top cx logo
cx logo
Explorearrow down
search icon
Explore
arrow down

Watch out for these three ‘exception’ French grammar rules

French grammar can often be the part of language learning people struggle with the most

The exceptions to French grammar rules are often what cause language learners the most problems Pic: Prostock-studio / Shutterstock

It can often seem that while there are many grammar rules, there are just as many exceptions to them. 

The rules and exceptions often have no rhyme or reason, and are simply structures to be learned until it becomes automatic. 

Here are three common exceptions to look out for:

Colours

Colours may upon first glance seem like a simple process, when in actual fact they follow many rules. 

Generally speaking, colour adjectives agree with the noun they follow, for example; les chaussures jaunes

There are exceptions. If a colour gets its name from a flower, fruit or animal, this rule does not apply and the colour does not agree with the noun. 

Examples are orange, marron, cerise, crème, pastel, turquoise, and bronze. These colours will keep their standard form and not change to agree with the noun. 

With the colours rose, mauve and pourpre which all come from flowers or animal names, they do take the s in the plural; for example des pantalons roses

Meanwhile, colour adjectives modified by another adjective or noun also vary - les yeux vert clair (clear green eyes - in this case the vert is modified by the clair so will not agree with the plural form). 

Finally, when there are two colours together make sure to include a hyphen, for example une facade bleu-gris

Plural compound noun agreements 

Agreements are often something that confuse people and that is usually because of the rule exceptions. 

Compound nouns are nouns made up of two or more words. 

Normally words that form a plural compound noun add ‘s’ - eg. Des belles-sœurs (sisters-in-law). 

However, here comes the exception to the rule. 

When these compound nouns are formed of words that further define the noun, only the noun itself is written in the plural. 

Read also: Seven words even French people confuse masculine and feminine 

For example, une arrière-cour (backyard) becomes des arrière-cours (backyards) because arrière is further defining the noun cour

Another exception is when the compound is made up of a verb and noun. 

In this case if the verb is concrete and countable, the noun becomes plural and the verb remains the same - for example un couvre-lit becomes deux couvre-lits

Meanwhile if the noun is abstract or there is only one of it, it is not written in the plural. For example, un gratte-ciel (a skyscraper) is des gratte-ciel (skyscrapers) in the plural. 

This is because there is only one sky. 

Saying this, a spelling rule introduced by a 1990 reform does allow for all nouns to be written with an s. However this is still not really common practice so you are most likely to see the exceptions to the rules still in play. 

Adverbs ending in -ment

The basic rule here is that usually, there are three ways to form adverbs.

Adverbs ending in -ment can be formed by: 

  • taking the adjective in its feminine form as the base and adding -ment: eg. généralement (général = adjective,  générale = feminine adjective, + ment = généralement); and sûrement (sûr = adjective, sûre = feminine adjective, + ment = sûrement). 

  • the adjective in its masculine form + ment when it ends in i, u or é: examples are vraiment (vrai = masculine adjective + ment) and absolument (absolu = masculine adjective + ment).

Meanwhile, adverbs end in -emment and -amment when the adjective ends in ent or ant. 

For example, constant becomes constamment and apparent becomes apparemment

However, as always there are exceptions to this rule.

The most common ones to look out for are gentil becomes gentiment as an adverb, while bref becomes brièvement

Related articles 

The subjunctive: A quick guide to the most difficult tense in French

French podcasts to help improve your language skills  

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