Guide de grammaire

DÉTERMINANTS

§1A
Les articles

The form of an article depends on the following noun. You need to know whether the noun is masculine or feminine (using your Dictionnaire to check as needed) and singular or plural (-s, -x). Some articles have a special singular form used before a vowel sound (a, e, i, o, u, h).

a, one

un m.
une f.

the

le m.
la f.
l’ vowel
les pl.

of/from the, some

du m.
de la f.
de l’ vowel
des pl.

at/to the

au m.
à la f.
à l’ vowel
aux pl.

this, these

ce m.
cet m. + vowel
cette f.
ces pl.

§1B
Les possessifs

The form of a possessive depends on the following noun (the thing being possessed). You need to know whether the noun is masculine or feminine (using your Dictionnaire to check as needed) and singular or plural (-s, -x). Singular nouns that start with a vowel sound (a, e, i, o, u, h) take the same form as the masculine.

my

mon m./vowel
ma f.
mes pl.

your (fam.)

ton m./vowel
ta f.
tes pl.

his/her

son m./vowel
sa f.
ses pl.

our

notre m./f.
nos pl.

your (pl.)

votre m./f.
vos pl.

their

leur m./f.
leurs pl.

§1C
Les adjectifs

The form of an adjective depends on the noun it describes. You need to know whether the noun is masculine or feminine (using your Dictionnaire to check as needed) and singular or plural (-s, -x). Adjectives usually go after the noun they modify. A few go before the noun: grand, petit, jeune, bon, beau, joli, vieux, mauvais. Most adjectives follow the regular pattern, adding -e for feminine forms and -s for plurals, but some have irregular forms, which you can check using your Dictionnaire. The irregular adjectives beau, nouveau and vieux have special forms before a masculine singular noun that starts with a vowel sound (a, e, i, o, u, h).

regular

—   m. sing.
f. sing.

m. pl.
es f. pl.

beautiful

beau m. sing.
bel m. sing. vowel
belle f. sing.

beaux m. pl.
belles f. pl.

new

nouveau m. sing.
nouvel m. sing. vowel
nouvelle f. sing.

nouveaux m. pl.
nouvelles f. pl.

old

vieux m. sing.
vieil m. sing. vowel
vieille f. sing.

vieux m. pl.
vieilles f. pl.

§1D
Les démonstratifs

The form of a demonstrative depends on the noun it describes. You need to know whether the noun is masculine or feminine (using your Dictionnaire to check as needed) and singular or plural (-s, -x).

which

quel m. singular
quelle f. singular

quels m. plural
quelles f. plural

which one

lequel m. singular
laquelle f. singular

lesquels m. plural
lesquelles f. plural

that one (etc.)

celui m. singular
celle f. singular

ceux m. plural
celles f. plural

all

tout m. sing.
toute f. sing.

tous m. pl.
toutes f. pl.

PRONOMS

§2A
Les pronoms personnels

Use subject pronouns as the subject of a verb. Use disjunctive (disjoint) pronouns for emphasis and after prepositions (chez, avec, de, pour…). Object pronouns are placed directly in front of the verb, e.g. Je le donne à Marie. When giving a positive command, put the object pronoun after the verb, e.g. Donne-le à Marie !

sujet

je I
tu you (familiar)

nous we
vous you (polite/plural)

on ppl, we (slang)
il he, it (m.)
elle she, it (f.)

ils they (m./mixed)
elles they (f.)

disjoint

moi me
toi you (fam.)

nous we
vous you (pl.)

lui him
elle she

eux them (m./mixed)
elles them (f.)

objet

me (m’) me, to/for me, myself
te (t’) you, to/for you, yourself (fam.)

nous us, to/for us, ourselves
vous you, to/for you, yourselves (pl.)

le (l’) him, it (direct object)
la (l’) her, it (direct object)
lui to/for him, her (indirect object)

les them (direct object)
leur to/for them (indirect object)

se (s’) himself, herself, themselves

§2B
Les pronoms relatifs

whom/that: que (qu’) + new subject

Voilà le garçon que j’ai vu.
Je n’aime pas le livre qu’on étudie en classe.

who/that: qui + same subject

Tu connais la famille qui habite ici ?
Il y a un prof qui s’appelle M. Dupont.

§2C
Les pronoms y et en

y: replacing à

Je vais à l’hôtel. → J’y vais.
Je joue au foot. → J’y joue.

en: replacing de or quantities

Je parle du sport. → J’en parle.
J’ai trois livres. → J’en ai trois.

VERBES

§3A
Les verbes clés irréguliers

Irregular verbs usually have a base form ending in -ir or -re and have special forms that break the rules presented below. Here are présent forms of the four most common irregular verbs for quick reference. Use the Conjugator tool to check other forms and other irregular verbs.

