My name is David Issokson. Since the beginning of 2014 I’ve helped hundreds of students to learn French through my online lessons. Over the years I’ve noticed a trend that we all seem to make the same mistakes.
Indeed, these mistakes are universal. One of the single most imporant things that we can do is French learners is try to nip these errors in the bud early on during our learning. I’ve actually made a list of over 100 beginner mistakes. In this article I’m going to list out the most common mistakes and show you how you can correct them.
List of common mistakes in French
1. Pronouncing the -ent on the -ils/-elles form of the verb
This is probably the most common mistake that beginners make. About 99% of French verbs in the third-person plural form (ils, elles) end in the letters -ent.
The most imprtant tip here is to not pronounce these letters. For example on ils parlent, do not pronounce the -ent and end the verb on the -l sound. Hence, je parle and ils parlent sound the exact same!
Stop pronouncing the -ent on verbs early on and you’ll be on the right track!
Here’s an entire lesson on this topic.
2. No need for être when trying to saying -ing
After the previous common mistake this is the second most common that I hear all the time during my French lessons.
If you want to say a sentences with a verb in the -ing form, simply conjugate the verb in the present tense.
For example, ‘Je parle means both 1) I speak; and 2) I am speaking.
If you say, ‘Je suis parle‘ it’s wrong. You cannot say ‘Je suis + present tense’ in French.
Thus, ‘Je suis parle‘ doesn’t exist. To say, I’m speaking, say ‘Je parle‘.
The same principle applies when you want to say I was blanking. To say, ‘I was speaking’, say ‘Je parlais‘. Use the imperfect tense. If you say, ‘Je suis parlais‘ it would be wrong.
For example to say, ‘I will be speaking’ say ‘je vais parler‘ or ‘je parlerai‘. But, ‘je serai parler’ is wrong.
Here you can find an entire lesson on this subject.
3. Saying ‘je connais’ when you should say ‘je sais’
A very common error which I hear all the time during my French students is people saying ‘je connais‘ for I know they should be saying ‘je sais‘.
Basically, you use ‘je sais‘ for anything that’s factual. For example, ‘Le ciel est bleu‘ (the sky is blue). Answer: Oui, je sais. Yes, I know.
Use je connais for people. Tu connais Jacques? (Do you know Jacques)? Oui, je le connais. Yes, I know him.
Here’s a compete lesson on connaître vs. savoir.
4. Saying pas des when you should say pas de
This is an extremely common mistake and it’s based on the ‘pas de’ rule.
For example, If I asked, ‘Est-ce que tu as des amis à Paris?‘ (Do you have any friends in Paris?), you’d think you could get away with saying, ‘Non, je ne pas des amis à Paris. (No, I don’t have any friends in Paris).
However, based on the ‘pas de‘ rule, the ‘des‘ must be come a de in the negation. Hence, ‘Je n’ai pas d’amis à Paris’ is correct.
This page goes in to the pas de rule.
5. Saying beaucoup des when you should be saying beaucoup de
This mistake is similar to the previous mistake. To say, ‘I have a lot of friends in Paris’, you’d think you could get away with saying, ‘J’ai beaucoup des amis à Paris‘. This looks right on the surface but it’s wrong.
Always say, ‘beauoup de + noun’, even if the noun is plural. Hence, ‘J’ai beaucoup d’amis à Paris‘ is correct.
6. Pronouncing an -ay sound on the je, tu and il forms of regular -er verbs
Another extremely common mistake is to pronounce an -ay sound on the je, tu and il/elle forms of regular -er verbs.
For example, to say je parle, tu parles and il parle, end the pronunciation on the -l. None of these forms end in an -ay sound.
Using parler as an example of a regular -er verb, only the infinitive (parler) and vous form (parlez) end in an -ay sound.
7. Saying j’ai allé or j’ai resté
In French, you cannot say j’ai allé or j’ai resté to mean I went and I stayed, respectively.
These verbs require the use of être as the auxiliary verb in the passé composé (past tense).
