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The simple way of building French sentence Structure

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

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 :

  • a noun

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

  • a verb

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 :

  • an adjective

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.

  • Affirmative sentence

In the affirmative sentence, the general sentence structure is Subject + Verb + complement

Example : Il (S) parle (V) vite (C).

  • Negative sentence