How to find the gender of things in French?

How to find the gender of things in French?

How to find the gender of things in French?

In French, do objects have a sex? Where does this strange idea come from? Who decided one day that the toothpaste was a man and the toothbrush a woman? This is a question I have always asked myself.

And I have the impression that no one really has a historical answer to it.

How to answer this question that a child would ask: ” So the table is the desk wife? ”

Milner, a linguist, wrote in 1988: ” We could talk about the group “le” and the group “la” rather than masculine or feminine gender.

Indeed, the masculine and feminine appellation seems a bit ridiculous for objects.

1. Gendre in various languages

You have probably noticed that the genre does not exist in all languages.

Some languages, like Danish, are have four genders: the masculine; feminine; neutral (gender neither masculine nor feminine); and the common (gender used for the masculine and feminine together).

Others, such as Russian, modern Greek, German or Slovene, have 3 genders: masculine, feminine and neutral.

English lost the gender at the Middle English stage. It is considered that English has a residual grammatical gender because some names have a hybrid behavior: animals, sometimes male or female and neutral, and, more surprisingly, land or sea vehicles often represented by the female pronoun.

Finally, some languages ​​have no gender: most of the languages ​​of Asia, the majority of Amerindian languages, the Uralic languages ​​(Turkish, Mongolian, Japanese, Korean, etc.), the Finno-Ugric languages ​​(Hungarian, Finnish , Estonian), and an isolated case among Indo-European languages: Armenian

Moreover, in languages ​​where gender exists, words do not always have the same kind! ‘’Book’’ is masculine in French, neutral in German and feminine in all Slavic languages! It is so disturbing!

2. How to learn the gender in French

For native speakers, it seems that the gender is learned during early childhood in a natural and unconscious way without posing any problem.

But for non-native French students, this is one of the most complicated thing to master. Even at an advanced level many students make mistakes.

Rest assured, the fact of deceiving gender does not block communication, and Francophones are used to foreigners making mistakes about it.

However, we must admit that Latin-speaking people will still have fewer problems learning genders, because of the similarities between their language and French.

3. Classification according to the endings

So how can you know if a word is masculine or feminine?

Even if it does not seem like it, there are some rules related to the words endings.

Somewhat, intuitive people may not be attracted by this kind of complex classification.

However, rational and scientific people will no doubt be interested in these statistics and rules. That’s why I’m showing them to you here.

Masculine words are ending with:
terminationNumber of wordsExamplestatistiquesExceptions
AGE1773Un garage99.66%Une cage, une image, la nage, une plage, une page, la rage
ISME1008Le plurilinguisme100%0
MENT794Un changement100%0
UM280Le maximum100%0
EME97Un problème96.9%La bohème, une crème
EU35Un feu100%0
IL122Un mail100%0
ING116Un parking100%0
US168Un busVénus
PHONExUn téléphone100%0
SCOPExUn télescope100%0
T1976Le vent99.41%Une forêt, une nuit, une dent, une part, la plupart
R1556Un déjeuner90%La mer, la chair, une cour, une tour +   all words ending with ‘’eur’’
ON± 262Un pantalon± 99 %
Feminine words are ending with:
terminationNumber of wordsExamplestatistiquesExceptions
ADE193Une limonade98.45%Un grade, le jade, un stade
UDE46Une certitude93.48%Un prélude, un interlude, un coude
TION / SION2067Une profession100%0
URE509La littérature97.25%Une augure, le bromure, le cyanure, le chlorure, un hydrocarbure, le mercure, un murmure, un parjure, le sulfure.
EURLa peurLe bonheur, un ascenseur, un ordinateur, un batteur, le bonheur, le malheur, l’honneur, le deshonneur, le labeur, un moteur.
ENCE / ANCE499une différence100%0
986La beauté99.99%Le karité
IE1070La vie99.44%Un brire, un caddie, un génie, un incendie, un messie
ÉE233Une dictée89%lycée périgée trophée pedigree musée
LLE438une ville95.9%Un antirouille, un arsouille, un bacille, un bidonville, le braille, un chevrefeuille, un codicile, un colibacile, un drille, un gorille, un lactobacille, un millefeuille, un pedzouille, un portefeuille, un pille, un streptobacille, un vaudeville
AISON72Une liaison100%0
ITE739Une gingivite94%Trilobite, anthracite, plébiscite, gîte, graphite, satellite, théodolite, comité, ermite, termite, granite, rite, mérite, site
ETTE327Une allumette98.5%Un squelette
CE500Une place89%espace crustace exercice bénéfice office artifice précipice dentifrice armistice vice service silence

4. Other classifications

We can classify some words according to what they represent:
Chemical bodiesle cobalt, nickel, soufre0
Treesun sapin, érable, chêne0
languagesle français, l'anglais0
Timedays: le lundi, un samedi …0
Timemonths: ce janvier, cet août …0
Timeseasons: un hiver, un été, un automne, un printemps0
Sciences’namesLa chimie, la grammaireLe droit

