French Grammar Made Easy

Valorie Delp
french teaching

Beware of anything that says French Grammar Made Easy. While there are things you can do to make learning French grammar easier, grammar isn't necessarily easy. It requires that you memorize and practice both orally and in writing. However, take heart, because with practice you are sure to become a French grammar ace. Before you begin however, there are a few things that must be mastered.

French Grammar Made Easy: Tips for Keeping It Straight

One of the hardest aspects of learning a foreign language is keeping everything straight:

  • What comes first--the verb or adjective?
  • How do you conjugate this or that?
  • Which phrasing should you use?

However, if you approach learning the language to how an infant learns to speak, it will be much easier for you. Infants learn to speak by listening and hearing language in its natural context. Likewise you too, need to work on learning grammar in its natural context. If you're traveling to France for business, then you're going to want to learn business phrases and etiquette. If you're a student you're going to want to learn phrases that are applicable to being a student. Here are a few tried and true tips for mastering French grammar:

  1. Memorize things as a whole. You will get nowhere if you memorize each individual word or try to analyze every part.
  2. Learn your parts of speech. If you don't know the difference between an adjective and an adverb--now is the time to learn. In fact, learning French can help you understand English grammar better.
  3. Use it or lose it. Take every opportunity to practice speaking your French. The more you speak, the easier it will be to think in the language.

Components of French Grammar

Learning a new language will strengthen your own understanding of English grammar. This section lists components that French language learners often find particularly challenging along with some quick hints and tips.

Conjugation

All verbs, even in English, are conjugated. Conjugation means that you're making the verb agree with the subject. In French, regular verbs are conjugated like this:

Conjugation of Regular Verbs
Subject -er verbs -ir verbs -re verbs
je parle finis entends
tu parles finis entends
il parle finit entend
nous parlons finissons entendons
vous parlez finissez entendez
ils parlent finissons entendent

There's Two Past Tenses?

In French, there are two past tenses: the passé composé and the imparfait or imperfect tense. Which one you use will depend on what you're trying to convey. Passé composé is used to describe a completed action in the past. If you can say that what you did was a one time thing that is finished--use the passé composé. If it was something that was ongoing, descriptive or something that happened over a period of time, use the imperfect. Here are a few examples:Passé composé
J'ai parlé à ma soeur hier et elle m'a invité à chez elle. (I talked to my sister yesterday and she invited me to her house.

Imperfect
Je parlais à ma soeur quand j'ai entendu un bruit fort. (I was talking to my sister when I heard a loud noise.

Est-ce que and Other Questions

Think of est-ce que as the quintessential question word. You can ask a question without it, but it is quite common to use it as well. Sometimes it's hard for students to grasp because it doesn't technically have a direct translation. Rather than thinking of translating it, learn it instead as a simple way to ask question.

Est-ce que tu vas aller? Are you going to go?

You can ask the same question as:

Tu vas aller?

When you want to ask something like who, what, when or where, you simply use est-ce que along with the question word:

Quand est-ce que tu vas aller? When are you going to go?
Formal questions are distinguished by the inversion of the subject and verb:

Quand allez-vous?

Gender and Number Agreement

In French, all nouns are either masculine or feminine. In order for a sentence to be grammatically correct, the adjective must agree with the noun it's describing. Also, the adjective must agree with the noun in number. If the noun is plural, then so too must the adjective be plural.

Making adjectives agree in gender and number is easy if you know a few tricks. In general, all that's needed to make an adjective feminine is to add an extra -e. Likewise, to make the adjective plural, add an extra -s. If the adjective needs to feminine and plural you would add an -es. There are of course exceptions to this but having the basic framework and structure down will help you understand how it all works.

Practicing French Grammar

There are a variety of resources and tools for you to use when you're wanting to work on your French. Here are a few excellent resources:

Interactive French Grammar

French Grammar Made Easy by Rosi McNab is one of the more comprehensive grammar books out there. It's written specifically for English speakers and probably for the adult learner. It's not super fancy, but for a comprehensive and simple explanation of grammar--you really can't go wrong with this one.

Advanced French Grammar

The Ultimate French Review and Practice guide is very comprehensive. It takes the beginning or intermediate learner and works on honing skills and concepts so that you can communicate confidently.

Online Resources

  • Tex's French Grammar--a very cute site originally designed for students at the University of Texas. If you follow the website through you'll have a good understanding of the basics.
  • Language Guide--is a website that offers several languages. What is especially nice about this site is that it is very well organized according to concept. You will have no trouble navigating this site and if you have a question on just one thing, you'll have no problems finding it.
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French Grammar Made Easy