Easy romance grammar. Countries and cities


I know fireworks are traditional, but I’m fire-worked out and although the year has changed the weather in the West Country hasn’t.

I’m not whinging about my morning walk with SWP because the Queen of my heart (from now on QofMyH) took him. He is bedraggled, happy and we have muddy paw prints all over the house.

While SWP was enjoying rolling in the mud, I was listening to Français Authentique while enjoying my breakfast yoghurt. The key concept behind Français Authentique is that you listen to the same content again and again, ideally with some focus.

This morning I was focused (unusually for new years morning but the body works in mysterious ways), and I was listening to an episode which mentioned countries.

As I was listening attentively decided to check the grammar. French grammar is a walk in the park compared to say: POLISH, but it still has its complexities, nuances and subtleties.

How to use  French  articles with countries very very easily

I decided to simplify the use of articles relating to French countries to a couple of rules that will work 99 percent of the time for me. There is a Latin phrase Qui docet discit (‘He who teaches learns’) and I’m rather hoping that writing this down will help me as well as you.

Before we start you need to know:

Countries have a gender which can be either Masculine or Feminine.

When referring to a country in French, the definite article (the) is used, and so the gender is important.

La France est très belle (France is very beautiful).

L’angleterre est le plus beau du monde (England is the most beautiful country)

Crucially for me, as I live in Europe and mainly refer to european countries, the gender of most european countries is feminine. 

As an aside in French,  almost all the countries which end in e are feminine.

L’Allemagne    Germany

L’Angleterre  England

La France France

L’Espagne Spain

L’Italie Italy

La Pologne Poland

La Roumanie Romania

La Russie   Russia

La Suisse   Switzerland

Le Portugal    Portugal is  masculine.

The point here is that the article of any country that I am likely to refer to or talk about is feminine. By the way, I don’t want to sound disrespectful towards the Portuguese here (and I love the sound of Portuguese) but I’ve never been to Portugal and am unlikely to talk about it in French.

Rule number 1. All countries are feminine

My first rule is that all countries in French are feminine in gender (which they obviously are not), but all countries that I am likely to refer to are!

Rule number 2. Always use en with countries

Always use en when talking about going to a country, living in a country and so on.

Again this is patently wrong as au is used with masculine countries, but as I almost always refer to feminine countries, when I want to say ‘I’m going to ‘ followed by a country, I use en.

More precisely, En is used after feminine French countries, continents and feminine regions.

Je vais en Ecosse le mois prochain

Il travaille en Allemagne

Ils vivent en France depuis longtemps

Je suis allé en Algérie cet été

Il habite en Provence (la Provance)

Cet été il part en Bretagne (la Bretagne)

Rule Number 3. The definite article isn’t used in conjunction with en.

I now have three simple rules which for me will almost always allow me to speak grammatically when using countries in French.

As we are talking about going to places, I thought I would mention that:

à is used with towns

Jean habite à Edimbourg

If you want life to be complicated:

If you want to speak correctly, all of the time then you need to know that :-

au (a + le) is used with masculine countries

Philippe est sa femme partent demain au Costa Rica

aux (a + les) is used with masculine countries

Ils habitent aux Etats-Unis

Dans + le is used with regions that are masculine plural

Il est né dans le Poitou

Nous travaillons dans le Jura

All places ending with a are masculine, as are British names of counties.

Teresa est en vacances dans le Yorkshire

Personally, I’m aware that there is a difference between masculine and feminine countries but am content to learn my simple rules and pick up the subtleties over time and exposure to the language.

Overlaps with other Romance languages

There are big overlaps between the grammar of the romance languages, and the use of definite articles with countries is one of them. I’ve briefly outlined a few of the similarities – just for fun that you can see the similarities between French, Italian and Spanish.


La Francia, La Germania, La Gran Bretagna, L’Italia, La Polonia, La Romania, La Spagna, La Svizzera

Il Portugallo

Again the only masculine country is Il Portugal  (Portugal), and again the definite article is used in the same way as in French with countries.

L’Italian e le sue regioni …  (Italy and her regions …)

Conosci l’Inghilterra  (Do you know England?)

In is used for counties and continents, and a is used with cities and small islands. In is used in the same way as the French en.

sono andato in Francia (I went to France).

sono andato a Roma (I went to Rome).

Sono stato in Italia tre anni (I went to Italy three years ago).


The genders are again identical (for the european countries chosen) with Portugal being the only country of the bunch with a masculine gender.

Spanish doesn’t in general require the definite article before a country. Common exceptions are La India (India), el Reino Unido  (the United Kingdom) and Los Estados Unidos (The United States).

In fact, Spanish is the easiest of the lot regarding countries with my simple rules being:

Don’t use the definite article in front of countries apart from  La India (India), el Reino Unido  (the United Kingdom) and Los Estados Unidos (The United States).

Use en where we would use in and a where we would use to.

¿Fuiste a Inglaterra el año pasado? (Did you go to England last year?)

Estaba en Londres. (He was in London)

Vivió en Londres. (He lived in London)

¿Has estado en Inglaterra?  (Have you been in (to) England?)

There are numerous example in the 500 sentences in different languages.


All the above countries are feminine, even Portugal which is Portugal in Romanian.

