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 Forum 10 questions, 17 answers

NigelA2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

La douane / les douanes

I think I have seen both la douane and les douanes used for the French customs police.  Is there a rule for which to use and when?

I think in English, especially in the UK, it is an evolving language and many grammatical rules are being overwritten by common usage.  On that basis, I think it is becoming harder and harder to prescribe firm rules, and more often the answer is "either may be acceptable".  Unfortunately, bad/lazy/incorrect/slang grammar, used repeatedly, becomes acceptable/normal grammar.  I struggle to teach my children proper grammar, but they hear incorrect grammar all around them, even from teachers, and they use what the hear more than what I tell them is good grammar.  e.g. "James and me went to the cinema."

Asked 4 days ago
Nigel asked:View original

La douane / les douanes

I think I have seen both la douane and les douanes used for the French customs police.  Is there a rule for which to use and when?

I think in English, especially in the UK, it is an evolving language and many grammatical rules are being overwritten by common usage.  On that basis, I think it is becoming harder and harder to prescribe firm rules, and more often the answer is "either may be acceptable".  Unfortunately, bad/lazy/incorrect/slang grammar, used repeatedly, becomes acceptable/normal grammar.  I struggle to teach my children proper grammar, but they hear incorrect grammar all around them, even from teachers, and they use what the hear more than what I tell them is good grammar.  e.g. "James and me went to the cinema."

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JayC1Kwiziq community member

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?

Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

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!

 

 

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?

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PaulC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Prescriptive versus descriptive English

I read the Q&A for this lesson on collective nouns and the discussion at https://progress.lawlessfrench.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.
Asked 1 year ago

Prescriptive versus descriptive English

I read the Q&A for this lesson on collective nouns and the discussion at https://progress.lawlessfrench.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.

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Mary AnneC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

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."
Asked 2 years ago
RonC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
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 AnneC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
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."
RichardC1Kwiziq community member

Being English, I would agree that we should say ‘the family is’, ‘the management wants’ etc, but many people do make the mistake of using the plural verb. However, I also agree that you could answer ‘they are well’, referring to the family members, when asked ‘how’s the family’. 

BUT - I think it’s a grave mistake for Kwizical/Lawless French to say ‘the family are’!  I’m not being overly pedantic, I think. 

Mary AnneC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

I can't believe I wrote "right" when I meant "write."  Oh , dear!

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."

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MichaelC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

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?
Asked 2 years ago
RonC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
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.

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?

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AlisonC1Kwiziq community member

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

Asked 2 years ago
GruffKwiziq team member
Hi Alison - where did you read "the police is coming"?
AlisonC1Kwiziq community member
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."
GruffKwiziq team member
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".

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

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ErikaC1Kwiziq community member

Plural where singular in French?

It has the example hair (singular) - les cheveux (plural) Shouldn't that be: Plural where singular in English?
Asked 2 years ago
GruffKwiziq team member
Thanks Erika - I've fixed that in the lesson.

Plural where singular in French?

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

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GarethA2Kwiziq community member

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?
Asked 2 years ago
GruffKwiziq team member
Thanks for pointing that out Gareth - fixed!

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?

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JohnC1Kwiziq community member

La police/la gendarmerie? a subtle distinction?

Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

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 !

La police/la gendarmerie? a subtle distinction?

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StephenB2Kwiziq community member

I think family is singular in English.

Asked 4 years ago
LauraKwiziq team member

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

RevathiA1Kwiziq community member
Yes, you are right it is Family in singular and families in plural
JimA2Kwiziq community member
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.
RichardC1Kwiziq community member

Agree totally!

RichardC1Kwiziq community member

Whether some people say ‘ the family is’ and some say ‘the family are’ is irrelevant. It is incorrect to say ‘the family are’. The fact that some people are wrong does not make it right!

I think family is singular in English.

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