Essential French Grammar

Essential French Grammar

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by Seymour Resnick

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This is the first French grammar designed specifically for adults with limited learning time who wish to acquire a knowledge of simple, everyday spoken French, and who have no need of all the archaic, highly literary, and seldom used forms that must be covered in a conventional grammar. It is not a simplified study, but a selective grammar that points out many


This is the first French grammar designed specifically for adults with limited learning time who wish to acquire a knowledge of simple, everyday spoken French, and who have no need of all the archaic, highly literary, and seldom used forms that must be covered in a conventional grammar. It is not a simplified study, but a selective grammar that points out many time-saving short cuts.
Constantly drawing comparisons with English construction, it covers all of the important points in French grammar (verb forms and tenses, parts of speech, negative sentences, possessives, partitive construction, etc.) fully and logically, and with refreshing clarity. It was created for those who prefer the phrase approach, and all grammatical points are illustrated with phrases and sentences that you can incorporate directly into your working vocabulary. Many of the discussions include a list of common expressions that use the rule under study.
In addition to the grammar text itself, there are several unusual features of great value to anyone who wants to build a French vocabulary: a section on common word-endings and their French equivalents, for example, and a 50-page lit of French-English cognates.
This grammar does not assume any previous knowledge either of grammatical terms or of French grammar. English grammatical terms are explained in a separate section and all discussion begins with essentials and works up from there. Use it as an introduction to grammar, for independent class courses, with phrase courses, as a refresher, or for beginning self-study.

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Essential French Grammar

By Seymour Resnick

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1965 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-11341-8


Suggestions for Vocabulary Building

The following suggestions may be helpful to you in building your vocabulary:

1. Study words and word lists that answer real and preferably immediate personal needs. If you are planning to travel in the near future your motivation and orientation is clear cut and Listen & Learn French or a good travel phrase book will give you the material you need. Select material according to your personal interests and requirements. If you don't plan to motor, don't spend time studying the parts of the car. If you like foreign foods, study the supplementary foreign food list in Listen & Learn French. Even if you do not plan to travel in the near future, you will probably learn more quickly by imagining a travel or real life situation.

2. Use the association technique for memorization. For the most part, Listen & Learn French or travel phrase books give you associated word lists. If you continue to build your vocabulary by memorization, don't use a dictionary for this purpose. Select such grammars or books that have lists of word families.

3. Study the specialized vocabulary of your profession, business, or hobby. If you are interested in real estate, learn the many terms associated with property, buying, selling, leasing, etc. An interest in mathematics should lead you to a wide vocabulary in this science. Words in your specialty will be learned quickly and a surprising number will be applicable or transferable to other areas. Although these specialized vocabularies may not always be readily available, an active interest and a good dictionary will help you get started.

Abbreviations and Note

Abbreviations used in Essential French Grammar

MASC. Masculine

FEM. Feminine

SING. Singular


LIT. Literally

FAM. Familiar

CONJ. Conjugation

INFIN. Infinitive

PART. Participle

ADJ. Adjective

Note: Whenever the French construction is basically different from the construction in English, a literal translation enclosed in brackets is given to help you analyze and understand the French syntax. This literal translation is immediately followed by a translation into idiomatic English.

Written Accents

There are three written accents which are placed on vowels in French. The most common is the acute accent (l'accent aigu)' which is used only over the vowel e. The é has the sound of English a as in ABC: la vérité (the truth), parlé (spoken).

The grave accent (l'accent grave) is used mainly over e, which then has the sound of e in met: le père (the father), il lève (he raises). The grave accent is also used over a and u (without affecting their pronunciation) in a few words to distinguish them from other words with the same spelling: à (to, at), a (has); (there), la (the, it, her); (where), ou (or).

The circumflex accent (l'accent circonflexe) may be used over any vowel (â, ê, î, ô, û), and generally lengthens the sound of the vowel: l'âge (the age), être (to be), l'île (the isle), le Rhône (the Rhone River), sûr (sure).

The above accents do not indicate any special voice stress on the syllable where they occur.

The cedilla (la cédille), is placed under the letter c to give it the sound of s before a, o or u: français (French), le garçon (the boy, waiter), reçu (received).

