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If a noun hasn't been mentioned yet, how do we know what gender it has?

For example, suppose I make two cups of coffee, and I want to say to someone, "This one is for you," but I haven't mentioned the thing yet, the cup of coffee yet.

Now, a cup of coffee could be masculine (un café) or it could be feminine (une tasse de café). So which one should I say?:

  • Celui-ci est pour toi.
  • Celle-ci est pour toi.

Or must I say?:

  • Ce café est pour toi.
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Very related : french.stackexchange.com/questions/2614/… –  Nikana Reklawyks Oct 27 '12 at 1:03
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3 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

In the general case, I'd say every noun has a gender : as you mention, une tasse is feminine, and un café is masculine, and all is fine.

When it comes to the object you're talking about, since it wasn't already mentionned, it's totally up to you to introduce new items in the conversation.

You can hang that someone un café or une tasse de café, it's your choice, so specifically, you can say both, depending on what you want to refer to.

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Not knowing the gender of a French noun seems as impossible as not knowing its first letter.

I understand that this information is phonetically hidden and you may feel uncomfortable grouping a noun with its article and adjectives. The only way is to learn noun phrases with at least the article rather than isolated nouns.

Note that most of the time, you can go random. Statistically, you'll be right 50%. As you don't hear the final e of most adjectives, you'll be right more than 95% for adjectives. Only remains the article/possessive/demonstrative for which you have to count on tolerance from French native speakers.

In facts, telling me "Celui/Celle-ci est pour toi", already indicates me that French is not your first language. I know straight not have to rely on the gender to convey a significant information.

As the emphasis in on the cup of coffee, not what you do with it, the focus is on the possessive. So I would have expected:

  • C'est le tien (for a cup of coffee).
  • C'est la tienne (for a cup of coffee).

Your construct with pour is more used when you want to focus on the action:

  • Celui-ci est pour boire.
  • Celui-ci, je l'ai préparé pour toi
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Thanks to Stéphane Gimenez for the edit –  alaind Mar 16 '13 at 23:11
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Les pronoms neutres existent en français (ce, ça, ceci, cela). Avec l'exemple de la tasse :

  • « C'est pour toi », dit-il en me tendant la tasse de café.
  • « Elle est pour toi », dit-il en me tendant la tasse de café.
  • « Il est pour toi », dit-il en me tendant la tasse de café.

sont parfaitement équivalents.

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La troisième phrase est étrange, tout de même. Va pour « il est pour toi », dit-il en me tendant un café, mais le mélange des genres passe mal, trouvé-je. Ou alors, c'est vraiment pour mettre en avant le fait que le personnage et le narrateur n'envisagent pas l'objet dont il est question de la même façon, s'il faut capilotracter… –  Nikana Reklawyks Dec 9 '12 at 12:33
    
Not in the context: dangph made two cup of coffee, is pointing one to someone and wants to say that "this one (not the other) is yours". -- "Il est pour toi" sounds the standard for "C'u-ci, c'est l' tien". –  alaind Mar 16 '13 at 17:33
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