This glossary explains some of the grammar terminology you'll encounter in your studies. The glossary is alphabetical, but it may be best to search (CTRL+F) for the term you wish to find.
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Why does aimer mean "to love" sometimes and "to like" other times? Aimer only means "to love" for familiar people or pets. Otherwise, it means "to like". If you want to say "to love" for things, use adorer. How do I remember noun genders? You can guess the genders of most nouns by looking at their endings. Check out the Tips for Food. Why is my Fluency only X%? The Fluency rating is based on your progression through the French tree and it maxes out at 60%. You should expect to have to use resources outside Duolingo to reach full French fluency. How can I see all the Tips & Notes? Create a French classroom on Duolingo Schools and you can see all the notes there. Please don't post these notes on any other websites. Why does the flashcard for il y a give "ago" as a translation?: When followed by a duration, il y a means "ago". Why can't I go to the next unit? You must finish all lessons in all units on a level of the tree before you can continue to the next level. If you still can't continue, start at the beginning and check each unit. Sometimes, new lessons will appear that must be completed. Glossary
1st-person — A grammatical person that is used when the speaker is also the subject. For instance, Je suis un homme ("I am a man"). 2nd-person — A grammatical person that is used when the speaker is speaking to the subject. For instance, Tu es un homme ("You are a man"). 3rd-person — A grammatical person that is used when the subject isn't a person who is involved in the conversation. For instance, C'est un homme ("He is a man"). accent — A type of diacritic. French has the acute accent (é), which sounds like the ending sound of "cliché", and the grave accent (è), which sounds like the E sound in "lemon". More info about accents. acute accent (é) — An accent that only appears on E to produce a pure [e] sound. active voice — A type of grammatical voice that is used when the subject is also the agent of the clause. For instance, "Bob throws a ball" is in the active voice because Bob is both the agent and subject. Most sentences are in active voice in English and French. adjective — A word that modifies a noun. For instance, beau ("beautiful"). Most adjectives come after their nouns in French, but BANGS adjectives come before. Marron and orange are invariable. adverb — A word that modifies a verb or adjective. For instance, toujours ("always"). Some adverbs are formed by taking the feminine form of an adjective and adding -ment. Ici, là, and là-bas Adding ci and là after words adverbial pronoun — A pronoun that acts like an adverb. There are two adverbial pronouns in French: en (which can replace de + noun) and y (which can replace à + inanimate object). For instance, j'y vais means "I am going there". agent — Something that performs an action. For instance, when "Bob throws a ball", Bob is the agent. agreement [concord] — When a word changes inflection (form) based on the properties of a noun or pronoun. For instance, adjectives in French agree in number and gender with nouns. antecedent — The thing that a pronoun refers to or replaces, usually something implied or already mentioned. article — A type of determiner that usually indicates whether or not a noun's identity is known to the speakers. Articles must agree with the nouns they modify. For instance, le chat ("the cat") and la femme ("the woman"). auxiliary verb — A verb used to construct compound tenses. The most common auxiliary is avoir, but être is also used in a few cases. cedilla (ç) — An accent that appears on the letter C to create a soft C sound (like in "cent"). Otherwise, C takes a hard sound before A, O, and U. circumflex — An accent that appears on vowels that used to be followed by an S in Old French, like fenêtre (fenestre). On the letter E, it creates a [ɛ] sound. It can also sometimes differentiate homophones like dû and du. clause — A sequence of words that contains at least a subject and verb. There are two types of clauses: independent and dependent. colon — A punctuation mark that is often used to introduce additional information: explanations, descriptions, lists, etc. In French, it must be surrounded by a space on each side. comma (,) — A punctuation mark that separates clauses, items in a list, or decimal places from integer places. comparative — A comparison that is expressed using adverbs. For example, moins souvent ("less often"). To compare two things, use the construction plus/moins/aussi + adjective/adverb + que. For instance, plus grand que moi ("taller than me"). compound past tense [passé composé] — A compound tense that usually describes completed, ongoing, or habitual actions from the past. It uses the past participle and can often be translated to the English simple past or present perfect tenses. Auxiliary verb choice Past participle agreement compound tense — A verb tense constructed using an auxiliary (être or avoir). compound verb — A two-part verb that expresses a compound tense. The first part of the verb is a conjugated auxiliary (être or avoir, depending on the verb). The second part is a participle of the main verb. conditional mood — A grammatical mood