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Masculine and Feminine nouns in FrenchIs your native language English? And are you studying French for the first time? If so, you’re probably troubled by masculine and feminine nouns in French.

In English, when we use a noun, we don’t have to worry about whether the word is masculine or feminine, or whether it takes a masculine or feminine article. English nouns have no gender – even nouns in which the gender is obvious, like lady or stallion, use the same gender-nonspecific articles as any other noun – a or the. Determiners such as those or that also work for all nouns. It’s not that we deny that gender exists. There are ewes and rams, stallions and mares, and plenty of men address their cars as “she” — but from a linguistic standpoint nouns in English simply have no gender.

But there are masculine and feminine nouns in French, and they cause the English-speaking student a great deal of stress. How can you figure out, for example, if you’re sitting on a piece of masculine or feminine furniture? (La chaise – the chair – is feminine; le lit – the bed – is masculine.) How do you know if you have a masculine or feminine coat? (La veste – the jacket – is feminine; le pardessus – the overcoat – is masculine.) If your dress is feminine, will your hat be too? In a word, no. Your hat is masculine, even though it’s the fanciest, fluffiest confection in the Easter Parade.

Your problem is that you’re looking for some sort of logic in the determination of masculine and feminine nouns in French, and there isn’t any – or at least none that you’d readily understand. There is some correlation with factors like whether the word derives from a verb or an adjective, whether the word is a compound, the suffix of the word, etc. – but those rules are very complicated, and not at all consistent. French people seem to understand them, but then they grew up speaking their language. You didn’t.

So what is the poor English-speaking student to do? Simple. Every time you learn a new French noun, learn the appropriate article with it. The French word for chair is not chaise, it is “la chaise.” The French word for hat is not chapeau, it’s “le chapeau.” In this way, you’ll always be able to remember masculine and feminine nouns in French, and you’ll never have to worry again!

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