As someone who speaks English, you might discover that picking up French is quite simple. New languages can seem scary, but don’t worry. French does have some tricky parts and a couple of big differences from English. However, once you get the hang of it and practice a little, you’ll begin talking smoothly in no time. Let’s do a fast comparison of English vs French to help you begin.
French vs English Relationship
If you’re interested, you’ll see that French and English have some connections. French comes from Latin and has bits of German and English mixed in, while English is more Germanic but has Latin and French influences. So, they’re a bit alike, using the same alphabet and having a bunch of words that are alike, too.
But what really matters are the differences. There are many, both big and small. Some words might seem similar but mean totally different things. French and English have lots of words that either look or sound the same (cognates). Some of these words mean the same thing (true cognates), some mean different things (false cognates), and some are in between (kind of similar but not really).
Main Differences Between French and English
If you’re curious about English vs French, below are some characteristics that make them stand out;
Gender-Specific French Nouns
Among the European languages, English is quite straightforward since all nouns use the same articles. This makes English nouns neutral in terms of gender, except when they refer to living creatures with distinct genders, like “hen” and “rooster.”
All French nouns are either masculine or feminine. When you’re starting to learn, sometimes it might seem a bit puzzling why certain words have specific genders. For instance, in French, a football is called feminine while a handkerchief is seen as masculine. Certain French words get their gender from how they end. You can figure out some genders by noticing common endings.
Adjective After French Nouns
When you talk in English, you might not pay attention, but describing words (adjectives) comes before the things they’re describing (nouns). But in French, it’s different. The describing word usually comes after the thing it’s describing. Therefore, in English, we might express, “She is a smart girl,” whereas in French, it would be more like, “She is a girl smart.”
French Negations are Different
French can be a bit trickier than English (and Spanish if you know that too). In the English language, we form negative sentences by including “not” before the verb. For instance, “I don’t swear” or “I never eat.” But in French, it’s like there’s a double no-no around the verb.
They go like this:
Ne … pas (not/don’t) – like, je ne mange pas (I don’t eat)
Ne … plus (no longer) – like, je ne mange plus (I don’t eat anymore)
Ne … rien (nothing) – like, je ne mange rien (I don’t eat anything)
French Has Numerous False Cognates
French and English have lots of words that are alike, and we call them “cognates.” But here’s the catch: not every word that sounds similar carries the same meaning. Like, in French, the word for “to attend” looks like “to assist” in English. Also, the French word for “great” appears identical to “formidable” in English. But here’s the surprise: they don’t actually convey the same idea. We call these tricky words “false friends” or “false cognates.”
French Doesn’t Use “Do” as an Auxiliary Verb
When you speak in English, you frequently utilize the term ‘to do’ as an assisting verb. Just so you know, a helper verb is one that adds a little something to a sentence – it might make it strong or show when something happened.
In the French language, they don’t employ the verb “faire” (to do) in this manner. They have another trick. To ask something like “do you have?,” they switch the places of the verb and the subject. Like, “as-tu…?” Or, they can change how they talk to make a sentence sound like a question. Like, “tu as…?”
French Uses the Verb “To Have” to Express a Feeling
When you convey emotions in English, you rely on a “being” verb, such as “am.” But in French, they often use the verb “to have” instead. For example, instead of stating “I am 20 years old” in English, a French speaker would express it as “I have 20 years.” This also applies to other things like being hungry (“I have hunger”) or being scared (“I have fear”).
Possessives are Different
Now, let’s talk about saying something that belongs to someone in French. It’s a bit different from using words like ‘my’ or ‘their.’ In French, they don’t use that “‘s” thing to show possession.
For instance, if you want to talk about “Jack’s father,” you’d say “le père de Jack” (which means the father of Jack). Moreover, when discussing body parts, you don’t need to use those possessive words. In English, we might say “my arm hurts.” However, in French, it’s more like “j’ai mal au bras” (which translates to “I have pain in the arm”).
Tenses Aren’t the Same in French
English speakers use tenses mainly to tell if something happened before, now, or will happen later. In French, they do it a bit differently, using tenses to carry a special message. This isn’t totally new to you because, in serious situations, we English speakers use something called perfect tense. French has something similar. But the interesting part is that they use it every day, not just when being formal.
Different Capitalization and Punctuation in French
You’ll easily spot a big punctuation difference between English and French. In French, they often squish words together. They take articles and pronouns and smoosh them with other words, kind of like how we make “I’ll” or “won’t” in English. Once you grasp the concept, you’ll realize it’s quite manageable. It just requires a bit of practice to make it feel natural.
Learning French Starts with Spotting the Differences
As you explore the differences between English and French, you’re on the path to unlocking a whole new world of language. Embrace the similarities and tackle the challenges head-on. Imagine the conversations you’ll have, the cultures you’ll connect with, and the satisfaction of mastering a new way to express yourself. Don’t let the differences intimidate you; instead, let them inspire you to dive into the beauty of language learning. With each fresh lesson, you’re acquiring the tools to unlock pathways of communication and comprehension. Therefore, embark on your journey today and uncover the delight of conversing in a new language.