The 10 most common French grammar mistakes Spanish 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.

And yet French grammar, as beautiful and mysterious as it may be, gives learners a run for their money in terms of pure frustration. Sadly, the Spanish users of our online French course Frantastique are no exception to the rule.

Gymglish has carefully selected the 10 most common French grammar mistakes our Spanish-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) 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!

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 here

4) 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

5) 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.

MasculineFeminine
Singularceluicelle
Pluralceuxcelles

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.

MasculineFeminine
Singularcelui-ci, celui-làcelle-ci, celle-là
Pluralceux-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.

6) 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’appartientil 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.

7) Negatition

Ne […] pas is used to create negative constructions in French. Ne goes before the verb (or auxiliary verb), pas goes after the verb (or auxiliary verb):

Example : 

Je veux dormir. Je ne veux pas dormir. ⇒ I want to sleep. I don’t want to sleep.
Il s’appelle Victor. Il ne s’appelle pas Victor.⇒ He’s called Victor. He’s not called Victor.

If the verb begins with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u, y) or often an ‘h’, we use the contracted n’ form : 
Tu aimes le chocolat. Tu n’aimes pas le chocolat.⇒ You like chocolate. You don’t like chocolate.

In spoken, informal speech, ne is commonly omitted before the verb:

Tu viens ou tu viens pas ? Are you coming or not?
C’est pas possible ! It’s not possible! There’s no way!
J’y arrive pas (= Je n’y arrive pas) I can’t do it, I can’t manage to do it.

Careful!: We don’t pronounce the s in pas.

More on negation here.

8) Demonstrative adjectives

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

MasculineFeminine
SingularCe livre, cet amiCette personne
PluralCes 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

9) The word “quel” in exclamatory sentences

Quel is an adjective that can be coupled with a noun or adjective to mark an exclamation.
Quelle jolie barbe, Victor ! What a lovely beard, Victor!
Quel mauvais temps ! What awful weather!

Quel must agree with the masculine/feminine and singular/plural nature of the word.

Example :

MasculineFeminine
Singularquel (beau chien !) What a beautiful dog!quelle (chance !) How lucky!
Pluralquels (tableaux magnifiques !) What magnificent paintings!quelles (belles montagnes !) What beautiful mountains!

Note: Exclamations using quel are more common without a verb.

Quelle jolie chanson ! What a lovely song!
Qu’elle est jolie cette chanson ! (qu’ + elle + verbe + complément)

More information on the word “quel” in exclamatory sentences here

10) Definite articles

The four types of definite articles le, la, l’, les (=‘the’) depend on the gender, number or first letter of the noun that follows.

NounArticle
MasculineLEle garçon, le vélo. The boy, the bicycle
FeminineLAla voiture. the car
Masculine + Feminine
Singular
L’le homme l’homme. the man
la étoile l’étoile. the star
Masculine + Feminine
Plural
LESles enfants, les chaises.  the children, the chairs

Definite articles are used in French to indicate specific nouns.

La voiture de Victor, le garçon derrière toi, les amis de Muriel, etc. Victor’s car (literally ‘the car of Victor’), the boy behind you, Muriel’s friends (literally ‘the friends of Muriel’).

These articles can also express general habits or tastes.
Le matin, je me lève à 8 heures. In the morning, I get up at 8am.

Want to know more about definite articles? Click here!

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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