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The Essentials: How to Get by in French

by Marisa Serrano

Are you eager to learn French, but aren’t sure where to start? You came to the right place. Rosetta Stone’s team of language experts knows exactly what you need to succeed! In this French essentials guide, you’ll find almost everything a Rosetta Stone learner masters in their first unit. 

With each Rosetta Stone lesson, you’ll pick up new vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation skills through a carefully structured Dynamic Immersion environment. For this guide, French elements are listed in order of utility—words that fall into the first three categories are crucial to building a sentence! 

  • Activities 
  • People
  • Verb tenses
  • Things
  • Adjectives
  • Numbers
  • Phrases 

Check out French fundamentals below, or head over to our subscription page to find a plan that works for you! 


When learning a language, you’ll want to be able to talk about what people are up to. The essential verbs to learn in French are ones that you use every day. 

To readlire
To writeécrire
To drinkboire
To eatmanger
To watchregarder
To swimnager
To runcourir
To haveavoir
To beêtre
To wearporter


Why are you learning French? To connect with other people, of course! There are many ways to refer to a person—by their profession, their style, their sense of humor—but the basics are easy to remember and help you communicate what you need to in a short amount of time. 


A quick note about nouns: In French, nouns are either masculine or feminine, including those that wouldn’t typically have a gender (like a chair or table). It’s important to remember that the article (a, an, the, this) preceding the noun changes depending on its gender. Feel free to revisit this note when you reach the “Things” section! 

EnglishFrench (Masculine)French (Feminine)
a, an UnUne



EnglishFrench (Singular)French (Plural)
A girlUne filleLes filles
A boy Un garçonLes garçons
A womanUne femmeLes femmes
A manUn hommeLes hommes



First PersonJeNous
Second PersonTu (informal) or vous (formal)Vous
Third PersonIl / ElleIls / Elles

Verb tenses

In French, most verbs end in the following three letters: “er”, “ir”, and “re”. 

When conjugated, each verb type has slightly different endings that attach to the root verb. 

When learning French with Rosetta Stone, context clues that match words with images help reinforce the nuances of each verb tense. This reliance on context and reasoning helps you build a deeper, more enduring understanding of the language that goes far beyond rote memorization.

The endings for common verbs in the present tense—which gives you the ability to speak about what’s happening now—are listed below. 


Pronouns (English)Pronouns (French)-er-ir-re
You (plural)Vous-ez-issez-ez

Using the present tense endings above, this is what the verb “nager” (“to swim”) looks like when conjugated: 

Je nageNous nageons
Tu nagesVous nagez
Il/Elle nageIls/elles nagent


Irregular Verbs

Some verbs have irregular endings, which means that their conjugated forms don’t follow the verb ending patterns above and/or their roots change. 

Aller (to go), avoir (to have), and être (to be) are three common irregular verbs in French. Learn these, and you’ll feel even more confident as you master the basics. 

Aller (to go)

First PersonSecond Person
Je vaisNous allons
Tu vasVous allez
Il/Elle vaIls/elles vont 

Avoir (to have)

First PersonSecond Person
J’aiNous avons
Tu as Vous avez
Il/Elle Ils/Elles ont


Être (to be)

First PersonSecond Person
Je suisNous sommes
Tu es Vous êtes
Il/Elle est Ils/Elles sont



There are so many “things” out there! But don’t be intimidated. From food and furniture to sports and the great outdoors, cognate words—or words that look and mean the same thing in two languages—are plentiful. They can help you navigate conversations and pick up new phrases in the process. 

The list of items below is a small sample of what you’d learn in Unit 1 of Rosetta Stone’s French edition. 


EggUn oeuf
BreadUn pain
AppleUne pomme
BowlUn bol
CupUne tasse



A bedUn lit
A chairUne chaise
A tableUne table
A cell phoneUn téléphone cellulaire
A keyUne clé
A flowerUne fleur
A bicycleUne bicyclette
A newspaperUn journal
A bookU​​n livre
A ballUn ballon



When learning and tackling French adjectives, there are a few key grammatical rules to keep in mind:  

  • Adjectives typically follow the noun they’re describing 
  • Adjectives agree with the noun in gender and in number. For singular feminine nouns, add -e, for plural feminine nouns, add -es, and for masculine plural nouns, add -s

Here are some examples: 

A black cat: Un chat noir.

A black shirt: Une chemise noire.

Start by learning colors in French, and then branch out to more whimsical descriptors. 


PurpleViolet / Violette
BlackNoir / Noire
WhiteBlanc / Blanche


Numbers and phrases

You’ll need to know your numbers to discuss quantities, tell time, or inquire about costs. Want to go even further? This guide will help you learn numbers 1-100 in French. 




And finally, a handful of useful phrases can help you get to where you need to go!

There is…Il y a…Il y a un livre. (There is a book). 
How much? How many?Combien? Combien ça coûte? (How much does it cost?)
Where is it? Où est-ce?Où est le livre? (Where is the book?)
What is it? Qu’est-ce que c’est?Quel est le livre? (What is the book?)
What time is it? Quelle heure est-il?À quelle heure est le concert?(What time is the concert?)


Gain a deeper understanding 

Now that you’ve had a look at the essentials, take some time to consider what you want your language learning journey to look like. Will you achieve your French dreams by learning in a traditional classroom setting or branching out on your own

Whatever environment you choose, Rosetta Stone can help you meet your French learning goals and speak confidently from the very first lesson. You’ll learn through Dynamic Immersion, and have opportunities to perfect your accent every step of the way. Our courses are built by language learning experts who have refined what and how you learn to ensure you build fluency fast. 

Start learning French today at rosettastone.com!

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