This article is written by one of the language teachers at italki                                                    


I know many of you dread this subject: you either speak a language that doesn't have word genders and you think it's mad (hello, English, Japanese and Chinese speakers!) or you speak a language that has its own word genders which clash with the French ones (hello, Russians, German and Spanish speakers!).

Everyone seems to have a good reason to dislike this part of the French grammar. In fact, I think I've never met a single student that said "What a fun concept, let's dwell on it!"


But to be honest, I don't understand this lack of enthusiasm. Genders are something quirky (in a nice way) that makes French "cute". You can master it if you give it a good go. Even if you learn by trial and errors, if you are told off enough for saying "un table", one day it should make sense to try "une table".


Before going in the deep end, let's start by stating some facts:


  • Nouns and adjectives are either masculine or feminine. There are only two options (little mercy for that). There is no such thing as neutral ("it").
  • There is no physical reason explaining why some words are "female" and others are "male", so don't look for clues in their shape or purpose.
  • Genders are either decided by the look or the sound of words. Only the last syllable matters.
  • Trying to learn lists containing 100+ rules is foolish so don't try so sort out all word endings. Common sense dictates concentrating on the most common endings. Pay attention to the words you use the most often.
  • No rule is 100% foolproof in French. There are a number of exceptions in word genders too. Those are a bit like double bluffs: it's unfair, I know, and I apologize from the bottom of my heart. You will need to learn by heart, I'm afraid.


With experience, predicting genders with great accuracy is easy. It's just a case of spotting recurring themes. But if you are left you to your own device, this may take an age and I know you are eager to learn, so I've created a cheat sheet with 26 common endings, which I loosely paired up. I added many examples for each ending. When using this cheat sheet, read these lists of words out loud!


The aim is to hammer in the information using repetition. If you don't know the meaning of all these words yet, it's not a problem: you don't need to look them up at this point. You only need to focus on the article and the ending of a word.


By the way, if you’re cheekily thinking you’ll solve this issue by speaking a mangled article that could pass for either "un" or "une", think again! Refusing to learn and botching your pronunciation is the worst thing you could do at this point. Enunciate clearly "un" [Un] and "une" [u-nnnnuh]. Please note that I deliberately shied away from "le" and "la": for a start, they would make this exercise futile for all the words starting with a vowel.


One more note before we go: if I write something with quotation marks like this: "ette", I refer to the actual spelling of the word ending. If I use the square brackets like this: [et], I refer to the way it's pronounced in French, using English letters (and the French letter è, which sound like the letter "e" in the word "merry" and "jet").


Now, let's develop that instinct for words!


1. Words finishing with "et" and "ette"

  • Words ending in “et” sounds [è] with a silentt” are masculine.
  • On the other hand are words ending in "ette" sounds [èt]. These words are unmistakably feminine. Don't be afraid of pronouncing the "t"now, it's actually essential in the feminine form!

Don't forget: Don't pronounce the final "t" in the masculine words, or they will sound odd.


Un tabouret, un beignet, un déchet, un bleuet, un bidet, un cassoulet, un buffet, un chalet, un complet, un navet, un objet, un trajet, un volet

Une toilette, une crevette, une assiette, une fourchette, une serviette, une vinaigrette, une raquette, une tablette



2. “al” vs. “elle”

  • Words ending with the sound [al] (make them rhyme with "Al" and "pal", not with the word "all") are masculine.
  • The word ending "elle" is pronounced [el], so ignore the extra letters. It's feminine, always.


Un festival, un journal, un terminal, un tribunal, un canal

Une poubelle, la vaisselle, une chandelle, une hirondelle, une gazelle, une pelle, une voyelle



3. [o] vs. [ot]

  • Words finishing in "eau", "au", "o" or "ot" are all to be pronounced like an ordinary one syllable "o". There are masculine, but there are at least 2 big exceptions to this rule.
  • Words in "otte" are not that common, but they are pronounced [ot]. Make sure you say that "t" in the feminine form.


Un cadeau, un château, un manteau, un tableau, un bateau, un morceau, un rideau, un râteau.
Un gigot, un abricot, un grelot, un canot, un mégot, un tricot, un bibelot

Exceptions : une eau et une peau

Une botte, une culotte, une mascotte, une cocotte, une roulotte



4. "ier" vs. "ière"

  • Pronounced "ier" like [ee-ay]. There is no "r" sound at all. It's masculine.
  • On the other hand, "ière" is pronounced [ee-yair] so roll that "r". It's feminine.


Un escalier, un glacier, un pommier, un palmier, un chandelier, un fermier, un panier, un soulier, un dentier, un clavier, un courrier

Une bière, une cafetière, une rivière, une poussière, une matière, une cuisinière

Exceptions : un cimetière, un derrière



5. "eur" vs. "euse"

  • Adjectives ending in "eur" are masculine. They usually end in "euse" in the feminine form.
  • Nouns work the same way, but there is a list of exceptions, which makes it trickier.


Un aspirateur, un bonheur, un dépanneur, un vendeur, un serveur.
Exceptions : une couleur, une valeur, une longueur, une largeur.

Une vendeuse, une serveuse, une laveuse, une sécheuse, une souffleuse



6. "in" vs. "ine"

  • The English "in" sound is different from the French "in". If you say "in" in English, you are actually saying "ine" in French, which is feminine. Drag the "n" in the feminine form.
  • The French "in" is masculine. It's very very short; don't drag that "n"!


Un vin, un pain, un matin, un sapin, un patin

Exception : une fin

Une vitamine, une toxine, une racine, une cabine, une tartine




7. "on" vs. "onne"

  • Just like "in", the English "on" is different from the French "on". If you say "on" in English, you are actually saying “onne” in French, which is feminine. Drag the "n" in the feminine form.
  • The French "on" is masculine. It's very short. Don't drag that "n".
  • Beware of (at least) 3 big exceptions!


