Les noms: Nouns in French grammar

What is a noun?

Les noms or les substantifs (nouns) are naming words: they refer to people (la fille), places (la France), animals (le chat), objects (la table) and concepts (l’amour). A noun can be a subject or an object in a sentence. They are often accompanied by an article and can be described by adjectives. To avoid repetition, nouns can be replaced by pronouns.

Mon chien aime les friandises.My dog loves sweets. (animal)
L’amour rend aveugle.Love is blind. (feeling, concept)
J’ai appelé ma cousine hier.I called my cousin yesterday. (person)
Quel musée avez-vous visité?Which museum did you visit? (place)
Le livre paraîtra en mai.The book is coming out in May. (object)

There are several categories of nouns in French: they can be proper or common, countable or uncountable as well as abstract or concrete.

Like in English, nouns can be singular or plural in French, however, unlike English French nouns have gender: they can be masculine or feminine.

Read on to learn the different grammatical terms related to nouns in French grammar.

Gender of French nouns

In French, nouns can be masculine (masculins) or feminine (feminins). This is known as gender. We can sometimes recognise a noun’s gender by its ending, but the only way to be sure is to always learn nouns together with their article (le/un or la/une).

l’hommethe man, le chienthe dog, le tableauthe board, le travailthe work, le chênethe oak tree (masculine)
la femmethe woman, la danseusethe dancer, la librairiethe book shop, la cuisinethe kitchen}, la FranceFrance (feminine)

Go to our dedicated page on noun gender in French to learn more.

Singular and plural French nouns

In French, nouns can be singular (singulier) or plural (pluriel) depending on whether it refers to one thing or more. The plural is generally formed by adding -s to the masculine singular form of the noun, but there are many exceptions to this rule.

J’ai acheté des pommes et des oranges au marché.I bought some apples and oranges at the market. (regular plural)
Marion crée des bijoux très originaux.Marion creates very original jewellery. (irregular plural: bijou → bijoux)

Go to our page on singular and plural nouns in French to learn more about this topic and practise in the free exercises.

Types of French nouns

A common noun (un nom commun) is the general name for any person, animal, place, object, idea or concept. Common nouns can be animate (e.g. un enfanta child, un chata cat) or inanimate (e.g. un fauteuilan armchair, un billet de traina train ticket). Common nouns have a plural form unless they are uncountable.

Romain a acheté une veste et un pantalon.Romain bought a jacket and a pair of trousers. (singular)
Romain a acheté deux vestes et trois pantalons.Romain bought two jackets and three pairs of trousers. (plural)

Like in English, common nouns can be countable (comptables) or uncountable (non comptables). Uncountable nouns do not have a plural form.

une pommeapple, un crayonpencil (countable)
laitmilk, eauwater (uncountable)

Likewise, French nouns can be abstract (abstraits), or concrete (concrets).

beautébeauty, bonheurhappiness (abstract)
robedress, assietteplate (concrete)

A proper noun (un nom propre) refers to a specific and unique person, place or thing. They are always written with a capital letter and usually have no plural form.

Romain habite à Lyon.Romain lives in Lyon.

Learn more about nouns in French grammar

Click on the topics below to learn more about noun gender and plural forms in French grammar. Read the detailed explanations and clear examples, then test yourself in the free exercises.