If you're learning French, it's not enough just to learn a lot of vocabulary — you also need to know how to put the words together into sentences. In many ways, French is very like English, in that a change in word-order can alter the meaning of a sentence, so it's important to learn the rules. Of course, as in English, many French speakers break the strict rules, and when you're fluent and chatting with your French friends, you may start doing the same. While learning, however, and especially if you'll be taking an exam, you need to learn the correct structures. Here are the main rules.
Subject, Verb, Object
As in English, the basic sentence consists of a subject, a verb and an object, in that order. Just as in English we might say I like the house, in French we'd say J'aime la maison. Here, je (shortened to j' before a vowel) is the subject; aime is the verb; maison is the object. One exception is where a verb doesn't require an object. An example of this in English is I walk, and in the same way you'd say Je marche in French. Another is if the object is a pronoun. You'd say, for example, Je vois mon ami (I see my friend), but where English would have I see him, the French would be Je lui vois (I him see).
Where Does the Adjective Go?
In English, adjectives that qualify a noun always go before the noun. It's only in archaic, poetic language that you'd find the maiden fair or the castle strong, but in French most adjectives come after the noun — e.g.le chat noir (the black cat) or une conversation sérieuse (a serious conversation).
However, some adjectives are the exception and come before the noun. There are relatively few of these, but they're mainly common adjectives. There's no easy rule for this, unfortunately — you just have to learn the list.
Where English forms a negative sentence by adding a single word (not, nothing, never etc.), French requires two words. The word ne (or n' before a vowel) goes in front of the verb, while the other word goes after it. This is most oftenpas(not), but other words includingrien (nothing) andjamais (never) can be used:
Je ne sais pas (I don't know)
Je n'ai rien vu (I saw nothing)
Je n'ai jamais vu la Tour Eiffel(I've never seen the Eiffel Tower)
French forms questions either by changing the word order or adding extra words, or else both. If you want to ask Do you speak English, for example, you could ask either:
Parlez vous anglais?(Speak you English?)
Est-ce que vous parlez anglais? (Is it that you speak English?)
As in English, you can combine either of these structures with interrogative word such as qui (who), quel (which) or pourquoi (why). For instance, if you wanted to ask Why did you study French?you could say either:
Pourquoi avez vous étudié français?
Pourquoi est-ce que vous avez étudié français?
This is obviously only a brief overview of the basics of French sentence structure. Why not register with TutorExtra to find more resources that will help you learn French?