Gender and Number of Nouns and Definite Articles in French

Gender and Number of Nouns and Definite Articles

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A noun is a person, place, or thing. In French, all nouns are masculine or feminine (gender) and singular or plural (number). The French defi nite article
is used more frequently than the is used in English.

The Definite Article

The French defi nite article agrees with the noun in gender and number.

Singular               Plural
Masculine                                                                    le                          les
Feminine                                                                     la                            les
Masculine and feminine                                                l                            les
     before a vowel sound
      or mute h

Masculine Nouns

Masculine singular nouns take the defi nite article le. The genders of French nouns are hard to guess. You will learn them as you go along. Pronounce the following nouns with their article. Refer to the Guide to Pronunciation as needed.

le chat (the cat)                                                            le frère (the brother)
le chien (the dog)                                                         le garçon (the boy)
le cinéma (the cinema,film,movies)                  le livre (the book)
le cours (the course, class)                                    le téléphone (the telephone)
le football (soccer)                                                      le vin (the wine)

Feminine Nouns

Feminine singular nouns take the defi nite article la.

la banque (the bank)                                                  la lampe (the lamp)
la boutique (the store, shop)                                   la langue (the language)
la chemise (the shirt)                                                 la soeur (the sister)
la femme (the woman, wife)                                 la table (the table)
la jeune fi lle (the girl)                                                la voiture (the car)

Many feminine nouns end in -e, but please dont consider this a general rule. The nouns in the following list do not end in -e; however, they are all  feminine.
Most fi nal consonants are silent in French. In the list below, only the fi nal -r is sounded.

la chaleur (heat, warmth)                        la forêt (the forest)
la croix (the cross)                                      la fourmi (the ant)
la distraction (the amusement)             la main (the hand)
la fl eur (the fl ower)                                   la nuit (the night)
la fois (the time [occasion])                    la radio (the radio)

Masculine and Feminine Articles Before a Vowel Sound
or Mute h

The definite article l is used before all singular nouns, maculine and feminine,
starting with a vowel or a mute (non-aspirate) h. The -e or -a of the  defi nite article is dropped (elided). When the noun starts with h, pronounce the vowel that follows the h. Learn the gender (m. or f.) in parentheses for each noun. When you begin to attach adjectives to nouns, it will be easier to remember their gender.

lami (m.)                           the friend (m.)               lhistoire (f.)    the story, history
lamie (f.)                          the friend (f.)                   lhomme (m.) the man
langlais (m.)                   English (language)            lhôtel (m.)       the hotel
larchitecte (m. or f.)   the architect                        l’île (f. )              the island
lemploi (m.)                    the job                                lorange (f.)     the orange (fruit)
l’énergie (f.)                     energy                                luniversité (f.) the university
lenfant (m. or f.)          the child (m. or f.)         lusine (f.) the factory

Singular Nouns and the Definite Article

The defi nite article indicates a specifi c person, place, thing, or idea. It also precedes nouns that are used in a general sense.

Cest lamie de ma mère.                       Thats (Shes) my mothers friend.
Les Français adorent le football       The French love soccer and
      et le cyclisme.                                           cycling.

Remember: Le is used with masculine singular nouns beginning with a consonant;
la is used with feminine singular nouns beginning with a consonant; and l is used with both masculine and feminine singular nouns beginning with a vowel and for most nouns beginning with the letter h.

The Initial Letter h
The letter h is always silent in French. Words starting with the letter h
lhomme, for exampleare pronounced beginning with the fi rst vowelsound. This is called a mute h.

However, in front of some French words starting with h, for historical reasons, the article does not elide the -e or -a. For example:

la *harpe the harp                        la *honte shame
le *héros the hero                        le *hors-doeuvre the appetizer

This is called an aspirate h. This h is also a silent letter; it is not pronounced. French dictionaries show the aspirate h with a diacritical mark. In this book, words beginning with an aspirate h are indicated by an asterisk (*).

Learning the Gender of Nouns

Gender is linked to the noun word, rarely to the physical thing or the person.
Always learn the gender of a noun with its article: le livre (the book), la fenêtre (the window). Genders of nouns starting with a vowel need to be memorized separately: l’âge (m.) (age), lhôtel (m.) (the hotel), lhorloge (f.) (the clock).

Several rules can help you guess if a French noun is masculine or feminine:

Nouns that refer to males are usually masculine; nouns that refer to
    females are usually feminine: lhomme (m.) (the man); la femme (the
The ending of a noun can be a clue to its gender. Here are some common
     masculine and feminine endings. Be aware of cognate nouns, which are
      close to English in spelling and meaning.

Masculine                                                           Feminine
-eau le bureau, le château                      -ence la différence, lexistence
-isme le tourisme, lidéalisme               -ie la tragédie, la compagnie
-ment le moment, le département     -ion la nation, la fonction
  -té luniversité, la diversité
-ude lattitude, la solitude
-ure la littérature, louverture

Watch out for exceptions: leau (f.) (water), la peau (skin), le silence

Nouns adopted from other languages are usually masculine: le jogging,
    le tennis, le jazz, le basket-ball. Exception: la pizza.
Some nouns referring to people indicate gender by their ending. The
    feminine form often ends in -e.

lAllemand the German (m.)                  lAllemande the German (f.)
lAméricain the American (m.)             lAméricaine the American (f.)
lami the friend (m.)                                    lamie the friend (f.)
l’étudiant the student (m.)                       l’étudiante the student (f.)
le Français the Frenchman                     la Française the Frenchwoman

Note that fi nal d, n, s, and t are silent in the masculine form, as in the
examples above. When followed by -e in the feminine form, d, n, s, and
t are pronounced.

Some nouns that end in -e and the names of some professions have
    only one singular form, used to refer to both males and females. In this
    case, the article remains the same whether the actual person is male or

lauteur (m.) (the author)                         la personne (the person)
lécrivain (m.) (the writer)                       le professeur (the teacher, professor)
lingénieur (m.) (the engineer)             la sentinelle (the guard, watchman)
le médecin (the physician)                    la victime (the victim)

For certain nouns referring to people, the gender of the individual is sometimes     indicated by the article alone. Such nouns most often end in -e; the spelling of the noun does not change when the gender changes.

le journaliste/la journaliste                       the journalist
le secrétaire/la secrétaire                       the secretary
le touriste/la touriste                                   the tourist

In contemporary Canadian French and among some other French speakers,
you may also see or read a feminine form for a few traditional professions (la

professeure, l’écrivaine, lauteure). For learners, however, its best to continue using the masculine forms of  these nouns to refer to both males and females.

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