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 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, the academy, 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 letters a, e, i, and u may me modified by accents (à â ê é è ù) or tremas (ä ë ï ö ü).
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 and où. However accents on letter e indicate a different sound from a plain old letter e. They occur very frequently especially é.
Tremas serve a different purpose. In French spelling most letters are pronunced differently depending on the other letters that are around. For instance the sequence of letters ch is generally pronunced 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 pronunced 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 pronunced if you know its spelling. 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.note
Adjectives may be set before or after the noun that they modify; however you don't do whatever you want in that regard. Most of the time they are set after the noun. The most common exceptions are size adjectives and "beautiful", so "the little beautiful 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 tenseaspectmood 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.
People names:They are invariant, including family names. The messy divorce movie The War of the Roses is translated as La guerre des Rose.
Local French languages: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 on the West, though like Alsatian it's dying.
- Basque is a language that doesn't belong in indo-european languages. It is not a dying language mostly because it is still spoken in Spain.
- Breton is a celtic dying language.
- Catalan is a Latin language; it is not considered as dying mostly because it is spoken in Spain.
- Corsican is also a Latin language, that is closer to Italian than 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 or 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 the French people have always spoken French, that was probably not the case in the early 20th century or late 19th century. French language suppressed all the other languages and local dialects when school became mandatory and children were prevented from speaking languages that were not standardFrench.
These languages/dialects that are dying in France should not be confused with French dialects (such as French language, as it is spoken in Canada or in a specific African country).