Introduction to French

Introduction to French
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Initiation au français

If you’re just starting to learn French, you might find it interesting to learn some basics about French linguistics and grammar.

They say French the language of love, so it would seem to make sense that it’s a Romance language. In fact, that has nothing to do with it: the linguistic terms “Romance” and “romantic” are from the word Roman and mean nothing more exciting than “from Latin.”

French’s complete language classification is  Indo-European  »  Italic  »  Latino-Faliscan  »  Romance

Indo-European is the largest of all the language families. It includes most of the languages of the Americas, Europe, and Asia, with such varied languages as Sanskrit, Greek, Russian, Persian, Gaelic, and English.

Italic is the sub-family of languages spoken by Italic peoples on the Italian peninsula.

Latino-Faliscan is the branch of languages that were spoken in Central Italy, the most important of which was Latin.

Romance languages originally evolved in Western Europe, but colonialism carried many of them to other countries all over the world.

Romance Languages
  1. Catalan
  2. French
  3. Italian
  4. Moldavian
  5. Portuguese
  6. Provençal
  7. Rhaeto-Romanic
  8. Romanian
  9. Sardinian
  10. Spanish

Basic French Linguistics

Alphabet

French has the same 26-letter alphabet as English, although the importance of each letter varies. French also has 5 different accents:

acute aigu é
grave grave à, è, ù
circumflex circonflexe â, ê, î, ô, û
dieresis tréma ë, ï
cedilla cédille ç

Gender

French has two genders: all nouns are either masculine or feminine.

Subject Pronouns

Many of the Romance languages, including Spanish and Italian, are “pro-drop,” meaning that the subject pronoun can be dropped because the verb conjugation is different for each grammatical person. In other words, if a Spanish speaker says “Voy al mercado,” everyone knows that s/he means “I am going to the store." In contrast, French is not a pro-drop language: subject pronouns are always required for all verb forms except the imperative.

Verbs

French verbs are categorized by their endings: -er, -ir, and -re. Each of these categories can be further broken down in various ways:

There are 11 main verb forms,* shown here for aller (to go):

Simple verb forms
Present je vais
Imperfect j’allais
Future j’irai
Conditional j’irais
Subjunctive que j’aille
Imperative
 
va !
 
Compound verb forms
Passé composé je suis allé
Pluperfect j’étais allé
Future perfect je serai allé
Conditional perfect je serais allé
Past subjunctive que je sois allé

*See my verb timeline for the complete list of 24 French verb forms.

Compound verb forms are conjugated with one of two helping verbs. Most verbs take avoir. The ones that take être are pronominal verbs and a handful of intransitive verbs of movement.

Comparison French and English

French is a Romance language with Germanic influence, while English is a German language with Latin and French influence. Thus French and English have a lot in common, notably large numbers of cognates and borrowed expressions – see French in English. On the other hand, since they are different languages, there are a number of differences between French and English.

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1 Response

  1. Cléone Blake 16 August 2014 / 3:19

    Your contribution to French is exceptional –
    thank you Laura !