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A French Grammar Pocket Book

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Are you starting out in French and wondering what to study first? Or maybe you’re already learning French and getting a bit lost in French grammar? 

Regardless of your experience or background, you’ve come to the right place. You’ll always need a concise summary of French grammar at hand as you explore the language’s ins and outs, and that’s exactly what this guide is about.

In this article, you’ll find a general overview of French grammar, from basic sentence structure to conjugation, agreement rules, and negation.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in French Table of Contents
  1. Vocabulary
  2. Sentence Structure
  3. Verbs & Tenses
  4. Nouns & Articles
  5. Adjectives
  6. Negation
  7. Le mot de la fin

1. Vocabulary

Let’s start with some good news: French has a lot in common with English. It has similar types of words, as well as a fair amount of common vocabulary and grammatical structures.

Although eighty percent of French vocabulary comes directly from Latin and Greek, we also use many words from other languages, including English

You’d be surprised how many common French words have been taken straight from English, such as Boss, Remake, Jet, Weekend, Babysitter, Manager, Pullover, and countless more.

Similarly to most Latin languages, French has the following types of words:

1 – Nouns

  • French nouns almost always need an article in front of them.
    You can say le chat (“the cat”) or un chat (“a cat”), but just chat is incorrect.

  • French nouns have a gender.
    Le soleil (“the sun”) is masculine; la lune (“the moon”) is feminine.

  • French nouns have a number.
    Le chat (“the cat”) is singular; les chats (“the cats”) is plural.

  • There are common nouns and proper nouns.
    Un chat (“a cat”) is a common noun. Jupiter, Miyazaki, and Nietzsche are proper nouns.

Don’t forget to stop by our article on the 100+ Must-Know Nouns in French to learn much more about nouns and expand your vocabulary!

2 – Articles

  • Articles are mandatory in French.

  • They agree with the noun in gender and number.

    • Un arbre (“A tree”)
    • Une fleur (“A flower”)
    • Des fleurs (“Flowers”)

  • There are three types of articles:

    • Indefinite articles (Not specific): Un, Une, Des
      Un oiseau (“A bird”), Une loutre (“An otter”), Des papillons (“Butterflies”)

    • Definite articles (Specific): Le, L’, La, Les
      We use them when talking about a specific, previously mentioned noun: Le parc (“The park”)
      When there is only one: Le soleil (“The sun”)
    • Or for a general notion: La vie (“Life”), L’art (“Art”), Le sport (“Sport”)

    • Partitive articles (Some / A certain amount): Du, De La, Des
      Du fromage
      (“Cheese”), De la farine (“Flour”), Des fruits (“Fruits”)

Flowers

Des fleurs (“Flowers”)

3 – Adjectives

Adjectives are used to describe a noun. In French grammar, adjectives agree in gender and number with the noun.

For example:

  • Un petit chemin (“A small path”)
  • Une petite route (“A small road”)
  • Deux petites routes (“Two small roads”)

Here’s our list of the 100 Must-Know French Adjectives, as well as the few grammar rules you need to know!

4 – Possessive Adjectives

Possessive adjectives define whom the noun belongs to. Of course, like everything related to nouns, they agree in gender and number.

For example:

  • Mon jardin (“My garden”)
  • Ma maison (“My house”)
  • Mes affaires (“My belongings”)
  • Ton adresse (“Your address”)
  • Sa faute (“His / Her fault”)
  • Ses fleurs (“His / Her flowers”)
  • Leur voiture (“Their car”)

5 – Demonstrative Adjectives

Demonstrative adjectives are used to point at something or emphasize its importance (this / that / these / those). In French, we have: ce / cet, cette, ces.

For example:

  • Ce jardin (“This / That garden”)
  • Cet arbre (“This / That tree”)
  • Cette maison (“This / That house”)
  • Ces villes (“These / Those cities”)

6 – Adverbs

Adverbs don’t agree in gender or number; they’re invariable. They describe a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. They define how something is done (slowly / violently), how much (a bit / a lot), or more information about when and where (often / yesterday).

For example:

  • Je mange lentement. (“I eat slowly.”)
  • Elle a beaucoup de fromages. (“She has a lot of cheese.”)
  • Je ne dors jamais l’après-midi. (“I never sleep in the afternoon.”)
  • Nous partirons demain. (“We will leave tomorrow.”)

In our 100 Must-Know French Adverbs, you’ll find everything you need to know about adverbs, as well as a massive list of the 100 most useful ones.

