Our latest Grand Lille TV video focuses on the end of an urban legend: a house in Villeneuve D'Ascq that was said to be haunted is now being torn down. Urban legends are dubious by nature, so speaking about them usually involves expressing some degree of doubt, suspicion, or uncertainty. In fact, the news report on the ex-haunted house in Villeneuve D'Ascq demonstrates a few different ways to express doubt, suspicion, or uncertainty, or simply relay something that may or may not have actually happened.
The first expression comes in the video title itself, Clap de fin pour la maison dite hantée (End of the so-called haunted house). Un clap de fin is a filmmaking term referring to the clapperboard used to mark the end of a scene. More importantly, the word dite (the feminine singular past participle of dire, "to say") is used here as an adjective meaning "so-called." Think of it as a sort of disclaimer indicating that Grand Lille TV doesn't officially believe the house was haunted.
But dit as an adjective doesn't always have to be a disclaimer—like "so-called," it can also just refer to a commonly used name for something. Since it's an adjective, it always agrees in gender and number with the noun it modifies:
C'est un petit peu le cœur du quartier dit de la nouvelle Athènes.
It's kind of the heart of the so-called "Nouvelle Athènes" (New Athens) neighborhood.
Cap. 16, Voyage dans Paris: Le 10ème Arrondissement - Part 2
The next expression tells us the source of the alleged haunting using a tricky verb conjugation:
La présence d'un fantôme d'un enfant qui aurait été tué par ses parents à l'époque
The presence of the ghost of a child who had supposedly been killed by his parents at the time
Cap. 5, Grand Lille TV: Clap de fin pour la maison dite hantée
What we're dealing with here (besides a heartbreaking story) is the past conditional tense (also called the "conditional perfect"). It's formed by combining the conditional form of the auxiliary verb (avoir or être) with the past participle of the main verb. In this example, we actually have two past participles (été and tué) because the sentence is in the passive voice ("been killed").
The French conditional usually corresponds to the word "would": un enfant qui aurait été tué literally means "a child who would have been killed." But, as we discussed in a previous lesson, the conditional is also used to relate an uncertain fact or event, in which case it's often translated using words like "supposedly," "reportedly," or "apparently" without the conditional "would." We can tell that this is the best translation of the past conditional here because "a child who would have been killed" doesn't make sense in the context of the video. In general, context is key for determining whether the French conditional is a "true conditional" ("would be") or an expression of doubt or uncertainty ("is supposedly").
Our last two expressions are packed into one caption:
C'était soi-disant... une maison qui... devait être hantée.
It was a so-called... a house that... was supposed to be haunted.
Cap. 13, Grand Lille TV: Clap de fin pour la maison dite hantée
First we have another word for "so-called," soi-disant, which is also used in English (as in "a soi-disant artist," or a self-proclaimed artist). Unlike the adjective dit, which goes after the noun, soi-disant goes before the noun (une soi-disant maison hantée, "a so-called haunted house") and doesn't change in gender or number.
The speaker hesitated a bit here and chose not to use soi-disant in the end. Instead, he used the verb devoir, which usually means "to have to" or "must," but can also mean "to be supposed to," both in the sense of having a duty and of supposedly being or doing something. Incidentally, soi-disant can also be used as an adverb meaning "supposedly," so the speaker also could have said, une maison qui était soi-disant hantée (a house that was supposedly haunted).
For practice, try finding some straightforward sentences expressing a fact and turn them into expressions of doubt, suspicion, or uncertainty using the examples above. Beginners can play around with dit and soi-disant, while more advanced learners can tackle the past conditional. As an alternative, try writing about your favorite urban legend in French!
Oldelaf’s latest song featured on Yabla, “Vendredi” (Friday), is a sort of satirical ode to boring weekends:
I am bored
Je me sens tout chose
I feel peculiar
Cap. 41, Oldelaf: interprète “Vendredi”
You might have been able to guess that je m’ennuie means “I am bored” here because it contains the word ennui, which the English language borrowed from the French as a synonym for “boredom.” But in French, l’ennui and its related words don’t only have to do with being bored. They can also involve being bothered, worried, troubled, or annoyed. In this lesson, we’ll see how these multiple meanings play out—and we promise it won’t be boring!
