Noun Genders in French: Rules, tips, and clues

Celine Segueg

If you’ve ever studied French, you may have wondered why the word for “la table” is feminine, while “le sofa” is masculine. The concept of French noun gender can be baffling for English speakers, which is why we’ve prepared this post to help you understand it.

At its most basic, the definition of noun gender is that every noun (a person, place, thing, or idea) has a grammatical gender (masculine or feminine in French). Think of it simply as a way to classify nouns into different categories.

This article is brought to you by LingoCulture, Where you can get unlimited private French classes via Zoom with native teachers for a flat monthly rate. It’s the closest thing to immersion you can get without living in a French-speaking country. Click here to learn more.

You may know that French is a Romance language, which means that it’s derived from Latin. In Latin, there are actually three noun genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. As French gradually evolved from Latin, the neuter gender disappeared and French speakers designated all their nouns as either masculine or feminine. Nouns in other gendered languages, even other Romance languages, might have different genders than they do in French!

In this post we’ll do a deep dive into the world of noun genders in French. We’ll start off with the basic concepts surrounding the gender of nouns in French, namely that gender is primarily a grammatical construct rather than anything related to biology.

We’ll then move on to our sections on how to tell if a French word is masculine or feminine, starting by identifying them by their articles or through other words in the sentence that refer back to the noun through gender agreement. Then we’ll look at a series of typical word endings that usually indicate a French noun’s gender.

Our last big section will focus more on people and animals, breaking down how noun gender reflects biological genders or not. We include sections on nouns that can take either gender, and on how to approach people’s societal roles where there are masculine and feminine versions of the nouns that describe them.

If there are certain aspects of French noun gender that you’re looking for in particular, scroll down and you’ll surely find a section on it. For the full lesson, read on. For even more, we include lots of links to other specific lessons throughout the text. Now without further ado, let’s get started with our post on noun genders in French!

The basic concept of French word gender

First, let’s just remember that a noun is simply a word that describes a person, a place, or a thing. As we’ve just mentioned, all nouns are classified as either masculine or feminine in French.

At its most basic, a French word’s gender may indeed correspond with an unambiguous biological gender of the noun. Even in English, some of these same French gendered nouns are obviously either masculine or feminine. You’ll always think of a bull, rooster, or policeman as masculine, whereas a hen, mare, or actress will always be feminine.

For the majority of French nouns, however, there’s little indication from the attributes of the person, place, or thing whether the word for this noun should be masculine or feminine. In most cases, the gender of French words is more a product of how the word is spelled than what it represents.

The concept of French word gender therefore relies on a decoupling from any biological associations, and instead a focus on the role of French noun gender in speech and grammar. In other words, for most French nouns, gender is based strictly on how the word is spelled or pronounced rather than on any perceived masculine or feminine attributes of the person, place, or thing itself.

So although the gender of nouns may often seem arbitrary, there are some general rules that can help us determine the word’s gender. In the rest of this post, we’ll consider how to know if something is masculine or feminine in French.

Identifying noun gender: French gender rules

Now that we’ve covered the basics of French gendered nouns, let’s look at how to know if a word is masculine or feminine in French. In the following sections, we’ll walk you through strategies for recognizing French noun gender, both through clues from other words in the sentence, and based on the spelling of the French nouns themselves.


The first strategy for determining a noun’s gender in French is to look at its article. An article is a word that introduces a noun as a noun and indicates whether it’s a specific one or just one in general.

This dichotomy relates to two main categories of articles in French: definite and indefinite. The definite articles in French are le, la, and les, which all translate as the in English. The indefinite articles in French are un, une, and des, which translate as a, an, and some.

Here are the definite and indefinite articles in French that correspond to masculine, feminine, and plural nouns.

definite article indefinite article
masculine le, l’ un
feminine la, l’ une
plural les des


When learning new vocabulary in French, it’s a good idea to memorize a noun’s article along with its meaning. This association will help train your brain to recognize the noun’s gender when you see or hear it.