Un garçon, un oignon, un savon, un avion, un camion, un lion, un poisson, un poison, un poivron, un saumon, un bouillon, un bouton

Exceptions : une maison, une leçon et une chanson

une personne, une tonne, une bonne, une consonne, une colonne




8. Words in "oir" and "oire"

  • Both endings have the same [war] sound. Here, we rely on spelling only. That extra "e" makes the whole difference.
  • Words ending in “oir” are masculine, while words ending in “oire” are feminine.
  • Beware, there are some exceptions too.


Un miroir, un devoir, un tiroir, un trottoir, un comptoir, un couloir, un mouchoir, un manoir, un peignoir

Une histoire, une baignoire, une armoire, une bouilloire, une poire, une glissoire, une mâchoire, une passoire

Exceptions : un accessoire et un pourboire



9. "ur" vs. "ure"

  • There are not many words ending in "ur", but the few that exist are masculine.
  • Words in "ure" are far more common. "ure" is pronounced the same ways as "ur" but that extra "e" makes it feminine.


un mur,

un futur,

un fémur

une peinture, une couverture, une confiture, une sculpture, une clôture

Exception : un cyanure



10. "age" vs. "esse"

Here, I paired those words very loosely together. They are not really related. Just keep in mind that "age" (pronounced [ajuh]) is usually masculine and "esse" (pronounced [èss]) is feminine.


Un garage, un message, un bandage, un avantage, un potage

Exceptions :

une plage, une cage, une page

Une vitesse, une caresse, une faiblesse, une richesse,

une politesse, une tigresse, une sécheresse, une tresse, une altesse.




11. "il", "euil", "ail" and "ille"

I know you will find this a section challenging. I apologize in advance.

If you look at the spelling, it's rather easy: "il" = masculine. "ille"= feminine. The difficulty is in the pronunciation.

  • Words finishing in "il" are masculine, but not all final "L"s are to be pronounced! See table below.
  • Words finishing in "euil" are just a variant of "il". They are usually detested because they are "hard to say". There’s no reason for that, however. Think of "euil" as [UHYi], but make that last "i" as small as possible.
  • "ail" is another version of "il". It's also masculine. Pronounce it [a-yuh].
  • "ille" is normally pronounced [ee-yuh] but there is a handful of exceptions where it's pronounced like a normal "il" [eel].
  • "ouille" is pronounced [oo-yuh]
  • "eille" is pronounced [è-yuh]


L sound: un fil, un péril, le Brésil,
Silent L: un outil, un sourcil
UHYi: un écureuil, un chevreuil, un oeil, un deuil, un fauteuil,
A-YUH: un ail, un chandail

YUH: une fille, une famille, une cheville, une pupille, une chenille, une croustille, une jonquille
L sound: une ville
OO-YUH: une grenouille, une quenouille,
È-YUH: une oreille, une bouteille



12. [en] vs. [ens]

  • Words finishing in "ment" are usually masculine. It's pronounced with a short "n" and no "t".
  • Words in "ance" are feminine. Pronounce it [ens]. I want to hear that "s"!


Un gouvernement, un aliment, un vêtement, un ciment, un sentiment

Une connaissance, une vacance, une chance, une malchance, une croyance, une alliance



13. [k-] vs. [ik]

  • Words ending in "ic" are typically masculine. Pronounce it [ik].
  • Words finishing in "que" (pronounced [kuh] or simply [k-]) are predominantly feminine but there are several exceptions.


Un plastic, un diagnostic, un trafic, un arsenic, un basilic, un déclic, un syndic.

Une boutique, une banque, une bibliothèque, une remorque, une arabesque, une tique, une tunique, une tuque.

Exceptions : un antibiotique, un cirque, un disque, un kiosque.



Last tip for today:

  • Hyphenated words, made up of a verb and a noun, are usually masculine.

Un ouvre-bouteille (verb OUVRIR "to open")
un grille-pain (verb GRILLER "to grill")
un lave-vaisselle (verb LAVER "to wash")
un couvre-lit (verb COUVRIR "to cover")
un casse-noix (verb CASSER "to shatter")
un brise-glace (verb BRISER "to break")

Exception : une garde-robe (verbe GARDER "to keep")


In short:




The pièce de resistance

Here’s the bit that will make you want to scream.


Some words are both masculine and feminine. There are not many of those, but you have to admire them for craftiness because depending on the gender, the meaning of those words changes completely!


Un mémoire = an essay Une mémoire = memory
Un critique = a critic (person) Une critique = a review / a criticism
Un mode = a mode / setting Une mode = fashion / a trend
Un moule = a mold Une moule = a mussel
Un livre = a book Une livre = a pound (weight unit and British currency)
Un tour = a trick Une tour = a tower
Un poste = a post / a position La poste = mail


Now, let's be real. I know you didn't enjoy this (but if you did, please hit the *like* button at the top of the page). My goal was to make it a clearer and a bit more structured, and if possible, less repellent. I hope I did not let you down.


Keep in mind that native French speakers make mistakes too. To pick only one example, I've heard "un orange" countless times (this fruit's "feminine", by the way). So getting it wrong is not the end of the world. Just do your best and keep trying!


For more on word genders, have a look at my other text, Gender Obsession in French: Chivalry or Burden.


Author's notes:

All the words used on this sheet are in the Larousse dictionary but some of them are used specifically in Québec (Canada), such as "un dépanneur", "une cocotte", "une laveuse", "une sécheuse", "un soulier", "une tuque", "une chandelle" and "une souffleuse". The word "un bleuet" is used in both countries but has a different meaning: In France, it's a cornflower; in Québec, it's a blueberry.