First, there’s l’ennui, which usually just means “boredom”:
Je meurs d’ennui.
I’m dying of boredom.
However, if you pluralize l’ennui (les ennuis), you don’t get “boredoms,” but “problems” or “troubles”:
On évite certains ennuis
We avoid certain problems
Cap. 16, Le Village de la Bière: Ceci n’est pas un bar!
Quant à Socrate, il a de sérieux ennuis.
As for Socrates, he has serious troubles.
Cap. 27, Il était une fois… l’Homme: 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 6
(Speaking of philosophers with ennui(s), there's also l'ennui pascalien, or "Pascalian ennui," named after the seventeenth-century polymath Blaise Pascal. It corresponds to the notion of "existential ennui" in English.)
As we saw in the first example, the reflexive verb s’ennuyer means “to be bored.” But the non-reflexive verb ennuyer can either mean “to bore” or “to bother”:
Ça vous ennuie que je vous photographie?
Will it bother you that I photograph you?
Cap. 36, Le Journal: Marion Cotillard
Marc ennuie ses enfants avec ses longues histoires.
Marc is boring his kids with his long stories.
You’ll have to pay attention to context to determine whether ennuyer means “to bore” or “to bother.” In the case of the examples above, taking a photo of someone is probably more likely to bother them than bore them, and kids are probably more likely to be bored than bothered by their dad’s long stories. That said, sometimes ennuyer can have both meanings at once. For example, you could say that Marc is bothering his kids by boring them with his long stories. You could also say that he is annoying them—in fact, the word “annoy” is etymologically related to the word “ennui,” which should make this additional meaning of ennuyer easier to remember.
Context is also key with other ennui derivatives like ennuyeux/ennuyeuse (boring, annoying, tiresome) and ennuyé(e) (bored, annoyed, worried):
Y a rien à dire
There’s nothing to say
Cap. 40, Melissa Mars Music Videos: Et Alors!
Toutes ses questions sont vraiment ennuyeuses.
All his questions are really annoying.
On peut être fasciné, agacé, déçu, énervé par le ton, captivé par l'intrigue ou tout bêtement ennuyé...
We can be fascinated, annoyed, disappointed, upset by the tone, captivated by the plot, or, quite simply, bored...
Cap. 29-30, Manon et Clémentine: Vocabulaire du livre
Tu as l’air ennuyé. Mais ne t’inquiète pas! Tout ira bien.
You look concerned. But don’t worry! Everything will be all right.
Hopefully you aren’t bored, annoyed, bothered, or worried at the moment, but if you are, Oldelaf’s new video is a perfect antidote to all the various shades of ennui!
And for more information on the usage and history of the word "ennui" in English, check out this interesting article.
Ailleurs is an adverb with a few different meanings. By itself, ailleurs means “elsewhere,” in both a literal and figurative sense:
On te souhaite, ben, beaucoup de réussite, su tu vas en Australie ou ailleurs.
We wish you, well, a great deal of success, whether you go to Australia, or elsewhere.
Désolé, je n’ai pas entendu la question. J’avais la tête ailleurs.
Sorry, I didn’t hear the question. My mind was elsewhere.
You can also find ailleurs in the more absolute phrases nulle part ailleurs (nowhere else) and partout ailleurs (everywhere else):
...et des poissons qu'on ne trouve nulle part ailleurs.
...and fish that one cannot find anywhere else.
Cap. 15, Le Journal: L’île de Pâques
La situation s’améliore partout ailleurs.
The situation is improving everywhere else.
Ailleurs can also be found in two common phrases that are used to add extra information to a topic. The first of these is par ailleurs (otherwise, additionally):
La préfecture du Rhône a par ailleurs mis en place un centre d'appel
Additionally, the Rhône Prefecture has set up a call center
The second phrase, d’ailleurs, has a wide range of meanings:
C'est un très bon vin et d'ailleurs je vous conseille de le boire.
It's a very good wine and I recommend that you drink it, for that matter.
C'est d'ailleurs lui qui préface le livre.
He's the one who prefaces the book, by the way.
Un très beau lieu d’ailleurs.
A very beautiful place, incidentally.
