Benjamin Houy First edition

First edition
Top 11
Learners Make
Benjamin Houy
About the author
I am Benjamin Houy, the founder of French Together.
After years teaching French, I noticed that English speakers often make the
same mistakes. This book contains the 11 most common mistakes English speakers make in
Rather than asking you to memorize boring rules, this book shows you how
to avoid these mistakes using patterns and clear explanations. For example you will learn:
• How to determine the gender of a noun with 90% accuracy
• How B.R.A.G.S can help you know whether an adjective goes before or
after a noun
• Why it‘s important to be CaReFuL when you speak French
• And much more
If you have a question, feel free to contact me at
[email protected]
Enjoy :).
Mistake #1: confusing the gender of French nouns
Does the gender of French nouns drive you crazy? Does it feel
like there is no logic at all?
Well, I have a great news for you. Despite what many people
say, there is a reliable way to know whether a French word is
feminine or masculine.
First of all, it's important to know the gender is about the word
itself, not the concept behind the word. It's not because a concept sounds rather feminine that the word used to talk about it
in French will be feminine.
You will be like native French speakers, you will instinctively
know the gender of the nouns you encounter. And I am not the
one saying this will work, several studies have actually proven
that students who focus on nouns' endings when they start to
study French are much more successful at determining nouns'
Typically masculine word endings (+90%)
-an, -and, -ant, -ent, -in, -int, -om, -ond, -ont, -on (but not after
The most reliable way to determine a noun's gender is to look
at its ending. According to a study by McGill University, a noun's
ending indicates its gender with 90% accuracy.
-eau, -au, -aud, -aut, -o, -os, -ot
Before you freak out at the idea that you now have to learn these endings by heart, let me suggest something more effective.
-ou, -out, -out, -oux
1) Print this list
2) Look at it every time you wonder whether a noun is masculine or feminine
This way you will naturally learn to determine a noun's gender
based on its ending. After a few month, you won't even need to
look at the list anymore.
-ai, -ais, -ait, -es, -et
-i, -il, -it, -is, -y
-at, -as, -ois, -oit
• -u, -us, -ut, -eu
-er, -e´after C (C=t)
-age, -ege, – ` eme, -ome/- ` ome, -aume, -isme
-as, -is, -os, -us, -ex
-it, -est
-ache, -iche, -eche, -oche, -uche, -ouche, -anche
-al, -el, -il, -ol, -eul, -all
-ave, -eve, -ive
-if, -ef
-iere, -ure, -eure
-ac, -ic, -oc, -uc
-ette, -ete, – ˆ ete, -atte, -otte, -oute, -orte, -ante, -ente, -inte,
-am, -um, -en
-air, -er, -erf, -ert, -ar, -arc, -ars, -art, -our, -ours, -or, -ord, -ors,
-ort, -ir, -oir, -eur
-alle, -elle, -ille, -olle
-aille, -eille, -ouille
(if animate)
-appe, -ampe, -ombe
-ail, -eil, -euil, -ueil
• -igue
Typically feminine word endings (+90%)
-aie, -oue, -eue, -ion, -te, – ´ ee, -ie, -ue
Reference: Predictability in French gender attribution: A corpus
analysis1 ROY LYSTER McGill University (Received October
2004; revised November 2005)
-asse, -ace, -esse, -ece, -aisse, -isse/-ice, -ousse, -ance, -anse,
-ence, -once
-enne, -onne, -une, -ine, -aine, -eine, -erne
-ande, -ende, -onde, -ade, -ude, -arde, -orde
-euse, -ouse, -ase, -aise, -ese, -oise, -ise, -yse, -ose, -use
Mistake #2: pronouncing the wrong final letters
In French, what you see isn't necessarily what you hear, because
many letters are silent. To know whether a final letter should be pronounced or not, think about the CaReFuL rule.
If the French word ends in C, R, F or L (the letters in CaReFuL), the
final letter is pronounced.
Le choc
The final letter is a „c“ so you pronounce it.
Le docteur
The final letter is a „r“ so you pronounce it.
