French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the Latin spoken in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.
French is an official language in 29 countries across multiple continents, most of which are members of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, the community of 84 countries which share the official use or teaching of French. French is also one of six official languages used in the United Nations. It is spoken as a first language in France, the Canadian provinces of Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick as well as other Francophone regions, Belgium, western Switzerland, Monaco, partly in Luxembourg, the states of Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont in the United States, and in northwestern Italy, and by various communities elsewhere.
In 2015, approximately 40% of the francophone population lived in Europe, 35% in sub-Saharan Africa, 15% in North Africa and the Middle East, 8% in the Americas, and 1% in Asia and Oceania. French is the fourth most widely spoken mother tongue in the European Union. Of Europeans who speak other languages natively, approximately one-fifth are able to speak French as a second language. French is the second most taught foreign language in the EU. French is also the 18th most natively spoken language in the world, 6th most spoken language by total number of speakers and the second or third most studied language worldwide. As a result of French and Belgian colonialism from the 16th century onward, French was introduced to new territories in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Most second-language speakers reside in Francophone Africa, in particular Gabon, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritius, Senegal and Ivory Coast.
French is estimated to have about 76 million native speakers and about 235 million daily, fluent speakers and another 77 to 110 million secondary speakers who speak it as a second language to varying degrees of proficiency, mainly in Africa. According to the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, approximately 300 million people worldwide are "able to speak the language", without specifying the criteria for this estimation or whom it encompasses. According to a demographic projection led by the Université Laval and the Réseau Démographie de l'Agence universitaire de la francophonie, the total number of French speakers will reach approximately 500 million in 2025 and 650 million by 2050. OIF estimates 700 million by 2050, 80% of whom will be in Africa.
French has a long history as an international language of literature and scientific standards and is a primary or second language of many international organisations including the United Nations, the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the World Trade Organization, the International Olympic Committee, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. In 2011, Bloomberg Businessweek ranked French the third most useful language for business, after English and Standard Mandarin Chinese.
HistoryFrench is a Romance language that evolved out of the Gallo-Romance dialects spoken in northern France. The language's early forms include Old French and Middle French.
Vulgar Latin in GalliaDue to Roman rule, Latin was gradually adopted by the inhabitants of Gaul, and as the language was learned by the common people it developed a distinct local character, with grammatical differences from Latin as spoken elsewhere, some of which being attested on graffiti. This local variety evolved into the Gallo-Romance tongues, which include French and its closest relatives, such as Arpitan.
The evolution of Latin in Gaul was shaped by its coexistence for over half a millennium beside the native Celtic Gaulish language, which did not go extinct until the late 6th century, long after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire. The population remained 90% indigenous in origin, and instead of Roman settlers, the Romanizing class was the local native elite, whose children learned Latin in Roman schools; at the time of the collapse of the Empire, this local elite had been slowly abandoning Gaulish entirely, but the rural and lower class populations remained Gaulish speakers who could sometimes also speak Latin or Greek. The final language shift from Gaulish to Vulgar Latin among rural and lower class populations occurred later, when both they and the incoming Frankish ruler/military class adopted the Gallo-Roman Vulgar Latin speech of the urban intellectual elite.
The Gaulish language likely survived into the 6th century in France, despite considerable Romanization. Coexisting with Latin, Gaulish helped shape the Vulgar Latin dialects that developed into French, with effects including loanwords and calques, sound changes shaped by Gaulish influence, and influences in conjugation and word order. Recent computational studies suggest that early gender shifts may have been motivated by the gender of the corresponding word in Gaulish.
Old FrenchThe beginning of French in Gaul was greatly influenced by Germanic invasions into the country. These invasions had the greatest impact on the northern part of the country and on the language there. A language divide began to grow across the country. The population in the north spoke langue d'oïl while the population in the south spoke langue d'oc. Langue d'oïl grew into what is known as Old French. The period of Old French spanned between the 8th and 14th centuries. Old French shared many characteristics with Latin. For example, Old French made use of different possible word orders just as Latin did because it had a case system that retained the difference between nominative subjects and oblique non-subjects. The period is marked by a heavy superstrate influence from the Germanic Frankish language, which non-exhaustively included the use in upper-class speech and higher registers of V2 word order, a large percentage of the vocabulary including the impersonal singular pronoun on, and the name of the language itself.