Cap. 66, LCM - Concert: La Folia à l’abbaye Saint-Victor
Both d’ailleurs and par ailleurs can be placed pretty much anywhere in a sentence. For instance, we could easily move the phrases from the middle of the sentence to the beginning in the examples above:
Par ailleurs, la préfecture du Rhône a mis en place un centre d’appel
D’ailleurs, c’est lui qui préface le livre.
An easy way to learn the difference between these very similar phrases is to learn synonyms for them. Par ailleurs is generally synonymous with d’autre part and d’un autre côté (otherwise, on the other hand), while d’ailleurs is synonymous with du reste (furthermore), en outre (besides), and de plus (moreover). In other words, while d’ailleurs tends to be used to confirm what was previously said, par ailleurs is more often used to contradict it or provide an alternative.
That pretty much covers all the uses of this word, but if you’re interested in looking ailleurs for some more translations and example sentences, this Larousse entry is a handy summary of everything we mentioned above.
The French word jamais usually means “never,” in the negative construction ne… jamais:
On nous dit que les bus ne sont jamais à l'heure.
They tell us that the buses are never on time.
Cap. 11, Cap 24: Les bus sont-ils toujours en retard?
Technically, jamais only means “never” when it’s attached to a ne (though the ne is sometimes dropped in informal speech). An easy way to remember that the French word for “never” is actually two words is to note that “never” is just another way of saying “not ever,” which is the literal translation of ne jamais. But jamais doesn't always have a negative meaning, and sometimes is better translated as “ever.” In fact, as with the word “ever,” there are plenty of instances in which jamais can be used by itself (without the ne) to have a positive meaning.
Cyril uses jamais in this way two times while showing us some of his impressive rollerblading skills:
Le plus gros trick que j'aie jamais fait...
The greatest trick that I ever did...
Cap. 7, Cap 24: Démonstration de roller freestyle
Si jamais on a envie d'aller skater là-bas...
If we ever feel like going to skate over there...
Cap. 18, Cap 24: Démonstration de roller freestyle
Si jamais is a very common expression that usually is not broken up, like “if ever” is (which is why you have si jamais on a envie instead of si on a jamais envie above, but “if we ever feel” instead of “if ever we feel”).
Another common expression is plus que jamais, “more than ever”:
Les oiseaux sont plus que jamais sous haute surveillance.
More than ever, the birds are under high surveillance.
Cap. 30, Le Journal: La grippe aviaire - Part 1
Don’t confuse this with the negative expression ne… plus jamais (never again), which Charles-Baptiste uses extensively (in an inverted form) in his love song “Sale type” (Dirty Guy):
Plus jamais je ne me couperai les cheveux depuis que tu as mis tes mains dedans
Never again will I cut my hair since you put your hands in it
Cap. 6-7, Charles-Baptiste: Sale type
The opposite of ne… jamais is toujours (always, forever), but sometimes jamais can be used as a synonym for toujours in more formal or poetic contexts (just as “ever” can be a synonym of “always”).
Singer Ina-Ich waxes lyrical with the expression à jamais (forever) in her song “Libre comme l’eau”:
À jamais libre comme le vent
Forever free like the wind
Cap. 55, Ina-Ich: Libre comme l’eau
A similar expression meaning “forever” is pour jamais, which is a more formal version of pour toujours. And if you really want to emphasize eternalness, you can use à tout jamais (forever and ever).
To summarize, let’s take the old adage “never say never” and apply it to jamais: jamais sometimes “says never,” sometimes says “ever,” and sometimes says “forever.” But it never, ever says anything else!
We’ve dealt with adjectives a lot in previous Yabla lessons, and in this one we’ll focus on five of them that all share one important feature. See if you notice something peculiar about the spelling of the French words for “new” and “old” in the following examples:
Donc je vais vous présenter mon nouvel appartement.
So I'm going to show you my new apartment.
Cap. 20, Joanna: Son nouvel appartement
Ce square a la particularité d'héberger le plus vieil arbre de Paris.
This square has the distinction of housing the oldest tree in Paris.
Cap. 27, Voyage dans Paris: Saint-Germain-des-Prés
You may already know that “new” in French is nouveau (masculine) and nouvelle (feminine), and that “old” is vieux (masculine) and vieille (feminine). So where did nouvel and vieil come from?
