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Your Guide to Mastering French Grammar Rules for Everyday Use – Rosetta Stone


The French language is rich with rules, patterns, and exceptions. As you master basic French words and phrases and develop a deeper understanding of the structure of the language, you’ll be able to comprehend French in greater detail and communicate with clarity. French grammar rules, as with any language, are like blueprints. They set a standard for how the word categories work (parts of speech) together. 

We’ve put together this helpful guide to help you navigate grammar rules in the French language so you can speak French with confidence. Learning French grammar rules is a good support alongside Rosetta Stone’s immersive lessons. Our engaging activities help you practice what you’ve learned and prepare you for real-life conversations.

Are French grammar rules different from English? 

The short answer is that, yes, there are significant differences in both the vocabulary and grammatical structure of the two languages, but you’ll also notice patterns and rules that are similar to English. 

Sometimes the structure is similar to a word-by-word translation of English:

  • Le chat a mangé le poisson. = The cat ate the fish. (The cat has eaten the fish). 

And other times it really isn’t! 

  • Le chat ne l’a-t-il pas mangé ? = Didn’t the cat eat it?  (The cat not it had “t” he not eaten?) 

A good rule to follow is to think of a sentence in French and learn patterns or “recipes” for your French idea, rather than trying to translate word-by-word to or from English. Following the most common structures and patterns in French becomes increasingly easier as you uncover some of the rules and begin to acquire these patterns naturally. 

Parts of speech in French

Les parties du discours (parts of speech in French) are categories of words based on how they function in a sentence. Knowing which category to use and how they connect together can help you build a sentence that expresses your idea clearly and also sounds correct. 

Use this handy chart as we will refer to the parts of speech in the sections below. 

French English Function
le nom / le substantif noun indicates the person, place, thing, or idea
le pronom pronoun replaces a noun
l’article article precedes a noun and gives you information about gender, number, and more
le verbe verb indicates action or state of being
l’adjectif adjective describes a noun
l’adverbe adverb modifies or describes a verb or an adjective
la conjonction conjunction links words or clauses
la préposition preposition tells the relationship between nouns or pronouns

Grammar rules for nouns in French

A noun refers to a person, place, thing, or idea. Common nouns in French share these features: 

  • They have grammatical gender (masculine or feminine) which does not change.
  • They can be singular or plural.
  • They are usually preceded by a determiner, such as an article or a demonstrative or possessive adjective (some, this, my), which can give you important information about the noun.

Gender of nouns

Since French descended from Latin, all nouns in French have grammatical gender. They are either masculine or feminine and non-variable. This means that adjectives and articles will change to match or agree with the gender of the noun, not the other way around. 

Whether a noun is assigned to the category of masculine or feminine does not correspond to the gender of the human that uses, owns, or is associated with the noun. The gender comes from the noun itself. Sometimes you will see a noun has a different meaning based on the masculine or feminine article assigned to it.

  • le livre (the book) vs la livre (the pound)
  • le voile (the veil) vs la voile (the sail) 
  • le mode (the way/the manner) vs la mode (fashion/the style)

French gender rules apply not only to nouns but also articles, adjectives, and some verb agreements. 

Singular and plural nouns

There are some rules to pluralization, but of course, there are always exceptions! In order to make most nouns plural, it is sufficient to add “s” to the singular form, but here are a few other helpful patterns just as we have in English.

Singular ending Singular example Plural ending Plural example
ending in “-s,” “-x,” or “-z” la voix (the voice)  no change in the plural form les voix (the voices)
ending in “-au,” “-eau,”  le château (the castle)  add “-x” to form the plural les châteaux (the castles)
ending in “-al” le cheval (the horse)  change “-al” to “-aux” les chevaux (the horses) 

>> Using French pronouns can make your conversations more natural!

How to use articles in French

Articles are used with nouns to give important information about the noun such as the gender, number, and whether the noun is specifically identified or general. 

  • Definite articles are equivalent to the English word “the.”  
  • Indefinite articles are equivalent to “a” or “some” when the noun is countable, like strawberries or carrots.  
  • Partitive articles are equivalent to “some” or “any” when the noun is uncountable, like sugar or water.
Form Definite article Indefinite article Partitive article
masculine singular le un du
feminine singular la une de la
masculine or feminine plural les des des
masculine or feminine singular in front of a vowel (definite and partitive only)  l’ de l’

When are French articles different from English? 

