Gender and Number of Nouns and Definite Articles
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.
Masculine le les
Feminine la les
Masculine and feminine l’ les
before a vowel sound
or mute h
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 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 don’t 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.
l’ami (m.) the friend (m.) l’histoire (f.) the story, history
l’amie (f.) the friend (f.) l’homme (m.) the man
l’anglais (m.) English (language) l’hôtel (m.) the hotel
l’architecte (m. or f.) the architect l’île (f. ) the island
l’emploi (m.) the job l’orange (f.) the orange (fruit)
l’énergie (f.) energy l’université (f.) the university
l’enfant (m. or f.) the child (m. or f.) l’usine (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.
C’est l’amie de ma mère. That’s (She’s) my mother’s 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—
l’homme, for example—are 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-d’oeuvre 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), l’hôtel (m.) (the hotel), l’horloge (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: l’homme (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.
-eau le bureau, le château -ence la différence, l’existence
-isme le tourisme, l’idéalisme -ie la tragédie, la compagnie
-ment le moment, le département -ion la nation, la fonction
-té l’université, la diversité
-ude l’attitude, la solitude
-ure la littérature, l’ouverture
Watch out for exceptions: l’eau (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.
l’Allemand the German (m.) l’Allemande the German (f.)
l’Américain the American (m.) l’Américaine the American (f.)
l’ami the friend (m.) l’amie 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
l’auteur (m.) (the author) la personne (the person)
l’écrivain (m.) (the writer) le professeur (the teacher, professor)
l’ingénieur (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, l’auteure). For learners, however, it’s best to continue using the masculine forms of these nouns to refer to both males and females.