The answer is that, for a small group of adjectives, the masculine singular form changes when the adjective is followed by a noun starting with a vowel or a non-aspirated (mute) h. So instead of nouveau appartement, you have nouvel appartement, and instead of vieux arbre, you have vieil arbre.
If you think about it in terms of pronunciation, you might get a better sense of why this happens. The phrase nouvel appartement “flows” better than nouveau appartement because the l sound prevents the little pause that occurs when you move from the “eau” of nouveau to the “a” of appartement. French pronunciation places a heavy emphasis on words flowing together smoothly (a concept called “euphony”), an idea we previously touched on in our lesson on liaisons. This little rule is just another way of making sure the language sounds pleasing to the ear.
The three other descriptive adjectives that exhibit this spelling change are beau/bel/belle (beautiful), fou/fol/folle (mad, crazy), and mou/mol/molle (soft).
Je préfère un mol oreiller.
I prefer a soft pillow.
Le fol espoir d'un rendez-vous
The mad hope of a rendezvous
Cap. 15, Oldelaf: interprète “Bérénice”
Alors, qui me fait une offre pour ce bel athlète?
So, who's making me an offer for this handsome athlete?
Cap. 25, Il était une fois… l’Homme: 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 3
This phenomenon also occurs with the demonstrative adjective ce/cette (this, that), which becomes cet before a singular masculine noun starting with a vowel or mute h. So if we removed the word “handsome” from the sentence above, it would become:
Alors, qui me fait une offre pour cet athlète?
So, who’s making me an offer for this athlete?
Note that if another word beginning with a consonant (usually another adjective) is placed between the noun and the special form of the adjective, you don’t need to use the special form anymore. You can see this in the previous example, where you have ce bel athlète instead of cet bel athlète.
As you may have noticed, all of these adjectives belong to a small group of adjectives that go before the noun they modify. You can learn more about adjectives like this in our previous lesson on the subject. Also, remember that this spelling change only occurs with the masculine singular forms of these adjectives. The masculine plural forms (nouveaux, vieux, mous, fous, beaux, ces) don’t change before a noun beginning with a vowel or mute h. According to the rules of liaison, their endings are pronounced to indicate the plural.
Since this spelling change happens with such a small number of adjectives, the best way to learn it is probably just to memorize them. Here’s a little memory aid for you using fragments of all the example sentences in this lesson:
Cet homme a le fol espoir de trouver… (This man has the mad hope of finding…)
...le plus nouvel appartement de Paris. (...the newest apartment in Paris.)
...le plus vieil arbre de Paris. (...the oldest tree in Paris.)
...le plus mol oreiller de Paris. (...the softest pillow in Paris.)
...le plus bel athlète de Paris. (...the handsomest athlete in Paris.)
While we at Yabla encourage you to spend as much time as you can watching our videos, we realize that sitting in front of a computer screen all day isn’t that healthy. So we also encourage you to take a break every so often to move around a bit! To get you inspired, let’s review the various ways of saying “to move” in French.
The two most basic verbs meaning “to move” are bouger and remuer, which are more or less interchangeable, but can both take on more specific meanings. In this cartoon, a polar bear tells Leon the lion not to move:
Bouge pas de là, Léon. Tu restes ici!
Do not move from here, Leon. You stay here!
Cap. 5, Les zooriginaux: 3. Qui suis-je? - Part 2
Bouger can also be a more informal synonym of partir, meaning “to leave”:
Nous devons bouger d’ici.
We have to get out of here.
Sometimes you’ll see the idiom ça bouge (literally, “it moves”) to refer to a place that’s lively or full of activity, like the city of Strasbourg:
La ville, son charme... les bâtiments. -Ça bouge.
The town, its charm... the buildings. -It's lively.
Cap. 18, Strasbourg: Les passants
In “Dernière danse” (Last Dance), Indila uses remuer to describe the power she feels in her douce souffrance (sweet suffering):
Je remue le ciel, le jour, la nuit
I move the sky, the day, the night
Cap. 10, Indila: Dernière danse
Besides “to move,” remuer can also mean “to stir” or “to mix” in a culinary setting:
Pour faire des œufs brouillés, il faut remuer les œufs dans une poêle.
To make scrambled eggs, you have to stir the eggs in a frying pan.