A Woman Watching Her Alarm Clock in Bed

Elle ne dort jamais. (“She never sleeps.”)

7 – Verbs

  • French verbs are split between three groups, depending on the spelling of their infinitive form and their behavior. The three types of verbs are:

    • ER (manger, parler, toucher)
    • IR (dormir, partir, venir)
    • RE (répondre, prendre)

  • In French grammar, conjugation takes place for a variety of tenses (past, future, etc.).
    More on French conjugation later in this article!

  • Some verbs are reflexive and start with se, as in: se réveiller (“to wake up”), se lever (“to stand up”), and s’arrêter (“to stop”).
    They are often used to describe things you do regularly or changes of state (such as “to wake up,” “to fall asleep,” “to sit down”) that have an effect on oneself.

The best way to start learning verbs? Our article on the 100 Must-Know French Verbs, with valuable insight on conjugation and an exhaustive guide on tenses.

8 – Pronouns

French pronouns come in many shapes and sizes:

  • Personal pronouns
    • Personal subjects: Elle a faim. (“She’s hungry.”)
    • Stressed pronouns: C’est moi ! (“It’s me!”)
    • Direct pronouns: Nous le donnons. (“We give it.”)
    • Indirect pronouns: Ils vous parlent. (“They talk to you.”)
    • Reflexive pronouns: Je me lève. (“I stand up.”)

  • Impersonal pronouns
    • Impersonal subjects: Ça commence maintenant. (“It starts now.”)
    • Adverbial pronouns: Je veux y aller. (“I want to go there.”)
    • Relative pronouns: Je sais que tu es là. (“I know that you are here.”)
    • Demonstrative pronouns: Celles de gauche. (“These on the left.”)
    • Interrogative pronouns: Qui es-tu ? (“Who are you?”)
    • Indefinite pronouns: Tout est possible. (“Anything is possible.”)

Curious about pronouns? You can learn much more about them by reading our article on the 10 Types of French Pronouns to Keep Things Sleek and Smooth

9 – Conjunctions

Conjunctions are these convenient little words that we use to connect things:

  • Listing things: Des fruits et des légumes (“Fruits and vegetables”)
  • Setting conditions: Je ne bois pas, sinon je m’endors. (“I don’t drink, otherwise I fall asleep.”)
  • Expressing causality: Je mange car j’ai faim. (“I’m eating because I’m hungry.”)
  • Objecting: Je mange du fromage mais pas de camembert. (“I eat cheese but not camembert.”)
  • Expressing purpose: Je médite pour me relaxer. (“I meditate to relax.”)

To learn more on conjunctions, I recommend that you stop by our extensive Guide to French Conjunctions on FrenchPod101.com.

10 – Prepositions

In French grammar, prepositions can be followed by…

  • …a noun:
    Le chat est dans le jardin. (“The cat is in the garden.”)
    Elle t’attendra devant la maison. (“She will wait for you in front of the house.”)
    Avec ou sans patates ? (“With or without potatoes?”)
  • …an infinitive verb:
    Je me prépare à partir. (“I’m getting ready to leave.”)
    Il essaye de partir. (“He’s trying to leave.”)
    J’étudie sur FrenchPod101 pour parler Français. (“I study on FrenchPod101 to speak French.”)
  • …or a stress pronoun:
    On va chez moi ? (“Are we going to my place?”)
    Elle vient avec moi. (“She’s coming with me.”)

Apple and Banana

Une pomme et une banane (“An apple and a banana”)

2. Sentence Structure

The first thing you need to learn to build sentences in French is the word order. Otherwise, even if you learn a lot of vocabulary, it will always be difficult to identify the keywords and the general meaning of what you hear or read.

French follows the SVO pattern (Subject Verb Object). It means that the default word order is: Subject Verb Object.

  • Je bois du vin. (“I drink wine.”)

Unlike other Latin languages, such as Spanish or Italian, where the subject pronouns can be omitted, we almost never skip the subject of a sentence.


A Man Arranging a Big Puzzle

One piece at a time, they all fit nicely.

3. Verbs & Tenses

Conjugation in French has a lot in common with English conjugation, but it adds a hairy layer of complexity; the verb ending changes depending on the person, mood, voice, and tense.

At first, it may seem overwhelming. But luckily, most verbs follow a set of rules and patterns that you can learn rather quickly.

