Masculine and Feminine in French

It’s essential to understand the difference between masculine and feminine in French. Knowing the difference between them will dictate what words you have to use, particularly when it comes to determiners (e.g. articles), pronouns, and adjectives.

Old English used to have grammatical genders, but they fell out of use. Modern English is much simpler and does not distinguish between them. For example, in English, we just use “the” for everything whether it’s masculine/feminine or singular/plural. That’s not the case in French. That’s why many English speakers struggle with this aspect of French.

Don’t worry, though. Even for Spanish speakers and other speakers whose languages have genders, we sometimes make mistakes when telling genders apart. That’s why we put together this guide to help you better understand this subject. Let’s see the differences between le masculin and le féminin. Allons-y!

Definite Articles

Red sports car

When you learn French, you will notice that most nouns are paired with articles. This is to indicate a noun is masculine/feminine and singular/plural. Gender matters in French.

Let’s start with definite articles. In English, the only definite article is “the”. Gender doesn’t matter. We can say the table, the chair, the house, the cars, etc. Simple, right?

However, French has four definite articles which are: le, la, l’, and les. We have to determine the gender of a word so we know which one to use. Let’s break this down.

We use le for masculine singular nouns. Examples: le frigo (the refrigerator), le ventilateur (the fan), le lapin (the rabbit), etc. 

We use la for feminine singular nouns. Examples: la voiture (the car), la chaise (the chair), la table (the table), etc.

We use l’ for both masculine singular and feminine singular nouns. In reality, it’s the contraction of the articles le and la, but we switch them to l’ when they precede a noun starting with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u). We also use l’ in most cases where it precedes a noun starting with h. Examples: l’ordinateur (the computer), l’ami (the friend), l’école (the school), l’homme (the man), l’hôpital (the hospital), etc.

Finally, we have les. We use it for plural nouns, whether they’re masculine or feminine. Examples: les chiens (the dogs), les arbres (the trees), les mots (the words), etc.

Indefinite Articles

English has only two indefinite articles: a and an. On the other hand, French has three: un, une, and des

For masculine singular nouns, we use un. Examples: un portable (a cell phone), un garçon (a boy), un plat (a dish), etc.

For feminine singular nouns, we use une. Examples: une fille (a girl), une voiture (a car), une fenêtre (a window), etc.

For plural nouns, we use des. It doesn’t matter if the nouns are masculine or feminine. The English equivalent is some. Examples: des livres (some books), des jours (some days), des boîtes (some boxes), etc. 

Partitive Articles

Fruit stand

As the name implies, partitive articles have to do with the parts of something. We use them to refer to a portion or unspecified amount of foods, drinks, or other uncountable nouns.

There are four articles of this kind: du, de la, de l’, and des. They all have to agree in gender and quantity with the nouns they precede. 

For masculine singular nouns, we use du. Examples: du lait (some milk), du jus (some juice), du beurre (some butter), etc.

For feminine singular nouns, we use de la. Examples: de la viande (some meat), de la patience (some patience), de la glace (some ice cream), etc.

We use de l’ for both masculine and feminine singular nouns. Examples: de l’argent (some money), de l’eau (some water), de l’amour (some love), etc.

Finally, for plural we use des. This applies to both masculine and feminine nouns. Examples: des pommes (some apples), des gâteaux (some cakes), des lettres (some letters), etc.

In English, there is no equivalent article. Linguists translate them to “some” or “any”, but more often than not, they’re not even used.

How to Distinguish Masculine from Feminine

How do we know what is masculine and what is feminine? That’s the $64,000 question, right?

Well, in most cases, we can know the gender of a word by its ending. I said most cases because there are some exceptions. Some words are either masculine or feminine regardless of their ending. More of that later.

Look at the table below for some of the most common noun endings in French. Let’s start with masculine nouns.

le pré, le résumé
-ienle comédien, le musicien
-eurle ventilateur, le vendeur
-(i)erle boucher, le fermier
-teurle tuteur, l’acteur
-onle patron, le ballon
-agele garage, le village
-eaule bateau, le chapeau
-all’hôpital, le cheval
-etle billet, le ticket
-entl’accident, le client
-asme/-ismele sarcasme, le tourisme
-aille travail, le détail
-inle coussin, le lapin
-oirle lissoir, le comptoir

Now let’s take a look at some typical feminine endings.

