What Constitutes a Sentence in French?

4 types of French sentences need a subject and a verb

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Lawless, Laura K. "What Constitutes a Sentence in French?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 23, 2017, thoughtco.com/introduction-to-french-sentences-1368943. Lawless, Laura K. (2017, August 23). What Constitutes a Sentence in French? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/introduction-to-french-sentences-1368943 Lawless, Laura K. "What Constitutes a Sentence in French?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/introduction-to-french-sentences-1368943 (accessed September 23, 2017).
Every French sentence needs a subject and verb, even if it's just in a diary.
Every French sentence needs a subject and verb, even if it's just in a diary. Ezra Bailey/Taxi/Getty Images

A sentence (une phrase) is a group of words including, at a minimum, a subject and a verb, plus any or all of the French parts of speech. There are four basic types of sentence, each with its own punctuation, which we will discuss below with examples. Normally, each sentence expresses a complete thought. To expand your knowledge of French sentences, we highly recommend going to the websites of well and clearly written French newspapers, such as Le Monde or Le Figaro, and analyzing the construction of sentences there.

Parts of a French Sentence

Sentences can be separated into a subject (un sujet), which may be stated or implied, and a predicate (un prédicat). The subject is the person/s or thing/s performing the action, and the predicate is the rest of the sentence, which usually begins with the verb. Each sentence has an end punctuation mark, such as a period, question mark, or exclamation point, depending on the type of sentence, as well as possible intermediary punctuation such as commas.

For example:

  • Je suis professeur. > I am a teacher.
    Subject: Je > I
    Predicate: suis professeur > am a teacher
  • Paul et moi aimons la France. > Paul and I love France.
    Subject: Paul et moi > Paul and I
    Predicate: aimons la France > love France
  • La petite fille est mignonne. > The little girl is cute.
    Subject: La petite fille > The little girl
    Predicate: est mignonne > is cute

4 Types of French Sentences

There are four types of sentences: statements, questions, exclamations, and commands.

Below are explanations and examples of each type.

Statement ('Phrase Assertive' or 'Phrase Déclarative')

Statements, the most common type of sentence, state or declare something. There are affirmative statements, les phrases (déclaratives) affirmatives, and negative statements, les phrases (déclaratives) négatives.

Statements end in periods.

Examples: 

1) Affirmative statements > les phrases (déclaratives) affirmatives.

  • I'm going to the bank. > Je vais à la banque.
  • I am tired. > Je suis fatigué.
  • I'll help you. > Je vous aiderai.
  • I hope you'll be there. > J'espère que tu seras là.
  • I love you. > Je t'aime.

2) Negative statements > les phrases (déclaratives) négatives.

  • I'm not going. > Je n'y vais pas.
  • I'm not tired. > Je ne suis pas fatigué.
  • I don't want to help you. > Je ne veux pas vous aider.
  • He won't be there. > Il ne sera pas là.
  • Ça ne me regarde pas. > It's none of my business.

Question ('Phrase Interrogative')

Interrogatives, aka questions, ask about or for something. Note that these sentences end in a question mark, and there is a space in every case between the final word and the question mark. 

Examples:

  •  Do you have my book? > As-tu mon livre ?
  •  Are they ready? > Sont-ils prêts ?
  •  Where is he? > Où est-il ?
  •  Can you help us? > Peux-tu nous aider ?

Exclamation ('Phrase Exclamative')

Exclamatives express a strong reaction such as surprise or indignation. They look just like statements except for the exclamation point at the end; for this reason, they're sometimes considered a subcategory of statements rather than a separate type of sentence.

Note that there is a space between the final word and the exclamation point.

Examples:

  •    I want to go! > Je veux y aller !
  •    I hope so! > J'espère que oui !
  •    He's very handsome! > Il est très beau !
  •    That's a great idea! > C'est une bonne idée !

Command ('Phrase Impérative')

Commands are the only kind of sentence without an explicit subject; instead, the subject is implied by the conjugation of the verb, which is in the imperative. The implied subject will always be either the singular or plural "you" form: tu for singular and informal; vous for plural and formal. Commands can end in either a period or an exclamation point, depending on the speaker's desired intensity.

Examples:

  •    Go away! > Va t'en !
  •    Be good. > Sois sage.
  •    Do the dishes. > Faites la vaisselle.
  •    Help us find it! > Aidez-nous à le trouver !
       (Note that the à and le here are not contracted to au because le is an object,
          not an article.)
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    Your Citation
    Lawless, Laura K. "What Constitutes a Sentence in French?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 23, 2017, thoughtco.com/introduction-to-french-sentences-1368943. Lawless, Laura K. (2017, August 23). What Constitutes a Sentence in French? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/introduction-to-french-sentences-1368943 Lawless, Laura K. "What Constitutes a Sentence in French?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/introduction-to-french-sentences-1368943 (accessed September 23, 2017).