French Grammar Deconstruction (à la Tim Ferriss)

You may have heard about How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language 1 Hour article by Tim Ferriss. Here is a quick overview of his approach and how it applies to the French language. You can also test yourself in deconstructing the French grammar at the end of the article.

French Grammar Deconstructed

So if you are interested in deconstructing the French language Tim Ferriss’ way, you may dig right into it.

French Language Deconstruction (Tim Ferriss Way) of the French Language Grammar.

English French
The first 6 basic sentences from the Ferriss’ blog  
1. The apple is red. 1. La pomme est rouge. 
2. It is John’s apple. 2. C’est la pomme de Jean. 
3. I give John the apple. 3. Je donne la pomme à Jean. 
4. We give him the apple. 4. Nous la lui donnons. 
5. He gives it to John. 5. Il la donne à Jean. 
6. She gives it to him. 6. Elle la lui donne. 

Additional Sentences from this video, where he actually decided to
extend his range of grammatical structures to cover.

7. Is the apple red ? 7. La pomme, est-elle rouge ? (Est la pomme rouge ?) *  
8. The apples are red. 8. Les pommes sont rouges. 
9. I must give it to him ! 9. Je dois la lui donner !  
 / Il faut que je la lui donne ! **  
10. I want to give it to her ! 10. Je veux la lui donner. 
11. I’m going to know tomorrow. 11. Je le saurai demain. 
12. I can’t eat the apple. 12. Je ne peux pas manger la pomme. 

* Even though it is highly unlikely to hear this kind of sentence in France (it is more probable to encounter something like La pomme, est-elle rouge ? or Est-ce que la pomme est rouge ?) the subject / verb inversion to create a question is correct but rather formal and rarely used in speech.
** When it comes to expressing obligation in French, it is more common to use the il faut que structure. Eg. Il faut que je la lui donne !

The Method

Learn any language by deconstructing it, that is by stripping the language you want to learn to (almost) its bare bones and finding all the positive and negative for you aspects that you can turn into your advantage.

The Opinion

The good thing about this approach is that it gives you a rather global view of the basic grammatical structure of the language to learn. You get the impression of grasping the language, and thus the quantity of grammar to acquire less daunting. Its strength lies, in my opinion, in outlining the core of a particular grammar and thus the language itself. It is much easier to go further into details later on as opposed to trying to grasp every detail from the very beginning and quickly run out of your steam, a very common pitfall for all foreign language learners.

The Conclusion

The concept itself is nothing new in the way it approaches the understanding of the mechanics of any given concept. Let’s take learning any computer programming language for example: the most general teaching method consists of explaining the basic concepts (variable declaration, managing strings and numbers, control flow, lists or arrays, etc) which are common to all of the programming languages but which structure may be expressed differently in each of them.   

Nevertheless, the idea is somewhat new in teaching a foreign language as it compresses all of the grammar of the language into the most basic but also the most relevant things that will make the learning easier for us. We obtain an insight into what is already familiar to us, i.e. what the language(s) we know has in common with the one we want to acquire and what differentiates it from our native tongue(s).  

As far as the usefulness of the French language deconstruction is concerned,  I’m leaving it to your own judgement. I can only hope you will find it useful.  

Please, tell what you think about this French language deconstruction in the comments section.

Thank you !

PS: Don't confuse this article with the deconstruction, a philosophical and literary notion coined by Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher.

Test Your French Grammar

Exercise 1 A (easy):


Exercise 1 B (easy):


Exercise 2 (difficult): 





5 Replies to “French Grammar Deconstruction (à la Tim Ferriss)”

  1. Thanks for taking the time to do this guys. This is awesome. I particularly appreciate you taking the time to point out where sentences would be unlikely to be used in actual conversation.



    1.   When I’m back from my vacation in a few of days I will also add the recordings in French so you can fully take advantage of these sentences :-). Enjoy !

  2. Side note: I notice No.4 isn't an exact translation though which I think it needs to be for this excercise so that novice learners can properly differentiate between how pronouns and proper nouns should be used.

  3. Thanks very much for the site, and for the great information. I'm very keen to understand grammar and sentence structure (I am a writer and editor!) in any language, so this is most helpful. There are a couple of small mistakes in the quiz though:
    Q2 states that "C'est la pomme de Jean" is incorrect, and then proceeds to give that same phrase as the answer!
    Q5 asks for a translation of "He gives it to John", but seems to expect a translation of "He gives it to Jean."
    Thanks again, and keep up the great work.

    1. Hello Lilia, 

      Thank you for pointing those out. I have taken care of question 2 (c’est la pomme…). It was the “apostrophe” problem. The “azerty” keybord seems to give a different kind of it. 

      I’m sorry but I can’t find what you mean about question 5. Could reformulate it : ) ?  

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