The definite article is used more often than in English. You’ll see it used with

  • abstract nouns: 
    • L’amitié est plus importante que l’argent. = Friendship is more important than money. 
  • academic subjects:
    • J’étudie l’algèbre. = I study algebra.
  • countries:
    • Un jour, je vais visiter la France. = One day, I am going to visit France
  • date:
    • Aujourd’hui est le 5 septembre.= Today is September 5th
  • days (to mean “every” or “on”):
    • Je joue au tennis le lundi. = I play tennis on Mondays.   
  • geographic features:
    • La Corse est une île dans la Méditerranée. = Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean.
  • languages:
    • Je vais étudier l’italien et l’anglais cette année. = I am going to study Italian and English this year. 
  • parts of the body:
    • J’ai mal à la tête. = My head hurts.  
  • titles when talking about someone:
    • Le docteur Simon n’est pas là. = Doctor Simon isn’t here. 

You’ll also omit the indefinite article with professions, unless used with an adjective. 

  • Elle est enseignante. = She is a teacher. 
  • Elle est une enseignante créative. = She is a creative teacher.  

Creating adjective agreement in French

Adjectives must agree in both gender (masculine / feminine) and number (singular / plural) with the noun they are describing. Matching or agreeing the adjective is usually a matter of following French gender rules for adjectives. In the simplest of cases, this means adding “-e” to make an adjective feminine, and “-s” to make it plural, but there are many other possible spelling changes and sometimes even special forms of adjectives in the feminine or plural forms. It’s helpful to learn the most common French adjectives in addition to the rules and exceptions for using them, but here are some examples to get you started.

  • Le chapeau est bleu. = The hat is blue
  • Les chaussettes sont bleues. = The socks are blue. 
  • Le costume est beau. = The suit is beautiful
  • Les jupes sont belles. = The skirts are beautiful

Compare these examples.  

  • L’hiver est froid. = Winter is cold.
  • L’hiver est une saison froide. = Winter is a cold season. 
  • Henri est créatif. = Henri is creative. 
  • Henri est une personne créative. = Henri is a creative person. 

You can see that the adjective matches the noun that it is directly modifying, even when the subject and overall meaning of the sentence haven’t changed that much.

French grammar rules for word order

French word order in a sentence can often be similar to English, as it typically follows the pattern subject-verb-object. 

  • Je caresse le chien. = I pet the dog. 

However, you’ll find that French grammar rules affect the word order in many sentences. Adjectives usually follow the noun they modify except in certain cases. 

  • Je cherche un manteau noir. = I’m looking for a black coat. 
  • Je vais acheter une cravate blanche. = I’m going to buy a white tie. 
  • Je porte une belle chemise noire et une nouvelle jupe grise. = I’m wearing a beautiful black shirt and a new gray skirt.

Object pronouns come in front of the verb. 

  • Le lit ? Je l’ai déjà fait. = The bed? I already made it. 
  • Le chien me regarde. = The dog is looking at me. 

French expresses possession using “de.” Without the unique possession shown by the “ ‘s” in English, we start with the noun that is possessed, followed by de (of) and then the owner. 

  • C’est le livre de Matthew. = This is Matthew’s book. 
  • Nana est la mère de mon père. = Nana is my father’s mother. 

Adverbs in the past tense come between the helping verb and the past participle.

  • J’ai très bien mangé ce soir. = I ate very well this evening.  
  • Elle a beaucoup travaillé.  = She worked a lot

French adverbs of frequency often come after the verb. 

  • Je m’endors toujours avant mon mari. = I always fall asleep before my husband. 
  • Je chante souvent dans la voiture. = I often sing in the car. 

Conjugating French verbs 

Subject-verb agreement is an important concept when learning to form French sentences. The verb forms need to agree or match the subject. This change of form, called conjugation, can follow regular patterns or can break the rules unpredictably. We call these rule-breakers irregular verbs, and this group includes many of the most common verbs in French

There are different conjugations and specific French grammar rules for each tense and mood. Verbs might be regular in one tense but irregular in another. 

Conjugating verbs in the present tense

Knowing how to conjugate regular verbs and some common irregulars in the present tense is a good first step. Regular verbs in French can be grouped into three categories, each with their own patterns: 

For regular verbs in the present, remove the -ER, -IR, or -RE ending from the infinitive. What you have left is called the stem. You’ll then add the corresponding ending to match the subject. For irregular verbs, like être (to be), avoir (to have), and faire (to do / to make), you’ll need to learn their specific patterns. 