Middle FrenchWithin Old French many dialects emerged but the Francien dialect is one that not only continued but also thrived during the Middle French period. Modern French grew out of this Francien dialect. Grammatically, during the period of Middle French, noun declensions were lost and there began to be standardized rules. Robert Estienne published the first Latin-French dictionary, which included information about phonetics, etymology, and grammar. Politically, the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts named French the language of law.
Modern FrenchDuring the 17th century, French replaced Latin as the most important language of diplomacy and international relations. It retained this role until approximately the middle of the 20th century, when it was replaced by English as the United States became the dominant global power following the Second World War. Stanley Meisler of the Los Angeles Times said that the fact that the Treaty of Versailles was written in English as well as French was the "first diplomatic blow" against the language.
During the Grand Siècle, France, under the rule of powerful leaders such as Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIV, enjoyed a period of prosperity and prominence among European nations. Richelieu established the Académie française to protect the French language. By the early 1800s, Parisian French had become the primary language of the aristocracy in France.
Near the beginning of the 19th century, the French government began to pursue policies with the end goal of eradicating the many minorities and regional languages spoken in France. This began in 1794 with Henri Grégoire's "Report on the necessity and means to annihilate the patois and to universalize the use of the French language". When public education was made compulsory, only French was taught and the use of any other language was punished. The goals of the Public School System were made especially clear to the French-speaking teachers sent to teach students in regions such as Occitania and Brittany: "And remember, Gents: you were given your position in order to kill the Breton language" were instructions given from a French official to teachers in the French department of Finistère. The prefect of Basses-Pyrénées in the French Basque Country wrote in 1846: "Our schools in the Basque Country are particularly meant to replace the Basque language with French...". Students were taught that their ancestral languages were inferior and they should be ashamed of them; this process was known in the Occitan-speaking region as Vergonha.
Among the historic reformers of French orthography, such as Louis Maigret, Marle M., Marcellin Berthelot, :fr:Philibert Monet|Philibert Monet, Jacques Peletier du Mans, and Somaize, nowadays the most striking reform is proposed by Mickael Korvin, a Franco-American linguist of Hungarian origin who wants to eliminate accents, silent letters, double letters and more.
EuropeSpoken by 19.71% of the European Union's population, French is the third most widely spoken language in the EU, after English and German.
Under the Constitution of France, French has been the official language of the Republic since 1992, although the ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts made it mandatory for legal documents in 1539. France mandates the use of French in official government publications, public education except in specific cases, and legal contracts; advertisements must bear a translation of foreign words.
In Belgium, French is the official language of Wallonia and one of the two official languages—along with Dutch—of the Brussels-Capital Region, where it is spoken by the majority of the population often as their primary language.
French is one of the four official languages of Switzerland, along with German, Italian, and Romansh, and is spoken in the western part of Switzerland, called Romandy, of which Geneva is the largest city. The language divisions in Switzerland do not coincide with political subdivisions, and some cantons have bilingual status: for example, cities such as Biel/Bienne and cantons such as Valais, Fribourg and Berne. French is the native language of about 23% of the Swiss population, and is spoken by 50% of the population.
French is also an official language of Monaco and Luxembourg, as well as in the Aosta Valley region of Italy, while French dialects remain spoken by minorities on the Channel Islands. It is also spoken in Andorra and is the main language after Catalan in El Pas de la Casa. The language is taught as the primary second language in the German land of Saarland, with French being taught from pre-school and over 43% of citizens being able to speak French.
