Module 01: Bonjour!

Première Partie: Les salutations / Explication de grammaire

La Grammaire

In this section:

Pronoms personnels sujets / Subject Pronouns

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A pronoun replaces a noun in order to avoid repetition. Subject pronouns are subjects of verbs. In French, a subject pronoun is immediately or almost immediately followed by its verb. The use of subject pronouns is mandatory in French; always use a subject pronoun to construct sentences in the absence of a noun subject. Here are the French subject pronouns:

person singular plural
1st person je, I nous, we
2nd person tu, you vous, you/y’all
3rd person il, he/it                                                elle, she/it                                        iel, singular non-binary “they”
on, one/we (colloquial)
ils, they (masc.)
elles, they (fem.)  iels, plural non-binary “they”

Subject pronouns are labelled by the term ‘person’, referring to the subject’s role in the conversation. 1st person refers to the person(s) speaking (I, we); 2nd person to the person(s) spoken to (you); and 3rd person to the person(s) or thing(s) spoken about (he, she, it, they).

Unlike the English pronoun ‘I’, je is not capitalized unless it begins a sentence.

The pronoun tu is singular and, importantly, informal. Use tu to address people your own age and those you know well.

The pronoun on means ‘one’, or ‘they’ in a nonspecific sense: ‘comme on dit’ (as they say). On often replaces ‘nous’ in spoken French: ‘On y va?’ (Shall we go?).

The pronoun vous is conjugated with a plural verb so it obviously refers to more than one person. However, it is also the customary form of address when you are talking to only one person you do not know well, such as an elder, a boss, a shopkeeper, etc. Inappropriate use of the tu form is considered a sign of disrespect.

Tammy: Bonjour, Marc. Comment allez-vous? Tammy: Hello Marc. How are you doing
Marc: Bonjour, Tammy. Je vais très bien et vous ? Marc: Hello Tammy. I’m good and you?

il/elle / iel
Il and elle besides meaning ‘he’ and ‘she’ can both express the meaning ‘it’ depending on the gender of the noun being replaced.

“Iel” is the equivalent of the non-binary “they” in English. There are many variations of this pronoun, but “iel” is the most commonly used and has been accepted by the French dictionary, L:e Robert. Different from English, iel can be singular (iel) or plural (iels).

For example:

La musique est bonne, n’est-ce pas ? The music is good, isn’t it?
Oui, elle est génial! J’aime la musique country. Yes, it is! I like country music.
À qui appartient cette selection? Whose playlist is this?
Iel leur appartient, Alex aime la musique country! It’s theirs, Alex likes country music!

ils/elles / iels
Ils and elles are similar to il and elle since they agree with the gender of the noun they replace. Ils and elles may refer to people or things. Elles is used to mean ‘they’ if it replaces people who are all women or objects that are all feminine in gender. On the other hand, ils is used to mean ‘they’ for objects that are masculine in gender or a group of all men or any group where there is at least one male person or masculine object in the group.

Iels is the plural form of the non-binary pronoun iel.

Jean et Jacques sont de bons amis. Jean and Jacques are good friends.
Normalement ils s’entendent bien, mais pas aujourd’hui! Normally, they get along well, but not today!


Listen to the dialogue:


Fiona: Bonjour Jacques, tu vas bien? Fiona: Hi Jacques, are you doing well?
Jacques: Pas du tout, je vais très mal. Jean et moi, on s’est disputé. Jacques: Not at all. I’m doing poorly. Bette and I had a fight.
Fiona: Ah bon? Elle est toujours là? Fiona: Oh really? Is she still here?
Jacques: Non. Elle est partie avec Tammy. Elles sont allées au bibliothèque. Jacques: Non, she left with Tammy. They went to the library.
Fiona: Tiens, nous y allons, toi et moi? Fiona: Hey, why don’t you and I go there?
Jacques: Tu ne m’as pas entendu? Je vais mal- je ne veux rien faire! Jacques: Didn’t you hear me? I’m not doing well- I don’t want to do anything!

Le verbe “être” / The Verb “to be”

The verb être is an irregular verb in the present tense. Listen carefully to its forms in the present. Do you hear the liaison or linking in the pronunciation of the s in the vous form? It is pronounced as a /z/ to link with the vowel ê in êtes.

être  ‘to be’
je suis  ‘I am’ nous sommes  ‘we are’
tu es  ‘you are’ vous êtes  ‘you are’
il/elle/iel/on est  ‘he/she/they/one is/are’ ils/elles/iels sont  ‘they are’
past participle: été

Pronunciation of “iel” and “iels”:

Edouard: Jacques, tu es mal au ventre! Edouard: Jacques, you have an upset stomach!
Jacques est malade. Fiona et Bette sont en bonne santé. Jacques is sick. Fiona and Bette are healthy.
Toi et moi, nous ne sommes pas mal de tête. You and I, we don’t have headaches.
Toi, tu es en pleine forme et moi, je suis active. You are in great shape and me, I am active.
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C’est (plural Ce sont) is a common expression used to describe and introduce people or things. See c’est vs. il/elle est for more information. Etre is also used as an auxiliary in compound tenses (passé composé with êtrepassé composé of pronominal verbsplus-que-parfait, etc.)

Gender / genre: masculin, féminin

In French, a noun is always feminine or masculine. It is introduced by a determiner, which usually indicates the gender of the noun.

