fish at the botttom of the pond.






French pronouns are inflected to indicate their role in the sentence (subject, direct object, and so on), as well as to reflect the person, gender, and number of their referents.


Personal pronouns


French has a complex system of personal pronouns (analogous to English Iwethey, and so on). When compared to English, the particularities of French personal pronouns include:

  • a T-V distinction in the second person singular (familiar tu vs. polite vous)
  • the placement of object pronouns before the verb: « Agnès les voit. » ("Agnès sees them.")
  • the existence of distinct pronouns for indirect objects and for certain prepositional objects
  • the use of a distinct disjunctive form, e.g. for emphasis (moitoi, etc.).


Possessive pronouns


Possessive pronouns refer to an object (or person) by identifying its possessor. They lexically indicate the person and number of the possessor, and like other pronouns they are inflected to indicate the gender and number of their referent. This is a key difference from English: in English, possessive pronouns are inflected to indicate the gender and number of their antecedent — e.g., in "the tables are his", the form "his" indicates that the antecedent (the possessor) is masculine singular, whereas in the French les tables sont les siennes, "siennes" or its base form "sien" indicates that the antecedent is third person singular but of unspecified gender while the inflection "-nes" indicates that the possessed noun "table" is feminine plural.

In French, the possessive pronouns are determined by the definite article lelales ("the"), depending on the gender and number of their referent; nonetheless, they are considered pronouns.

The following table lists the possessive pronouns by the possessor they indicate:











1st person


le mien

la mienne

les miens

les miennes


le nôtre

la nôtre

les nôtres

2nd person


le tien

la tienne

les tiens

les tiennes


le vôtre

la vôtre

les vôtres

3rd person


le sien

la sienne

les siens

les siennes


le leur

la leur

les leurs



« C'est ta fleur ou la mienne ? » ("Is this your flower or mine?")

« Je parle à mon frère pendant que tu parles au tien. » ("I am talking to my brother while you are talking to yours.")

Note that the term "possessive pronoun" is also sometimes applied to the possessive determiners ("my", "your", etc.).


Interrogative pronouns


Like English, French has a number of different interrogative pronouns. They are organized here by the English pronoun to which they correspond:



As the direct object of a verb, que (or qu' before a vowel or mute "h") is used in front of the verb: « Que faites-vous ? » ("What are you doing?")

Also as the direct object of a verb, qu'est-ce que (or qu'est-ce qu' before a vowel or mute "h") is used, without subject-auxiliary inversion. This phrase is analysed as a single word: « Qu'est-ce que vous faites ? » ("What is it that you are doing?")

As the object of a preposition, or after the verb, quoi is used: « Après quoi aboie-t-il ? » ("At what is it barking?"), « Vous faites quoi ? » ("You are doing what?")

There is no indirect-object form; rather, a full prepositional phrase (with quoi) is used: « À quoi pensez-vous ? » ("About what are you thinking?")

As the subject form, qu'est-ce qui is used, without inversion: « Qu'est-ce qui vous dérange ? » ("What is it that bothers you?")



As the subject or direct object of a verb, or as the object of a preposition, qui is used: « Qui vous dérange ? » ("Who bothers you?")

There is no indirect-object form; rather, a full prepositional phrase (with qui) is used: « À qui avez-vous donné cela ? » ("To whom did you give that?")


Whichwhich one(s):

The basic form is lequel (le + quel; see French articles and determiners for information about each component).

Both parts of lequel are inflected to agree with its referent in gender and number: hence, laquellelesquelslesquelles.

The prepositions à and de contract with le and les to form auauxdu, and des, respectively; this is still the case here. Thus, for example, auxquelles means "at/to which ones" (feminine), and duquel means "of/from which one" (masculine).


Relative pronouns


French, like English, uses relative pronouns to introduce relative clauses. The relative pronoun used depends on its grammatical role (such as subject or direct object) within the relative clause, as well as on the gender and number of the antecedent and whether the antecedent represents a human. Further, like English, French distinguishes between ordinary relative clauses (which serve as adjectives) and other types.


