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Lesson 58. Punctuation
When learning to speak a language, we mostly focus on words. But when learning to write that language, it’s equally important to think about what goes on between the words—that is, how they’re punctuated. While there are many similarities between English and French punctuation, there are some important differences that you’ll need to know when writing your next brilliant essay in French.
The major French punctuation marks are easily recognizable: there’s le point (period), la virgule (comma), les deux-points (colon), le point-virgule (semicolon), le point d’exclamation (exclamation point), and le point d’interrogation (question mark).
Speaking of what goes on between words, one of the major differences between French and English punctuation has to do with spacing. Generally, colons, semicolons, exclamation points, and question marks are all preceded by a space:
Lesquelles préférez-vous : les pommes ou les oranges ? -Les pommes !
Which do you prefer: apples or oranges? -Apples!
There is one set of French punctuation that might not look very familiar to English readers. This sentence alludes to them using an idiom:
C'est la "morale du film", entre guillemets.
That's the quote-unquote "moral of the film."
Cap. 27, Télé Grenoble: La famille Maudru
The phrase entre guillemets literally means "between guillemets." Guillemets are the French version of quotation marks, and they look like this: « ». So the above sentence could be more accurately written: C’est la « morale du film », entre guillemets.
Notice that the comma is placed outside the guillemets, as are all other punctuation marks. Also, there is always a space after the first guillemet and another one before the second.
Written French looks different on the page than it does in Yabla captions. Manon and Clémentine have already given us a thorough lesson on book-related vocabulary—now we’ll take an excerpt from one of their helpful skits and show you what it might look like in book form. Here’s the original, from their video on visiting the doctor:
Bonjour! j'ai pris un rendez-vous pour cet après-midi avec le docteur Séléno-Gomez, mais j'ai un empêchement. -Bien. C'est à quel nom? -C'est au nom de Manon Maddie. -Ah oui. Madame Maddie à dix-sept heures quarante-cinq.
Hi! I made an appointment for this afternoon with Doctor Séléno-Gomez, but I have an engagement. -Fine. It's under what name? -It's under the name Manon Maddie. -Oh yes. Ms. Maddie at five forty-five.
Cap. 42-45, Manon et Clémentine: Rendez-vous chez le médecin
And here’s how that might look as dialogue in a novel:
« Bonjour ! dit Manon. J’ai pris un rendez-vous pour cet après-midi avec le docteur Séléno-Gomez, mais j'ai un empêchement.
—Bien. C'est à quel nom ? répond Florence.
—C'est au nom de Manon Maddie.
—Ah oui. Madame Maddie à dix-sept heures quarante-cinq ».
This is certainly different from what you would find in an English-language novel! The major difference is that, unlike quotation marks, guillemets are used to mark off the entire dialogue, not a change of speaker, which is instead indicated by a dash (un tiret).
You won’t have to worry too much about punctuation here at Yabla. We use a special style tailored to work well with the Yabla Player. But it’s always good to know proper punctuation when writing in any language, whether you’re fluent in it or just learning it. If you’re looking for something to inspire you to write in French, here are the first few lines of Marcel Proust’s classic novel À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), as presented by Manon and Clémentine:
"Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure. Parfois, à peine ma bougie éteinte, mes yeux se fermaient si vite que je n'avais pas le temps de me dire: 'Je m'endors'."
"For a long time, I used to go to bed early. Sometimes, my candle barely put out, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not even time to say to myself, 'I am falling asleep.'"
Cap. 81-83, Manon et Clémentine: Vocabulaire du livre
Lesson 57. Vocabulary
You may recall our previous lesson on three adverbs that were false cognates, or words that look similar in two languages but mean different things. In French, these are called faux amis (literally, “false friends”), and there are too many French-English ones to count. In this lesson, we’ll just focus on four more, all from our most recent videos.
We’ve been learning a lot about Galileo lately in the Il était une fois (Once Upon a Time) series, the third installment of which deals with the scientist’s experiments with pendulums, which move in a very specific way:
Vous allez voir que cet instrument va se balancer de moins en moins fort!
You'll see that this instrument is going to swing less and less intensely!
You may have expected se balancer to mean “to balance,” but it actually means “to swing.” “To balance” is tenir en équilibre (literally, “to hold in equilibrium”).
In part four of the series, we finally get to the revolutionary idea that made Galileo famous and ultimately cost him his life:
Vous vous rendez compte, mon cher, qu'ils se trouvent des savants pour prétendre que la Terre n'est pas le centre de l'univers!
You realize, my dear friend, that there are scientists claiming that the earth is not the center of the universe!
Galileo didn’t “pretend” that the earth revolved around the sun—on the contrary, he was pretty sure of it! So sure, in fact, that he boldly “claimed” it. “To pretend” is faire semblant or feindre.
