Often, people tell you "Don't learn French grammar, it's useless! The important thing is to communicate! It's very important to communicate, it's true. But, if you are not interested in grammar, at some point in your learning of French, you'll be stuck.
I have many students with an advanced level who ask me to teach them French grammar, because they were not interested in it from the beginning. And they realize that grammar is necessary to progress and better assimilate the language.
You don't need to be an expert in French grammar, not at all! You just need to understand the logic of the grammar (when there is one) to better assimilate it.
And the first step is to understand what grammar is, what it is composed of and how it works. That's what we'll see now!
I tried to make this lesson as simple as possible for you, with color coding. There may be a lot of information, but you'll see that in the end it's logical and not that complicated.
What is French grammar for?
Grammar is the set of rules that defines the use of words in a language. Grammar exists in every language! And the basic elements are the same, except that they are called differently and used differently too.
Grammar allows you to construct sentences that will be understandable by using words appropriately. It is necessary to communicate clearly and accurately, and to understand the sentences of others.
Grammar is like a recipe: in a recipe, you have several elements: flour, eggs, sugar, etc. that you have to put in a specific order to have a successful dish.
Grammar is the same, it is composed of several elements that you have to put in the right order to make your sentence successful.
Grammar determines the nature and function of words and structures sentences. We will see in detail, now, the nature and function of words and how sentences in French are structured.
The nature and function of words in French :
A sentence in French is composed of the following elements :
Link word / connector
The nouns in French:
We will see for each element in more detail what they are used for and how to use them:
A noun (un nom) is a word that designates a person, an animal, an object or a feeling. We can find :
Un nom commun inanimé, that is not alive. It can be an object for example : une chaise, un livre, ....
Un nom commun animé, that is alive : une musicienne, un ami, ....
Un nom propre as a first name, a country, etc : Marc , Bolivie, Voltaire, ...
Un nom composé, it's a word often composed of several words separated by a dash : grand-mère, rez-de-chaussée, arc-en-ciel, ....
Pronouns in French:
Un pronom is a word that replaces a nom or a nominal group (a nominal group is several nouns or adjectives) :
Pronouns often scare you, but they are just used to replace a noun to make sentences shorter or avoid repeating something.
PRO in Latin means "Instead of". PRONOM means "in place of the noun". Look at the names of the grammar elements each time, often the name tells you what they are for.
There are several types of pronouns:
Les pronoms personnels which is often used as subject or complement of a sentence : je, tu, me, lui, eux, ....
Les pronoms démonstratifs to show, to designate something : celui, celle, ceux, cela, ....
Les pronoms possessifs to indicate the possession, the belonging : le mien, le tien, le votre, ....
Les pronoms indéfinis that do not specifically identify a person or persons : personne, quelqu'un, l'un, ....
Les pronoms relatifs that connect elements in the sentence : qui, que, quoi, dont, où, lequel, ....
Les pronoms interrogatifs that allow you to ask questions : qui, que, quoi, lequel, ...
Les pronoms numéraux which designate quantities : un, deux, trois, dix, ...
Determinants in French:
Un déterminant is a word that is placed before a noun or adjective that indicates its gender (feminine or masculine) or number (singular or plural) or both.
There are several also:
Les déterminants articles that express gender and number : un, le, la, les, des, aux
Les déterminants démonstratifs to show, to designate something : ce, cette, ces, cette___-là, ...
Les déterminants exclamatifs to express an emotion : quel, quelle, quels, ...
Les déterminants interrogatifs that allow you to ask questions : quel ... ?, quelle ... ?
Les déterminants indéfinis that do not specifically identify a person or persons : tous, chaque, aucun, certaines, ...
Les déterminants numéraux which designate quantities : huit, deux, ...
Les déterminants possessifs to indicate the possession, the belonging : mon, ta, son, leurs, votre, ...
💡 Useful information:
You may be wondering what the difference is between a déterminant and a pronom, because you notice that some have the same function.
