French Language Blog

La Newsletter – Mixing Up Les Genres In French Posted by on Jan 16, 2019 in Grammar

One of the hardest parts of learning French is trying to remember les genres des mots (the gender of words). The seemingly random choice of one word being masculin and another being féminin always leads to making mistakes.

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under CC0.

Sometimes the fast pace au bureau (at the office) doesn’t leave time for corrections and small errors fall the sidelines uncorrected. I may make une faute (a mistake) but if I’m still understood no one mentions it as long as no one’s work is affected.

It’s a practical solution and keeps work discussions from turning into grammar lessons, but can unfortunately lead to forming incorrect patterns. That then leads to spending time unlearning before being able to relearn the proper way to say something.

For me, this most often happens with les genres des mots. Les genres can be random or ambiguous and require a lot of memorization if you never want to make a mistake. Even les francophone (French speakers) sometimes struggle with les genres des mots so how is a non native speaker like myself going to stand a chance!

To be fair, there are some useful patterns that make remembering les genres much easier, but it still often boils down to memorizing a big chunk of exceptions. Heureusement (luckily), there is a fun way to reinforce why it’s important to get them right though.

Using An Chair To Understand The Importance Of Les Genres In French

To get back to our main story, one such rule for memorizing les genres de mots is that English loan words tend to be masculin (unless you speak le français canadien).

A project au travail (at work) involved a newsletter so it was a word I needed to use fairly often and I assumed it was masculin like many English loan words seem to be. So I had been using le newsletter in emails and meetings for months before I finally noticed mes collègues (my coworkers) were using la newsletter.

I decided it was time to ask mon patron (my boss) about it and make sure I was communicating with mes collègues français correctly.

Excusez-moi, est-ce que le mot “newsletter” est masculin ou féminin ?
C’est féminin. On dit la newsletter… c’est une newsletter.

Excuse me, is the word “newsletter” masculine or feminine?
It’s feminine. You say the newsletter… It’s a newsletter.

Mon patron was running through examples in context to double check le genre du mot “newsletter”. It’s not a thing native French speakers usually think about so quickly running through a few examples that make le genre obvious (like delicious spaghetti) help quickly answer the question.

After a few minutes mon patron brought the subject up again:

Je pense que c’est à cause du mot “lettre” dans le mot “newsletter”.

I think it’s because of the word “letter” in the word “newsletter”.

It all instantly made more sense even if it goes against the general rule I had been using. I just need to double check when I use an English loanword now and if it there’s un mot français (a French word) hiding somewhere, use that to figure out le genre du mot!

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About the Author: John Bauer

John Bauer is an enthusiast for all things language and travel. He currently lives in France where he's doing his Master's. John came to France four years ago knowing nothing about the language or the country, but through all the mistakes over the years, he's started figuring things out.