Basic Rules About Noun Genders in French



Noun Genders

    As you learned in "Basics 1", French has two grammatical genders: masculine and feminine. All nouns have a gender, and most nouns have a fixed gender. For instance, la pomme is always feminine and un bébé ("a baby") is always masculine, even for baby girls.

However, some nouns can have multiple genders depending on the situation, and many masculine nouns can be changed to a feminine form simply by adding an -e to the end. Your male friend is un ami and your female friend is une amie. Some nouns, like l'élève ("the student"), have the same spelling and meaning for both gender forms.

Other nouns may have the same spelling, but different genders and meanings. For instance, un tour (masculine) is a tour, while une tour (feminine) is a tower.

One of the most difficult aspects of learning French is memorizing noun genders. However, by spending some time now memorizing the following patterns, you may be able to guess most nouns' genders and save yourself a lot of trouble in the future.

Some genders depend on a noun's classification. For instance, languages, days of the week, months, seasons, metals, colors, and measurements are mostly masculine.

Otherwise, memorizing word endings is the best way to guess genders. We'll learn these ending patterns in four steps:

First: Nouns ending in -e tend to be feminine. All others, especially nouns ending in consonants, tend to be masculine. This is true for over 70% of all nouns.


Second: Nouns that have the endings -ion and -son tend to be feminine, even though they end in consonants.


Third: Nouns with these endings are usually masculine, although they end in -e:

-tre, -ble, -cle (think "treble clef")
-one, -ème, -ège (think "OMG")
-age, -isme

Fourth: Watch out for these complications:

-é is masculine, but -té is feminine.
le résumé (masc) — the resumé
la liberté (fem) — the liberty
-de is masculine, but -ade, -nde, and -ude are feminine.
le guide — the guide
la parade — the parade
-ste and -me tend to be masculine, but there are dozens of exceptions. Words for people ending in -ste are often gender-neutral, e.g. le/la cycliste.
-eur is masculine for most professions or technical terms, but it's feminine for some emotions and abstract things.
le chauffeur — the driver
la peur — the fear

That's it! Memorize these, and you'll be able to guess most noun genders.
Feminine Animals

In French, female animal nouns are generally formed as follows by taking the last consonant, doubling it, and adding a mute -e to the end.
un chat ⇒ une chatte
un chien ⇒ une chienne

Of course, there are many exceptions. For example:
un ours ⇒ une ourse (not une oursse)
un cheval ⇒ une jument (not une chevalle)
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