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Gender Reveal: Masculine and Feminine Nouns

Unlike in English, all nouns are either masculine or feminine in French, without exception, whether they refer to a person, an animal, or an inanimate object. So, every time you learn a new word, you will also need to memorize its gender, which is one of the difficulties of the French language. 

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As Lionel remarks in his lesson, English speakers don’t have to worry about the gender of nouns:

 

Voilà. Vous êtes chanceux en anglais: vous avez pas tous ces problèmes de sexe et de langue...

There you have it. You are lucky in English: you don't have all these gender and language problems...

Caption 24, Lionel L - Les genres

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Perhaps we can blame the Romans for this predicament, as most Romance languages (derived from Latin) assign a gender to nouns. For example, in Spanish, masculine nouns end in o, as in chico (boy), and feminine nouns end in a, as in chica (girl). In French, you can’t always guess the gender of a noun by its ending. Instead, it’s better to check the article that comes before it. 

 

Masculine nouns are preceded by the masculine indefinite article un (a) or the definite article le (the). For example, we say un garçon (a boy) or le garçon (the boy), and therefore garçon is masculine:

 

Le masculin s'utilise par exemple pour le mot "garçon". C'est masculin: "Le garçon".

The masculine is used, for example, for the word "garçon." It's masculine: "Le garçon" [the boy].

Caption 5, Yabla à Nancy - Le masculin et le féminin

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Feminine nouns are introduced by the indefinite article une (a) or the definite article la (the). The noun fille (girl) is feminine, so we say une fille (a girl) or la fille (the girl):

 

Le féminin s'utilise pour le mot "fille", par exemple, "la fille."

The feminine is used for the word "fille," for example, "la fille" [the girl].

Caption 7, Yabla à Nancy - Le masculin et le féminin

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So far so good. It seems quite logical to ascribe a feminine gender to une fille (a girl) and a masculine gender to un garçon (a boy).

 

However, when it comes to inanimate objects, you'd think it would make more sense to assign them a neuter gender, or “it”. Unfortunately, there is no such thing in French. So, an object or concept is arbitrarily either masculine or feminine. There is often no rhyme or reason for this, as Lionel jokingly points out:

 

Pourquoi est-ce que la chaise est une femme? Je sais pas.

Why is the chair a woman? I don't know.

Caption 6, Lionel L - Les genres

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Since there’s little logic in the gender-assigning process, it’s up to you to memorize the gender of each noun and match it with the correct article: le (the) or un (a) for masculine and la (the) or une (a) for feminine. Or you could talk about everything in multiples, as the plural has its definite advantages. Why? Because you don’t need to worry about feminine and masculine articles! Les ("the," plural) and des (some) work for both masculine and feminine plural nouns:

 

Au pluriel, on utilise le mot "les". Ça marche pour le masculin et pour le féminin.

In the plural, we use the word "les." That works for the masculine and for the feminine.

Caption 16, Yabla à Nancy - Le masculin et le féminin

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So:

 

Une maison (a house) becomes des maisons (houses).

 

La maison (the house) becomes les maisons (the houses).

 

Un garçon (a boy) becomes des garçons (boys).

 

Le garçon (the boy) becomes les garçons (the boys).

 

In addition to les (the) and des (some) pairing with both masculine and feminine plural nouns, the definite singular article l’ (another form of “the”) can also go with either gender, as in l’arbre ("the tree," masculine) or l’idée ("the idea," feminine). 

 

Note that l' is only used with a noun starting with a vowel or silent h. In other words, le and la turn into l’ in front of a vowel or silent hThis phenomenon is called euphony, which is when a word is modified for a purely phonetic purpose, without changing its meaning.

 

Thus, we can’t say le arbre in French. As Patricia explains, we have to say l’arbre:

 

Je ne dis pas: "Voici le arbre". Je dis: "Voici l'arbre".

I don't say: "Voici le arbre" [here's the tree]. I say: "Voici l'arbre" [here's the tree].

Captions 34-37, Le saviez-vous? - L'élision - Part 1

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And the same rule applies to feminine nouns. Instead of la oreille (the ear), we say:

 

L'oreille.

"L'oreille" [the ear].

Caption 20, Le saviez-vous? - L'élision - Part 1

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To summarize, here's a table outlining the gender of nouns and articles in French:

 

Masculine singular Masculine plural Feminine singular Feminine plural
un chapeau (a hat) des chapeaux (hats) une maison (a house) des maisons (houses)
le chapeau (the hat) les chapeaux (the hats) la maison (the house) les maisons (the houses)
l'arbre (the tree) les arbres (the trees) l'amitié (the friendship) les amitiés (the friendships)

 

Once you’ve memorized the gender of a noun, it’s a matter of using the correct article mentioned in the table. 

 

Fortunately, if you forget the gender of a word, you can always consult a dictionary. However, you should know that nouns usually aren't listed with un/une or le/la in front. Instead, gender will often appear in the form of an abbreviation: nm (nom masculin, masculine noun) and nf (nom féminin, feminine noun). You'll also see npl (nom pluriel, plural noun). 

 

So far, we’ve covered the basics of the gender of nouns and articles, but there is a lot more to explore. Dans une prochaine leçon (in a future lesson), we’ll discuss nouns referring to people and animals.

 

Until then, happy reading!

 
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Verlan – The New Slang

Do you know what Parlez-vous céfran means? It’s Parlez-vous français? (Do you speak French?) in verlan, a form of slang in which a word’s syllables are inverted. In verlan, français (French) becomes céfran. The term verlan is itself an instance of verlan, standing for l’envers ("backward" or “back to front”), as Lionel puts it in his lesson:

 

"Verlan", c'est "l'envers" à l'envers.

"Verlan" is "l'envers" [backward] reversed.

Caption 5, Lionel L - Le verlan

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Although verlan is widely used among young people today, the practice of reversing syllables goes back a long way (and is not exclusive to the French language). French Enlightenment writer François-Marie Arouet, aka Voltaire, is said to have made up his pen name by reversing the syllables of his hometown of Airvault. More recently, singer/rapper/songwriter Stromae (né Paul Van Haver) built his stage name around the word maestro, which in verlan became Stromae! Verlan was even used as a coded language among prisoners during World War II. 

 

But it was not until the seventies and eighties that verlan really started to take off and become a form of expression for the disenfranchised in the poorer suburbs of Paris. It became part of the language of immigrants, namely second-generation French North Africans straddling two cultures, who called themselves beurs (arabes in verlan). (Incidentally, the term rebeu, a variation of beur, has become so mainstream that it is now entered in Le Petit Robert dictionary!)

