While learning a language, we learn a lot of vocabulary and grammar rules. But One of the biggest challenge of is to be able to put all these together and build sentences for communication purpose.
In which order should we put the words to make ourselves understood?
What should come first and after?
Not easy as I keep hearing from some of my students. That’s some of the reasons why I decided to write this article, to bring some useful and actionable information that you would be able to use while building your sentences.
In this article we will see how to build a simple sentence with one subject and one verb.
First, let’s define what a sentence is.
A sentence is a word or group of words that express (es) a thorough idea. A sentence can only be made of one word. Example : Mange ! (Eat !)
But in general it has at least a subject (S) and a verb (V).
In this sentence “L’enfant mange”, L’enfant is the subject and mange is the verb.
The verb is a vital part of the sentence.
Let’s take a close look to each of the sentence components.
1. The Subject
The subject is the person or thing that we are talking about. The one that makes the action or is in a state. The subject can be :
Alex parle français. > Alex speaks French
a group of noun
La femme est chinoise. > The lady is Chinese
a personal pronoun : the noun is replaced by a personal pronoun (je, tu , il, elle, nous,vous, ils , elles)
Il parle français. > He speaks French
an indefinite pronoun
Quelqu’un frappe à la porte. > Somebody is knocking at the door
an interrogative pronoun
Qui parle français ? > Who speaks French ?
a possessive pronoun
La mienne est rouge. > Mine is red
a demonstrative pronoun
Cela est mauvais. > That’s bad
Tricher est impardonnable. > Cheating is not forgivable.
2. The verb
The verb is the vital part of the sentence. Without it, there is no sentence. It must be adjusted to the subject’s gender and number; in other terms it must be conjugated in the appropriate tense (present, future, …)
3. The complement
The verb can be modified by an adverb. Example : Elle marche lentement > She walks slowly.
It can also be followed by what we call a complement, which gives more details on the verb. There are several types of complement in French. It can be :
Il est beau. > He is handsome.
a direct complement (COD)
Elle danse la salsa. > She dances salsa.
an indirect complement (COI)
Il parle à son frère. > He speaks to his brother.
a place complement
Elle va au travail. > She goes to work.
a time complement
Le train part à 10 heures. > The train leaves at 10 o’clock.
4. Building French sentence structure
You need to know which type of sentence you want to build, as the way you will organize the words will depend on that. In French, there are several types of sentences. In general, a sentence structure is : Subject +Verb + Complement. Some sentences may not have a complement.
In the affirmative sentence, the general sentence structure is Subject + Verb + complement
Example : Il (S) parle (V) vite (C).
In the negative sentence, the general structure is Subject + Ne + Verb + Negation word (pas, plus, personne, aucun, jamais,…). You can learn more about forming negative sentences here.
Examples : Je (S) ne parle(V) pas allemand (C). > I don’t speak german.
Elle ne voit personne > She doesn’t see anybody.
· Interrogative sentence
In the interrogative sentence, the general structure can be :
o Subject + Verb + Complement
Example : Tu parles francais ? > Do you speak French ?
o Est-ce que + Subject +Verb + Complement
Example : Est-ce que tu parles français ? > Do you speak French ?
o Verb + Subject + Complement
Example : Parles-tu français ? > Do you speak French ?
You can also form a sentence using a question word. The full procedure is explained here.
The exclamative sentence can have the same structure as a statement sentence. Then it will be Subject + Verb + Complement.
Elle est belle ! > She is beautiful!
It can also start with an exclamative adjective or adverb.
Qu'est-ce qu'elle est belle ! > What a beauty !
Quelle beauté ! > What a beauty !
Imperative sentence : in this type of sentences, the subject is always omitted. It is in general used for formulating commands, advice, invitation ….
Example : Entre ! > Enter!
Mange ta glace ! > Eat your ice cream!
You’ll find the full description of the use of imperative mood here.
Building sentence structure in French can seem a bit difficult when you are just beginning to learn the language. But luckily, you can master progressively how to form sentences if you learn to identify each component of it, the type of sentences and if you keep playing to put the components in order just like building something in a lego construction game. Once mastered, this will make you more comfortable in communicating in French and take you to the fluency level.
Hope this will be helpful. 🙂