être
to be (am, is, are)

je suis
tu es
il/elle/on est
nous sommes
vous êtes
ils/elles sont

avoir
to have

j’ai
tu as
il/elle/on a
nous avons
vous avez
ils/elles ont

aller
to go

je vais
tu vas
il/elle/on va
nous allons
vous allez
ils/elles vont

faire
to do, make

je fais
tu fais
il/elle/on fait
nous faisons
vous faites
ils/elles font

§3B
L’infinitif (to do)

marcher
to walk

finir
to finish

prendre
to take

The infinitif is a special verb form that often gets translated as “to…” in English. It ends in -er, -ir or -re, and when you look up a French verb in a dictionary, the infinitif is the form you’ll get. Use the infinitif after phrases that express what you like to do, want to do, are going to do, and so on.

  • J’aime regarder la télé.
    I like to watch television.
  • Elle déteste travailler.
    She hates to work.
  • Nous allons manger au café.
    We’re going to eat at the café.

§3C
Le présent (does, is doing)

marcher

je marche

tu marches
il/elle/on marche
nous marchons
vous marchez
ils/elles marchent

The French présent covers both types of English present tenses. For regular verbs, remove the infinitive ending (-er) and add the highlighted présent ending that matches the subject of the verb. For irregular verbs (with infinitives in -ir or -re), use the Conjugator to check forms.

  • Il travaille dans un restaurant.
    He works in a restaurant.
    He is working in a restaurant.
  • Nous marchons à l’école.
    We walk to school.
    We are walking to school.

§3D
L’imparfait (was doing, used to do)

marcher

je marchais

tu marchais
il/elle/on marchait
nous marchions
vous marchiez
ils/elles marchaient

The imparfait indicates a habitual or repeated action in the past. For regular verbs, remove the infinitive ending (-er) and add the highlighted imparfait ending that matches the subject of the verb. For irregular verbs (with infinitives in -ir or -re), use the Conjugator to check forms.

  • Il travaillait dans un restaurant.
    He was working in a restaurant.
    He used to work in a restaurant.
  • Nous marchions à l’école.
    We were walking to school.
    We used to walk to school.

§3E
Le conditionnel (would do)

marcher

je marcherais

tu marcherais
il/elle/on marcherait
nous marcherions
vous marcheriez
ils/elles marcheraient

Use the conditionnel to describe what someone would do. Regular verbs use the same endings as the imparfait, adding those endings to the entire infinitive. For irregular verbs (with infinitives in -ir or -re), use the Conjugator to check forms. The conditionnel often appears alongside an “if” (si) clause in the imparfait.

  • Il travaillerait dans un restaurant s’il aimait faire la cuisine.
    He would work in a restaurant if he liked cooking.
  • Nous marcherions à l’école s’il ne pleuvait pas.
    We would walk to school if it wasn’t raining.

§3F
Le futur simple (will do)

marcher

je marcherai

tu marcheras
il/elle/on marchera
nous marcherons
vous marcherez
ils/elles marcheront

Use the futur simple to describe what someone will do in the distant future. For regular verbs, add the highlighted endings to the entire infinitive. For irregular verbs (with infinitives in -ir or -re), use the Conjugator to check forms. All verbs use the same -r- stem for the conditionnel and futur simple, so if you know one, you know the other even if it’s irregular. Note how the futur simple endings resemble forms of avoir.

  • Il travaillera dans un restaurant.
    He will work in a restaurant.
  • Nous marcherons à l’école.
    We will walk to school.

§3G
Le futur proche (going to do)

Use the futur proche to say what someone is going to do in the near future. The structure is the same for all verbs. Start with a form of aller “to go” as the helping verb. Then give the infinitive of the main verb. Example: il va marcher “he’s going to walk”.

helping verb

je vais
tu vas
il/elle/on va
nous allons
vous allez
ils/elles vont

infinitive

er
ir
re

§3H
Le passé composé (did, has done)

Use the passé composé to tell what someone did or has done. The structure is the same for all verbs. Start with a form of avoir “to have” as the helping verb. Then change the main verb to its past participle. Example: il a marché “he walked”.

with avoir

helping verb

j’ai
tu as
il/elle/on a
nous avons
vous avez
ils/elles ont

past participle

-er → é
-ir → i*
-re → u*

*common, but double check on Conjugator.

with être

These verbs use être as their helping verb in the passé composé. The past participle must agree with the subject. Examples: il est allé “he went”, elle est allée “she went”.

helping verb

je suis
tu es
il/elle/on est
nous sommes
vous êtes
ils/elles sont

past participle

aller → allé(e)(s)
arriver → arrivé(e)(s)
descendre → descendu(e)(s)
devenir → devenu(e)(s)
entrer → entré(e)(s)
monter → monté(e)(s)
mourir → mort(e)(s)
naître → né(e)(s)
partir → parti(e)(s)
rentrer → rentré(e)(s)
rester → resté(e)(s)
revenir → revenu(e)(s)
sortir → sorti(e)(s)
tomber → tombé(e)(s)
venir → venu(e)(s)

STRUCTURES

§4A
Les questions

yes/no questions

Ask a yes/no question by changing the tone of your voice or starting with the phrase Est-ce qu(e).