 

The term beur (Arab), featured in the video below, is part of the catchphrase black, blanc, beur (black, white, Arab), which has become a symbol of racial diversity:

 

La Marianne, c'est le symbole de la République avant tout. Je vous dirais qu'elle soit noire, beur, ou blanche, c'est pareil.

Above all, Marianne is the symbol of the Republic. I'm telling you, whether she's black, Arab, or white, it's all the same.

Captions 16-17, Le Journal - Marianne

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By the same token, immigrants don’t want to abandon their roots and compromise their values to fit in. According to filmmaker Alain Etoundi, minorities are misrepresented in French movies, such as the comedy Les Kaïra, in which black characters are stereotyped as funny, harmless rogues. The title of the movie Les Kaïra is based on caillera, the verlan term for racaille (riffraff, scum):

 

Vous aimez valider des films de pseudo "Kaïra" ["caillera", verlan "racaille"]

You like to endorse pseudo-"Kaïra" films [riffraff]

Caption 26, Alain Etoundi - Allez tous vous faire enfilmer! - Part 1

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In addition to movies, music, especially hip-hop, helped verlan spread beyond the suburbs from the nineties onwards. In 2013, Congolese-born hip-hop artist Maître Gims made liberal use of verlan in his song "Bella":

 

Les gens du coin ne voulaient pas la "cher-lâ" [lâcher]

The local people would not leave her alone

Caption 54, Maître Gims - Bella

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Turning two-syllable words into verlan is quite straightforward. In the example above, Maître Gims just switches the syllables of lâcher (to let go/to leave alone) around to make cher-. But with one-syllable words, it’s a little trickier. For example, pieds (feet) becomes iep:

 

Rends-moi bête comme mes "iep" [pieds]

Make me stupid as my feet [thick as a brick]

Caption 59, Maître Gims - Bella

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And chien (dog) becomes iench:

 

Je suis l'ombre de ton "iench" [chien]

I am the shadow of your dog

Caption 61, Maître Gims - Bella

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Rapper Grand Corps Malade also uses verlan in his song "Roméo kiffe Juliette" (Romeo Likes Juliet):

 

Le père de Roméo est vénère [énervé], il a des soupçons

Romeo's father is irritated, he has suspicions

Caption 25, Grand Corps Malade - Roméo kiffe Juliette

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And in "Plan B", Grand Corps Malade refers to a girlfriend as a meuf:

 

Quand ta meuf c'est Kardashian et que tu rêves d'une vie planquée

When your chick is a Kardashian and you dream of a secluded life

Caption 21, Grand Corps Malade - Plan B

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The word femme (“woman” or “wife") becomes meuf in verlan, which can also mean “girlfriend” or, more slangily, "chick."

 

As singers have popularized the use of verlan, it's become part of everyday conversations among young people. In the video below, Elisa uses verlan in a conversation with her mother, whom she accuses of being relou (annoying): 

 

Bah oui! T'es... t'es super relou ["lourd" en verlan], on le sait hein!

Well yes! You're... you're really annoying, we know that, right?

Caption 8, Elisa et sa maman - Comment vas-tu?

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It's not just people who can be relou. Activities like housework can be as well:

 

Et très vite j'allais comprendre qu'il y avait plus relou que le ménage.

And very quickly I was going to understand that there were more frustrating things than housework.

Captions 73-74, Mère & Fille Tâches ménagères

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As you can see, verlan words pepper conversations and songs all across the French-speaking world. If you want to try your hand at verlan, just switch some syllables around, and don’t forget check out the videos featured in this Blaya (Yabla) lesson!

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Je craque! – The Verb Craquer

The verb craquer (to crack)—not to be confused with croquer (to crunch/bite)—is an interesting word as it can be used in a variety of ways, often in situations that involve strong emotions, either positive or negative. When used informally, craquer has many meanings that range from “breaking down” to “falling in love."

 

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In a negative context, craquer can mean to crack up, or crack under pressure:

 

François est dégoûté. Il craque.

François is disgusted. He's cracking up.

Caption 35, Oldelaf Le monde est beau

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Craquer can also describe something or someone cracking under pressure:

 

Continue à faire des films aussi flingués et les cités vont craquer.

Continue making gun movies like always and the housing estates are going to crack.

Captions 51-52, Alain Etoundi Allez tous vous faire enfilmer! - Part 1

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It can also refer to someone "giving in" or "caving":

 

Bon, j'ai craqué parce que...

Well, I caved because...

Caption 52, Le Jour où tout a basculé À l'audience - Arnaque en couple ? - Part 3

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While craquer means to crack under pressure, faire craquer quelqu’un means to cause someone to crack or to break someone’s spirit, like the mother in the video below who tried to faire craquer (break down) her son’s girlfriend:

 

Sa mère voulait me faire craquer.

His mother wanted to break me down.

Caption 34, Le Jour où tout a basculé Ma mère fait tout pour briser mon couple - Part 3

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At the other end of the spectrum, however, craquer can describe a positive experience. It's slang for “to fall in love." In the example below, the French pianist Christine Ott is asked:

 

C'est ce qui t'a fait craquer, toi, pour cet instrument?

Is that what made you fall in love with this instrument?

Caption 4, Alsace 20 Femmes d'exception: Christine Ott

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And the singer Melissa Mars "fell head over heels" for her project "Et Alors!":

 

Et voilà, donc du coup, ben évidemment j'ai craqué sur ce projet,

And there, so as a result, well of course I fell head over heels for this project,

Caption 23, Melissa Mars Et Alors!

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In the following example, shoppers "fell" for some Christmas ornaments:

 

Et ben on a craqué sur des choses un petit peu typiques, euh...

And, well, we fell for things that are a little bit typical, uh...

Caption 10, Alsace 20 Ouverture du marché de Noël de Colmar

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And, of course, craquer sur also means to fall for a person:

 

J'avais complètement craqué sur elle

I'd completely fallen for her

Caption 68, Le Jour où tout a basculé J'ai piégé mon fan - Part 2

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Likewise, faire craquer can mean to make someone fall for someone:

 

Je pouvais avouer, ouais, qu'elle m'a fait craquer

I could confess, yeah, that she made me fall for her

Captions 32-33, Harmelo Mets Ton Masque Ft. Jade L x Ghetto

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On a spookier note, craquer can mean to creak, as in the sound the floor makes in this couple’s haunted apartment:

 

Ah, c'est le plancher qui craque.