-essela paresse, la jeunesse
-iennela comédienne, la musicienne
-eusela danseuse, la serveuse
-(i)èrela cousinière, la cochère
-tricel’actrice, la directrice
-onnela baronne, la personne
-adela limonade, la fusillade
-ance/-encela différance, la présidence
-éela soirée, la vallée
-ettela baguette, la facette
-ellela citronnelle, la passerelle
-iel’allergie, la modestie
-isela maîtrise, la bêtise
-inela grenadine, la tartine
-aillela médaille, la bataille
-t(i)éla dynastie, la sortie
-urela culture, la peinture

Nouns That Are Always or Generally Masculine

Calendar and marker.
Days and months are masculine.

Some words are always masculine or feminine regardless of their ending. The nouns listed below are always masculine.

  • Days (le lundi, le mardi, le mercredi…)
  • Months (janvier, février, mars…)
  • Seasons (le printemps, l’été, l’automne, l’hiver)
  • Colors (le rouge, le bleu, le jaune…)
  • Numbers (le zéro, le deux, le trois…)
  • Letters (le a, le b, le c…)
  • Languages (l’anglais, l’espagnol, le français…)
  • Cardinal points (le nord, le sud, l’est, l’ouest)
  • Metals (l’or, l’argent, le plomb…)
  • Infinitives when used as nouns (le pouvoir, le devoir, le choisir…)
  • Wines (le champagne, le merlot, le pinot noir…)

The nouns listed below are generally masculine.

  • Drinks (le café, le thé, le jus…)
  • Foods that don’t end in -e (le haricot, le thon, le maïs…)
  • Minerals (le sel, le mica, le gypse…)
  • Trees (le palmier, l’oranger, le chêne…)
  • Weights and measures (le meter, le litre, le gram…)
  • Words borrowed from English (le challenge, le parking, le week-end…)

Nouns That Are Always or Generally Feminine

Close-up of a watch.
Watches are feminine.

The following nouns are always feminine.

  • Quantities ending in -aine (une dizaine, une centaine…)
  • Cars (une Porsche, une Volkswagen…)
  • Continents (l’Europe, l’Asie…)
  • Holidays and festivals with saint in their names (la Saint-Valentin, la Saint-Sylvestre…)
  • Planets (la Terre, la Pluton…)
  • Watches (une Rolex, une Tag Heuer…)

The following nouns are generally feminine. 

  • Academic disciplines (la philosophie, la chimie…)
  • Most foods ending in -e (la tomate, la banane…)

Cities, States, and Countries

Blurred map with a man in the middle.
Geographical places have genders.

Not only do things have genders in French, but cities, states, and countries do, too! In fact, it would be safe to say everything has a gender in French.

Before you start pulling out your hair, I will teach you a simple rule. Most places ending in -e are feminine. The rest are masculine.

Of course, there are a few exceptions. The following countries are masculine even though they end in -e:

  • le Mexique (Mexico)
  • le Bélize (Belize)
  • le Cambodge (Cambodia)
  • le Mozambique (Mozambique)
  • le Zaïre (Zaire)
  • le Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe)

For cities, gender is no big deal since there are still some controversies among scholars. However, for states and countries, it’s important to understand gender because this will tell us what prepositions to use with them. We will talk about this in further detail in a later post.

Job Titles

Several people at a meeting.
All professions have genders.

Most job titles are either masculine or feminine. The same rules we mentioned above regarding endings apply here.

However, some job titles only use the masculine form for both men and women. 


un/une ingénieur

un/une médecin

un/une professeur

Other job titles only have feminine forms. 


une femme de ménage

une hôtesse de l’air

There is some controversy regarding not only professions but the whole French language arising out of feminism and the gender equality movement. We won’t cover that here but will probably do in the future.


All French words have a gender. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to know whether a noun is masculine or feminine.

The good thing is, there are many shortcuts you can take to get the correct answer. Today, you learned you can guide yourself by the ending of a word. You also learned that several words are always or generally masculine/feminine depending on specific circumstances. By following these shortcuts, you will be able to determine the gender of a noun correctly in most cases.

There are some exceptions in French, but they’re not too many. You will have to memorize them.

All of this may seem like a lot, but even French speakers make mistakes with gender. Just keep learning and practicing.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below. Au revoir!