AfricaThe majority of the world's French-speaking population lives in Africa. According to the 2007 report by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, an estimated 115 million African people spread across 31 Francophone countries can speak French as either a first or a second language. This number does not include the people living in non-Francophone African countries who have learned French as a foreign language. Due to the rise of French in Africa, the total French-speaking population worldwide is expected to reach 700 million people in 2050. French is the fastest growing language on the continent.
French is mostly a second language in Africa, but it has become a first language in some urban areas, such as the region of Abidjan, Ivory Coast and in Libreville, Gabon. There is not a single African French, but multiple forms that diverged through contact with various indigenous African languages.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the region where the French language is most likely to expand, because of the expansion of education and rapid population growth. It is also where the language has evolved the most in recent years. Some vernacular forms of French in Africa can be difficult to understand for French speakers from other countries, but written forms of the language are very closely related to those of the rest of the French-speaking world.
AmericasFrench is the second most common language in Canada, after English, and both are official languages at the federal level. It is the first language of 9.5 million people or 29% and the second language for 2.07 million or 6% of the entire population of Canada. French is the sole official language in the province of Quebec, being the mother tongue for some 7 million people, or almost 80% of the province. About 95% of the people of Quebec speak French as either their first or second language, and for some as their third language. Quebec is also home to the city of Montreal, which is the world's 4th-largest French-speaking city, by number of first language speakers. New Brunswick and Manitoba are the only officially bilingual provinces, though full bilingualism is enacted only in New Brunswick, where about one third of the population is Francophone. French is also an official language of all of the territories. Out of the three, Yukon has the most French speakers, comprising just under 4% of the population. Furthermore, while French is not an official language in Ontario, the French Language Services Act ensures that provincial services are to be available in the language. The Act applies to areas of the province where there are significant Francophone communities, namely Eastern Ontario and Northern Ontario. Elsewhere, sizable French-speaking minorities are found in southern Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the Port au Port Peninsula in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the unique Newfoundland French dialect was historically spoken. Smaller pockets of French speakers exist in all other provinces. The Ontarian city of Ottawa, the Canadian capital, is also effectively bilingual, as it has a large population of federal government workers, who are required to offer services in both French and English, and is across a river from Quebec, opposite the major city of Gatineau with which it forms a single metropolitan area.
are not included.
According to the United States Census Bureau, French is the fourth most-spoken language in the United States after English, Spanish, and Chinese, when all forms of French are considered together and all dialects of Chinese are similarly combined. French remains the second most-spoken language in the states of Louisiana, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. Louisiana is home to many distinct dialects, collectively known as Louisiana French. According to the 2000 United States Census, there are over 194,000 people in Louisiana who speak French at home, the most of any state if Creole French is excluded. New England French, essentially a variant of Canadian French, is spoken in parts of New England. Missouri French was historically spoken in Missouri and Illinois, but is nearly extinct today. French also survived in isolated pockets along the Gulf Coast of what was previously French Lower Louisiana, such as Mon Louis Island, Alabama and DeLisle, Mississippi but these varieties are severely endangered or presumed extinct.
French is one of Haiti's two official languages. It is the principal language of writing, school instruction, and administrative use. It is spoken by all educated Haitians and is used in the business sector. It is also used for ceremonial events such as weddings, graduations and church masses. About 70–80% of the country's population have Haitian Creole as their first language; the rest speak French as a first language. The second official language is the recently standardized Haitian Creole, which virtually the entire population of Haiti speaks. Haitian Creole is one of the French-based creole languages, drawing the large majority of its vocabulary from French, with influences from West African languages, as well as several European languages. Haitian Creole is closely related to Louisiana Creole and the creole from the Lesser Antilles.
French is the official language of both French Guiana on the South American continent, and of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, an archipelago off the coast of Newfoundland in North America.
South AsiaFrench was spoken in French India and is still one of the official languages of Puducherry.
