French Grammar: Nouns – Basics

French Grammar: Nouns - Basics

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French Grammar: Nouns – Basics
la grammaire française: les substantifs – rudiments

French nouns (les substantifs) are essential parts of building phrases in French. These key components let you name people, animals, places, concepts, and things!


French nouns (les substantifs) are essential parts of building phrases in French. These key components let you name people, animals, places, concepts, and things!

GENDER of Nouns:

All French nouns have a gender – that is, they are either masculine or feminine.  This includes inanimate objects, places, and concepts as well as people and animals.  In general, nouns that refer to male beings (human, animal, or otherwise) are masculine and nouns that refer to female beings (human, animal, or otherwise) are feminine.  With inanimate objects, places, and concepts, the assignation of gender is mostly arbitrary.  The best way to determine the gender of a French word you’re unfamiliar with is to check in a dictionary ( is a highly recommended free online dictionary).  It‘s a good idea to learn all nouns with an indication of their gender – preferably with the indefinite article (un/une).

That being said, however, the following general rules can help you determine the gender of some nouns (although here, too, exceptions do exist!)

MASCULINE Nouns include:

a) Days of the week, Months of the year, and Seasons of the year
le lundi / janvier / le printemps (Monday / January / the Spring)

b) Metric weights and measures
un kilo / un litre (a kilo / a liter)

c) Languages
le français / le chinois (French / Chinese)

d) Nouns borrowed from other languages, especially English
un sandwich / un parking / un party / un T-shirt (a sandwich / a parking lot / a party / a T-shirt)

e) Nouns ending in a consonant
le Japon / un train / un bus / un croissant (Japan / a train / a bus / a croissant)
EXCEPTIONS: une main / une souris (a hand / a mouse)

f) Nouns ending in –acle,  -age,  -ail,  -eau,  -ou,  -ège,  -et,  -sme,  -ment

-acle : un spectacle / un obstacle (a spectacle / an obstacle)
age : un voyage / un mirage (a voyage / a mirage)
ail : un ail / un travail (garlic / a job)
eau : un gâteau / un bateau (a cake / a boat)
ou :  un trou / un filou (a hole / a crook)
ège :  un collège / un siège (a middle school / a seat)
et :  un brevet / un béret (a diploma / a beret)
sme : un organisme / le catholicisme (an organism / Catholicism)
ment :  un bâtiment / un sentiment (a building / a sentiment)

EXCEPTIONS to (f) above include the following feminine nouns:
l’eau / une peau (water / a skin)
une image / une cage / une page / la rage / une plage (an image / a cage / a page / rage / a beach)
une débacle (a defeat)

FEMININE Nouns include:

a) Nouns ending in –ion,  –aison
une institution / une liaison (an institution / a liaison)
EXCEPTIONS: un avion / un camion / un lion (an airplane / a truck / a lion)

b) Nouns ending in –té (these correspond to English words ending in -ty)
la liber / la priori (liberty / priority)

c) Nouns ending in –graphie,  -logie,  -sophie,  -nomie,  -ure
la géographie / la biologie / la philosophie / la gastronomie / la peinture (geography / biology / philosophy / gastronomy / painting)

d) Many nouns that end with –e

l’Afrique / la France / la Seine (Africa / France / the Seine)
EXCEPTIONS: le Mexique / le Rhône (Mexico / the Rhone)

une pomme / une tomate / une carotte (an apple / a tomato / a carrot)
EXCEPTIONS: un concombre / un légume / un pamplemousse (a cucumber / a vegetable / a grapefruit)

stores ending in –erie
une boulangerie / une fromagerie / une poissonnerie (a bread bakery / a cheese shop / a fish store)

-nouns ending in –(t)te
une cravate / une vedette / une botte (a necktie / a movie star / a boot)

-nouns ending in –ée
une entrée / une soirée (an entrance / a party)
EXCEPTIONS: un musée / un lycée (a museum / a high school)

Singular / Plural Nouns

In addition to gender, French nouns also have number.  Number refers to whether a noun is singular or plural. French nouns (both masculine and feminine) are generally made plural by adding –s, just like in English.

Here are some examples:

un cahier / des cahiers (a notebook / some notebooks)
un enfant / des enfants (a child / some children)
une femme / des femmes (a woman / some women)
une école / des écoles (a school / some schools)

Unlike English, however, the final –s in French is always SILENT – never pronounced!  Therefore, when you are listening to French, you need to listen for other words that will indicate whether a singular or plural noun is being used.  Often, the form of the article or other determiner that comes before the noun will help you determine this.

For example:

cet arbre / ces arbres (this tree / these trees)
le café / des cafés (the café / some cafés)
votre frère / vos frères (your brother / your brothers)
une étudiante / quatre étudiantes (a female student / four female students)

No change is made to nouns that end with -s, -x, or -z.  The final -s, –x, or -z is always silent:

un tapis / des tapis
 (a rug / some rugs)
une souris / des souris
 (a mouse / some mice)
mon époux / nos époux (my husband / our husbands)

le nez / les nez (the nose / some noses)

Nouns ending in -eau-au, or  -eu are made plural by adding -x instead of -s.  Like final -s, final -x is always silent.

un niveau / des niveaux (a level / some levels)

un noyau / des noyaux
 (a kernel / some kernels)
mon neveu / mes neveux (my nephew / my nephews)

Normally, nouns ending in -ou are made plural by adding -s.  The following nouns are exceptions because they’re made plural by adding -x instead.  Again, final -x is always silent.

un bijou / des bijoux
 (a jewel / some jewels)
un caillou / des cailloux
 (a pebble / some pebbles)
un chou / des choux
 (a cabbage / some cabbages)
un genou / des genoux
 (a knee / some knees)
un hibou / des hiboux
 (an owl / some owls)
un joujou / des joujoux
 (a toy / some toys)
un pou / des poux (a louse / some lice)

Usually, nouns that end in  -al or  -ail are made plural by changing the -al or -ail to -aux.  Here again, the final -x is silent.

un animal / des animaux
 (an animal / some animals)
un cheval / des chevaux (a horse / some horses)

un travail / des travaux

(Exceptions to this include: un bal, un carnaval, un fesitval, un détail, un éventail. Each of these nouns are made plural by simply adding [-s].)


Tu as une soeur?

Do you (informal) have a sister?

Non, j’ai deux soeurs.
No, I have two sisters.

Combien de cours est-ce que tu prends ce semestre?

How many courses are you (informal) taking this semester?

Je prends seulement un cours ce semestre.

I’m taking only one course this semestre.

Est-ce que vous habitez dans une maison?

Do you (formal) live in a house?

Non, j’habite dans un appartement.

No, I live in an apartment.

Est-ce que vous avez une grande famille?

Do you all have a big family?

Oui, nous avons trois cousins, cinq nièces et sept neveux.

Yes, we have three cousins, five nieces, and seven nephews.