When you’re talking specifically about moving from one place to another, se déplacer (literally, “to displace oneself”) is the best verb to use:
Ensuite on peut se déplacer au restaurant pour finir la soirée.
Then you can move to the restaurant to end the evening.
Cap. 28, Cap 24: Découverte d’un restaurant parisien
Even more specifically, when you’re talking about moving from one home to another, use déménager. Un ménage is the word for “household,” so you can remember the difference by thinking of déménager as “to de-household”:
En effet, si vous avez déménagé, vous devez vous inscrire à la mairie de votre nouveau domicile.
Indeed, if you've moved, you must register at the city hall of your new residence.
Cap. 10, Le Journal: Voter - un droit ou un choix?
Finally, let’s not forget that we can be moved in a metaphorical way, when something makes us feel emotional. The verb for that is émouvoir, the past participle of which isému (moved):
Son histoire… avait ému en début d'année des milliers de spectateurs.
Her story… had moved thousands of viewers at the beginning of the year.
Cap. 1-2, Le Journal: Le mensonge
Hopefully this lesson has moved you to get up and move! Here’s a suggestion: play our latest music video, Zaz’s “Éblouie par la nuit” (Blinded by the Night), and see how much of the lyrics you understand while dancing along. Or, if dancing isn’t your thing, you might want to check out Joanna’s video on preparing for a run.
The verb importer has two different meanings: “to import” (goods or merchandise, or even a computer file) and “to be important” or “to matter.” You can use the phrase il importe as a more formal alternative to il est important (it is important) when giving a warning or instruction:
Il importe de se laver les mains avant de manger.
It is important to wash your hands before you eat.
But more often, you’ll see the verb used in two set expressions to refer to things that aren’t important, or whose specific identity doesn’t matter. The first of these expressions is peu importe, which means “little does it matter”:
Peu importe si je veux ça, mes larmes en vain, et peu importe des lendemains si je t’aime
Little does it matter if I want it, my tears in vain, and little do the tomorrows matter if I love you
Cap. 11, Peach FTL: L’Empreinte
The other expression is not as straightforward but probably even more common. Take a look at this sentence:
C'est le seul art que tu peux faire n'importe où, n'importe quand.
It's the only art that you can do anywhere, anytime.
Cap. 7-8, B-Girl Frak: La Danse
You’ll have to watch the video to find out what artform B-Girl Frak is referring to (though you might be able to guess from the title), but for now, let’s focus on the phrases n’importe où and n’importe quand. Literally translated, they mean “doesn’t matter where” and “doesn’t matter when,” which are roundabout ways of saying “anywhere” and “anytime.” In French, the construction “n’importe + interrogative word (où, quand, qui, quoi, comment, quel)” corresponds to English phrases beginning with “any” (anywhere, anytime, anyone, etc.).
Depending on context, this construction can function as a few different parts of speech. For instance, while n’importe où and n’importe quand act as adverbs, n’importe qui (anyone) and n’importe quand (anytime) act as indefinite pronouns:
Et qui l'achète? Ah, n'importe qui.
And who buys it? Ah, anyone.
Cap. 4-5, Le Journal: La bougie du sapeur
Le marché Dauphine, une véritable caverne d'Ali Baba, ici on trouve n'importe quoi.
The "Marché Dauphine" [Dauphine Market], a veritable Ali Baba's cave, here we find anything.
Cap. 2, Cap 24: Paris - Alessandro fait les Puces!
N’importe quoi can also be used more informally to mean “ridiculous” or “nonsense”:
Là, je trouve ça n'importe quoi, parce que, voilà, chacun a ses... a sa religion.
I think it's ridiculous because, you know, everyone has ... has his or her own religion.
Cap. 16, Grand Lille TV: Sondage - le voile intégral
If you want to be a bit more specific than “anyone” or “anything,” you can use the expression n’importe quel/quelles/quels/quelles, which is always followed by a noun:
Vous parlez comme n'importe quel homme.
You talk like any other man.
Cap. 28, Bande-annonce: La Belle et la Bête
Lequel, laquelle, lesquels, and lesquelles can be used to replace “quel/quelle/quels/quelles + noun” (more on that here). Likewise, you can also put n’importe in front of those words to express indifference:
Tu veux aller à la plage ou à la piscine? -N’importe laquelle.