Ah, it's the floor that's creaking.

Caption 17, Le Jour où tout a basculé Notre appartement est hanté - Part 3

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And for a little bit of humor, craquer (to rip) can describe a wardrobe mishap. In this video, Elisa and Mashal look at old photographs, and Mashal remembers when her pants ripped in the middle:

 

Enfin, quand j'avais dansé mon pantalon qui avait craqué au mil'...

Well, when I'd been dancing, my pants, which had ripped in the mid'...

Caption 82, Elisa et Mashal Photos

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Or when referring to shoes, you can say that they are sur le point de craquer (about to burst). In "J'aurais bien voulu," the singer of the ska band Babylon Circus talks about his battered ego sagging down to his socks to the point that his godasses (shoes) are sur le point de craquer (about to burst):

 

J'ai l'ego dans les chaussettes et les godasses sur le point de craquer

My ego's in my socks and my shoes are about to burst

Caption 30, Babylon Circus J'aurais bien voulu

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There’s another colloquial expression that paints a similar picture, plein à craquer, which means “bursting at the seams” or “overcrowded”:

 

Les hôpitaux sont pleins à craquer.

The hospitals are completely overcrowded.

 

Don't confuse craquer with the English loanword cracker, which means "hacker":

 

Des crackers ont piraté le logiciel.

Some hackers hacked into the software. 

 

(Un cracker can also be of the edible kind… a cracker!).

 

The noun un craque doesn’t refer to "cracking" at all. It's slang for un mensonge (a lie):

 

Mais si tous mes craques t'indiffèrent

But if all my lies leave you indifferent

Caption 28, Mademoiselle K (avec Zazie) Me taire te plaire

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The English noun “crack,” as in a crack in the wall, is une fissure in French, and the verb is fissurer (to crack), as mentioned in this video about the Liverdun Church during the Second World War:

 

Parce qu'elle a été fissurée pendant la dernière Guerre mondiale.

Because it was cracked during the last World War.

Caption 76, Lionel L'église de Liverdun - Part 2

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There are other instances when “crack” doesn’t translate as craquer in French. For example, “to crack a joke” is simply raconter une blague (to tell a joke), Lionel’s specialty in his Yabla videos:

 

Lionel adore raconter des blagues sur Yabla.

Lionel loves telling jokes on Yabla.

 

And when you "crack up" at a joke, you éclater de rire (burst out laughing):

 

Les blagues de Lionel me font toujours éclater de rire.

Lionel's jokes always crack me up.

 

One last thing you can do with craquer in French is craquer une allumette (strike a match):

 

On peut craquer une allumette pour voir dans le noir.

We can strike a match to see in the dark.


Nous espérons que vous avez craqué sur cette leçon (We hope you fell for this lesson)!

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An vs. Année

We've discussed the differences in meaning between the two ways of saying “day" (jour/journée), “morning” (matin/matinée), and “evening” (soir/soirée). Now we’ll take a look at the remaining word pair, an/année (year).

 

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An/année works similarly to the other word pairs. The masculine term (un an) usually refers to a specific point in time with an emphasis on quantity, while its feminine counterpart (une année) focuses on duration, content, and quality. 

 

However, there are many exceptions, mostly with année. So, let’s begin with time expressions that call for année exclusively.

 

The demonstrative adjective ce (this) is always paired with annéecette année (this year).

 

Cette année, nous avons décidé d'interviewer Vincent Glad

This year, we decided to interview Vincent Glad

Caption 20, Caroline et l'Express

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Even though we can say ce matin/soir/jour (this morning/evening/day), we can never say cet an! Logic doesn’t always apply…

 

We also always use année with ordinal numbers like première/deuxième/dernière (first/second/last). So we say la première année (the first year):

 

Et c'est la première année qu'on a autant de monde qui reste à la party.

And this is the first year that we had so many people stay at the party.

Caption 27, Ultimate frisbee KYM, le tournoi

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Année is also required with the indefinite adjective quelques (a few): quelques années (a few years). In the conversation below, two friends discuss what they did il y a quelques années (a few years ago):

 

Oh, j'y allais beaucoup avec ma fille, il y a quelques années.

Oh, I used to go there a lot with my daughter a few years ago.

Caption 47, Claire et Philippe La campagne

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The same rule applies to indefinite plural article des (some), as in depuis des années (for years). In the video below, Caroline tells her friend Amal, who has been singing depuis des années (for years), that she should stop because she’s an awful singer. Apparently, Caroline has been putting up with her bad singing for years:

 

Euh... je sais que tu fais ça depuis des années.

Uh... I know that you've been doing this for years.

Caption 7, Amal et Caroline Je n'aime pas quand tu chantes

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And Amal is wondering what took Caroline so long to finally tell her what she really thinks. After all, they’ve been friends depuis plusieurs années (for several years):

 

Justement on est amies depuis plusieurs années.

As it happens, we've been friends for several years.

Caption 45, Amal et Caroline Je n'aime pas quand tu chantes

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Although we say chaque jour (each day), we can’t say chaque an, even though we're referring to a specific point in time. We have to say chaque année (every/each year). In the video below, a journalist asks people on the street if they come to the gay pride parade “every year," first using tous les ans, then chaque année.

 

Tous les ans (every year) is more or less equivalent to chaque année, except it emphasizes the quantity of years. It literally means "all the years":

 

Vous venez tous les ans ou pas? -Oui, tous les ans.

Do you come every year or not? -Yes, every year.

Captions 11-12, Gay Pride La fierté

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Then the journalist uses chaque année (every year) to emphasize the experience itself:

 

Et pour vous c'est important de... chaque année renouveler, euh...?

And for you is it important to... every year, to repeat, uh...?

Caption 13, Gay Pride La fierté

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The journalist could have also asked the people combien d’années (how many years) they had been going to the parade:

 

Vous y allez depuis combien d’années?

How many years have you been going there?

 

Finally, we have one more instance that requires année: de/en quelle année (from/in what year). In the example below, Lionel asks de quelle année (from what year) the cloister dates:

 

Et le cloître, il date de quelle année?

And the cloister, it dates from what year?

Caption 1, Lionel La Cathédrale de Toul - Part 2

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Interestingly, to answer the question de quelle année (from what year), we revert to the masculine term an(s) to refer to the specific point in time:

 

La plus vieille structure que l'on ait trouvée date de six mille cinq cents ans avant Jésus-Christ.