Southeast AsiaFrench was the official language of the colony of French Indochina, comprising modern-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. It continues to be an administrative language in Laos and Cambodia, although its influence has waned in recent years. In colonial Vietnam, the elites primarily spoke French, while many servants who worked in French households spoke a French pidgin known as "Tây Bồi". After French rule ended, South Vietnam continued to use French in administration, education, and trade. Since the Fall of Saigon and the opening of a unified Vietnam's economy, French has gradually been effectively displaced as the main foreign language of choice by English. French nevertheless maintains its colonial legacy by being spoken as a second language by the elderly and elite populations and is presently being revived in higher education and continues to be a diplomatic language in Vietnam. All three countries are official members of the OIF.
Western Asiamandate, Lebanon designates Arabic as the sole official language, while a special law regulates cases when French can be publicly used. Article 11 of Lebanon's Constitution states that "Arabic is the official national language. A law determines the cases in which the French language is to be used". The French language in Lebanon is a widespread second language among the Lebanese people, and is taught in many schools along with Arabic and English. French is used on Lebanese pound banknotes, on road signs, on Lebanese license plates, and on official buildings.
Today, French and English are secondary languages of Lebanon, with about 40% of the population being Francophone and 40% Anglophone. The use of English is growing in the business and media environment. Out of about 900,000 students, about 500,000 are enrolled in Francophone schools, public or private, in which the teaching of mathematics and scientific subjects is provided in French. Actual usage of French varies depending on the region and social status. One-third of high school students educated in French go on to pursue higher education in English-speaking institutions. English is the language of business and communication, with French being an element of social distinction, chosen for its emotional value.present in Israel, primarily among the communities of French Jews in Israel, Moroccan Jews in Israel and Lebanese Jews. Many secondary schools offer French as a foreign language.
United Arab Emirates and QatarThe UAE has the status in the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie as an observer state, and Qatar has the status in the organization as an associate state. However, in both countries, French is not spoken by almost any of the general population or migrant workers, but spoken by a small minority of those who invest in Francophone countries or have other financial or family ties. Their entrance as observer and associate states respectively into the organization was aided a good deal by their investments into the Organisation and France itself. A country's status as an observer state in the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie gives the country the right to send representatives to organization meetings and make formal requests to the organization but they do not have voting rights within the OIF. A country's status as an associate state also does not give a country voting abilities but associate states can discuss and review organization matters.
Oceania and AustralasiaFrench is an official language of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu, where 45% of the population can speak it. In the French special collectivity of New Caledonia, 97% of the population can speak, read and write French while in French Polynesia this figure is 95%, and in the French collectivity of Wallis and Futuna, it is 84%.
In French Polynesia and to a lesser extent Wallis and Futuna, where oral and written knowledge of the French language has become almost nearly universal, French increasingly tends to displace the native Polynesian languages as the language most spoken at home. In French Polynesia, the percentage of the population who reported that French was the language they use the most at home rose from 67% at the 2007 census to 74% at the 2017 census. In Wallis and Futuna, the percentage of the population who reported that French was the language they use the most at home rose from 10% at the 2008 census to 13% at the 2018 census.
FutureThe future of the French language is often discussed in the news. For example, in 2014, The New York Times documented an increase in the teaching of French in New York, especially in K-12 dual-language programs where Spanish and Mandarin are the only second-language options more popular than French. In a study published in March 2014 by Forbes, the investment bank Natixis said that French could become the world's most spoken language by 2050. It noted that French is spreading in areas where the population is rapidly increasing, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
- African French
- * Maghreb French
- Aostan French
- Belgian French
- Cambodian French
- Canadian French
- * Acadian French
- * Newfoundland French
- * New England French
- * Ontario French
- * Quebec French
- French French
- * Guianese French
- * Meridional French
- Haitian French
- Indian French
- Jersey Legal French
- Lao French
- Louisiana French
- * Cajun French
- Missouri French
- South East Asian French
- Swiss French
- Vietnamese French
- West Indian French
Current status and importanceFrench is taught in universities around the world, and is one of the world's most influential languages because of its wide use in the worlds of journalism, jurisprudence, education, and diplomacy.
