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Adjectives of Color, Shape, and Origin

You may have heard that most of the time, an adjective in French is placed after the noun. But not always. How are we supposed to know? We find plenty of clues and start to gain an intuitive understanding when we watch authentic French videos. Let's have a look at a few instances when the adjective almost always follows the noun it modifies: color or shape, and origin/nationality, ethnicity, or religion.

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Let's have a look at shapes and colors first. In English we say "square meter," but in French, the adjective carré (square) follows the noun mètre (meter). This is evident in our video about "green tides" in Brittany: 

 

Mètre carré par mètre carré.

Square meter by square meter.

Caption 3, Le Journal - Marée verte en Bretagne

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Colors follow the same pattern. Listen to master chef Daniel Boulud describing what goes into his extremely high-end hamburgers:

 

Un pavé de bœuf braisé au vin rouge, avec du foie gras dedans...

A slab of beef braised in red wine, with some foie gras inside...

Caption 10, Le Journal - Un hamburger très cher!

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Like most Frenchmen, M. Boulud loves his vin rouge (red wine). Note that he puts the color "red," rouge, after the noun "wine," vin, not the other way around.

Similarly, Ina-Ich, the lovely chanteuse parisienne (Parisian singer) d'origine vietnamienne (of Vietnamese origin) places the color kaki (khaki) after the noun habits (dress/clothes), in her song Âme armée (Armed Soul). 

 

En habits kakis, plus rien n'a de prix

In khaki dress, nothing more has any value

Caption 15, Ina-Ich - Âme armée

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Notice that when we describe Ina-Ich, we say that she is a chanteuse parisienne and not a parisienne chanteuse; we say that she is d'origine vietnamienne and not de vietnamienne origine; and French web sites proclaim that she sings rock français (French rock) and not français rock. Why? Because another instance when adjectives pretty much always come after the noun in French is when the adjective is indicating origin, nationality, or ethnicity. That is why we find parisienne (Parisian) following chanteuse (singer), vietnamienne (Vietnamese) following origine (origin), and français (French) following rock

We hear this in our "Farm Stand" video from Montreal, Quebec, when François, the proud farmer, describes for us his finest organic vegetables:

 

Ici, c'est le choux chinois.

Here, this is Chinese cabbage.

Caption 15, Farmer François - Le stand de légumes

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Here again we find an adjective that describes origin/nationality, chinois (Chinese) coming after, not before, the noun it modifies, choux (cabbage).

In Le Journal's segment about last year's hotly contested Parisian Book Fair, the Salon du Livre, we hear an adjective describing ethnicity (arabe/Arab) and one describing religion (musulman/Muslim):

 

L'Egypte, pays arabe et musulman, pourrait bien être à son tour l'invitée d'honneur du Salon du Livre.

Egypt, an Arab and Muslim country, could well be the next guest of honor of the Book Fair.

Captions 19-20, Le Journal - Salon du livre

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(In a similar vein, you'll see the same placement, after the noun, for an adjective describing an official function: for example, une rencontre ministérielle, "a cabinet meeting.")

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So there we have it: color, shape, origin, nationality, ethnicity, religion, and official function—a few of the types of adjectives that almost always come after the noun in French. Keep your ears open while watching Daniel Boulud making his infamous burger, farmer François talking up his organic vegetables, Ina-Ich singing Âme armée, and all the other videos on Yabla French and you'll notice the rule is nearly universal!

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D'après nous, le français serait facile

Our last lesson was about four tricky, same-sounding conjugations of être (to be). Now we're going to look more closely at two of them, seraient and serait, as examples of a special use of the conditional mood of être.

 

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As you remember from last time, the conditional is often indicated in English by the use of "would." "That would be better with sugar" becomes, Ça serait mieux avec du sucre. However, the French conditional mood does not always correspond to an exact English equivalent using "would."

 

L'OMS [Organisation mondiale de la santé] publie un rapport inquiétant aujourd'hui: cinq pour cent des nouveaux cas de tuberculose seraient multirésistants, ce qui implique des traitements beaucoup plus lourds.

The WHO [World Health Organization] published a troublesome report today: five percent of new tuberculosis cases appear to be multi-resistant strains, which require much heavier treatments.

Captions 6-8, Le Journal - La tuberculose

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Here we find a different use for the conditional in French, that of introducing a very slight element of uncertainty. It's often found in somewhat formal contexts, such as news reports. Notice that our translation doesn't say that the strains of TB "are" multi-resistant or that they "would be" multi-resistant, but rather that they "appear to be" so. We find something similar in a Le Journal story examining the trend toward "retro" baby names in France:

 

Et pourquoi pas? Après tout, Adèle, Victorine, Ernest ou Alphonse seraient sur le retour.

And why not? After all, Adèle, Victorine, Ernest or Alphonse seem to be coming back.

Caption 18, Le Journal - Choisir un nom d'enfant

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In this usage, the speaker is indicating that she is not 100% sure of the facts at hand. It wouldn't do to say sont sur le retour (are coming back), perhaps because the evidence is anecdotal or otherwise unscientific. As you can see in the above translation, this use of the conditional, seraient, is analogous to the phrase "seem to be" in English. A closer, more literal translation might be "are supposed to be," but we wouldn't use that in English because "supposed to," idiomatically, connotes obligation (as in, "Aren't you supposed to be at school?"). But in a literal sense, the speaker is supposing that a given statement is true and scrupulously indicating so to the listener by using the conditional.

 

Similarly, "is apparently" might be the right fit:

 

Le rire serait aussi bénéfique que le sport.

Laughter is apparently as good for you as sports.