If the word ends with another letter: the final letter is silent
This doesn't work if the final letter is a "e", "b", "k" or "q" though. But
since "b", "k" and "q" are almost never used as final letters in
French, this rule works in most cases.
Le ticket
The final letter is a „t“, so you don‘t pronounce it. Paris
The final letter is a „s“ so you don‘t pronounce it.
Note: there are exceptions.but with this rule, you will be right in most
situations. As for everything, you will end up knowing instinctively
how to pronounce words as you get a better knowledge of the language.
The final letter of „champs“ is „s“, so you don‘t pronounce it.
And the final letter of „Elysées“ is also a „s“, so it‘s silent.
When a word ends in „és“ or „ées“, you pronounce it as if the final letter was „é“.
Mistake #3: yes/no questions
In French, you have three ways to ask a yes/no question.
1. Est-ce que tu veux manger quelque chose ? (lit: do you want
eat something)
T‘as déjà mangé ?
Est-ce que tu as déjà mangé ?
2. Veux-tu manger quelque chose ? (lit: want you eat something?)
3. Tu veux manger quelque chose ? (lit: you want to eat something?)
Have you eaten?
These three sentences all mean "do you want to eat something?".
Note: you will learn why „tu as“ becomes „t‘as“ with mistake #6.
The two first sentences are clearly identified as questions. The first
one because it starts with "est-ce que", the second one because
verb and pronoun are inverted.
ça va
But the third sentence could be an affirmative sentence if it wasn‘t
for the „?“.
It‘s going well (lit: it‘s going)
The thing is, you won't have a "?" when you speak, so you need to
raise the tone of your voice at the end of the sentence to identify it
as a question.
ça va ?
how is it going?
Don‘t forget to do it, otherwise people won‘t know you are asking
question and will think it‘s a statement.
Mistake #4 being overly familiar
As an English speaker, you are used to always saying "you" when
you talk to someone. What you may not know is that there are two
ways to say you in French:
Excusez-moi, est-ce que vous savez où est le métro ?
Excuse me, do you know where the subway is?
• Vous (formal or plural)
• Tu (informal)
People may be offended if you use "tu" all the time.
You use ,tu“:
• with friends
Salut, comment tu vas?
Hi, how are you doing? (informal)
Bonjour, comment allez-vous ?
Hello! How are you doing? (formal)
• with people you know well
• with children
• with people your age if you are a teenager
Vous êtes où ?
Where are you?
You use „vous“:
• with strangers
• with people older than you
Based on „vous“, this sentence could be formal or plural. However, this way to ask a question is informal, so the sentence is informal (see mistake #3).
If you don't know which one to use, "vous" is a safer choice.
Mistake #5: always translating to be with "être"
Many of the mistakes made by English speakers in French come
from literal translation.
Don‘t worry though, there are many cases where you can use
„être“ exactly as you would use „to be“ in English.
For example, many English speakers say „je suis faim“ instead of
„j‘ai faim“.
That‘s not correct, because „faim“ doesn‘t mean „hungry“, it means
„hunger“. And like in English, you don‘t use „suis“ (am) before a
noun in French.
Je suis fatigué(e)
I am tired
Je suis faim (incorrect)
Je suis énervé(e)
I am hunger
I am angry
J‘ai faim (correct)
I have hunger
In both sentences, the final „e“ indicates that the person talking
(the subject) is a woman.
Je suis soif (incorrect)
I am thirst
J‘ai soif (correct)
I have thirst
Mistake #6; le followed by a vowel
In English, contractions such as „you‘re“ indicate that the
conversation is informal.
However, in French, contractions are mandatory. They do not
indicate how formal a conversation is.
La amie => l'amie
Le homme => l'homme
In fact, their only goal is to make the pronounciation easier (and
learning French harder).
Le ami => l'ami
For example, „le“ (masculine „the“) and „la“ (feminine „the“)
become „l‘„ when they are followed by a vowel or a silent „h“.
An easy way to remember that is to think that vowels all hate
each others, so if there are two vowels next to each others, you
need to delete one of them.
In this situation, you always delete the first vowel.
