French Grammar For Dummies
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To grasp the fundamentals of any language, your native language as well as French, you need to recognize the parts of speech, the various types of words that compose a language and how they work.

French nouns

You should know three essential things about a French nom (noun):

  • It refers to people, places, things, or concepts.

  • It has a gender (masculine, he, or feminine, she), and a number (singular or plural). You need to know the noun’s characteristics to make other elements of a sentence match it. That’s called agreement in gender and number.

  • It can have different roles (called functions) in a sentence:

    • It can be the subject of the verb, as the noun professeur in this sentence: Le professeur parle. (The professor speaks.)

    • It can be the object of the verb, as the noun lune in: Nous regardons la lune. (We watch the moon.)

French articles

An article (un article) is a small but essential little word that introduces a noun and takes its gender and number. Articles come in three types:

  • The definite articles: le, la, l’, and les (the). For example: les enfants (the children).

  • The indefinite articles: un and une (a/an), des (some), and de and d’ (no/not any). For example: un chat (a cat).

  • The partitive articles: du, de la, de l’, and des (some). For example, de l’eau (some water).

French adjectives

An adjective adds some color to a noun. For example: un étudiant sérieux (a hard-working student). To use les adjectifs correctly in French, you need to know a couple of things:

  • An adjective is a chameleon; it changes to match the noun it describes. It can be masculine singular, masculine plural, feminine singular, or feminine plural. Matching an adjective to the noun it describes is called the I of the adjective.

  • Most French adjectives are placed after a noun, not before like in English. For example you say une voiture rouge (a red car). Rouge (red) goes after voiture (car).

French verbs

Verbs (les verbes) are the core element of a sentence because they provide essential information. They take many different forms to do so. They indicate:

  • What action is being performed, through the choice of the infinitive

  • Who performs it, through the choice of the subject

  • When it is performed, through the choice of the tense

French conjunctions

Conjunctions (les conjonctions) are small invariable words used to link parts of a sentence or just words. For instance, in Tu sors ou tu rentres? (Are you going out or are you coming in?), ou (or) is a conjunction.

French adverbs

An adverb (un adverbe) is a little word that can modify a verb (usually), an adjective, or another adverb by telling you how the action in question is done: slowly, quickly, seriously (lentement, vite, sérieusement). Here’s an example of what adverbs can do to a sentence:

  • Without adverbs: Julie parle et Paul écoute. (Julie talks and Paul listens.)

  • With adverbs: Julie parle lentement et Paul écoute attentivement. (Julie talks slowly and Paul listens attentively.)

French prepositions

A préposition (preposition) is a little word placed between a verb and a noun or between two nouns to indicate a relationship of space/direction, time, or manner. A preposition introduces a prepositional phrase that adds information to the sentence, as in Nous allons au cinéma (We go to the movies). In this example, au is the preposition.

A French preposition keeps its meaning, no matter what surrounds it, unlike English prepositions that can adopt a different meaning with different verbs. For instance, the English preposition after indicates time — unless you join it to the verb to look, and to look after has nothing to do with time!

French pronouns

A pronoun (un pronom) can replace a noun when you want to avoid repetition. A pronoun is also a chameleon word that must match not only the gender (most of the time) and number of the noun it replaces but also its function in the sentence: subject or object. Here’s a list of all the pronoun types you may come across in this book:

  • The subject pronouns precede a conjugated verb, like this: tu parles (you speak) and nous écoutons (we listen). They are je (I), tu (you [singular informal), il (he), elle (she), on (one), nous (we), vous (you [singular formal or plural formal and informal), ils (they, masculine), and elles (they, feminine).

  • The direct object pronouns replace nouns that are the direct object of the verb. For example: je l’ai vu (I saw it/him). The DOPs are: me (me), te (you), le (him/it), la (her/it), l’ (him/her/it before a vowel), nous (us), vous (you), and les (them).

  • The indirect object pronouns replace nouns that are indirect objects of the verb. For example: tu lui parles (you speak to him/her). They are: me (to me), te (to you), lui (to him/her/it), nous (to us), vous (to you), and leur (to them).

  • The direct object y replaces a noun that indicated a place (most of the time). For example: elle y va (she’s going there). Y is alone in its kind.

  • The object pronoun en replaces a noun that was the object of the verb and indicated a quantity. For example: tu en manges beaucoup (you eat a lot of it). En is also one of a kind.

  • The stress pronouns replace nouns that refer to people, after certain prepositions. For example: viens avec moi (come with me). They are: moi (me), toi (you), lui (him/it), elle (her/it), nous (us), vous (you), eux (them, masculine), and elles (them, feminine).

  • The reflexive pronouns help conjugate pronominal verbs that express an action done to oneself. For example: elle se regarde dans le miroir (she looks at herself in the mirror). The reflexive pronouns are: me (myself), te (yourself), se (himself/herself/itself), nous (ourselves), vous (yourselves), and se (themselves).

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Véronique Mazet has a doctorate in French from the University of Texas at Austin and is the author of two successful grammar books. She currently teaches French at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas.

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