French Sentence Construction

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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, outlined below with examples. Normally, each sentence expresses a complete thought. One way to better understand French sentences is to read French newspapers (like Le Monde or Le Figaro) to analyze their syntax and construction.

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. The predicate is the action 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. Check out some examples:

Les phrases (déclaratives) affirmatives ("Affirmative statements")

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

Les phrases (déclaratives) négatives ("Negative statements")

  • Je n'y vais pas. ("I'm not going.")
  • Je ne suis pas fatigué. ("I'm not tired.")
  • Je ne veux pas vous aider. ("I don't want to help you.")
  • Il ne sera pas là. ("He won't be there.")
  • 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 include:

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

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. For example:

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

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. For instance:

  • Va t'en ! ("Go away!")
  • Sois sage. ("Be good.")
  • Faites la vaisselle. ("Do the dishes.")
  • Aidez-nous à le trouver ! ("Help us find it!")
    (Note that the à and le here are not contracted to au because le is an object, not an article.)