used for events that may not occur, especially if certain conditions are not met. For instance, Il mangerait sa soupe s'il avait faim ("He would have eaten his soup if he were hungry"). The conditional mood can also be used for polite requests. For instance, J'amerais l'acheter ("I would like to buy it"). conjugation — The way a verb changes form based on the subject of a sentence. This also refers to a common inflection pattern among similar verbs (e.g. -er verbs). consonant — A letter or sound that is pronounced by full or partial closure of the vocal tract. Alternatively, a consonant can be defined as any non-vowel sound. continuous tense [progressive tense] — A verb tense that describes an action that is in progress. French does not have specialized continuous tenses, but the expression en train de can be used as a proxy. contraction — A shortened word created from the combination of two or more words. The most common contractions in French are du (de + le), des (de + les), au (à + le), and aux (à + les). coordinating conjunction — Any of seven words used to coordinate words, groups of words, or clauses: mais, ou, et, donc, or, ni, car. Unlike subordinating conjunctions, they do not introduce dependent clauses. copula — A word used to link a subject with its predicate. The main English copula is "to be", while the main French copula is être. count noun — A noun that can be counted, like un homme. Count nouns can take definite and indefinite articles. defective verb — A verb that does not have a complete conjugation. For instance, falloir ("to be necessary") has only one present-tense inflection: il faut. definite article — An article used for specific nouns that are known to the speakers or for generalizations. Its forms are le (masc. sing.), la (fem. sing.), l' (before vowel sounds), and les (masc. or fem. plural). Les or Des? demonstrative — An adjective or pronoun that points out a specific object, often one that has already been mentioned. For instance, cette femme (this woman) or ceux-là (those ones). dependent clause [subordinate clause] — A sequence of words with at least a subject and verb that is introduced by a relative pronoun (qui, que, dont, où) or subordinating conjunction (que, quand, comme, si, etc). determiner — A type of word that helps give context to a noun. Two common determiners are articles (e.g. la) and possessive adjectives (e.g. mon). diacritic — A small mark added to a letter that changes its sound. French has four diacritics: the acute accent (é), grave accent (è), circumflex (ê), and cedilla (ç). direct object — Something that is directly affected by an action. For instance, when "Bob throws a ball at you", the ball is the direct object. Different types of object pronouns disjunctive pronoun [stressed pronoun/tonic pronoun] — A type of personal pronoun that is used in specific situations, like after prepositions (chez elle), when there is more than one subject (toi et moi), in incomplete sentence fragments (Moi aussi!), and other situations. dummy subject — The subject of an impersonal statement. Dummy subjects are never real things, but rather just placeholders. For instance, in Il pleut ("It is raining"), il does not refer to anything real. elision — When the ending vowel sound of a word is omitted to avoid conflicts with the beginning vowel sound of the next word. For instance, de la becomes de l'eau. enchainement — Where a sounded ending consonant is pushed to the next word, where it's pronounced as part of the first syllable. This is similar to liaisons, except that it applies to consonants that were not silent before. ending (verb) — The part of an infinitive that comes after the stem. The ending can often indicate how the verb should be conjugated. For instance, in aimer, -er is the ending. euphonic T [epenthetic T] — A meaningless "T" that must be inserted in the middle of an inversion for euphony when the verb ends in a vowel and the pronoun begins with one. euphony — The pleasing sound of harmonious syllables. A key feature of French and the reason why elisions and liaisons exist. exclamation point ( ! ) [exclamation mark] — A punctuation mark that ends a sentence and puts additional emphasis on it! In French, it must be surrounded by a space on each side. faux amis — A French word and an English word that look similar but are not synonymous. feminine — One of two grammatical genders in French. For instance, la pomme and la femme are feminine. future tense — Any of a number of verb tenses that describe actions that will take place in the future. gender — A noun classification system that splits French nouns into two groups: masculine or feminine. A noun's gender may or may not be based on its actual physiological gender. Noun genders in French gerund — A verb form that can function as a noun, for instance, both verbs in "Seeing is believing". English gerunds can usually be translated to either infinitives or present participles in French. For instance, Voir, c'est croire ("Seeing is believing"). grave accent — An accent that can appear on A/E/U, though it only changes the sound for E (to [ɛ], which is the E in "lemon"). Otherwise, it distinguishes homophones like a (a conjugated form of avoir) and à (a preposition). Group 1 verb [1st group verb] — A group of verbs that includes regular -er verbs like parler. More information on verb groups