Caption 16, Le Journal - Les effets bénéfiques du rire!

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In a slightly different context, it might make more sense to translate this usage with the phrase "are reportedly":

 

Près d'une centaine de domaines du Bordelais seraient aujourd'hui en vente.

Nearly a hundred properties in the Bordeaux region are reportedly for sale today.

Caption 28, Le Journal - Les vignobles

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Mais attention! As with many things concerning the French language, the use of the conditional to express uncertainty can be quite subtle. In fact, it can express such a minute degree of doubt that we wouldn't bother to express it in English. So sometimes we don't translate it. There's an example of this in our video about climate change:

 

D'après les scientifiques, les bouleversements climatiques les plus profonds seraient à venir.

According to scientists, the most drastic climatic changes are still to come.

Caption 34, Le Journal - Indices révélateurs des glaciers

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The speaker here is using the conditional seraient to accentuate the subjective aspect of the assertion, already indicated by the phrase d'après les scientifiques (according to scientists). In English, we consider the introductory phrase to be sufficient—we wouldn't say "the most drastic climatic changes would be to come." It's no accident that "nuance" is a French word!

 

We hope there's no doubt whatsoever that this lesson was helpful!

 

For more discussion of this topic, visit this Word Reference Forum thread.

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Whatever Will Be, Will Be

Serai, serais, serait, seraient... They all sound the same! Distinguishing these homonymous forms of être (to be) can seem daunting—but have no fear, we've got some examples to help you sort it all out.

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Serai is the first person singular (je) future tense form of the verb être—the equivalent of the English "will be." Yabla's friend Charles-Baptiste employs it when he sings:

 

Oui je serai sale toute ma vie

Yes I will be dirty all my life

Caption 14, Charles-Baptiste - Sale type

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Serait is the third person singular (il/elle) present "conditional mood" (sometimes called conditional tense) of être. In English, the conditional mood is tipped off by "would," as you can see in our interview with the band Neimo:

 

Et dès qu'on a commencé à écrire des chansons, on s'est dit ça serait mieux en anglais...

And as soon as we started writing songs, we said to ourselves, it would be better in English...

Caption 22, Neïmo - Interview de Neïmo

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Now let's look at an example of the first person (je) conditional mood, which is conjugated as serais (the second person, tu, also shares this spelling):

 

Si je savais compter J'en serais éhonté

If I knew how to count I would be shameless about it

Captions 32-33, Château Flight featuring Bertrand Burgalat - Les antipodes

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Seraient is also conditional mood, but it is the third person plural (ils, elles). We found this example in an article about Germany and the euro: 

Les Allemands pensent qu'ils seraient mieux sans l'euro. 

The Germans think they would be better off without the euro. 

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Now is a good time to log in and watch these and other videos, keeping an ear out for these various homophones of être in action!

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La Traducteure: Feminization of Professions in French

You've no doubt noticed the difference in accent between the French and the Québécois. But have you noticed that the vocabulary, and even the grammar, is different? There are a lot of words that are unique to Québécois French—for example, the word blonde in the band name Ma blonde est une chanteuse (see the video of the same name) means "girlfriend"—the French would say copine or, more informally, nana.

These linguistic distinctions are simple enough, but sometimes there's something even trickier at play.

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Annie Chartrand says that she spoke good enough English as a kid to act as la traducteure (the translator) for her mom or dad:

 

Ça m'a permis beaucoup de voyager et d'être parfois même la traducteure pour mon père ou ma mère lorsqu'on on partait en vacances dans le sud.

It's allowed me to travel a lot and to sometimes even be the translator for my dad or my mom when we went on vacation in the south.

Captions 21-23, Annie Chartrand - Grandir bilingue

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But if we look in the dictionary, the "correct" feminine form of the masculine traducteur is traductrice—and this in fact is the form you will find used both in Quebec and in France. So where would Annie have gotten this other form (which, as far as we know, is not in common use anywhere)?

Annie's use of the phrase la traducteure is probably related to the fact that Quebec, historically, has been in the vanguard of the movement to feminize professional titles in the French language. In fact, the period Annie is talking about in the video was not long after the election of the progressive Parti Québécois in the provincial election of 1976. What does this have to do with anything? To make a long story short, a lot of women were elected to positions of power that used to be held by men, and they wanted feminine titles in cases where traditional French lacked them. They petitioned the Office de la langue française, Quebec's authority on all things linguistic, and got official approval. Specifically, the OLF decreed that feminine titles (in those cases where none previously existed) could be created by "spontaneously creating a feminine form that respects French morphology." Thereafter, the Québécois got in the habit of feminizing titles when appropriate.

Ingénieur (engineer), for example, had no feminine form, so, respecting French morphology, we get une ingénieure. Or we get une professeure from un professeur (professor) as well as une auteure from un auteur (author).

And this, we speculate, is why Annie came up with la traducteure. Even though traducteur already has a traditional feminine form in traductrice, Annie applied the logic behind the many "modern" feminizations that she grew up with to produce this novel alternative.

Examples of other modern feminizations of professions which traditionally had no feminine counterpart include these:

Un député/une députée (deputy)

Un chirurgien/une chirurgienne  (surgeon)

Un praticien/une praticienne (medical practitioner)

Un pilote/une pilote (pilot)

Un juge/une juge (judge)

Un guitariste/une guitariste (guitarist)

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Though the tradition-bound French have been slow to keep up with the progressive Québécois in this aspect of the language, the term la ministre is now common in French politics. The French generally agree that the issue is all very confusing, and they sometimes aren't even sure how to feminize a title. A good rule of thumb: say it in Québécois!

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