In ordinary relative clauses

If the relative pronoun is to be the subject of the clause's verb, qui is ordinarily used: « l'homme qui a volé ma bicyclette » ("the man who stole my bike"). Note that qui in this use does not change form to agree in any way with its antecedent: « les bicyclettes qui ont été volées » ("the bikes that were stolen"). That said, it may occasionally be replaced with a form of lequel to specify the antecedent's gender or number. For example, while the phrase « Jean et Marie, qui vole(nt) des bicyclettes » ("Jean and Marie, who steal(s) bicycles") is ambiguous in speech (since vole and volent are homophones), the phrases « Jean et Marie, laquelle vole des bicyclettes » ("Jean and Marie, who steals bicycles") and « Jean et Marie, lesquels volent des bicyclettes » ("Jean and Marie, who steal bicycles") are not: in the former, only Marie is being described, while in the latter, both Jean and Marie are. This substitution is very rare, however.

If the relative pronoun is to be the direct object of the clause's verb, que (or qu' before a vowel; see elision) is ordinarily used: « la bicyclette qu'il a volée » ("the bicycle that he stole"). Like quique does not change form to agree with its antecedent, and may occasionally be replaced with a form of lequel for the sake of clarity.

If the relative pronoun is to be the grammatical possessor of a noun in the clause (usually marked with de), dont is used: « le garçon dont j'ai volé la bicyclette » ("the boy from whom I stole the bicycle", "the boy whose bicycle I stole"). Note that unlike in English, the object of possession is not moved to appear immediately after dont; that is, dont, unlike whose, is not a determiner.

Traditionally, if the relative pronoun was to be the object of a preposition in the clause (other than the de of possession), or the indirect object of the clause's verb, a form of lequel was used, with the preposition placed before it: « la femme de laquelle j'ai parlé » ("the woman about whom I spoke"). (Note that here, as in the interrogative case described above, à and de contract with most forms of lequel.) Nowadays, the form of lequel is typically replaced with qui when the antecedent is a human: « la femme de qui j'ai parlé ». Further, if the preposition is de, even if it is not the de of the possession, dont has started to be used (with both human and non-human antecedents): « la femme dont j'ai parlé ». (However, dont has not started to be used in the case of compound prepositions ending in de, such as à côté deloin de, and à cause de: « la femme à cause de laquelle j'ai parlé », "the woman because of whom I spoke").

Alternatively, if the relative pronoun is to be an adverbial complement in the clause, introduced by the preposition à (or a similar preposition of time or place),  may be used: « la ville  j'habite » ("the city where I live"), « au moment  il a parlé » ("at the momentthat he spoke").


In other relative clauses

When a relative clause is to serve as an inanimate noun, it is prefixed with ce: « ce que j'ai dit » ("that which I said", "what I said"). In a prepositional phrase after ce, the pronoun lequel is replaced with the pronoun quoi: « ce à quoi je pense » ("that about which I am thinking", "what I am thinking about"; note the non-contraction of ce), except that ce dont is usually preferred to ce de quoi ( both meaning "that of which").

When a relative clause serves as an animate noun usually a construction like « l'homme qui ... » ("the man who ...") is used, rather than a "he who" construction. That said, qui is sometimes used alone: « Qui vivra, verra » ("Whoever lives, will see" "He who lives, will see").

When a relative clause is to serve as an adverb, it takes the same form as when it is to serve as an inanimate noun, except that ce is omitted before a preposition: « Ils sont allés dîner, après quoi ils sont rentrés » ("They went out to eat, after which they went home"); « Ils ne se sont pas du tout parlé, ce qui me semblait étrange » ("They did not talk to each other at all, which seemed strange to me").


Demonstrative pronouns


French has several demonstrative pronouns. The pronouns ceci and cela / ça correspond roughly to English "this" and "that"; the pronoun celui corresponds to English "this one," "that one," "the one." The major reason why there is confusion by native English speakers is that "this" and "that" are also used in English as demonstrative adjectives that correspond to the French demonstrative adjectives cecetcette and ces.


The pronouns cecicela, and ça

Ceci and cela correspond roughly to English "this" and "that," respectively. Ça is an abbreviated form of cela, used in less formal contexts. Unlike English "this," ceci is quite rare; its most common use is in writing, to refer to something that is about to be mentioned: « Ceci est le problème : il boit trop. » ("This is the problem: he drinks too much.") Cela and ça are often used even when English would use "this."


The pronoun celui

Celui corresponds to English "the one," "this one," and "that one." Since its purpose is to identify ("demonstrate") its referent, it is always accompanied by additional identifying information.