Group 2 verb [2nd group verb] — A group of verbs that includes regular -ir verbs that have plural present forms ending in -issons, -issez, and -issent, like finir. Group 3 verb [3rd group verb] — A group of verbs that includes all other verbs (e.g. prendre) and verbs that are not regular -er or -ir verbs. guillemet ( « » ) — The French version of quotation marks. Each guillemet must be surrounded by spaces. H aspiré [aspirated H] — A starting H that acts like a consonant, prohibiting elisions and liaisons. For instance, the H in le héros ("the hero"). H muet [mute H/non-aspirated H] — A starting H that acts like a vowel, allowing elisions and liaisons. For instance, the H in l'homme ("the man"). hiatus — A vowel conflict created by two consecutive vowel sounds. Many euphonic rules in French are designed to help avoid these. historic tense — A verb tense reserved for writing about history. In French, the (historical) present tense is often used to describe past events, though the past tense is usually favored in English. For example, Plus tard, il rejoint le Real Madrid ("Later, he rejoins Real Madrid"). idiom — A meaning of a word or phrase that differs from its literal meaning. For instance, il fait chaud is an idiom that means "it is hot", not "it makes hot". imperative mood — A grammatical mood used when commanding others to perform an action. For instance, Mange ta soupe ! ("Eat your soup!"). imperfect tense [imparfait] — A type of past tense that is used for incomplete, habitual, or repeated actions or actions with an undefined duration. It often translates to the English continuous past tense, simple past, or "used to" + verb. For instance, Il mangeait du pain ("He was eating bread", "He ate bread" [repeatedly], "He would eat bread", or "He used to eat bread"). impersonal expression — A clause that does not have a real subject. For instance, Il pleut ("It is raining"). impersonal pronoun — A pronoun that is invariable with grammatical person. For instance, cela ("that"/"it"). indefinite adjective — An adjective used to describe nouns in a non-specific sense. For instance, plusieurs ("several"), as in plusieurs hommes ("several men"). indefinite article — An article used for countable nouns that are unspecified or unknown to the speakers. Its forms are un, une, and des. Why not Je suis un professeur? indefinite pronoun — A pronoun that refers to a non-specific noun. For instance, on is an indefinite subject pronoun that refers to a vague group of people. indefinite relative pronoun — A relative pronoun that has no antecedent. For instance, C'est ce que je crois ("That's what I believe"). independent clause — A clause that can stand on its own as a simple sentence. Usually, independent clauses do not contain a relative pronoun or subordinating conjunction. indicative mood — A grammatical mood used for statements made with certainty. For instance, Je mange ma soupe ("I am eating my soup"). indirect object — Something that is indirectly affected by an action. For instance, when "Bob throws a ball at you", you are the indirect object. Different types of object pronouns infinitive — The basic and unconjugated form of a verb, often used in verb constructions. All infinitives end in either -er, -ir, or -re. inflection — A change in the form of a word to indicate a change in tense, gender, number, person, etc. Verb inflections are called "conjugations" and most other inflections are called "declensions". International Phonetic Alphabet [IPA] — An alphabetic system that describes phonemes (sounds) from many world languages. interrogative — Any group of words that functions as a means of asking a question. In English, the main interrogatives are "who", "what", "when", "why", "where", and "how". interrogative adjective — An adjective that can be used to create questions. For instance, quel ("which"). Quel vs Laquelle interrogative adverb — An adverb that can be used to create questions. For instance, combien ("how much"/"how many"). interrogative pronoun — A pronoun that can be used to create questions. For instance, lequel ("which one"). intonation — The use of the pitch of one's voice to convey meaning. For instance, for both French and English, a rising intonation at the end of a sentence indicates a question. intransitive verb — A verb that cannot have a direct object. For instance, pleuvoir ("to rain"). invariability — A quality of a word that prevents it from changing inflection (form) to agree with a grammatical property of another word. For instance, marron ("brown") is completely invariable and never changes to agree with a noun. inversion — A formal method of asking questions in which the verb and pronoun switch places and are connected by a hyphen. For example, Manges-tu ta soupe ? ("Are you eating your soup?"). irregular verb — A verb whose conjugations do not follow any common patterns. liaison — Where an otherwise silent ending consonant is pushed to the next word, where it's pronounced as part of the first syllable. For instance, les amis is pronounced like "lay-za-mee". This is a euphonic measure designed to prevent consecutive vowel sounds. More info about liaisons. literary tense — One of several tenses reserved specifically for literature or historical writing. masculine — One of two grammatical genders in French. For instance, un chat and l'homme are masculine. mass noun [uncountable noun] — A noun that cannot be counted, like du lait. Mass nouns can take definite and partitive articles. modal verb — A type of English auxiliary verb that indicates modality (ability, permission, likelihood, etc). For instance, "should". French does not have a distinct set of modal verbs, but it does have semi-auxiliary verbs that behave similarly. mood [mode] — Any of a number of verb conjugations that signal a speaker's attitude. The most common mood is "indicative", which is used for statements. narrative tense — A formal literary tense used exclusively in writing during narration. nasal vowel — A vowel created by forcing air through both the mouth and nose simultaneously. For instance, the sound of un ([œ̃]). Nasal vowels are usually found when a vowel letter appears before an M or N, though this is not always true. Nasal vowels in French near future tense [immediate future/futur proche] — Not a true tense, but rather a verb construction using aller and an infinitive that refers to something that will happen very soon. For instance, Il va manger ("He is going to eat"). near past tense [immediate past/passé récent] — Not a true tense, but rather a verb construction using venir de and an infinitive that refers to something that has happened recently. For instance, Il vient de manger ("He just ate"). negation — A word or phrase that changes the meaning of a sentence to its negative. negative adjective — An adjective that negates or limits a noun. For instance, ne...aucun(e) can change J'ai une robe ("I have a dress") to Je n'ai aucune robe ("I have no dress"). negative adverb — An adverb that negates or restricts a verb. For instance, the negative adverb ne...pas can be used to turn je mange ("I eat") to je ne mange pas ("I do not eat"). negative pronoun — A pronoun that negates or limits the noun that it replaces. For instance, personne ne in Personne n'est ici ("Nobody is here"). noun — A part of speech that represents a person, place, thing, idea, etc. number (grammatical) — A grammatical classification system that indicates how many individual things are being described by a subject or object in a clause. object pronoun — A pronoun used to refer to a direct or indirect object. Different types of object pronouns participle — A form of a verb that can be used as an adjective or at the end of compound verbs. partitive article — An article used for unspecified amounts of uncountable nouns. Its forms are du, de la, and de l'. Les or des? passive voice — A type of grammatical voice used when the subject is not the agent, but rather the thing being acted upon. For instance, "The ball is thrown by Bob" is passive because Bob is not the subject. In both English and French, the copula ("is", "am", est, suis, etc.) usually signals the passive voice and a preposition ("by", par, de) introduces the agent. For instance, in French, the aforementioned example sentence would be La balle est lancée par Bob. past participle — A past-tense participle, usually used in compound past tenses like the passé composé. Past participle agreement past subjunctive — The subjunctive tense that should be used when the subjunctive action occurred before the introductory action. past tense — Any of a number of verb tenses that describe actions that occurred in the past. period — A punctuation mark that ends a sentence. person (grammatical) — The quality of a subject and verb in a sentence that indicates the relationship between the speaker and the subject. For instance, in first-person, the speaker is the subject. personal pronoun — A pronoun that changes based on the grammatical person. For instance, je ("I"). Personal pronouns in French C'est vs Il est pluperfect tense [plus-que-parfait] — A verb tense that describes actions from the far past that occurred before some other action. The pluperfect is formed using the imperfect conjugation of the auxiliary verb and the past participle of the main verb. plural — A grammatical number that refers to more than one thing. For instance, des pommes ("some apples") is plural. Regular and irregular plurals possessive — A word that describes ownership or association. For instance, mon ("my"). possessive adjective — An adjective that indicates possession for a noun. For instance, ma in ma soupe ("my soup"). possessive pronoun — A pronoun that replaces a possessive adjective + noun. For instance, C'est ma soupe ("It's my soup") can be replaced by C'est la mienne ("It's mine"). predicate — The part of a clause that describes what the subject is or what the subject is doing. Essentially, this is everything in a sentence that is not a subject. In the sentence "I am a man", "am a man" is the predicate. preposition — A word that describes the relationship of a noun with another word in the sentence. Some prepositions are temporal and describe relationships involving time (e.g. après, "after"). Others are spatial and describe relationships involving location (e.g. sous, "under"). A guide to en present participle [le gérondif] — A present-tense participle, commonly used as an adjective or gerund. For example, Il parle en mangeant ("He speaks while eating"). present subjunctive — The subjunctive tense that should be used when the two actions described in a subjunctive sentence occur in the same time frame—for instance, when they are both in the past. present tense — A