In diplomacy, French is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, one of twenty official and three working languages of the European Union, an official language of NATO, the International Olympic Committee, the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Organization of American States, the Eurovision Song Contest, one of eighteen official languages of the European Space Agency, World Trade Organization and the least used of the three official languages in the North American Free Trade Agreement countries. It is also a working language in nonprofit organisations such as the Red Cross, Amnesty International, Médecins sans Frontières, and Médecins du Monde. Given the demographic prospects of the French-speaking nations of Africa, researcher Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry wrote in 2014 that French "could be the language of the future".
Significant as a judicial language, French is one of the official languages of such major international and regional courts, tribunals, and dispute-settlement bodies as the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, the Caribbean Court of Justice, the Court of Justice for the Economic Community of West African States, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea the International Criminal Court and the World Trade Organization Appellate Body. It is the sole internal working language of the Court of Justice of the European Union, and makes with English the European Court of Human Rights's two working languages.
In 1997, George Werber published, in Language Today, a comprehensive academic study entitled "The World's 10 most influential languages". In the article, Werber ranked French as, after English, the second most influential language of the world, ahead of Spanish. His criteria were the numbers of native speakers, the number of secondary speakers, the number of countries using the language and their respective populations, the economic power of the countries using the language, the number of major areas in which the language is used, and the linguistic prestige associated with the mastery of the language. In a 2008 reassessment of his article, Werber concluded that his findings were still correct since "the situation among the top ten remains unchanged."
Knowledge of French is often considered to be a useful skill by business owners in the United Kingdom; a 2014 study found that 50% of British managers considered French to be a valuable asset for their business, thus ranking French as the most sought-after foreign language there, ahead of German and Spanish. MIT economist Albert Saiz calculated a 2.3% premium for those who have French as a foreign language in the workplace.
In English-speaking Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, French is the first foreign language taught and in number of pupils is far ahead of other languages. In the United States, Spanish is the most commonly taught foreign language in schools and universities, though French is next. In some areas of the country nearest to French-speaking Quebec, it is the language more commonly taught.
PhonologyVowel phonemes in French
Although there are many French regional accents, foreign learners normally use only one variety of the language.
- There are a maximum of 17 vowels in French, not all of which are used in every dialect: plus the nasalized vowels and. In France, the vowels, and are tending to be replaced by, and in many people's speech, but the distinction of and is present in Meridional French. In Quebec and Belgian French, the vowels,, and are present.
- Voiced stops are typically produced fully voiced throughout.
- Voiceless stops are unaspirated.
- The velar nasal can occur in final position in borrowed words: parking, camping, swing. The palatal nasal can occur in word initial position, but it is most frequently found in intervocalic, onset position or word-finally.
- French has three pairs of homorganic fricatives distinguished by voicing, i.e., labiodental, dental, and palato-alveolar. are dental, like the plosives and the nasal.
- French has one rhotic whose pronunciation varies considerably among speakers and phonetic contexts. In general, it is described as a voiced uvular fricative, as in ', "wheel". Vowels are often lengthened before this segment. It can be reduced to an approximant, particularly in final position, or reduced to zero in some word-final positions. For other speakers, a uvular trill is also common, and an apical trill occurs in some dialects.
- Lateral and central approximants: The lateral approximant is unvelarised in both onset and coda position. In the onset, the central approximants,, and each correspond to a high vowel,,, and respectively. There are a few minimal pairs where the approximant and corresponding vowel contrast, but there are also many cases where they are in free variation. Contrasts between and occur in final position as in ', "pay", vs. ', "country".
- Final single consonants, in particular s, x, z, t, d, n, p and g, are normally silent. The final letters f, k, q, and l, however, are normally pronounced. The final c is sometimes pronounced like in bac, sac, roc but can also be silent like in blanc or estomac'. The final r is usually silent when it follows an e in a word of two or more syllables, but it is pronounced in some words.
