After learning French for a while, whether in a class or on your own, you've probably found that there are some things you just can't figure out how to say, or that people are always correcting you on. These may be issues that you haven't been taught yet or concepts that you've studied but just don't get. As an intermediate French speaker, there is still plenty of time to fix these mistakes before they fossilize in your mind. Here are ten of the most common intermediate-level French mistakes with links to lessons.
French Mistake 1: Y and En
Y and en are known as adverbial pronouns - they replace the preposition à or de plus a noun, respectively. They consistently cause problems for intermediate French speakers, though I'm not sure whether this is because they are not adequately taught in French classes, or simply because they are difficult to master. Regardless of the reason for the difficulties, the fact is that both y and en are extremely important in French, so be sure to study this lesson.
French Mistake 2: Manquer
The French verb manquer (to miss) is a tough one because the word order is the opposite of what you probably expect. For example, "I miss you" translates not as je te manque but rather tu me manques (literally, "you are missing to me.") Once you understand the proper French word order, you'll never miss this one again.
French Mistake 3: Le Passé
French past tenses are definitely tricky. The passé composé vs imparfait issue is a constant struggle until students truly understand each of these tenses and the differences between them. There's also the matter of the passé simple, which needs to be understood but not used. Get past this confusion with these lessons.
French Mistake 4: Agreement
Agreement of adjectives and être verbs may seem pointless and aggravating, but it's part of the French language and needs to be learned. There are several kinds of agreement; the ones intermediate students really need to watch out for are agreement of adjectives with the nouns they modify, and agreement of the past participle of être verbs with their subjects in the passé composé and other compound tenses.
French Mistake 5: Faux Amis
There are thousands of French words that look a lot like English words, and while many of them are true cognates (i.e., mean the same thing in both languages), a lot of them are false cognates. If you look at the word actuellement and think "Aha! That's the French translation of actually," you're going to make a mistake because it actually means "currently." Actuellement and hundreds of other faux amis are explained on my site, so take the time to learn the most common ones and thus avoid common pitfalls.
French Mistake 6: Relative Pronouns
The French relative pronouns are qui, que, lequel, dont, and où, and depending on context can mean who, whom, that, which, whose, where, or when. They are difficult for various reasons, including not having standard English equivalents and being required in French but often optional in English. The pronoun dont in particular causes major problems for French students, so be sure to learn about French relative pronouns.
French Mistake 7: Temporal Prepositions
Temporal prepositions introduce an amount of time, and the French ones are often confused. There is a correct time to use each of the prepositions à, en, dans, depuis, pendant and pour, so take the time to learn the difference.
French Mistake 8: Depuis and Il y a
Depuis and il y a are both used to describe time in the past, but depuis means "since" or "for" while il y a means "ago." If you had studied this lesson one year ago (il y a un an), you would have already known how to use these expressions correctly for a year (depuis un an). It's not too late - allez-y!
French Mistake 9: "Ce Homme"
French adjectives usually have to agree with the nouns they modify in gender and number, but there are several that have a special form used when they precede a word that begins with a vowel or mute H. For example, to say "this man," you might be tempted to say ce homme because ce is the masculine demonstrative article. But because French likes to maintain euphony, ce changes to cet in front of a vowel or mute H: cet homme.
French Mistake 10: Pronominal Verbs and Reflexive Pronouns
Pronominal verbs (including reflexive verbs) cause lots of problems, especially when they are used in the infinitive. You probably know that "I'm getting up" is je me lève, but what about "I have to get up" or "I'm going to get up"? Should you say je dois/vais me lever or je dois/vais se lever? Look at this lesson for the answer to that question as well as all kinds of other good info about pronominal verbs.
High-intermediate means your French is pretty good - you excel in everyday situations, and can even hold your own in long discussions, but there are still some issues that you can't seem to get the hang of, or that you simply don't remember five minutes after looking them up. Reading several explanations of the same issue can help cement understanding of these sticky issues, so here are ten of the most common high-intermediate French mistakes with links to my lessons - maybe this time it will finally make sense.
High Intermediate Mistake 1: Se and Soi
Se and soi are two of the most commonly misused French pronouns. Se is a reflexive pronoun while soi is a stressed pronoun, but they are very often mixed up with le and lui, respectively. These lessons will help you understand the difference in order to avoid any confusion.
High Intermediate Mistake 2: Encore vs Toujours
Because encore and toujours can both mean "yet" and "still" (though they both have several other meanings as well), they are very often confused with one another. Learn how and when to use each of them.
High Intermediate Mistake 3: What
Trying to figure out how to say "what" in French can be tricky - should it be que or quoi, or what about quel? All of these terms have specific uses in French, so the only way to know which one to use when is to understand exactly what each one means.
High Intermediate Mistake 4: Ce que, ce qui, ce dont, ce à quoi
Indefinite relative pronouns link relative clauses to a main clause when there is no specific antecedent… huh? In other words, when you have a sentence like "this is what I want" or "that's what he told me," the "what" that links the two clauses has an unknown (indefinite) meaning. French indefinite relative pronouns often - though not always translate as "what," so take a look at this lesson for detailed explanations and examples.
High Intermediate Mistake 5: Si Clauses
Si clauses, also known as conditionals or conditional sentences, have an "if" clause and a "then" (result) clause, such as "If I have time, (then) I will help you." There are three types of si clauses, and each requires a certain sequence of verb tenses in French, which can cause confusion. The rules, however, are quite simple once you take the time to learn them.
High Intermediate Mistake 6: Final Letters
French pronunciation is tricky when it comes to final letters. Many words end in silent consonants, but some of those normally silent consonants are pronounced when followed by a word that begins with a vowel or mute H. This is often difficult for French learners, but with study and practice you really can master it, and these lessons are the place to start.
High Intermediate Mistake 7: Subjunctive
A high-intermediate French speaker is certainly aware of the subjunctive and knows to use it after things like il faut que and je veux que, but there are probably still some expressions or verbs that you're not sure about. Do you use the subjunctive after espérer, and what about il est possible/probable? Take a look at these pages for help with all of your subjunctive questions.
High Intermediate Mistake 8: Negation
Obviously, a high-intermediate speaker knows how to use ne… pas and many other negative forms, but there might be a few issues you still find tricky, like ne pas in front of an infinitive, ne without pas, and pas without ne. Whatever your question about negation, you'll find answers in these lessons.
High Intermediate Mistake 9: Two or More Verbs
There are several different types of French verb constructions with two or more verbs: compound moods/tenses (e.g., j'ai mangé), dual verbs (je veux manger), modals (je dois manger), passive voice (il est mangé), and the causative construction (je fais manger). Many of these do not translate literally from English and thus can be difficult for French students. Your best bet is to review the lesson on each structure to make sure you understand, and then practice whenever you can to remember it.
High Intermediate Mistake 10: Word Order
Last but not least, word order can be a problem, especially when dealing with negation, various pronouns, and more than one verb all in the same sentence. This is another area where practice makes perfect - review the lessons and then put them to work.
- Position of object pronouns
- Position of adverbs