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French sentence structure

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The sentence is delimited by the punctuation and constitutes at the same time a syntactic unit, a melodic unit and a unit of meaning. In the French language, verbal sentences (French: les phrases verbales) are the most common, they revolve around a conjugated verb.


Alors on vit un spectacle formidable. (Victor Hugo, les misérables, 1862)

Some sentences that do not include a conjugated verb, emphasize a noun or nominal group (French: le groupe nominal), an adjective (French: la phrase adjectivale) or an adverb (French: la phrase adverbiale).


Bouleversement de toute ma personne. (Marcel Proust, Sodome et Gomorrhe, 1921)

You study a sentence according to its structure (simple, composed or complex), its type (declarative, interrogative, exclamatory or imperative), its form (affirmative or negative) and its voice (active or passive).

Phrases in French 

Just like in English, a sentence always start with a capital letter and always ends with a single point (.) but it can also end with an exclamation point or a question mark. The sentence is composed of a set of words placed in a logical order to have a meaning and to express a fact or an action. 

A sentence can be more or less complex. Therefore, you distinguish simple sentences, composed sentences and complex sentences

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French simple phrases

The simple sentence (French: la phrase simple) is called an independent proposition. It is not related to any other proposition. Among the simple sentences, we find the verbal sentence (French: la phrase verbale) and the nominal sentence (French: la phrase nominale).

Verbal phrases

The verbal sentences (French: la phrase verbale) are composed of a subject or a group of subjects, a conjugated verb and a complement


Nous allonsà la plage(We are going to the beach)
Alina et moisommesde grands amateurs(Alina and I are big amateurs)
Tom et Nana sont des personnages de dessin animés(Tom and Nana are cartoons' avatars)

Nominal phrases

The nominal sentences (French: la phrase nominale) does not have a conjugated verb. 


  • Premier plat, première deception. (First meal, first disappointment)
  • Quel beau garcon ! (What a beautiful man !)
  • Une véritable perte de temps ! (A true waste of time)

Complex French phrases

The complex sentences (French: les phrases complexes) are composed of several conjugated verbs. It consist of a main proposition and one ore more other subordinate clauses

A complex sentence should at least have two verbs and therefore it can also have one, two or more complements depending on the numbers of verbs included. 


Proposition principaleProposition subordonnéeTranslations
Je ne sais pasquand elle est arrivée(I don't know when she arrived)
Je suis rentréeainsi que mes amies(I went back home and my friends as well)
Il partira de la Francelorsqu'il aura son permis(He will leave France once he gets his license driver)

The composed phrases in French

The composed phrases (French: les phrases composées) are similar to the complex sentence but use another independent proposition separated by a preposition or the comma (,)


  • Je mange et j'arrive dans 2 heures(Let me eat and I'm coming in 2 hours)
  • Léa parle et crie sur tous ses amis(Lea speaks and yells at all her friends)
  • Papa a réparé la voiture et est parti déposer ma mère au marché(Dad repaired the car and went to drop my mom off to the market)

​The phrases forms in French

The French grammar has many form of phrases (French: les formes de phrase) and among them you find: 

  • The negative form 
  • The affirmative form
  • The emphatic form 
  • The passive form 
  • The impersonal form 
  • The neutral form
Forme négativeJe ne pourrais pas te donner ce que tu demandes(I could not give you what you are asking for)
Forme affirmativeTes amies viennent te voir ce soir(Your friends will come to see you tonight)

The emphatic vs neutral form

The emphatic form (French: la forme emphatiqueinsist or draw attention to a word or a group of words in a sentence. The neutral form (French: la forme neutre) is when a sentence insists on no particular word, it is not emphatic. 

You need to distinguish them. 

Forme emphatique

De l'argent, ce n'est pas ce qui manque

La vue, elle est belle

(Money, it is not what is missing)

(The view, it is beautiful)

Forme neutre

L'argent n'est pas ce qui manque

La vue est belle

(Money is not what is missing)

(The view is beautiful)

The impersonal form 

The impersonal form (French: la forme impersonnelle) is when the subject of the sentence is the 3rd personal pronoun (il) and represents nothing and nobody. Therefore, you cannot replace the  personal pronoun with a word or group of words. 


  • Il pleut dehors. (It's raining outside)
  • Il est temps de partir. (It's time to go)
  • Il y a une nouvelle employée dans l'entreprise. (There is a new employee in the company)

​The types of phrases in French 

The French grammar has 4 types of phrases:

DeclarativeJe ne veux pas aller à la plage.(I don't want to go to the beach.)
ImperativeRestez où vous êtes ! (Don't move !)
ExclamativeQuelle belle surprise ! (What a beautiful surprise !)
InterrogativeQuelle heure il est ? (What time is it ?)

The propositions in French 

Within a sentence, the coherent set of words that alone makes sense is called a proposition (French: une proposition). The phrase can include one or more propositions which has a verb. 

Each proposition consists of several group of words. 

Let's analyse this sentence 

Je pense que mon frère a acheté une nouvelle voiture. (I think my brother bought a new car)

  • 1st proposition is "je pense" also called the main proposition
  • 2nd proposition is "que mon frère a acheté une nouvelle voiture"

The French grammar has 4 types of propositions. 

IndependentJe vais aller faire les courses(I am going to do shopping)
MainJe ne sais pas pourquoi elle est partie(I don't know why he left)
Subordinate conjunctivaElle est allée dormir puisqu'elle ne part plus(She went to sleep as she is not going anymore)
Relative subordinateComment s'appelle le garcon qui a les cheveux longs ?(What is the name of the boy who has long hair)
IncidentalJe crois que vous vous êtes trompés, dit-il (I think you misunderstood, he says)


  1. Multiple choice questions about the sentence structure in French

Multiple choice questions about the sentence structure in French

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Next lessons

1 The phrases in French Get a comprehensive overview about all the phrases in French and study the topic online.
2 The forms of phrases in French Get a comprehensive overview about all the forms in French verbs and study the topic online.
3 The types of phrases in French Get an overview of the types of phrases in French
4 The propositions in French Get a comprehensive overview about all the propositions in French and study them online.