The classic definition of a noun is "a person, place, thing, or idea." The English word "noun" and its French equivalent un nom both come from the Latin word "nomen", meaning "name." So a noun is something concrete or abstract that can be named, and that can be the subject of a verb, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition. All of the nouns in this paragraph are underlined.
Subject: La maison est grande. - The house is big.
Object of verb: Je vois la maison. - I see the house.
Object of preposition: Je vais à la maison. - I'm going to the house.
French nouns and gender
In French, all nouns have a gender: they are either masculine or feminine.
- man - un homme
- woman - une femme
- truck - un camion
- car - une voiture
- speech - un discours
- idea - une idée
The singular articles un and une indicate the gender of the above nouns: un homme, un camion, and un discours are masculine, while une femme, une voiture, and une idée are feminine.
But what about when there isn't an article, or the article is plural? What if you see, for example, J'ai mangé des pommes (I ate some apples) - how do you know the gender of pommes? Unfortunately, there's no simple way to know the gender of every French noun - you have to look it up or ask someone and then remember it for each noun. The best way to do this is to make sure your vocabulary lists always include articles so that you learn the gender with each noun. That said, there are some word endings that tend to be one gender or the other, but this only applies to a limited number of French nouns.
In addition to articles, the gender of a noun affects adjectives as well as certain pronouns and verb conjugations, so it's essential to know the gender of every French noun.
French nouns and number
Nouns also have number: they are either singular or plural.
- truck - un camion
- trucks - des camions
- one car - une voiture
- three cars - trois voitures
The "s" at the end of camions and voitures lets you know that these words are plural, while camion and voiture are singular. But there are also irregular French plurals like un cheval > deux chevaux (one horse > two horses).