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

1) 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 (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.

2) Tu in the impérative

In the present version of the imperative, ER verbs (those verbs that end in ‘-er’) conjugated in the tu form never take an ‘-s’ at the end. This also includes the verb aller.

Tu manges (You eat, you are eating) Mange ! (Eat up!)
Tu écoutes (You listen, you are listening) Écoute ! (Listen!)
Tu vas chez le docteur (You are going to the doctor’s) Va chez le docteur ! (Go to the doctor’s!)

The verbs ouvrir (to open), offrir (to offer), souffrir (to suffer), couvrir (to cover) and cueillir (to gather) also follow this rule (no ‘-s’ at the end of the tu form):

Tu ouvres (You open, you are opening) Ouvre ! (Open up!)
Tu cueilles (You gather, you are gathering) Cueille ! (Gather!)
Tu offres (You offer, you are offering) Offre le cadeau! (Offer the present!)

For all other verbs, we keep the ‘-s’ at the end of the tu form.

Tu fais (You do, you are doing) Fais-le ! (Do it!)
Tu prends (You take, you are taking) Prends ! (Take!)
Tu vois (You see, you are seeing) Vois ! (See!)

More on tu in the imperative form here.

3) 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.

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.

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) Disjunctive pronouns

This next entry is often tricky for beginner learners of French. 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 elles. I care a lot about them.

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

More on disjunctive pronouns here.

6) 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.

7) Être 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.

8) 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.

9) The subjunctive

If you’re a beginner learner of French, the subjunctive form may well cause some problems. 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.

10) Il y a

Il y a + quantity

Il y a beaucoup de monde dans la salle. There are a lot of people in the room.
Aujourd’hui il y a du soleil. Today it is sunny (= There is sun).Il y a + time expressions

Je suis rentré en France il y a 2 ans. I came back to France 2 years ago.
Il y a longtemps que j’habite au Cameroun. I have been living in Cameroon for a long time.

The negative form is il n’y a pas. Il n’y a pas de soleil. There isn’t any sun.
Il n’y a pas longtemps que j’habite au Cameroun. I haven’t been living in Cameroon for a long time.

•  You will often hear French speakers shortening these phrases. So, il y a becomes y a and il n’y a pas becomes y a pas. This is informal.

Y a quelqu’un ? Non, y a personne ! Is anyone there? No, there’s nobody there!
Y a pas de problème ! No problem! (There’s no problem)

Note:
•  Il y a is invariable, this means it can be followed by a plural.

Il y a des nuages dans le ciel. There are clouds in the sky.

More information on il y a  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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