  • Tu marches ? → Est-ce que tu marches ?
  • Il mange ? → Est-ce qu’il mange ?
informal questions

Informal questions are worded like sentences, but with a question word in the place of the missing detail.

  • Qui marche vers la porte ?
  • Il y a combien de livres ?
formal (inversion) questions

In very formal language, the subject and verb are flipped. They’re joined by a hyphen, and -t- is inserted when the verb form ends in a vowel and the subject starts with a vowel.

  • Vous parlez anglais ? → Parlez-vous anglais ?
  • Il marche ? → Marche-t-il ?
  • Nous partons à quelle heure ? → À quelle heure partons-nous ?

§4B
La négation

Following the rules below, add ne (n’) … pas to a complete sentence to make it negative (don’t, doesn’t). To make a short phrase negative, just use pas: pas maintenant “not now”, pas moi “not me”.

one-word verb forms

Place ne (n’) … pas around the verb.

  • Il marche. → Il ne marche pas.
  • Elle aime les maths. → Elle n’aime pas les maths.
two-word verb forms

Place ne (n’) … pas around the helping verb.

  • Je vais manger. → Je ne vais pas manger.
  • Ils ont étudié. → Ils n’ont pas étudier.
with il y a

The negative of il y a is il n’y a pas. This negative expression often involves the quantity pas de (d’) “not any”.

  • Il y a un livre. → Il y n’y a pas de livre.
  • Il y a un hôtel ici. → Il n’y a pas d’hôtel ici.
  • Il y a des crayons là-bas. → Il n’y a pas de crayons là-bas.
with object pronouns

Object pronouns are always bound directly to their verb. Place ne (n’) … pas around the object-verb group.

  • Il m’a parlé. → Il ne m’a pas parlé.
  • Elle me les a donnés. → Elle ne me les a pas donnés.

§4C
La quantité

Below are some common quantity expressions. These expressions take the place of other articles (un, une, des…). Remember that de becomes d’ before a vowel sound.

pas de (pas d’) not any
  • Je n’ai pas de crayons.
  • Il n’y a pas d’ordinateur sur la table.
beaucoup de (beaucoup d’) lots of
  • J’ai beaucoup de devoirs.
  • Tu as beaucoup d’amis.
trop de (trop d’) too much/many
  • Le prof donne trop de devoirs.
  • Il y a trop d’élèves dans la classe.

§4D
Les prépositions de lieu

Below are rules for saying “in, at, to” a certain place. We use the same word for “in, at, to” regardless of meaning. It’s the type of place that determines the choice of word.

countries and regions

Use en for countries and regions that are feminine (la) or start with a vowel (l’).

  • la France → en France
  • la Louisiane → en Louisiane
  • l’Italie → en Italie

Use au for countries and regions that are masculine (le).

  • le Sénégal → au Sénégal
  • le Canada → au Canada
  • le Tennessee → au Tennessee

Use aux for countries and regions that are plural (les).

  • les États-Unis → aux États-Unis
  • les Bahamas → aux Bahamas
  • les Antilles → aux Antilles
cities, stores, etc.

Use à for cities, stores and other smaller locations.

  • Paris → à Paris
  • Walmart → à Walmart
CONCEPTS

§5A
Les accents

Accent marks are used in French to clarify pronunciation and distinguish similar words (e.g. ou “or”, “where”).

  • Accent aigu (é): appears only on the letter e and sounds like /ay/ as in “day”.
  • Accent grave (à, è, ù): pronounce the vowel clearly and openly.
  • Accent circonflexe (â, ê, î, ô, û): pronounce the vowel clearly and openly.
  • Tréma (ë, ï, ü): pronounce the vowel separately, e.g. Noël /no-ell/.
  • Cédille (ç): used before a, o and u to show that a c is pronounced /s/, e.g. façade /fah-sahd/.

§5B
L’élision et l’apostrophe

ce → c’
de → d’
je → j’
la → l’
le → l’
me → m’
ne → n’
que → qu’
se → s’
te → t’

The French vowel sounds are a, e, i, o, u, y and h (which is silent in French). Several words have a special form used when the following word starts with a vowel sound. The words in the box are attached directly to a following word that starts with a vowel sound. In speech, the combination is pronounced like a single word, shown in writing with an apostrophe (’). For example:

  • je + aime = j’aime
  • de + Élisabeth = d’Élisabeth
  • le + hôtel = l’hotel