Hence, you must say, ‘je suis allé‘ and ‘je suis resté.
Here you’ll find an entire lesson which verbs take être in the passé composé.
8. Saying il fait pleut, il fait neige
Beginners make this mistake all the time when talking about the weather.
To say it’s raining and it’s snowing, respectively, say ‘il pleut‘ and “il neige’.
There is no need to say il fait for raining and snowing. Use il fait for adjectives such as il fait froid (it’s cold out) and il fait chaud (it’s hot out).
9. Saying c’est froid and c’est chaud for the weather
Beginners make another common mistake when describing the weather.
Many students will say c’est froid and c’est chaud, respectively to mean it’s cold out and it’s hot out. This is wrong.
Hence, to say it’s cold or hot out, you must use ‘il fait’ here: Il fait froid and il fait chaud.
Here’s a complete lesson on weather terms.
10. Saying à demain when all you want to say is ‘tomorrow’
Lots of beginners say à demain when they really just want to say tomorrow. À demain means ‘see you tomorrow’ and demain means tomorrow.
Here’s an example of the mistake. When trying to say, ‘I’ll to the restaurant tomorrow’, many beginners will say ‘Je vais au restaurant à demain‘.
Here you need to omit the à. ‘Je vais au restaurant demain‘ (I’m going to the restaurant tomorrow).
11. À chez moi doesn’t exist – just say chez moi
In French, there are two ways to say ‘I am at home’: 1) Je suis chez moi; and 2) ‘Je suis à la maison‘.
The mistake that most beginners make is to say, ‘Je suis à chez moi‘. If you want to use ‘chez moi’ then get rid of the à!
Here’s an entire post on the preposition chez.
12. Using pour when you should use pendant
Beginner students often use the word pour (for) when they should be using the word pendant (during).
Here’s an example of the common mistake. To say, ‘I studied in Paris for there months’, a lot of beginners will say: ‘J’ai étudié à Paris pour trois mois‘.
On this surface this looks right but it’s wrong. You must say: ‘J’ai étudié à Paris pendant trois mois‘. It sounds strange but it’s right.
13. Using il est/elle est when you should be using c’est
This is very common mistake among beginners and it’s a good idea to nip it in the bud ASAP!
To say, ‘he’s a boy’, you’d think you could say ‘Il est un garçon’. On the surface this looks right but it’s wrong.
The reason that is’s wrong is that articles trigger us to use c’est. Hence, you must say, ‘c’est un garçon‘ to say he or it’s a boy.
If you want to say he’s nice, for example, then you can say ‘il est sympathique‘.
Here’s an entire post on il est/elle est vs c’est.
Common pronunciation mistakes
14. Pronouncing the last consonant of a word
A very common error is for beginners to pronounce the last consonant at the end of a word.
For example, when saying ‘concert‘ many beginners will mistakenly pronounce the -t. Based on French reading rules, the pronunciation of concert ends on the -r.
Hence, for the word ‘restaurant‘, you end the pronunciation on the nasalized -an and totally skip the -t.
15. Pronouncing the -n on bien
Do not raise your tongue to the roof of your mouth to make an -n sound on the word bien (well).
French reading rules dictate that the final consonant of a word is silent (unless the word ends in -e).
For the word bien, the -en is a nazalized sound. Many people think they need to pronounce the -n as it is indeed pronounced in Spanish.
When you’re speaking French totally skip the -n on bien and you’ll be saying it correctly! Très bien!
16. The word pays has two syllables
Lots of beginners pronounce the word pays (country) as ‘pay’ in English. This is a mistake.
Pays has two syllables and is pronounced ‘pay-ee’. Hence the word for landscape, ‘paysage’ is ‘pay-ee-zage’.
17. Saying ‘beauté‘ with English pronunciation
A lot of beginners say the ‘eau’ in ‘beauté‘ using the English pronunciation ‘ee-u’.
This is wrong. Pronounce the letters ‘au’ in French like ‘oh’ as in oh my gosh!
Hence to pronounce beauté say: ‘boh-tay’.