For a native English speaker learning French, one of the sharpest thorns in the flesh (after the wretched verbs, of course) is the question of gender – is a noun masculine or feminine. Many’s the time my students, making a good fist of conversing in French, suddenly stop, look up to the ceiling, down to the floor, frown and grimace, causing the flow to stop and all because they are unsure of the gender of a word.
The first thing to understand is that it doesn’t matter a tuppenny damn if you get it wrong. It is far more important to keep the conversation flowing. The question of gender is a nonsense: the same word can be masc or fem with different meanings (vase, livre, tour); some words are one gender in the singular and the other in the plural (délice, amour) and some can be masc or fem (clope = fag, ciggie).
Gender association in French Language
Have you ever thought that an English pupil learning French nouns for homework has twice as much work to do as his French counterpart who doesn’t have gender to worry about.
When I was learning French, I remembered gender (and other things) by what I think is called ‘association‘. Before I give you some examples, I want to point out that some could be considered sexist and I don’t want to be trolled and vilified by affronted women. I know the roles of men and women are blurred, and quite rightly so, but it wasn’t like it when I was alive.
Vase (f) = mud. Women wear mud packs.
Vase (m) = vase
Livre (f). = pound
Livre (m) = book Big fat heavy book Big fat heavy man
Tour (f) = tower La Tour Eiffel. A thing of grace and beauty
Tour (m) = tour, trick, turn
Poêle (f) = frying pan Probably more associated with women
Poêle (m) = stove (wood burner)
Balade (f) = trip, excursion, ride, drive, jaunt
Ballade (f) = ballad, song. Double ll La la
Make your own up but whatever you do, don’t assign a gender to a word on the strength of its being a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ thing. Remember! Knickers, bra, petticoat as well as more intimate lady parts are masculine; while shirt, tie, prostate and Adam’s apple are feminine.
If in doubt, make the ruddy thing masculine and … keep talking.