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How can you tell the difference when saying "L'éléphant mange une pomme." If it really means "The elephant eats" or "The elephant IS eating". ?
You can't tell the difference. "L'élephant mange une pomme" means either "The elephant eats an apple" or "The elephant is eating an apple". If you want to insist upon the idea that the elephant is eating an apple you can say "L'élephant est en train de manger une pomme".
Would it be correct to answer "L'elephants mangent une pomme" ? It will sound the same.
If you mouse-over the word "éléphant" in the exercise it will show you that it is a masculine-gender noun. As to remembering it...everybody has to remember it as part of the charm of the French language that all nouns have genders.
Sure, the best is to learn the gender together wit the noun. However there is an 80% chance that éléphant is masculine because it does not end in - e or -ion see https://frenchtogether.com/french-nouns-gender/
has two very long lists with masc and fem endings and then gives a simplified rule
Feminine noun endings
The majority of words that end in -e or -ion. Except words ending in -age, -ege, -é, or -isme (these endings often indicate masculine words).
Masculine noun endings
Most words with other endings are masculine.
I keep getting confused with une. Sometimes it says a then an and then one ugh.
Well, "une" means "one" or "a/an" and is used with feminine nouns. But in English "a" is used before a noun that begins with a vowel sound, and "a" is used before a noun that begins with the sound of a consonant.
Une pomme = An apple OR One apple
Un chien - A dog OR One dog
Masculine L' is the equivalent of Le which is used for masculine words
Why is it sometimes l'elephant, and other times le elephant? I thought that l' only applied to words starting with h. Is that correct?
It's never "le elephant" in French... Not sure where you got that idea. It's always "l'éléphant".
je mange = I eat
tu manges = you eat
il/elle mange = he/she/it eats
nous mangeons = we eat
vous mangez = you eat (plural or formal)
ils/elles mangent = they eat