The 10 most common French grammar mistakes English speakers make

Thought grammar was a mere detail in your language learning process? We’re here to deliver some bad news: you’ve got it all wrong.

While it is possible to learn French grammar by traveling, watching TV shows, or simply reading grammar books, understanding (and memorizing) French grammar rules is the cornerstone to mastering the subtleties of the language.

Gymglish has carefully selected the 10 most common French grammar mistakes our English-speaking users have made over the past year. We’re not here to point fingers.*

1) Subject pronouns

Subject pronouns replace a person or a thing. Just like in the English language, French subject pronouns are given a person and a number, as shown below:

SingularPlural
1st personJe suisNous sommes
2nd personTu esVous êtes
3rd personIl / elle / on estIls / elles sont

Example:

Il a une très jolie barbe.” ⇒ He has a very pretty beard

Note:
•  French has 2 forms for ‘you’: tu and vous.
•  It also has 2 different forms for ‘they’: ils and elles

Whilst Ils is used for groups of men and mixed-gender groups, elles is used for groups of women.

•  Note also that on and nous (we) share the same meaning in spoken French.

Going further with subject pronouns here

2) COI pronouns

COI (“Complement d’Objet Indirect”) pronouns are usually the equivalent of an indirect object pronouns in English. They replace nouns that follow verbs + à, like parler à, téléphoner à, demander à, répondre à, etc.

Example:

Je parle à mes parents. Je leur parle. I am speaking to my parents. I am speaking to them.

SingularPlural
1st persontu me manques /
cela m’appartient
il nous parle
2nd personje te dis / il t’obéitil vous souhaite bon appétit
3rd personje lui téléphonetu leur réponds

Careful: the pronoun lui replaces both feminine and masculine nouns.

Examples:

Je parle à mon mari. Je lui parle ⇒ I’m speaking to my husband. I’m speaking to him.

Je parle à ma femme. Je lui parle. ⇒  I’m speaking to my wife. I’m speaking to her.

More on COI pronouns here

3) Disjunctive pronouns

Pronoms toniques are also called ‘disjunctive’ or ‘stressed’ pronouns.

SingularPlural
1st personc’est moic’est nous
2nd personc’est toic’est vous
3rd personc’est lui / ellece sont eux / elles

Here are the two principal uses of them:

•  After c’est:

– Qui est la plus belle ? – C’est moi ! -Who’s the most beautiful? -I am!

•  Before pronoms sujets (‘subject pronouns’ such as je, tu, il, etc) in order to emphasize the subject:

Marcel est très sympa, mais toi, tu es ennuyeux. Marcel is really nice, but (you) you’re annoying.

Ils sont français, mais vous, vous êtes belges. They’re French, but (you) you’re Belgian.

We can also use them after certain verbs which take the preposition à.

Examples:

Je tiens beaucoup à elles I care a lot about them.

Tu ne penses jamais à moi You never think of me.

More on disjunctive pronouns her

4) Demonstrative pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns replace nouns which have just been mentioned. In English, we use the pronouns ‘this one’, ‘that one’, ‘these’, and ‘those’. They must agree in gender and in number.

MasculinFéminin
Singulierceluicelle
Plurielceuxcelles

Examples:

– J’adore la barbe de Victor. – Oui, mais moi je préfère celle de Marcel. -I love Victor’s beard. -Yes but I prefer Marcel’s. (celle = la barbe, feminine singular)
De tous les livres que j’ai lus, ceux de Victor sont mes préférés. Of all the books I’ve read, those of Victor’s are my favorites. (ceux = les livres, masculine plural)

We add the suffixes -ci and -là to specify something or someone.

MasculinFéminin
Singuliercelui-ci, celui-làcelle-ci, celle-là
Plurielceux-ci, ceux-làcelles-ci, celles-là

Examples:

– Ces chaussures sont magnifiques! – Moi, je préfère celles-là. -These shoes are amazing! -I prefer those ones. (celles-là = the other shoes that are there, not here)

Ci refers to something which is close by, – refers to another thing which is further away.

