Thank you for your response, so if in my head i can say '' the whole'' of the day, year etc, then use the feminine. but what still stumps me is the two examples using years. during his sabbatical he travelled etc, and i spent a year in Spain etc. Both are saying one year, not two or three years, so a precise moment no? Is there a way to differentiate between these two examples ?
In the first example -
'J'ai passé un an en Espagne quand j'avais dix-neuf ans'
It is a unit of time, the person speaking didn't spend weeks, months, two years , probably about a year is implied...
In the second example-
'Pendant son année sabbatique ....'
This is clearly a very definite year long period and 'année' is required here.
There are a few exceptions to the rule, 'chaque année' rather than 'chaque an' springs to mind, because it sounds too much like 'chacun' and is hard to say I presume...
Hope this helps
The way I understand and use it, has to do with counting things (male form) and focusing on the duration (female versions).
I spent one year in Spain. -- This is a counting thing, hence un an.
During his sabbatical year... -- Focus on the duration, hence année
Thanks to both Chris and Cécile, very much appreciated. I also have have found articles on Thoughtco.com, that have been helping. I guess it's practice and faith that one day it will be so obvious I will wonder how it ever confused me.
This was super helpful Chris, thank you! I also could not really tell the difference between the two based on the wording of the lesson but you really clarified it!
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