- * When the following word begins with a vowel, however, a silent consonant may once again be pronounced, to provide a liaison or "link" between the two words. Some liaisons are mandatory, for example the s in les amants or vous avez; some are optional, depending on dialect and register, for example, the first s in deux cents euros or euros irlandais; and some are forbidden, for example, the s in beaucoup d'hommes aiment. The t of et is never pronounced and the silent final consonant of a noun is only pronounced in the plural and in set phrases like pied-à-terre.
- * Doubling a final n and adding a silent e at the end of a word makes it clearly pronounced. Doubling a final l and adding a silent e adds a sound if the l is preceded by the letter i.
- Some monosyllabic function words ending in a or e, such as je and que, drop their final vowel when placed before a word that begins with a vowel sound. The missing vowel is replaced by an apostrophe.. This gives, for example, the same pronunciation for l'homme qu'il a vu and l'homme qui l'a vu. However, for Belgian French the sentences are pronounced differently; in the first sentence the syllable break is as "qu'il-a", while the second breaks as "qui-l'a". It can also be noted that, in Quebec French, the second example is more emphasized on l'a vu''.
AlphabetFrench is written with the 26 letters of the basic Latin script, with four diacritics appearing on vowels and the cedilla appearing in "ç".
There are two ligatures, "œ" and "æ", but they are often replaced in contemporary French with "oe" and "ae", because the ligatures do not appear on the AZERTY keyboard layout used in French-speaking countries. However this is nonstandard in formal and literary texts.
OrthographyFrench spelling, like English spelling, tends to preserve obsolete pronunciation rules. This is mainly due to extreme phonetic changes since the Old French period, without a corresponding change in spelling. Moreover, some conscious changes were made to restore Latin orthography :
- Old French doit > French doigt "finger"
- Old French pie > French pied "foot"
As a result, it can be difficult to predict the spelling of a word based on the sound. Final consonants are generally silent, except when the following word begins with a vowel. For example, the following words end in a vowel sound: pied, aller, les, finit, beaux. The same words followed by a vowel, however, may sound the consonants, as they do in these examples: beaux-arts, les amis, pied-à-terre.
French writing, as with any language, is affected by the spoken language. In Old French, the plural for animal was animals. The sequence was unstable and was turned into a diphthong. This change was then reflected in the orthography: animaus. The us ending, very common in Latin, was then abbreviated by copyists by the letter x, resulting in a written form animax. As the French language further evolved, the pronunciation of au turned into so that the u was reestablished in orthography for consistency, resulting in modern French animaux. The same is true for cheval pluralized as chevaux and many others. In addition, castel pl. castels became château pl. châteaux.
- Nasal: n and m. When n or m follows a vowel or diphthong, the n or m becomes silent and causes the preceding vowel to become nasalized. Exceptions are when the n or m is doubled, or immediately followed by a vowel. The prefixes en- and em- are always nasalized. The rules are more complex than this but may vary between dialects.
- Digraphs: French uses not only diacritics to specify its large range of vowel sounds and diphthongs, but also specific combinations of vowels, sometimes with following consonants, to show which sound is intended.
- Gemination: Within words, double consonants are generally not pronounced as geminates in modern French. For example, illusion is pronounced and not. However, gemination does occur between words; for example, une info is pronounced, whereas une nympho is pronounced.
- Accents are used sometimes for pronunciation, sometimes to distinguish similar words, and sometimes based on etymology alone.
- * Accents that affect pronunciation
- ** The acute accent é means that the vowel is pronounced instead of the default.
- ** The grave accent è means that the vowel is pronounced instead of the default.
- ** The circumflex ê shows that an e is pronounced and that an ô is pronounced. In standard French, it also signifies a pronunciation of for the letter â, but this differentiation is disappearing. In the mid-18th century, the circumflex was used in place of s after a vowel, where that letter s was not pronounced. Thus, forest became forêt, hospital became hôpital, and hostel became hôtel.
- ** Diaeresis or tréma : over e, i, u or y, indicates that a vowel is to be pronounced separately from the preceding one: naïve, Noël.
