French is a Gallo-Romance language and the official and national language of France, as well as an official language of several other Western European countries, specifically Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco and Switzerland. It is also one of the official languages of the British Crown Dependencies of Jersey and Guernsey, the third primary language spoken in North America (in Louisiana and Quebec, most notably) after English and Spanish, and is widespread throughout Africa, where the majority of the world's French speaking population live. As an official language of 29 countries worldwide, it is the third most spoken Romance language after Spanish and Portuguese, the second or third most studied language worldwide, the 6th most spoken language in the world, and one of the official languages of the United Nations, the European Union, NATO, the World Trade Organization and the International Olympic Committee.
French was the most important language of diplomacy and international relations between the 17th and 20th centuries until English replaced it after the United States became the dominant global power after World War II, French itself having replaced Latin in that role in the 17th century. Even today, it still remains one of the world's most influential languages because of its wide use in the worlds of journalism, jurisprudence, academia, and diplomacy, and it is considered to be one of the most useful languages for business alongside English and Chinese.
It may be noticed that French is also quite popular when creating tropes, as can be seen in Trope Names from the French. This doesn't even include tropes names that seem to be about French language, such as Everything Sounds Sexier in French.
Writing system:Like most European languages, French writes left to right and uses the Latin alphabet. A few special characters are used: çnote , and the vowels may be modified by acute accents (accent aigu, found only as é), grave accents (accent grave, found as à, è, or ù), circumflexes (accent circonflexe, found on all vowels as â, ê, î, ô, or û), or diareses (le trema, as ë or ï).
In most dialects, accents on letters a and u change nothing about the pronunciation of these letters. They are rare and mostly help disambiguate some homophonous words such as ou (or) and où (where). However accents on letter e indicate a change in pronunciation. They occur very frequently, especially é, which is typically pronounced with a long-a sound and is used in (among other places) the past particle of verbs ending in -er. This is often seen in English words taken from French participles such as fiancée.
Circumflexes can alter pronunciation, but may also indicate historical elision of a letter, frequently an 's' before another consonant; knowing this can aid translation to English, which frequently retains the 's' in its cognate. Examples of this elision include hôpital (hospital) and forêt (forest). The circumflex may also distinguish among otherwise-identical words, such as sûr (sure) vs. sur (on top of).
Tremas serve a different purpose. In French spelling most letters are pronounced differently depending on the other letters that are around. For instance the sequence of letters ch is generally pronounced like sh would be in English, which is different from a standalone c or h. Likewise a sequence of vowel letters like ai would be pronounced as one vowel (different from a standalone a or i), while aï as in naïfnote indicates that the two vowels a and i should be read separately. Trema indicates an exception to the usual grouping of letters.
The spelling system of French is such that (providing you know all the rules) you can generally predict how a word will be pronounced if you know its spelling.note The opposite direction (being able to predict the spelling of a word that you heard) can be much trickier, as there are many ways of spelling the same sounds.
In French you capitalize proper names but not proper adjectives. An American (man) translates as un Américain, but an American actor translates as un acteur américain. Language names are not capitalised either, so French language is le français.note
Grammatical gender:French nouns are either masculine or feminine, with generally no inflection for gender.note Grammatical gender determines some pronounsnote but also articles, for instance English the generally translates as le or la depending on gender.note This is all contrary to the common belief among English speakers that ''the thing'' translates as ''le chose''. note
Grammatical genders are reasonably easy to predict for people and pets, however they may be difficult to predict for other things. If learning French, when learning a new noun you need to also learn its grammatical gender. However if you are wrong, most of the time you may be understood (but people may find it funny).
The concept of grammatical gender for nouns is in fact quite common among European languages. If you know the gender of a noun from an other romance language, there is a reasonable chance it will be the same in French. However if you try to predict grammatical gender from some knowledge of a Germanic or Slavic language, you will find out that grammatical genders of nouns follow an Insane Troll Logic.
Adjectives generally agree in gender (and in number) with the nouns that they modify. note The white dog translate as le chien blanc if male, la chienne blanche if female. The white dogs translate as les chiens blancs if at least one dog is male, and as les chiennes blanches if they are all female.
