Les noms en français
Salut, and welcome to our lesson about French nouns at Language Easy! It’s a basic concept indeed, that you absolutely have to understand in depth before you can deepen your study of the French language. Don’t worry, we have you covered.
Allez, on y va !
What are French nouns ?
Que sont les noms en français ?
Nouns (les noms) identify people, things, places or abstract notions.
Another key point is that French nouns have a gender (masculine or feminine), they can vary in number (singular or plural), and they can be accompanied by a determinant (le, la, les, un…) and one or more adjective.
For example, that would be :
- La grammaire française
- Paris, Napoléon, Marie Curie
Common nouns VS proper nouns
Les noms communs VS les nom propres
Common nouns (les noms communs) name people, things, places or abstract notions in a general way, or in an individual way without differentiating them from the rest of their kind. What’s more, they start by a lower-case letter (une lettre minuscule) and are accompanied by an article (un article).
Here are two examples of common nouns :
- un bateau
- des pensées
On the other hand, proper nouns (les noms propres) name people, things or places in a specific way, differentiating them from the rest of their kind as a particular individual. Unlike common nouns, they start with a capital letter (une lettre majuscule), and don’t usually need to be accompanied by an article.
Of course, it’s always possible to associate a common noun to a proper noun to describe what category it belongs to :
- Paris est sans aucun doute une ville.
Paris is, without a doubt, a city.
In this article, we’ll focus on the study of common nouns. We dedicated another entire page to the study of proper nouns.
Gender of French nouns
Le genre des noms en français
All French nouns have a gender (un genre) : they are either masculine (masculin) or feminine (féminin). Masculine nouns are introduced by a masculine article : le (definite) or un (indefinite), whereas feminine nouns are introduced by a feminine article : la (definite) or une (indefinite).
To clarify, let’s see some examples and enhance our vocabulary :
- une feuille, la lune (feminine)
a leaf, the moon
- il y a un chat dans le jardin malgré le chien qui y habite. (masculine)
There is a cat is in the garden despite the dog that lives in it.
Be sure to check our complete course on French articles out.
In the dictionary, masculine French nouns are indicated by the notation “n. m.” (nom masculin), or simply “m.“, whereas feminine French nouns are indicated by the notation “n. f.” (nom féminin), or simply “f.”
As a matter of fact, the gender can be quite arbitrary and, when you learn new vocabulary, you might have to look into a dictionary to know it. This is why, in examples and word lists, French nouns are always introduced with an article that contains this information.
The mark of feminine French nouns is that they most generally end in “-e”.
- Hervé est un ami de Stéphanie. (masculine)
Hervé is a friend of Stéphanie’s.
- Stéphanie est une amie de Hervé. (feminine)
Stephaine is a friend of Hervé’s.
However, knowing this is not enough to guess the gender because there are quite a few masculine nouns that also have this termination. Also, there are some exceptions, like la nemesis (the nemesis).
See our complete lesson about Gender in French for more details.
Plural and singular forms of French nouns
Le pluriel et le singulier des noms en français
French nouns have a singular (singulier) and a plural (pluriel) form, depending on whether they designate one object or various. Subsequently, we say that they vary in number (en nombre).
Generally, there are different rules to be applied in order to form the corresponding plural form to nouns, according to how they are written in their singular form. However the the termination “-s” at the end of a French noun is the usual sign of the use of a plural (and also, any article used with the noun must vary in accordingly).
- Un verre / des verres
A glass / glasses
Similarly to English, the singular or plural form doesn’t always actually correspond to the number of objects that are designated, as a singular noun can point at a various objects :
- Un groupe de personnes
A group of people
Check out our complete article about Plural in French.
Les locutions nominales
Sometimes, instead of a single word, a whole group of words can take the place and the function of a noun : such a group is called a nominal locution (locution nominale).
For instance, here are an example of nominal locutions :
- Un chemin de fer.
- Tout-à-coup, il a fait un froid de canard.
All of a sudden, it became very cold. (lit. it did a “duck cold”)
Most importantly, there must be a sensation of unity as all the words are pointing to only one object ; the expression is idiomatic. If however I am speaking about, let’s say, la voiture de Pierre, there are two things involved : Pierre and his car. Therefore, it is not a nominal locution, but a nominal group (groupe nominal).
A few very common french nouns !
Quelques exemples de noms communs … communs !
So, why not take advantage of this lesson about French nouns to learn a bit of vocabulary ?
|Masculine common nouns||Feminine common nouns|
|le bureau = the desk||la route = the road|
|le soleil = the sun||une chambre = a bedroom|
|un enfant = a child||la ville = the city|
|le bus = the bus||la mer = the sea|
|un voyage = a trip||une poupée = a doll|
|le garçon = the boy||une fille = a girl|
Did you know ?
Le saviez-vous ?
French language formed itself through time in a geographical environment that has always been the theater of cultural (and thus linguistic) encounters, invasions, exchanges, mixtures… In truth, many words derive from (among others) different ancient languages like Latin, Greek, modern ones like German, English or Spanish, regional ones (extinct or not), like Breton, Occitan or Gallois…
This linguistic diversity is deeply rooted in the language and it is actually a key to understand why the diversity of words (including nouns) that exist in French (sometimes we have various words for the same thing). For who is passionate about understanding such matters, the study of Ethimology is certainly a must.
C’est quoi, la suite ?
Et voilà, we reached the end of our lessons about French nouns. Henceforth you have the necessary knowledge to go further in study of French : how about a course on French adjectives, since they are two families of words that work together a lot ?
Allez, à bientôt !