When you start learning French, there's a lot to remember - new vocabulary, all kinds of verb conjugations, strange spelling... just about everything is different. 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. With this in mind, this article discusses ten of the most common French mistakes made by beginners, so that you can fix these problems right from the beginning.
French Mistake 1 - Gender
In French, all nouns have a gender, either masculine or feminine. This can be a difficult concept for English speakers, but it's non-negotiable. You need to learn vocabulary with either a definite or indefinite article, so that you learn the gender of each word with the word itself. Getting the gender of a word wrong can lead to confusion at best and a completely different meaning at worst, since some words have different meanings depending on their gender.
Introduction to French nouns | Gender by word ending | Dual-gender nouns | Articles | Gender quizzes
French Mistake 2 - Accents
French accents indicate the correct pronunciation of a word, and are required, not optional. Therefore, you need to make an effort to learn what they mean, which words they are found in, and how to type them. Study my accents lesson so that you know what each accent indicates. (Note in particular that ç never precedes e or i). Then look at my typing French accents page to choose between the various methods to type them on your computer.
Introduction to accents | Typing French accents
French Mistake 3 - To Be
Although the literal French equivalent of "to be" is être, there are numerous French expressions that use the verb avoir (to have) instead, such as avoir faim - "to be hungry," and some that use faire (to do, make), like faire beau - "to be nice weather." Take the time to memorize and practice these expressions so that you get them right, right from the beginning.
Introduction to avoir, être, faire | Expressions with avoir | Expressions with faire | Quiz: avoir, être, or faire?
French Mistake 4 - Contractions
In French, contractions are required. Whenever a short word like je, me, te, le, la, or ne is followed by a word that begins with a vowel or H muet, the short word drops the final vowel, adds an apostrophe, and attaches itself to the following word. This is not optional, as it is in English - French contractions are required. Thus, you should never say "je aime" or "le ami" - it is always j'aime and l'ami. Contractions never occur in front of a consonant in French (except H muet).
French Mistake 5 - H
The French H comes in two varieties: aspiré and muet. Although they sound the same (that is, they are both silent), there is an important difference: one acts like a consonant and the other acts like a vowel. The H aspiré (aspirated H) acts like a consonant, meaning that it does not allow contractions or liaisons. The H muet (mute H), on the the other hand, is just the opposite: it requires contractions and liaisons. Making vocabulary lists with a definite article will help you remember which H is which, such as le homard (H aspiré) vs l'homme (H muet).
H muet | H aspiré | Liaisons
Beginning French Mistakes 1 - 5 | Beginning French Mistakes 6 - 10
Intermediate French Mistakes 1 - 5 | Intermediate French Mistakes 6 - 10
High-Intermediate French Mistakes 1 - 5 | High-Intermediate French Mistakes 6 - 10
Advanced French Mistakes 1 - 5 | Advanced French Mistakes 6 - 10