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I came across an explanation in another thread: "raisin" in French is a collective noun, similar to "fruit" in English.
I didn't know the French had collective nouns! They don't get the idea when they try to speak English - "the sheeps" etc.
Sheep isn't a collective noun. It's a noun for which the plural is the same as the singular. You can tell by how the following verb is conjugated. For example "the rice is ..." always takes the singular form of the verb (you'll note "the rice are ..." sounds wrong) but "the sheep is ..." vs "the sheep are ..." are both used depending on whether you are talking about one or many.
I'm sure you're aware of this, but for the benefit others, the point of all of this is that "the rice" refers to many grains of rice instead of just one grain of rice.
Which, coincidentally, is the perfect English example to illustrate the problem at hand : le raisin is a bunch of grapes. Just like the rice would be a handful (actually an indefinite quantity of more than one grain), whereas you have to specify one grain of rice if you want just one.
"The grapes are red" could be translated as either "Les raisins sont rouges." OR "Le raisin est rouge
"Le raisin est rouge" can be translated as either "The grapes are red" or "Grapes are red".
The grapes = le raisin OR les raisins
A grape = un grain de raisin --or-- (much less common = une baie de raisin)
Raisins (In English) = raisins secs (in French) = dried grapes.
You'll note from the following definition "le raisin" is actually a cluster (bunch) of grapes.
Fruit de la vigne; ensemble de baies arrondies ou allongées supportées par une rafle, formant une grappe
But "raisin" only means a single "grape" if you say "un grain de raisin"
In French, "Le raisin" and "Les raisins" both mean "the grapes".
But a single grape or one grape is a "grain de raisin"
In English we speak of having "pants" and the French wonder why that is a plural noun when it's just a single garment. In French they say "un pantalon". One thing we both have in common is "scissors" (ciseaux) both plural, even though it refers to a single instrument.
This is edited from other replies I gave some time ago:
Le & La are the masculine & feminine forms of the definite article, so they both translate as THE - most of the time. They both do the same job, so are two forms of the same word.
In French (along with most European languages except English), nouns are masculine or feminine, and there is not much logic to it - that's why it is essential when learning new nouns to include le or la with the word, so you always remember the word and the gender. Other words have to agree with the nouns for gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural), so it is essential to know the gender of every noun you learn.
Note that it is the word that has the gender, not the object (apart from people, some animals, and some objects). Again, there is no logic. A bicycle can be un velo (masculine) or une bicyclette (feminine). Une chemise (feminine) is a shirt, for a man. Un chemisier (masculine) is a blouse, for a woman. Cars, ships, mice and spiders are all feminine. I couldn't tell you why - they just are.
Do not hope for logic and firm rules in this - you can get a feel for it, and a lot depends on the ending of the word, but you can never be sure except by simply learning the gender with the noun.
Another example is the word point. There is le point, which means a dot, full stop (UK), period (USA). La pointe, which is pronounced differently due to the final e as well as being feminine, means a point, of a blade, pin or similar. I found a document where "la pointe" was translated as "the dot". I asked a French friend about the confusion and she was quite puzzled as, to the French, these are totally different words, and would never be confused. To us there is not much difference. In the end you have to re-tune your sense of language to pick up on small features which mean nothing in English, but are very important in French. It is a constant problem. Only practice will train you to get it right - most of the time.
Not to frighten new learners however...
There are numerous patterns that can help you figure out whether something is masculine or feminine. The tricky part is the exceptions, of which there are many. However, in general, the following patterns hold true (and of course, my list isn't exhaustive):
-Words ending in an unaccented E will be feminine probably 70% of the time. The rest are mostly masculine.
-Nouns ending in "age" or "amme" will probably be masculine.
-Nouns ending in "tion" or "son" will probably be feminine.
-Adjectives ending in "é" will probably be masculine while those ending in "ée" will be feminine. Adjectives ending in "e" (not following "é") will either be feminine or both masculine and feminine. The endings "euse," "ice," "ante," and several others will virtually always be feminine.
-Nouns ending in "é" will probably be masculine, just like the adjectives with that ending, but those ending in "té" will usually be feminine.
-Nouns ending in "eur" will usually be masculine when referring to nouns that correspond to the English ending "er" or "or", like "chauffeur" ("driver") or "docteur" ("doctor"), but feminine when referring to nearly everything else.
EDIT: I have modified my note on "eur" to be more precise and accurate.
I was given a "select the missing word question" but there were 4 different foods listed and it did not have any speech to go with it. It just said "Le ..." . Is there something I did wrong?
No. What likely happened in this case, as when I've seen similar is that three of the foods listed would have been feminine or began with a vowel so couldn't have 'le' before it, and the only one that was the right answer was the masculine one that didn't begin with a vowel.
Someone please tell me how even this masculine and femenine works... i cant figure wat the things are
All French nouns have a gender, even inanimate object and abstract ideas. When you learn the noun, you must try to remember the gender of it at the same time because it will affect many other things in the sentence.
Here's a explanation to understand that concept that I wrote for the reverse sentence (the grapes) :
The easiest way to wrap your head around that idea is that, in French, raisin is treated as a collective noun (like rice), but in English, a grape is a single berry. If you wanted to talk about a single grain of rice in English, you'd have to call it that : a grain of rice, not a rice.
So, in French, you have :
- Du raisin : grapes, in the general sense (unspecified quantity and presentation)
- Une grappe de raisin : a bunch/cluster or grapes
- Un grain/une baie de raisin : a single grape berry
- Le raisin : the grapes (general term, could be all the grapes in the universe, defines the concept of grapes, not one berry, as in "I like grapes", not as in "I eat one grape")
- Raisin sec : raisin, unintuitively, this one is not a collective noun, so if we say un raisin sec, it really represents a single raisin.