top cx logo
cx logo
Explorearrow down
search icon

Seven words which even French people confuse masculine/feminine

The struggle is real, says our French writer Théophile Larcher

No matter what French people may say French can be a challenging language to master Pic: exopixel | Shutterstock

It cannot be stressed enough how paramount mastering French is in helping to navigate the perks of French culture and life in the country in general.

The French language is - no matter what French people say - one of the hardest languages in the world, filled with exceptions, nightmare grammar rules and quirks.

Within the realm of technical rules is gender and French words divide between two genders : feminine (une ; la) and masculine (un ; le).

However easy it is in the main for French people, many still make errors and can take time to overthink them and finally flip a mental coin to choose. 

And for foreigners it can be, of course, even harder - and sometimes even expensive, as this video shows:

The Connexion asked several French people the words they get confused with the most or constantly get wrong. Below are seven of the most common.

Read also: ‘Calling French grammar sexy takes the love of this language too far’

Testicule

This is one of the most common words that trick people up. The word testicule (testicle) is masculine.
It would in itself be an easy enough mnemotechnic trick to remember its gender considering men bear them but many French people go with the feminine (somehow it just sounds right and not just because of the final -e, which is often a clue). 

The confusion may also lie in that the fact testicule is almost always often used in the plural, for obvious reasons. 

Après-midi

Tying with testicule and another often mentioned word is après-midi (afternoon). 

The Académie française, the bearer of French language rules, lists the word in both forms. It is however not considered epicene (a word that has two genders).

While the Académie française says the masculine should be preferred, the feminine can also be used but, if so, après-midi should remain invariable, which means that any adjectives added should not be put into the feminine.

Echappatoire

Échappatoire (way-out, escape) is a killer and any French person giving a straight and correct answer in less than one second is faking it. 

Échappatoire is feminine. 

Many French people will still raise an eyebrow when reading the above sentence because they cannot be sure.
The final -e can help some in remembering it is feminine.

Haltère

That rule, however, would get you in the wrong direction for haltère (dumbbell).  

However odd to many French it may seem, haltère is a masculine word. 

The confusion can lie behind the final -e letter that is often, as said, considered to be an indication that these words have a greater chance of being feminine than masculine.

It is also one of these words that are almost always often spelt in its plural form. 

Wifi / Covid

Wifi and Covid are two words that have not been registered in the Académie française’s dictionary. 

There is a divide between French people as to whether these words - such as many words borrowed from technology or new additions - are masculine or feminine. 

Some people say la wifi and la Covid. Others say le wifi and le Covid

Aparté

Aparté, either a private conversation or the aside part of a play, is masculine. 

No matter how many times it is mentioned, printed and taught, many French people will keep on using it as a feminine word. The é at the end is once again a trick. 

Pétale

There are countless other words that can make the list. Lalanguefrançaise.com has chosen 23 French words that are often confused and many of them can be used in both feminine and masculine.

Pétale (petal) was chosen because it is another commonly used word that is confused for a feminine when it is, in fact, masculine.
The probable reason lies in that petals are often found on flowers or often attached to sentences including the word fleur, which is feminine. 

Read also

How to stay motivated with your French language learning

Watch: the UK and US celebrities that speak excellent French

Resident or second-home owner in France?
Benefit from our daily digest of headlines and how-to's to help you make the most of life in France
By joining the newsletter, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy
See more popular articles
The Connexion Help Guides
featured helpguide
Healthcare in France*
Featured Help Guide
- Understand the French healthcare system, how you access it and how you are reimbursed - Useful if you are new to the French healthcare system or want a more in-depth understanding - Reader question and answer section Aimed at non-French nationals living here, the guide gives an overview of what you are (and are not) covered for. There is also information for second-home owners and regular visitors.
Get news, views and information from France