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Top 10 most common errors in French grammar

Frédéric Garcia

Frédéric Garcia

Published on 4 March 2021 • 4 mins. to read

Past participle agreement, transitive verbs etc… French grammar isn’t always very straightforward! Unfortunately, in the business environment, it can really harm your prospects (a proposal littered with errors will have more chance of being rejected than a fault-free business proposition).

In these days of text messages and multiple email exchanges, knowing how to express yourself correctly in writing is a real asset, and one that will set you apart.

No more excuses! Our correctors send us the grammatical errors they encounter most often:

1. Homophones “a” and “à”;

The first, unaccented, is the third person singular of the verb “avoir”, in the present tense. The second, accented, is a preposition indicating position, purpose, time and manner.

To tell them apart, simply check whether the term could be changed to the imperfect tense (“avait”). If it can, then no accent is needed. Otherwise, the accent should be added.

Example: “Il a mal à la tête à force de réfléchir.”

2. Present participle or verbal adjective

How do you tell the difference between these two verbal forms ending in “-ant”?

Present participles, expressing an action, are always invariable, whereas a verbal adjectives, which express a quality, agree and are therefore variable.

Present participles ending in “-ant” are a verb form and can therefore be followed with a complement. Verbal adjectives, like any adjective, therefore agree in number and gender with the noun to which they refer.

Example: “En fatiguant tout le monde, ils deviennent fatigants.”

3. Deuxième / Second

The difference between these two concepts appears tenuous.

According to the Académie française, you should write “second” only when there are only two items, and “deuxième” when a series continues beyond two.

Note the optimism of the expression “Seconde Guerre mondiale” and the strange use in French secondary schools of “classe de seconde”, which takes its place between the “classe de troisième” and the “classe de première”.

4. Pallier

Firstly, the verb “pallier”, with two l’s, must not be confused with the masculine noun “palier”, which only has a single l.

In addition, it is a direct transitive verb, and therefore does not need to be followed by the preposition “à”.

Example: “Il faut pallier la pénurie de main-d'œuvre dans les secteurs qui recrutent.”

5. Se rappeler quelque chose / Se souvenir de quelque chose

These two verbs use our memory, but they are constructed differently.

Whereas “se rappeler” takes a direct object, “se souvenir” is followed by a complement introduced by the preposition “de”.

Example: “Je me rappelle très bien le jour de notre rencontre et je me souviens de ce que tu m'as dit ce jour-là.”

6. Après que

Although it may sound strange to our ear, the conjunction “après que” is always followed by a verb in the indicative.

In fact, unlike “avant que”, which introduces an eventuality, “après que” evokes an action which has already taken place. The use of the subjunctive after “après que” is therefore a grammatical error, but can also cause misunderstanding.

Example: “Il part toujours se reposer après qu'il a mangé.”

7. Quoique / Quoi que

”Quoique” as a single word is a subordinating conjunction, marking an opposition or concession and meaning “although”.

”Quoi que” as two words is a compound relative pronoun (pronoun “quoi” followed by the subordinating conjunction “que”), meaning “whatever it is that” or “it matters little that”.

Examples: “Quoiqu'on fasse tout pour lui, il n'est jamais content.” or “Quoi qu'il dise, il n'aura jamais raison.”

8. Se succéder

In this verbal group “se” is a direct object complement. As a consequence, in the past participle “succéder” is invariable.

The recurring error is in fact to put a final -s on the third person plural of the perfect tense, particularly because of the use of the auxiliary verb “être”.

Example: “Les différents intervenants se sont succédé à la tribune.”

9. Savoir gré

In this expression, “gré” (without a final -s, it should be noted!) means “gratitude” or “gratefulness”. This term is therefore not an adjective, which you would tend to precede with the verb “être”.

This expression is often used in writing to ask the person to whom you are talking to carry out an action, hence this emphatically polite formula. The expression is most often used in the present conditional, hence the confusion in the listener’s ear with the verb “être”.

Example: “Je vous saurais gré de bien vouloir accepter ses excuses.”

10. Present participle agreement with the auxiliary avoir

Expressed in such terms, the rule can appear to be very simple, but unfortunately errors are on the increase!

In fact, the past participle with the auxiliary “avoir” is only made to agree when the direct object complement comes before the verb.

Example: “Je ne vois plus la part de gâteau, l'aurais-tu mangée ?”


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Top 10 most common errors in French spelling

The French and spelling: a great love story - or maybe not! While grammar holds no more secrets for you, be aware that spelling can also have a few surprises in store... Indeed, nothing will destroy the author’s credibility faster...

Frédéric Garcia

4 March 2021