The Gender of French Nouns: Masculine and Feminine Endings

You can rely on common endings to help determine the gender of French nouns.

Some French gender patterns
Some French gender patterns - click for full-size

French gender is a headache for many students of French. Why is manteau masculine and montre feminine? Why is témoin always masculine and victime always feminine? As vexing as this subject is for nonnative speakers, we simply have to accept that French gender is here to stay. In fact, consider yourself lucky that you're studying French; in German and Latin, for instance, you'd have to learn three genders (masculine, feminine and neuter), and in still other languages, it gets even more complicated.

It might help to know that grammatical  gender (what we're discussing here) has nothing to do with natural gender, which is actual, physical gender of living beings.

Linguist Andrew Livingston tells us grammatical gender is a way of classing nouns that's older than recorded history. It's deeply embedded in the DNA of an array of Indo-European languages that trace their lineage to a common ancestor, which probably needed to differentiate between the animate and the inanimate. In French, there's simply no way to know the gender of every single noun other than by memorizing the gender of each. There are, however, certain patterns in suffixes and word endings that are a tip-off. As you can see by the number of exceptions here, these gender patterns are not foolproof indicators, but they can help.

Before we begin, a couple of notes: We try to list the most common and, thus, most useful exceptions; we avoid obscure exceptions.

Also, to avoid confusion, we do not list dual-gender nouns

French Masculine Nouns

Here are some suffixes that usually indicate masculine nouns, as well as some important exceptions.

   Exceptions: la cage, une image, la nage, la page, la plage, la rage


   Exceptions: une cible, une étable, une fable, une table

   Exception: la fac (apocope of la faculté)

   Exception: une boucle


   Exceptions: la bride, la merde, la méthode, la pinède; -ade, -nde, -ude endings

   Exceptions: la clé, la psyché; sé, té, and tié endings

   Exceptions: l'eau, la peau

   Exception: la Norvège


   Note: This applies mainly to names of professions and mechanical or scientific things; also see -eur in the list of feminine endings.

   Exceptions: la soif, la clef, la nef

   Exceptions: la foi, la fourmi, la loi, la paroi




   Exception: une roseval

   Exception: la faim

   Exceptions: une alarme, une âme, une arme, la cime, la coutume, la crème, l'écume, une énigme, une estime, une ferme, une firme, une forme, une larme, une plume, une rame, une rime, -mme ending

   Exception: une jument

   Exceptions: la façon, la fin, la leçon, la main, la maman, la rançon; -son and -ion endings

   Exceptions: la dactylo, la dynamo, la libido, la météo, la moto, la steno (most of these are apocopes of longer feminine words)





   Exceptions: la chair, la cour, la cuiller, la mer, la tour (see feminine -eur)

   Exceptions: la brebis, la fois, une oasis, la souris, la vis

   Exceptions: la liste, la modiste, la piste; names for people like un(e) artiste, un(e) nudiste, etc.

   Exceptions: la burlat, la dent, la dot, la forêt, la jument, la mort, la nuit, la part, la plupart, la ziggourat

   Exceptions: la fenêtre, une huître, la lettre, la montre, la rencontre, la vitre

   Exceptions: l'eau, la peau, la tribu, la vertu

   Exceptions: la croix, la noix, la paix, la toux, la voix

Feminine Noun Endings

Here are some suffixes that usually indicate feminine nouns, as well as some important exceptions. Remember, we list here the most common endings, because these will be the most useful for you to know.

   Exceptions: un ace, un palace

   Exceptions: le grade, le jade, le stade

   Exceptions: un châle, un pétale, un scandale


   Exceptions: un cube, un globe, un microbe, un tube, un verbe

   Exceptions: un artifice, un armistice, un appendice, le bénéfice, le caprice, le commerce, le dentifrice, le divorce, un exercice, un office, un orifice, un précipice, un prince, un sacrifice, un service, le silence, le solstice, le supplice, un vice

   Exception: un crustacé

   Note: Most countries and names that end in e are feminine.

   Exception: un pedigree

   Exceptions: un apogée, un lycée, un musée, un périgée, un trophée


   Note: This applies mainly to abstract qualities and emotions, except le bonheur, l'extérieur, l'honneur, l'intérieur, le malheur, le meilleur. Also see -eur on the list of masculine endings.

   Exception: le golfe

   Exceptions: un incendie, le foie, le génie, le parapluie, le sosie

   Exceptions: l'arrière, le cimetière, le derrière

   Exceptions: le capitaine, le domaine, le moine, le magazine, le patrimoine

   Exceptions: un avion, un bastion, un billion, un camion, un cation, un dominion, un espion, un ion, un lampion, un lion, un million, le morpion, un pion, un scion, un scorpion, un trillion

   Exceptions: un graphique, un périphérique

   Exceptions: un auditoire, un commentaire, un dictionnaire, un directoire, un horaire, un itinéraire, l'ivoire, un laboratoire, un navire, un pourboire, le purgatoire, le répertoire, le salaire, le sommaire, le sourire, le territoire, le vocabulaire


   Exceptions: l'anthracite, un ermite, le granite, le graphite, le mérite, l'opposite, le plébiscite, un rite, un satellite, un site, un termite

   Exceptions: le braille, un gorille, un intervalle, un mille, un portefeuille, le vaudeville, le vermicelle, le violoncelle

   Exceptions: un dilemme, un gramme, un programme

   Exception: le monde


   Exceptions: le contrôle, le monopole, le rôle, le symbole

   Exceptions: le beurre, le parterre, le tonnerre, le verre

   Exceptions: un carosse, un colosse, le gypse, l'inverse, un malaise, un pamplemousse, un parebrise, le suspense

   Exceptions: un exposé, un opposé


   Exceptions: un blason, un blouson

   Exceptions: un arrêté, le comité, le comté, le côté, un député, un été, le pâté, le traité


   Exception: le bastion

   Exceptions: le coude, un interlude, le prélude

   Exception: un abaque

   Exceptions: le préambule, le scrupule, le tentacule, le testicule, le véhicule, le ventricule, le vestibule

   Exceptions: le centaure, le cyanure, le dinosaure, le murmure

Additional Resources

French gender quiz
Tips for determining the gender of nouns 
French Nouns