Nouns

Noms

One of the eight parts of speech, a noun is commonly defined as "a person, place, or thing." If that seems vague, that’s because it is: nouns can be visible (water) or invisible (air), they can be concrete (books) or abstract (ideas). Some are commonplace (stones), some are rare (diamonds), and others are non-existent (unobtainium). Generally speaking, if you can use "a," "the," "some," or "this" in front of any stand-alone word, it’s a noun.

Gender

In French, all nouns have a gender. Stones and ideas are feminine, while books and diamonds are masculine. This can be hard to wrap your mind around, but it might help to think about gender in English, limited as it is. Girls and women are feminine, which is reflected grammatically in the use of "she" and "her," while boys and men are masculine: "he" and "his." The difference is that in French, grammatical gender has nothing to do with biological gender.

  It is absolutely essential to learn the gender of a noun at the same time as you learn the noun. The best way to do this is by learning an article with every noun, rather than just the noun itself. Don’t make vocabulary lists like this:
  • livre – book
  • idée – idea
  • pierre – stone
  • diamant – diamond

But rather, like this:

  • un livre – book
  • une idée – idea
  • une pierre – stone
  • un diamant – diamond

That way, the article will be attached to to the noun in your brain, and you won’t spend the next several years asking people (as those of us who did not learn genders and nouns together constantly do) "is ___ masculine or feminine?" Gender is an intrinsic part of French grammar – adjectives, certain pronouns, and even some verbs change to agree with the gender of the nouns they are used with, so by learning gender and nouns together, you’ll make all of these other aspects of French grammar that much easier.

That said, there are some tendencies that can help you determine the gender of a noun.

1) Noun categories

Certain categories of nouns are always or usually one gender or the other:

2) Noun endings

Certaain endings are always or usually one gender or the other:

Feminine Forms and Plurals

Some nouns referring to people and animals have different forms for masculine and feminine, and most nouns have different forms for singular and plural, which means there can be up to 4 forms of any given noun.

masculine singular   masculine plural
feminine singular   feminine plural

Feminine and/or plural endings are added to the default masculine singular form. For regular nouns, these endings are e for feminine and s for plural.

Par exemple…

un étudiant (student)

un étudiant   des étudiants
une étudiante   des étudiantes

When the default form of the noun ends in s, x, or z, the singular and plural forms are the same.

Par exemple…

une brebis   des brebis   ewe(s)
un choix   des choix   choice(s)
un nez   des nez   nose(s)

When the default form of the adjective ends in e, the masculine and feminine forms are the same.

Par exemple…

un artiste (artist)

un artiste   des artistes
une artiste   des artistes

A few nouns have completely different masculine and feminine equivalents.

Par exemple…

un homme
man
  une femme
woman
un garçon
boy
  une fille
girl
un taureau
bull
  une vache
cow

And of course there are some irregular feminine and plural patterns:

 French nouns and adjectives

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