If you’re learning French, you’ll come across a ton of nouns that are categorised into different groups.
They’re an essential part of the French language.
The difficult part is remembering French nouns that you learn in your French lessons and knowing how to use them in sentences.
As well as the different genders of French nouns, you’ve also got to bear in mind that French nouns change when pluralised.
And the French adjectives that describe them also change their forms.
How do you recognise the gender of a French noun, and how do you pluralise them?
Oh, and what are the main categories of French nouns you should know about?
Read this guide to find out. 😊
What are French nouns?
Also called substantifs, French nouns are words that name objects, people, locations, abstract ideas or concepts, animals, months of the year and days of the week.
Here are some French nouns that are commonly used in French-speaking countries:
- Le chat
- La fenêtre
- La porte
- La maison
- Le sac
- Les lunettes de soleil
- Le verre à vin
How can you tell if a French noun is masculine or feminine?
Unlike in English, where we use the word “the” or the articles “a” or “an” to identify nouns, French nouns are always masculine or feminine.
You’ll tell the difference by taking note of the article that comes before the noun, and by looking at the last letter of the noun.
If a French noun ends with the letter “e” they are normally classed as feminine nouns, and you’ll notice that they’re always accompanied by the articles la or une.
If a French noun ends with a different letter in the alphabet, it is normally classed as a masculine noun, and you’ll use the articles le or un to identify them.
But, wait a minute. It’s not always that straightforward.
Some French nouns don’t abide by these rules.
For example, the French noun le fromage ends in an e, and you might think it’s feminine. But it is masculine.
There’s also an extra little tip for identifying masculine and feminine French nouns.
If the word ends in ment, age, or oir, it’s likely the noun is masculine. If it ends in tion, euse, or té, it’s likely the noun is feminine.
I recommend that you always learn the article and the French noun in pairs, though.
So, don’t just learn fromage, memorise le fromage so you know it’s masculine.
Pluralization: how do you form a plural French noun?
French nouns can be classified as singular or plural.
A singular French noun is a noun that describes one object, or person. A plural French noun describes several objects or people.
This means you’ll need to pluralize your French noun if you want to describe several objects. Here’s how to do it.
Pluralizing the article for masculine and feminine French nouns
When you pluralize a masculine French noun, its article must also be pluralized.
The main masculine articles you’ll need to pluralize are un and le, meaning “a” and “the” respectively. The plural version of un is des and the plural of le is les.
The main feminine articles you’ll need to pluralize are une and la.
To pluralize these feminine French articles, follow the same rules above for the masculine articles. Une becomes des and la becomes les.
La fenêtre becomes les fenêtres when it’s pluralized.
As well as pluralizing the article, you’ll also need to pluralize the nouns themselves.
Adding -s to French nouns for pluralizing
Adding -s to some French nouns can help you pluralize them. A few examples of this rule include:
La maison/Les maisons/des maisons
La porte/Les portes/des portes
Exceptions to the pluralization rules for French nouns
If a noun ends in an -s, -x, or -z, their plural form is no different to its singular form, but you still need to change the article.
Le nez becomes les nez in the plural form
La noix becomes les noix in the plural form
How do you pluralize a French noun that ends in -eau, -eu, -ou and -al?
To pluralize a French noun ending in -eau, -eu, -ou or -al just add an x to the end of the word and pluralize the article.
Le gâteau becomes les gâteaux in the plural form
Le château becomes les châteaux in the plural form
French nouns and their accompanying adjectives: how should you use them?
French adjectives that describe nouns must be adjusted to match the noun they describe.
English speakers don’t have to worry about this.
In the sentence “I want a blue shirt”, the word “blue” doesn’t need to be changed. In French, however, this adjective does need changing and the sentence would look like this:
Je veux une chemise bleue
Feminine nouns must be described by feminine adjectives.
Since the noun une chemise is a feminine French noun, we must describe it with the feminine adjective bleue.
To understand these rules, you’ll need to consider how the endings of French adjectives change when using them with feminine nouns.
- If an adjective’s suffix is -eux and you’re using it to describe a feminine noun, you’ll have to change the ending to -euse. For instance, if you wanted to say “that lady is a happy singer”, the adjective heureux needs to be modified. Here’s how the sentence would look: Cette dame est une chanteuse heureuse.
