French Mnemonics – Plurals Ending in ‘X’

English is no stranger to some strange rules, but French might take the cake in the plural department. Sure, we have geese, mice, boxes, men – the list of weird plurals in English is lengthy. French throws a wrench into the system with the distinction between masculine and feminine words, often whose plural forms differ les uns aux autres.

The following mnemonics may seem obvious (if oiseau ends in ‘eau,’ you just slap an ‘x’ on to the end), but when you’re in the thick of writing a paper or sending an email, you want this to be instantaneous so you can use your brain power on things like style, etc.

I view learning French grammar as more of internalizing patterns than memorizing rote rules. In general, you will never stop mid sentence to think about things like ‘présent de l’indicatif’ or ‘premier personne du singulier.’ Yes, it’s good to understand these concepts, but you need to be able to innately apply patterns of the French language in the moment more than anything.


“-OUS” ou “-OUX” ?

All singular nouns ending in ‘-ou’ take an ‘s’ in the plural form except for the following 7 words which end in ‘x’ instead: chou, bijou, genou, caillou, hibou, pou, jouou.

To remember them, just use this French mnemonic:

“Mon chou, mon bijou, viens sur mes genoux avec tes joujoux, et jette des cailloux sur ce vilain hibou plein de poux.”

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Image Credit: Coucou hibou, Lucile Placin, Casterman,  2011

À savoir: ‘chou’ is literally a cabbage, but is often used as a term of endearmentby the French. They also love using animals names like ‘mon petit lapin.’
‘Joujou’ is a kiddie version of the word ‘jeu’ (toy) and takes an ‘x’ in the plural likes it’s regular form.

Also, please ignore the fact that parents are encouraging their kids to throw rocks at flea-covered owls in an effort to remember some simple grammar rules…


“-AUX” ou “-EAUX” ?

How do you know if you should have an ‘e’ as part of the ‘aux’ ending or not ? Just look back to the singular form of the word. If the singular form ends in ‘-al,’ the plural will end in ‘-aux’; otherwise it’s ‘-eaux.’

“un bocal” -> “des bocaux
“un oiseau” -> “des oiseaux

Bref, if the singular noun ends in -al ==> the plural will become -aux.
If the singular does not end in -al, the plural will end with -eaux.

un cheval = des chevaux
un canal = des canaux

un château ==> des châteaux
un oiseau ==> des oiseaux


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