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French is a difficult language to learn. If you’re a native English speaker, you know that in English nouns are preceded by the word ‘the’ or ‘a’ whereas in French every noun is either masculin ou feminin (masculine or feminine). Unfortunately, there’s no real rhyme or reason in assigning gender to a noun so your only option is to commit to memory the gender of each noun you learn. For example, the word table (table) is feminine (la table) whereas the word bureau (desk) is always masculine (le bureau). There are certain patterns and exceptions but for the most part, it comes down to simple memorization.
Conjugating verbs is another challenge many students face. When learning to conjugate French verbs, students usually begin with the verbs avoir (to have) and être (to be) as they seem to be the most common. For those of you who are already well acquainted with this information, please bear with me. If you’re just beginning to learn French, committing to memory the most basic tense of the verbs avoir and être will lay a solid foundation that will help you master the more complex tenses such as compound tenses that contain three words instead of two.
Let’s take a look at the présent de l’indicatif (present indicative) tense of the verbs avoir and être.
J’ai (I have)
Tu as (You have)
Il a (He has)
Nous avons (We have)
Vous avez (You have—plural)
Ils ont (They have)
Je suis (I am)
Tu es (You are)
Il est (He is)
Nous sommes (We are)
Vous êtes (You are—plural)
Ils sont (They are)
Learning these two verbs in the present indicative tense is essential. Other verbs will follow the same basic principle but these two verbs are the most important as you will use them quite frequently.
So how do you use these two verbs in a sentence? Let’s take a look.
For the verb avoir (to have), let’s tag a simple ending onto it—une voiture (a car):
J’ai une voiture (I have a car).
Notice that all we did was add the words une voiture (a car) to the end of J’ai (I have). It’s very simplistic and similar to English. Also, you might have noticed that the word voiture (car) is preceded by the article une (a—feminine). Since the word voiture is feminine, we place an -e at the end of un (a—masculine) to specify the gender. If we were referring to a specific car, we would say la voiture (the car) as we discussed in the first paragraph of this post.
Now let’s formulate a simple sentence using the verb être (to be):
Je suis un Américain (I’m an American).
Again, all you are doing is tagging a noun to the end of the words je suis (I am). Notice once more the article preceding the noun. In this case, it is masculine (un) rather than feminine (une). Since I am a man, this is appropriate. A woman saying this same sentence would say Je suis une Américaine. In this case, the noun gains an -e at the end to reflect its feminine nature. If this seems complicated, don’t worry. Our focus today is simply to gain a basic understanding of gender and the verbs avoir and être.
In the next post, we’ll look at a useful little book that will help you become a conjugation expert. Until then, à bientôt!