While conjugating in the present tense in French, you’ll also follow rules for stem-changing or spell-changing verbs, which can preserve pronunciation or accent rules by changing one or more letters in the stem. We won’t go into all the rules in this article since it’s just an overview, but you can learn all of them with Rosetta Stone.

Conjugating verbs in other tenses

In order to communicate with clarity, you’ll conjugate different tenses and moods in order to express yourself in specific timeframes and with varying degrees of certainty. 

Parler – to speak, to talk

Subject pronoun Presentspeak / am speaking Imperfect was / were speaking Compound Past spoke Futurewill speak
JeI parle parlais ai parlé parlerai
TuYou, informal parles parlais as parlé parleras
Il, ElleHe, She parle parlait a parlé parlera
NousWe parlons parlions avons parlé parlerons
VousYou, formal parlez parliez avez parlé parlerez
Ils, EllesThey parlent parlaient ont parlé parleront

>>Get the complete guide to French verb conjugation for useful explanations and tips!

The rule for dual-verbs in French

One of the most helpful grammar rules in French has to do with dual-verb structures. When two verbs work together in a sentence, the first one is conjugated and the next one is in the infinitive, or unchanged and unconjugated form ending in -ER, -IR, or -RE. 

These types of structures are incredible for building your ability to communicate. Learning a few common sentence starters will allow you to use any other action in its infinitive form!

  • Je dois travailler. = I must work. 
  • Je peux voyager. = I can travel. 
  • Je veux manger. = I want to eat. 
  • Je devrais étudier. = I should study. 
  • Je pourrais cuisiner. = I could cook. 
  • J’aime parler français. = I like to speak French. 

Forming questions

There are three ways to form questions in French

  1. Use tags and inflection for yes/no questions.
    1. Add a phrasal tag, such as n’est-ce pas ? (isn’t it? / doesn’t he? / right?) or “non ?” or simply raise your voice at the end of the statement.
      1. Tu travailles jusqu’à huit heures, non ? = You work until 8 o’clock, right
      2. Elle enseigne l’anglais, n’est-ce pas ? = She teaches English, doesn’t she
  1. Use est-ce que.
    1. Pop the expression est-ce que (is it that?) in front of a statement to turn it into a question. Begin with an interrogative expression to get more specific information.
      1. Paul travaille ici. = Paul works here. 
      2. Est-ce que Paul travaille ici ? = Does Paul work here? 
      3. Pourquoi est-ce que Paul travaille ici ? = Why does Paul work here? 
      4. Pendant combien de temps est-ce que Paul travaille ici ? = For how long has Paul worked here?  
  1. Use inversion.
    1. Switch the order of your subject and your verb and link them with a trait d’union (hyphen).
      1. Tu habites où ? = You live where? 
      2. habites-tu? = Where do you live

Using negation in French

To negate, or make a structure “negative,” is a bit more complicated than in English where we generally use “not.” For most verbs, you will put ne…pas around the conjugated verb. Don’t forget that ne will change to n’ in front of a vowel or silent letter. 

  • Je ne suis pas canadienne.= I am not Canadian.
  • Nous ne voyageons pas. = We don’t travel. 
  • Je n’aime pas danser. = I don’t like to dance. 

When the verb in an affirmative sentence is followed by an indefinite article, the un, une, or des change to de

  • Il n’y a pas de fraises. = There aren’t any strawberries. 
  • Je n’ai pas de crayon. = I don’t have a pencil. 

When using other negation structures, such as “never,” or “no one,” you’ll need to break the English rule about double negatives becoming a positive. Double negatives are a must in French!

  • ne… personne (no one):
    • Je ne vois personne. = I don’t see anyone (no one). 
  • ne…rien (nothing):
    • La fille n’a rien. = The girl doesn’t have anything (nothing).
  • ne…jamais (never):
    • Je ne cuisine jamais. = I never cook. 
  • ne…plus (not anymore):
    • Nous ne parlons plus. = We don’t talk anymore
  • ni… ni… (neither… nor):
    • Je ne mange ni noisette ni amande. = I don’t eat hazelnut nor (or) almond. 

