top of page

French grammar basics

Knowing the basics of French grammar is essential if you want to speak French properly! I often find that many people have an intermediate level, know a lot of vocabulary but also make a lot of mistakes because they're missing these 7 essential grammar rules. This article is aimed at beginners as well as more advanced speakers! 😊


1. Verb agreement with the subject


A simple sentence is constructed as follows:


subject + verb + complement: Je mange une pomme. (I'm eating an apple) / Tu lis un roman. (You're reading a novel)


The verb always agrees with the subject: this means that you need to modify the verb ending according to the subject of the verb. To find out the subject, you can ask the question "who + verb?".


Examples : Le chat boit du lait. ➡️ Qui boit du lait ? "Le chat" ➡️ "Le chat" est le sujet du verbe. (The cat drinks milk. ➡️ Who drinks milk? "The cat" ➡️ "The cat" is the subject of the verb.)


⚠️ The subject can be replaced by a personal pronoun (je, tu, il/elle/on, nous, vous, ils/elles). In our example, "the cat" corresponds to the 3rd person singular, i.e. "il" (he). You could say: "Il boit du lait". (He drinks milk)

The conjugated verb must always have a subject, even if this means repeating the same personal pronoun several times in the same sentence.

Example: Le chat boit du lait, puis il va se promener et il fait la sieste quand il rentre à la maison. (The cat drinks milk, then goes for a walk and takes a nap when it gets home.)

Don't say: Le chat boit du lait, puis va se promener et fait la sieste quand rentre à la maison. (The cat drinks milk, then goes for a walk and takes a nap when it gets home) - the pronouns are missing!


To express what you're saying, you need to conjugate the verb not only with its subject, but also in the appropriate tense (past, present or future).



2. Conjugation


There are 3 verb groups, each with its own characteristics.


1st group

2nd group

3rd group

Description

These are verbs ending in "er" (with the exception of "aller"). They are all regular: they all conjugate in the same way.

All 2nd group verbs end in "ir" and have a special feature: the 3 plural persons (we, you, they) take the endings "issons", "issez", "issent" in the present tense. They are also regular verbs, and all conjugate in the same way.

All the other verbs! You'll come across a variety of endings: -endre, -ondre, -aître, -ire, -oir, -eindre... These are irregular verbs, so you'll need to memorize their endings!

Examples

Parler, danser, manger, travailler, étudier, chanter, se réveiller, se coucher...

Finir, grandir, rougir, vieillir, choisir, vomir..

​Être, avoir, boire, éteindre, prendre, connaître, écrire, ouvrir...

⚠️ Some 3rd group verbs take the "-ir" ending, such as "offrir", "ouvrir", "courir", "mentir", "mourir"... But they are not conjugated like 2nd group verbs! They have their own endings: j'offre, j'ouvre, je cours, je mens, je meurs...





3. Negation


In French, negation always consists of 2 words, placed on either side of the verb.


  • ne + verb + pas: ("classic" negation) : Je ne suis pas français. (I'm not French)

  • ne + verb + jamais: Il ne prend jamais de vacances. (He never takes vacation.)

  • ne + verb + rien: Je ne comprends rien. (I don't understand anything.)

  • ne + verb + plus: Je ne supporte plus mes voisins. (I can't stand my neighbors anymore.)

  • ne + verb + pas encore: Les élèves ne connaissent pas encore le subjonctif. (Students do not know yet the subjunctive.)

  • ne + verb + personne: Il ne sort jamais et il ne voit personne. (He never goes out and he doesn't see anyone.)


⚠️ "Ne" becomes "n'" when followed by a vowel (a, e, i, o, u, y) or a silent "h":

Nous n'avons pas d'enfants. (We don't have children.)

Je n'habite pas à Paris mais en banlieue parisienne. (I don't live in Paris, but in the suburbs.)



4. Articles


In French, nouns are (almost) always accompanied by an article. There are several types of articles:

  • Definite articles: le, la, les, l'

  • Indefinite articles: un, une, des

  • Partitive articles: du, de la, de l'

Definite articles are used to designate something or someone in particular, but they are also used with verbs of taste (like, adore, hate, prefer...).

Examples: Je suis le mari de Sandra. (I am Sandra's husband.)

L'eau de l'Océan Atlantique est froide. (The water in the Atlantic Ocean is cold.)

Mes enfants adorent la plage. (My children love the beach.)



In the contrary, indefinite articles are used to talk about someone or something indefinite.

Examples: Laura est une amie d'Augustin. (Laura is a friend of Augustin's.

Je mange un carré de chocolat tous les soirs. (I eat a square of chocolate every night.)