Word Order

Normal word order

Word order in French is frequently the same as in English. Since many words in French are obviously related in appearance and derivation to English words, it is often easy to understand a French sentence even if you know only a minimum of grammar. Compare the following French sentences and their English translations:

Mon cousin et sa fiancée arrivent à six heures.
My cousin and his fiancee arrive at six o'clock.

La premiére leçon est très importante.
The first lesson is very important.

Negative Word Order

To make a sentence negative, place ne before the verb and pas after it. (The ne becomes n' before a vowel or a silent h.)

Je ne parle pas très bien.
I do not speak very well.

Cette ville n 'est pas très grande.
This city is not very large.

How to Form Questions

Three Common Question Forms

There are several ways of turning simple statements into questions in French.

1. The simplest way is to place Est-ce que in front of the original sentence. (The que becomes qu' if the next word begins with a vowel.) Study the following examples:


Vous parlez anglais. Est-ce que vous parlez anglais?

You speak English.
Do you speak English?

La cuisine est bonne ici. Estce que la cuisine est bonne ici?

The food is good here.
Is the the food good here?

La première leçon est importante. Est-ce qu'elle est importante?

The first lesson is important.
Is it (the lesson) important?

2. If the subject of the sentence is a second or third person pronoun—vous (you), il (he), elle (she), ils (they, MASC.), elles (they, FEM.)—the verb may be placed in front of the pronoun and joined to it by a hyphen.

Parlez-aous anglais? Est-elle Américaine?

Do you speak English?
Is she American?

Est-il fatigué?

Is he tired?

However, if the verb ends in a vowel, a -t- must be inserted between the vowel and the third person singular pronouns (il and elle). This is done simply for ease of pronunciation.

Parle-t-il bien? Va-t-elle aujourd'hui?

Does he speak well?
Is she going today?

3. A third common way of turning a simple statement into a question is by adding n'est-ce pas? to the end of the statement. This corresponds to the English phrases "isn't it?," "don't you?," "aren't we?," "won't you?," etc.

Paris est une ville intéressante, n'est-ce pas?
Paris is an interesting city, isn't it?

Vous resterez ici, n'est-ce pas?
You will stay here, won't you?

Interrogative Adjectives and Pronouns

The interrogative adjective "which" is translated by quel (MASC. SING.), quelle (FEM. SING.), quels (MASC. PL.) and quelles (FEM. PL.). The corresponding pronouns (which one, which ones) are lequel, laquelle, lesquels and lesquelles.

The form of the adjective or pronoun used depends on the gender and number of the noun concerned. For instance, in the first sentence below, le livre (the book) is a masculine singular noun, and the proper adjective and pronoun is, therefore, quel and lequel. This concept of agreement of adjective and pronouns with nouns is further discussed on page 24. See also the Glossary of Grammatical Terms on page 131.

Quel livre préférez-vous? Quelles cravates préfèrent-ils?

Which book do you prefer? Which ties do they prefer?

Lequel préférez-vous? Lesquelles préfèrent-ils?

Which one do you prefer? Which ones do they prefer?

Study the following explanations and examples of the other interrogative pronouns:

Qui translates both "who" and "whom," and may be used as subject or object, singular or plural, referring to persons:

Qui est là? Qui avez-vous vu?

Who is there? Whom did you see?

Qui is also used after prepositions, when referring to persons. Note that à qui translates "whose" (possession) as well as "to whom."

De qui parlez-vous?
Whom are you talking about?

À qui avez-vous donné la clé?
To whom did you give the key?

À qui est cette maison?
Whose house is this?

The interrogative "what" is translated as qu'est-ce qui when it is the subject of the sentence:

Qu'est-ce qui se passe?
What is going on?

"What" is translated as que or qu'est-ce que when it is an object:

Que désirez-vous? OR Qu'est-ce que vous désirez?
What do you wish?

Qu'est-ce que c'est?
What is it?

When asking for an explanation or a definition, "what is" is translated as qu'est-ce que c'est que:

Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'une république?
What is a republic?

Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça?
What is that?