- ***The combination of e with diaeresis following o is nasalized in the regular way if followed by n
- ***The combination of e with diaeresis following a is either pronounced or not pronounced, leaving only the a and the a is nasalized in the regular way if aë is followed by n
- ***A diaeresis on y only occurs in some proper names and in modern editions of old French texts. Some proper names in which ÿ appears include Aÿ, Rue des Cloÿs, Croÿ, :fr:Château du Feÿ|Château du Feÿ, Ghÿs, L'Haÿ-les-Roses, Pierre Louÿs, Moÿ-de-l'Aisne, and Le Blanc de Nicolaÿ.
- ***The diaeresis on u appears in the Biblical proper names Archélaüs, Capharnaüm, Emmaüs, Ésaü, and Saül, as well as French names such as Haüy. Nevertheless, since the 1990 orthographic changes, the diaeresis in words containing guë may be moved onto the u: aigüe, cigüe, and by analogy may be used in verbs such as j'argüe.
- ***In addition, words coming from German retain their umlaut if applicable but use often French pronunciation, such as Kärcher.
- ** The cedilla ç means that the letter ç is pronounced in front of the back vowels a, o and u. C is always pronounced in front of the front vowels e, i, and y, thus ç is never found in front of front vowels.
- * Accents with no pronunciation effect
- ** The circumflex does not affect the pronunciation of the letters i or u, nor, in most dialects, a. It usually indicates that an s came after it long ago, as in île. The explanation is that some words share the same orthography, so the circumflex is put here to mark the difference between the two words. For example, dites / dîtes, or even du / dû.
- ** All other accents are used only to distinguish similar words, as in the case of distinguishing the adverbs là and où from the article la and the conjunction ou, respectively.
In 1990, a reform accepted some changes to French orthography. At the time the proposed changes were considered to be suggestions. In 2016, schoolbooks in France began to use the newer recommended spellings, with instruction to teachers that both old and new spellings be deemed correct.
GrammarFrench is a moderately inflected language. Nouns and most pronouns are inflected for number ; adjectives, for number and gender of their nouns; personal pronouns and a few other pronouns, for person, number, gender, and case; and verbs, for tense, aspect, mood, and the person and number of their subjects. Case is primarily marked using word order and prepositions, while certain verb features are marked using auxiliary verbs. According to the French lexicogrammatical system, French has a rank-scale hierarchy with clause as the top rank, which is followed by group rank, word rank, and morpheme rank. A French clause is made up of groups, groups are made up of words, and lastly, words are made up of morphemes.
French grammar shares several notable features with most other Romance languages, including
- the loss of Latin declensions
- the loss of the neuter gender
- the development of grammatical articles from Latin demonstratives
- the loss of certain Latin tenses and the creation of new tenses from auxiliaries.
Moods and tense-aspect formsThe French language consists of both finite and non-finite moods. The finite moods include the indicative mood, the subjunctive mood, the imperative mood, and the conditional mood. The non-finite moods include the infinitive mood, the present participle, and the past participle.
Indicative (Indicatif)The indicative mood makes use of eight tense-aspect forms. These include the present, the simple past, the past imperfective, the pluperfect, the simple future, the future perfect, and the past perfect. Some forms are less commonly used today. In today's spoken French, the passé composé is used while the passé simple is reserved for formal situations or for literary purposes. Similarly, the plus-que-parfait is used for speaking rather than the older passé antérieur seen in literary works.
Within the indicative mood, the passé composé, plus-que-parfait, futur antérieur, and passé antérieur all use auxiliary verbs in their forms.
Subjunctive (Subjonctif)The subjunctive mood only includes four of the tense-aspect forms found in the indicative: present, simple past, past imperfective, and pluperfect.
Within the subjunctive mood, the passé composé and plus-que-parfait use auxiliary verbs in their forms.
Imperative (Imperatif)The imperative is used in the present tense. The imperative is used to give commands to you, we/us, and plural you.
Conditional (Conditionnel)The conditional makes use of the present and the past.
The passé uses auxiliary verbs in its forms.
