Feminine or masculine, that is the question you often ask yourself as a French learner. After hours trying to figure out why “cheveux” (hair) is masculine and “chaise” (chair) feminine, you came to the inevitable conclusion: the gender of French nouns was randomly chosen by a bunch of sadistic linguists.
You may have heard that there is only one way to know the gender of a noun, to learn it by heart.
Luckily this is one of many myths about the French language (you can discover more in How to Learn French in a Year), and you can actually know the gender of a French noun with more than 80% accuracy just by looking at its ending.
Why French genders matter
You can’t master French if you don’t master French genders. Luckily, the use of French genders is pretty straightforward, even if your language doesn’t use genders for nouns.
Before you discover how to easily know the gender of French nouns with 80% accuracy, you need to know that the gender has an influence on:
- The article you use before a noun
- The ending of adjectives and verbs
You’ll discover how genders change these elements in the last section of this article, but before you do, here is how to easily know the gender of French words
How to know the gender of French nouns with 80% accuracy
Associate each gender with a vivid image
Your French teacher told you to do this, and this may be the only solution in some cases. But instead of simply learning each word and its gender by heart, it can be smart to associate each gender with an action in your brain.
You could imagine that masculine nouns fall into water while feminine nouns are eaten by a monster. Associating each noun with such a vivid image helps you remember its gender more easily.
The association needs to be personal, this must be something you will easily remember. For example, If you love to sing, you could sing each word with a different tone depending on its gender.
Guess the gender based on the word’s ending
According to a study by McGill University, a noun’s ending indicates its gender in 80% of cases . Based on this study, here is a list of typically masculine and typically feminine noun endings.
Nouns with these endings were found to be of the same gender in more than 90% of cases.
I don’t recommend you to learn these endings by heart since it would be extremely boring. Instead, bookmark this page and regularly look at this list.
After a while, you will see that you can intuitively guess the gender of a noun based on its ending.
I also created a simplified list that’s easier to remember. You’ll find it below this first list :).
Typically masculine noun endings (+90%)
- -an, -and, -ant, -ent, -in, -int, -om, -ond, -ont, -on (but not after s/c¸)
- -eau, -au, -aud, -aut, -o, -os, -ot
- -ai, -ais, -ait, -es, -et
- -ou, -out, -out, -oux
- -i, -il, -it, -is, -y
- -at, -as, -ois, -oit
- • -u, -us, -ut, -eu
- -er, -e´after C (C=t)
- -age, -ege, – ` eme, -ome/- ` ome, -aume, -isme
- -as, -is, -os, -us, -ex
- -it, -est
- -al, -el, -il, -ol, -eul, -all
- -if, -ef
- -ac, -ic, -oc, -uc
- -am, -um, -en
- -air, -er, -erf, -ert, -ar, -arc, -ars, -art, -our, -ours, -or, -ord, -ors, -ort, -ir, -oir, -eur
- -ail, -eil, -euil, -ueil
Typically feminine noun endings (+90%)
- -aie, -oue, -eue, -ion, -te, – ´ ee, -ie, -ue
- -asse, -ace, -esse, -ece, -aisse, -isse/-ice, -ousse, -ance, -anse, -ence, -once
- -enne, -onne, -une, -ine, -aine, -eine, -erne
- -ande, -ende, -onde, -ade, -ude, -arde, -orde
- -euse, -ouse, -ase, -aise, -ese, -oise, -ise, -yse, -ose, -use
- -ache, -iche, -eche, -oche, -uche, -ouche, -anche
- -ave, -eve, -ive
- -iere, -ure, -eure
- -ette, -ete, – ˆ ete, -atte, -otte, -oute, -orte, -ante, -ente, -inte, -onte
- -alle, -elle, -ille, -olle
- -aille, -eille, -ouille
- -appe, -ampe, -ombe
- • -igue
A simplified list of endings
The previous list has the advantage of being exhaustive, but as French Together reader Amosnliz notes in the comment section, you can learn a simplified, and shorter list.
While there is no precise data available, you can consider that you’ll be right 80% of the time if you use this simplified list.
Feminine noun endings
- The majority of words that end in -e or -ion.
- Except words ending in -age, -ege, -é, or -isme (these endings often indicate masculine words).
Masculine noun endings
Most words with other endings are masculine.
French gender rules explained
You now know how to easily identify the gender of French nouns. Now let’s see why knowing the gender of French words is so important.
Here is what changes based on genders:
In English, you always use “the”. In French, you have a masculine “the” (le) and a feminine “the” (la).
Similarly, you have a masculine “a” (un) and a feminine “a” (une).
Finally, while you say “some” in English. You need to make the distinction between “du” (masculine) and “de la” (feminine) in French.
Like in English, pronouns change depending on the subject’s gender.
He = il
she = elle
however, unlike English, there are two ways to say “they”.
Elles (feminine subject)
Ils (masculine subject)
French adjectives change based on the gender and number of the noun they modify. This means the adjective is either:
- Masculine singular
- Feminine singular
- Masculine plural
- Feminine plural
Let’s take several adjectives as examples. These are adjectives you can use to guess how other adjectives with similar endings will change.
Masculine singular: content
Feminine singular: contente
Masculine plural: contents
Feminine plural: contentes
Masculine singular: fatigué
Feminine singular: fatiguée
Masculine plural: fatigués
Feminine plural: fatiguées
Masculine singular: bon
Feminine singular: bonne
Masculine plural: bons
Feminine plural: bonnes
Read 13 common French mistakes that’ll make you feel awkward before you use it.
Masculine singular: triste
Feminine singular: triste
Masculine plural: tristes
Feminine plural: tristes
There are of course exceptions, but if you know these patterns, you’ll know how most adjectives change based on the gender of the noun they modify.
The passé composé tense is the most striking example of the influence of genders and number on conjugation.
Je suis allé(e)
Tu es allé(e)
Il/elle est allé(e)
Nous sommes allé(e)s
Vous êtes allé(e)(s)
Ils/elles sont allé(e)s
As you can see, the verb changes based on the subject’s number and gender. This is also true for other compound tenses.
These differences are only noticeable in written French since the pronunciation remains the same.
If there is only one thing you should remember for this lesson, it’s that the majority of words ending in -e or -ion are feminine while words with other endings are mostly masculine. It’s not going to work all the time, but you’re much more likely to be right if you follow this rule than if you simply guess.
What about you? How do you determine the gender of new French nouns you encounter? Share your tips and experience in the comment section below this article!