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Many learners dislike the gender of words in French. They think they can put off learning it because it seems to be an overly fussy and trivial issue. However, this is forgetting, or ignoring, the fact that gender has a domino effect on pretty much every component of a sentence. Only adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions are immune to it. Sometimes, it will affect the way things are spelled, and other times it will even change the way we pronounce words. So let's not dismiss the subject too quickly.


Let's have a look at this phenomenon starting with nouns, where it all stems from, and then let's back track so that we can see the bigger picture.





Every "common" noun is either feminine or masculine. Word gender is basically decided by the sound of the last syllable of each noun. This is not as simple as saying "it ends with an e, therefore it is feminine." This section regarding nouns was well covered in the Gender Cheat Sheet. If you haven't read it yet, now would be a good time!



Articles and possessive adjectives


Because nouns are almost always proceeded by an article, and because French is fussy enough to have "his and hers" matching articles, whenever you use a noun you need to accompany it with the right article. There is a little table below that illustrates this. I've also included possessive adjectives as well, as they work on the same principle as articles. You will notice that I made four columns: one for masculine words and another for feminine words (obviously). However, there are also two other special categories.


This is because when a word starts with a vowel, or when it's plural, the gender becomes irrelevant from the point of view of the article or the possessive adjective (Warning: it will still be relevant at other levels, which you will see in a minute).


English Equivalent

Masculine word

Feminine word

Word starting with a vowel

Plural words





























The word ami starts with a vowel, therefore we say mon ami if the person is male and mon amie if the person is female. We do this because it sounds better than ma amie. To make a long story short, we dislike having two vowels in a row.



Adjectives (qualities)


The next thing that is affected by gender is adjectives (or "qualities" as I prefer to call them, because in French, there are many types of adjectives). Coordinating them with the noun they describe is a bit like matching shoes with outfits. A person cannot be seen wearing black shoes all the time!


Jokes aside (because I'm totally the kind of person to wear black shoes with everything), turning a masculine adjective into a feminine one is not difficult, but be aware that feminizing an adjective may, or may not, affect its pronunciation.


Let me illustrate this with a couple of examples:


The word for “black” in French is noir (pronounced [nwar]) and "green" is vert (pronounced [vair]). The feminine spelling of noir is noire, with an extra e, but with no difference in the pronunciation. Vert, on the other hand, becomes verte, pronounced [vairt] with a clear t sound at the end.


Why is there a difference, you may ask? If you remember, from a previous article about pronunciation, when a word finishes with a consonant, the consonant is often ignored (especially if said consonant is a d, t or an s). So, by tacking on an e after it, the "lone consonant" is suddenly not so lonely anymore. Therefore, we need to pronounce it.


How to turn a masculine quality into a feminine one:


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In a lot of cases, feminizing an adjective is as simple as adding an e. However, there are some exceptions. Let's have a look at the table below.


Type of Letter

Word Endings

What should I do?


Vowel (a, e, i, o, u)

If the word ends with the letter e

don't change anything.

calme, calme

If the word ends with the letter é

add an e.

fermé, fermée

If the word ends with the letters a, i, o, u

add an e.

fini, finie

têtu, têtue


There are no set rules for these exceptions.

beau becomes belle

mou becomes molle


General rule:

Add an e to the end.

grand, grande


For words ending with the letters L, N, S, T

you may need to double up the consonant and add an e

pareil, pareille

gentil, gentille

ancien, ancienne

gros, grosse

muet, muette

For words ending with the letter X

replace X with SE or CE.

doux, douce

chanceux, chanceuse

faux, fausse  

For words ending with the letters EUR

replace EUR with EUSE.

voleur, voleuse

For words ending with the letters IF

replace IF with IVE.

sportif, sportive

naïf, naïve

For words ending with the letter C

add HE.

sec, sèche

blanc, blanche

For words ending with the letter G

add U and E (it makes the G sound hard!).

long, longue


Before moving on, let me stress one grammar rule:


Words ending in e in the masculine form stay the same in the feminine form. In other words, if a word already ends with a plain e (not accented), you can't add another e after. Two plain e’s in a row in French is an impossible combination. However, ée is OK as long as it's not two plain e’s together. Look, one of them has an accent!


