Conjunctions are useful, high-frequency words that can be used to link two clauses together. They can be used to make lists, give options, or express contrary ideas. Conjunctions are used just as frequently in French as they are in English. Learning the most commonly-used French conjunctions is essential for gaining fluency and to improve your ability to express yourself in the language.
Basic High-frequency Conjunctions: Et, Ou, Mais
In this section we’ll go over the most commonly-used French conjunctions. They’re used so often in spoken and written French that it’s likely you’re already familiar with them.
Et is used to join two clauses together just like the word and in English.
- Je suis grand et j’aime le football américain. – I am tall and I like football.
Et is also used when listing multiple items.
- J’aimerais un café, un croissant et un jus d’orange. – I would like a coffee, a croissant, and an orange juice.
Ou is used in the same way as or in English, often joining two clauses that provide options.
- Préfères-tu manger à la maison ou aller au resto ? – Do you prefer to eat at the house or go to the restaurant?
Ou is also used when listing options.
- J’aime manger du fromage avec du pain ou du saucisson. – I like to eat cheese with bread or sausage.
Mais is used just like the word but in English. It expresses a contrary idea or clause.
- Je veux assister au match de foot, mais je dois étudier la biologie. – I want to attend the soccer game, but I have to study biology.
Types of French conjunctions: Coordinating conjunctions
The words et, ou, and mais are all examples of French coordinating conjunctions. These types of conjunctions are used to link clauses of equal importance. In many cases, this means you can switch the clauses around in order without the meaning changing significantly. For example:
- J’aime jouer au basket et faire du ski. – I like to play basketball and to ski.
- J’aime faire du ski et jouer au basket. – I like to ski and play basketball.
In this section we’ll take a look at some of the other most common coordinating conjunctions in French.
Donc can be used to express a causal relationship between one clause and another.
- Je pense, donc je suis. – I think, therefore I am.
- Il fait froid, donc il faut porter un chapeau. – It’s cold, so one must wear a hat.
Car is a synonym of the French word parce que, meaning because. It serves primarily to introduce a clause that responds to the why or pourquoi. Car is used more often in written French than spoken French.
- Elle boit de l’eau car elle a soif. – She drinks water because she is thirsty.
Ni is a French conjunction word only used in the negative. Ni takes the place of pas within the negative expression ne…pas. We can list more than two things in our list if we include ni between each one.
When using ni we omit the indefinite articles de la, du, and des. However, we still include the definite articles le, la, or les with ni.
- Elle ne mange ni pain ni pâtes ni riz. – She eats neither bread nor pasta nor rice.
- Nous n’aimons ni le chien brun ni le chat noir. – We like neither the brown dog nor the black cat.
Types of French conjunctions: Subordinating conjunctions
The other main type of French conjunction we need to know are the subordinating conjunctions. This type of conjunction is used to link or connect a main clause with a dependent clause. While the main clause can exist on its own, the dependent clause cannot. Let’s clarify this with an example:
- Je peux t’aider si tu veux. – I can help you if you want.
In this sentence, “I can help you” is the main clause and can stand alone, while “if you want” is the dependent clause since it needs to be attached to a main clause.
In this section we’ll introduce the most common subordinating conjunctions in French.
Si is used in exactly the same situations as the word if is used in English, often to express a condition that will or may lead to a result or outcome.
- Si tu étudies ce soir, tu réussiras ton examen demain. – If you study tonight, you will pass your test tomorrow.
- Si tu manges trop, tu seras malade. – If you eat too much, you will be sick.
Que is also often used to introduce a dependent clause, serving the function of the English conjunction that. You will notice [that] it is used more frequently in French, because in English it is often optional.
- Je sais que tu es intelligent. – I know that you are intelligent. – I know you are intelligent.
Lorsque translates directly as when. Lorsque is only used as a French conjunction though, so don’t confuse it with any other uses of the English word when.
- Mon chat est content lorsqu‘il est dehors. – My cat is happy when he is outside.
Since, As, Because
Puisque is usually translated as since, though it can take other English equivalents like as or because if those work better in the context. Though these English words can have other uses and meanings, remember that puisque is always used as a subordinating conjunction so don’t get confused by trying to translate in the other direction.
- Mon fils a joué au basket au lycée puisqu’il était grand. – My son played basketball in high school since he was tall.
- Puisqu’elle a fini ses devoirs, sa mère lui a permis de sortir avec ses amies. – Because she finished her homework, her mom allowed her to go out with her friends.
Quoique usually translates as even though, whereas in some contexts it can be translated as although or even just though.
With this last French subordinating conjunction we’re introducing here, we have an additional grammatical phenomenon to contend with: the subjunctive tense. You’ll see this in the following examples, where the verb faire is conjugated as fasse rather than fait, and the verb être is conjugated as soit rather than est.
Quoique is perhaps the most common of the French conjunctions that trigger the subjunctive, though there are a number of others that you’ll encounter as you progress in learning the language. We’ve included it here so you’re aware of the practice already, even though it’s more of an advanced topic.
- Mon grand-père porte toujours des pantalons, quoiqu’il fasse hyper chaud en Arizona. – My grandfather always wears long pants, even though it’s super hot in Arizona.
