les noms or
are words that refer to creatures, objects, actions or abstractions.
They are defined in French by their gender
feminine), their number
(singular or plural), and their
in French have a gender,
either masculine or feminine.
When nouns define human beings, the gender of the noun normally
corresponds to that of the person or people concerned. Thus un
homme (masculine) and une
femme (feminine). There are a
few exceptions; the most high-profile of these is une
personne (feminine), a
person, whether the person is male or female.
Many nouns that can either refer
to males or to
females have masculine and
feminine forms. In some cases an identical noun can be used in either
gender: example un
gendarme, une gendarme (a policeman / woman).
In other cases male and females are designated by a masculine
and a feminine form of the same word: example un
boulanger / une boulangère (A baker,
a female baker).
In other cases there is little consensus; there is no clear
rule in modern French as to whether a female teacher should be referred
to as un
professeur, une professeur, une professeuse, or
une professeure. All four forms are used, even in
When nouns define objects or abstractions, they still must have a
gender. The gender can sometimes be determined (or guessed) by the
noun's ending. While there are a few endings which are more
less exclusive to feminine nouns, such as -ette
the gender of most nouns just has to be learned case by case, and it is
not always easy. Why does one say le
but la chanson?
The reasons are etymological (historic) – but that is of
little help: genders just have to be learned.
in French must either be in the singular or the plural. The plural of
most French nouns is indicated in written French by the addition of the
plural marker, normally "s".
is not pronounced in spoken French.
homme, des hommes - un tracteur, des tracteurs.
Most - though not all - nouns ending in -al,
or -ail, form their plural
/ chevaux, général /
généraux etc. but festival
As for the French word for
un ail, its plural form is des
Nouns ending in -ou.
Most have a normal plural in -s;
but eight common nouns take their plural in -x
caillou, chou, genou, hibou, joujou, pou.
voyou, des voyous, un hibou, deux hiboux.
Nouns ending in
-s or in -x.
These remain unchanged in the plural
tapis, des tapis - un époux, des
Words borrowed from English which would take an -es
in the plural in English just take an -s
sandwich, des sandwichs
The plurality of a noun is also indicated by the determiner,
and by any adjectives
that describe the noun.
Nouns cannot normally stand alone in French. Except in a small number
of (mostly common) fixed expressions, such as j'ai
peur, all nouns except proper nouns (i.e. names)
– whether in the subject of predicate of a sentence
be preceded by a determiner
prédéterminant). This can either be:
la, un, etc...),
- a possessive adjective
ma, mes, ton, etc.),
- a demonstrative adjective
- a quantifying
an interrogative adjective
- a numeral
or - in the case of compound nouns -
When the predeterminer is an article or an adjective, it agrees in number and gender with the noun.
Unlike English, a noun in French cannot be preceded by another noun in
the possessive form, as there is no inflected possessive form for nouns
In English one can say "Rosemary's
baby". In French this must be "Le
bébé de Rosemary"; in French, the
determiner here is Le,
(Except, of course, in the title of the movie which, in France, has
always been know as Rosemary's
Baby.... but that is English, not French!)
The determiner comes at the start of the noun group in French. It may
be followed by one or more adjectives,
from among those adjectives which, in French, precede or can precede
The determiners are in bold
My big idea !
Le premier grand
orage de l'été.
The first big storm of summer / Summer's first big storm..
Cette dame et sa très
This lady and her very old aunt.
Twenty-five beautiful girls.
Les trois plus
grands écrivains de l'histoire.
The three greatest writers in history.
What a lovely story!
Plusieurs de mes
friends, / Several of my good friends.
After a noun
is no need
for anything to follow a noun; a noun group is complete
as long as it has a
determiner and a noun.
Nouns can be and often are followed by adjectives. Indeed, most French
adjectives follow the noun. Example: un
livre intéressant. See Adjectives
Nouns can also be followed by (postmodified by) a prepositional phrase
such as a possessive form with de.
livre de mon voisin.
can also be completed by a subordinate clause, such as a relative clause.
livre que j'ai lu. Le livre à acheter.