Reading time: 3 minutes Difficulty: Beginner- Intermediate
French and English have some common vocabulary, share some similarities in grammar, but they are undoubtedly different languages. So it is normal for French speakers to make mistakes in English and vice versa. Did you laugh when hearing a French native pronounces English words without an “h”, or when they add an “s” after an adjective to mark the plural.
Ok, you’re so right, so correct in your language, but do remember the French’s proverb “rirabience qui rira le dernier” (he who laughs last laugh longest). If you really want to be “the one who laughs last”, be careful to not commit mistakes when it goes to your turn to speak French. Perhaps read this article is a good start.
1. The verb ‘manquer’
This is a confusing but also interesting verb. Some of you are starting to say “What’s confusing about this verb, isn’t that a simple 1st group verb?”. Ok, you’re right, but I’m not talking about the conjugation. Knowing that the usual translation of “manquer” is “miss”, let’s translate this sentence:
- I miss you.
If you are doing a word-by-word translation, you will have “I” = “Je”, “miss” = “manquer”, “you” = “tu” -> ”Je temanque“. Sounds correct, no? Unfortunately, the answer is “NO”, the order is wrong.
The right sentence should be Tu me manques.
Contrary to English, in French, the one who is missed is the subject, and the one who miss (the other one) is the subject. Actually the construction is “A manques à B” / “A is missing to B”. But in short, all you need to remember is that when you are missing someone else, he/she is probably more important than you, so he/she should be the subject, and not you .
2. Contraction with ‘h’ muet.
- You have probably known about the contraction of some words in French before a vowel. For example:
- je ai -> j’ai
- le aspect -> l’aspect
- You have also known that the “h” in French is not pronounced. For example “hiver” (winter) is pronounced “iver”
- But, whether “h” acted as a vowel or a consonant, or in other words, do you have to use contraction before a word starts with a “h” is not a simple problem for foreign learners of French. Actually both cases could be true:
- In French, most of the “h” at the beginning of a word act as a vowel, mean that you need to use contraction with those words. Example:
- Some of the “h”, usually in words that are borrowed from other language, act as a consonant, that mean you cannot use contraction with those words. Those are called “h aspiré” (aspired h). Some examples are given below:
le haddock haddock
la haine hatred
le hamburger hamburger
le hall hall
- Tips: When you learn a noun in French, learn its gender together. When you learn a word that starts with an “h”, also learn whether this “h” is muet or aspire
3. Change in spelling (ma + vowel = mon…)
- This is a small grammar point, but a very common mistake. Let’s take a look at this sentence:
“J’attends ma amie ici”
- “amie” has an “e”, so the speaker is talking about a woman. The pronoun “ma” is used for feminine noun, so all seem to be corrected here. However, it doesn’t sound very good to a French ear, so they use “mon” instead.
-> J’attends mon amie ici.
- Tips: Similar to the use of “a” and “an” in English, French does not accept a vowel at the end of a word precedes another vowel that starts the next word (.eg ma amie). So in that case, think about either contraction or change in spelling.
4. Adjective order
In English, most of adjective are placed before the noun (with very few exception), but the problem in French is not this simple; and can cause confusion for English speaking learners. Let’s take a look through this problem:
- Rule 1: In general, adjective in French is placed after the noun it modifies.
Les chaussures noires the black shoes
- Exception 1: Some adjectives are placed before the noun it modifies:
nouveau, nouvelle (f) new
- Exception 2: Some adjectives can be placed both before and after the noun, and have different meanings when placed at different positions:
- Son ancien mari her former husband
- Une statue ancienne an antique statue
- Tips: In general, French adjectives are placed after the noun. But there are exceptions, so when you read a French text and find an adjective that follow the noun it modifies, try to memorize it and understand its meaning. Reading French texts with attention as much as possible is the best way to improve your French and therefore avoid this type of mistake
- In French, if you miss someone, he/she is even more important than yourself, so he/she should be the subject.
- The “h” in French is never pronounced, but be careful to distinguish a “h muet” and a “h aspiré”
- Remember to not have 2 vowels successively, one at the end of the first word and one at the beginning of the word that follows the first word. Think about contraction or another change in spelling instead.
- Most of French adjectives follow the noun it modifies. When you see an exception, just learn it!
What about you? What mistakes do you make over and over again in French?
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