Le ou la? (Le or la ?)
- ___ poème
- ___ Mexique (too soon ? Désolée, les Bleus !)
- ___ Cambodge (Cambodia)
- ___ problème
- ___ programme
- ___ thème
- ___ lycée (secondary school, high school)
- ___ cimetière (cemetery)
- ___ musée (museum)
- ___ stade (stadium)
Ready ? I’m betting (je parie) that a lot of you got 10 out of 10… wrong.
All of these words end in e, but (spoiler alert) they are all masculine!
“Injuste!” vous criez. “No fair!” I know. French gives us precious few règles (rules), and one of them is that words that end in ‘e’ are generally feminine. (Like my name!) These words and a few others, however, defy that suggestion.
Why bother with a list of ten words, when there is a whole language to learn? Because French is unfaithful to most of its “rules.” Just like your teacher said, the only way is to memorize it, word by word. Learn these ten, and you’ll have them. Il n’y a pas de raccourci (there is no shortcut).
For me, masculin/ féminin can be paralyzing. Even if I know all the words to say something, I am nervous about giving myself away as an amateur by slipping up and asking about la programme. There are two ways to tackle this, in ascending order of importance.
- Memorize. Read in French (ce blog, le journal, des livres), listen to music, watch movies sous-titrés en français (subtitled in French)—anything to expose yourself to French, so you can absorb the articles (le/la). If you have the discipline for flashcards, allez-y et félicitations (go ahead and congratulations!).
- Get over it. It’s so much more important to speak than to speak perfectly. Will people be mean to you? Sometimes, but it’s funny. Will they judge you for getting it wrong? Yes, but also for nine hundred other things, so who cares? Is any of that more important than you getting better at French, and is speaking the best way to achieve that? I think you know where I stand on that, and I hope you stand with me.
Je vous offre ce liste because I love these words and this exception to the rule, but also to make the point that French is tricky. Mastering the tricks is one of the great joys of learning a language. See if you can mémoriser ces dix mots (these ten words), and (more importantly) promise yourself that you’ll use them even if you forget.
But even if you get it right, “Vive le Mexique” is probably not something you want to say for a while.
PS If you’re really a champion memorizer or you want to know more, this is a great review of masculine/feminine.
PPS Not related but you’re welcome.