Free French Lessons
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Lesson 49. Vocabulary
In his new travel video on the Parisian suburb of Saint-Mammès, Daniel Benchimol uses the word face quite frequently when giving directions on getting around town:
Face aux péniches de Saint-Mammès, arrêtez-vous quelques instants face au numéro quarante-et-un.
Facing the barges of Saint-Mammès, stop for a few minutes in front of number forty-one.
Cap. 7-8, Voyage en France: Saint-Mammès
Face à Saint-Mammès, nous sommes à Saint Moret-sur-Loing maintenant.
Opposite Saint-Mammès, we are in Saint Moret-sur-Loing now.
Cap. 39, Voyage en France: Saint-Mammès
Face à is a useful expression meaning "facing," "in front of," or "opposite." You can even put the verb faire in front of it to make the verbal expression for "to face," in the sense of both "to be in front of" and "to cope with":
La NASA a dû faire face à une avalanche de données et de preuves embarrassantes.
NASA had to face an avalanche of data and embarrassing evidence.
The word face is used in a number of other directional expressions, such as en face (across, opposite), as the lead singer of Babylon Circus uses it when lamenting the seating arrangement of him and his love interest:
Je suis assis en face, et pas à tes côtés
I’m sitting across from you and not by your side
Cap. 23, Babylon Circus: J’aurais bien voulu
They might not be sitting close, but at least they’re maintaining eye contact by sitting face à face (face-to-face)!
Unsurprisingly, the French face is related to the English "face," but it usually doesn’t refer to the front part of your head. French actually has two words for that: la figure and le visage. (To see some incredible French faces, check out our interview with artist and master visage-painter Niko de La Faye.)
Sometimes face can in fact mean "face," mainly in a figurative sense:
Ça change pas la face du monde, mais qui sait?
That doesn’t change the face of the world, but who knows?
Cap. 26, Le Journal: Laurent Voulzy
Il peut voir la face cachée des choses.
He is able to see the hidden face of things.
If you're particularly concerned about your reputation, you might make a lot of effort to sauver la face (save face) or worry that you might perdre la face (lose face).
By itself, la face generally just means "side" (synonymous with le côté). Chef Wodling Gwennaël uses face in this way when explaining his delicious recipe for fried scallops:
On va les saisir à peu près une minute sur chaque face.
We’re going to sear them for about one minute on each side.
Face also applies to the side of a coin, namely, the "heads" side (that is, the side that usually features someone's face). So whenever you want to settle something in French with a coin toss, you can say:
Pile ou face?
Heads or tails?
Voyons les choses en face (let’s face it): the word face has many faces! In other "face"-related news, make sure to check out our Facebook page for all the latest information from Yabla.
Lesson 48. Vocabulary
In one of our latest videos, our friends Margaux and Manon revisit their childhood for a bit by playing shop. Margaux, the customer, sees a pair of shoes she likes, and Manon, the shopkeeper, asks her what size she is:
Vous faites du combien?
What shoe size are you?
Un bon trente-sept.
A large thirty-seven [American size seven].
Cap. 21-22, Margaux et Manon: Magasin de chaussures
If it’s not quite obvious what Manon’s question has to do with shoe sizes, keep in mind that the phrase "faire du + [shoe size]" means "to wear a size x."
(And if Margaux’s size thirty-seven seems impossibly large, note that shoe-sizing scales vary from one region of the world to another. You can use this handy chart for all your future foreign shoe purchases.)
Another way of saying "to wear a size x" is "chausser du + [shoe size]":
Vous chaussez du combien?
What shoe size are you?
Je chausse du trente-sept.
I wear a size thirty-seven.
The French word for "shoe size" is la pointure (as opposed to the word for clothing size, la taille). So yet another way of rephrasing Manon’s question would be:
Quelle est votre pointure?
What shoe size are you?
Chausser is a pretty important verb when it comes to shoes (les chaussures). Besides its meaning above, it can also refer to "putting on" shoes or anything that covers your feet... even rollerblades!
La chose qui me fait le plus plaisir, c’est de chausser, d’aller rouler.
The thing that gives me the most pleasure is to put on my blades, to go and roll.
Manon takes the verb even further when describing how Margaux’s shoes might fit:
Je vais vous prendre un trente-sept et un trente-huit, mais elles chaussent grand.
I’ll get you a thirty-seven and a thirty-eight, but they run big.
Luckily, Margaux’s shoes chaussent bien (fit well)!
If you’re talking about wearing shoes (or any other article of clothing), the verb to use is porter:
Margaux porte des escarpins noirs.
Margaux is wearing black pumps.
Je [n']ai plus besoin de porter cette écharpe.
I don’t need to wear this scarf anymore.
