French Nouns ~ Noms

Introduction to French nouns

person pointing at dog on see-saw
s5iztok/E+/Getty Images

A noun is a word that represents a person, place, or thing, whether concrete (e.g., chair, dog) or abstract (idea, happiness). In French, all nouns have a gender - they are either masculine or feminine. The gender of some nouns makes sense (homme [man] is masculine, femme [woman] is feminine) but others don't: the words personne [person] and victime [victim] are always feminine, even when the person or victim is a man!



It is very important to learn a noun's gender along with the noun itself because articles, adjectives, some pronouns, and some verbs have to agree with nouns; that is, they change depending on the gender of the noun they modify.

The best way to learn the gender of French nouns is to make your vocabulary lists with the appropriate definite article or indefinite article. That is, rather than a list like this:

  • livre - book
  • chaise - chair

make French vocabulary lists like this:

  • un livre - book
  • une chaise - chair

so that you learn the gender with the noun. The gender is part of the noun and you will be much better off learning it now, as a beginner, than trying to go back after years of study and memorizing the genders of all the words you've already learned (I speak from experience). Also, there are quite a few French nouns with different meanings depending on whether they are masculine or feminine.

Gender of French Nouns

French nouns are always masculine or feminine, and you usually can't determine the gender just by looking at the word or thinking about what it means. While there are some tendencies in the gender of French nouns - see the table below - there are always exceptions. Please don't use these patterns as a way to avoid learning the genders of nouns - just learn each word as gender + noun and then you'll know them forever.



Nearly all French nouns have different forms for singular and plural. In addition, many nouns that refer to people and animals have both a masculine and a feminine form. 

Ending is usually:
-agemasculine Exceptions: une cage, une image, une nage, une page, une plage, une rage
-eaumasculineExceptions:l'eau, la peau
-éefeminineExceptions:un lycée, un musée
-ionfeminineExceptions:un avion, un bastion, billion, un million, un lion, un scion
-téfeminineExceptions:un comité, un invité

In addition, most countries and names that end in e are feminine.

French Nouns with Irregular Feminine Forms

Most French nouns become feminine according to regular patterns, but there are a number of irregular nouns, based on the final letter(s) of the masculine singular noun.

Nouns that end in a vowel plus L, N, or T usually become feminine by doubling the consonant before adding E.

Ending: en > enne   Noun: le gardien (guard)
   Masculine singular   le gardien
   Feminine singular   la gardienne
   Masculine plural   les gardiens
   Feminine plural   les gardiennes

Ending: el > elle   Noun: le colonel (colonel)
   Masculine singular   le colonel
   Feminine singular   la colonelle
   Masculine plural   les colonels
   Feminine plural   les colonelles

Nouns that end in er need a grave accent:

Ending: er > ère   Noun: le boulanger (baker)
   Masculine singular   le boulanger
   Feminine singular   la boulangère
   Masculine plural   les boulangers
   Feminine plural   les boulangères

The final letters eur have two possible irregular feminine endings:

Ending: eur > euse   Noun: un danseur (dancer)
   Masculine singular   un danseur
   Feminine singular   une danseuse
   Masculine plural   des danseurs
   Feminine plural   des danseuses

Ending: eur > rice   Noun: un acteur (actor)
   Masculine singular   un acteur
   Feminine singular   une actrice
   Masculine plural   des acteurs
   Feminine plural   des actrices

Notes

  • These rules are similar for making adjectives feminine
  • The rules for making nouns feminine apply only to people and some animals. They do not apply to objects, which have only one form: masculine or feminine.
  • Compound nouns have their own gender rules.

French Nouns with Irregular Plurals

Most French nouns become plural according to regular patterns, but there are a number of irregular nouns, based on the final letter(s) of the singular noun.

The endings al and ail change to aux in the plural:

Noun: un cheval (horse)
   Masculine singular   un cheval
   Masculine plural   des chevaux

Noun: un travail (task, job)
   Masculine singular   un travail
   Masculine plural   des travaux

The endings aueau, and eu take an X for plural:

Noun: un tuyau (pipe, tip)
   Masculine singular   un tuyau
   Masculine plural   des tuyaux

Noun: un château (castle)
   Masculine singular   un château
   Masculine plural   des châteaux

Noun: un feu (fire)
   Masculine singular   un feu
   Masculine plural   des feux