I was going to add more about Romanian but am not sufficiently sure of my ground. I’ll add more to this post when my Romanian studies are more advanced:)


I like and use books, not only on my kindle but real physical copies:

Complete Romanian: Teach Yourself (Book/CD Pack)

Easy Learning French Complete Grammar, Verbs and Vocabulary (3 books in 1) (Collins Easy Learning French)

Easy Learning Spanish Grammar (Collins Easy Learning Spanish)

Talk Italian Grammar



Entre chien et loup

You have to hand it to the French. They have some brilliant expressions.

I’ve just come across ‘entre chien et loup’, a phrase which describes the time of day which in English we call ‘twilight’.

Twilight is the time of day, early morning or late evening,  when the sun is not directly visible and the light (such as it is) is merely sunlight reflected in the upper atmosphere.

Digressing slightly, the word ‘dusk’ is the darkest part of twilight. The minutes or seconds before the last rays of the sun (bouncing about in the upper atmosphere) disappear and all becomes inky black. Or not if you live in a city. Dusk only refers to the evening twilight.

‘Entre chien et loup’ or in English ‘between dog and wolf’ is the time of day (or night) when we can make out the outlines/shadows or silhouettes or objects but can’t exactly distinguish between them.

Is that a wolf? Or maybe my hound?  Or a monster …

Besos and baci,


French progress. Feb 2016


Well one of my goals was to improve my (rubbish) French and reach a B1 level by the end of the year. The year hasn’t started particularly encouragingly, mainly because I’ve been very busy with work and you know stuff.

But, but, but it is very important to learn something new every day and maintain some sort of momentum. I haven’t done so as yet, but yesterday in a bid to do so, I bought a book for my kindle called:

365 days of French expressions 

(There  is a related website by the author  Talk in French which seems filled with all sorts of useful material).

There is a new expression for you to learn each day for … 365 days, and this really appeals to me. So for the days when I don’t do any other French related activity (most of them so far), I can learn a new expression.

I started today :-

The expression is de cochon and there is a sentence illustrating its use (as there is for each phrase or expression).

Il avait une haleine de cochon. ‘He had smelly breath’ or ‘the breath of a pig’.

Besos and baci,



The elephant in the room. Comprehension


The ‘elephant in the room’  is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed.

With languages, this is comprehension, and this blog post says it better than I could, but the gist is you can learn to speak a language relatively quickly, but there is no such thing as fast comprehension.

This is so true.

Anyway, with my French (and my resolution this year was to reach a B1 in spoken French), I’ve spent my time so far listening (using Lingq) and reading.

I’ll continue in this way for the next few months.

I read another interesting post on the polyglot dream which (among other things) explains why the author (Luca lampariello) stopped learning Greek. His reasons pretty much mirror my own for putting (for now) Polish on hold.

For anyone who is interested I’ve added a cloze test to the foreign languages sentences. Helpful comments appreciated.

Besos & baci,


Language Goals 2016

I know it is slightly early, but  New Years Day is not normally a good day for resolutions (or thinking about such), due to it being the morning after the night b4 and all.

Last year, I was trying to improve my Italian from B1 to B2 on the CEFR scale. This had also been an aim from the previous year, which I hadn’t managed to reach.

You will be relieved to know that I’ve finally arrived at B2 (as judged by a tutor), and aim to carry on (piano piano) improving. To reach this level, I do a weekly language exchange, have had sporadic lessons, read a lot in Italian and listen to the radio. Awesome success.


I also wanted to reach a B1 level in Polish.

Instead, I’ve stopped entirely. I love the sound of Polish, and I like the way the language hangs together, but that wasn’t enough to keep me motivated over a longer period. I need a reason to continue with a language, and I didn’t find it with Polish. I’d like to think that I will return to the language some day. Epic fail.

I wanted to reach an A2 level in reading Russian. I started but again didn’t have the hook to make me continue. Epic fail.

Instead, I read a book in Afrikaans. Modest success.

I wanted to maintain my Spanish. I’ve done this with a weekly language exchange and listening to podcasts. Success.

So, chaps, what am I going to do next year?

I’m going to focus on French.  I would like to reach an B1 level in spoken French by the end of the year.

I intend to spend 30 minutes a day, five days a week, studying, and by that I mean actively learning French. In other words, a mere two and a half hours a week. I’m not really big on formally sitting down and learning ‘stuff’ nowadays so that is probably about my limit.

I’m also going to do what has worked for me in Italian, that is reading a lot, listening to podcasts and finding a teacher using iTalki or similar for an hour a week of conversation. At a later point (when my French is good-enough) I’ll look for a language exchange. My experience of language exchanges is that to be effective you need to become friends, and for that to happen you both need to have conversational ability to some degree.

I’m not starting from scratch as I learnt some French at school, and can to a degree read it. However, I can’t speak to save my life. I mean I can say ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and so on, but I can’t put a sentence together, and due to horrendous memories from school feel like a total numpty whoever I try and say anything. I’m not going to name names, but teachers who criticise (and my French teacher) was one of these, cast a long shadow …

I need a plan, which will no doubt, change from month to month, and I will outline in good time, but for now I’m going to ease myself into the process of learning  French by reading and listening to music.

I’m going to start by reading French Short Stories for beginners by Olly Richards which I came across the other day. The stories are suitable for beginners from A1-A2 which suits me perfectly.

Besos and baci