How to Improve Your Written French

Spelling has weight in the written French language. For native French-speaking people, a spelling error is a bad signal: it’s seen as incorrect, a sign of lower education. (And/or is seen as lower class, sadly.)

What does it mean for you as a non-native speaker? Well… It’s not such a problem. People won’t think you’re under-educated. They’ll just understand you’re on your own learning journey. It’s OK to make mistakes!

However, spelling errors can still lead to misunderstandings, and are often easily fixable mistakes.

No matter your level of French, here’s how to improve your written French, thanks to modern technology… and a few tips and explanations!

Learning goals: This is what you’ll be able to do after watching this lesson
→ Know exactly what to focus on when writing in French, at your own level: beginner, intermediate, advanced.

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

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0 - Let’s start on the right foot

  • Use ALL the technology you want. No shame in that.
  • DO NOT skip a level because you think your French is “too good.” Climb up each section!
  • Use this written lesson as a checklist.

I won’t talk about “practices” today. I’m going to push you because I know you can do it.
This is a special lesson for students who are REALLY serious about improving their written French.

If you’re interested in exercises to practice your French writing, let me know in the comment section or in an email! I’m thinking about offering a program on that this year.

1 - Beginners

A – Get your basics right: Greetings + politeness

Click here to learn French greetings

For example:
Don’t write “bon jour” → It’s “bonjour” (= “Hello!”)
Don’t write “cou cou” (or worse “couscous”) → It’s “coucou” (= “Hi!”)

And be sure to learn the use of different greetings, and the politeness attached to them.

For example, know when to use “Bonjour” (= Good day / Hello) and when to use “Bonne journée” (= Have a good day).

B – Check the gender of words.

All French nouns are either feminine or masculine.
There are some limited rules that can help you know if a given noun is feminine or masculine (that I won’t get into now); but really, you just need to learn the gender of the nouns as you come across them.

For example:
La table (= the table) is feminine. Le bureau (= the desk) is masculine.

→ I cover all these problems (and more!) in my course French for Beginners
Click here to learn more.

Accents are not optional in French. Forgetting them won’t (usually) break the communication, but it does makes it harder for people to understand you. And it’s a spelling mistake. Find out how to make them on your device.

Example:
Mon chien est lavé My dog is washed
Mon chien est laveMy dog is lava

Bonus point if you don’t forget the accents on capital letters! (Most French people don’t do it, and even I sometimes make that mistake, but it’s still incorrect.)

Example:
À Paris, il pleut. (= In Paris, it’s raining) → correct
A Paris, il pleut (= same thing, but with no accent on “A”) → technically incorrect

2 - Intermediate

This is where I’ll push you the most. Take a deep breath!

A – Make Zero Mistakes
→ Aim for 0 spelling mistake on individual words.

Yes, it sounds impossible, but with the spell checker on your phone/tablet/computer, you CAN achieve it.

For example: une mèson (incorrect) → une maison (=a house)

This is the minimum I expect from my students when I correct their homework live on Le Salon de Géraldine.
Click here to learn more about Le Salon de Géraldine

I say this is the bare minimum, that shows you care about making an effort with your written French.

B – Les accords : article + adjectif + nom

Any French noun is either feminine or masculine, singular or plural. The same also applies to their adjectives. A change in the noun’s gender and plurality also often changes the adjective’s spelling and pronunciation.

When describing a noun, ask yourself:
Is it masculine? feminine?
Is it singular? Plural?

Every time you need to write a noun / an adjective / an article (like “the” = “le, la, les”), go through them one by one and check if you’re correct. Think about how the sentence would change if the noun’s gender flipped.

For example:
Un beau garçon (=”a handsome boy”) → Une belle fille (= “a beautiful girl”)

C – Les accords : sujet + verbe

French verbs also change their spelling and pronunciation, according to their subject.

Take your time to think about the subject of any verb you write. Ask yourself:
Is it masculine? feminine?
Is it singular? plural?

For example:
Don’t write Tu mange une pomme → instead, it’s Tu manges une pomme (= “you’re eating an apple.” with a silent “s” to “manges.”)

