In many respects, French and English share many similarities. In many others, they do not. One of the most important difference is that all nouns in French, like in other romance languages, have a gender, either masculine or feminine. This has important consequences as words referring to the noun are affected by this quality (adjectives, participes, etc…)
What are the rules to determine if a word is masculine or feminine? There are several useful tricks:
Step 1: look at the determiner. That is, the short word that precedes the noun.
If the determiner is un, le, du, or ce, then the word is masculine
If the determiner is une, la, de la, or cette the word is feminine.
Step 2: What if there is no determiner?
Generally, you can use the rule below. It covers many cases.
- nouns that end in –age (fromage/cheese), -ment (moment/moment), -eau (ruisseau/spring), -phone (téléphone/telephone), -scope (téléscope/telescope), or –isme (capitalisme/capitalism) are masculine.
- nouns that end in –tion (condition/condition), -sion (persuasion/persuasion), -té (volonté/will), -ette (tablette/tablet), -ance (endurance/endurance), -ence (violence/violence), -ie (scie/saw), -ure (sciure/wood shavings), -ode (cathode/cathode), -ade (promenade/walk), -ude (solitude/solitude) are feminine.
You can usually guess at the feminine form of a word by adding an e at the end of the masculine form.
un patient – une patiente / (a patient)
déterminé – déterminée / (determined)
But there are many, many exceptions. In some cases, the femine form of a noun is nothing at all like the masculine. (cheval/stallion, jument/filly)
Like English nouns, most French nouns can be written in the plural form by adding an (s) to the end of the word. chat/chats (cat/cats) – voiture/voitures (car/cars)
There are however several classes of exceptions:
1) words that end in –s, -x, -z.
prix/award or price; poids/weight; nez/nose
The spelling of these words does not change between the singular or plural.
2) words that end in –al, -ail, -au in the singular end in –aux in the plural
vitrail – vitraux / stained glass window(s)
général – généraux / general(s)
tuyau – tuyaux / pipe(s)
** Notable exceptions that end with s in the plural: bal – bals / ball(s); carnaval – carnavals / carnival(s); festival – festivals / festival(s); récital – récitals / recital(s); portail – portails / portal(s)
3) words that end in –eu or –eau in the singular end in –x in the plural
neveu – neveux / nephew(s)
eau – eaux / water(s)
4) The following nouns that end in ou in the singular end in x in the plural
bijou – bijoux / jewel(s); caillou – cailloux / stone(s); chou – choux / cabbage(s); genou – genoux / knee(s); hibou – hiboux / owl(s); joujou – joujoux / little toy(s); pou – poux / louse(s)