Le déterminant accompanies, determines the nom, it's followed by a nom : Tous mes amis sont là. (Déterminant = TOUS MES - Nom = amis)
Le pronom replaces the nom. It's not followed by a nom. : Ils sont tous là. (Pronom = tous)
Adjectives in French:
Un adjectif is a word that tells how a person, an animal, a thing is... It agrees in gender and in number. The adjective will tell you how the noun is, it characterizes the noun.
We can find :
Les adjectifs qualificatifs : grand, beau, gentil, ...
Les adjectifs ordinaux : deuxième, premier, ...
Les adjectifs verbaux : aveuglants, négligent, payants, ...
Verbs in French:
Un verbe is the central word of the sentence, it says what the noun does and agrees with it.
We can have:
Les verbes of action : manger - boire - marcher - chanter - ....
Les verbes of state : être - sembler - devenir - se sentir - ....
The verbs will be linked to the conjugations. Conjugations determine the time, the period when the action takes place: past, present, future. But, also, the possibility, the hypothesis or the emotions.
Adverbs in French:
Un adverbe is an invariable word (does not agree in gender or number). It is used to specify a place, a time, a way, a quantity, etc. of a precise action.
The adverb is placed after the verb. It characterizes the verb. The AD from ADVERBE means after.
ADVERBE = after verb.
You often see the names of the elements of the sentences help you to know what they are used for.
There are several types of adverbs:
Les adverbes of time : tard, tôt, maintenant, ...
Les adverbes of place : partout, ici, là, ....
Les adverbes of manner : mal, bien, ensemble, calmement, ...
Les adverbes of quantity or intensity : trop, presque, très, assez, ...
Les adverbes of affirmation : oui, bien sûr, certainement, ...
Les adverbes of negation : ne pas, ne plus, ne jamais, ...
Les adverbes of doubt : peut-être, sans doute, ...
Linking words / connectors in French:
Un mot-lien / connecteur is a word that connects two words or groups of words in a sentence.
They will connect, link one or more elements in a sentence.
We can find :
Les conjonctions de coordination : mais, ou, est, donc, or, ni, car
Les conjonctions de subordination : si, parce que, quand, lorsque, ...
Les prépositions : à, sur, dans, par, de, ...
French sentence structures:
In French, there are two types of sentences. Simple sentences and complex sentences.
The simple sentences are composed :
SUJER + VERB + COMPLEMENT
The subject does the action of the sentence.
The complement undergoes the action of the sentence.
For example : Le chien blanc mange des croquettes. (=The white dog eats kibble.)
Subject : Le chien blanc - We find the subject by asking ourselves : Who or what + verb + complement : Qui ou quoi mange des croquettes ?
Verb : mange
Complement : des croquettes
We find the complement by asking ourselves Subject + verb + what or who? : Le chien blanc mange qui ou quoi ?
You can see that the subject can be : an article determinant, a noun or an adjective.
The subject can also be a pronoun : Il mange des croquettes.
The complement can also be composed of a déterminant, a nom or a pronom and / or an adjectif.
A complex sentence is often composed :
of a connector word and at least two conjugated verbs:
SUJER + VERB + COMPLEMENT + CONNECTOR WORD + SUBJECT + VERB + COMPLEMENT
For example: Le chien blanc mange des croquettes, mais il ne mange pas sa pâtée. (= The white dog eats kibble, but he does not eat his food.)
In conclusion, it's important to have some grammar knowledge to better communicate in French.
For example, if you are learning how to use the pronoun EN. If you have some knowledge of grammar, you already know that it will replace a noun.
Be careful, you don't have to learn everything I just told you by heart, no.
Understand how sentences are structured and that a sentence is composed of several elements.
And as you go along, you will naturally assimilate these elements. But, if sometimes you have trouble understanding the grammar, look at the elements and try to understand their function.
And above all, help yourself to the names of the elements. You know that a possessive determiner will be used to indicate possession or belonging.
An adverb will be used with a verb and will be after the verb.
👉 To go further, I invite you to see my lesson : How to learn French grammar? The best way.
See you soon, for new adventures in French of course!