Like other pronouns, celui is inflected to agree with its antecedent in gender and number. Its forms are as follows:












As mentioned above, the demonstrative pronoun is always accompanied by additional identifying information. This information can come in any of the following forms:

  • the suffix -ci or -là, attached with a hyphen

These suffixes indicate proximity and distance, respectively; celui-ci means "this one (masculine)," for example, while celle-là means "that one (feminine)." In writing, celui-ci (or another of its forms) is often used to mean "the latter," while celui-là means "the former".

  • a relative clause

This construction is more common than in English; for example, English's "the blue one" may be rendered in French as celui qui est bleu (lit. "the one that is blue") — except that celui and bleu would be celle and bleue if the referent were feminine, and est "is" might be replaced by était "was" or sera "will be" or serait "would be". "The blue one" can also be rendered, especially in colloquial language, as le bleu (m.), la bleue (f.), which are closer to English, but, depending on context, the latter construction can, in the masculine, mean either "the blue one" or "blue" (the blue color). 

  • one of a few common expressions of location.

For example, celui de gauche means "the one on the left (masculine)."

  • de, followed by a possessor

For example, « Ceux de Marie sont cassés » ("The ones (masculine) of Marie are broken", "Marie's (masculine) are broken").





French usually expresses negation in two parts, with the particle ne attached to the verb, and one or more negative words (connegatives) that modify the verb or one of its arguments. Negation encircles a conjugated verb with ne after the subject and the connegative after verb, if the verb is finite or a gerund. However, both parts of the negation come before the targeted verb when it is in its infinitive form. For example:

Je les ai pris 'I took them' → Je ne les ai pas pris 'I did not take them'

Je voudrais regarder un film et m'endormir 'I would like to watch a movie and fall asleep'
→ Je voudrais regarder un film et ne pas m'endormir. 'I would like to watch a movie and not fall asleep'


Other negative words used in combination with ne are:


  • negative adverbs

ne … plus — "not anymore, no longer"

ne … jamais — "never"

ne … nulle part — "nowhere"

ne … guère — "not much, hardly" (literary)

ne … point / aucunement / nullement — "not, not at all" (literary)

  • negative pronouns

ne … rien — "nothing"

ne … personne — "nobody"

  • others

(determiner) ne … aucun — "no/not any" (also nul, literary)

(restrictive particle) ne … que — "only"



« Je ne sais pas. » — "I do not know."

« Il ne fume plus. » — "He does not smoke anymore."

« Nous n'avons vu personne. » — "We did not see anybody."

« Elle n'a rien bu. » — "She didn't drink anything."

« Je n'ai aucune idée. » — "I have no idea."

« Vous ne mangez que des légumes ? » — "You eat only vegetables?"


The negative adverbs (and rien) follow finite verbs but precede infinitives (along with ne):

« Il prétend ne pas/ne jamais/ne rien fumer. » — "He claims not to smoke/to never smoke/to smoke nothing."


Moreover, it is possible for rien and personne to be used as the subject of a sentence, which moves them to the beginning of the sentence (before the ne):

« Rien n'est certain. » — "Nothing is certain."

« Personne n'est arrivé. » — "Nobody came."


Several negative words (other than pas) can appear in the same sentence, but the sentence is still usually interpreted as a simple negation. When another negative word occurs with pas, a double negation interpretation usually arises, but this construction is criticised.

« Elle n'a plus jamais rien dit à personne. » — "She never said anything else to anybody."

« Elle n'a pas vu personne. — "She did not see nobody (i.e., she saw somebody)."


Colloquial usage


In colloquial French, it is common to drop the ne, although this can create some ambiguity with the ne … plus construction when written down, as plus could mean either "more" or "not anymore". Generally when plus is used to mean "more", the final "s" is pronounced ([plys]) whereas it is never pronounced when used to mean "not anymore" ([ply]).

As an example, the informal sentence Il y en a plus could be pronounced with the final [s] ([il i ɑ̃n a plys, jɑ̃n a plys]) to mean "There is more". Or it could be pronounced without it ([il i ɑ̃n a ply, jɑ̃n a ply]) to mean "There is none left".


Independent ne


In certain, mostly literary constructions, ne can express negation by itself (without pas or another negative word). The four verbs that can use this construction are pouvoir ("to be able to"), savoir ("to know"), oser ("to dare"), and cesser ("to cease").

