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

1) Etre and avoir

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

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.

Tu as
Il a
Nous avons
Vous avez
Ils ont


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!

2) 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.



– 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.

Singularcelui-ci, celui-làcelle-ci, celle-là
Pluralceux-ci, ceux-làcelles-ci, celles-là


– 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.


– 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.


– 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

3) The imperative

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

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.







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

Know more on the imperative form.

4) COI pronouns

One of the trickiest rules in the book, especially for beginnersCOI (“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.


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

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.


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

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5) 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

6) Disjunctive pronouns

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

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.


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) The futur proche

The futur proche is called the ‘near future’ in English, close in meaning to ‘going to + infinitive’. It is used to describe actions that will happen very soon.

Rentrez vite ! Il va pleuvoir ! Come back quickly! It’s going to rain!
Attention, tu vas tomber ! Watch out, you’re going to fall!

It is also used for upcoming events that will occur in the near or not-so-near future.

Je vais rester à Paris pendant trois ou quatre ans. I’m going to stay in Paris for three or four years.
Allez-vous revenir un jour à Montréal ? Are you going to come back to Montreal one day?

We use the present tense form of aller aller, présent + infinitive of the main verb. Here’s the construction for nager (to swim):

je vais nager
tu vas nager
il/elle/on va nager
nous allons nager
vous allez nager
ils/elles vont nager

More on the future proche here.

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 8) 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:

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


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

•  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

9) Demonstrative adjectives

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

SingularCe livre, cet amiCette personne
PluralCes disquesCes voitures


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).


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

More information on demonstrative adjectives here

10) 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 :

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

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!

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