Do you want to go to the beach or to the pool? -Either one.
Finally, there’s the adverb phrase n’importe comment, which literally means “any how,” but is usually translated as “any way” or “any which way.” The French house artist Toxic Avenger devoted an entire song to this phrase:
Bouge ton corps n'importe comment
Move your body any which way
Cap. 24, The Toxic Avenger: N’importe comment
In informal speech, you’ll even hear n’importe used as a standalone phrase to mean “it doesn’t matter” or “I don’t care” (or even just "whatever"). We hope that you do care about all of the different ways to use importer!
As we’ve noted in previous lessons, accent marks are very important in French. Their presence or absence can completely change the meaning of a word, as in cote, côte, and côté or des, dés, and dès. In this lesson, we’ll investigate a more straightforward but no less significant distinction, between du and dû.
You may already know that in French de + le ("of" + "the") is always contracted into du. That’s why, in their introduction to their video on springtime trends (or trends of the springtime), Fanny and Corinne say tendances du printemps:
On va vous parler des tendances du printemps.
We're going to tell you about some springtime trends.
Cap. 2, Fanny & Corrine parlent de la mode: Tendances du printemps
Printemps is masculine, so, to put it mathematically: de + le printemps = du printemps. Note that, in the title, Fanny and Corinne parlent de la mode (talk about fashion). De + la can appear together in French, so no contraction is necessary there. You can find out more about these rules on this page.
When you put a circumflex on du, its pronunciation doesn’t change, but it’s no longer a contraction of de + le. Dû is the past participle of the verb devoir, which means “to have to” or “to owe.” So why does dû require a circumflex? For no other reason than to distinguish it from du! Though the circumflex is only used to distinguish meaning in this case, it can serve some other purposes as well, which you can learn more about here.
Here’s an example of dû used as a past participle, from a video about an electric sporting boat:
Donc, on a dû utiliser deux moteurs.
So we had to use two motors.
Cap. 25, Bateau sport 100% électrique: Le Nautique 196 E
Dû can also be used as an adjective, in which case it means “due,” as in the expression “due to” (dû à):
Peut-être que c'est aussi dû au fait que ma mère aimait beaucoup chanter.
Maybe it's also due to the fact that my mother liked very much to sing.
Cap. 16, Mai Lingani: Mai et Burkina Electric
Dû is the masculine singular form of the adjective, but note that the circumflex disappears in every other form: the feminine singular (due), the masculine plural (dus), and the feminine plural (dues). Remember: in this case, the circumflex is only there to prevent confusion with du.
In this caption from a video on AIDS, dû modifies the singular feminine noun banalisation, so it becomes due:
Une banalisation qui est due d'ailleurs à la trithérapie.
A trivialization which, besides, is due to the tritherapy.
Cap. 3-4, Le Journal: Le sida
Finally, dû can be used as a noun (un dû) to mean “a due,” or something that one is owed:
Je lui paierai son dû.
I will pay him his due.
We hope that we have duly (dûment) demonstrated how much of a difference one little accent mark can make!
In English, "to find" can also be a synonym for “to think,” when expressing an opinion. Likewise, trouver can be a synonym for the standard French words for "to think," penser and croire. Like the person in this video, we at Yabla find foreign language learning to be very important:
Je trouve que c'est très important de... étudier les langues étrangères.
I think it's very important to... study foreign languages.
Cap. 1, Allons en France: Pourquoi apprendre le français?
When you make trouver and retrouver reflexive, their meanings become less straightforward. Take a look at this sentence, in which the explorer James Bruce expresses his certainty about the location of the source of the Nile:
Et elle se trouve sûrement là-bas!
And it is certainly over there!
Cap. 9, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs: 15. Bruce et les sources du Nil - Part 5
Elle se trouve literally means “it is found,” but se trouver can also be translated as “to be located” or simply “to be.” Don’t confuse this with the set expression il se trouve que..., which means “it just so happens that…” or “it turns out that…”:
Il se trouve que j’ai une autre paire de gants.
It just so happens that I have another pair of gloves.
When you make retrouver reflexive, it has the sense of being somewhere again or meeting again:
Les Marseillais ne cachent pas le plaisir de se retrouver.
