Today’s post was written by my good friend Marie, a native-French speaker who offers us her perspective on common grammar mistakes that even native-French speakers make.
As a French native, I’m going to tell you a secret. Well, maybe it’s not a very secret secret…
(Most) French people don’t have perfect grammar.
There, it’s out there now. Does it make you feel better?
It should. Because it means your grammar doesn’t have to be perfect either my friend.
Of course, it varies a lot from one person to another.
But here’s a list of mistakes French natives are making ALL THE TIME.
Mistakes French Natives are Making When Writing
Putting the Wrong Silent Letter
Yeah, silent letters are a pain for us too. I mean, when you are speaking in English you are not thinking about how the word is written right? Neither do we.
And that’s why this particularity of the written French language is hard even for French natives.
Especially when it comes to agreements and conjugaison.
Je voudrai / Je voudrais: I will want / I would like
Luckily, I have a few oral tricks to remember: like putting the word in a feminine form.
I know that ‘lent’ takes a -t because the feminine version is ‘lente’ (so the -t is pronounced); and that ‘pourri’ doesn’t take anything because it becomes ‘pourrie’.
(Isn’t funny to see how the process of a native is the total opposite of the one of a learner? You probably know the feminine version is ‘lente’ BECAUSE of the silent letter. Right?)
When it comes to invariable words, it’s just a question of habit. Because there’s just so many times you can hear ‘Toujours prend toujours un -s à la fin’ (Always always takes an -s at the end).
Forgetting a Double Consonant
Another pain is the double letters. It’s not that they’re silent, it’s just that there’s two of them.
Sometimes they’re here to tell us there’s a specific pronunciation: like in ‘fille’, or ‘bosse’ or ‘accident’.
But in most cases you can’t hear them orally: sonner, pomme, devinette, offrir,…
And that’s where French people are making the most mistakes. We either forget them or add some where it’s not necessary (French can do that to you).
And it’s a bit random #sorry
Writing Down the Wrong Spelling
Yeah, there’s that too. Two different letters or combination of letters that have the same pronunciation.
Don’t worry, we’ll talk about homophonic words later. But let’s concentrate on that for a moment.
If you’re hanging out online and chatting with French people via instant messages you’ll see this one A LOT – It’s a general confusion between ‘é, er, ez, et, ai, ais,…‘
Rester coucher. -> Restez couchés.
One trick I do is switching for another verb group to check if I should write -er or -é.
Je suis resté(e): I stayed. Because if I put the verb ‘vendre’ (2nd group): Je suis vendu(e).
Je vais rester: I will stay. Because with ‘vendre’ it becomes: Je vais vendre. So it is the infinitive form, and not the past participle.
Same goes for à vs a.
You see how much we rely on oral French to make sure our spelling in correct? That means French natives are usually more comfortable speaking than writing.
Confusing Homophonic Words
In the same spirit, it’s getting even harder when it comes to homophonic words: words that have the same pronunciation but a different spelling.
Un sot / un sceau / un seau / un saut : An idiot / a seal (as in a wax seal) / a bucket / a jump
Un maître / un mètre / mettre : a master / a meter / to put
I mean you have those in English as well right? So it’s not a mistake only French people make (I’m looking at you ‘you’re and your’).
Writing Down a Liaison
I’m finishing on this one for the written mistakes. But it’s not as common as the other ones.
You might have seen – ‘Bonne anniversaire’
‘Bon anniversaire‘ is the correct spelling.
Why do some French people make that mistake then? Because of the amazing thing that is the liaisons.
(Btw, if you don’t know what it is, and if you want to sound more French you should look it up)
Yes, when you are correctly saying ‘bon anniversaire’ it sounds like ‘bonne anniversaire’, because the final -n of ‘bon’ is affecting the beginning vowel of ‘anniversaire’.
There’s a few other cases of the liaison being mistaken for another spelling but it’s mainly when wishing someone a happy birthday.
Mistakes French Natives are Making When Speaking
The core of the mistakes we are making are written. Simply because French natives tend to have a better command of spoken French rather than written French.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes when we speak…
We Sometimes are Being Redundant
I blame French school trying to teach us an academic French. But then, that’s only my personal opinion.
Eheh see what I did there?
You’ll sometimes hear things like ‘au jour d’aujourd’hui’. Which literally means ‘this day today’.
And it’s quite common. Especially when French people want to sound fancier than they are.
(If you want to see that in action, check political posts on Facebook, they crawl with people ‘who know better’)
Other examples could be : ‘monter en haut’ (to go up upstairs), ‘moi personnellement’ (me personally),…
Then, There’s the Case of the Wrong Preposition
Wrong prepositions are tricky. Especially when they are used by most of the population wrongly. In this case, is it a mistake? It’s up to you to decide which one to use.
Plus, it will vary A LOT from one region to another.
It’s very common to hear a northerner saying ‘Je vais au coiffeur’ (I’m going to the hairdresser), when the grammatically correct way to say it would be ‘Je vais chez le coiffeur’.
Same thing for ‘J’ai mal à ma jambe’ (My leg hurts), to which your highly educated parents will reply ‘Tu n’a pas mal à la jambe du voisin’ (’The neighbour’s leg can’t be hurting you’).
And so, the correct way to say ‘J’ai mal à ma jambe’ is ‘J’ai mal à LA jambe’.
I’ve never heard this in the North, but it’s apparently a common mistake in some parts of France – ‘Les cousins à mon père’, which should be ‘les cousins de mon père’ (my brother’s cousins).
You get the drill.
Forgetting the ’Ne’
Again I could argue the omission of ‘ne’ in spoken French is not a mistake, simply because it’s becoming so common.
And I would even advise you, as a French learner, and if you want to master spoken casual French to drop it.
But in the eyes of the immortels, forgetting the first indication of negation is a sin.
‘Je sais pas’ – ‘Je ne sais pas’.
‘J’en sais rien’ – ‘Je n’en sais rien’.
‘J’ai pas mangé ce midi’ – ‘Je n’ai pas mangé ce midi’
Which French do you want to speak? It’s up to you.
And Then, There’s the Random Ones
For these ones I have no explanation… or excuse :
- Ils croivent – Ils croient (They believe)
- Je ne sais pas c’est qui – Je ne sais pas qui c’est (I don’t know who he is)
- Si j’aurais su – Si j’avais su (If I had known)
BEWARE – Not All Mistakes are Forgivable
I’d better mention it before you go.
YES, French people tend to have a better command of spoken French, but that doesn’t excuse a slaughtering of written French.
Some French natives are writing like they speak. In some sort of alternative French that looks something like this:
‘Jen sé rien cé pa mon problème’
Don’t pick up their spelling. Like never. Please, pretty please.
The correct spelling would be:
‘J’en sais rien, c’est pas mon problème’
And the correct way to say that would be:
‘Je n’en sais rien. Ce n’est pas mon problème’.
Those ‘mistakes’ (if you can call them that), are, yes made by French natives, but not forgivable. If someone is stating that they are fluent in French but speak like this, I only have one advise for you:
Well, I hope you learned plenty in this article, and I look forward to seeing you on Just French It.