1 – Conjugation Basics

Singular pronouns:
  • je / j’ (“I”)
  • tu / vous (Casual “you” / Formal “you”)
  • il / elle (“he” / “she”)
Plural pronouns:
  • nous (“we”)
  • vous (“you”)
  • ils / elles (Male “they” / Female “they”)

The ending of the verb depends on the person (or pronoun):

  • Je marche (“I walk”)
  • Nous marchons (“We walk”)
  • Elles marchent (“They walk”)

Just like English, French has simple tenses and compound tenses.

Simple tenses are conjugated by changing the verb ending, while compound tenses also add an auxiliary together with the verb.

  • Nous marchons (“We walk”) – Simple tense: Présent.
  • Nous avons marché (“We have walked”) – Compound tense: Passé composé.

At first glance, the list of all seventeen French tenses seems intimidating, but most of them are only ever used in literature. On a daily basis, you won’t need more than five or six to deal with any kind of situation.

2 – Regular & Irregular Verbs

Like in most languages, including English, the most useful and common French verbs are the most irregular. Verbs like être (“to be”), avoir (“to have”), or faire (“to do”) are highly irregular.

However, it’s important to quickly learn how to conjugate the regular verbs, as their conjugation rules will help you deal with the majority of verbs that you’ll encounter. So, let’s start with that.

Regular verb: Marcher (“To walk”) ← This is the infinitive form of a 1st group verb.

March ← This is the “stem.”

Here’s how it looks in present tense:

1st sg (I)2nd sg (you)3rd sg (she)1st pl (we)2nd pl (you)3rd pl (they)
Stem + eStem + esStem + eStem + onsStem + ezStem + ent
Je marcheTu marchesElle marcheNous marchonsVous marchezIls marchent

Now, if you follow this simple pattern, you can conjugate countless similar French verbs:

  • Parler (“To talk”)
    Je parle, Tu parles, Elle parle, Nous parlons, Vous parlez, Elles parlent

  • Penser (“To think”)
    Je pense, Tu penses, Elle pense, Nous pensons, Vous pensez, Elles pensent

  • Aimer (“To love”)
    J’aime, Tu aimes, Elle aime, Nous aimons, Vous aimez, Elles aiment

  • Demander (“To ask”)
    Je demande, Tu demandes, Elle demande, Nous demandons, Vous demandez, Elles demandent

  • Utiliser (“To use”)
    J’utilise, Tu utilises, Elle utilise, Nous utilisons, Vous utilisez, Elles utilisent

3 – The Two Most Important Verbs

Now that you know the basics of French conjugation, let’s have a look at two crucial verbs that don’t follow the rules: 

  • Être (“To be”)
    Je suis, Tu es, Elle est, Nous sommes, Vous êtes, Elles sont
    For example: Je suis heureux. (“I’m happy.”)

  • Avoir (“To have”)
    J’ai, Tu as, Elle a, Nous avons, Vous avez, Elles ont
    For example: Nous avons un chat. (“We have a cat.”)

These two verbs are not only useful in themselves, but also as auxiliaries to form the compound tenses we mentioned earlier.

  • Elle est revenue de vacances. (“She has returned from vacation.”)
  • Tu es allé au cinéma. (“You have gone to the movie theater.”)
  • J’ai rencontré Julien. (“I have met Julien.”)
  • Nous avons fini de manger. (“We have finished eating.”)

We’re just scratching the surface, but you can learn much more about this in our extensive guide on
French Conjugation and on our free French Verbs resource page.

Woman Holding a Popcorn Inside Movie Theater

Elles sont au cinéma. (“They are at the movie theater.”)

4. Nouns & Articles

    Rule #1: Nouns have a gender.

In French grammar, gender is applied to each and every noun. French nouns are either masculine or feminine.

For example, un mois (“a month”) is masculine, while une semaine (“a week”) is feminine.

    Rule #2: Nouns have an article.

Unlike those in English, French nouns always have an article and cannot be used without one.

You can say un chien (“a dog”) or le chien (“the dog”), but never chien.

    Rule #3: Nouns and articles agree in gender.

How they change when put in the feminine form depends on their initial spelling.

  • Un boulanger / Une boulangère (“A baker”)
  • Un fermier / Une fermière (“A farmer”)
  • Un chanteur / Une chanteuse (“A singer”)
  • Un acteur / Une actrice (“An actor” / “An actress”)
  • Un chien / Une chienne (“A dog”)
    Rule #4: Nouns and articles agree in number.

Like with gender, there are certain changes an article goes through to agree with the noun in number.