The masculine definite article le is used with singular masculine nouns. If a noun begins with a vowel sound, however, the article is contracted to l’ to avoid vowel clash. In the case of l’, the article does not indicate the gender of the word. Singular masculine nouns take the indefinite article un.

  • l’hôpital / un hôpital – the hospital / a hospital
  • le rideau / un rideau – the curtain / a curtain

Single feminine nouns take the feminine definite article la. The same rule applies to feminine nouns that begin with a vowel sound, with the la contracted to l’. Singular feminine nouns take the indefinite article une.

  • la porte / une porte – the door / a door
  • l’étagère / une étagère – the bookshelf / a bookshelf

The definite article le contracts with the prepositions à (meaning at or to) and de (meaning from or of): à + le = au and de + le = du. These à contractions and de contractions can therefore also be used to determine a noun’s gender in French. For nouns that begin with vowel sounds, however, the ambiguous à l’ or de l’ still doesn’t indicate their gender.

  • Tu es allé au musée ? – Did you go to the museum? (musée is masculine)
  • Ces araignées viennent du grenier. – These spiders come from the attic. (grenier is masculine)

Unlike other gendered languages like Spanish, with its gendered plural articles los/las and unos/unas, the plural articles in French do not indicate gender: les and des are used for both masculine and feminine plural nouns. The same goes for the contractions we mentioned above: à + les = aux and de + les = des.

So while plural articles won’t help to identify plural nouns’ genders, at least this makes it easy if you don’t know a noun’s gender: just talk about more than one of them!

  • Deux croissants (masculine) et deux baguettes (feminine), s’il vous plaît. – Two croissants and two baguettes, please.

Articles in French: "les" baguettes

Gender agreement

In addition to the articles we discussed above, the gender of French nouns is often reflected in other words of the sentence. This grammatical practice is known as gender agreement, and it affects several classes of words that interact directly with the French noun in the sentence.

This is an entire topic in and of itself, so it will soon be the subject of a dedicated post here on our blog. It’s also a concept that we regularly bring up in our specific posts on the various grammatical lessons where it occurs.

In fact, just using the correct masculine or feminine articles that we saw above is the easiest example of gender agreement between words. Other words that behave similarly to the articles are possessive adjectives and demonstrative adjectives, for example.

  • As-tu vu mon couteau ? Ce couteau n’est pas à moi. – Have you seen my knife? This knife is not mine. (un couteau is masculine)
  • Non, mais j’ai emprunté ta spatule. Cette spatule est à toi, n’est-ce pas ? – No, but I borrowed your spatula. This spatula is yours, right? (une spatule is feminine)

Likewise, possessive pronouns and demonstrative pronouns also need to agree with the noun they refer to.

  • Ah oui, ma spatule! Oui, celle-là est la mienne. – Oh, my spatula! Yes, that one is mine.
  • Et le couteau que j’ai utilisé ? Ceci doit être le tien aussi. – And the knife I’ve been using? This one must be yours too.

Even subject pronouns and object pronouns need to match the noun’s gender. There is no neutral French pronoun equivalent to it.

  • Oui, c’est mon couteau. Il fonctionne très bien. Comment tu le trouves ? – Yes, it’s my knife. It functions very well. How do you find it?
  • Il est mieux que ta spatule. Elle plie trop. Je veux te la rendre. – It’s better than your spatula. It bends too much. I want to give it back to you.

Perhaps the best examples of gender agreement can be seen in adjectives and past participles, whose endings often need to change to reflect whether a French noun is masculine or feminine.

  • Tu as raison, cette spatule est assez vieille, mais je crois que tu l’as abusée! – You’re right, this spatula is pretty old, but I think that you abused it!
  • Ce n’est pas grave. Ton couteau est assez vieux aussi, mais il fonctionne très bien même si je l’ai abusé autant! – It’s no big deal. Your knife is pretty old too, but it functions quite well even though I’ve abused it just as much!