There are a couple more things to know about gender and adjectives:


First of all, if there are several adjectives for one noun, they will all need to match the noun that they describe.


Let me give you an example:


  • "A big beautiful blue bottle" would be une belle grande bouteille bleue (add an extra e for everyone!).


Secondly, in the reverse situation where you have just a single adjective being used to describe multiple nouns, deciding on which gender to apply to the adjective is quite simple. If there is at least one masculine word in the group, all the adjectives must be in their masculine forms. It's macho like that: masculine wins.


For example, if I have four white items and three of them are feminine words, the adjective "white" will still be masculine.


  • Le pantalon, la cravate, la robe et la chemise sont blancs.





The final thing that is affected by the gender domino effect is verbs. However, before you throw in the towel, verbs are only affected by gender when they are conjugated with an auxiliary. In other words, when using the passé composé, condionnel passé, plus-que-parfait and other more obscure verb tenses. Verbs tenses like that are made up of two parts: an auxiliary and a past participle.


For example, "I went" is je suis allé. In this case, suis is the auxiliary and allé is the past participle. It’s only the past participle that may need to be "coordinated" (it's not systematic, as you will see below). Past participles will be affected differently if they are used with avoir or être. Let's have a look.


Verbs with "to be"


With the verb être, the past participle will always need to match the subject.  


Therefore, you will need to identify who's doing the action. If this subject is feminine, you will need to add an e to the end of the verb.


So, if I say "Marc (a man) went to the cinema" and "Marie (a woman) went to the cinema," the verb aller will be spelled differently, like this:


  • Marc est allé au cinéma. Marie est allée au cinéma.


It's quite straight forward really.


To make your life easier, here is a list of the verbs that always use être in the passé composé:


  • Descendre
  • Rester


  • Monter
  • Retourner
  • Sortir
  • Venir
  • Aller
  • Naître
  • Devenir
  • Entrer
  • Rentrer
  • Tomber
  • Revenir
  • Arriver
  • Mourir
  • Partir


The mnemonic trick to remember them is DR & MRS VAN DER TRAMP. Each letter of this acronym is the first letter of a verb. D stands for Descendre, R for Rester and so on.


If you are visual, here's a treat!



Reflexive/reciprocal verbs also use être in the passé composé. There is more on that in the article The Complete Guide To French Pronouns And Verbs.


For example se souvenir:


  • Antoine s'est souvenu. Anna s'est souvenue.


Verbs with "to have"


Verbs with avoir need to be conjugated with the complement, but only if it's placed before the verb. That is not something that is very common, by the way.


This time, you will first need to find the complement (also known as C.O.D.). To do so, you need to ask the question "what?" or "who?" immediately after the verb.


For example, in a sentence like "I eat an apple," I ask "I eat what?" The answer is "an apple." The word “apple” is therefore the complement.


Once you have spotted the complement, look to see if it's before the verb or not. If it does come before the verb, and if the complement is a feminine word, you will need to add an e to the past participle.




  • J'ai mangé une pomme: The complement is after the verb, so we don't conjugate it.
  • La pomme que j'ai mangée…: Now the complement is before the verb, so we need to "coordinate" it with the gender of the word apple (which is feminine), so we need to add an e.




I think it's fair to ask if this "genderfication" of words is chivalry or a burden. It is true, it can definitely appear to be a burden. It hinders you with tables of endings to learn and forces you to read whatever you write twice in order to accessorize all the adjectives, articles and past participles. It's an even bigger challenge for French women as our essays (texts written in the "I" form) need special attention to all the verbs. However, all in all, I think it's chivalry that made French this way. It says "females, you are special and I acknowledge you by decorating every feminine word with a little bow on top." It colours the world we live in. English, on the other hand, is a drab grey; everything is the same and neutral. In comparison, French comes in bright shades of pink and blue.


By the way, because gender affects almost everything in a sentence, it's nearly impossible to write a French book about a person with a unisex name, say Alex, who poses as a boy and, in a dramatic twist, reveals himself to be a woman in the end. Unless you make grammatical mistakes on purpose, the gender identity is very quickly revealed. You could say there are tell-tale gender signs everywhere in French! It must have been quite the challenge to adapt Boys Don't Cry and Yentl into French…


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