Gender Bender

One thing that constantly trips up Anglophones when they’re trying to speak French is the gender of nouns. Virtually all nouns in English are neuter (with the obvious exception of those referring to boys, girls, men, and women) so it’s all new. Moreover, there seems to be no particular logic.

Well you’re right.  There’s no way to reason out whether a particular noun is masculine or feminine.   You just have to memorize them; in time, you will get used to hearing words in context and the right article will come off your tongue naturally.

But in the mean time, life must be lived and the correct articles (le or la) and numbers (un or une) should be used.  (I heard a story once about a guy so frightened about making a mistake that he always asked for two, rather than say une when the correct choice was un. )  And don’t get your panties in a twist if the shopkeeper corrects you. Trust me, you will never forget it! Finally, if you are ordering items at the boulangerie or marche, remember to use your thumb, not your index finger, to indicate one, and your thumb and index finger to indicate two, and so on. For quick reference, here’s a cheat sheet for some of the things you may be buying daily.

Fruits

These are just a few of the fruits you’ll find in a French market.   I’ve limited the list because I’ve never heard of anyone buying one cherry or one grape.  Thankfully, the article for multiples is les, no matter whether it’s masculine or feminine. 

English French
Apple La pomme
Apricot L’abricot (masculine)
Banana La banane
Grapefruit Le pamplemousse
Lemon Le citron
Lime Le citron vert
Melon Le melon
Orange L’orange (feminine)
Peach La pêche
Pear La poire
Pineapple L’ananas (masculine)
Plum La prune
Pomegranate La grenade
Watermelon La pastèque

 

Vegetables

English French
Artichoke L’artichaut (masculine)
Avocado L’avocat (masculine)
Broccoli Le broccoli
Cabbage Le chou
Cauliflower Le chou-fleur
Celery Le céleri
Cucumber Le concombre
Eggplant L’aubergine (feminine)
Onion L’oignon (masculine)
Pepper Le poivron
Tomato La tomate

For other fruits and vegetables, you will want to tell the vendor that you want a bunch (une botte), a handful (une poignée,) a small box (une barquette),  a dozen (une douzaine), or just the amount in grams or kilos (for example, cent grammes or un demi-kilo).

Baked Goods

No translations here because these items are almost all uniquely French.

Le beignet
La brioche
La baguette
Le chausson aux pommes
Le croissant
L’éclair (masculine)
Le gâteau
Le macaron
La meringue
Le millefeuille
Le pain
Le pain au chocolat
Le pain aux raisins
La religieuse
La tarte

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4 responses to “Gender Bender

  1. Thanks again for another helpful and timely blog post! One thing that I always thought would be helpful to those of us learning French, is if the lists of nouns provided by “those in the know” were broken down by gender, i.e., first list all the feminine nouns on one list then all the masculine nouns on a separate list. Not sure that it’s the same for everyone, but for me, sometime I can remember which nouns were on which list, which then helps me remember the gender. When they are all scrambled on one list, I don’t remember as well. Could be just my brain’s limitations! Thanks again for the post. Great stuff.

  2. I could be wrong, but I’ve always thought of an éclair as being masculine – ie un éclair ??

  3. Ksam: You are right (once again!). This is what I get for having my kids check all the genders in the dictionary whenever I had a question. The post has been corrected.

  4. Or you could just take a page out of David Sedaris and ask for two (or more) of everything. Voilà, articles begone!

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