Nouns that are plural in English but singular in French, and vice versa

Singular where plural in English (Collective nouns)

La famille est heureuse
The family is/are happy

La police va arrêter le criminel
The police is going to arrest the criminal.
The police are going to arrest the criminal.

In English, what we call collective nouns (e.g. family, team, police, company, ...) can be followed by a verb either in singular or plural form, depending on whether we consider the group as a single unit (singular), or as the individuals forming the group (plural).

However, these collective nouns are always followed by singular in French. 

Plural where singular in English

Je vais en vacances en juillet
I'm going on holiday in July

Elle a les cheveux blonds
She has blonde hair

Note that words such as ''holiday'' (vacances) and ''hair'' (cheveux) are always plural in French. The adjectives or verbs following them are also in plural form.


Case of toilette(s)

Où sont les toilettes s’il vous plaît ?
Where is the toilet/restroom please?

Je fais ma toilette tous les matins.
I have a wash every morning.
I wash myself every morning.

Note that toilettes is always used in the plural to mean "the toilet/restroom".
La toilette (singular) in French means "a (personal) wash".

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Je fais ma toilette tous les matins.
I have a wash every morning.
I wash myself every morning.


Où sont les toilettes s’il vous plaît ?
Where is the toilet/restroom please?


Plural where singular in English


Elle a les cheveux blonds
She has blonde hair


Je vais en vacances en juillet
I'm going on holiday in July


Singular where plural in English


La police va arrêter le criminel
The police is going to arrest the criminal.
The police are going to arrest the criminal.


La famille est heureuse
The family is/are happy


Q&A

Jay

Kwiziq community member

21 July 2018

1 reply

Understand 'les toilettes' when referring to public restrooms where there are probably more than one. But what about in homes where there is only one?

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

23 July 2018

23/07/18

Hi Jay,


'Toilettes' is always plural in French even in the home.


Other expressions you might hear is,


le/les cabinet/s    but


'les toilettes' is the most used.


'Toilette', singular, means a wash.


Le chat fait sa toilette = The cat is having a wash


Hope this helps!


 


 

Paul

Kwiziq community member

14 May 2018

0 replies

Prescriptive versus descriptive English

I read the Q&A for this lesson on collective nouns and the discussion at https://french.kwiziq.com/is-this-english-correct and I see where Kwiziq is coming from. However, it would clearer for many Engliish speakers if you left out the "how it is in English" versus "how it is in French" comparisons. There are too many interpretations of collective nouns in different forms of English, and many of us haven't learnt the English prescriptions, so we are probably making frequent mistakes in English. In other words, just give teach the French grammar.

Mary Anne

Kwiziq community member

17 September 2017

2 replies

Statement about collective nouns in English

Collective nouns, such as family, team, and company are singular. The pronoun that would refer to these particular nouns is "it." A speaker may change to "they" but the speakers would be referring to family members, players, or employees. One would right, "A spokesperson for the company announced that it is profitable."

Ron

Kwiziq community member

19 September 2017

19/09/17

Bonsoir Mary Anne,
Here is a reply from Aurélie dated 6 May 2016 that may provide more insight:
«When talking in a general context, French people would use the term la police rather than la gendarmerie, as such:
La police va arrêter le criminel.
​Actually, as a French speaker, I find that la gendarmerie refers more to the station than the people.
​In this case, we would rather use les gendarmes when talking about them, so the following answer is also correct:​
​Les gendarmes vont arrêter le criminel.»
I do agree with your observation: «my family, yes, they are well. . » My guess is that you are from the US based on your choice of pronouns in these examples. I am unaware of how other English speaking countries speak using pronouns in discussing these subjects.
A very good point.

Mary Anne

Kwiziq community member

20 September 2017

20/09/17

Yes. I am from the US. Interesting. I think we would say, "The family is good. The complement of a verb of "being" is a predicate adjective. "The food is good; the movie was good."

Michael

Kwiziq community member

8 September 2017

1 reply

Better quiz question

For this quiz, I suggest giving English sentences and multiple French translations. For example: The police arrived to late 1. Les polices sont arrivés trop tard. 2. Le police est arrivé trop tard. 3. La police sont arrivé trop tard. 4. La police est arrivée trop tard. Je propose aussi d'ajouter une deuxième question. Peut être: She brushed her long golden hair. Or Where are the rest rooms?

Ron

Kwiziq community member

14 September 2017

14/09/17

Bonjour Michael,
I am uncertain about the first part of your suggestion regarding English sentences and multiple French translations; however, I do agree with your second proposition to add a second question on the lesson. I have been curious for some time now when I come across a lesson that has but one question, the reasoning behind it. In fact, I would further add that it would possibly be advantageous to have three questions on the quizzes at the end of each lesson, in order to have a better grasp of my understanding of the material.
J'espère que ma réponse vous aidera.
Bonne chance et bonne continuation dans vos études en français, la langue de Molière.

alison

Kwiziq community member

24 July 2017

3 replies

Not sure that you would ever say the police is coming!

Gruff

Kwiziq language super star

25 July 2017

25/07/17

Hi Alison - where did you read "the police is coming"?

alison

Kwiziq community member

25 July 2017

25/07/17

I didnt actually read the police is coming but I did read your translation of

"The police is going to arrest the criminal.The police are going to arrest the criminal."

Gruff

Kwiziq language super star

25 July 2017

25/07/17

Oh I see. Yes, that's not a brilliant example of police in the singular. Certainly in the UK, these days we would tend to add 'force' or 'officer' if the plurality of the noun in context needed clarification. "The police [force] is considering legal action...] The police [officers] are considering legal action".

Erika

Kwiziq community member

22 March 2017

1 reply

Plural where singular in French?

It has the example hair (singular) - les cheveux (plural) Shouldn't that be: Plural where singular in English?

Gruff

Kwiziq language super star

22 March 2017

22/03/17

Thanks Erika - I've fixed that in the lesson.

Gareth

Kwiziq community member

4 March 2017

1 reply

Is text above correct?

Is says that words such as holiday and hair are plural in french. The VERBS that follow them are also plural. Should this not read adjectives?

Gruff

Kwiziq language super star

4 March 2017

4/03/17

Thanks for pointing that out Gareth - fixed!

John

Kwiziq community member

6 May 2016

1 reply

La police/la gendarmerie? a subtle distinction?

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

6 May 2016

6/05/16

Bonjour John,


Thanks for your question!


When talking in a general context, French people would use the term la police rather than la gendarmerie, as such:
La police va arrêter le criminel.


Actually, as a French speaker, I find that la gendarmerie refers more to the station than the people. 
​In this case, we would rather use les gendarmes when talking about them, so the following answer is also correct:​
Les gendarmes vont arrêter le criminel.

I hope that's helpful.


Merci et à bientôt !

Stephen

Kwiziq community member

25 November 2015

3 replies

I think family is singular in English.

Laura

Kwiziq language super star

25 November 2015

25/11/15

Bonjour Stephen, We get a lot of questions about things like this. Some English speakers say "the family is" while others say "the family are." You can read our policy here: https://www.french-test.com/is-this-english-correct

Revathi

Kwiziq community member

26 November 2015

26/11/15

Yes, you are right it is Family in singular and families in plural

Jim

Kwiziq community member

22 April 2018

22/04/18

As I understand it, it is a distinction between American and British English. American English treats most collective nouns as singular, with exceptions like "police" and "people," which use plural verbs. I have to say, my American ears strongly object to "the family are." If I were to say it, I am pretty sure Mrs. Holden, my sixth grade grammar teacher, would turn over in her grave.
I'll be right with you...