Sentences

French sentences
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Les phrases

A sentence is a group of words that form a complete unit of meaning. Sentences can be as short as a single word or as long as the Seine; the minimum criterion is that they contain a subject and verb.*

* I know you’re thinking, "But that means they need at least two words!" Don’t worry, I explain why that’s not true in #4, below.

Characteristics of sentences

  1. May be any length
  2. Must contain a subject and verb
  3. May include one or more other parts of speech
  4. Can be divided into two parts: subject and predicate

Parts of sentences

Subject | Sujet

  • May be a name, noun, or pronoun
  • May be singular or plural
  • May be modified by an adjective or other determiner
  • May be stated or implied

Predicate | Prédicat

  • Must include a verb
  • Usually begins with the verb
  • Contains everything that is not part of the subject

Par exemple…

Aline est prête.   Aline is ready.
Le restaurant italien s’ouvre à midi.   The Italian restaurant opens at noon.
Lui et moi avons trois chats.   He and I have three cats.

Types of sentences

There are four different kinds of sentences.

1) Statements | Phrases assertives / déclaratives

Statements, aka assertive sentences or declarative sentences, are the most common type of sentence. They make a statement, whether fact or opinion, and almost always end in a period.

Par exemple…

Elle est médecin.   She’s a doctor.
Nous n’aimons pas le chocolat.   We don’t like chocolat.
Je pense que non.   I don’t think so.
Tu dois arrêter de courir.   You have to stop running.

2) Exclamatives | Phrases exclamatives

Exclamative sentences are the excited siblings of statements: they express a strong feeling like joy, surprise, or anger, and usually end in an exclamation point.

Par exemple…

Nous allons déménager en France !   We’re going to move to France!
Ils ne sont pas encore prêts !   They’re not ready yet!
J’espère que non !   I hope not!

3) Interrogatives | Phrases interrogatives

Interrogative sentences, aka questions, ask for information, a service, or something tangible. They always end in a question mark.

Par exemple…

Pouvez-vous m’aider ?   Can you help me?
Ils sont dans la voiture ?   Are they in the car?

Unlike statements and exclamatives, which usually begin with the subject, interrogatives often begin with a question word.

Quand allez-vous y déménager ?   When are you going to move there?
Pourquoi n’aimes-tu pas mon idée ?   Why don’t you like my idea?

 When the question word is an interrogative pronoun, it is the subject.

Qui veut aller au ciné ?   Who wants to go to the movies?
Qu’est-ce que tu veux faire ?   What do you want to do?

4) Commands | Phrases impératives

Commands are statements in the imperative, which means they don’t have an explicit subject: the subject is indicated by the grammatical person the verb is conjugated for. They may end in a period or exclamation point, depending on how urgent the command is.

Par exemple…

Raconte-moi une histoire.   Tell me a story.
Allons à la plage.   Let’s go to the beach.
Arrêtez !   Stop!

 * As promised, the final example is a sentence consisting of a single word that includes both subject and verb: it’s the vous imperative.

 In addition to word order and punctuation marks as explained above, types of sentences can sometimes also be distinguished by their rhythm.

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Types of French sentences

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