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Common French Mistakes and Difficulties

There are numerous French characteristics that cause confusion for many if not most students of French. This page includes links to areas of common mistakes and difficulty to help you overcome these issues once and for all.
  1. Confusing Pairs (44)
  2. Mistake of the week (47)

Common French Mistakes Quiz
See if you get caught by dozens of common French mistakes.

Top 10 Beginning French Mistakes
When you start learning French, there's a lot to remember. It's normal to make mistakes, but it's in your best interest to try to fix them as soon as possible. The longer you make the same mistake, the harder it will be for you to get it right later on. This article discusses ten of the most common French mistakes made by beginners, so that you...

Intermediate French Mistakes
After learning French for a while, you've probably found some things you just can't figure out how to say, or that people are always correcting you on. These may be issues that you haven't been taught yet, or concepts that you've studied but just don't get. As an intermediate French speaker, you still have plenty of time to fix these mistakes...

High-Intermediate French Mistakes
High-intermediate means your French is pretty good - you excel in everyday situations, and can even hold your own in long discussions, but there are still some issues that you can't seem to get the hang of, or that you simply don't remember five minutes after looking them up. Here are ten of the most common high-intermediate French mistakes with links to lessons.

Advanced French Mistakes
If you speak French at an advanced level, congratulations! You may not be fluent yet, but you're definitely on your way. Nonetheless, there are probably a few concepts you can use a bit of help with. Oftentimes these are small details that don't affect your listener's comprehension, but mistakes are mistakes and if you want to be fluent you need...

5 French verbs you might be overusing
You probably learned the verbs conduire, écrire, and nager in French class, and have used them ever since to talk about driving, writing, and swimming. However, these are not necessarily the verbs that native French speakers use. Learn about five verbs that tend to be overused by French students, contrasted with their more typical synonyms.

Pronunciation Mistakes and Difficulties
Many students find that pronunciation is the hardest part of learning French. The new sounds, the silent letters, the liaisons... they all combine to make speaking French very tricky. Here are the top French pronunciation difficulties and mistakes, with links to detailed lessons and sound files.

French Proofreading and Editing Tips
Whether you're checking over homework, proofreading an essay, or verifying a translation, there are certain key problem areas to watch out for. This is not a definitive list by any means, but it indicates areas of confusion and common mistakes caused by differences between French and English and includes links to more detailed explanations and...

Speaking Anxiety
If you feel nervous when speaking French, it's probably due to a lack of confidence in your skills: you don't feel you have the grammar, vocabulary, and/or pronunciation needed in order to express yourself. The obvious solution is to improve your French, and this site is filled with resources to help you do just that. Beyond lessons and learning, however, there are other ways to increase your confidence and feel more comfortable speaking French.

Typical French Mistakes
It might be trite, but it's definitely true: we all mistakes. When you start learning French, you're bound to make lots of errors, and it's only with practice and perservence that you'll get better. The good news is that you're not alone - take a look at these pages to learn how to avoid as many typical French mistakes as possible.

Your Worst French Mistake
We've all made plenty of French mistakes over the course of our language learning, but some are far worse than others. You know what I'm talking about: the ones where we inadvertently embarrassed or even insulted someone, just by using the wrong word. Don't be shy - share your worst French mistake, and we can all learn to avoid these treacherous French pitfalls.

There are four different meanings of "accent" which are relevant to anyone studying French: the accent marks on letters, non-native accents, regional accents, and the accentuation of French words. This page on French accents includes links to resources pertaining to all of these meanings.

Accent Homographs
Think accents don't matter when writing or typing in French? Think again! There are dozens of French word pairs which are spelled (though not always pronounced) the same other than accents. To avoid confusion, you should always distinguish between these "accent homographs" by using the correct accents.

Adjectives with special forms
Since French adjectives usually have to agree with the nouns they modify in gender and number, most of them have up to four forms. But there are several French adjectives that have an additional variation: a special form that is used when the adjective precedes a word that begins with a vowel or mute H.

Agreement is arguably one of the most difficult aspects of the French language. This summary of the different types of agreement includes links to detailed lessons on each grammatical point.

À chacun son goût
Is it "à chacun son goût" or "chacun à son goût"?

En and Y - Adverbial Pronouns
The adverbial pronouns y and en are so tiny that one might think their role in a sentence is not very important, but in fact quite the opposite is true. They are both extremely important in French.

False Cognates - Faux amis
False cognates are words that look similar (or even identical) in French and English, but that have different meanings.

Fickle French Adjectives
There are a number of French adjectives which have different meanings depending on where they are placed. Generally speaking, when the adjective precedes the noun, it has a figurative or subjective meaning, whereas the adjective which follows the noun has a literal or objective meaning.

Free - French Lesson
The English word free can be an adjective, adverb, verb, or noun and has a number of different meanings, which can make it difficult to translate free into French. Take a look at this lesson on how to say free in French.