Masculine and feminine in French
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12 thoughts on “Masculine and Feminine in French”

  1. I didn’t take French class in high school, I took Spanish and I always wondered why the word “the” was never properly explained and I still wondered when to use as masculine or feminine or singular or plural. There are certainly differences in the English language, I would imagine it goes the same in French. 

    I believe you have made a lot of valuable points for your readers in your niche and I think that they will receive value from your post

    • Hey, Paul,

      I get it. Genders are common in Romance languages like Spanish and French, and they can be hard to grasp for English speakers. On top of that, there are many exceptions. Not too much help lol.

      Thanks for commenting. Feel free to come back anytime for more French resources.

  2. I have to say that French is another hard language, not only the grammar but also the pronunciation especially for me. In my language, we do not have the male for female words for things, we just add another word to the back and done deal, lol. Thank you for sharing the list of all the suffixes. Hopefully when I make enough mistake I can progress in time. 

    • Hey, Nuttanee,

      French is hard for some and easy for others. It’s kind of subjective.

      It’s interesting to learn how languages differ, isn’t it? By the way, what language do you speak if you don’t mind my asking?

      Thanks for commenting.

  3. You asked what I thought?  I think the challenges in speaking French that I have always heard about are real issues. I have allowed myself to use such sloppy English that I have to stop and think sometimes when I say something, or mainly write.  What am I trying to say?  Formal instruction for a language is important to teach the proper use.  However, most of us, when learning another language learn some slang and short cuts that can and will make a difference in sharing our thoughts.  

    While a number of places exist that help people who want to speak French be able to get some insight as to what is required for learning the language.  There would probably be some healthy of videos of speaking French, as well as information like yours that give information about the basics of the language.  The idea is surely appealing to learn.  

    When visiting with those who speaking English well it is always a bit intimidating for me as I realize I could do some improving.  I appreciate your attention to the idea of learning to speak French.  Your article is a great resource. Thanks

    • Hi, Sami,

      You made an interesting point there. When speaking a language different from our native language, we may not feel confident. We’re full of insecurities and don’t want to make any mistakes. However, it’s all part of the process. If we never overcome those fears, we won’t be able to succeed.

      We may feel overwhelmed and at a loss at what to do when studying a language. That’s why I decided to open this blog. Feel free to come back anytime for more tips.

      Thanks for commenting.

  4. I took one semester of French in college. that was about 30 years ago. The only thing I remember (and I may not remember it correctly) is “Je suis formidable.” (I am great).

    I found your site very informative. I didn’t get far enough in my lessons to learn the articles and masculine and feminine. I have a hard time learning any language. I have also attempted to learn Spanish, American Sign Language and even music as a language.

    I think the hardest part of language learning is that there are those distinctions in masculine and feminine. I don’t understand why one object is feminine while another is masculine. Your site does a good job of expressing the differences and when to use one or the other, but I am still confused. I may have to study your site a bit longer!

    Do you know of any easy to use learning programs to help make it a little easier. Something in the inexpensive range? Thank you!

    • Hi, Karin,

      Glad you found this useful. 🙂

      I get what you mean. Spanish is my native language, and even though we have grammatical genders, we still get confused when studying genders in French. So, don’t worry.

      Answering your question, you can start with YouTube. It’s a great resource for people interested in learning languages online. You can check out this article for more ideas.

      Thanks for commenting.

  5. Personally, I love it. It was truly comprehensive, insightful, and everything. And quite fascinating as well.

    These groups of nouns all of which are either masculine or feminine really got me thinking. Do my native language (Latvian) also has that as I’ve never thought of it way? And sure enough, it turns out our months are also all masculine or days are all feminine. Whereas for seasons, it’s 50/50. Some are masculine and some are feminine. For cars, it highly depends. For cities, it’s almost always feminine.

    It actually surprised me that they have a gender for letters. Not sure, we have that. And I’m pretty sure English doesn’t have that as well. Fascinating, indeed.

    This was really fun. I appreciate it. Cheers.

    • Hey, Matiss,

      Wow! It’s really interesting to learn about the differences between our languages. By the way, is Latvian similar to Russian? I tried to study Russian a couple of years ago but didn’t continue. I’d like to retake it.

      Languages can be confusing, especially when there are so many differences and exceptions.

      Thanks for stopping by. 


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