The oldest [umbrella] structure that was found dates back to six thousand five hundred years before Jesus Christ [BC].

Captions 74-76, Pep's Réparation de parapluies

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We almost always say an with numbers and dates. So, we use an to date a building or an object and, of course, to describe the age of a person:

 

Pierre a alors vingt-six ans quand est déclenchée la Seconde Guerre mondiale.

Pierre was twenty-six years old then when the Second World War started.

Captions 36-37, TV Vendée Vendée : Pierre Zucchi, 104 ans, raconte ses mémoires

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With time expressions like pendant (for/during), we tend to use ans for counting the years. In the first part of this video, the journalist tells the story of a woman who decided to give up sugar pendant un an (for a year), with an emphasis on a definite time:

 

Elle a décidé de supprimer le sucre de son alimentation pendant un an.

She decided to remove sugar from her diet for a year.

Caption 2, Le Figaro Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 1

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Then the journalist switches to pendant une année (for a year) to emphasize the woman's experience: 

 

Et vous avez raconté cette expérience de supprimer le sucre de votre alimentation dans cet ouvrage, "Zéro sucre", pendant une année.

And you recounted this experience of removing sugar from your diet in this book, "Zero Sugar," for a year.

Captions 10-12, Le Figaro Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 1

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As you may have noticed, there is some flexibility within those guidelines depending on the situation. So much so that, sometimes, the choice is entirely yours! For example, the expressions l’an prochain/dernier and l’année prochaine/dernière (next/last year) are pretty much interchangeable, as the difference in meaning is negligible. 

 

Here, the speaker uses l’an dernier to refer to a point in time, but l’année dernière would have worked too:

 

L'an dernier, huit départements français avaient participé à cette enquête.

Last year, eight French departments had participated in this survey.

Caption 17, Canal 32 Les secrets des cailles des blés

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And in this example, the speaker uses l’année dernière, as the exact timing is not as important as what happened. But he just as well could have said l’an dernier:

 

Ça a commencé l'année dernière.

It started last year.

Caption 6, Le Jour où tout a basculé À l'audience: Mon chirurgien était ivre - Part 4

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Here are a few examples of idiomatic expressions with an/année.

 

To refer to New Year’s, the public holiday, we say le Nouvel An:

 

...au lendemain du réveillon du Nouvel An.

...to the day after the New Year's Eve celebration.

Caption 34, TV Vendée Fêtes de fin d’année : manger léger et équilibré

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(Note, however, that when referring to the “new year” in general, we say la nouvelle année.) 

 

And au Nouvel An, on New Year’s Day, it’s customary to wish everyone bonne année et bonne santé (Happy New Year and good health), which is what this Good Samaritan did while visiting the homeless:

 

Merci beaucoup. Bonne année et bonne santé.

Thank you very much. Happy New Year and good health.

Caption 27, Dao Evolution Noël pour les sans-abris

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Le Nouvel An (New Year’s Day) may be a time to reflect on the old days, like les années cinquante (the fifties), which was a time of decline for the Hôtel Negresco in Nice:

 

La crise économique de mille neuf cent vingt-neuf ralentissent le fonctionnement de l'hôtel qui se trouve au bord de la faillite dans les années cinquante.

The economic crisis of nineteen twenty-nine slow down the operation of the hotel, which finds itself on the verge of bankruptcy in the fifties.

Captions 27-30, Le saviez-vous? L'hôtel Negresco - Part 1

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And if nothing fazes you, you might use the slang phrase:

 

Je m’en moque comme de l’an quarante.

I couldn’t care less (literally, "l don't care about it like [I don't care about] the year forty").

 

For more idiomatic expressions, click here.

 

In conclusion, the choice between an and année is somewhat subjective and contradictory with its many exceptions, so let’s recap.

 

Expressions that go with année are as follows:

 

la dernière/première/deuxième année (the last year/first year/second year)

pendant l’année (during the year)

plusieurs années (several years)

quelques années (a few years)

chaque année (each/every year)

toute l’année (all year)

durant/pendant des années (for years)

cette année (this year)

combien d'années (how many years)

quelle année (what year)

 

Expressions that go with either an or année include:

 

l’année dernière/l’an dernier (last year)

l’année prochaine/l’an prochain (next year)

 

Just remember that in general, an is used to refer to a point in time and année to emphasize duration.

 

Bonne journée et bonne lecture! (Enjoy your day, and happy reading!).

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Morning and Evening: Matin/soir vs. matinée/soirée

In our last lesson, we discussed the differences in meaning between the two ways of saying "day" in French, le jour and la journée. The masculine term jour refers to a specific moment in time, or a unit of time with an emphasis on quantity, while its feminine counterpart journée emphasizes quality, content, and duration. We also mentioned that there were other words pairs, namely matin/matinée (morning), soir/soirée (evening), and an/année (year), that work similarly. 

 

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In this lesson, we will focus on the word pairs soir/soirée and matin/matinée.

 

Like jour (day), matin (morning) and soir (evening/night) indicate a point in time. You can use them to specify the time of day, as in six heures du matin (six o’clock in the morning).

 

To clarify whether it’s morning or afternoon on the twelve-hour clock, simply add du matin (in the morning) and du soir (in the evening) to the time:

 

New York, six heures du matin

New York, six o'clock in the morning

Caption 2, Boulbar New York, 6 heures du matin

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(Du matin is equivalent to “a.m.” and du soir is equivalent to “p.m.”).

 

You can also combine matin/soir with other time expressions, as in le lendemain matin/le lendemain soir (the next morning/evening):

 

Le lendemain matin, Jean-Paul est rongé par la culpabilité.

The next morning, Jean-Paul is consumed with guilt.

Caption 1, Le Jour où tout a basculé Mon histoire d'amour est impossible - Part 6

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Similarly, you can pair matin/soir with hier (yesterday). In the example below, we have hier soir (last night): 

 

T'étais où hier soir?

Where were you last night?

Caption 42, Le Jour où tout a basculé J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils - Part 7

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The nouns le soir and le matin aren't necessarily accompanied by an adverb of time. They can be used on their own to indicate a time of day. In the example below, the restaurant owner explains how many people typically come for lunch or dinner:

 

Cinquante personnes le midi, cinquante personnes le soir

Fifty people at noon, fifty people in the evening

Captions 31-32, Christian Le Squer Je ne fais que goûter!