Cap. 27, Flora: et le théâtre
If black pumps aren't your thing, you can try some of these on for size:
les sandales - sandals
les chaussons/les pantoufles - slippers
les chaussures de sport/de tennis - sneakers
les mocassins - loafers, flats
les bottes - boots
les ballerines - ballet shoes
les chaussures à talons hauts - high heels
les tongs - flip-flops
les chaussures de marche - hiking boots
les sabots - clogs
Now that you know all about buying shoes in France, why not try reenacting Margaux and Manon’s dialogue with a friend? You can go shopping after!
Lesson 47. Vocabulary
Just as English contains a large number of French loanwords, you’ll also find a good deal of anglicismes in French. In this lesson, we’ll focus on a specific group of English loanwords to French, all ending in -ing.
Like most loanwords, many of these -ing words have the same meaning in both languages, such as un meeting (a meeting), le marketing (marketing), un kidnapping (a kidnapping), le baby-sitting (babysitting), le shopping (shopping), and le jogging (jogging):
Elle fait son jogging sur la banquise.
She’s out jogging on the ice field.
There are quite a few -ing words related to sports or other physical activities, including le footing (jogging), le bowling (bowling or bowling alley), le stretching (stretching), le karting (go-karting), le body-building (body-building), and le camping (camping or campsite). In case you haven't noticed, these -ing loanwords are always masculine, so you won't have to worry about gender here!
Sometimes, these words have slightly different meanings from their English counterparts. Le parking, for example, doesn’t mean "parking," but "parking lot," like the one that was formerly the site of a beautiful hotel near the castle of Fontainebleau:
Aujourd’hui, derrière, malheureusement, il ne reste plus qu’un parking.
Today, behind it, unfortunately, all that’s left is a parking lot.
Cap. 23, Voyage en France: Fontainebleau
(The parking lot probably takes away from the splendor of Fontainebleau, but who knows—maybe someone will find a king buried beneath it, as Richard III was found in England.)
A fair number of French -ing words deal with beauty and grooming, such as the two hair-related words le shampooing (shampoo) and un brushing (a blow-out). Note that while most -ing loanwords sound very similar to the English, shampooing sounds completely different (it rhymes with poing, "fist"). You can hear the difference in these captions:
Ici le shampooing, le savon de corps et le savon menthe.
Here the shampoo, the body soap, and the mint soap.
Cap. 28, Visiter un yacht: Visite du yacht
Les brushings des serveuses se répandent
The waitresses’ blow-outs spread
Cap. 31, Boulbar: Motor Hotel
On the more extreme side of cosmetic -ing words, there’s un relooking (a makeover) and un lifting (a facelift). Of course, for your relooking, if you don't want to go all the way with a lifting, you could just get un peeling (a facial peel). And for proper grooming before a black tie affair, it’s always good to make sure one’s smoking (tuxedo) is perfectly clean:
Il y a du chewing-gum sur mon smoking, donc je dois l’apporter au pressing avant la fête.
There’s gum on my tuxedo, so I have to bring it to the dry cleaner’s before the party.
And don't forget that if you ever get du chewing-gum in your hair, you can wash it out with du shampooing!
Keep on the lookout for some other -ing anglicismes in your Yabla French studies and see how similar or different their meanings are to their English source words. You can use this helpful WordReference forum thread as a guide.
Lesson 46. Grammar
For most people, learning to conjugate verbs probably isn’t the most exciting part of studying a language (unless they have friends like our very own Margaux and Manon, that is). But luckily, in French as in other languages, there are a few verbs that cut you a break. These are the "impersonal verbs," and the beauty of them is that you only have to worry about conjugating them with the pronoun il (he/it). They’re called "impersonal" because they don’t refer to any specific person—il in this case just means "it."
A good number of these verbs have to do with that most impersonal of dinner party topics, the weather. Imagine this conversation between two partygoers who don’t have much to talk about:
Est-ce qu’il pleut dehors? -Non, il neige!
Is it raining outside? -No, it’s snowing!
The two forms that you see above, il pleut and il neige, are the only conjugations of pleuvoir (to rain) and neiger (to snow) that exist in the present tense. This is obviously because people can’t "rain" or "snow": you can’t say je pleux (I rain) or tu neiges (you snow). Unless you have superpowers, that is!
Some other impersonal weather expressions: il gèle (it’s freezing), il bruine (it’s drizzling), il tonne (it’s thundering), il grêle (it’s sleeting).
Next we’ll take a look at one of the most common impersonal verbs, falloir (to have to, to be necessary). In the present tense, you’ll see this as il faut:
Il faut protéger la terre.
We have to protect the earth.
Il faut deux ans pour former les pilotes d’hélicoptère de l’armée française.
It takes two years to train French Army helicopter pilots.