Examples:

– Je voudrais une baguette s’il vous plaît. -I’d like a baguette please.
– Celle-ci ? -This one?
– Non, celle-là, elle est moins cuite. -No, that one. It’s less brown.

Note: Simple demonstrative pronouns (celui, celle, etc.) are always followed by a complement (celui que,celle qui, ceux de, etc.) Compound demonstrative pronouns (celui-ci,celle-là, etc.) aren’t followed by a complement.

Examples:

– Quelle bouteille veux-tu ? -Which bottle do you want?

Celle que tu as dans la main / Celle de Victor / Celle-ci / Celle-là. -The one you have in your hand/Victor’s one/This one/That one.

More on demonstrative pronouns here

5) Etre and avoir

Être means ‘to be’. We commonly use it to give our nationality and profession, or to describe people and things.

être 
Je suis
Tu es
Il est
Nous sommes
Vous êtes
Ils sont

Avoir means ‘to have’. We use it to say our age (unlike English which uses the verb ‘to be’), or talk about things in our possession.

avoir 
J’ai
Tu as
Il a
Nous avons
Vous avez
Ils ont

Examples:

Victor Hugo est Français et il est écrivain. Victor Hugo is French and he is a writer.
Il a 210 ans et il a un livre dans la main. He is 210 years old and he has a book in his hand.

Want to know more about être and avoir? Click here

6) Asking a question

Asking a question in a foreign language is definitely something you want to more about.

There are 3 main ways to ask a question in French:

•  Formal: (question word quand, , etc) + verb + subject + ?
As-tu un téléphone portable ? Do you have a mobile phone?
Connaissez-vous Victor Hugo ? Do you know Victor Hugo?
Pourquoi as-tu un téléphone portable ? Why do you have a mobile phone?
Où travaillez-vous ? Where do you work?

•  Neutral: (question word) + est-ce que + subject + verb + ?
Est-ce que vous connaissez Victor Hugo ? Do you know Victor Hugo?
Est-ce que tu aimes la poésie ? Do you like poetry?
Où est-ce qu’on va aller ce soir ? Where are we going (to go) this evening?Qu’est-ce que vous dites ? What are you saying?

•  More informal: subject + verb (+ question word) + ?
Elle travaille chez vous ? Does she work at your place?
Vous connaissez Victor Hugo ? You know Victor Hugo?
Tu pars quand ? When are you leaving?
Vous habitez où à Londres ? Where do you live in London? You live where in London?

More on how to ask questions in French here

7) The subjunctive

The subjunctive in French often follows the following types of verbs or expressions.

•  Verbs of feeling: aimer que, préférer que, être content / triste / heureux que, avoir peur que.

Examples:

Nous sommes contents que vous alliez dans notre pays. We’re happy that you are coming to our country.
J’ai peur qu’il ne vienne pas ce soir. I’m afraid that he won’t come this evening.

•  Verbs of necessity: il faut que, il est nécessaire/essentiel/important que

Examples:

Il faut que tu sois à la réunion. You need to be at the meeting.
Il est essentiel que nous finissions ce projet. It’s essential that we finish this project.

•  Verbs that express someone’s will, desire, wishes, vows and prayer: vouloir que, désirer que, souhaiter que, …

Examples:

Je veux que mon mari fasse la cuisine. I want my husband to cook.
Je souhaite qu’elle revienne au plus vite. I want her to come back as quickly as possible.

We use the subjunctive after certain conjunctive phrases: avant que (before) bien que (although), à moins que (unless), quoique (although, even if, whatever), pour que (in order to/that, so that), etc.

Examples:

Je reste ici à moins que tu partes. I’ll remain here unless you leave.

Qu’est-ce que je dois faire pour que tu comprennes ? What do I have to do so that you understand?
Viens me voir avant que je parte en vacances. Come see me before I leave on holiday.

