English Grammar Problems for French ESL Students

 In Grammar

There’s a lot of overlap between English and French.  Word order is basically the same, article use is similar, and both languages have auxiliary verbs, but there are some differences that create recurring grammar problems for French ESL students.

common grammar problems for french esl learnersThe Top 3 Grammar Problems for French Students of English

The top 3 areas of concern for French students of English are verb tense + form, subject/verb agreement, and prepositions.

Verb Tense + Form

Verb tenses seem to be an especially difficult part of English grammar for French students to master.  The English simple present, simple past, and simple future tenses are all an issue, as are the past perfect and past progressive tenses.  English doesn’t have all the tenses French does, and verb conjugation is far more complex in French.  French ESL students will often try to use a verb tense and/or verb form that seems more accurate when directly translated into their native language.

A student will often use the wrong verb form in the simple present tense by omitting the “s” that’s necessary for the 3rd person singular noun/pronoun.

He go to the market.
instead of
He goes to the market.

She love dancing.
instead of
She loves dancing.

Students may mistakenly use the wrong verb form and/or the present perfect tense when they should use the simple past tense.

I have watch my friend play soccer.
instead of
I watched my friend play soccer.

Students may mistakenly use the wrong verb form and/or the present perfect tense when they should use the past perfect tense.

She have gone home, before I arrive at the party.
instead of
She had gone home, before I arrived at the party.

French ESL students may also mistakenly use the wrong verb form and/or the present progressive tense when they should use the past progressive.

I am sleeping all day yesterday.
instead of
I was sleeping all day yesterday.

Mistakes of verb tense and form are far and away the most common errors made by French students when speaking or writing in English.  This is one area of study worth spending time doing the dull work of drilling. You need to hear and speak the correct forms and tenses often enough that the incorrect forms actually sound wrong to your ear.


Person,Number Present Past
1st,singular I am was
2nd,singular you are were
3rd,singular he/she/it is was
1st,plural we are were
2nd,plural you are were
3rd,plural they are were
Infinitive: be
Present Participle: being
Past participle: been

Subject/Verb Agreement

The English grammar rule is that subjects and verbs of sentences should agree in number.  Remember that the 3rd person singular noun or pronoun will cause the verb to take an “s” to agree.

She wants ice cream for dessert.   3RD PERSON SINGULAR PRONOUN+VERB+”S”
I want ice cream for dessert.   SINGULAR PRONOUN+SINGULAR VERB
Cats are aloof creatures.     PLURAL NOUN+PLURAL VERB
The colors on the flag are red, white, and blue.  PLURAL NOUN+PLURAL VERB

French students mistakenly use singular subjects with plural verbs or plural subjects with singular verbs.

I wants ice cream for dessert.
Cats is aloof creatures.
The colors on the flag is red, white, and blue.

Students will omit the “s” of the verb when there’s a 3rd person singular noun/pronoun as the subject.

She want ice cream for dessert.

French ESL students also become confused when the sentence includes conjunctions, prepositions, or objects that can make identifying the main noun and verb more difficult.

I loves to have rice and beans on the sides when I eat Mexicans food.
instead of
I love to have rice and beans on the side when I eat Mexican food.


The English language prepositions “to”, “for”, “on”, “in”, “of”, and “at” are the prepositions French ESL students most often misuse or omit.

I want for to go in that restaurant.
instead of
I want to go to that restaurant.

She like bicycle.
instead of
She likes to bicycle.

He was on the library.
instead of
He was at the library.

I was on the car for the red light when I saw them.
instead of
I was in the car at the red light when I saw them.

Prepositions give many ESL students trouble.  Work on understanding what a preposition is saying, for example, “to” as in direction, to go toward something, or “to” as in an aim or intent.  Prepositions have a real purpose in English and communicate specific information.  If you use the wrong preposition you may be saying something other than what you mean.  If you omit using a preposition when one is called for your English sounds very second language.

“Frenglish” is a way to say, “the French version of English”.  Most French ESL students have no trouble being understood, regardless of the grammar problems they may have—that’s a good thing, and a bad thing.  French ESL students may not bother to tweak their English language skills because there’s not a pressing need, they’re getting by.  BUT, if you want to do better than get by, you need to improve your English grammar.  Grammar problems that keep getting in your way of an A on a paper or a promotion at work are worth solving!

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