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French Nouns with Two Genders

Noms avec deux genres

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The gender of French nouns tends to be a sticky grammar point for students, especially when it does not exist in their mother tongue. Although getting the gender right is very important, most of the time the wrong gender will not hinder your ability to understand or to communicate in French, because most words have a single gender.*

However, there are a number of French nouns which are identical in pronunciation (and often spelling as well) but which have different meanings depending on whether they are masculine or feminine. Probably a good idea to memorize this list. :-)

un aide - male assistant
une aide - help, assistance, female assistant

un air - air, look, aria
une aire - area, zone, eyrie

un aller - one-way trip
une allée - avenue, path, aisle

un auteur - author
une hauteur - height

le bal - dance
la balle - ball (sports)

le bar - bar/pub, bass (fish)
la barre - bar/rod, barre, helm

le barbe - barb
la barbe - beard
les barbes (f) - ragged edge

le barde - bard (poet)
la barde - bard (armor for a horse, fat wrapped around meat)

le basilic - basil, basilisk
la basilique - basilica

le basque - Basque language
la basque - tails (of a jacket)

le boum - bang, explosion, (fam) success
la boum - (inf) party

le bout - tip, end
la boue - mud

le bugle - bugle
la bugle - bugleweed

le but - aim, goal, purpose
la butte - hillock, mound

le cache - card/mask (for hiding s.t.)
la cache - cache, hiding place

le capital - capital, money
la capitale - capital city, capital letter

le carpe - carpus
la carpe - carp

le cartouche - (archeology) cartouche
la cartouche - cartridge, carton

le casse - break-in, robber
la casse - breaking, damage, breakages

le cave - (familiar) idiot, sucker
la cave - basement, cellar

le central - center court, (telephone) exchange
la centrale - station, plant, group

le cerf - stag
la serre - greenhouse

le champagne - champagne
la Champagne - Champagne region

le chêne - oak tree/wood
la chaîne - chain, channel, stereo

le chèvre - goat cheese
la chèvre - goat

le chine - china, rice paper
la chine - second-hand / used trade
la Chine - China

le chose - thingie, contraption
la chose - thing

le claque - opera hat, (familiar) brothel
la claque - slap

le coche - stagecoach
la coche - check mark, tick (on a form)

le col - collar, neck
la colle - glue

le coq - rooster
la coque - hull, fuselage, cockle

le cours - class
le court - (tennis) court
la cour - courtyard, court of law

le crème - coffee with cream
la crème - cream

le crêpe - crepe material
la crêpe - thin pancake

le cric - jack
la crique - creek, inlet

le critique - male critic
la critique - criticism, review, female critic

le diesel - diesel fuel
la diesel - diesel automobile

un enseigne - ensign (rank)
une enseigne - sign, ensign (flag, banner)

un espace - space, room
une espace - printing space
une Espace - car model from Renault

le fait - fact
le faîte - summit, rooftop
la fête - party

le faune - faun
la faune - fauna

le faux - fake, forgery, falsehood
la faux - scythe

le fil - thread, yarn, string
la file - line, queue

le finale - finale (music)
la finale - final (sports)

le foie - liver
la foi - faith
une fois - once, one time

le foret - drill bit
la forêt - forest

le foudre - (ironic) leader, large cask
la foudre - lightning

le garde - guard, warden, keeper
la garde - guard duty, custody, private nurse

le gène - gene
la gêne - trouble, bother, embarrassment

le geste - gesture
la geste - gest, epic poem

le gîte - shelter, cottage; bottom round (meat)
la gîte - list, inclination of a ship

le greffe - court clerk's office
la greffe - transplant, graft

le guide - guide (book, tour)
la guide - girl scout/guide
les guides (f) - reins

un icone - icon (computer)
une icône - icon (art, celebrity)

un interligne - space (typography)
une interligne - lead (typography)

le jars - gander
la jarre - jar

le kermès - scale insect, kermes (tree)
la kermesse - fair, bazaar, charity party

le krach - stock market crash
la craque - (familiar) whopping lie

le lac - lake
la laque - lacquer, shellac, hairspray

le légume - vegetable
la grosse légume (informal) - big shot

le lieu - place
la lieue - league

le livre - book
la livre - pound (currency and weight)

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*For example, un bureau (desk) is masculine and une chaise (chair) is feminine. Saying "une bureau" or "un chaise" is incorrect, but still understandable. Other words have two different forms for masculine and feminine versions (un avocat/une avocate, un acteur/une actrice) or a single form that refers to a man or a woman depending on which article is used (un touriste/une touriste, un artiste/une artiste).

Quiz on dual-gender nouns

Introduction to French nouns and gender
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