verb tense that describes actions that are still occurring. pronominal verb — A type of verb that can only be formed using a reflexive pronoun. For instance, se lever ("to get up"). pronominal voice — A type of grammatical voice used when the agent is the subject and is performing the action on itself. For instance, Je me rase literally means "I shave myself", though it can be simplified to "I shave". pronoun — A part of speech that replaces or refers to a noun. For instance, il ("he") or je ("I"). proper noun — A usually capitalized noun that is only used to refer to a specific (and potentially unique) thing. For instance, Paris. Be careful, because capitalization rules are not consistent between English and French. For instance, names of months are capitalized in English but not in French. punctuation — A symbol used to aid in the reading of a sentence by modifying the grammatical properties of parts of the sentence. The most common type of punctuation is the space, which usually marks the end of a word. question — A sentence that requests information. question mark — A punctuation mark that ends a sentence. Perhaps it indicates that that sentence is a question? In French, it must be surrounded by a space on each side. real subject — A subject that refers to an actual person, place, thing, or idea. reflexive pronoun — A pronoun that refers back to the subject of a clause. For instance, se in Il se rase ("He shaves [himself]"). reflexive verb — A verb that acts reflexively upon the subject. Many verbs can be both reflexive and non-reflexive. For instance, demander ("to ask") can be reflexive when used with a reflexive pronoun: Je me demande ("I wonder", or literally, "I ask myself"). register — Any of a number of levels of formality in French communication. Register can depend on word choice, grammar, pronunciation, and more. Higher registers are more formal. Lower, more casual registers should only be used with close friends and family. Tutoyer and vuvoyer regular verb — A verb whose conjugations follow one of a number of common patterns.For instance, 80% of French verbs are regular Group 1 verbs that share a conjugation pattern. relative adjective — An adjective that references an antecedent when used with a later noun. It is usually only used in very formal writing. relative clause [adjective clause] — A subordinate clause that provides more information about a previously mentioned noun (the antecedent). For instance, C'est l'homme que je connais ("He's the man that I know"). relative pronoun — A pronoun that introduces a relative clause. There are two in French: qui and que. semi-auxiliary verb — A verb that can be used in front of another verb to affect its meaning. For instance, devoir in Je doit manger de la soupe ("I must eat the soup"). These are the equivalent of modal verbs in English. semicolon — A punctuation mark that separates two independent clauses that are related; often, a period can be used instead. They can also be used in serial lists instead of commas. In French, it must be surrounded by a space on each side. singular — A grammatical number that refers to a single thing. For instance, une pomme ("an apple") is singular. spelling-changing verb — A slightly irregular -er verb whose endings change in certain forms. statement — A sentence that states a fact or belief. stative verb [non-continuous verb] — A verb that describes a state of being, such as "to know". Stative verbs usually cannot be used in continuous tenses in English. stem (verb) [root] — The part of an infinitive that comes before the ending. The stem appears in almost all conjugations of the verb. For instance, for aimer, aim- is the stem. stem-changing verb — A slightly irregular -er verb whose stem changes in certain forms. subject — The person or thing that performs an action or is being described in a sentence. subject complement — A word or phrase that follows a copula. For instance, in the sentence "I am a man", "a man" is the subject complement. subject-verb agreement — The agreement of a verb with the subject of a clause. subjunctive mood — A grammatical mood used to express wishes, emotions, or uncertainty. The subjunctive always appears in the subordinate clause of a compound sentence. It never appears as a lone verb in a simple sentence. The subjunctive is used more often in French than in English. subordinating conjunction — A conjunction that joins a subordinate clause to an independent clause. One of the most common subordinating conjunctions is que ("that"). For instance, Je pense que j'aime la soupe ("I think that I like soup"). superlative — A word that indicates that something has a maximal or minimal quality. For instance, le plus in le plus gros ("the biggest"). tense (verb) — A part of a grammatical system for providing time reference using verbs. Many languages have at least three tenses: present, past, and future. transitive verb — A verb that can take a direct object. For instance, manger ("to eat"). voice (grammatical) [diathesis] — A grammatical property that describes the relationship between the subject and the agent of a sentence. vowel — A sound or letter that is pronounced with an open vocal tract. The vowel letters in French are A, E, I, O, U, Y, and the mute H (e.g. homme). In French, vowel sounds can trigger elision, laision, and a number of other euphonic habits.