How can a word be masculine or feminine, and how do you tell the difference? Tutor Willy M. shares some secrets to help you memorize your French vocabulary…
One of the hardest things for many students of French to learn is how to tell the difference between masculine and feminine French nouns. Gender with regards to words is not something we spend a lot of time thinking about in English, but in French vocabulary every single noun will have either a masculine gender or a feminine gender. Words that use the articles le or un are going to be masculine, and words that use the articles la or une are feminine.
Sometimes assigning gender to a word might seem arbitrary, but there are a few tricks that will help you tell if a word is masculine or feminine. The best place to start is by looking at the end of a word.
Common Feminine Endings
There are several endings that will clue you in to a word’s gender. For example, feminine nouns typically end in the letter “e.” Consider these word endings: –esse, –enne, –euse, –orde, –anche, –ouche, etc. If you notice a word that ends in -e, most of the time that word is feminine.
So if you are taking a French test and the teacher wants to confuse you by giving you a word that starts with a vowel, you might see the word l’actrice. An article with an apostrophe can be confusing when trying to determine gender. But if you notice that the word ends in an –e, or in this case the ending is –ice, you can guess (correctly) that this word is feminine.
One other thing that I have noticed about feminine French vocabulary words, is that they also sometimes end with an –a. These words tend to be words that came into French from Arabic speaking colonies of French. They are often the French adaptations of Arabic words.
Common Masculine Endings
There are a couple exceptions to the ends in –e rule. Typically words that end in –ege, –eme, –ome, –aume, –age and –isme are masculine. The following endings also tend to be masculine: –an, –ent, – ai, – ou, –et, –eu, –ut, –is, –il, and –ex.
There are some endings that are typically masculine such as –on, but if you find it coming after a letter s or the letter c, it will often be feminine. Nouns that end in consonants like t, x, d, l, f, m or s, etc. tend to all be masculine words.
So if you are taking your French test and you see a word like refus, a refusal, you can see the s at the end and make an educated (correct) guess that it is le refus. So now you have a few tips to help you identify the gender of French nouns. I hope you keep studying and put your French to good work one day. And if you do well, send me un béret from your travels abroad!
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Willy M. teaches guitar, ukulele, and mandolin lessons in Winston, NC. Willy studied French for over 6 years in high school and at Earlham College. He traveled to Quebec, Canada where he was able to practice with native speakers. While working as an ESL teacher for World Relief, Willy had the opportunity to translate for people from former French colonies, such as Haiti, the Congo and Vietnam. Learn more about Willy here!
Photo by Barret Anspach