6 grammar notions you should know before your French lesson

For most English speakers, grammar is the most difficult part when it comes to learning French. But when you take it step by step, it’s actually not that hard (no, really, I’m not joking)! So let’s take a closer look at 6 grammar notions you should know before your French lesson.

someone takes notes

First grammar notion: les articles

One of the first things you learn as a beginner is les articles; but what on Earth is that? I know, right? Are we talking about newspapers here? I thought we were talking about grammar… I know, it can be confusing but that’s where I come!

So here is this first grammar notion: in French, you need little words in front of the nouns and these little words are called articles. They can be: définis, indéfinis or partitifs (we’ll go back to this one later).

Articles définis: le (masculin), la (féminin), les (pluriel)
You use them when something is specific. For example: le Canada, la voiture de ma soeur (it’s not a random car, it’s your sister’s car so it’s specific).

Articles indéfinis : un (masculin), une (féminin), des (pluriel)
You use them when something is not specific. For example : un livre (it’s general, nothing specific about this book).

It’s actually the same system in English, except for the gender difference. In French, you are going to change this little word, l’article, depending on the gender of the noun (not depending on who the speaker is).

Ok, Sarah, but what’s a noun? 

Second grammar notion: le nom

I’m glad you asked! It brings us to the second grammar notion: le nom.
Just like les articles, you probably know already what the noun is, but because of your school background, you might have never put a label on it.

Let’s take the previous example: un livre.
Here, we have un, which is? Come on, you just read it! Yes, l’article indéfini (masculin), bravo! And then we have livre; well, here you go, this is your noun!

So basically, the noun is the most important word is this group; that’s why it’s called le groupe nominal. The nom is the boss, the leader and l’article is the follower, so if le nom is masculin, then l’article must be masculin. These guys go hand in hand when you write or speak French so if you don’t know it already, you should definitely write this down! Article + nom = partners for life! Yep, pretty much like endless love…Lol!

And l’article has a very important job: it will tell us the noun’s gender, as well as if it is specific or not (just like in the example). So don’t neglect these little words, otherwise your nouns will be so lonely without their partners…you don’t want to do that to them, do you?

But l’article is not the only follower!

Third grammar notion: l’adjectif

Yes, l’adjectif can be another addition to the groupe nominal (the noun’s family). Again, you probably know what it is already but let’s just make sure by taking a closer look at this third grammar notion.

For example: le livre bleu. Now let’s break this groupe nominal down :

  • Le = (did you guess?) article défini
  • Livre = nom
  • Bleu = adjectif

Here, l’adjectif gives us another information on the noun: the book is blue. This is what they do! They kind of describe the noun.

As we said, the noun is the leader, so as livre is masculin, l’article and l’adjectif will be masculin as well. They are great followers and important family members for the noun; there is no leader without followers so the noun is happy only when they are here!

Another important thing to remember is that in French, almost all adjectifs are after the noun. Almost, does that mean there are exceptions Sarah? Well, yea, actually the “exceptions” reputation of this beautiful language is kind of true…it’s French, right? But don’t worry, we’ll see that later.

Forth grammar notion: le sujet

Ok, so now that you have the basis for le groupe nominal (did you notice that this is actually one? 😉 ), let’s talk about the rest with this forth grammar notion.

Le sujet is the leader of the verb and answers the question “who”. Again, exactly like in English, so no need to overthink it!

Now you might ask yourself, but what is a verb exactly?

Fifth grammar notion: le verbe

It brings us to our fifth grammar notion. The verbe indicates the action in the sentence and follows the leader; do you remember who that is? Yes, the sujet! So basically, just like in the groupe nominal, you are going to change the verb depending on his leader: if the sujet is féminin, the verbe will be, if it’s pluriel then the verbe will be as well!

See? Not that hard, right? Let’s see an example: Sarah mange. Sujet (Sarah) féminin + singulier => verbe (mange) féminin + singulier

Now you might think: “I understand this Sarah, but it’s hard to memorize the conjugaisons“! Well, I’m not going to lie to you, verbs and tenses are going to require work from you, for sure; but did you know that I made flash cards for adults? Yes! And guess what? There is a vocal and interactive version of present and future tense flash cards! With it, you can practice your verbs everywhere, whether it’s in your car after dropping the kids off at school, on your way to work, while taking a walk in nature, enjoying your cup of tea or cooking at home. It’s like you always have your teacher with you! It has never been so easy and cool to learn verbs!

flash cards and smartphone with headphones

Sixth grammar notion: le complément (d’objet)

Our sixth grammar notion is a little bit more complex so let’s take it step by step. First, you have to know that there are several types of complément (direct, indirect, …); today, we focus on the most commun one, le complément d’objet direct (COD).

Example: J’apprends le français. (I don’t like translating, but just for this time, here you go: “I learn French.”)

So here, we have our sujet (je -> j’ because of the vowel), our verbe (apprends) and the COD, le français. Now, the COD is the information obtained by answering the question “what” (I learn what? -> French).

Here you go! You’re ready to dive into French grammar! Yay!

Well, maybe one last thing that you can put in your French box and everywhere else if you’d like: the structure of the sentence. This is something you must always have in mind, no matter if you write or speak in French; it is the key to be a pro in French grammar!

So now that you have all the elements, we can just put them together: Sujet Verbe Complément. This structure is actually identical in English.

SVC is the first thing you should have when you go into your French box! Yes, before “croissant” or “macaron“!

If you’d like to review or learn more, I do grammar classes, so do not hesitate to contact me!

A bientôt! 😉

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