One of the first problem encountered when learning words is understanding that each word in the French language is either masculine or feminine. You cannot learn the word without its article and knowing its type. In French, there is a masculine and a feminine applied to living creatures and objects. There is no neutral like in the English ‘it’.
Knowing if an object is feminine or masculine will be
essential to build a grammatically correct sentence as all qualifying words
used for that particular object will take the feminine or masculine.
For instance a green balloonor a green table in English will become un ballon vert(masculine) et une table verte (feminine).
There are a few rules that can help you remember if a word
is feminine or masculine. However, there are also a lot of exceptions (like it
is often the case in French language!…). As such, learning by heart, practice
and experience will be your best options.
So why is there a
masculine and feminine?
Well this is not to annoy you! It dates back thousands of
years when our languages were formed. French forms part of the Indo-European
language and is known as a latin base language.
There are many different hypothesis on why there is a
masculine, feminine and neutral. For some linguists, it seems that this
differentiation was linked to the religious beliefs of the people of the time
and/or how they saw themselves in relation to the World and Nature. Pagan
religions, for instance, had a tendancy to give a soul and sex to non-living
objects. In some religions, objects were linked to their significance, for
instance did they have a strong maternal significance? In that case, they were
feminine. Was there a strong feminine masculine symbolic opposition?, such as the
moon vs the sun, la lune (F) vs le soleil (M).
For other linguists, it seems that the feminine applied to
things that needed a special definition, when masculine was applied to objects
that did not need a particular definition.
The use of masculine, feminine and neutral was also strongly
dependant on each culture. Latin and Greek for instance, did not apply
masculine and feminine the same way.
Time, invasions (ie languages mixing), cultural and
behavioral changes in societies made today’s French and how we use the
masculine and feminine.
If you want to know more about the fascinating story of the masculine/feminine came to be, you can read this really interesting article.
Now, some basic rule
to help you
You may have heard at school that if a word ends in ‘e’ it
is feminine and by a consonant it is masculine. Well, French being French,
there are many exceptions!
Even if the vowel ‘e’ builds the feminine in an adjective
for instance, it is not always feminine in a world, far from that!
There are some basic rule that may help you. However, beware
of the many exceptions that practice will teach you!
Let’s start with the masculine
Usually a word will always be masculine when finishing by
L’apostrophe or The apostrophe “ ‘ ”is very commonly used in French in both oral and written forms.
The apostrophe will replace a vowel at the end of the word
to allow the sentence rhythm to flow better when placed in from of another word
starting with a vowel.
BUT there is a rule to when the apostrophe will replace a vowel and it is fairly consistent!
1. For the vowels ‘e’ and ‘a’
When the word finishes by ‘e’ and ‘a’ and is placed is front
of a word starting with a vowel or an ‘h’.
J’ai and not Je ai
Nous n’avons pas
and not Nous ne avons pas
And also : when building a sentence with ‘si’ (if), the ‘i’ of ‘si’ will drop when placed in front of ‘il’
S’il and not si il
A word starting by ‘Y’ will never follow that rule. Le yoga and not l’yoga.
2.Only to be applied for specific words
only applies to certain words that you can learn
Simple words with one syllable such as
La (the, feminine)
De (of, from)
Me (me, reflexive verb)
Te (you, reflexive verb)
Se (he or she, reflexive verb)
Ne (not as is ne….pas)
Specific descriptive words
Lorsque (when, followed by action verb)
Puisque (as, for a consequence)
Parce que (because)
Tel que (as is)
In speaking French, the apostrophe will be even more common when people want to shorten a sentence to be able to speak quicker. This will often be bad grammar short cut. But you will need to know this can happen so that you can understand what the sentence mean.
Eventually, when your French is advanced enough, you will be able to build your sentence with these short cuts. This will help you be recognised you as true French speaker. HOWEVER, please learn and integrate the correct ways first! To avoid any confusion and if you use theseshort cuts as a beginner in French, French people will only think you really speak badly!!!
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