Tip for intermediate students:
Limit your use of French slang until you’re advanced! It’s hard to get it right in written French 🙂

You can start using my Dictations to improve your writing at your level.
Click here to try “La Dictée” – Dictation 1
Click here to go to “Improve your Dictée” – the Dictation 2

3 - Advanced

This is where the fun starts 🙂
Bad news: you’ll (very probably) never reach perfection with your written French.
My students in my live program Le Salon de Géraldine have an impressive level of French (much more than they think), yet there’s always more to learn.

Learn more about Le Salon de Géraldine

Even native French speakers don’t know everything, after all. The goal is to always make better mistakes!

A – Last “simple” tip: accord des participes passés.

This is something that French people themselves often struggle with. But it’s not that difficult. It happens when you use the “passé composé”, a tricky tense to use correctly.

The first rule : “être” + “participe passé” (ex: “mangé”, “allé”, “pensé”) → “participe passé” changes with the subject.

For example:
Elle est allé à la plage” is incorrect. “Allé” needs to accord with “Elle” (“she”, feminine singular)Elle est allée à la plage. (= She went to the beach)

This also applies to “On” (= the French informal “We”), by the way.

Example:
Marie et moi, on est allées à la plage.
Mary and I, we went to the beach.

Notice that we use “s” at the end of the participe passé because the subject is plural.

B – Make short sentences.
This is a piece of advice that’s easy to forget, yet it’s very effective.
Shorter sentences = Less chances of making mistakes
Don’t lose yourself in meandering sentences. Cut them short.
You’ll be more clear. Trust me.

Tip for advanced students:
Keep studying: don’t simply translate advanced grammar structure in French. It will get easier as you read more, and “get” how French complex sentences work more instinctively.

For example, try to find examples of how to use a few French segues:
Non seulement = not only
Mais aussi = but also
À mon avis = in my opinion

With the second rule of passé composé (“avoir” + “participe passé”), the “participe passé” does not accord with the subject.

However, it follows the direct complement, if there is one that comes before the “participe passé”. Yup, that’s the rules that gives French schoolchildren nightmares.

For example:
J’ai mangé la pomme. (= “I ate the apple”. Correct)
La pomme ? Je l’ai mangée. (=”The apple? I ate it.” Correct, because here, “l’” refers to “la pomme”, feminine and singular, and it comes before “mangée.”)

Et toi ?

→Sur quoi vas-tu te concentrer pour corriger ton français écrit ?
What the #1 element you’ll focus on with your written French?

Tell me in French! 🙂

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And now:
→ If you enjoyed this lesson (and/or learned something new) – why not share this lesson with a francophile friend? You can talk about it afterwards! You’ll learn much more if you have social support from your friends 🙂

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Join the conversation!

  • Coucou,
    Moi, je vais concentrer premierement a apprendre comment utiliser le technologie. Comment mettre les accents, et comment utiliser le spellchecker, sur mon ordinateur.
    Merci Geraldine, et bonne journee

  • Coucou Géraldine,
    Je pense que je vais concentrer sur le genre pour les noms et les adjectifs. Merci beaucoup pour cette leçon d’orthographe. Bonne journée.

  • Bonjour Géraldine – je vais concentrer sur mes phrases. Je pense elles sont très longues. Comme d’habitude, bon conseil, merci. Bonne journée.

  • This is a most helpful and interesting lesson
    Géraldine. The grammar of the French language
    is a challenge, without a doubt, but I think that
    starting to read some French literature could be
    a big help to students. The UK A-level (advanced)
    language exams are literature based, and offer
    a big step up regarding vocabulary and
    grammatical construction. You can also discover
    some wonderful authors; it’s where I found
    Marcel Pagnol’s Le Château de Ma Mère, which
    I would highly recommend as a starting point.

    However ~ with regard to how far one might go
    in achieving excellence in the French language,
    it’s interesting to note that the first (and only,
    I think) Englishman, Professor Michael Edwards,
    ever elected to the Académie française attained
    that position just a few years ago. OK, so the
    the French language has been his life’s work,
    but this is an honour indeed. Well done sir.

