I've been learning French on and off (online) for a few years. I really like it, but I don't think I've ever had this much trouble learning new things. I'm learning plural words, which are relatively easy, but the thing that gets me is how to tell whether a word is plural in verbal communication.

A few cases that often get me:

  • "Mangent" sounds exactly like "mange"
  • "Fruits" sounds like "frites"
  • When to say "les" instead of "des" and vice-versa

I know those aren't many, but you should get the point.

My main question remains: How can I tell whether something is plural? Maybe the voices that I hear are bad at sounding the plural words?

  • 4
    Fruit(s) \fʁɥi\ doesn't sound like frite(s) \fʁit\ . An intermediary word would be frit(s) \fʁi\ but there is an extra semi-vowel in the former and an extra consonant in the latter.
    – jlliagre
    Aug 15, 2018 at 15:30
  • 1
    and both des and les are plural. This third case looks to be a different question.
    – jlliagre
    Aug 15, 2018 at 22:25
  • I admit, I snuck that one in even though it's not very relevant
    – Ben
    Aug 16, 2018 at 1:21

1 Answer 1


You won't get the information from the pronunciation...

Bon... certains font néanmoins des efforts... comme les moutonsssses du très fameux Topaze. ;)

For a verb, only the subject can tell you. There should always be one.

Of course if you cannot get the information from the subject as in Il mange or ils mangent, then only the context, telling to what the pronoun refers, will tell you.

For a noun, only the article can immediately tell you. (*)

Of course, if you cannot find the article as in adieu veau, vache, cochon, couvée then only the context can tell you.

If the context does not, then... you are free to write your own understanding regarding the number of elements you would involve in such a situation.

(*) In some very rare cases some irregular adjective could also tell you. appartement royal. royal => singular for appartement / appartements royaux. royaux => plural for appartements.

  • "Nous sommes seuls avec les enfants" That's one that really stumps me, because the context doesn't help. It could be "Nous sommes seuls avec le enfant" and sound exactly the same, but mean something different. Right? Maybe I just don't know enough French
    – Ben
    Aug 16, 2018 at 1:22
  • 1
    It seems to be the last option... The singular would be Nous sommes seuls avec l'enfant, which is significantly différent than ...avec les enfants: /lɑ̃fɑ̃/ (2 syllables) vs /lezɑ̃fɑ̃/ (3 syllables)
    – jlliagre
    Aug 16, 2018 at 6:39
  • 1
    @jlliagre little mistake, les enfants 3 syllables (phonetic : /lezɑ̃fɑ̃/) vs l'enfant 2 syllables (phonetic : /lɑ̃fɑ̃/) because a concatenation of le with enfant (vowel at end of 1rst word + vowel, same or not, begenning of the 2nd word = concatenation - think about le ours -> l'ours)
    – damadam
    Aug 16, 2018 at 8:13
  • 1
    @damadam There was no mistake but I admit a confusing statement. I kept the order of the sentences (singular - plural) after the colon while you expected a reversed order. What you call "concatenation" is more than that. It is the deletion of one one sound (here a vowel) and is called an elision.
    – jlliagre
    Aug 16, 2018 at 9:20
  • 1
    @Ben 1. Les and le don't sound the same, so you can't really get it wrong. 2. "enfant" starts with a vowel, so le becomes l', and there is a liaison with the plural: in "les enfants", the s is not silent (it's pronounced "z"). 3. But even when the only difference is "le/les" (ex: "Le repas/ les repas"), it's completely unambiguous. Listen to le and les, they really don't sound the same. (Maybe you just read that the "s" is silent and assumed they had the same pronunciation, but they don't) Aug 16, 2018 at 9:34

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