As we’ve seen through these examples, the grammatical genders of un couteau and une spatule were reflected in a variety of other words in these sentences. Gender agreement is thus one way to recognize a word’s gender, though it’s also admittedly a challenge to always respect if you’re not sure of the word’s gender in the first place.

Typical gendered noun endings

Independently of any other words, a decent strategy for determining a noun’s gender in French is to look at the noun’s ending: certain combinations of letters can indicate whether the word is masculine or feminine.

Be forewarned, however, that there are always exceptions with French noun gender! The endings we list here can give you a good clue about a French noun’s gender, but will not necessarily be accurate every time. Just like many aspects of learning French, exceptions need to be learned individually.

Typically masculine noun endings Examples
-acle le spectacle, le miracle
-age le voyage, le garage
-al le journal, le signal
-é or -ée le café, le musée
-eau le château, le tableau
-ege or -ège le collège, le privilège
-ier le cahier, le métier
-isme le capitalisme, le journalisme
-ment le mouvement, le gouvernement
-oir le miroir, le devoir


Typically feminine noun endings Examples
-ade la limonade, la salade
-ale la finale, la cathédrale
-ance la chance, la distance
-elle la poubelle, la gazelle
-ence la patience, la violence
-ette la fillette, la cigarette
-ie la vie, la sortie
-ière la rivière, la lumière
-ique la barrique, la boutique
-oire la gloire, la mémoire
-sion la discussion, la passion
-té la liberté, la beauté
-tion la nation, la tradition
-ure la nature, la voiture


In addition to the typical word endings indicating one gender or another we’ve just seen, there are corresponding masculine and feminine endings that are used specifically for professions and other societal roles. Scroll down to that section for a list of these typical word endings for French professions.

French nouns with an apparent gender

Sometimes the gender of a French noun has a clear link to the apparent gender of what the word describes. This is mostly the case for people, while it can also apply to certain animals as well. We’ll take a look at such cases in the next few sections.

People with an obvious biological gender

On the easiest end of the spectrum, a French word’s gender aligns with an obvious biological gender, namely with nouns that refer to people. For most words related to family vocabulary, for example, the word’s gender reflects the actual gender of the person.

  • Masculine: un homme – a man
  • Feminine: une femme – a woman
  • Masculine: un frère – a brother
  • Feminine: une sœur – a sister

Words for people that don’t refer to gender

For some people, however, there’s no obvious gender. In these cases, the gender of the French word is independent of the person’s inherent gender.

  • Masculine: un bébé – a baby (whether a boy or a girl)
  • Masculine: un parent – a parent (whether a father or a mother)
  • Feminine: une personne – a person (whether male, female, or unknown)
  • Feminine: une famille – a family (regardless of the genders of the family members)

Remember that designating the noun as masculine or feminine has no bearing on the biological gender! A baby girl is still “un bébé” (masculine), while a man is still “une personne” (feminine), since these are simply the genders of the corresponding words!

Words for people’s roles

In English you also have gendered words for professions, such as waiter vs waitress, steward vs stewardess, or host vs hostess. This practice is even more widespread in French, covering a lot of different societal roles with both masculine and feminine versions of their corresponding nouns.

For many such nouns, we can identify the gender of the word based on its ending. In these examples, the feminine versions of the nouns end in -se and -e.

  • Masculine: un serveur – a [male] server, a waiter
  • Feminine: une serveuse – a [female] server, a waitress
  • Masculine: un avocat – a [male] lawyer
  • Feminine: une avocate – a [female] lawyer
Trois avocats et trois avocates
Trois avocats et trois avocates. – Three male lawyers and three female lawyers.

This same phenomenon extends beyond professions to other roles people play in society, with just slight differences between the masculine and feminine nouns. Here, too, the feminine version just takes an additional -e.

