What do French Gender and Number Mean ? (2023)

Understanding grammatical terms such as “gender” and “number” is not that obvious, and is often the reason why French language students don’t get French grammar.

Language methods use grammatical terms as if they were obvious.

However, my experience is that many students don’t really understand these words. So in some cases it’s not so much the French grammar itself they don’t understand, but the French vocabulary their book uses to explain it.

I’m very aware of that problem, this is why I always explain everything very clearly in my progressive French audiobook learning method À Moi Paris.

So, today I’ll explain the grammatical terms of “gender” and “number” in English and in French.

What Does “Gender” Mean in Grammar?

Avoid a Terrible Mistake When Studying French

Why is a Noun Feminine or Masculine in French?

What Does Number Mean in Grammar?

What’s the Gender and Number of that French Word

What Does “Gender” Mean in Grammar?

In English, gender is linked to the sex of a living being.

(Video) Why knowing the gender of a French word is important

  1. A man is masculine, and to talk about him, you’d use masculine pronouns such as “him”, “he”, “his”.
  2. A woman is feminine, and you’d use “her, she, her” to talk about her.
    It doesn’t matter whether the said man and woman are “masculine” or “feminine” in their attitude. Here, these words are grammatical terms, they don’t mean “acting in a feminine/masculine way”.
  3. And things are neutral, like a book, and you’d use “it, its” to refer to it.

In French, all nouns – whether they refer to living beings or not – are either masculine or feminine. There is no “neutral” in French.

If it’s a living being, the gender will be determined by the sex: feminine or masculine. A female dog will be feminine. A male dog masculine. Again, no neutral in French, so all living being as well as… well everything… is either masculine or feminine.

So in French, all nouns have an “assigned” gender that needs to be memorised with the noun when you memorize it.

Some words ending tend to show the French word is masculine, and there are also some feminine word endings, but most of the time you can’t guess and just have to memorize the gender of the noun by heart.

For example:

  1. a book in French is masculine, un livre
  2. a table is feminine, une table
  3. freedom is feminine, la liberté
  4. Canada is masculine, le Canada
  5. and France is feminine, la France

Avoid a Terrible Mistake When Studying French

When you learn a new noun, you should always learn its gender at the same time since it will affect the spelling and pronunciation of the words related to it, such as French adjectives.

In books or French vocabulary lists, the gender of a noun is usually indicated with an (m) for masculine, (f) for feminine, or shown by the French article (le, la, un, une) that accompanies it.

Never learn from a list of French words which doesn’t include gender information, you’d be missing half of the information! (Be warned, the internet is unfortunately full of such lists…)

Make sure you also indicate the gender of nouns when you make your own French flashcards.

Why is a Noun Feminine or Masculine in French?

A question my students often ask me is “why is this French word feminine?” And “why is that French word masculine?”.

I don’t know. Nobody knows.

Why is “happiness” masculine in French: le bonheur, but “sadness” feminine in French: la tristesse ?

I don’t know.

Why can you find a synonym of “le bonheur” in French but now it’s feminine: joy, la joie is feminine in French.

I don’t know.

Is French language sexist?

Hum…. I don’t make the rules, so I’ll leave this debate to the philosophers…

“Why” is not a good question to ask there. It is what it is. And you need to memorize the gender of each noun in French. There is simply no way around it.

Note that there are emerging French “neutral” pronouns being used mostly within the LGBTQ+ community, such as “iel”.

What do French Gender and Number Mean ? (1)

Mastering French Numbers

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(Video) How to identify the gender of the french nouns? Easily remember the french nouns genders

What Does Number Mean in Grammar?

In French grammar, number doesn’t mean 1, 2, 3 etc…

Number is the grammatical term used to talk about singular or plural, which means:

  • singular = one person or one thing
  • plural = more than one

French Nouns and Number

In English, adding a pronounced “s” at the end makes a noun plural: books, tables… This S is pronounced in English, so you can easily tell if you are talking about something singular “book” or plural “bookS”. You see it in writing, but you also hear it when you speak.

Some English nouns have an irregular plural: “children”.

In French, the plural of a noun is created by adding a silent “s” at the end, sometimes it’s a silent “x” and there are also irregular plurals. So, since the S of the plural is silent, how can you tell if something is singular or plural when you speak French?

(Video) Gender of French Words: Masculin vs Feminin

To know whether the noun is singular or plural, you will have to listen to the words related to the noun, since the noun itself is likely to be pronounced the same way in the singular and in the plural.
For example: une table, des tables – a table, some tables.

