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Sentence Structure

Sentence Structure

In French, the basic sentence structure is: subject, verb, object. For example, Je vends la voiture (I sell the car). The word order of French sentences has many particularities unique to French. In this article you’ll learn all the most important word order rules necessary to properly speak French.

French sentence structure

Guide to French sentence structure

French word order: List of rules

Rule 1: Subject + Verb + Object

For the present tense, the word order in French is simply subject + verb + object (SVO). Here re some very simple examples:

  • Je mange la pizza. I eat the pizza.
  • Nous achetons la maison. We buy the house.
  • Paul aime Marie. Paul loves Marie.

These are called declarative sentences. In French, it is necessary to always include the subject. In other Romantic languages such as Spanish the subject can be omitted. The exception to this rule is the imperative mood. For example:

  • Tu parles français (You speak French); correct
  • Parles français (incorrect)

In the imperative mood, the subject can be omitted. For example:

  • Mange la pizza! Eat the pizza!
  • Achète la voiture! Buy the car!

This page on our site covers the French imperative in detail.

French word order

Rule 2: Use ne…pas for negation

French negation requires the usage of ne…pas being wrapped around the verb. The ne…pas negation structure is unique to French. For example:

  • Tu ne manges pas la pizza. You don’t eat the pizza.
  • Tu ne parles pas français. You don’t speak French.

Rule 3: Est-ce que and inversion for questions

The basic word order changes for asking questions. There are two main ways of asking questions: Using est-ce que and inversion.

Put est-ce que in front of the basic SVO declarative sentence. For example:

  • Est-ce que tu manges la pizza? Are you eating the pizza?
  • Est-ce que tu parles français? Do you speak French?

When using inversion the word order changes as the subject and verb are inverted. For example:

  • Manges-tu la pizza? Do you eat the pizza?
  • Parles-tu français? Do you speak French?

Rule 4: Adjectives come after nouns

In general, the rule for adjectives is that they come after nouns. For example:

  • Tu manges une pizza délicieuse. You eat a delicious pizza.

However, the are situations where the adjective comes before the noun. For example:

  • Tu manges une bonne pizza. You eat a good pizza.

This page on our site covers French adjective rules in detail.

Rule 5: Adverbs come after verbs

In general, adverbs come after the subject, verb and object. For example:

  • Il parle français couramment. He speaks French fluently.
  • Je mange la pizza fréquemment. I eat pizza frequently.

However, there are situations where shorter adverbs come between the verb and the object.

  • Il parle bien français. He speaks French well.
  • Je mange souvent la pizza. I often eat pizza.

This page on our site covers French adverbs in detail.

Conclusion

These five rules are the basics for the word order of French sentences. While sentences came become much more complex, mastering these fives simple rules is required for making basic sentences.

Related lesson:

See all French grammar lessons

References:

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David Issokson
David Issokson is a lifelong language learner and speaks over seven languages. Of all the languages he speaks, he's the most passionate about French! David has helped hundreds of students to improve their French in his private lessons. When not teaching or writing his French Word of the Day lessons, David enjoys his time skiing, hiking and mountain biking in Victor, Idaho.

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David Issokson

David Issokson is a lifelong language learner and speaks over seven languages. Of all the languages he speaks, he's the most passionate about French! David has helped hundreds of students to improve their French in his private lessons. When not teaching or writing his French Word of the Day lessons, David enjoys his time skiing, hiking and mountain biking in Victor, Idaho.

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