Cap. 28, Le Journal: École de pilotage
As you can see, you can have "il faut + infinitive" (to have to do something) and "il faut + noun" (to need something). A bit more complicated is the phrase il faut que..., which requires the subjunctive:
Il faut que je fasse la pâte.
I have to make the batter.
Cap. 16, LCM: Recette - Crêpes
Another impersonal verb you’ll see quite frequently is s’agir (to be about), in the expression il s’agit de...:
Il s’agit de voir où sont les abus.
It’s a question of seeing where the abuses are.
La seule prison qui se trouve dans Paris intra-muros, il s’agit de la prison de la Santé
The only prison located within Paris itself, namely, the Santé [Health] Prison
Note that s’agir is just the reflexive form of agir (to act), which is not an impersonal verb.
Sometimes regular old verbs can become impersonal too. Basic verbs like avoir, être, and faire can be conjugated left and right, but they can also be impersonal:
Il est minuit à Tokyo, il est cinq heures au Mali
It’s midnight in Tokyo, it’s five o’clock in Mali
Cap. 12, Amadou et Mariam: Sénégal Fast Food
Il est intéressant de vivre dans un pays étranger.
It is interesting to live in a foreign country.
Il y a beaucoup de choses à faire aujourd’hui.
There are many things to do today.
Il fait froid en hiver.
It is cold in the winter.
As you can see, impersonal verbs come in handy when you’re talking about the time, the weather, and the general state of things. You can learn more about them on this page.
Lesson 45. Vocabulary
You may have heard the word "coup" in English before, in phrases like "a major coup" (a successful, unexpected action), "a coup d’état" (a sudden overthrow of a government), or even "a coup de grâce" (a deathblow). In French, un coup means "a blow," "stroke," or "shot," and the construction "un coup de + noun" can give rise to a wide variety of expressions. Un coup d’état, for example, is literally "a blow of the state," and un coup de grâce is "a stroke of grace."
Two very common expressions with coup are un coup de poing (a punch or "strike of the fist") and un coup de pied (a kick or "strike of the foot"). But coup doesn’t always have to refer to violence! In general, "un coup de + noun" can just refer to something that happens very quickly. It’s often used in sports lingo, as Caroline uses it in her how-to video on the basics of badminton:
C’est un petit coup comme ça, un petit coup de raquette.
It’s a little shot like this, a little stroke with the racket.
Cap. 33, Caroline et le badminton
And in French soccer terminology, you have un coup d’envoi, a "sending shot" (better known as a "kickoff"):
Une demi-heure avant le coup d’envoi
Half an hour before kickoff
Cap. 27, Le Journal: Le football - Part 1
Have you ever been spooked by a "clap of thunder"? That’s un coup de tonnerre in French, and as the band Château Flight points out, it can be a beautiful thing:
Ainsi qu’un coup de tonnerre dont la beauté sidère
As well as a thunderbolt whose beauty astonishes
And let's not forget the counterpart of un coup de tonnerre, un coup de foudre (a lightning strike), which can also mean "love at first sight."
In contrast with the violent coup de poing and coup de pied, there is the much more benevolent coup de pouce or "stroke of the thumb." This is the phrase for a "helping hand" or a "push in the right direction," and it’s also the name of a French organization that held a contest to benefit abandoned pets:
Un concours organisé par l’Association Coup de Pouce
A competition organized by the "Coup de Pouce" [Push in the Right Direction] Association
Besides the construction "coup de + noun," two other expressions with coup are quite common: tout d’un coup (all of a sudden) and du coup (as a result):
J’ai des images dans la tête et puis tout d’un coup ça devient réalité.
I have images in my head and then all of a sudden that becomes reality.
Cap. 26, Melissa Mars: Ses propos
Donc du coup on devient très créatif.
So as a result you become very creative.
The list of coup expressions could fill a book, but here are some more interesting ones:
un coup d’essai – a trial run
un coup d’œil – a glance
un coup de chapeau – a pat on the back ("hat’s off")
un coup de chance – a stroke of luck
un coup de fil – a phone call
un coup de soleil – a sunburn
un coup de vent – a gust of wind
un coup de théâtre – a turn of events
un coup de cœur – a favorite, an infatuation
un coup fourré – a dirty trick
boire un coup – to have a drink
faire d'une pierre deux coups – to kill two birds with one stone
We hope you’re not experiencing un coup de barre (a sudden fatigue) and that you will be able to tenir le coup (cope) with learning so much about this little word! If you do need to unwind, why not watch a movie? We here at Yabla recommend one of the defining films of the French New Wave movement, François Truffaut's Les quatre cents coups ("The Four Hundred Blows"; the phrase faire les quatre cents coups means "to live a wild life").