In French, the word “table(s)” is pronounced the same way whether it is singular (une table) or plural (des tables), so whether it ends with an S or not. In both cases, it’s pronounced “tabl”.

Only the article (une, des etc…) changes.

Look For The Related Words That Complete the Noun

French common nouns will have a little word accompanying them.

This little word is important because it shows the number and gender of the noun. Like a pilot in a plane, these little words work together with French nouns to complete them. They are called definite, indefinite or partitive articles, or possessive, demonstrative, interrogative adjectives…

For example: ma table – my table, cette table – this table, quelle table ? which table? Etc… Not only do these words carry the notion of “my”, “this” and “which”, they also carry the number and gender in French.

They are a bit of a pain because they change according to the number and gender of the noun, but sometimes also according to other factors, likeFrench possessive adjectives.

But mostly, they are a pain because where in English you have one word, in French, we have three, or more…

For example, if you take the definite article “the” in English (easy enough), well, in French it’s not that easy… We have four different words meaning “the” !!

  1. le for a masculine word = le livre
  2. la for a feminine word = la table
  3. les for a plural word = les livres or les tables
    At least it’s the same for feminine and masculine plural!
  4. And we have a mutant form… L’ for a word which starts with a vowel or a H = l’ordinateur (masculine – computer), l’heure (feminine – hour)
    Again, it’s the same word for feminine and masculine words starting with a vowel or a h.

So, in total, there are four “the” in French. There could be six… consider yourself lucky!

This usually is super confusing for English speaking students (not Spanish students… it’s exactly the same in Spanish…)

Yet, typical teaching methods fly over this as if it was absolutely obvious. And this is how I meet intermediate level students who still make mistakes with their articles….

Even if you understand the logic, it doesn’t mean you are able to apply it easily. We are not robots! You need to practice to really make these concepts yours. This is so different from English! No wonder students need a little time to let it sink in!

Make sure you study French with a progressive French learning method, which really explains things clearly and gradually, giving you plenty of practice before you move on to the next point.

What do French Gender and Number Mean ? (2)
(Video) Ask a French Teacher - How Can I Tell if a Noun is Masculine or Feminine?

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French Pronouns and Number

Sometimes, only the context will tell you if something is plural or singular, since the pronunciation of everything will be the same in the singular and the plural.

It’s the case for many French verbs since the French pronouns “il, elle” singular (he, it, she) and “ils, elles” plural (they) are pronounced the same way! It can be very confusing!

For examples, the French pronunciation of “he is speaking” and “they are speaking” is the same in French: il parle = ils parlent = “eel parl””

Only the context will tell you if the “il(s)” is singular or plural in French.

Most students learn with a written method. So, since it’s written differently, it’s obvious enough. But they don’t realize “il” and “ils”, “parle” and “parlent” are pronounced the same way! And then they can’t understand the French when they speak.

Chances are that the students will also mispronounce the French words to try to make a difference between the singular and the plural. Hence the importance to always study French with audio, even for grammar!

What’s the Gender and Number of that French Word

So now that you understand the grammatical terms gender and number, you’ll be able to answer a typical French language class question: “what is the number and gender of that French word?”

For example, if I say “une table” – the gender is feminine, and the number is singular.

Both are show by the French article “une”in this example, however your French teacher may have withhold this information during the test if you had to memorize a list of French words! Gender and Number are part of the info and you need to learn this at the same time as you learn your French word.


How do the French determine gender of words? ›

The best place to start when trying to figure out the gender of a French word is by looking at the ending of the word. Words that use the articles le or un are going to be masculine, and words that use the articles la or une are feminine.

What is the gender of French? ›

Unlike English, French nouns have a gender (genre): they can be masculine (masculin) or feminine (féminin). There are different ways to find out a noun's gender: we can look in the dictionary and check for the abbreviations m. (masculine) or f.

Are Numbers Gendered in French? ›

All other French fractions are always masculine and must be preceded by a number. If they're followed by a noun, the preposition de is inserted as a go-between. 3. Premier ("first") is the only ordinal number that can be either masculine or feminine: premier (masculine) and première (feminine).

Do adjectives have to agree in gender and number in French? ›

Agreement of adjectives

Adjectives describe a noun and all French adjectives agree with the noun in gender and number. The general rule is that for feminine nouns, add -e, for masculine plural nouns, add -s, and for feminine plural nouns, add -es.