5. Difficulties

Some words change of gender according to their meaning. Here is a list that will allow you to avoid any confusion:

Masculin Féminin
Le mode d'emploi
the user manual
La mode des vêtements d'été
fashion summer clothes
Un moule à gâteau
a cake mold
Une moule dans la mer
a mold in the sea
Un pendule au bout d’un fil
a pendulum at the end of a thread
Une pendule qui donne l’heure
a clock that gives the time
Un poêle pour chauffer la maison
a stove to heat the house
Une poêle à frire
a frying pan
Un livre à lire
a book to read
Une livre (unité de poids)
one pound (unit of weight)
Un manche de hache
an ax handle
Une manche de chemise
a shirt sleeve
Un tour qu’on joue
a trick played
Une tour
a tower
Un vase à fleur
a flower vase
La vase au fond d’un marais
the mud at the bottom of a swamp
Un voile qu’on se met sur la tête
a veil that is put on the head
Une voile de bateau
a sailing boat
Un physique agréable
A nice physique
La physique et la chimie
Physics and chemistry
Voilà! I hope you liked this article and that French gender has no secret for you now!

Leave a comment to tell me your opinion about this topic or ask questions.

Days of the week in French language

Days of the week in French language

Days of the week in French language

Under the Roman empire, each day was the opportunity to celebrate a divinity associated with the celestial bodies they could see in the sky.

1. Sun and moon

Lundi comes from Lunaes dies in Latin, which means ‘’the day of the moon’’ (moon: la lune and dies : day)

With the same logic, Sunday should mean ‘’the day of sun’’ and should be soldi in French (sun: le soleil). But it has been changed by Christians into Dimanche from latin dominicus (the Master, the Lord).

2. Other planets

Apparently, Romans couldn’t see Uranus and Neptune, that’s why they don’t have any day named after them.

On the other hand, we have only seven days in the week, so, even if they had been able to see them, they would have had to make a choice between the 8 planets.

Or maybe we would have had 10 days in the week! A nightmare ?

Mardi (Tuesday) comes from Mars.

Mercredi (Wednesday) comes from Mercure.

Jeudi (Thursday) comes from Jupiter.

Vendredi (Friday) comes from Venus.

Samedi (Saturday) comes from Saturne. Previously, Romans used to call it Saturdi, but Christians changed it to Sabbati (the day of the Sabbat (Shabbat)), which became samedi in French.

Let’s recap:

Here you will find a great representation of the way we name days in Europe:

Par Poulpy — Travail personnel, based on File:Word for Wine in European languages.svg by PiMaster3, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Voilà! I hope it’s clearer for you. Now, if you are on the moon on Monday, you have a good excuse! Tell your boss that story.

Still, there is one mystery I could not solve: why do we put the days in that order? If you have an idea, tell me in a comment!

Listen to the podcast ”L’ORIGINE DES JOURS” in French :


Listen to the podcast ”L’ORIGINE DES JOURS” in French :


Listen to the podcast ”L’ORIGINE DES JOURS” in French :


Why are French numbers so strange?

Why are French numbers so strange?

Why are French numbers so strange?

You have tried to learn French numbers. And certainly, you’ve managed to memorize them. But still now, you don’t understand one thing: why is it SO strange and complicated?

Well, there is one main reason: history.

Here, I’ll tell you the story of French numbers, made simple.


1: the Romans and the decimal system

The romans (like many Indo-European populations) counted with the decimal system (based on the number 10).

They colonized France around 50 BC and brought with them, their culture, language and their way of counting:

10: DIX 10
20: VINGT 2 X 10
30: TRENTE 3 X 10
40: QUARANTE 4 X 10
50: CINQUANTE 5 X 10
60: SOIXANTE 6 X 10
70: SEPTANTE 7 X 10
80: HUITANTE 8 X 10
90: NONANTE 9 X 10

2: the Celtics and the vigesimal system

But when the Romans arrived in France, they had to cohabitate with other populations that had already been there for ages.

The Gaulois are Celtics populations who were living in France since the 1st millenary BC.

Celts in Europe-fr.svg
Par QuartierLatin1968, The Ogre,  Link

Celts in Europe

    The core Hallstatt territory, expansion before 500 BC
    Maximum Celtic expansion by 270 BC
    Lusitanian, Autrigones, Varduli and Caristi areas of Iberia, “Celticity” uncertain
    The boundaries of the six commonly-recognized ‘Celtic nations’, which remained Celtic speaking throughout the  Middle Ages (viz. Brittany, Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Ireland, Scotland)
    Areas that remain Celtic-speaking today
The Celtics also have an Indo-European origin but were counting with a vicesimal system (based on 20).