  • Salut Géraldine ! Je me demandais pourquoi ils ne sont pas les accents sur les plaques de rues en France. Les lettres sont toutes en magiscule et Il y a des moments quand ils me posent des problèmes en ce qui concerne la pronunciation.

  • Est-ce que tu peux conseiller de la lecture a etudier? Des romanciers contemperaires dont le style serait bon a servir comme modele?
    (Pardon! je ne sais pas inserer les accents encore)

  • Bonjour Géraldine,
    Moi, je prévois de ralentir, et pour vérifier ce que je viens d’écrire avant de toucher le touche d’envoi. Aussi, pour garder mon message simple. Merci de vos cours !

  • Une fois de plus, une excellente leçon. Je vous remercie. Mais je veux faire une petite correction. Vous avez dit que tous les verbes de la deuxième personne au singulier finissent dans un « s », mais si je peux être si audacieux, je connais quelques-uns qui finissent en « x ».

  • In order to spell better in French, I’d like to know better the RULES of Frech spelling. I know there are rules too which can help a lot with gender such as words that end in “-ence” are feminine. Words that end in “-eau” are masculine (with a few exceptions such as l’eau). Do you have a lesson or resource on those types of rules?

  • Je suis assez dépassée parce que j’aime encore utiliser mon dictionnaire! Je trouve que les exemples, les phrases avec les prépositions et le genre d’un nom sont très utiles. J’adore aussi la dictionnaire électronique, WordReference.com, qui est un très bon outil.

  • Quand j’écris en français, mon ordi “corrige” tous les mots qui auraient été des fautes d’orthographe en anglais. J’envoie au moins 3 courriels en français par jour, et je dois relire chacun plusieurs fois. Pour éviter tout ça, je devrais changer le clavier aussi bien que le dictionnaire dans mon ordi, et le clavier français est tout à fait différent du clavier anglais.

  • coucou Géraldine ~
    Merci pour le leçon ! Moi je suis en train de améliorer mes SMS — c’est pas facile (comme tu sais bien je suis sûre), parce que tous mes amis n’écrivent pas parfaitement quand ils m’envoient des messages. Et aussi je suis au niveau pour (?) essayer d’écrire moi-même avant de consulter google translate — c’est super mais pas facile !
    La ponctuation est différente en français aussi (par exemple les espaces avant les points d’interrogation) et ça j’essaie d’apprendre.
    (pas facile ça!)
    Merci encore & à bientôt ~
    Una
    p.s. est-ce que c’est “je suis sûre” au féminin ?

  • Merci encore. Je souhaite d’apprendre le français façile et plus dur aussi. Je ne sais pas si je utilise les mots corrects. Je ne suis pas confidante. Mais je vais essayer!

    • J’ai commis beaucoup d’erreurs ! J’écris: ” Je souhaite apprendre le français facile et le plus difficile aussi. Je ne suis pas confiante. ” Je ne suis pas sur encore. Merci pour une leçon géniale!

  • Bonjour, Geraldine!
    Comme toujours la leçon m’a donné des idées utiles. J’oublie souvent de faire l’accord entre le participe passé et le sujet de la phrase ou entre le participe passé et le mot qu’il décrit. J’ai besoin de plus faire pour devenir comme une française.

  • Bonjour Géraldine,

    J’ai vraiment aimé votre leçon aujourd’hui. J’aimerais un jour écrire en français le plus parfaitement possible. Maintenant, j’utilise “Google Translate” pour corriger cet email. Je sais que ce n’est pas parfait, mais cela m’aide beaucoup.

    With the above, when I wrote “I really liked your lesson”, since I am female, should I have written, “J’ai vraiment aimée”?

    I am taking college French 2 and I love it! Your class is helping me so much. Thank you!

  • Hi Geraldine, I am enjoying your lessons. Thank you very much! I have a suggestion for your spoken English. I am American. When you pronounce the word “focus”, it sounds a bit like a bad expression in English. Try saying it with a true long “o”. Again, thanks so much for all your help! Sally

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