(standard, ne + pas) « Je n'ai pas pu venir. » — "I was not able to come."

(casual, pas only) « J'ai pas pu venir. » [same]

(literary, ne only) « Je n'ai pu venir. » [same];
cf. phrase « Je ne sais quoi » — "I do not know what [it is]" remaining in colloquial speech as a fossilized phrase


Expletive ne


In certain cases in formal French, the word ne can be used without signifying negation; the ne in such instances is known as expletive ne (French: ne explétif):

« J'ai peur que cela ne se reproduise. » — "I am afraid that it might happen again."

« Il est arrivé avant que nous n'ayons commencé. » — "He arrived before we started."

« Ils sont plus nombreux que tu ne le crois. » — "There are more of them than you think."


Expletive ne is found in finite subordinate clauses (never before an infinitive). It is characteristic of literary rather than colloquial style. In other registers French tends to not use any negation at all in such clauses, e.g., J'ai peur que cela se reproduise.

The following contexts allow expletive ne

  • the complement clause of verbs expressing fear or avoidance: craindre (to fear), avoir peur (to be afraid), empêcher (to prevent), éviter (to avoid)
  • the complement clause of verbs expressing doubt or denial: douter (to doubt), nier (to deny)
  • adverbial clauses introduced by the following expressions: avant que (before), à moins que (unless), de peur/crainte que (for fear that)
  • comparative constructions expressing inequality: autre (other), meilleur (better), plus fort (stronger), moins intelligent (less intelligent), etc.



Existential clauses


In French, the equivalent of the English existential clause "there is" is expressed with il y a, literally, "it there has" or "it has to it". The verb may be conjugated to indicate tense, but always remains in the third person singular. For example

« Il y a deux bergers et quinze moutons dans le pré. » - "There are two shepherds and fifteen sheep in the meadow."

« Il y aura beaucoup à manger. » - "There will be a lot to eat."

« Il y aurait deux morts et cinq blessés dans l'accident. » - "There appears to have been (lit. would be) two dead and five injured in the accident." (as in news reporting)

« Il n'y avait personne chez les Martin. » - "There was nobody at the Martins' home."


This construction is also used to express the passage of time since an event occurred, like the English ago or it has been:

« Je l'ai vu il y a deux jours. » - "I saw him two days ago."

« Il y avait longtemps que je ne l'avais pas vu. » - "It had been a long time since I had seen him."

« Le langage d'il y a cent ans est très différent de celui d'aujourd'hui. » - "The language/usage of one hundred years ago is very different from that of today."


In informal speech, il y is typically reduced to [j], as in:

Y a [ja] deux bergers et quinze moutons dans le pré.

Y aura [joʁa] beaucoup à manger.

Y avait [javɛ] personne chez les Martin.

Je l'ai vu y a deux jours.



Word order


The components of a declarative clause are typically arranged in the following order (though not all components are always present):

  1. Adverb(s)
  2. Subject
  3. ne (usually a marker for negation, though it has some other uses)
  4. First- and second-person object pronoun (metenousvous) or the third-person reflexive pronoun (se)
  5. Third-person human direct-object pronoun (lelales)
  6. Third-person human indirect-object pronoun (lui or leur)
  7. The pronoun y
  8. The pronoun en
  9. Finite verb (may be an auxiliary)
  10. Adverb(s)
  11. The pronoun rien (if not subject)
  12. Main verb (if the finite verb is an auxiliary)
  13. Adverb(s) and object(s)


French basic word order is thus subject–verb–object (Je lisais un livre: I was reading a book) although, if the object is a pronoun, it precedes the verb (Je le lisais: I was reading it). Some types of sentences allow for or require different word orders, in particularinversion of the subject and verb. For example, some adverbial expressions placed at the beginning of a sentence trigger inversion of pronominal subjects: Peut-être est-elle partie (Maybe she has left).

Word order can be an indicator of stylistic register. For instance, inversion of nominal subjects is possible in many relative clauses.

C'est le livre [que mon cousin lui a donné]. (Object–subject–verb)

C'est le livre [que lui a donné mon cousin]. (Object–verb–subject)

"That's the book my cousin gave her."

The second version of the sentence, with inversion, is more formal.