That should give something like that:

20: VINGT 20
30: VINGT-DIX 20 + 10
40: DEUX-VINGTS 2 X 20
50: DEUX-VINGT-DIX 2 X 20 + 10
70: TROIS-VINGT-DIX 3 X 20 + 10
90: QUATRE-VINGT-DIX 4 X 20 + 10

Another Theory says that this vigesimal system comes from the population of Denmark and Norway, the Normands, that arrived in Normandie around 900 AC.

3: the hybridization

Even if we are not sure of the origin of the vigesimal system, we can observe that both vigesimal and decimal system were cohabitating during the middle age in France.

It’s only during the 17th century, with the influence of the writers and intellectuals, that the Academy Française decided to choose the actual system, a hybridization of the decimal and vicesimal system.

10 : DIX

20 : VINGT









4: In other French speaking countries

Not all the French speaking countries count that way.

– In Romande Switzerland, They use the complete decimal system.

– In Geneva and Belgium, they use the decimal system except for 80 that they pronounce quatre-vingt (like in France).

– In Quebec and Francophone Africa, they count like in France.

Voilà! I hope you understand a little bit more the way we count in France. You can see that we like complexity ?

To finish, a nice map of the evolution of Indo-European language :

Formal or informal situations in French. VOUS or TU?

Formal or informal situations in French. VOUS or TU?

Formal or informal situations in French. VOUS or TU?

I am not formal when:

1. I talk to my boss

Of course, it depends if you are in a strict company or in a cool start-up with after-work parties every night.

So, if your boss is sacred like an ancient Jupiter’s statue, you need to say VOUS to his Altess.

In general, the best thing to do when you arrive in a new company is to observe what your colleague say to the boss and do the same.

And in a job interview, you say VOUS to everyone of course.

2. I talk to a stranger

When you don’t know the person you are introduced to, you say VOUS, except if you go to a dinner party with friends and you realize everybody says TU to each other. You don’t want to feel different!

Often, young adults in their twenties say YOU to each other very quickly, even if they have only known each other for five minutes.

At school or Uni, for example, you say TU to other students and VOUS to your teachers.

3. I address people in a shop or a restaurant

If you are in a shop, a restaurant, an administrative building etc., you say VOUS to people who work there (even if it’s a cool fashionable Italian café ? ).

Even if the seller or the waiter seems to be a teenager, you cannot say TU.

It is very important to show respect.

4. I visit my family-in-law for the first time

A very stressful situation: you meet your step family. What should you say?
In a family, people of same age say TU, so you can say TU to your brother-in-law or sister-in-law. But be careful, in some families they can be mistrustful and may need some time to accept you as a TU member. If your brother in law looks like my boss, you’d better start with VOUS and wait for him to say TU. Then do so.
If you are all under 30, go straight to TU with very little risk of mistakes.
What about your step parents, I would advise you say VOUS until you hear the magic sentence ‘’on se dit TU d’accord?’’ or ‘’on se tutoie’’, to which you’ll answer ‘’avec plaisir’’ with a big smile of gratitude. Now you have the permission to say TU and the feeling of being part of the tribe… don’t be too self-confident though ?.

I am not formal when:

1. I talk to a child

Yep, don’t say VOUS to a kid, you’ll be take directly to the closest mental health hospital.

2. I talk to a friend

Your friends are great people, they deserve a TU.

3. I talk to a colleague

Tricky one I would say. It depends on the company, the profession (and the personality) of your fellow co-workers. On your first day, listen to how they talk to you and answer the same way, you might say VOUS for a few days, but hopefully, you’ll end up very quickly saying TU : a sign that you belong to the group … and that you can hope for a long-term contract one day … just kidding, I have no idea how to get a long-term contract. Does that still exist?

4. I talk to my dog

As a matter of fact, your dog prefers TU, so don’t bother with VOUS.

In conclusion

My best tip to choose between TU or VOUS: don’t.

Wait for the person in front of you to talk first and see what he/she uses, then do the same.

(Here I have a personal message to my students: you’ve noticed I made a great effort to say TU to you in class (even if I am a VOUS kind of person). So please respect my efforts: if I say TU to you, that means I give you the permission to say TU in return. Don’t keep going with your polite VOUS, we are equals. OK? 🙂  )

And to finish, a funny anecdote: English films translated into French.

In English we use only YOU, which is very convenient, but not for the French translators. Imagine a film where two people meet: in French, they have to say VOUS first and TU after a moment which depends on many parameters (you’ve seen that above). So, the English-to-French translator must choose the RIGHT moment to switch from VOUS to TU. Not always easy when a love story starts very fast: they say VOUS and the next morning they wake up together saying TU. It’s a little bit odd sometimes, in a francophone point of view.

Voilà! I hope you know how to behave with a French speaker now.


Leave a comment to tell me what you think.