This particular bit may be viewed as Double Standard, and indeed the rule was explicitly justified through "the evident superiority of the male sex over the female one" when it was formulated. It receives a lot of criticism today, many people viewing it as outdated and sexist. It is also in fact a fairly recent rule, only becoming standard at the end of the 18th century. Before that, no official rule existed but custom would place emphasis either on raw numbers – more females in the group would make the adjective female – or the closeness of nominal groups to the adjective in the sentence. According to the latter, "these courageous men and women" could thus be either "ces hommes et femmes courageuses" or "ces femmes et hommes courageux", depending on whether "men" or "women" is closest to the adjective in the sentence.
Adjectives may be set before or after the noun that they modify, although most adjectives go after the noun as placing it before tends to feel literary, formal or even archaic. The most common exceptions are size adjectives and "beautiful", so "the beautiful little white dog" would translate as le beau petit chien blanc.
Verbs:French verbs have a collection of finite and non-finite forms, with finite forms depending on grammatical tense and person/number, and non-finite being the infinitive, past participle, and present participle. There are eight simple tense–aspect–mood forms, categorized into the indicative, subjunctive and imperative moods, with the conditional mood sometimes viewed as an additional category, and the eight simple forms also being able to be categorized into four tenses (future, present, past, and future-of-the-past) or two aspects (perfective and imperfective). There are also compound constructions that use more than one verb, including ones for each simple tense with the addition of avoir or être as an auxiliary verb, and a construction which is used to distinguish passive voice from active voice.
The verbs are conjugated by isolating the stem of the verb and adding an ending, which depends on the mood, tense, aspect, and voice of the verb, as well as on the person and number of its subject. In the first and second conjugation, the stem is easily identifiable from the infinitive, and remains essentially constant throughout the paradigm, though in the third group, the relationship between the infinitive form and the stem is less consistent, and several distinct stems are needed to produce all the forms in the paradigm.
One tense, the passé simple (simple past), is largely relegated to formal and written language now. It originally indicated the definite past, but in spoken language the passé composé (composite past) has expanded to fill that role in addition to the past perfect.
People names:Known as noms propres (proper names) as opposed to noms communs (nouns).
"Country-related" names are usually affected by gender and number (ex. les Américaines for "female Americans"). Family names on the other hand, are invariant: The messy divorce movie The War of the Roses is translated as La guerre des Rose.
Local languages in France:This is frequently misunderstood, but in French territory there are languages other than French.
- Alsatian is a dying Alemannisch dialect spoken in Alsace.
- Rhine Frankish is spoken in Moselle, the part of Lorraine that neighbors Alsace to the west, though like Alsatian it's dying, having fewer and fewer speakers.
- Basque is a non-Indo-European language. It is not a dying language mostly because it's still spoken in the Basque Country in Spain.
- Breton is a dying Celtic language spoken in the region of Brittany.
- Catalan is a Romance language; it is not considered as dying mostly because it is spoken in parts of Spain and in Andorra.
- Corsican is a Romance language spoken on the island of Corsica, closer to Italian than it is to French.
- The southern half of mainland France that didn't speak Basque, Catalan or Corsican, used to speak Occitan dialects. They are all dying languages (or dying dialects).
- The northern half of mainland France that didn't speak Breton, Alsatian, Frankish, used to speak dialects of Oil (aka French; French is the Oil dialect that became standard). Like Occitan languages (or dialects) they are dying.
Contrary to the common perception that all French people have always spoken French, that was probably not the case even as late as of the early 20th century. French language superseded all the other languages and local dialects when school became mandatory and children were initially prevented from speaking languages that were not standard French via school punishments, though many speakers of said languages have fought against that by speaking it in their families or emphasizing it culturally (figures like Germain Muller and Tomi Ungerer in Alsace come to mind), and the French Republic opened up a bit over the years to school initiatives to maintain these languages alive. France did sign the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, but never ratified it, for there is much constitutional debate (as usual) as to whether or not it threatens the "unity of the Republic" (despite the benefits of giving children a plurilingual education being proven for years). France has a unitary state, and as such it has troubles pacifically dealing with multiple native languages the way federal states like Belgium and Switzerland do.