When a noun refers to a person, the gender is determined by the person’s sex (although some exceptions do exist).

In general, the feminine form of the noun is formed by adding an e to the masculine noun. Note that the addition of the e changes the pronunciation in some words:

Jacques est étudiant, Jean est aussi étudiante. Jacques is a student, Jean is a student.
Jacques est ami avec Alex, Jean est aussi amie avec Alex. Jacques is Alex’s friend, Jean is also Alex’s friend.

There are cases when the feminine form of the noun changes more drastically.

Jacques: Je suis serveur.
Jean: Je ne suis pas serveuse.
Jacques: I’m a waiter.
Jean: I’m not a waiter.
Trey: Je suis musicien.
Sophie: Je ne suis pas musicienne.
Trey: I’m a musician.
Sophie: I’m not a musician.
Trey: Je suis un acteur.
Jean: Je suis une actrice.
Trey: I’m an actor.
Jean: I’m an actress.
Jacques: Pour le travail, je ne suis pas champion.
Fiona: C’est moi qui suis championne.
Jacques: I’m not a champion at working.
Fiona: I’m the one who is a champion.
Edouard: Je suis le copain de Sophie.
Sophie: Je suis la copine d’Edouard.
Edouard: I’m Sophie’s pal.
Sophie: I’m Edouard’s pal.

In general, when the masculine noun ends in e, the feminine noun remains unchanged. Only the determiner or the context indicates if it is a feminine or masculine noun.

Jacques et Rita sont frère et soeur, mais ils ont des métiers tout à fait différents. Jacques and Rita are brother and sister, but they have completely different jobs.
Jacques est poète. Rita est comptable. Jacques is a poet. Rita is an accountant.
Jacques n’est sûrement pas comptable et Rita n’est pas poète non plus. Jacques is certainly not a secretary and Rita is not a poet either.


The gender of animals is often arbitrary. Some animals are always masculine (un escargot, a snail), others are feminine (la fourmi, ant). However, for some animals there are irregular masculine and feminine forms.

le chat / la chatte, cat
le chien / la chienne, dog
le coq / la poule, chicken (rooster / hen)
le boeuf, le taureau / la vache, ox / bull / cow

objects and ideas
The gender of nouns referring to things and abstractions is arbitrary. However, it can often be inferred from the ending of the word. Typically, words ending in age-ment-eau-phone-scope-isme are masculine and those ending in -tion-sion-té-ette-ance-ence-ie-ure-ode/-ade/-ude are feminine.

masculine endings feminine endings
le fromage (cheese) la salade (salad, lettuce)
le monument (monument) la fourchette (fork)
le sentiment (feeling) la télévision (television)
le couteau (knife) la culture (culture)
le téléphone (telephone) la situation (situation)
le microscope (microscope) la socié (society)
le romantisme (romanticism) la différence (difference)
la philosophie (philosophy)

Listen to the dialogue. Feminine nouns are in blue, masculine in black.

Jean présente Jacques pour la première fois à Bette et Fiona. Jean introduces Jacques for the first time to Bette and Fiona.
Tammy: Tex est un ami de Lyon. C’est un tuteur maintenant! Tex, c’est mon amie Bette, et la, c’est ma copine Fiona. Bette et Fiona sont étudiantes. Tammy: Tex is a friend from Lyon. He is a tutor now! Tex, this is my friend Bette and this is my pal Fiona. Bette and Fiona are students.
Bette: Enchantée, Tex! J’adore la culture française. Bette: Nice to meet you, Tex. I adore French culture.

When describing a non-binary person, several options exist in French.

  1. You can use epicene words that are the same in both masculine and feminine form. Ex: Il est artiste. Elle est artiste. Iel est artiste.
  2. You can reformulate a sentence (this will be easier to do as you become more adept in French!). Ex. Instead of saying “il est musicien” or “elle est musicienne,” you can say “iel joue de la musique.” (“they play music”) In other words, you can say what they do, not who they are in order to describe their profession.
  3. You can add a middot to the descriptor. For instance, “iel est musicien·ne.” The middot is the dot that separates the masculine ending from the feminine ending.

Check out this document for more tips.

L’alphabet et la phonétique

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Les accents

The acute accent (´), l’accent aigu, and the grave accent (`), l’accent grave, are used to indicate the quality of the vowel sound represented by the letter e.

A. Listen to each example and repeat.

é /e/

è /ɛ/

When used with letters other than e, the accent grave does not indicate a sound difference but serves to distinguish different words which have the same spelling but different meanings.

ou (or) où (where)
la date (the date) là (there)
il y a (there is/are) à l’heure (on time)

The circumflex (ˆ), l’accent circonflexe, arose historically as a marker for vowels which were followed by another letter (usually s) in an earlier state of the language:

être (<estre)      hôtel (<hostel)      forêt (<forest)      plaît (<plaist)

The cedille (ç), la cédille, is used only with the letter c to indicate the sound /s/ when it is followed by the letters ao, or u:

Ça va? /sa/      cahier /ka/

The cedille is not used with the letters e and i:

Ce merci
c’est ici

The dieresis (¨), le tréma, is used with vowels to indicate that they are pronounced separately from a preceding vowel:

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Français inclusif: An Interactive Textbook for French 101 Copyright © 2022 by Department of World Languages, Boise State University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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