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Dear all,

I started learning French by myself just a few weeks ago. While I was making exercises, I confused about the articles. I searched the internet, and foun this site, and became a member.

 

The exercise was about transforming a noun or and adjective from masculine to feminine. For example, "un mécanicien" is a mail mechanician, and "une mécanicienne" is a female mechanician. When I'd like to use this word with an article (the mechanician), how shall I know which article to use? If it's a male I have to use le, and female la.

 

Will you please help me?

 

Thanks.

 

Sincerely,

Tuba

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Basically, yes if the noun refers to a male person, then le is used (and the noun is said to be "masculine"); if the noun refers to a female person, then la is used (and the noun is said to be "feminine"). The masculine/feminine distinction also affects the form of the adjective used.

Of course, not all nouns refer to people. In other cases, the gender of the noun is essentially arbitrary, though there are some patterns (e.g. words ending in -ure are feminine, chemical elements are masculine...). To whet your appetite, see the grammar page on deciding the gender of a French word-- though I stress that if you're just beginning, you don't need to get bogged down in learning this information off by heart.

There are also a handful of words that denote people that just arbitrarily have one gender (e.g. the word victime meaning "victim" is always feminine, but could refer to a male or female victim). But there aren't so many of this type of word.

(By the way, what we've said about "people" applies to some extent to common animals too.)

Just as as in English, there are also some complexities due to the social aspect of gender. So just as English speakers might argue about whether chairman can refer to a woman, there are French job titles that cause similar doubts (traditionally, professeur, "teacher", is masculine; do you say Madame le professeur, Madame la professeur, Madame la professeuse...?).
Dear Neil,
Thank you very much for your reply. What I understood from your reply, and from the link you've sent is that I have to memorize the articles. Especially the link was really useful for me. Since I'm trying to catch the logic of the articles, I still have questions. For example "un Américain" is a mail American, and "une Américaine" is a female American. But as far as I understood from the link you've sent, if I use it as a noun in a sentence, and I have no idea about the gender, I have to use it with its own article, Le Américan.

Thanks again for you clear reply.
So basically yes for the short, basic, common words that don't refer to people, you effectively need to memorise whether the word is masculine or feminine. For all practical purposes, the word verre ("glass") is masculine "just because it is", and the word tasse ("mug", "cup") is feminine "just because it is". You could start to argue about historical reasons or correspondences between sounds and genders, but generally for the shortest, most basic words, it's not worth bothering and it's easier just to learn the gender off by heart.

For words referring to people/jobs, you can generally assume that the gender follows the gender of the person (despite the occasional exception that you'll come across such as victime that I mentioned-- another example is the word personne itself, which is always feminine).

Now, as I understand, part of your question refers to what to do if you're referring to a person and you don't actually know the gender of the person in question. There are different solutions to this: one is to just use the masculine form and rely on the reader/listener to understand that it could apply to females too (a bit like in English if you say "we're looking for a new waiter"-- it's probably understood that a female waitress would also be allowed); another would be to use a phrase involving both forms (a bit like in English "we're looking for a waiter or waitress"). In writing you can also sometimes put a form such as "un(e) Américain(e)", though obviously this applies only to writing.

N.B. le and la generally change to l' before a vowel, so the correct form for the (male) American would be l'Américain.

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