The 10 most common French grammar mistakes German 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 German 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 German-speaking users have made over the past year. We’re not here to point fingers.*

1) 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.

2) 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

3) 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).

More on COD pronouns here

4) 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.

5) The 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.

6) 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 jetuil, 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 ellesI care a lot about them.

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

More on disjunctive pronouns here.

7) 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.

8) Subjunctive mode vs. indicative mode

Verbs such as croire (que) (to believe that), penser (que) (to think that), trouver (que) (to find that), être certain queêtre sûr que (to be sure that) and espérer (que) (to hope that) are either followed by a verb in the indicative or subjunctive according to the affirmative, interrogative, or negative structure of the phrase.

When these verbs are used as in declarative or affirmative statements, verbs in the que clause remain in the indicative.

Examples:

Victor pense que Marcel est fou. Victor thinks that Marcel is mad.

Je trouve que les extraterrestres ont un charme fou. I find that the aliens have a crazy appeal.

Il est certain que Victor viendra nous voir demain. It’s sure that Victor will see us tomorrow.

J’espère qu’il fera beau cet été. I hope the weather will be nice this summer.

When the verb is negative, or in its interrogative inverted form, it can be followed by the subjunctive or indicative according to the degree of certainty that is expressed.

Examples:

Victor ne pense pas que Marcel soit fou. Victor doesn’t think that Marcel is mad (subjunctive = he doesn’t think that Marcel is mad but he’s not sure)

Victor ne pense pas que Marcel est fou. Victor doesn’t think that Marcel is mad (indicative = he is sure that Marcel isn’t mad)

Trouves-tu que les extraterrestres aient un charme fou  ? Don’t you find that the aliens have a crazy appeal? (subjunctive = we’re expressing a doubt)

Trouves-tu que les extraterrestres ont un charme fou  ? Do you find that the aliens have a crazy appeal? (indicative = this is a simple question)

Learn more on the subjunctive mode vs. the indicative mode here.

9) 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 (celuicelle, etc.) are always followed by a complement (celui que,celle quiceux 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.

10) 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: tunous, 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 French course Frantastique.



Going further:

3 thoughts on “The 10 most common French grammar mistakes German speakers make

  1. Pingback: The 10 most common French grammar mistakes Spanish speakers make - The Gymglish blog

  2. Pingback: The 10 most common French grammar mistakes English speakers make - The Gymglish blog

  3. Pingback: The 10 most common French grammar mistakes French speakers make - The Gymglish blog

Leave a Reply