While in English, a word is not identified as feminine or masculine, in French every noun has a gender. In order to speak French correctly, you will have to learn the gender of every noun. But take it easy 🙂 If you are wrong, most of the time French people will still understand what you mean if you pronounce the noun correctly and with the help of the context.
One important thing to understand when learning French is the notion of masculine and feminine. In the French language, every thing is either masculine or feminine. I mean, every item has a gender. In English, you talk about the word table. A table is not female nor male. Well, in English perhaps, but in French a table is a female, or I’d rather say a feminine word.
I asked one of my students once:
– Do you think the word “table” in French is feminine or masculine? – “Masculine” she said. – Why do you think it is masculine? – Because it is long and hard. – I understand your logic, but it doesn’t work like that!
You should know from now on that a table is female, or rather a feminine word in French. a table in French is une table.
You can see with the article une that the word table is feminine. If a noun is masculine, we use the article un in front of the noun. We say for example un téléphone (a phone). It is quite important to know if a noun is feminine or masculine because all the words associated with the noun will adapt to the gender. The article will be feminine or masculine according to the gender of the noun. The adjective too.
une petite table
a small table
un petit téléphone
a small phone
As you can see, the adjective small has a masculine and a feminine version (petit and petite). The pronunciation of the adjective in that case, and quite often, is different. If you want to speak correct French, then you have to know if a noun is masculine or feminine. The spelling of the verb (for some tenses – you learn that later) can change according to the gender of the subject (either a person or an object). The pronouns, as the nouns, can be either feminine or masculine.
Ok. So far we know that: –> a French noun is either masculine or feminine, –> you can figure out if a noun is feminine or masculine by looking at the article before the noun (most of the time), –> the words related to the noun become feminine or masculine, according to the gender of the noun –> not only the spelling of some words can change depending if they are masculine or feminine but the pronunciation can be different as well (petit ≠ petite , un ≠ une)
Question: How do I know if a noun is masculine or feminine in French?
My best advice is to learn every new noun with the article coming before the noun. So, if you learn the word ordinateur in French, which means computer, it is important to learn how to say in French a computer. a computer is a male in French :), we say un ordinateur.
Masculine articles are un (a) or le (the). Feminine articles are une (a) or la (the).
However, there is a list of rules, categorising nouns depending on the ending of the words. It can help to know these categories.
Attention: If a noun ends with the letter « e », it doesn’t mean it is feminine.