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In the example below, Elisa and Mashal discuss what they usually have for breakfast, and Elisa is surprised to hear that Mashal likes to eat a slice of chicken le matin (in the morning).

 

Le matin? -Ouais. Une tranche de poulet le matin?

In the morning? -Yeah. A slice of chicken in the morning?

Captions 5-6, Elisa et Mashal Petit-déjeuner

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Unlike in English, you don't need a preposition in French to say "in the evening/in the morning." You can simply say le soir/le matin (in the evening/morning). 

 

When the time is less specific or crucial, and the emphasis is on what happened during that time, it’s better to use the feminine version dans la matinée/soirée (in the morning/evening). This time, the preposition dans (in) is included.

 

Let’s look at what Alexandre and Sophie were doing dans la soirée (in the evening) in the example below. What matters most is what happened during the evening—Alexandre calling Sophie:

 

Dans la soirée, Alexandre appelle Sophie.

In the evening, Alexandre calls Sophie.

Caption 7, Le Jour où tout a basculé J'ai piégé mon fan - Part 3

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In the next example, Alexandre calls Sophie at a different time: en fin de matinée (in the late morning). Since timing is approximate, we use matinée

 

Alex, l'agent de Sophie, m'a appelée en fin de matinée.

Alex, Sophie's agent, called me in the late morning.

Caption 15, Le Jour où tout a basculé J'ai piégé mon fan - Part 6

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You can substitute matinée (morning) with soirée (evening) here: en fin de soirée (in the late evening).

 

When estimating how long it might take to perform a task, use the suffix -ée to indicate duration. In the example below, the person needs la matinée (the whole morning or the better part of the morning) to do her shopping:

 

Je vais faire des courses. J'en ai pour la matinée.

I'm going to do some shopping. I'll be out for the morning.

Caption 2, Le Jour où tout a basculé Mon histoire d'amour est impossible - Part 6

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When describing how much you can accomplish in the span of a morning, you say dans une matinée (in a morning). Watch the video below to find out how many madeleines this amazing baker makes dans une matinée (in a morning):

 

Mais vous, tout seul, dans une matinée, vous faites combien de madeleines?

But you by yourself, how many madeleines do you make in a morning?

Caption 53, Lionel L'usine de madeleines de Liverdun - Part 2

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Unlike the baker in the example above, the lady in the video below decides to prendre la matinée (take the morning off):

 

Elle a pris sa matinée aujourd'hui.

She took her morning off today.

Caption 41, Le Jour où tout a basculé J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils - Part 5

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Taking the morning off is a great opportunity to faire la grasse matinée (to sleep in; literally, "to do the fat morning"). That is precisely what the animal in this funny zoo recommends doing while on holiday:

 

Pas question. Vacances égalent grasse matinée.

Out of the question. Vacations equal sleeping in.

Caption 33, Les zooriginaux Repos corsé - Part 3

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And if you’re in the mood, you can watch a matinée performance. Une matinée can stretch into an early afternoon, the start of the day for very late risers.

 

For evening people, how you spend la soirée (the evening) is more important. In the video below, Cinderella was having such a good night out that la soirée (the evening) flew by:

 

Avec la musique et la danse, la soirée passa comme dans un rêve.

With the music and the dancing, the evening passed like in a dream.

Captions 21-22, Contes de fées Cendrillon - Part 2

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Elisa and Mashal also remember a memorable evening, cette soirée (that evening), as they look at old photos:

 

C'est vrai. Je me rappelle de cette soirée.

That's true. I remember that evening.

Caption 53, Elisa et Mashal Photos

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If it had been a formal event, une soirée (a soirée), Elisa and Mashal might have worn une robe de soirée (an evening gown). 

 

On the other hand, une robe de soirée (an evening gown) would not be appropriate for a job interview, as Mashal jokingly points out:

 

On va pas se ramener, euh... -Avec une robe de soirée, quoi.

We're not going to show up, uh... -In an evening gown, right?

Caption 67, Elisa et Mashal CV

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In any case, it’s always good form to wish someone bonne soirée (have a good evening) when parting ways, and save bonsoir (good evening) for the beginning of the evening, as it’s a greeting.

 

Now that we’ve explored soir/soirée (evening) and matin/matinée (morning), we’re ready to tackle an/année (year) in a future and final lesson.

 
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What’s in a Day? - Un Jour vs. Une Journée

You probably came across the word jour (day) very early on, when you learned the greeting bonjour (hello). But did you know that bonjour has a feminine counterpart, bonne journée (have a nice day)? 

 

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And are you aware that there are two words in French not only for "day," but also for "year," "morning," and "evening"

 

                                masculine                    feminine

       day                     un jour                      une journée

      year                      un an                        une année

    morning                le matin                      la matinée 

    evening                  le soir                         la soirée 

 

Is there a difference between the masculine and feminine versions? If so, which one should you choose?

 

The shorter masculine nouns un jour, un an, un matin, un soir refer to a specific point in time, a unit of time, with an emphasis on quantity. The longer feminine nouns une journée, une année, la matinée, la soirée emphasize duration and quality.

 

Although the masculine and feminine versions of each word translate more or less the same way, they have different shades of meaning that are not necessarily conveyed in English and that can be difficult for French learners to grasp.

 

In this lesson, we'll explore the differences between jour and journée (day), and we will cover the remaining words in a future lesson. 

 

So, let’s take a closer look at jour (day) first. As mentioned earlier, the shorter masculine word jour refers to a day as a unit of time, or a point in time.

 

You always use jour when referring to a calendar day, as in: 

 

Quel jour sommes-nous?

What day is it? (literally, "What day are we?")

 

You would never say, Quelle journée somme-nous? 

 

A point in time doesn’t have to be specific. Un jour can also mean "one day" or "someday":

 

Un jour le destin lui donnera une occasion de régler ses comptes.

One day, fate will give her an opportunity to settle her score.

Caption 56, Le Jour où tout a basculé J'ai escroqué mon assurance ! - Part 3

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In any case, jour often does refer to a specific or even a special day. In the example below, Sam explains to his mother that today was a special day: lotto day. 

 

Aujourd'hui, c'était le jour du loto

Today was lotto day

Caption 3, Extr@ Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 5

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And it’s a special day for his friend Nico too, who picked up two girls in a single day:

 

Ouais. Deux filles en un seul jour.

Yeah. Two girls in a single day.

