Gender of French Nouns: Same Word Different Meaning (Part 1)

Learning the gender of French nouns can be difficult. Why is une table (= a table) feminine but un bureau (= a desk, an office) masculine? There’s no rule!

Here’s some good news though: most of the time, the gender of French nouns doesn’t really matter. If you say “un table” by mistake, people will still understand you.

However, sometimes the masculine and feminine versions of the same word mean different things. So, in these cases, the gender of the French word does matter.

Learning goals: This is what you’ll be able to do after watching this lesson

  • Understand the differences between 12 French words with different meanings, depending on their gender
  • Know how to use your new French vocabulary in everyday life

Bonjour c’est Géraldine. Bienvenue sur Comme une Française. C’est parti !

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1) “Chèvre”

Une chèvre is “a goat” (in the feminine)

For instance:
J’ai décidé d’adopter une chèvre pour ne plus tondre la pelouse de mon jardin.
I decided to adopt a goat so I won’t have to mow the lawn in my garden anymore.

Un chèvre (in the masculine) however, is a short way of saying “un fromage de chèvre” (= goat cheese).

For example:
Ce matin, mon mari a acheté un chèvre au marché.
This morning, my husband bought a piece of goat cheese at the market.

Don’t mistake “Je vais acheter un chèvre” with “Je vais acheter une chèvre”, or you might end up with livestock in your fridge! 😉

By the way, it’s like the difference between une crème (= a cream) such as la crème solaire (= sunscreen) or la crème fouettée (= whipped cream), and un crème which is a short way of saying un café-crème (= a coffee with milk).

Or une noisette (= a nut) and un noisette (= a coffee with one drop of milk) !

Yeah, ordering coffee in France can be confusing. You can get a whole lesson on how to order a coffee in French like a local, here!

2) Poste

La poste is the post office. It’s also the name for La Poste, the official “Postal Service” or the equivalent to “Royal Mail” in the UK.

Un poste is a position, or a job.

For example:
Gabrielle a obtenu un poste de chef d’équipe à la poste de son quartier.
Gabrielle got a position as a team manager in her neighbourhood post office.

3) Manche

This is a word with many meanings!

In the masculin, un manche is a tool’s handle. In colloquial slang, it’s also someone who’s terrible at what they’re doing – especially when we say s’y prendre comme un manche (“doing something terribly, clumsily”)

For instance:
Tu ne sais pas balayer, tu t’y prends comme un manche ! Passe-moi le manche du balai.
You don’t know how to sweep, you’re doing it terribly! Give me the handle of the broom.

In the feminine, la manche can also mean a lot of different things.

In games, une manche is a round.
“La partie se joue en trois manches” (= A game is played in three rounds.)

Une manche is also a sleeve, for clothing.
Example: “Mets ton bras dans la manche.” (= Put your arm in the sleeve)

Faire la manche means begging, panhandling.

Finally, La Manche is the English Channel, between England and France.

C’est dans la Manche qu’on trouve la plus grande colonie de grands dauphins en Europe.
It’s in “la Manche” (= the Sleeve, the English Channel) that we can find the biggest colony of bottlenose dolphins in Europe.

This French noun also gave its name to a French département (= administrative subdivision) in Normandy.
Dans La Manche, on peut manger du camembert et visiter le mont Saint-Michel.
In “La Manche”, you can eat camembert and visit the Mont-Saint-Michel.

Le mont Saint-Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the design inspiration for fortress Minas Tirith in the movie adaptation for Lord of the Rings.
Click here to learn more about le mont Saint-Michel in Normandy

4) Boum

Boum ! is often genderless. It’s une onomatopée (=an onomatopeia) for a sound, like “Bang!” or “Crash!”

For instance: Boum! Quand notre cœur fait boum! (= “Boom”! When your heart goes “Boom”!…) (These are lyrics in a classic song from French singer Charles Trénet)

From that sound, we also get the French noun un boum, in the masculine.

Un boum means “a shockwave, a bang” (J’ai entendu un boum = I heard a loud sound).

And it also means “a success, a boom.” (L’économie est en plein boum = The economy is booming.)

Finally, in the feminine, une boum is old slang (from the 70’s / 80’s) for a party. It’s now rarely used, and only for a teenagers’ party. This slang word is now attached to the 1980 movie La Boum, the first film with actress Sophie Marceau.

For instance:
Margaux a décidé d’organiser une boum pour son anniversaire.
Margaux decided to plan a party for her birthday.

5) Livre

Un livre is a book.

For example:
J’ai offert un livre à mon frère pour Noël.
I bought my brother a book for Christmas.

Une livre is a pound (weight) – French people don’t really use it, we’d rather say “500 grammes” (= around a pound) or “un kilo” (= just over two pounds). But sometimes, some groceries at the market are weighed by the pound.

Vous me mettrez une livre de carottes, s’il vous plaît.
You can give me a pound of carrots, please.

We mostly use la Livre for the British currency: pound (£), or la Livre sterling.

Livrer means “to deliver” – so il livre means “he delivers”.
For example:
Pour une livre, ce libraire anglais livre des livres.
For a pound, this English bookseller delivers books.

6) Mémoire

In the feminine, la mémoire is memory.

La romancière belge Amélie Nothomb a une mémoire incroyable.
Amélie Nothomb, the Belgian novelist, has an incredible memory.

However, un mémoire (in the masculine) means “a thesis,” in an academic setting.

J’ai enfin terminé d’écrire mon mémoire sur l’agriculture grenobloise du 15e siècle.
I finally finished writing my thesis about agriculture around Grenoble in the 15th Century.

Finally, des mémoires (feminine, but plural) are “memoirs,” a kind of autobiography.

“Mémoires d’Hadrien” est un de mes livres préférés. Il a été écrit par Marguerite Yourcenar.
“Mémoires d’Hadrien” (Memoirs of Hadrian) is one of my favorite books. It was written by Marguerite Yourcenar.

Marguerite Yourcenar fut la première femme élue membre de l’Académie française en 1980.
Marguerite Yourcenar was the first woman to be elected as a member of the Académie française, in 1980.

QUIZ!

Can you remember what you just learned? Let’s make sure you retain your new knowledge with a little quiz!

How do you say the following word in French?
→ A book
→ A sleeve
→ A round
→ Goat cheese

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Answers: un livre / une manche / une manche / un chèvre)

Et toi ?

Écris une phrase en français avec un mot de la leçon.
Write one sentence in French with a word from the lesson.

For example, you can write: “Mon fromage préféré est le chèvre.” (“My favorite cheese is goat cheese.”)

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And now:
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Allez, salut 🙂

Join the conversation!

  • Géraldine, merci pour cet épisode. Juste une question: Puisque le mot “la boum” est ringard, quel mot utilisez-vous maintenant à sa place? Une fête tout simplement ou bien il en existe un autre? Merci d’avance!

  • Mon fromage français préféré est
    le camembert (pardonnez-moi les
    chèvres) 😀
    Et “Boum” m’a fait penser immédiatement
    à la chanson de Charles Trenet du même
    titre. Le film La Boum est un petit peu au
    même sujet peut-être, et également le beau
    film Mina Tannenbaum; je vous conseille de
    le chercher 🙂
    Voici un autre petit conseil, quand vous êtes
    en France la mer entre l’Angleterre et
    la France s’appelle la Manche … ce n’est pas
    the “English” channel ! Attention 😀 😀
    Super bonne leçon Géraldine ~ merci merci.

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