Prétendre is followed by que when you're making a claim ("to claim that..."), but when you're claiming a specific thing for yourself, you use prétendre à:
Il peut prétendre à une allocation chômage.
He can claim unemployment benefits.
On a different note, there’s no pretending that the angora rabbits on the Croix de Pierre Farm aren’t adorable, or that their breeder doesn’t take the utmost care to make sure that they’re warm and cozy:
Le plus galère pour eux c'est quand tu les épiles et que le temps n'est pas très au beau ou qu'il gèle très fort.
The toughest time for them is when you shear them and that the weather is not very nice or that there is a very hard frost.
Cap. 19-20, Ferme de la Croix de Pierre: Les lapins
Il gèle is an impersonal expression (more on those in this lesson) meaning “it’s freezing” or “there’s a frost,” and it comes from the verb geler. That may look like it might mean “to gel”—and indeed, the noun le gel means both “frost” and “gel”—but “to gel” is more like prendre forme (to take shape).
Finally, we’ll leave the French countryside for Montreal, where Geneviève Morissette has been making waves on the music scene as a singer-songwriter and as the host of the “Rendez-Vous de la Chanson Vivante” (Meetings of the Living Song) festival:
Ça fait deux ans que je les anime.
I've been hosting them for two years.
Geneviève certainly animates the festival with her impassioned lyrics and powerful voice (and animer can in fact mean “to animate” or “enliven”), but in this context the verb means “to host” or “present.” We could also say that Geneviève is l’animatrice (“host” or “presenter”) of the festival.
Faux amis can be tricky (not to mention a bit sneaky), so be on the lookout for them when watching Yabla videos. Whenever you spot one you don’t know, you can just click on it to add it to your flashcards list. Then, once you review your flashcards, you’ll have it mastered in no time! Bonne chance (“good luck,” not “good chance”)!
Lesson 56. Vocabulary
In our last lesson, we talked about the word plus (more) and how its different pronunciations affect its meaning. Now let’s take a look at the opposite of plus—moins (fewer, less)—which only has one pronunciation, but no fewer meanings!
Like plus, moins is an adverb of comparison, and can modify both adjectives and nouns. When it modifies an adjective, it’s usually followed by que to form the comparative phrase “less than.” In his video on French breakfast customs, Éric observes that cereal is less popular in France than it is in English-speaking countries:
Et puis les céréales, mais c'est moins commun que chez vous, qu'aux États-Unis, qu'en Angleterre.
And then cereal, but that's less common than where you come from, than in the United States, than in England.
Cap. 37-38, Arles: Le petit déjeuner
When modifying a noun, moins is usually followed by de:
Il y a moins de bêtes à chasser.
There are fewer animals to hunt.
You can even make moins a noun by putting le in front of it, in which case it means “the least”:
C’est le moins que je puisse faire.
That’s the least that I can do.
When you put an adjective after le moins, the adjective becomes superlative:
C'est le livre le moins cher et presque tous les éditeurs ont une collection de poche.
This is the cheapest book, and almost all publishers have a paperback collection.
Moins is also the basis for several common expressions. There’s the phrase à moins que (unless), which Adonis uses when singing about what he believes is the only acceptable reason for cutting down trees:
À moins que ce soit pour faire mes jolis calendriers
Unless it’s to make my pretty calendars
Cap. 4-5, Nouveaux Talents: Adonis chante
Try not to confuse à moins que with au moins, which means “at least”:
Tout le monde connaît le Père Noël, tout le monde lui a écrit au moins une fois...
Everybody knows Santa Claus, everybody's written him at least once...
Finally, there’s de moins en moins (“fewer and fewer” or “less and less”):
Ça peut aider aussi à sauver les animaux, à ce qu'ils soient de moins en moins abandonnés.
That can also help save animals so that fewer and fewer are abandoned.
Since moins is a quantitative word like plus, it makes sense that it can be used with numbers as well. You’ll hear it the most often as a number modifier in expressions involving temperature, time, and basic arithmetic:
Et voilà, me voilà parée pour sortir par moins zéro, moins quinze degrés.
And there we have it, here I am dressed to go out in below zero, negative fifteen degrees.
Il est dix heures moins le quart.
It’s a quarter to ten.
Deux plus cinq moins trois égale quatre.
Two plus five minus three equals four.
We hope you are plus ou moins satisfait(e) (more or less satisfied) with our presentation of plus and moins! And for any math whizzes out there, here’s an informative article on French math vocabulary beyond addition and subtraction. Why not try learning (or relearning) geometry in French?
Lesson 55. Pronunciation
If you listen to Jean-Marc’s description of Mediterranean beaches versus those in western France and the eastern United States, you might be struck by the way he pronounces the word plus (more):
Les plages sont beaucoup plus petites, avec beaucoup plus de gens.
The beaches are a lot smaller, with a lot more people.
