Marie et Jean vont à la cantine.

Now, according to the rule we should replace the noun with ils or elles according to their gender.

But here there is a masculine as well as a feminine, so what should I place here?

4 Answers 4


The usual rule in French is called "Le masculin l'emporte". It means that when you have both genders in a phrase, the masculin takes precedence.

It also works for adjectives and verbs:

Marie et Jean sont allés à la cantine.

Le camion et la voiture sont verts.

You should use Ils as explained by Luke and Gilles. But, we see more and more sentences like:

Nos collègues sont invité.e.s à participer sous réserve de l'accord de leur supérieur.e hiérarchique.

Where invité.e.s is a way to express the importance you give to the female people: collègues can represent men and women but the author deliberately uses a syntax that is supposed to represent both using the dots.

In the same way leur supérieur.e hiérarchique is a way to say that your superior can be a man or a woman. NB: in this case, a more classical way could have been:

de leur supérieur (ou supérieure) hiérarchique.

PS: I know this is not an answer and should have been published as a remark but the number of characters is too small and the rendering too poor. Don't vote for this answer. Thanks on behalf of women ;)

  • 1
    If you ask me this is feminism vs grammar. The rule is clear and is in no way "against" women, only to simplify writing...
    – Laurent S.
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 6:33

It becomes ils.

According to Wikipedia's article on French personal pronouns:

In French, a group containing at least one male or one masculine noun is considered masculine, and takes the pronoun ils. Only exclusively female or feminine groups take elles.

Aside: When I was learning French, I wanted to test this rule and pestered the teacher with questions like "What if there are 99 women and one man?" Since then I've found that this is a common question. In real life such extreme cases probably depend on how formal you're being. But the officially correct answer in all such cases is ils.


I learnt this the other day in my GCSE lesson,

Say you have a group of 100 GIRLS then they are referred to as 'ELLES'. All it takes is for 1 BOY to be added into the group and now the group is referred to as 'ILS'.

If you are comparing a girl to a boy, for example, Sophie is more tall then Billy, the french for taller would be the female way. so it will be: Sophie est plus grande que Billy. However, if you are comparing Billy to Sophie then the 'GRANDE' will change to 'GRAND': Billy est plus grand que Sophie.

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