The Marseille residents are not hiding the pleasure of getting together again.
Cap. 32, Alsace 20: Rencontre avec les membres d’IAM
On se retrouve au café après l'école?
Shall we meet at the café after school?
Se retrouver can also refer to finding oneself in a particular situation:
Je me suis retrouvé le bec dans l'eau.
I found myself with my beak in the water. [I was left high and dry.]
We hope you’ve found this lesson helpful and that you find everything you may have lost!
In an introductory French class, Lionel gives a rundown of some basic ways to greet people in French:
C'est le soir. Bonne soirée.
It's the evening. Good evening.
Cap. 26, Leçons avec Lionel: Salutations
In English, a “soirée” is a fancy party usually held in the evening. Though the French word soirée can also refer to a party, its basic meaning is just “evening,” which isn’t quite as fancy. You can see from the example above that there is another French word for “evening”: le soir. Likewise, there is also another way to say “good evening”: bonsoir. So what’s the difference between le soir and la soirée and bonsoir and bonne soirée?
It’s not just that le soir is masculine and la soirée is feminine or that bonsoir is one word and bonne soirée is two. It’s more a question of emphasis: la soirée generally refers to the duration of an evening, whereas le soir just refers to a specific time. The difference is pretty subtle, and the words are often interchangeable, but it’s good to know that this pattern applies to other time-related words as well: matin/matinée (morning), jour/journée (day), and an/année (year).
In this weather report, the phrase toute la matinée emphasizes the durational aspect of matinée:
En effet, le soleil va briller de Wissembourg à Saint-Louis durant toute la matinée.
Indeed, the sun will shine from Wissembourg to Saint-Louis all morning long.
Cap. 3, Alsace 20: Météo du 2 juillet 2010
If she just wanted to emphasize the specific time of day, the weather reporter could have said something like:
En effet, le soleil va briller de Wissembourg à Saint-Louis demain matin.
Indeed, the sun will shine from Wissembourg to Saint-Louis tomorrow morning.
Note that matinée never refers to a daytime theater performance or movie screening, as it does in English. In French, it just means "morning." To get another sense of morning as a duration of time, think about the French expression for “sleeping in,” faire la grasse matinée (literally, “fat morning”). When you sleep in, you spend a good amount of the morning (if not the whole morning, or toute la matinée!) in bed:
Il travaille bien en classe; il ne fait jamais la grasse matinée!
He works hard in class; he never sleeps in!
Cap. 15, Les zooriginaux: 2 - Tel père tel fils - Part 1
The pattern continues with jour/journée. Notice the difference in meaning between toute la journée and tous les jours:
Je suis sur la plage toute la journée.
I'm on the beach all day long.
Cap. 8, Fred et Miami Catamarans: Fred et sa vie à Miami
Je suis sur la plage tous les jours.
I'm on the beach every day.
Bonjour is the standard way to say “hello” (or “good day”), but as you may have guessed, you can also say bonne journée. Bonne journée is usually translated as “have a good day,” and this same distinction can be applied to bonsoir and bonne soirée. You'd tend to say bonjour/bonsoir when greeting someone and bonne journée/bonne soirée when leaving them. However, you generally won’t hear bon matin or bonne matinée in French—”good morning” is simply bonjour. And there is only one way to say “good afternoon” (bon après-midi) and “good night” (bonne nuit), which you only say before going to bed.
Finally, there is an/année. Again, you would use an to refer to a specific year or number of years:
Dans trois ans, j’aurai trente ans.
In three years, I will be thirty years old.
Une année is a one-year span, but it can also refer less precisely to a period of 11 or 13 months (whereas un an is strictly 12 months):
C'est pour ça que je voulais vraiment absolument m'arrêter ici pendant pendant une année...
That's why I really absolutely wanted to stop here for a year....
Cap. 36-37, Le Québec parle aux Français: Part 2/1
You can’t wish somebody a bon an in French, but you can certainly wish them a bonne année. In fact, bonne année happens to be the phrase for “Happy New Year," while "New Year's" (referring to the specific day) is le Nouvel An or le jour de l'An. Since the holidays are fast approaching, in addition to a bonne journée and a bonne soirée, we at Yabla also wish you a bonne année for le Nouvel An (a few months in advance)!