French Travel Phrases
Bienvenue! Welcome to the Fodor's French Language Page, brought to you by the language experts at Living Language. Here you'll find over 150 essential phrases for your trip.
For more French language and cultural tips, visit the Living Language French Blog.
French is spoken as a native language by about 65 million people. It's the official language, or one of the official languages, of France, Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Monaco, Madagascar, Tahiti, Senegal, Haiti, and numerous other countries around the world.
French vowels often have accents, and those accents usually affect pronunciation. For example, the letter e without an accent is often pronounced like the a in alone, as in le (the). However, with the addition of an accent aigu, é, it is pronounced like the ay in day, as in thé (tea). The letter e can also have an accent grave, è, and is then pronounced like the e in met, as in père (father). The accent grave can appear over other vowels as well, such as a and u.
Other accents and special symbols in French are: the accent circonflexe – â, the cedille – ç, the tréma – ï, and the œ (called e dans l'o, literally e in the o, in French).
Nasal vowels are also important in French. They are sounds that are produced when air is expelled from both the mouth and the nose. In French, when the letter n or m follows a nasal vowel, it is not fully pronounced. For example, the French word bon (good) sounds like the English b plus the nasal o in song. The letter n is not pronounced.
Also keep in mind that although final consonants often aren't pronounced in French, they sometimes are when the following word begins with a vowel or silent h. This is called "liaison." For example, the word nous (we) is pronounced noo. As you can see, the final s isn't pronounced. However, when followed by the word allons (go), nous is pronounced nooz.
A lot of basic French vocabulary will look familiar to you: le restaurant (restaurant), la table (table), l'âge (age), le fruit (fruit), l'hôtel (hotel), l'animal (animal), and so on. However, don't be fooled by some words that may look or sound exactly the same as an English word, but don't have the same meaning. For example, le collège is roughly equivalent to middle school in the United States, not university. Also, sale in French means dirty, and has nothing to do with discounts, and blessé(e) means wounded, not blessed.
If you want to learn French, you're going to have to deal with a few issues that we don't have in English.
- All French nouns have a gender. They are either masculine or feminine, whether they refer to a person, a thing, an animal, or an abstract notion. Although there are some rules that can help you figure out which nouns are masculine and which are feminine, it's often just something you have to memorize.
- French uses different articles depending on the gender of the noun. For example, chat (cat) is a masculine noun, so if you want to say the cat, you have to use the masculine definite article le: le chat. However, chambre (room) is feminine, so to say the room, you have to use the feminine definite article la: la chambre. You use l' for nouns beginning with a vowel or mute h, and les for all plural nouns, whether masculine or feminine. The indefinite articles (a/an in English) are un for masculine nouns, une for feminine nouns and des for plural nouns.
- Adjectives agree in gender and number with the nouns they modify. The feminine form of most adjectives ends in e.
- French verbs are divided into three groups: verbs ending in –er, –ir, and –re. Some verbs are regular, meaning they follow a clear pattern, and some, unfortunately, aren't. The most important irregular verbs to learn by heart are être (to be) and avoir (to have). Other important irregular verbs to know are aller (to go), faire (to do), savoir (to know), vouloir (to want), and pouvoir (can, to be able to).