Partitive articles are generally more difficult for my students to use, as they don't exist in all languages. In English, for example, they either don't exist or can be translated as "some". They're used when we're talking about an indeterminate quantity, especially with uncountable nouns (that can't be counted or quantified).

Exemples : Tu as de la chance ! (You're lucky!)

Je gagne de l'argent en faisant de la musique. (I earn money making music.)

Au petit-déjeuner, je mange toujours du pain avec du beurre. (For breakfast, I always eat bread with butter.)


⚠️ In the negative form, indefinite articles (une, une, des) and partitives (du, de la, de l') become "de/d' (if followed by a vowel)".

Exemples : J'ai des frères et sœurs. ➡️ Je n'ai pas de frères et sœurs. (I have siblings. I have no siblings.)

Elle boit de l'alcool. ➡️ Elle ne boit pas d'alcool. (She drinks alcohol./She doesn't drink alcohol.)



5. Adjectives


An adjective gives a characteristic about a noun.

Examples: Un pantalon bleu, un grand chien, un livre intéressant (blue pants, a big dog, an interesting book)


Unlike English, adjectives agree in gender and number with the noun. In general:

  • add an "e" to the feminine: une jupe bleue, une grande maison, une revue intéressante (a blue skirt, a big house, an interesting magazine)

  • add an "s" to the plural: des vêtements bleus, des grands hommes, des commentaires intéressants (blue clothes, tall men, interesting comments)

  • add "es" to the feminine plural: des écharpes bleues, des grandes maisons, des personnes intéressantes (blue scarves, big houses, interesting people)


There are exceptions, of course, but this is the general rule that you absolutely must know! From my experience with my French students over the last few years, here are the main difficulties:


- You have to remember to write the "s" in the plural when you don't pronounce it.

- In the masculine singular, most adjectives end with a consonant that we don't pronounce either (vert - green, grand - big, intelligent...). On the other hand, these consonants are pronounced in the feminine when the "e" is added (verte, grande, intelligente).




6. Know adverbs to nuance what you say


An adverb gives information about a verb. All adverbs are invariable (they don't have a feminine and/or plural form).


Here's a list of common adverbs:

  • adverbs of frequency: jamais, rarement, parfois, de temps en temps, souvent, régulièrement, fréquemment, toujours, encore... (never, rarely, sometimes, occasionally, often, regularly, frequently, always, again...)

  • adverbs of quantity: un peu, beaucoup, trop, assez, suffisamment... (a little, a lot, too much, enough...)

  • adverbs of manner: bien, mal, correctement, mieux, lentement, poliment... (well, badly, correctly, better, slowly, politely...)

  • adverbs of time: maintenant, aujourd'hui, désormais, hier, demain, avant-hier, après-demain... (now, today, now, yesterday, tomorrow, the day before yesterday, the day after tomorrow...)

  • adverbs of place: ici, là, au-dessus, en-dessous... (here, there, above, below...)



7. Know the most common prepositions


Prepositions are a real headache for people learning French, as there is often no explanation to justify the use of one preposition or another. You have to memorize the verbs and expressions with their associated prepositions... It takes time and practice!


Here's a list of some frequently used prepositions:


  • à (+ time, cities...)

J'habite à Lisbonne. (I live in Lisbon.)

Je commence le travail à 8 heures. (I start work at 8 o'clock.)

  • chez + domicile

Je travaille chez moi. (I work at home.)

Mon frère dîne chez mes parents. (My brother is having dinner at my parents'.)

  • pour + conséquence

Ils apprennent le français pour vivre à Paris. (They learn French to live in Paris.)

  • par + cause, manière

Il est passé par la fenêtre. (He went through the window. )

J'ai perdu par ta faute. (I lost because of you.)

  • dans (=à l'intérieur de)

Je t'attends dans la gare. (I'm waiting for you in the station.)

  • de + origine

Nous venons de Paris. (We come from Paris.)

  • sur (=à propos de OU à la surface de)

Vous préparez un exposé sur la politique. (You're preparing a presentation about politics.)

Les clés sont sur la table. (The keys are on the table)


⚠️ Les prépositions "à" et "de" se contractent avec certains articles définis :

- à + le = au (Il habite au Caire. - He lives in Cairo.)

- à + les = aux (Tu vas aux toilettes. - You're going to the restroom.)

- de + le = du (Elle fait du sport tous les jours. - She works out every day.)

- de + les = des (Ils viennent des Pays-Bas. - They come from the Netherlands.)



If you memorize these 7 basic grammar rules, you should build more correct sentences and significantly improve your French! What do you find most difficult about French grammar?



To go further

Whether you're a beginner or an advanced learner, practicing French with a teacher is always useful for improving your grammar, pronunciation and learning new vocabulary. Register for our online French courses here!

43 views0 comments

コメント


bottom of page