VoiceFrench uses both the active voice and the passive voice. The active voice is unmarked while the passive voice is formed by using a form of verb être and the past participle.
Example of the active voice:
- "Elle aime le chien." She loves the dog.
- "Marc a conduit la voiture." Marc drove the car.
- "Le chien est aimé par elle." The dog is loved by her.
- "La voiture était conduite par Marc." The car was driven by Marc.
Word orderFrench declarative word order is subject–verb–object although a pronoun object precedes the verb. Some types of sentences allow for or require different word orders, in particular inversion of the subject and verb like "Parlez-vous français?" when asking a question rather than just "Vous parlez français ?" Both questions mean the same thing; however, a rising inflection is always used on both of them whenever asking a question, especially on the second one. Specifically, the first translates into "Do you speak French?" while the second one is literally just "You speak French?" To avoid inversion while asking a question, 'Est-ce que' may be placed in the beginning of the sentence. "Parlez-vous français ?" may become "Est-ce que vous parlez français ?" French also uses verb–object–subject and object–subject–verb word order. OSV word order is not used often and VOS is reserved for formal writings.
VocabularyThe majority of French words derive from Vulgar Latin or were constructed from Latin or Greek roots. In many cases a single etymological root appears in French in a "popular" or native form, inherited from Vulgar Latin, and a learned form, borrowed later from Classical Latin. The following pairs consist of a native noun and a learned adjective:
- brother: ' / ' from Latin /
- finger: ' / ' from Latin /
- faith: ' / ' from Latin /
- eye: ' / ' from Latin /
- ' / radiation from Latin '
- ' / extinguish from Latin '
- ' / nucleus from Latin '
- ' / insolation from Latin '
- thing/cause: ' / ' from Latin '
- cold: ' / ' from Latin '
More recently the linguistic policy of the French language academies of France and Quebec has been to provide French equivalents to imported words, either by using existing vocabulary, extending its meaning or deriving a new word according to French morphological rules. The result is often two co-existing terms for describing the same phenomenon.
- mercatique / marketing
- finance fantôme / shadow banking
- bloc-notes / notepad
- ailière / wingsuit
- tiers-lieu / coworking
One study analyzing the degree of differentiation of Romance languages in comparison to Latin estimated that among the languages analyzed French has the greatest distance from Latin. Lexical similarity is 89% with Italian, 80% with Sardinian, 78% with Rhaeto-Romance, and 75% with Romanian, Spanish and Portuguese.
NumeralsThe French counting system is partially vigesimal: twenty is used as a base number in the names of numbers from 70 to 99. The French word for 80 is quatre-vingts, literally "four twenties", and the word for 75 is soixante-quinze, literally "sixty-fifteen". This reform arose after the French Revolution to unify the counting systems and Viking influences. This system is comparable to the archaic English use of score, as in "fourscore and seven", or "threescore and ten".
In Old French, all numbers from 30 to 99 could be said in either base 10 or base 20, e.g. vint et doze for 32, dous vinz et diz for 50, uitante for 80, or nonante for 90.
Belgian French, Swiss French, Aostan French and the French used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi are different in this respect. In the French spoken in these places, 70 and 90 are septante and nonante. In Switzerland, depending on the local dialect, 80 can be quatre-vingts or huitante. Octante had been used in Switzerland in the past, but is now considered archaic, while in the Aosta Valley 80 is huitante. In Belgium and in its former African colonies, however, quatre-vingts is universally used.
French, like most European languages, uses a space to separate thousands. The comma is used in French numbers as a decimal point, i.e. "2,5" instead of "2.5".
- : an international organization for the promotion of French language and culture
- : Agency for promoting French as a foreign language
Courses and tutorials
- : interactive French program, University of Texas at Austin
- , University of Texas at Austin
- , The Language machine
- Oxford Dictionaries
- : monolingual dictionaries, language corpora, etc.
- :wikt:Appendix:French Swadesh list|Swadesh list in English and French
- "." Ministry of Foreign Affairs