Caption 17, Extr@ Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 5

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Note that en une seule journée (in a single day) would be grammatically and semantically acceptable, but maybe not the best choice here. It would mean something like "in the span of a single day." En une seule journée wouldn’t sound quite as striking, as Nico wants to emphasize the record time it took him to pick up two girls!

 

Meanwhile, Annie is celebrating Sacha’s lottery win. She tells her:

 

C'est ton jour de chance.

It's your lucky day.

Caption 4, Extr@ Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 4

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Unfortunately, her jour de chance turns out to be un jour de malchance:

 

Quel jour de malchance!

What a day of bad luck!

Caption 59, Extr@ Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 8

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The expression is usually un jour de malchance, since the emphasis is on the unlucky event, but you could say une journée de malchance if you wanted to shift the emphasis onto the duration of the day—perhaps referring to a day filled with unlucky events!

 

It was also un jour de malchance for the mother in the example below, who remembered ce jour-là (that day) as the day when she found out that her baby was switched at birth:

 

Ce jour-là, je savais que ma vie ne serait plus jamais la même.

That day, I knew that my life would never be the same again.

Caption 24, Le Jour où tout a basculé Nos bébés ont été échangés... - Part 4

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We use the construction ce jour-là (that day) to look back on a significant day, or event.

 

And to convey the passage of time and repetition, we have the expression au fil des jours (day by day/as the days go by):

 

Pourtant, au fil des jours, Edna se laisse peu à peu séduire par René.

However, as the days go by, Edna lets herself be seduced by René little by little.

Captions 15-16, Le Jour où tout a basculé Mes grands-parents sont infidèles - Part 6

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It makes sense to use jours with adjectives of quantity like plusieurs (several) and tous (every), as we are counting the days: 

 

Il s'apprête à passer plusieurs jours en province.

He is getting ready to spend several days outside of Paris.

Caption 25, Le Jour où tout a basculé Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 1

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You also use jours combined with the plural adjective tous (every/all) to explain what you do every day:

 

Et je travaille ici tous les jours.

And I work here every day.

Caption 4, Fred et Miami Catamarans Les Bateaux

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But watch what happens when you use the feminine form of tout, toute (all, whole):

 

Et donc, j'ai passé la journée à faire comme ça. J'ai fait Cluzet toute la journée.

And so I spent the day going like that. I did Cluzet all day.

Caption 74, Alsace 20 Laurent Chandemerle, l'homme aux 100 voix

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By switching to the feminine form, toute la journée (all day/all day long), the emphasis is now on duration rather than a point in time. When describing how you spend your day, you need to use journéeYou would never say tout le jour to mean “all day”: only toute la journée.

 

Just like toute, prepositions of duration like pendant or durant (during) also pair with journée:

 

Deux minutes en moyenne d'attente pendant la journée

Two minutes of waiting on average during the day

Captions 69-70, Adrien Le métro parisien

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And when referring to a day dedicated to a specific cause, such as International Yoga Day, you would also use journée:

 

Donc c'est la deuxième année qu'est célébrée cette Journée Internationale du Yoga

So it's the second year that this International Day of Yoga is being celebrated

Caption 2, Paix et partage Journée Internationale du yoga

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Finally, le jour can also mean "day" as a general unit of time, the opposite of la nuit (night):

 

Une demi-heure dans un simulateur de conduite toutes les quatre heures, de jour comme de nuit.

Half an hour in a driving simulator every four hours, day and night.

Caption 19, Le Journal Apnée du sommeil

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As you can see, jour and journée are so similar, yet so different. The rules are somewhat flexible, but there are certain situations that call for one word over the other.

 

Au fil des jours (over time), by watching Yabla videos tous les jours (every day), you’ll find it easier to choose the correct word!

 

And stay tuned for a lesson on an/année (year), soir/soirée (evening), and matin/matinée (morning) in the future.

 
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Present Participles Part 2 - Le Gérondif

In our previous lesson on present participles, we discussed how they can be used as verbs or as adjectives. In this lesson, we’ll focus on present participles used as verbs, known as le gérondif.

 

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Basically, the gérondif is the construction "en + present participle," as in en faisant (while doing). Like all present participles used as verbs, present participles in the gérondif don’t take agreement. 

 

In addition, the gérondif construction "en + present particple" never changes in French, but it will translate differently in English depending on context and function.

 

The gérondif usually indicates simultaneity and causation, and can be translated as "while x-ing," "by x-ing," or "as x."

 

When the gérondif is used to emphasize two actions taking place at about the same time, it usually translates as "while x-ing," as in en attendant (while waiting):

 

Bon... en attendant que notre pâte lève, on s'attaque au bredele?

Good... while waiting for our dough to rise, shall we tackle the bredele?

Caption 35, Alsace 20 - Grain de Sel: le Lycée hôtelier Alexandre Dumas

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En attendant can also be used on its own as an idiomatic expression ("in the meantime/meanwhile"):

 

En attendant, les communes doivent payer des ramassages quotidiens

In the meantime, towns must pay for daily collection

Caption 31, Le Journal - Marée verte en Bretagne

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The construction "en + present participle" can also be equivalent to "as + verb" in English when indicating simultaneity:

 

Mais... en partant, elle m'a donné son numéro de téléphone.

But... as she left, she gave me her phone number.

Captions 35-36, Extr@ - Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 3

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To further emphasize simultaneity between two actions or to indicate opposing actions in French, you can use the construction "tout en + present participle" (all while x-ing), as in tout en parlant (all while speaking). This construction is especially useful when you're talking about multitasking:

 

Je joue sur mon téléphone et parle avec mes amis tout en regardant la télé.

I play on my phone and talk to my friends, all while watching TV.

 

The gérondif can also indicate a means to achieve something, equivalent to the construction "by x-ing" in English:

 

Parents, veuillez surveiller bien vos enfants en leur apprenant à respecter les animaux.

Parents, please supervise your children well by teaching them to respect the animals.

Caption 12, Voyage en France - Chantilly - Part 3

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The gérondif can also describe the way an action is performed:

 

Est-elle rentrée en chantant?

Did she come in singing?

Caption 58, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négations - Part 3

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Here, the translation is straightforward. En chantant simply means "singing."

 

However, when that sentence is put in the negative form, you must use the infinitive and not the present participle. As Patricia explains in her video, en chantant (singing) becomes sans chanter (without singing). The preposition sans (without) must be followed by the infinitive:

 

Non, elle est rentrée sans chanter.

No, she came in without singing [she didn't come in singing].

