If you're learning French, you know how exciting it is to connect with a new culture through language! Of course, there are challenges, too, and it can feel frustrating to make mistakes in a new language. Those mistakes are a natural—and even necessary!—part of the learning journey, so take comfort in knowing other French learners are working through them, too.

We analyzed Duolingo data to determine the most common mistakes that early French learners make. Here are the top 5 errors you can expect in French!

5 of the most common errors French learners make:

  1. French verbs: conjugation
  2. French nouns: gender agreement
  3. French nouns: plural agreement
  4. French adjectives: agreement
  5. French grammar: word order

1. French verbs: conjugation

Verb conjugation is one of the most challenging parts of French, especially for new learners. It will seem like French verbs change a lot more than their English counterparts! In French, you need to change the ending of the verb so that it matches the subject who is doing the action. Even though some French verb endings sound the same, they are often spelled differently. Here is the basic pattern for the most common regular verb categories:

Subject -er -ir -re
je -e -is -s
tu -es -is -s
-e -it (no ending)
nous -ons issons -ons
vous -ez -issez -ez
-ent -issent -ent

You'll use a different ending depending on the subject of the verb:

  • Je parle anglais, mais mes parents parlent français. (I speak English, but my parents speak French.)
  • Tu choisis toujours un éclair, mais tes amies choisissent des macarons. (You always choose an eclair, but your friends choose macarons.)
  • Paul attend ici, et vous attendez là-bas. (Paul is waiting here, and you all are waiting over there.)

There's another category of verbs that is challenging for new French learners, because it has a spelling change so that the pronunciation is consistent across the forms. Verbs that end in -ger (pronounced like "zhay") add an "e" to the nous form to keep that "zh" sound, and verbs that end in -cer (pronounced like "say") have a "ç" in the nous form, to keep the "s" sound. For example, the verb manger (to eat) has this change: Nous mangeons avec les chats (We eat with the cats).

2. French nouns: gender agreement

In French, all nouns have grammatical gender—they are either masculine or feminine, even if they aren't a person! There are several key patterns learners should memorize to know whether a noun is masculine or feminine.

Words associated with the noun have to match its gender, so French has multiple versions of many words, including different forms of "a" and "the" for masculine and feminine nouns:

With a masculine noun With a feminine noun
Singular "a" un une
"the" le la
Plural "some" des
"the" les

For example:

  • un château (a castle), since château is a masculine noun
  • une chemise (a shirt), since chemise is a feminine noun
  • le château (the castle)
  • la chemise (the shirt)

If the noun starts with a vowel or a silent consonant (as in hôtel, "hotel"), you'll use l' for "the": l'hôtel (the hotel). Both masculine and feminine nouns will use l' if they start with a vowel!

3. French nouns: plural agreement

Words associated with a noun will have to match the number of the noun, too—whether it's singular or plural. This number agreement is one of the most common mistakes learners make. Here are a few places to look for plural agreement:

  • Les filles parlent français. (The girls speak French.)
  • Mes amis sont professeurs. (My friends are teachers.)
  • Ils ont des desserts italiens. (They have some Italian desserts.)

4. French adjectives: gender and plural agreement

And if that's not enough agreement to keep track of… French adjectives have different forms and endings for masculine and feminine, singular and plural! The most common pattern is that feminine singular adjectives end in -e, masculine plural adjectives end in -s, and feminine plural adjectives end in -es:

With a masculine noun With a feminine noun
Singular le chat noir la chemise noire
Plural les chats noirs les chemises noires

Some adjectives follow a slightly different set of agreement rules: 

  • Masculine adjective already ends in an -e (like triste)
  • Feminine adjective has an additional letter or accent mark (like bon)
  • Masculine adjective ends in -eau or -ou and uses -x for the masculine plural and -elle or -olle in the feminine forms (like nouveau)
  • Masculine adjective ends in -x and doesn't change in the plural, and the feminine forms have -euse (like heureux)
Meaning Masculine (singular / plural) Feminine (singular / plural) Other adjectives like this
happy content / contents contente / contentes (most adjectives!)
grand / grande
sûr / sûre
joli / jolie
fatigué / fatiguée
sad triste / tristes triste / tristes adorable / adorables
jeune / jeunes
difficile / difficiles
célèbre / célèbres
good bon / bons bonne / bonnes gros / grosse
gentil / gentille
blanc / blanche
cher / chère
new nouveau / nouveaux nouvelle / nouvelles beau(x) / belle(s)
fou(x) / folle(s)
happy heureux / heureux heureuse / heureuses sériuex / sériuese
ennuyeux / ennuyeuse
doux / douce

In French, you'll need to remember to use plural adjectives to describe a noun, even when the noun and its adjective aren't next to each other—that can be the most difficult part to remember!

Singular Plural
Ce chat est noir et blanc. Ces chats sont noirs et blancs.
Ma sœur est drôle. Mes sœurs sont drôles.
Le garçon est triste, mais la fille est contente. Les garçons sont tristes, mais les filles sont contentes.

5. French grammar: word order

Word order is another important difference between French and English, especially when it comes to nouns. In French, most adjectives come after the noun they describe, so instead of saying the black cat, in French you say the cat black (le chat noir). You can think of the order like a formula: determiner (like "the" or "a") + noun + adjective, where "determiner" means the words for "the" (le, la, l', les) and for possession (like mon, "my," and notres, "our").

There are some common adjectives that must go before the noun, for example, adjectives about size or goodness (or badness!), including bon (good), petit (small), and grand (big). So, to say "the big red house," you say la grosse maison rouge.

Learn from your (French) mistakes!

Don't let your French mistakes slow you down—they're necessary for learning, and you'll move past them with practice!