What are all the numbers in French? ›

This is the foundation for all other numbers: un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit, neuf, dix, onze, douze, treize, quatorze, quinze.

Why is pizza feminine in French? ›

Gender in French is etymological. Pizza is feminine because it is in Italian, and also, we “feel” that.

Why is car feminine in French? ›

Answer and Explanation:

The French word for car is la voiture (la vwa chur). Notice that the word ends in e ;therefore, it is feminine. The following example is: Louis a acheté une nouvelle voiture. Louis bought a new car.

Why are French tables feminine? ›

Some words ending tend to show the French word is masculine, and there are also some feminine word endings, but most of the time you can't guess and just have to memorize the gender of the noun by heart. For example: a book in French is masculine, un livre. a table is feminine, une table.

Do all French feminine nouns end in e? ›

French Noun Ending in E + Double Consonant + E are Feminine

All the nouns ending in a double consonant + e are usually feminine. elle, enne, emme, esse, erre, ette… La pelle (shovel), une selle (saddle), la chaussette (the sock), la fillette (the little girl), La tristesse (sadness), la terre (earth), la femme (woman)…

How do you say 3/4 in French? ›

trois quarts = 3/4. un sixième = 1/6.

Do numbers agree in French? ›

In French, determiners and nouns agree in number. 1 Singular nouns require singular determiners and plural nouns require plural deter- miners (1a).

Is the number one masculine or feminine? ›

In a more direct measure, the same people rated 10 objects or concepts ("dogs," "cats," "math") as masculine or feminine. Included on that list were "1," which was rated as masculine, and "2," rated as feminine.

What are the rules for adjectives in French? ›

In French, adjectives must agree with (masculine, feminine, singular and plural) nouns. Un joli chat, une jolie fleur, des jolis arbres, des jolies plantes. A pretty cat, a pretty flower, pretty trees, pretty plants. After the verb être, the adjective must agree with the related subject.

Do all French adjectives have genders? ›

In French all nouns and adjectives are gendered masculine or feminine; most nouns and adjectives also have different singular and plural forms.

What is the gender of knife? ›

Neuter Gender Nouns
3 more rows

How do you spell 11? ›

The spelling of 11 in English is Eleven, which means 11 in words can be expressed as Eleven.

How do u say 17 in French? ›

18 = 10 + 8, dix-huit. 19 = 10 + 9, dix-neuf.
Numbers in French: 1-20.
NumberIn FrenchPronunciation
17dix-septdees set (equal emphasis)
18dix-huitdees wheet (equal emphasis)
19dix-neufdees nuhf (equal emphasis)
17 more rows

Why are numbers in French so weird? ›

The number system in French is derived from that used in Gaulish, the Celtic language spoken in France before the modern Romance language drove it out. If you look at the counting systems of modern Celtic languages like Welsh or Scottish Gaelic, you'll see a similar pattern to that in French.

How do you know when to use Le or la in French? ›

Unlike English, all nouns (words for things) in French are masculine or feminine.
  1. Use le with masculine nouns.
  2. Use la with feminine nouns.
  3. Use l' with words of either gender that begin with a vowel or the letter h.
May 23, 2022

Are words borrowed from English in French usually masculine? ›

ENGLISH words adopted into French are masculine except if they apply to a woman only (eg une pin-up).

Why knowing the gender of a French word is important? ›

First things first, when you learn a French word, you'll see it paired with either its definite or indefinite article. In addition, you'll need to know the gender in order to determine which pronoun to use. For example, when choosing personal pronouns Il (He) or Elle (She). Use these when describing what a noun does.

How do you change masculine and feminine words in French? ›

Many masculine French nouns can be made feminine simply by changing the ending. This is usually done by adding an -e to the masculine noun to form the feminine. If the masculine singular form already ends in -e, no further e is added.

Is chat feminine or masculine? ›

Learning French, the word cat (chat) is masculine, what if the cat is a girl?

How do you use Le? ›

了le grammar #2: Change of state

This kind of 了is used to indicate a new situation or change of state. Because it is only used at the end of a sentence, it is also called sentence final 了or just sentence 了. It's technically referred to as modal 了as well.

Is Le a word? ›

No, le is not in the scrabble dictionary.


1. French lesson 1: gender, number, indefinite and definite art
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3. Gender of French Nouns: Same Word Different Meaning I
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5. Masculine and feminine in French - Gender of nouns - FRENCH LESSON FOR BEGINNERS - A1 lesson 4
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6. French Definite Article / How to say THE in French (French Essentials Lesson 7)
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