Among the little hills to overcome for English-speaking people learning French, I think one of them is articles. I notice a lot of resources and media, even school books, sometimes tend to translate a French article + noun into an English noun. Such as:

  • La table ► table
  • Le chien ► dog
  • L'année ► year

As opposed to:

  • La table ► the table
  • Le chien ► the dog
  • L'année ► the year

I did meet situations where people learning French, and specifically English speakers, did things like adding "the" in front of French articles when using French nouns in English phrases, or doubling articles in French and according only the supplement-one, and other weird things like that. Which makes me think there is an issue in differentiating the words as article + noun. At least on my personal side, I live with lots of English-speaking people learning French around me, and I also see this pattern on the Internet constantly. Hence, my suspicion of it coming from how often I see learning material translating nouns incorrectly.

Other than the fact that translating two different words into one sounds wrong to begin with, I reckon I am definitely not the first one to notice that, and that perhaps there is an actual reason for it. Perhaps it's actually more efficient to teach French that way to English speakers, at least for entry level teaching? But it could also be an oversight. I don't know.

So I'd like your opinion or knowledge on the reasons of that teaching method. And with it, whether (or when) I should follow it, or instead follow my guts to translate words as they are.

  • 1
    If this is a translation for a vocabulary list or something, then what counts is consistency more than grammaticality. I suppose a list where "the" appears consistently at the beginning of all items would at some point seem redundant or an eyesore. Also, in English sentences, it seems like we tend to use a "naked noun" (no article and no plural marker) pretty much only when naming the word itself. E.g. "Dog is a word in English; What is the answer to this question? The answer is dog." In other cases, we'd say "a dog", "the dog", or "dogs".
    – Brandin
    Jan 17 at 7:59
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    For my own vocabulary lists, I usually use "a" for a singular item, but this is just my own vocabulary list-creating method. E.g. "un chien - a dog, une table - a table, etc." For French, I also notice that the more words you learn, the more and more "obvious" the gender becomes, so nowadays I probably might just leave it off entirely unless it's somehow not obvious or is otherwise ambiguous (e.g. un tour vs. une tour).
    – Brandin
    Jan 17 at 8:05

1 Answer 1


Speaking only as far as my own experience allows, I decide based on the ability of my students, in particular how detail-oriented they are.

For detail-oriented students, I write (m) or (f) or (e). These are the students who will remember the meaning and purpose of each letter and not need to be reminded each time. They are also the students who would notice the mismatch between 'la chaise' and 'chair' and ascribe some unintended meaning to it.

For other students, I do use the article (whether definite or indefinite). These are the ones who learn more by rote, who just need a fixed phrase to stick in their mind until it sounds right in the alternative sounds wrong. For them it's important to know that 'la' and 'table' go together, whereas they will never encounter a random (m) or (f) in text or speech in the wild, so it doesn't help them.

If I had to pick one or the other for all students, I would probably use the letter abbreviations because I teach in an analytical Core French context and not in immersion, and in the absence of tons of variations from everyday use, the letters are more efficient at communicating the gender unambiguously — when you use the articles, they're of no use for nouns that begin with a vowel or that are always plural.

In immersion you probably don't need to indicate the gender very often anyway since words are learned in context like native speakers learn them. The Core French learner doesn't get input to absorb all that we would hope from context alone, at least not till a fairly high level.

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