Masculine or feminine? Who thought that one up, eh? As if learning a language wasn’t hard enough already…
For the record, we don’t know the origin of gender in language. It already existed in the earliest written texts, so we can only try to deduce how it got there.
We know that most languages group words into grammatical categories of some sort. In native american languages, for example, there are different categories for animate and inanimate objects.
In Indo-European languages like French, nouns are grouped by masculine, feminine and sometimes neuter. Some believe the use of sex as a category reflects a polytheistic culture.
We know languages tend to gain in complexity when spoken by isolated self-contained communities and tend to lose complexity when there is interaction. English emerged out of the fusion of many languages and gender evolved out in the Middle Ages.
Back to the French. The key to getting the gender of French nouns right is to learn the gender at the same time as you learn the word.
But what if you forgot to do so… ?
You only have to look at the gender of:
to realise that it’s not always possible to discover the gender of a French noun by looking at its ending. That said, there are some rules that can help. There are exceptions to these rules, but the exceptions are sufficiently few for them to be worth learning.
-ment forward masculin
-isme, -asme forward masculin
-age forward masculin
-ail, -eil, -euil, -ueil, -al forward masculin
Machines -eur forward masculin
Qualités -eur forward féminin
-eau forward masculin
-ème, -ègeforward masculin
Fruits ou légumes qui ne terminent pas en “e”forward masculin
Fruits et légumes qui terminent en “e” forward féminin
-ssion, -sion, -tion, -xion forward féminin
-ure, -ude forward féminin
-èche, -èque, -èse, -ève forward féminin
Memorising it all
It can sound like a lot to learn. But once you create the time to work on memorising things, you may just be pleasantly surprised to discover it’s not as hard as you thought.
An excellent tool is Quizlet a free application that you can use to build your own lists of virtual flip cards.
You can also experiment using adjectives or proper names to help. For example you might think of “Zeus tapping away at his computer” :
Zeus adorait pianoter sur son ordinateur
and you ‘ll always remember un ordinateur is masculine. Often the more obscure the association, the better it sticks.
Memorisation techniques can help.
But the best solution is to take the time to study each expression that you learn as you go, learning not only the gender of nouns, but their origin and the way in which they are used.
Often it’s more useful to learn a whole expression than a single noun. For example, if you want to say “****! This is going to take hours!” it’s:
“Une plombe” was the medieval term for the ringing of a church bell.