Caption 59, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négations - Part 3

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The present participle is much more prevalent in English, whereas French favors the infinitive instead. In English you can follow a conjugated verb by an infinitive or a present participle. In French, it’s preferable to use the infinitive. For example, when talking about something you like doing or like to do, you cannot say j’aime faisant (I like doing). You have to say j’aime faire (I like to do):

 

J’aime faire des dessins.

I like drawing./I like to draw. 

 

Similarly, when a person witnesses someone doing something, it’s better to use the infinitive after a conjugated verb:

 

Je les ai vues chanter.

I saw them sing./I saw them singing. 

 

Another word of caution: the present participle is never used to form a progressive tense, simply because there is no such tense in French. You must use the present indicative instead. For example, "I am thinking" (present progressive) and "I think" (present indicative) both translate as je pense.

 

The construction je suis pensantthe literal translation of "I am thinking," simply does not exist! The only option is the present indicative: je pense (I think).

 

If you really want to emphasize an action in progress in French, you can use the expression être en train de (to be in the process/in the middle of):

 

On est en train de réchauffer la pâte en fin de compte.

We are in the process of warming up the dough in the end.

Caption 12, Cap 24 Alessandro di Sarno se met au point de croix

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To sum up, French uses the infinitive in many instances where English uses the present participle, and the gérondif construction "en + present participle" can take various forms in English. 

 

There you have it for present participles! En passant (incidentally), we hope this lesson will be useful to you!

 
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Present Participles

You know all about past participles from our lessons on the passé composé, but are you familiar with present participles?

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Participles are verb forms that come in two tenses, past and present. For example, the past participle of manger (to eat) is mangé (eaten) and its present participle is mangeant (eating). 

 

Present participles introduce a dependent clause indicating an action or state related to a main verb. You can recognize a present participle by its -ant ending (corresponding to -ing in English). For example: penser > pensant (think > thinking). To form a present participle, take the nous (we) form of the present tense—e.g., pensons (we think)—drop the -ons ending and replace it with -antpensant (thinking). 

 

Fortunately, this rule has very few exceptions. There are only three irregular present participles in French: sachant (knowing), ayant (having), and étant (being).

 

Sachant and ayant are not derived from the nous form of the present indicative (savons and avons), but rather from the present subjunctive (sachons and ayons):

 

Sachant que le but c'est de créer de la magie

Knowing that the goal is to create magic

Caption 11, Alsace 20 - Grand sapin de Strasbourg: tout un art pour le décorer!

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Moi-même, quoique ayant un problème de dos

Myself, despite having a problem with my back

Caption 28, Bicloune - Magasin de vélos à Paris

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Interestingly, the word savant does exist in French. Un savant is a scholar or scientist, or a savant, someone with extraordinary mental ability. And of course there's the word avant (before), which isn't related to avoir

 

Étant (being) isn't derived from the present indicative or the present subjunctive, but from the infinitive, être (to be):

 

Mais écoute, Nicolas, mon épouse étant originaire de Dinsheim

Well listen, Nicolas, my wife, being a native of Dinsheim

Caption 6, Alsace 20 - Grain de Sel: à l'Anatable à Dinsheim

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In addition to being two irregular present participles, ayant (having) and étant (being) can also act as auxiliary verbs, combined with a past participle, as in ayant vu (having seen) and étant (being born). In this case, the past participle follows the same agreement rules as in the passé composé. See our lessons on past participle agreement with avoir and with être for more on that. 

 

A present participle is often equivalent to the construction "qui/que (who/that/which) + verb." For example:

 

Le public était habitué à ces jeunes filles en tutu, faisant des pointes.

The public was used to these girls in tutus, dancing on pointe.

Captions 11-12, d'Art d'Art - "La petite danseuse de 14 ans" - Degas

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Instead of faisant des pointes (dancing on pointe), the speaker could have said: 

 

Le public était habitué à ces jeunes filles en tutu qui faisaient des pointes.

The public was used to these girls in tutus who danced on pointe.

 

Here is another example of a present participle that could be replaced with the construction qui + verbe:

 

La nuit, le bâtiment se reflète sur la mer, attirant encore plus de tourisme

At night, the building is reflected on the sea, attracting even more tourism

Captions 38-39, Le saviez-vous? - Le casino ou la guerre

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La nuit, le bâtiment se reflète sur la mer, qui attire encore plus de tourisme

At night, the building is reflected on the sea, which attracts even more tourism

 

Attirant (attracting/appealing) is an example of a present participle that can be used as an adjective, in which case it's subject to adjective agreement rules. Here's an example of attirant used as an adjective:

 

Bémol: En quatre ans les graphismes évoluent. Neutros sera-t-il encore attirant?

A drawback: In four years, graphics will have evolved. Will Neutros still be appealing?

Caption 18, Le Mans TV - Apprendre la sexualité par Neutros!

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Here, attirant agrees with the proper masculine noun Neutros, so it doesn't change. However, if it were used in a sentence with a plural feminine subject, we would have to add -es to it:

 

Les célébrités sont souvent très attirantes.

Celebrities are often very attractive. 

 

If you're not sure whether a word ending in -ant is an adjective or a present participle, sometimes its spelling can give you a clue. For example, the word for "tiring" in French is fatigant when used as an adjective and fatiguant, with a -u, when used as a present participle (Both fatigant and fatiguant sound the same.)

 

Des fois c'est vrai que c'est assez fatigant quoi

Sometimes it's true that it's quite tiring, you know

Caption 104, Miniji Michel

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On doit éviter les activités fatiguant les yeux.

You should avoid activities that tire out your eyes.

 

Besides the u, how do we know that we're dealing with a present participle, not an adjective, in the second example, and therefore don't need to make an agreement? First of all, we could easily replace fatiguant with qui fatiguent les yeux (that tire out/are tiring for the eyes). Second, we can see that les yeux is the direct object of fatiguant. Only verbs take direct objects, not adjectives. 

 

If we were to rewrite the sentence using the adjective, it would be:

 

On doit éviter les activités fatigantes pour les yeux.

You should avoid activities that are tiring for your eyes. 

 

Besides dropping the u, we add -es to the adjective to agree with the feminine plural noun activités. And we add pour (for) before les yeux, which no longer acts as a direct object.

 

We hope this lesson was intéressante (interesting) and not too fatigante (tiring), as we have another passionnante (exciting) lesson in store for you! We’ll be discussing a special kind of present participle known as the gerund. 