There is one structure that works like negation but it expresses something positively: 

  • Ne…que (only): 
    • Mon fils ne mange que le poulet. = My son only eats chicken. 

Contractions and spelling changes in French

Two vowel sounds in a row will often contract in French. For spelling purposes, in front of vowels, the following words will drop the e and attach to the following word with an apostrophe: 

  • ne:  Je n’aime pas ça. 
  • me: Je m’ennuie ici. 
  • te: Je t’invite!
  • de: Il n’y a pas d’eau. 
  • le: L’allemand est intéressant.
  • la: J’ai envoyé l’invitation.

There are some adjectives that will change the spelling in front of a masculine word that starts with a vowel: 

  • ce:  Cet enfant a perdu une dent.  
  • vieux: C’est un vieil arbre. 
  • nouveau: C’est un nouvel article.
  • beau: Un bel appartement. 

To avoid two vowels in a row, some feminine forms will change to a different form in front of a vowel. 

  • ma:  Mon amie est belle. = My friend is beautiful. 
  • ta: Ton écharpe est nouvelle ? = Is your scarf new? 
  • sa: Son équipe est talentueuse ! = Her team is talented!

The preposition à (to) will contract with le and les in a sentence but not with la or l’

  • à  + le: Je vais au restaurant. = I’m going to the restaurant. 
  • à  + les: Je vais aux toilettes. = I’m going to the bathroom. 
  • à  + la: Je vais à la bibliothèque. = I’m going to the library.  
  • à + l’: Je vais à l’hôpital. = I’m going to the hospital. 

The preposition de (from) will contract with definite articles le and les in a sentence but not with la or l’ and not with le/les when they are direct objects in the sentence. 

  • de + le: Je viens du restaurant. = I’m coming from the restaurant. 
  • de + les: Je viens des toilettes. = I’m coming from the bathroom. 
  • de + la: Je viens de la bibliothèque. = I’m coming from the library.  
  • de + l’: Je viens de l’hôpital. = I’m coming from the hospital. 

but:

  • de + le : (direct object). Je viens de le chercher. = I’ve just looked for it

Rules for French punctuation

A few of the punctuation marks are used differently than in English.There is a space between the last word of a sentence and an exclamation point, a question mark, a colon, semi-colon, or a symbol such as % and €. 

  • Cette maison est si belle ! = This house is so beautiful! 
  • Où habites-tu ? = Where do you live?

French uses double chevrons (« ») called guillemets where English uses quotation marks. In dialogue, these are used just once at the beginning and the end. 

  • « Combien coûte le fromage ? j’ai demandé  =How much does the cheese cost?I asked. 
  • Cinq euros, elle m’a répondu » =   “Five euros,she replied to me.  

Commas and periods in numbers are used in the reverse order of English. The comma separates whole numbers from decimals, and the period sits between the thousands place and the hundreds place (although this can also be accomplished with a space).

  • 5.000 / 5 000  = 5,000
  • 5,3 € = 5.3€

Capitalization rules

While English uses capitals for the following word categories, French does not, unless it is the first word of the sentence. 

  • days and months:
    • lundi, juin = Monday, June
  • geographical features:
    • l’océan Atlantique = the Atlantic Ocean
  • Je (I) first person singular mid-sentence:
    • S’il pleut, je vais dormir. = If it rains, I am going to sleep. 
  • languages and nationalities:
    • l’anglais, canadien = English, Canadian
  • religions (although there are some exceptions):
    • chrétienne, musulman, Bouddhiste  = Christian, Muslim, Buddhist   
  • school subjects:
    • la biologie, les maths = Biology, Math
  • titles in front of a proper noun:
    • le docteur Edouard = Doctor Edouard

Learn French grammar rules with ease with Rosetta Stone

These helpful rules are just the beginning. Understanding grammar rules in French is fun and challenging, but it’s not a journey you need to undertake alone. Rosetta Stone can help you solidify your understanding of French grammar rules. For extended learning, try out the all-in-one Rosetta Stone app. You can read, listen, and record yourself reading engaging stories all at your level, and access downloaded audio lessons even when you’re without a data or internet connection! 

Rizwan Ahmed
Rizwan Ahmed
AuditStudent.com, founded by Rizwan Ahmed, is an educational platform dedicated to empowering students and professionals in the all fields of life. Discover comprehensive resources and expert guidance to excel in the dynamic education industry.
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