  • Masculine: un ami – a [male] friend
  • Feminine: une amie – a [female] friend
  • Masculine: un cousin – a [male] cousin
  • Feminine: une cousine – a [female] cousin

When speaking, this additional -e changes the pronunciation of a word if it’s preceded by a consonant. For the feminine versions, we stress the final consonant sound.

  • Masculine: un président – a [male] president
  • Feminine: une présidente – a [female] president
  • Masculine: un voisin – a [male] neighbor
  • Feminine: une voisine – a [female] neighbor

For other professions and societal roles, the feminine versions of the noun take different endings or require the addition of accents. In most cases, these endings will change the pronunciation of the feminine vs masculine word as well.

  • Masculine: un policier – a [male] police officer
  • Feminine: une policière – a [female] police officer
  • Masculine: un boulanger – a [male] baker
  • Feminine: une boulangère – a [female] baker

Here’s a list of some of the typical masculine and feminine word endings for French nouns that describe people’s professions or other roles in society.

Masculine ending Feminine ending
-ais -aise
-el -elle
-er -ère
-eur -euse or -rice
-ien -ienne
-ier -ière
-on -onne

Gender-inclusive versions of gendered nouns

As we’ve seen for many French words, gender is implicit. So how do we just refer in general to a profession or other role without implying that we’re limiting our reference to just men or women?

Traditionally in the French language, the use of the masculine has been understood to include all genders when speaking generally of a role. As you may guess, however, this practice reeks of patriarchy and has increasingly come under scrutiny. Caveats are often added to texts to excuse this one-sidedness:

  • Pour ne pas alourdir le texte, nous nous conformons à la règle qui permet d’utiliser le masculin avec la valeur de neutre. – In order to not weigh down the text, we are following the rule which allows the use of the masculine in a neutral sense.
  • L’utilisation du genre masculin a été adoptée afin de faciliter la lecture et n’a aucune intention discriminatoire. – The use of the masculine gender has been adopted in order to facilitate reading and has no discriminatory intention.
  • L’usage du masculin dans ce document a pour unique but d’alléger le texte. – The sole goal of the use of the masculine in this document is to lighten the text.

Another practice is to exclusively use the feminine versions within a text, and apply one of these same excuses stating that they’re intended to include both genders as well.

To really include both genders when writing, however, both masculine and feminine versions need to be explicitly mentioned. Yes, this weighs down the text to some degree, but it remains inclusive.

  • Nous cherchons un moniteur ou une monitrice supplémentaire pour une classe de douze étudiants et étudiantes. – We are looking for an additional instructor for a class of twelve students.

Common abbreviations are often employed in order to just write one word instead of doubling the words. These forms are created by adding the feminine ending to the masculine form, separated by a period (.) or a middle dot (·).

  • Nous cherchons un·e moniteur·trice supplémentaire pour une classe de douze étudiant·es. – We are looking for an additional instructor for a class of twelve students.
  • Les enseignant·es sont soit parisien·nes soit lyonnais·es. – The teachers are either Parisians or from Lyon.

Dual-gendered words for people’s roles

For some professions and other societal roles, the exact same noun can have multiple genders. In contrast to the slight changes in spelling that we saw above with words like avocat vs avocate or ami vs amie, these nouns don’t change at all between their masculine and feminine versions.

When using these nouns, only the rest of the sentence’s context can reveal whether the person we’re referring to is male or female. In the examples we show here, we just use the indefinite article un or une to identify the word as masculine or feminine, which corresponds to the English article a or an. Your English translations are usually gender-neutral anyway.

  • un élève / une élève – a student
  • un collègue / une collègue – a colleague
  • un enfant / une enfant – a child
  • un touriste / une touriste – a tourist

Animal words with a biological gender

For the most part, generic animal names in French have no relation to the actual gender of the animals themselves. However, just like in English, certain common animal words in French indeed refer to the gender of the individuals they describe. A comparable example in English is a horse, which can then be specified as either a stallion or a mare. Such French gendered nouns are primarily for domesticated animals.

