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Tout is a very versatile word in French — you’ll generally find it means “all,” but you’ll notice different meanings when you see all its forms. This little word can be used as an adjective, an adverb, a noun, and a pronoun, and all with varying forms. We’ll go over all of those separately. I noticed my students often had trouble with this word, but once explained, the confusion was easily cleared up.
Un adjectif is used to describe a noun — words like grand, heureux, et génial (big, happy, great) are all adjectives. Just like with other adjectives in French, tout (translation here: all, whole) has different forms. Tout is used before the noun.
|Masculine singular form||tout||Camille a mangé tout le gateau!
(Camille ate the whole cake.)
|Feminine singular form||toute||Je vais nettoyer toute la maison.
(I’m going to clean the whole house.)
|Masculine plural form||tous||Tous les chiens vont au paradis.
(All dogs go to heaven.)
|Feminine plural form||toutes||J’ai enregistré toutes les émissions.
(I recorded all the programs.)
The masculine forms are both pronounced the same way. The final -t in the masculine form is sometimes pronounced because of elision (à tout âge, for example), but the -s in the plural form will not be pronounced unless it is before a consonant. For the feminine forms, they are both pronounced the same way with the -s not being pronounced.
There are some fixed expressions and constructions I think should be discussed. Tout as an adjective means “all” or “whole,” but can also mean “every.” The French word for every is chaque, but here are some examples of how to use tout for “every.”
tous les jours – every day
tout le monde – everybody
tout le temps – all the time (but chaque fois – each time – not toutes les fois)
tous les dimanches soirs – every Sunday night (I used to always say chaque dimanche soir before learning this construction)
Un adverbe is used to modify or qualify another adverb, an adjective, or a verb. Words such as bien, déjà, and parfois (well, already, sometimes) are all adverbs. As an adverb, tout means very or quite. Tout as an adverb is pretty easy in terms of agreement, but we’ll discuss the exception.
When describing a masculine adjective that’s either singular or plural, tout is invariable (it doesn’t change).
Il est tout content d’être avec moi. (He’s very happy to be with me.)
Ils sont tout triste. (They are all sad). Notice the subject is plural, but tout doesn’t change to tous.
Tout gets a little tricky with feminine adjectives. For both singular and plural adjectives that begin with a vowel or a mute H, tout stays invariable.
Diane a mangé la pizza tout entière. (Diane ate the whole pizza.) Despite the fact that entière is feminine (because of la pizza), tout stays in its invariable state.
On the other hand, when the feminine adjective begins with either a consonant or an aspirated H, tout will become feminine and either singular or plural.
C’est une fille toute petite, mais elle peut tout faire! (She’s a small girl, but she can do it all!)
Un nom is a person, place, thing, or idea, and it’s probably the easiest form of tout. Le tout can mean whole, all, or everything. Its plural form is les touts.
L’univers fait partie d’un tout. (The universe is part of a whole)
Je ne peux pas vendre que des parties de la voiture – il faut acheter le tout. (I can’t just sell parts of the car – you’ll have to buy the whole thing.)
You’ll also see tout used as a noun in the expressions pas du tout (not at all) and rien de tout (nothing at all).
Un pronom replaces a noun. Think of il and elle, for example, because they replace a person’s name. As a pronoun, tout means all, everything, or everyone. It only has 3 different forms: tout, tous, and toutes.
Oui, tout va bien, merci. (Everything’s going well, thank you.)
Mes enfants sont tous adorables. (All my kids are adorable.)
Les filles sont allées aux toilettes toutes ensemble. (The girls all went to the bathroom together.)
The pronunciation of tous as a pronoun is special: you pronounce the -s at the end, even if the first letter of the next word is a consonant. Sure it goes against everything you’ve been taught, but French is full of fun little exceptions 😉
C’est tout! Merci à tous d’avoir lu la leçon. J’espère que tout est clair maintenant, mais sinon, vous pouvez passer toute la journée en faisant des exercices pour tout comprendre!
(That’s all! Thank you all for reading the lesson. I hope it’s all clear now, but if not, you can spend your whole day doing exercises to understand everything!)