This rule also applies to „ce“, „de“, „je“, „me“, „ne“, „que“, „se“,
Le air => l‘air
Note: "ami" is the masculine for "friend", while "amie" is the feminine form. In lots of cases, adding a final "e" is all you have to
do to make a word feminine.
In spoken French, the „e“ in „le“ or „de“ is often dropped. So
„beaucoup de pain“ (lots of bread) may sound like „beaucoup
Mistake #7: connaitre VS savoir
The creators of the French language love nothing more than to
make you suffer. That‘s why they decided to create two verbs to
say „to know“.
And of course, since giving the exact same meaning to both would
have made it too easy to learn, they decided to give slight variations of meaning to each verb. Je connais cet homme, c'est mon voisin.
I know this man, he is my neighbor.
Je connais bien Paris.
I am familiar with/ I know Paris well
Let‘s start with „connaître“:
• Used before nouns, never before verbs
Je sais manger avec des baguettes
• Often means „to know a person or place“, „to be familiar
with a person or place“.
I know how to eat with chopsticks
Je ne sais pas quoi faire
I don't know what to do
• Used before verbs and prepositions
• Almost never used before a noun
Je (ne) connais personne ici
• Often means „to know how to“
I don‘t know anyone here
Note: dropping the „ne“ is common in spoken French.
Mistake #8: false cognates
You may not know this but one third of English words come from
the French language.
This means you already know lots of French words.
That's a great news, because it means learning vocabulary will be
way easier.
You will quickly realize though that some words that look almost identical in French and English have different meanings.
Here are the most common ones and their meaning in French:
to wait
right now/at the moment
Book shop
Check out 11 Common French Mistakes That Will Make You
Feel Awkward if you want to avoid mistakes like this one :).
Passer un examen
To take an exam
Mistake #9: who misses who?
You want to tell your French friend or lover you miss him/her, so
you say „je te manque“.
Tu me manques
I miss you
The problem is that you just said „you miss me“. In French the person you are missing is the VIP person, so this
person should always be the subject of the sentence.
Paris me manque
I miss Paris
Il manque à sa famille
His family misses him
Mistake #10: faire la bise Vs baiser
This mistake could make you feel awkward, or worse, ruin your
relationship with someone.
On se fait la bise ?
Do we kiss each other? (on the cheek)
"Un baiser" is a kiss. And in theory, "baiser" means to kiss.
What your dictionary may not tell you though, is that there is a
more common meaning.
On baise?
Nowadays, "baiser" mainly means "to fuck".
We fuck?
So if you want to kiss someone on the cheek, use the verb
"faire la bise" (lit: to do the kiss) instead.
Discover more embarrassing mistake here.
Note: if you want to sound more polite, you can say "est-ce
qu'on se fait la bise".
Mistake #11: position of adjectives
In English, adjectives always go before the noun. In French, it‘s
slightly more complicated.
La belle valise
The beautiful suitcase
Most adjectives go after te noun. Except the BRAGS.
Un vieux ticket de métro
The BRAGS are adjective that are so full of themselves that
they always want to be first, and therefore go before the noun.
An old subway ticket
La maison verte
Here are the BRAGS adjectives:
The green house
• Beauty adjectives: beau, belle, joli
• Rank adjectives: premier, deuxième, troisième, dernier, seul
• Age adjectives: jeune, vieux, ancient, nouveau
Un homme stupide
A stupid man
• Goodness adjectives: bon, bonne mauvais
• Size adjectives: grand, petit, gros
Note: not all adjectives related to beauty, age etc follow this
rule. The adjectives above are among the most common
French adjectives though, so knowing them is useful.
Further reading
How do some people become fluent faster than others? Is it a
specific “language learning gene” that those people possess?
No. It’s the tools and techniques that make learning easier and
more enjoyable.
How to Learn French in a Year outlines the step-by-step
process you need to take to go from stumbling your way
through conversation, to mastering the four core language
skills – read, write, listen, and speak.
From the minute you begin using the tools and techniques
outlined in How to Learn French in a Year you’ll be addicted to
the process.
Whether you’re just starting out on your journey to learn
French, or whether you’re not making much progress in your
efforts to learn the language, How to Learn French in a Year will
work as your secret weapon to conquer this language once and
for all.
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