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Learning French: Suffixes Can Help Teach the Gender of French Nouns

written by: R. H. • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 4/5/2012

Every French noun has a gender: it is either masculine or feminine. Although there is no real logic to most of the gender assignments of French nouns, you can learn the endings to many of the nouns that will help you recognize the gender of a new noun when you first see it.

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    French Noun Gender: an Introduction

    A noun names a person, place, thing or idea. Nouns are important, and we use them all the time. When you speak French, you will be using nouns constantly. The tricky thing is that every noun in French has a gender; it is either masculine or feminine. And the reason this matters is that the article, as well as any modifiers (adjectives, etc.) used with the noun, must agree with the gender of the noun; even some verbs are required to agree with the noun in gender! This means that it is essential for you to know the gender of the nouns you are using.

    Most nouns referring to male animals and persons are masculine, while most nouns referring to the female animal and person are feminine. Other than this, the assignment of gender to nouns often defies logic. There is just no straightforward way of knowing whether a noun should be masculine or feminine, simply by seeing what object it names. In fact, some French nouns have a different meaning depending on the gender they have: the masculine form will have one definition, while the feminine has another.

    The best way to learn noun gender is to always memorize a noun with its appropriate definite or indefinite article:

    Feminine - une / la (indefinite / definite)

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    French Noun Gender: Recognizable Patterns

    Although there is no hard and fast rule for which nouns fall into which gender category, the gender is often distinguishable by the suffix attached to it. Here are some generalizations as to which gender various noun suffixes indicate. Of course, you must remember that there are exceptions to every grammar rule, and the same applies to these "rules."

    Here are the usual suffixes indicating gender of French nouns when the noun has a form in each gender (masculine and feminine, listed respectively):

    • -an/-ane
    • -at/-ate
    • -eau/-elle
    • -el/-elle
    • -en/-enne
    • -er/-ère
    • -et/-ette
    • -eur/-euse
    • -f/-ve
    • -in/-ine
    • -on/-onne
    • -ot/-ote
    • -s, -x/-se
    • -teur/-trice

    Here are suffixes that almost always indicate a masculine noun:

    • -acle (un réceptacle, un spectacle)
    • -age (un dressage, lésclavage, un massage, un ménage, un recyclage)

    And here are suffixes that usually indicate the noun is feminine:

    • -ade (une limonade, une promenade)
    • -ance/-ence (la connaissance, une séance, la présidence, une référence)
    • -ée (l'árrivée, une fusée, la journée, la soirée)
    • -ette (une allumette, une navette, les toilettes)

    Learning the suffixes that commonly indicate masculine and feminine gender on French nouns can help you grow leaps and bounds in your understanding and correct production of the French language.