Note:

•  The subjunctive tense is almost always preceded (and signaled) by que.
Je regrette qu’elle ne soit pas là. I’m sorry that she isn’t here.

•  The verb espérer (to hope) is followed by a verb in the indicative.
J’espère que tu vas bien. I hope you’re well. (not j’espère que tu ailles bien.)

Having trouble with the subjunctive mode? Check out our dedicated page here.

8) COD pronouns

COD (complement d’objet direct) or direct object pronouns replace nouns (a person, place or object) when there is no preposition after the verb. They are used with verbs such as aimer, voir, connaître, appeler, entendre, écouter, vouloir, etc.

Examples:

Tu m’aimes Victor ? Bien sûr que je t’aime. Do you love me Victor? Of course I love you.
J’appelle mes parents je les appelle. I am calling my parents. I am calling them.

Here are the COD complement d’objet direct) pronouns:

SingularPlural
1st persontu me connais / tu m’aimesil nous regarde
2nd personje te vois / je t’aimeelle vous quitte
3rd personil le sait / il la cherche / il l’aimeje les entends

Notes:
•  The COD pronouns are generally placed before the verb.

Example:

Je vois un éléphant je le vois. I see an elephant I see it.

•  The COD direct object pronouns can also replace expressions that use verbs.

Examples:

Je te demande de venir. Je te le demande. I’m asking you to come I’m asking it of you.
Je ne sais pas si elle viendra Je ne le sais pas. I don’t know if she will come I don’t know (it).

Know more on COD pronoun

9) Future tense

The French future tense (le futur simple) is used in a similar way to the English ‘will (+ main verb)‘: to describe upcoming actions.

Example:

L’année prochaine, j’apprendrai le chinois.  Next year, I will learn Chinese.

To conjugate regular verbs in the future tense, we use the infinitive form + -ai, -as, -a, -ons, -ez, -ont endings.

NagerDormirFinir
Je nageraiJe dormiraiJe finirai
Tu nagerasTu dormirasTu finiras
Il nageraIl dormiraIl finira
Nous nageronsNous dormironsNous finirons
Vous nagerezVous dormirezVous finirez
Ils nagerontIls dormirontIls finiront

Example:

Je vous téléphonerai bientôt. I will call you soon.

Note: There are many irregular verbs. Although the stem changes, the endings remain the same. Here are some common ones:

ÊtreAvoirFaire
Je seraiJ’auraiJe ferai
Tu serasTu aurasTu feras
Il seraIl auraIl fera
Nous seronsNous auronsNous ferons
Vous serezVous aurezVous ferez
Ils serontIls aurontIls feront

Example:

Quand je serai grand, je serai chanteur. When I am older, I will be a singer.

How to use the future tense

10) Demonstrative adjectives

When pointing at people or objects in French, we use ce, cette, ces.

MasculinFéminin
SingulierCe livre, cet amiCette personne
PlurielCes disquesCes voitures

Example:

Est-ce que vous connaissez cette rue ? Do you know this street?

In the masculine form, when the noun starts with a vowel sound (like h, a, e, i, o, u ), we use cet (pronounced as cette).

Example:

Cet homme n’est pas sympa. This man is not nice.

More information on demonstrative adjectives here

Bonus grammar rule: the imperative tense

The imperative tense is used for giving orders or instructions, giving advice and forbidding.

Examples:

Écoute-moi ! Listen to me!
Prenez la première rue à droite. Take the first street on the right.
Ne parle pas fort ! Don’t raise your voice!

There are only three cases (or subject pronouns) used in the imperative: tu, nous, and vous. It generally follows the conjugation rules of the present tense, without using the subject.

EntrerVenirFaire
EntreViensFais
EntronsVenonsFaisons
EntrezVenezFaites

Note: For verbs ending in –ER, we remove the -s in the tu form.

More about the imperative form

Has this list fulfilled its job of confusing and delighting you at the same time? Improve your French further and try Frantastique, our online French lessons today!

*Anonymous data collected from our users regarding our English course Gymglish since 2004.


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