Gender Patterns
French gender is a constant headache for many students of French. There are some patterns in suffixes and word endings - certain endings tend to indicate masculine nouns, while other endings favor feminine nouns. These gender patterns are not fool-proof, but they can help you to figure out the gender of many French nouns.

H muet vs H aspiré
There are two different kinds of H's in French, and neither one is pronounced. However, one requires contractions and liaisons, while the other forbids them. Which is which?

How to Pronounce the French R
The letter R is arguably the most difficult sound in the French language, but it doesn't have to be.

How to Pronounce the French U
The letter U is another extremely difficult sound for many students - take a look at this step-by-step explanation.

Jamais - Ever and Never in French
In English there's no risk of confusion between "ever" and "never," which have opposing though not quite opposite meanings. In French, however, both terms can be translated by jamais, depending on what's in the rest of the sentence.

Lequel is arguably the most difficult French pronoun. In addition to the fact that it belongs to two different categories of pronouns, lequel has to agree with its antecedent and contract with certain prepositions. Learn everything you need to know about this troublesome pronoun with this lesson.

LL - French Pronunciation of the Double L
In French, the double L is sometimes pronounced like an L, and other times like a Y. How do you know when to pronounce it each way? This lesson explains the general rules and the inevitable exceptions.

To Make - Learn how to translate "to make" into French
To make is a very general, very useful verb in English. Its French translations vary wildly, so take a look at this lesson to learn how to translate various meanings of "make" into French.

French and Modal Verbs
Modal verbs, also called modal auxiliaries or simply modals, are unconjugated English verbs which express the mood of a verb, such as ability, possibility, condition, and necessity. French does not have modal verbs, which can make it difficult to translate them. There are ten common English modal verbs: can, must, should....

French Nouns with Two Genders
There are a number of French nouns which have different meanings depending on whether they are masculine or feminine.

Oh là là
Is it "oh là là" or "ooh là là"?

OUIL - French Pronunciation
The letters OUIL, OUILL, and OUILLE are commonly mispronounced by French students, who tend to say [wi], as in the word oui, or even [uwi], to rhyme with "chewy." But the L makes all the difference.

Passé composé vs Imparfait - French Past Tense
The passé composé and imparfait are used in conjunction to talk about the past in French. Read this detailed lesson to understand the difference between them.

Pour et contre
Be sure to say "pour et contre" and not "pour et ...."

Relative Pronouns (Qui, Que, Dont, Où)
Just as in English, a relative pronoun links a dependent/relative clause to a main clause. There are no standard translations for these words; depending on context, the English equivalents are who, whom, that, which, whose, where, or when. In French, relative pronouns are required, whereas in English, they are sometimes optional.

Se is one of the most often misused French pronouns. It can only be used in two kinds of constructions, so check out this lesson to get "unconfused." :-)

Silent Letters
One of the difficulties in French pronunciation is all of the silent letters. This lesson gives you some tips for memorizing which letters are silent... and why.

Soi is another oft-confused French pronoun. It is used only for unspecified persons. Need more info? See the lesson!

Spanish is Easier than French... Not!
There is a common myth among English speakers that Spanish is much easier to learn than French. While it's true that some aspects of French pronunciation and spelling are more difficult than Spanish, there are also things in Spanish that are more difficult than French. This article is a detailed comparison of the two languages so that you can decide for yourself if one of them is more difficult.

Subjunctive - Le Subjonctif
Students of French tend to agree that the subjunctive is the most difficult verb form. The subjunctive mood is used to express actions which are subjective: will/wanting, emotion, doubt, possibility, necessity, judgment, etc., and is is nearly always found in dependent clauses introduced by que. Take a look at this lesson for conjugations and uses of the tricky French subjunctive.

Then in French: Ainsi, Alors, Donc vs Après, Ensuite, Puis
The word "then" has two distinct meanings: one related to consequence and the other to time. These meanings translate differently into in French, and the various synonyms further complicate matters.

Verb Conjugation for Difficult Subjects
When you understand subject pronouns, tenses, moods, and how to conjugate French verbs, you're in great shape. There are however some grammatical subjects which make conjugation a bit more difficult.

Verbs with Prepositions
Many French verbs require a certain preposition in order for the meaning of the verb to be complete. Learn about verbs and their prepositions here.

Do you know how to spell "voilà"?

What in French - How to translate what into French
French learners often have trouble deciding how to translate "what" into French. Should it be que or quoi, or maybe that pesky quel? Understanding the difference between these terms is critical to knowing how to use them correctly.

Word Order
The order of words in a French sentence can be very confusing, due to dual-verb constructions, object and adverbial pronouns, inversion, imperatives, adverbs, and negative structures. Learn how to string them all together.

Règles d'écriture
Just for fun - a list of French grammar rules whose descriptions break the very rule they are describing (en français).

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