- With adjectives that end in an f you should change this to a ve when describing a feminine noun. For example: Cette femme est passive et ne travaille pas beaucoup (“The woman is passive and doesn’t work much”).
- If the adjective’s suffix is er, you’ll need to change it to ère when describing a feminine noun. La baie était amère (“The berry was bitter”).
- If the adjective’s suffix is -é, you’ll have to add a letter -e when you’re describing a feminine noun. For example, you must add another -e to risqué in the following sentence because la tâche is a feminine noun: La tâche était très risquée (“The task was very risky”).
- If a French adjective has a silent e at the end, you won’t need to make any alterations to it. For example, there the adjective facile doesn’t change in the following examples even though la tâche is a feminine French noun, and le projet is a masculine French noun:
Cette tâche était facile (“that task was easy”)
Ce projet était facile (“that project was easy”)
What are the main groups of French nouns that you should know?
Now let’s look at the main groups of French nouns.
These include proper nouns, countable and uncountable nouns and abstract and concrete nouns.
Proper nouns and common French nouns
French proper nouns include peoples’ names, locations (like the names of towns and cities), the months of the year and the days of the week.
These are some typical examples of French proper nouns:
The main difference between French proper nouns and English proper nouns is that many French proper nouns are not capitalized.
So, for instance, you don’t capitalize the month of the year or days of the week when writing the date.
Common French nouns are different to proper French nouns.
Whereas proper nouns can be thought of as an official name or title for something, and should be capitalized, common nouns tend to be generic.
Consider the difference between the following sentences to clarify this:
J’aime le chocolat. C’est délicieux et a une belle texture.
J’aime Kinder Bueno. C’est délicieux et a une belle texture.
In the first sentence, a common French noun is used — which is chocolat.
It’s not capitalized, and it would only be capitalized if it began a sentence.
In the second sentence, a proper noun is used — which is Kinder Bueno.
It’s a brand or name of a type of chocolate that should always be capitalized.
Countable and uncountable nouns
In French, some nouns are countable nouns and others are uncountable. If you can count the noun, it’s a countable noun.
Le pomme de terre (meaning ‘potato’ in French) is a countable noun because, if there are many of these, you can count them using numerals.
However, if you can’t count the noun, it’s an uncountable noun.
L’encre (meaning “ink” in French) is an uncountable noun because it’s grammatically incorrect to say un ‘encre’, deux ‘encres’.
Instead, we would have to say “some ink” or “two drops of ink” and use units to describe this uncountable noun correctly.
To tell the difference between countable and uncountable nouns, pay attention to the articles used to describe them.
For example, countable nouns use the articles un, une, or des, whereas uncountable French nouns use articles known as partitive articles such as du, de la or de l’.
Abstract and concrete nouns
The difference between French abstract and concrete nouns is that abstract nouns cannot be touched or smelled, heard or tasted or seen.
Abstract nouns are concepts, feelings and that we describe in words.
Here are some examples of French abstract nouns:
- Liberté (freedom)
- Égalité (equality)
- Fraternité (fraternity)
- Le bonheur (happiness)
- La tristesse (sadness)
- La depression (depression)
In contrast, concrete nouns are nouns that we can physically touch or smell, hear, taste or see.
We can interpret them with our senses and they exist physically in the world.
Some examples of French concrete nouns include:
- Le clavier
- Les clés
- Le livre
- Le stylo
- Le crayon
- La glace
- La pluie
- La médecine
How to learn and remember French nouns easily
As mentioned, your first step to remembering French nouns easily is to learn them with their article.
This will make sentence constructions easier.
Then you might want to:
- Create your flashcards with English on one side and French nouns on the other.
- Make up mnemonics to help you remember new words.
- Stay aware of false cognates, but equally use actual cognates to help you (like le chocolat).
- Use the Memrise app and vocabulary builders to add French nouns to your vocabulary.
- French resources like French Today can also help you if you want to build your vocabulary further.
- Complete exercises that focus on a noun, gender and adjective agreement, as well as pluralization.
- Watch films when you’re more confident and see if you understand the French nouns being described.
- Look at our extensive list of French courses to learn more.
Have you got any advice to help others learn French nouns?
Share it with us in the comments below!