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Introduction to French (part 1)

In this introduction, we will get familiar with they way the French language works. You do not have to memorize everything that is on this page right away. We will introduce all the content below, little by little, in our next French lessons.

1. French Nouns

Contrary to English, French nouns have a gender that affect the articles you use with them. They are either of masculine or feminine gender. The gender of the noun will be learned along with the vocabulary as there are no reliable rules to determine gender in advance (except examples where gender is obvious like ‘woman’, ‘man’, ‘boy’ etc.). Nouns of masculine gender:

Nouns of feminine gender:

Be careful, spoken French could sound a little different to written French due to the “liaisons”, which are very common. Here, “un enfant” is pronounced by linking the last letter of the article “uN to the beginning fo the next word “ENfant” -> so it needs to be pronounced “un nenfant” More on the “liaisons” in our first lesson.

2. French Pronunciation

Much like English, French pronunciation can sometimes be a little tricky, especially for a new learner.  There are rules regarding pronunciation, but there are also a lot of exceptions and many examples of words with silent letters. But don’t worry, we will learn it all step by step. In the videos below you learn the alphabet and the majority of sound combinations in the French language. First, in the video below, you will find the pronunciation of the alphabet, syllables and some vocabulary.

Please watch our video below:

Explanations following the video

The letters C and Ç

When “c” is followed by the vowels “a”, “o”, or “u”, the letter “c” is pronounced [k]

  • une carotte (a carrot)
  • un coq (a rooster/cock)
  • une culotte (panties/underpants)

To make the sound [s] with these vowels you will need to add a cedilla.

  • ça (this, it, that)
  • un garçon (a boy)
  • un reçu (a receipt)

When “c” is followed by the vowels  “e”, “i”, or “y”, the letter “c” is pronounced [s]

  • une cerise (a cherry)
  • une citrouille (a pumpkin)
  • un cygne (a swan)

The letter G

When “g” is followed by the vowels  “a”,”o”, or “u”, the letter “g” is pronounced [g]

  • une gare (a (railway) station)
  • un gorille (a gorilla)
  • Gustave 

When “g” is followed by the vowels  “e”,”i”, or “y”, the letter “g” is pronounced [ʒ]

  • une cage (a cage)
  • une girafe (a giraffe)
  • un gymnaste (a gymnast)

In order to get the sound [g] with these vowels you will need to add a “u”. examples: une guerre, une guitare, Tanguy. When the letter “g” is followed by the consonant “n”, we get the sound [ɲ]. example: un agneau (a lamb)

The letter H

Unlike in English, the letter “h” at the beginning of a word is usually silent in French. Examples: un hibou, un hérisson, etc.

The letter S

When “s” is between two vowels in a word, the letter “s” is pronounced [z]. Example: une cerise, une musique When you have “ss” between two vowels, the double “S” are pronounced [s]. Example: un assistant, une assurance

The letter W Words with “w” are mainly borrowed words and are generally pronounced like in its language of origin. The letter “w” is not a common letter and has two pronunciations, either [v] (German words) or [w] (English words). Examples:

  • [v] -> un wagon ; Wolfgang
  • [w] -> watts, walkman

Here is our ABC Song in French:

3. French Conjugation

The conjugation of a verb varies depending on the following points:

  • the person perspective (i.e. 1st person, 2nd, 3rd, etc.  depending on the subject of the verb.  for example: I, you, we, they, etc…)
  • the tense (for ex.: present or past)
  • the mood (for ex.: indicative or conditional)
  • the voice (active or passive)

French conjugation could seem a little complicated at first, but once you learn a few little tricks, it will become easier. There are 3 groups of verbs, which could be distinguished by the ending of the infinitive verb (a verb that is not conjugated).

  • The 1st group: infinitive verbs ending by -ER. This group of verbs are the easiest to conjugate, as the conjugation rules are simple and regular.
  • The 2nd group: infinitive verbs ending by -IR. This group of verbs are also easy to conjugate, the rules are regular and easy as well. But some of the 3rd group’s verbs can also end by -IR, so it will be important to distinguish them.
  • The 3rd group: infinitive verbs ending by -IR, -OIR, -RE. This group has around 350 verbs. Contrary to the first 2 groups, this one has irregular rules and exceptions regarding the conjugation.

Click here to learn:
The nasals vowels in French
(Les voyelles nasales en français)