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Using An Chair To Understand The Importance Of Les Genres In French Posted by on Mar 28, 2018 in Grammar

Learning des nouveaux mots (new words) in French means remembering a word’s definition, pronunciation, and le genre du mot (the gender of the word). For many people including myself, remembering les genres des mots is the hardest part of learning the language!

Image by Victor on Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Malheureusement (unfortunately), as un anglophone (an English speaker) the idea of every word having un genre is incredibly hard to accept. The distinctions are random and even though there are some general patterns, most of the time knowing le genre d’un mot means relying on your memory and making mistakes.

It can be difficult to understand how messing up le genre sounds wrong when the actual word itself was still said correctly, but it’s important to understand how it’s a mistake that really sticks out to les francophones (French speakers).

Something that helped me appreciate how getting le genre right can cause a misunderstanding was finding a similar idea en anglais:

Je veux acheter un chaise.
Un chaise… tu veux dire une chaise ?

I want to buy an chair.
An chair… you mean a chair?

Saying “an chair” instead of “a chair” isn’t a perfect comparison, because le genre isn’t really a thing you have to worry about in English. There’s no need to remember if “a chair” is masculin or féminin, but the fact that “une chaise” is féminine is a very important part of la grammaire française (and not le grammaire français like I accidentally typed while writing this post)!

Cependant (however), the difference between “a” and “an” provides a way for les anglophones like myself to feel the importance of such a small thing. The English example makes it easy to understand how “an chair” is not only grammatically incorrect, but also simply sounds strange.

Developing that same intuitive feeling for French takes a very long time, but seeing why it matters definitely helps the process. Keep that in mind the next time you accidentally say “un chaise” or la jour by mistake!

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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.