Introduction to French

Some facts and basic grammar

If you’re thinking about learning French, you might find it interesting to read some basic info about French linguistics and grammar.

They say French the language of love, so it would seem to make sense that it’s a Romance language. In fact, that has nothing to do with it: the linguistic terms “Romance” and “romantic” are from the word “Roman” and mean nothing more exciting than “from Latin.”

French’s complete language classification is

Indo-European » Italic » Latino-Faliscan » Romance

Indo-European is the largest of all the language families. It includes most of the languages of the Americas, Europe, and Asia, with such varied languages as Sanskrit, Greek, Russian, Persian, Gaelic, and English.

Italic is the sub-family of languages spoken by Italic peoples on the Italian peninsula.

Latino-Faliscan is the branch of languages that were spoken in Central Italy, the most important of which was Latin.

Romance languages originally evolved in Western Europe, but colonialism carried many of them to other countries all over the world. They are Catalan, French, Italian, Moldavian, Portuguese, Provençal, Rhaeto-Romanic, Romanian, Sardinian, and Spanish.

Basic French Linguistics

Alphabet

French has the same 26-letter alphabet as English, although the importance of each letter varies. French also has 5 different accents.

Gender

French has two genders: all nouns are either masculine or feminine.

Subject Pronouns

Many of the Romance languages, including Spanish and Italian, are “pro-drop,” meaning that the subject pronoun can be dropped because the verb conjugation is different for each grammatical person. In other words, if a Spanish speaker says “Voy al mercado,” everyone knows that s/he means “I am going to the store.” In contrast, French is not a pro-drop language: subject pronouns are always required for all verb forms except the imperative.

Verbs

French verbs are categorized by their endings: -er, -ir, and -re. Each of these categories can be further broken down in various ways:

There are 24 French verb forms — see my verb timeline for the complete list. Compound verb forms are conjugated with one of two helping verbs. Most verbs take avoir. The ones that take être are pronominal verbs and a handful of intransitive verbs of movement.

French and English

French is a Romance language with Germanic influence, while English is a German language with Latin and French influence. Thus French and English have a lot in common, notably large numbers of cognates and borrowed expressions — see French in English. On the other hand, since they are different languages, there are of course many differences between them — start learning French to find out what they are. :-)

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Originally published at www.lawlessfrench.com on January 28, 2017.

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