  • Un chat (“A cat”) / Des chats (“Cats”)
  • Le chat (“The cat”) / Les chats (“The cats”)

But there are also a bunch of special cases:

  • Un cheval (“A horse”) / Des chevaux (“Horses”)
  • Un hibou (“An owl”) / Des hiboux (“Owls”)
  • Un bateau (“A boat”) / Des bateaux (“Boats”)
  • Une souris (“A mouse”) / Des souris (“Mice”)
Toy Cat

Des chats (“Cats”)

5. Adjectives

    Rule #1: Adjective placement may vary.

The majority of French adjectives are placed AFTER the noun they’re describing.

  • Un mur épais (“A thick wall”)
  • Une voix douce (“A soft voice”)
  • Des assiettes sales (“Dirty plates”)

However, some of the most common adjectives come BEFORE the noun.

  • Un bon film (“A good movie”)
  • Une petite fille (“A little girl”)
  • Un nouveau livre (“A new book”)
    Rule #2: Adjectives agree with the noun in gender. 

Adjectives must also agree in gender with the noun they’re describing.

Most French adjectives have different feminine and masculine forms.

  • Un garçon intelligent (“A smart boy”)
  • Une fille intelligente (“A smart girl”)

But some adjectives are invariable:

  • Un train rapide (“A fast train”) 
  • Une voiture rapide (“A fast car”)
    Rule #3: Adjectives agree with the noun in number. 

Finally, adjectives must agree in number with the noun they’re describing.

Most of them simply take a final -s:

  • Un petit chien (“A small dog”)
  • Des petits chiens (“Small dogs”)
  • Des petites chiennes (“Small dogs” – Feminine)

Adjectives ending with -s or -x are invariable.

A Girl Solving Math Problem in the Board

Une fille intelligente (“A smart girl”)

6. Negation

French negative sentences are built using the particle Ne + one or more negative words.

In French grammar, negation is achieved by placing these two parts around the verb, as follows: 

[Subject] ne [verb] pas.

  • Je mange. (“I eat.”)
  • Je ne mange pas. (“I don’t eat.”)

There’s a collection of negative words you can use:

  • Je ne mange jamais. (“I never eat.”)
  • Je ne mange rien. (“I don’t eat anything.”)
  • Je ne mange personne. (“I don’t eat anyone.”)
  • Je ne mange plus. (“I don’t eat anymore.”)
  • Je ne mange nulle part. (“I’m not eating anywhere.”)
  • Je ne mange aucune viande. (“I don’t eat any meat.”)
  • Je ne mange que de la viande. (“I eat nothing but meat.”)

Negation follows the exact same pattern with any verb…

  • Je ne vais nulle part. (“I’m not going anywhere.”)
  • Nous ne parlons jamais. (“We never talk.”)
  • Elle ne fume plus. (“She’s not smoking anymore.”)
  • Tu ne sais rien, Jon Snow. (“You know nothing, Jon Snow.”)

…except when the verb starts with the vowel and Ne is shortened to N’:

  • Je n’ai rien à dire. (“I have nothing to say.”)
  • Tu n’aimes pas. (“You don’t like.”)
  • Nous n’essayons pas. (“We are not trying.”)

You can also build sentences using several negative words:

  • Je ne dirai jamais rien à personne. (“I will never tell anything to anyone.”)
  • Elle n’est plus allée nulle part après cela. (“She didn’t go anywhere anymore after this.”)

It’s also possible to start a sentence with a negative word:

  • Rien n’arrive sans raison. (“Nothing happens without a reason.”)
  • Personne ne bouge. (“Nobody moves.”)
A Man Whispering Something to His Fellow Man

Ne le dis à personne ! (“Don’t tell anyone!”)

7. Le mot de la fin

In this guide, you’ve learned all of the essential French grammar guidelines, from basic structures to conjugation, agreement rules, and negation.

Whether you’re just getting started in your French studies or consolidating your knowledge, you can use this overview as a small grammar pocket book whenever you need quick access to the basic French grammar rules. Did we forget any important rule you’d like to learn about?

Make sure to explore FrenchPod101.com, as we have plenty of free resources to help you practice your grammar and learn new words. Our vocabulary lists are also a great way to review words and learn their pronunciation.

Feel like you need more French grammar help? Remember that you can use our Premium PLUS service, MyTeacher, to get personal one-on-one coaching. Practice these grammar basics with your private teacher so they can give you personalized feedback and advice.

About the Author: Born and bred in the rainy north of France, Cyril Danon has been bouncing off various jobs before he left everything behind to wander around the wonders of the World. Now, after quenching his wanderlust for the last few years, he’s eager to share his passion for languages.

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