"What," standing alone or when used as object of a preposition and not referring to persons, is quoi:

De quoi parliez-vous? Quoi?

were you talking about? What?

Useful Interrogative Phrases

combien how much comment how
quand when where
porquoi why

Combien coûte ceci?
How much does this cost?

Comment va-t-on en ville?
How does one go to town?

Quand est-ce que l'autobus arrive?
When does the bus arrive?

est la gare?
Where is the station?

Pourquoi êtes-vous fâché?
Why are you angry?

Nouns and the Definite and Indefinite Articles

Gender of French Nouns

In French, all nouns are either masculine or feminine; there are no neuter nouns. Nouns denoting masculine persons or animals are of the masculine gender, and nouns denoting feminine persons or animals are of the feminine gender. However, this rule is no guide to the identification of the gender of the countless nouns which do not denote masculine or feminine persons or animals. The best way to learn the gender of these nouns is to memorize the definite article when you learn a new noun.

The Definite Article

In French, the definite article agrees in gender and number with the noun it accompanies. This is more complex than English in which one word, "the," serves as the proper definite article for all nouns. The forms of the French definite article are:


SING. le (1') la (1')

PL. les les

Observations on the definite article:

1. Les is the only plural form of the definite article.

2. L' is used only with nouns which begin with a vowel or a silent h. For these nouns the indefinite article, discussed on p. 23, will serve as the guide to the identification of gender.

Plurals of Nouns

Regular Noun Plurals

Most French nouns form their plural by adding -s to the singular form. (This s is not pronounced.)


la capitale les capitales

(the capital) (the capitals)

le mot les mots

(the word) (the words)

l'arbre les arbres

(the tree) (the trees)


1. Nouns whose singular ends in -s, -x, or -z remain unchanged in the plural.


le bras les bras

(the arm) (the arms)

la voix les voix

(the voice) (the voices)

le nez les nez

(the nose) (the noses)

2. Nouns ending in -au or -eu in the singular form their plural by adding -x.


le bureau les bureaux

(the office) (the offices)

le jeu les jeux

(the game) (the games)

3. Nouns whose singular ends in -al or -ail usually drop that ending and add instead -aux to form the plural.


le cheval les chevaux

(the horse) (the horses)

le travail les travaux

(the work) (the works)

4. Note the following very irregular cases:


l'œil les yeux

(the eye) (the eyes)

monsieur messieurs

(sir, gentleman, Mr.) (sirs, gentlemen)

madame mesdames

(lady, madam, Mrs.) (ladies, madams)

mademoiselle mesdemoiselles

(young lady, miss) (young ladies, misses)

The Indefinite Article

In English, the indefinite article is either "a" or "an." In French it is un before masculine nouns and une before feminine nouns.


un restaurant une omelette

(a restaurant) (an omelet)

un train une cigarette

(a train) (a cigarette)

As mentioned on page 21, the indefinite article will serve as a guide to the identification of gender of all nouns which begin with a vowel or with a silent h.


un homme une heure

(a man) (an hour)

un hôtel une église

(an hotel) (a church)


Agreement of Adjectives with Nouns

In French, adjectives agree in gender and in number with the nouns which they accompany. This is somewhat more complicated than in English where adjectives are invariable.

A French masculine singular noun requires the masculine singular form of all adjectives, and feminine plural nouns require feminine plural adjectives. Therefore, French adjectives have four forms—masculine singular, feminine singular, masculine plural, and feminine plural.

How to Form Feminine Singular Adjectives

The feminine singular adjective is normally formed by adding -e to the masculine singular form, unless the masculine singular form already ends in a silent -e, in which case the feminine singular form is identical to it.

In the examples, masculine adjectives are shown accompanying masculine nouns, and feminine adjectives agreeing with feminine nouns.


un grand pays une grande nation

(a great country) (a great nation)

un livre vert une robe verte

(a green book) (a green dress)

un jeune homme une jeune fille

(a young man) (a girl)

un garçon triste une histoire triste

(a sad boy) (a sad story)


Excerpted from Essential French Grammar by Seymour Resnick. Copyright © 1965 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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