The Gender of French Nouns
When a French noun describes a live being, its gender often reflects the gender of the being in question. For example: The word cheval (horse) is masculine, whereas jument (mare) is feminine, because they both reflect the gender of the animal. Makes sense? Good. But determining gender isn’t always that logical, especially with inanimate objects, like things and ideas.
For nouns that describe things and concepts, logic has nothing to do with the gender. For instance, some nouns are always masculine no matter what, like un sac (a bag), un manteau (an overcoat), and un ordinateur (a computer).
Others are always feminine, like une voiture (a car), une maison (a house), and une école (a school). And some words are the tricksters of the bunch, taking on different meanings with different genders, like livre, which is a book when masculine but a pound when feminine!
How to identify masculine French nouns
You can recognize many masculine nouns by the type of ending they have.
|-acle||miracle (miracle), spectacle (show), obstacle (obstacle)|
|-age||fromage (cheese), voyage (trip), bagage (luggage)|
|-aire||frigidaire (fridge), anniversaire (birthday), commentaire (commentary)|
|-é (but not -té)||degré (degree), marché (market), congé (holiday)|
|-eau||drapeau (flag), chapeau (hat), cadeau (gift)|
|-er and -ier||dîner (dinner), panier (basket), cahier (notebook)|
|-isme||tourisme (tourism), absolutisme (absolutism), capitalisme (capitalism)|
|-ment||gouvernement (government), ornement (ornament), divertissement (entertainment)|
Besides just memorizing noun endings, you can also spot masculine nouns by certain categories. For the most part, nouns included in the following categories are masculine:
Names of trees: chêne (oak tree), olivier (olive tree), pommier (apple tree)
Names of metals: or (gold), acier (steel), fer (iron)
Names of metric units: mètre (a meter), kilo (a kilo), centimtre (centimeter)
Names of colors: le rouge (red), le vert (green), le bleu (blue)
Names of languages: le chinois (chinese), l’allemand (german), le français (French)
Nouns of English origin: tennis (tennis), parking (parking lot), football (soccer)
The articles (le and l’) are in front of colors and languages above, because without them, the French words would be adjectives instead of nouns.
How to identify feminine French nouns
Some noun endings typically designate female gender and some common examples.
|-ade||façade (facade), promenade (a walk), limonade (lemon drink)|
|-ance||enfance (childhood), naissance (birth), assurance (insurance)|
|-ée||idée (idea), journée (day), mosquée (mosque)|
|-ence||différence (difference), innocence (innocence), influence (influence)|
|-ette||crevette (shrimp), chaussette (sock), baguette (baguette)|
|-ie||comédie (comedy), industrie (industry), démographie (demography)|
|-sion||prévision (forecast), compréhension (understanding), révision (revision)|
|-té||société (society), publicité (advertising), charité (charity)|
|-tié||amitié (friendship), moitié (half), pitié (pity)|
|-tion||information (information), éducation (education), question (question)|
|-ure||voiture (car), couverture (blanket), confiture (jelly/jam)|
A number of more logical categories also help you spot those feminine nouns. For the most part, nouns included in the following categories are feminine:
Names of sciences and school subjects: For example, chimie (chemistry), histoire (history), and médecine (medical sciences). In particular, sciences and subjects ending in -graphie — like photographie (photography), géographie (geography), and chorégraphie (choreography) — are feminine.
Names of automobiles: une Renault (a Renault), une Porsche (a Porsche), une Fiat (a Fiat).
Names of businesses: boulangerie (bread shop), parfumerie (perfume shop), charcuterie (deli).