- Quoiqu’elle soit libre ce soir, ma sœur ne veut pas m’aider. – Even though she’s free tonight, my sister does not want to help me.
Transition words: Using conjunctions to link ideas or concepts
Conjunctions are useful for expressing support and addition to ideas, as well as to demonstrate contrast and opposition between ideas and concepts. They can help you to reinforce your statements, and assist you in presenting causes, sequences, conditions, results, and conclusions.
With this in mind, it’s helpful to think of conjunctions as transition words, or words that can link similar or different ideas in your speaking or writing. The use of transition words allows the reader or listener to follow along more easily as you move from one idea to another.
Including the most common French transition words in your speaking and writing is necessary to achieve intermediate level fluency in writing and speaking, and will help you to present your ideas more clearly in written or spoken language. Do you already know some of these important transition words in French?
D’abord is our first French transition word to indicate a sequence. It means first, first off, or to start, so it necessarily indicates whatever happens first in the sequence.
- D’abord je me réveille. Puis je me lève. – First I wake up. Then I get up.
The words ensuite and puis are used to introduce what happens next in a sequence of events, in a similar way to the words next or then. For the most part, they can be used interchangeably.
- Je me réveille, puis je m’habille. – I wake up, then I get dressed.
- Elles se réveillent. Ensuite, elles se brossent les dents. – They wake up. Next, they brush their teeth.
Finally, In the end
Enfin is the good transition word when you want to note the final action in a sequence or a story, or to make a final point in an essay. Finally, in this example, we’ll use all four of the sequence words we’ve introduced so far in this section.
- D’abord, je me réveille. Ensuite, je mange le petit déj. Puis, je me lave. Enfin, je pars à l’école. – First off, I wake up. Next, I eat breakfast. Then, I wash. Finally, I leave for school.
We use cependant or toutefois to express a contrary idea or an exception, or to move our writing in a different direction.
- Je n’aime pas la musique classique. Toutefois, j’adore la musique jazz. – I don’t like classical music. However, I adore jazz music.
- Elle n’a rien étudié cette semaine. Cependant, elle vient de réussir l’examen. – She didn’t study anything this week. Nonetheless, she just aced the exam.
En plus, En outre
In addition, Moreover, Furthermore, What’s more
You can use the French transition words en plus or en outre to add support to previous ideas or add more information.
- Le prix n’est pas bon. En plus, le produit n’est pas de bonne qualité. – The price is not good. In addition, the product is not of good quality.
- Il m’a invité au resto puis au cinéma. En outre, il m’a donné des fleurs. – He took me out to dinner and then to the movies. What’s more, he gave me flowers.
Conclusion: French conjunctions
Thanks for taking a look at some of these top French conjunctions and beginning to explore the wide world of French transition words. In this post we’ve covered the most common, useful transition words, though there are plenty more that you’ll continue to learn as you improve in the language.
We started off with the most common conjunctions that you’re likely already familiar with: et, ou, and mais. Then we got into the French coordinating conjunctions, which allow us to connect clauses of similar importance. In the next section we introduced a bunch of subordinating conjunctions, which we use when the following phrase is dependent on the first. Finally, we gave a nice list of additional French transition words for listing sequences.
Adding these French words to your vocabulary is an excellent way to improve your writing and speaking abilities. Try to include some of them in your next written or spoken assignment, and your professeur will be impressed!
Exercise: French conjunctions
We’ll leave you with a short text where we’ve included a lot of the French conjunctions you’ve just learned. Try to identify all the French transition words used in the passage before reading the English version below.
Bonjour, je m’appelle Pauline. J’aime parler français et jouer de la guitare. Je me réveille à sept heures, ou à sept heures et quart au plus tard. Je suis grande, mais mon frère est petit. Je n’ai pas de bicyclette, donc je prends le bus pour aller à l’école. Je ne mange pas de petit déj car normalement je n’ai pas faim. Je ne mange ni bacon ni oeufs, quoique mon père en prépare. Si le bus arrive à l’heure, moi et mon frère arrivons à l’école à huit heures. D’abord, j’ai mon cours de mathématiques. Monsieur LeBlanc est un professeur que j’aime beaucoup. Ensuite, j’ai mon cours d’anglais. Puis, c’est la biologie avec mon amie, Isabelle. Isabelle est une amie que j’adore! Enfin, le cours de musique est à quinze heures. J’aime le cours de musique, toutefois, je ne joue pas très bien la trompette. En plus, je suis fatiguée à la fin de la journée. Je n’ai donc pas trop d’énergie durant le cours de musique.
Hello, my name is Pauline. I like speaking French and playing the guitar. I wake up at seven o’clock, or at quarter past seven at the latest. I’m tall, but my brother is short. I don’t have a bicycle, so I take the bus to go to school. I don’t eat breakfast because normally I’m not hungry. I eat neither bacon nor eggs, even though my dad prepares them. If the bus arrives on time, my brother and I arrive at school at eight o’clock. First off, I have my math class. Mr. LeBlanc is a teacher that I like a lot. Next, I have my English class. After that, it’s biology with my friend Isabelle. Isabelle is a friend that I adore! Finally, music class is at three in the afternoon. I love the music class, however I don’t play the trumpet very well. Furthermore, I’m tired at the end of the day. I therefore don’t have much energy during the music class.