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La or le? How to learn the gender of French nouns

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Having trouble remembering whether a French noun is feminine (la) or masculine (le)? You’re not alone. Also: you’re not alone with your problem, because we have some ideas on how to train your brain to remember those definite articles. When it comes to learning a language, a lot depends on studying consistently and with the right method. Follow these tips and boost your noun remembering skills right away.


1. Grab a pink and a blue pen(cil)

…or a yellow and a green one, the colors don’t really matter. Mark feminine nouns with one color and masculine ones with another. You may remember the associated color even if the word le or la would evade you. By adding some visual splash to your learning process, you can create a powerful memory aid, and this is something you should definitely take advantage of.

Do this each time you have the words before you: mark nouns with different colors in books, in notebooks, in the French newspaper you’re reading. Most e-readers and pdf reader software will also enable you to highlight words, so reading on an electronic device won’t necessarily set you back.

2. Be consistent & never forget to mark noun genders. Everywhere.

Each time you learn a new noun in French, make sure to jot down whether it’s a feminine or masculine word. Sometimes it’s easier to just skip this part, but you’ll thank yourself later if you don’t. Consistency in general will make learning French (or anything else, really) just so much more efficient.

If you’re reading a text in French and the definite article is not written out in full (e.g., your noun starts with a vowel, giving you a form like l’idée = “the idea”), it’s a smart move to check it in a dictionary and add a tiny “f” (feminine) or “m” (masculine) above the word. You should have enough space to sneak it in between the lines.

If you download a good dictionary app on your phone (which is a must-do anyway), going through this process will be a matter of seconds. By doing this, you’ll considerably better your chances of correctly remembering the gender of that specific noun.

3. Know how to make an educated guess

Imagine starting a sentence (une phrase) in French. You know the words, you know the grammar, even the verb conjugation, everything. Almost everything, that is: you realize you don’t have a slightest idea whether your noun is feminine or masculine. Alas, you even have an adjective you want to use, but you would need to know the gender of your noun to use it correctly. What to do?

This is a very common scenario, especially at the beginning of your language learning quest. First of all, getting a definite article wrong happens all the time and it’s not a big deal. Nobody starts speaking French without making a ton of mistakes first. Even native speakers might mix them up from time to time.

Based on word endings

That being said, I have some great news: you often have a means to divine the solution, because some word endings can tip you off about gender. Learning which endings tend to make a noun feminine and which ones tend to make it masculine might very well save you dozens (or rather hundreds) of mistakes over the years.

Checking the last few letters of your French noun won’t give you a 100% reliable answer. However, you can turn this into a fairly dependable cue by specifically learning the exceptions – the nouns with an ending that suggests the wrong gender.

With the help of adjectives

It’s not only word endings that can be helpful, though. Always look for an adjective placed after the noun. If you spot an adjective there that has two different forms according to gender, you’ll know right away whether you’re dealing with a feminine or a masculine noun. No need to whip out the dictionary!

4. Practice makes perfect

Practice and find out how well you can remember genders. Whenever you realize you’re not sure about the gender of a noun you’ve known for a while, make a point of learning it, this time for good.


Find the solution that works best for you. For some people, creating flashcards featuring tricky words is a hassle-free solution. Both paper-based and virtual flashcards work fine, but choosing the latter will probably save you some time. (Here’s a list of flashcard creators you can try right now.) It’s a method that has stood the test of time, because learning with flashcards is easy and efficient. That being said, some people find this technique too monotonous to their taste. Find out which group you belong to.


Another quick and time-honored method is to write these words on post-its and stick them on the fridge or the edge of your laptop screen (or on the top of your desk, a wall, a door, your grandma’s sewing machine, etc. – the possibilities are endless). This one will only work, however, if you actually make a point of reading them periodically – unfortunately, you can’t expect them to hop into your head on their own.

Hand-picked sentences

The next method you can try: find short, fun example sentences that have the definite article written out in full (this only applies to nouns that start with a consonant). Google your definite article and noun between quotation marks (e.g., “le miel”), and choose a sentence you like. By doing this, you’ll create an extra memory anchor in your mind for that particular noun. Bonus: by memorizing whole sentences, you’ll be practicing grammar, too.

The last thing I’d like to add is this: it’s fine if you find that these techniques don’t work for you. Maybe you have limited time for learning French, or simply find that copying stuff in a notebook is not something you can enjoy.

Realizing what works for you and what doesn’t is a very important part of the language learning process. Do it in a way you find most agreeable and most effective. But you should experiment with as many methods as you can, because you can never really know until you actually try them.

And don’t sweat it if the process takes time. It very well might, but sooner or later you will get them right, and that’s what we’re aiming for!

If you’re interested in further material on genders in French (whether we’re talking nouns or adjectives), feel free to check out this page. Find out more about nouns here.

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