Cap. 8, Jean-Marc: La plage - Part 1
Did you notice that he didn’t pronounce the “s” in the first instance of plus, but did pronounce it in the second? That’s no inconsistency on his part—Jean-Marc is actually obeying the tricky pronunciation rules of this common little adverb.
The general rule of thumb for plus is fairly easy to remember: when it’s used to mean more of something (plus de...), the “s” is pronounced; when it’s used in a negative sense (ne… plus [no more], non plus [neither]), the “s” is not pronounced:
Je ne savais plus qui j'étais.
I didn't know who I was anymore.
Mais toi non plus tu n'as pas changé.
But you, you have not changed either.
This becomes especially important in informal conversation, when a lot of French speakers tend to drop the ne in negative constructions. So if someone says je veux plus de pain and they don’t pronounce the “s,” you can tell that they don’t want any more bread even though they left out the ne. If they do pronounce the “s,” you can pass them the bread basket!
A different rule applies when plus is used comparatively, i.e., when it’s followed by an adjective. In that case, the “s” is usually not pronounced (like when Jean-Marc says plus petites in the first example), unless the adjective begins with a vowel:
Voici celle qui est sans doute la maison la plus illuminée d'Alsace.
Here is what is without a doubt the most illuminated house in Alsace.
If the adjective begins with a vowel, the “s” of plus is pronounced like a “z” to follow the rules of liaison, which you can learn about in our previous lesson on that subject.
The “s” is also pronounced when plus is used at the end of a sentence to mean “more” and when it is used as a noun (le plus):
Du coup, ils ont commencé à être plus proches de moi et à me parler plus.
So they started to be closer to me and to talk to me more.
Cap. 33, B-Girl Frak: Limoges
Qui peut le plus peut le moins.
He who can do more can do less.
So to sum up, here’s a general breakdown of the pronunciation of plus:
The “s” is pronounced:
-in the expression plus de....
-when plus is followed by an adjective beginning with a vowel.
-when plus is at the end of a sentence and means “more.”
-when plus is used as a noun.
The “s” is not pronounced:
-in negative plus constructions (ne… plus, non plus).
-when plus is followed by an adjective beginning with a consonant.
Nous espérons que c'est un peu plus clair maintenant! (We hope that this is a bit clearer now!) Since it’s such a common word, plus appears in quite a large number of Yabla videos—you can find a list of them here. And stay tuned for a lesson on the opposite of plus—moins (less)—coming soon to Yabla.
Thanks to subscriber Felicity S. for suggesting this lesson topic!
Lesson 54. Vocabulary
Given that (étant donné que) it's the season of Thanksgiving (or Le Jour de l’Action de Grâce in Canadian French), let’s commemorate the act of giving by exploring the French verb for “to give,” donner. Besides thanks, there is an infinite number of things you can give, so we’ll focus on some specific expressions with donner that are featured in our videos.
Let’s start by giving some thanks to our favorite tour guide, Daniel Benchimol, who likes to close his always informative travel videos with the phrase donner rendez-vous:
Je vous donne rendez-vous très rapidement pour d’autres découvertes.
I’ll meet you very soon for some other discoveries.
Daniel is literally “giving you a rendezvous,” and you can accept his gift by watching his latest tour, which will take you around Paris’s beautiful Bastille neighborhood.
It’s also good to give thanks for the rights (les droits) that we’re granted every day, whether our human rights or the occasional promotional perk:
Une place de concert achetée donne droit également à une entrée gratuite au château.
A purchased concert seat also entitles you to a free entry to the castle.
Cap. 27-28, TV Tours: Ouverture du 3ème festival de Chambord
And let’s not forget about what we can give back to others, even if it’s just a helping hand:
Je viens là et puis je leur donne un petit coup de main.
I come here and then I give them a bit of a helping hand.
If you’re dealing with someone stubborn, you might not want to give them anything or get anything from them—you might just want them to give in (se donner):
Seul face à Beethoven encore et toujours, Beethoven qui résiste et qui se donne et s’enfuit...
Alone in front of Beethoven, as always, Beethoven who resists and who gives in and runs away...
Cap. 18, Le Journal: Gstaad
As a gift to you for being such great Yabla subscribers, here is a list of some other useful expressions with donner. Think of it as a bit of a donnant donnant (give and take) situation. For even more donner-related expressions, see our previous lesson on the word maldonne.
donner de sa personne - to give a lot of oneself, go out of one’s way
donner à penser que - to suggest, lead to believe
donner faim/soif/chaud/froid - to make hungry/thirsty/hot/cold
donner sur - to look out onto
donner dans - to lapse into
se donner à fond - to go all out, give it one’s all
se donner du mal - to go to a lot of trouble
donner du fil à retordre - to give a hard time, give the runaround
se donner en spectacle - to make a spectacle of oneself
s'en donner à cœur joie - to enjoy wholeheartedly