  • un étalon / un jument – a stallion / a mare
  • un coq / une poule – a rooster / a hen
  • un cochon / une truie – a [male] pig / a sow
  • un chien / une chienne – a [male] dog / a [female] dog

Animal words with arbitrary gender

For most animals in French, however, the word’s gender is unrelated to any biological gender of the individual animal.

  • Masculine: un crapaud – a toad
  • Feminine: une grenouille – a frog
  • Masculine: un serpent – a snake
  • Feminine: une salamandre – a salamander

Most other nouns with arbitrary gender

So far in these sections we’ve looked primarily at words for people and animals whose French noun genders have some correlation to the apparent biological genders of what the words describe. For most nouns, however, there’s no such link!

  • Masculine: un fauteuil – an armchair
  • Feminine: une chaise – a chair
  • Masculine: un tabouret – a stool
  • Feminine: une banquette – a bench

Don’t worry, there are still some clues on how to tell if a French word is masculine or feminine. This brings us back to our section above on French gender rules where we introduced some of the telltale word endings for masculine or feminine French nouns.

Incidentally, the inanimate noun that jumps to mind with a specific gender in the English language is a boat, which is feminine. For the most part, boats in French are masculine nouns!

  • un bateau – a boat
  • un bateau de croisière – a cruise ship
  • un paquebot – an ocean liner
  • un navire – a ship
  • un voilier – a sailboat
  • un grand voilier – a tall ship
  • un quatre-mâts – a four-masted sailboat
  • un porte-avions – an aircraft carrier
  • Ce navire est aujourd’hui un bateau-restaurant amarré dans le centre de Paris, mais il a remonté la Seine jusqu’en 2003. – This ship is now a restaurant boat moored in central Paris, but she transported cargo up the Seine until 2003.
La «Grande Fantaisie», sur le Canal de l'Ourcq
Il est maintenant un restaurant flottant. – She is now a floating restaurant.

French nouns with different meanings when masculine vs feminine

Before we wrap up this post on gender rules in French, let’s look at another category of nouns where assigning a different gender will give the same word a completely different meaning. Using the correct gender thus makes a huge difference in what you’re saying with these words, though context is also obviously a good clue as to which meaning is intended.

  • Masculine: un livre – a book
  • Feminine: une livre – a pound (a unit of weight or a currency)
  • Masculine: un tour – a tour, a turn
  • Feminine: une tour – a tower
  • Masculine: un poste – a job, a position
  • Feminine: une poste – a poste office
  • Feminine proper noun: La Poste – the French postal system
  • Masculine: un manche – a handle
  • Feminine: une manche – a sleeve
  • Feminine proper noun: la Manche – the English Channel

If you’re interested, there are even more of these dual-personality nouns in Spanish!

Conclusion: Genders in French

In this comprehensive post on noun genders in French, we covered all the angles of this fundamental aspect of the French language.

We started off with the basic concepts of French gender, with the most important being that it’s a grammatical construct rather than anything related to biological genders: all French nouns are either masculine or feminine. The French word for it translates directly as either he or she.

So how to tell if a French word is masculine or feminine? We started by looking at all the clues within a sentence, with a heavy focus on the masculine and feminine articles and then examining other instances of gender agreement with other words in the sentence. We then saw a list of common French noun endings that are typically found in masculine or feminine words.

In our last section we looked at nouns that have some link to an actual biological gender. These French nouns for people and animals are arguably easier to associate with their correct grammatical gender, although we saw that there are plenty of exceptions and ambiguous words that don’t fit the pattern. Many nouns for people also have two versions, so we looked in detail at the masculine and feminine word endings as well as the ways to be more gender-inclusive when using these words.

As with any aspect of language learning, it’s important to practice recognizing and using French noun gender accurately, and to be patient with yourself as you learn! Though this can be a challenging element of learning French, it provides a unique insight into the inner workings of the language and its history and culture. With dedication and perseverance, you’ll gradually become a pro at correctly using noun genders in French!