French is known to be a language full of subtleties and nuances. Failure to provide a strong base for these nuances, however, can mean a nightmare for any learner. If making mistakes are a crucial part of the learning process, identifying and correcting them is just as essential. Such mistakes include using incorrect words in a specific situation, syntax errors, barbarisms, anglicisms among others. Ability to spot these mistakes is the key to rectifying them. Our teachers have, for your ease, selected 12 of the most frequently detected errors that you should be paying extra attention to avoid during your learning journey.
Beginner’s mistakes / errors due to complacency
1. Confuse être and avoir
Confusing être with avoir is certainly one of the first mistakes that beginners make. Even though these two verbs exist in most languages, their use and meaning varies from expression to expression. Therefore, this creates confusion among learners, who tend to literally translate expressions from their mother tongue into French. This happens especially with age:
So, we don’t say:
« Je suis 25 ans. »
« J’ai 25 ans. »
Another common mistake is to use the verb être to talk about the way you feel.
For example, to say that you are cold, you must say:
« J’ai froid. »
And not :
« Je suis froid. »
2. “Il est un chanteur.”
Here is a mistake common amongst native English speakers. To be clear, in French, determiners are common and necessary. However, professions are an exception.
« Je suis avocat. »
« Je suis un avocat. »
When speaking about a profession, there is no need to pre-fix it with a definite or an indefinite article.
3. « De le » or « du »?
« Je parle de le Canada. » This sentence is not correct. Indeed « de + le » does not exist in French. We use the contracted form « du ».
Therefore, we must say:
« Je parle du Canada. »
4. Pronounce the final “s”
In French, it is common to see words ending with the letter “s” since it is an indication that the names are plural. However, the final “s” is not pronounced in French, with a few exceptions.
5. Beaucoup or Très?
It is common for intermediate learners to not distinguish between “Beaucoup” and “Très”. Hence, they use these two words inter-changeably. However, they are not used in the same way.
We use ” Beaucoup “ with a verb or a noun.
« Il y a beaucoup de gens ici. »
And we use « très » with an adverb or an adjective.
« Il marche très vite. »
6. De + verbe à l’infinitif
To express the goal in French, it is possible to use the structure “pour + un verbe à l’infinitif”.
“Je vais à la piscine pour nager.”
Though, a common mistake is to use the structure “de + verbe à l’infinitif”. This structure does exist in French but it is never used to express the goal. Therefore, it is incorrect.
7. « Je mange beaucoup des gâteaux. »
Beaucoup, un peu, assez, etc. express notions of quantity and must therefore be followed by « de » (or « d’ » if the word that follows begins with a vowel or a « h » ) but never « des ».
So, we say:
« Je mange beaucoup DE gâteaux. »
« Je mange beaucoup DES gâteaux. »
8. Mémoire and souvenir
While English-speaking learners are generally familiar with mémoire and souvenir, they are unaware of the subtleties around the use of these words because they cannot be used as they are
in English. While mémoire refers to the mental ability to remember things, souvenirs refer to things and moments we remember.
« Elle racontait ses souvenirs d’enfance. »=« She recounted her memoires of her childhood. »
« Elle a une bonne mémoire. » = « He has a good memory. »
PS: As in English, the word souvenir can also refer to small items sold to tourists as a memento of a place visited.
9. Si + conditionnel
This is a mistake that even native French speakers occasionally make. This error should be corrected as this structure simply does not exist in French. Si is used to express a condition. It is, therefore, used to formulate a hypothesis:
“Si j’ai le temps, je te téléphonerai.”
“Si j’étais plus grand, je serais basketteur.”
“Si j’avais commencé les cours de français plus tôt, aujourd’hui je serais bilingue.”
The sentences are divided into two parts, the first part with si introduces the condition and is directly followed by either present, imperfect or pluperfect tense (depending on the level of probability of the event). So, the conditional can only be used in the second part of the sentence, never in the first.
10. Using the wrong prepositions
On va à la plage à vélo ou en voiture ? Prepositions are a puzzle for many students. While certain rules exist when it comes to prepositions of place, for others you will just have to learn them by heart and familiarize yourself with them by practicing French.
11. Actuellement and éventuellement
If it is tempting to think that these words correspond to the English words “actually” and “eventually”, but they are in fact false friends.
Actuellement can be translated as currently and éventuellement as possibly.
Many French natives are guilty of interchanging these two homophones due to confusion. But easiest way to distinguish them would be:
The word ” sensé” means “that makes sense”.
The word ” censé “ means “supposed” or “who must”.
Do you want to step up a gear and stop making these mistakes? The French Learning Institute offers training programs in French as a Foreign Language (FLE), our online French courses are tailored to the needs and objectives of the student. Our team will support you all the way through, ensuring you reach your maximum potential.