Mastering all of the French grammar rules can be tricky for beginner students. Below, French teacher Carol Beth L. shares 10 French grammar mistakes you’re probably making…
Making mistakes is inevitable when you’re learning a new language. After all, you’re learning complex grammar rules, difficult pronunciation, and long lists of vocabulary words.
Students often make the same French grammar mistakes over and over again. Being aware of these common grammar mistakes will help you avoid them in the future.
Below are some of the most common French grammar mistakes students find themselves making, even when they are familiar with the rules.
The first few mistakes relate to specific phrases that students have a tendency to misuse, while the rest deal with grammatical patterns that are quite complex.
In English, when you greet someone in the early morning hours, you typically say “Good morning.” This English greeting doesn’t translate literally in French.
In fact, the phrase “Bon matin” does not actually exist in the French language. Rather, one would simply say “Bonjour!” when greeting someone.
A number of other literal translations can also be tempting. For example, you might want to express your interest in hobbies, people, and activities.
Be careful not to literally translate the English phrase “I am interested in…” into French (eg, Je suis interessée dans…). Instead, say “Ça m’interesse” (That interests me) or “____ m’interesse” (____ interests me).
To correctly state that you miss someone, use the verb “se manquer.” If you want to say “I miss you,” say “Tu me manques.”
To say “He misses us,” say “Nous lui manquons.” Remember that the English subject and object switch places when translated into French.
Remember to make adjectives properly agree with feminine or plural nouns. For example, the adjective “amusant“ (funny) would be changed to “amusante” in the feminine singular and “amusantes” in the feminine plural.
In English, adjectives don’t usually change based on the gender or number, so it’s easy for students to forget this important French grammar rule.
French has more articles than English. Both languages use “a” and “the”, but French has separate articles to denote masculine, feminine, and plural of each one.
Recall, however, that no neuter exists among French pronouns or articles. For example, a table is most definitely feminine, whereas the wall beside it is quite masculine.
In addition to having more articles, French also uses articles more frequently than English. In English, for example, you would say that “We meet regularly on Mondays,” but French-speakers would use the appropriate article, saying “on se rencontre régulièrement le lundi.”
Remember to use the correct preposition and include the appropriate article contraction when necessary. In theory, French prepositions are easier than English prepositions because there are fewer of the most common ones.
For example, “De” translates to “of” or “from”, and “à” translates to “to,” “at,” and sometimes other related location or movement prepositions.
A few places to watch out are when you’re talking about playing musical instruments (Je joue d’un instrument) and sports (Je joue à un sport).
Also, be extra careful with those pesky articles! Relevant contractions include “du” (“de” + “le”), “des” (“de” + “les”), “au” (“à” + “le”) and “aux” (“à” + “les”). “De”, “la”, and “à la” do not contract.
7. Negative Articles
Use “il n’y a pas de” rather than “il y a pas de”. When using “de” or “de” + an article in the negative, remember that French has lots of exceptions! This is one of them.
If there is zero of something, take out the article. For example, someone could say “Il y a du pain sur la table” (There is bread on the table). In the negative, this would become “Il n’y a pas de pain sur la table,” not “Il n’y a pas du pain sur la table.”
8. Conjugated Verbs
Remember to conjugate your verbs. While we do this in the English language, it’s not as much or in as much detail as French-speakers.
This is especially important when you’re writing because all those silent final consonants and vowels need attention.
The singular forms are the most similar in present tense, but are not always spelled the same, so watch out!
9. Passé composé/ Imparfait
The English distinction between the present perfect and the simple past isn’t exactly the same as the French distinction between these two tenses.
The passé composé is very commonly used for one-time events in the past. For example, “J’ai fait mes devoirs hier soir.” (I did my homework last night.)
The imperfect is used more often for something a person used to do over a period of time in the past. For example, “Je faisais mes devoirs tous les jours.” (I did my homework every day.)
The subjunctive is one of the most difficult verbs in French, if not the most difficult because we don’t use it often in English. Many of us anglophones aren’t even aware of the fact that we use it at all.
The first step is to understand the situations in which it is used, and then practice, observe, and correct oneself. Then practice some more, and observe some more, and correct oneself more.
Give yourself time to perfect this French grammar rule, but also insist on understanding and using it correctly. Gradually, you will be able to use it successfully.
These aren’t the only French grammar mistakes out there, but they are certainly worthy of attention.
Keep your eyes open and your ears peeled for other mistakes, and correct them when you can. In no time, you will be well on your way to excellent (and impressive) French usage!