11 signs you’ve cracked the French language

How do you know when you've really mastered the French language? If you can tick off most of the signs on this list, then you'll be well on your way.

11 signs you've cracked the French language
Photo: Jason DeVaun/Flickr

(Photo: Didriks/Flickr)
When you know the abbreviated French words, (officially known as apocopes), it's a sign you're on your way. Do you know all of the above?
Champ – Champagne, Apero – aperitif, aprem – apres midi, expo – exposition (exhibition) and comme d’hab – comme d’habitude (as usual). There's many, many more to learn.

(Photo: AFP)
Instinctively reacting with a French word means your brain is automatically thinking in French even when experiencing shock and a near death experience. It's a good sign. Here's some more info on what the French do and don't say when they are angry.

(Photo: Mr_Renart/Flickr)
Having an ingrained knowledge of all those pesky false friends or “faux amis” is real step in the right direction, not least because you’ll stop embarrassing yourself when you finally know that “excité” can mean “aroused”, “sensible” means “sensitive” and the word “s’introduire” means “to penetrate”. Here's a list of the most two-faced false friends in French.

(Photo: Jason DeVaun/Flickr)
Yep, if you can say 73 as “sixty thirteen” (soixante treize) and 99 as “four twenty ten nine” (quatre-vingt dix-neuf) then you’ve overcome a major obstacle to not just learning French, but settling down and being happy in your adopted country.

(Photo: Arlo Bates/Flickr)
The words “du coup”, which roughly mean “as a result” or “so that means” are incredibly “a la mode” these days, with French people peppering their conversations with the term. If you know when to use it, then abuse it. 

(Photo: Andrew Toskin/Flickr)
The French language is home to thousands of idioms and if you can use them instead of trying to translate ones from your own language, then you’re doing well. Here's a list of French expressions they don't teach you in school.

(Photo: WikiCommons)
Indeed using any example of “verlan”, a slang where the syllables of words are pronounced backwards, is an important step when mastering French and speaking like a native.
Extra points if you knew that the word verlan itself is an example of verlan… it comes from the word “l'envers”, meaning “the reverse”. Extra points again if you noticed the word “verlan” in the picture above is an ambigram – and looks the same upside-down.

(The Basilique Saint-Remi de Reims. Photo: CpaKmoi/Flickr)
Yep, French is full of difficult, even impossible words to pronounce. Some French learners have been known to spend their whole lives trying to say “serrurerie” and never quite get there – as this video shows.

(Photo: IntelFreePress/Flickr)
Yep, when it comes to texting French morphs into a different language. So “je suis mort de rire, merci, je t’aime beaucoup, a demain” often look something like the computer code above. Here's a list of 15 handy terms from French texting lingo.

(Photo: Johan/Flickr)
French is not as bad as German for its confusing word order but it can be troublesome. Trying to say “I miss my family” (ma famille me manque) or “my family misses me” (je manque à ma famille) is particularly tricky.

(Photo: Gioa De Antoniis/Flickr)
Anyone who has mastered the subjunctive deserves a legion d’honneur award and the right to call themselves bilingual.
For those who've never heard of it (lucky you), the subjunctive is described as more of a mood than a tense, and is used to describe opinions or feelings. 

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Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.


Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty


Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 


And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  


Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.