 

En attendant (in the meantime), have fun watching some more Yabla videos!

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It's All in the Past! - Part 7 - Reflexive Verbs

A reflexive verb generally refers to an action that reflects back on the subject (something you do to yourself or to each other). You will recognize a reflexive verb in the dictionary by the reflexive pronoun se (oneself) preceding the infinitive, as in se laver (to wash oneself).

 

Reflexive verbs usually agree… with themselves! That is, the past participle agrees in gender and number with both the subject (such as jeand the object (such as me) at the same time. For example:

 

Ce matin, je me suis réveillée avec le coq.

This morning, I woke up with the rooster.

Caption 6, Le saviez-vous? - Les expressions du poulailler

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In the example above, we assume that the subject pronoun je and the reflexive pronoun me are referring to Patricia, the speaker, so the past participle réveillé (woke up) takes an -e at the end to become feminine. 

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On the other hand, in the example below, the husband wakes up his wife. In this case, the verb réveiller (to wake [someone] up) is no longer reflexive. 

 

Il a même réveillé sa femme qui dormait.

He even woke up his wife, who was sleeping.

Caption 52, Dao Evolution - Noël pour les sans-abris

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In this case, you use the auxiliary avoir (to have) because he isn't waking up himself—he's waking up his wife. 

 

Many reflexive verbs like se réveiller can also be non-reflexive (without the se). The verb dire (to say, to tell), for instance, can be used both ways:

 

C'est ce que je me suis dit.

That's what I told myself.

Caption 52, Claire et Philippe Je suis en retard

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C'est ce que j'ai dit à ma sœur. 

That's what I said to my sister.

 

The verb se dire also belongs to a category of reflexive verbs whose past participles never require agreement. We call these verbs intransitive, because their reflexive pronouns act as indirect objects, not direct objects. You can tell that a reflexive verb is intransitive because its non-reflexive form is usually followed by the preposition à (to). For example: se parler (to speak to each other, to speak to oneself), parler à quelqu’un (to speak to someone). For a complete list of these verbs, click here

 

When a reflexive verb is intransitive, the se acts as an indirect object pronoun and thus indicates that the verb doesn’t require agreement:

 

Ils se sont parlé tous les jours.

They spoke to each other every day.

 

When a reflexive verb, whether transitive or intransitive, is followed by a direct object, the past participle also doesn't agree:

 

Ils se sont lavé les mains.

They washed their hands.

 

Because there's already a direct object in this sentence (les mains), the reflexive pronoun se is “demoted” from its direct object status and acts as an indirect object. And since the direct object is placed after the verb, no agreement is necessary.

 

However, if the verb is not followed by a direct object, the past participle agrees with the subject and the reflexive pronoun, as we discussed earlier:

 

Ils se sont lavés.

They washed (themselves).

 

On the other hand, if a reflexive verb is followed by an indirect object, agreement does occur:

 

Mes grand-parents, ils se sont beaucoup occupés de moi.

My grandparents, they looked after me a lot.

Caption 28, Le Jour où tout a basculé Mon père n'est pas mort - Part 2

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You add an -s at the end of occupé (looked after) to agree with ils (they, masculine plural). The indirect object de moi (after me) doesn’t affect anything.

 

That about does it for our suite of lessons on the passé composé! It’s a lot to take in, so in case you’re not quite "in agreement" with all these rules yet, here is a summary:

 

• Verbs conjugated with the auxiliary avoir (to have) don't agree in gender and number with the subject, unless a direct object appears before the verb.

• Non-reflexive verbs conjugated with the auxiliary être (to be) always agree with the subject.

• Reflexive verbs are conjugated with être and usually agree with the subject, unless the verb is intransitive or a direct object appears after the verb.

 
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It's All in the Past! - Part 6 - Verbs with Être

Before we embark on agreement rules, let’s find out which verbs are conjugated with être (to be) rather than avoir (to have) in the passé composé. Strictly speaking, only a limited number of verbs use the auxiliary être in the passé composé. These verbs are encapsulated in the popular mnemonic device known as DR. & MRS. VANDERTRAMP

 

Devenir, Revenir, Monter, Rester, Sortir, Venir, Aller, Naître, Descendre, Entrer, Rentrer, Tomber, Retourner, Arriver, Mourir, Partir (to become, to come back, to go up, to remain, to go out, to come, to go, to be born, to go down, to enter, to go back in, to fall, to retrun, to arrive, to die, to leave)

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The basic agreement rule for these verbs conjugated with être is that they must agree in gender and number with the subject. Patricia conjugated a few of these verbs and explained how they work in her video, Le saviez-vous? - Exception dans les verbes du 1er groupe au passé composé:

 

Et lorsque l'on dit: "elles sont tombées", on mettra "es" à la fin de "tombé" car "elles" sont des sujets féminins et pluriels.

And when we say, "they fell," we'll put "es" at the end of "tombé" because "elles" [they] are feminine and plural subjects.

Captions 55-57, Le saviez-vous? - Exception dans les verbes du 1er groupe au passé composé

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Knowing that the pronoun elles (they) is feminine plural makes the agreement with the past participle tombé quite straightforward, but when faced with non-gender-specific pronouns such as tu (singular you) or je (I), you need to know from context who the subject pronoun stands for. 

 

In the example below, we need to know who je (I) represents to establish the gender of the subject. In this case, we know from the video that the speaker is male, so the past participle doesn’t change. (A past participle is considered masculine singular by default.)

 

Je suis allé en Grèce pour la première fois.

I went [masculine singular] to Greece for the first time.

Caption 10, Alex Terrier "Roundtrip" et ses inspirations

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If the speaker had been female, it would have been:

 

Je suis allée en Grèce pour la première fois.  

I went [feminine singular] to Greece for the first time. 

 

And if the speaker had been a woman talking about herself and her girlfriends, it would have been:

 

Nous sommes allées en Grèce pour la première fois. 

We went [feminine plural] to Greece for the first time. 

 

When a plural subject involves individuals of all genders, you can be faced with a dilemma. What should you do in this case? The convention is that the masculine supersedes the feminine—even though it refers to a mixture of genders, the past participle becomes masculine plural: 

 

Les enfants sont partis en même temps.

The kids left at the same time. 

 

Nowadays, however, that convention often comes across as sexist. So you'll often see past participles stylized like parti(e)s or parti·e·s to be more inclusive:

 

Les enfants sont parti(e)s en même temps. / Les enfants sont parti·e·s en même temps. 

The kids left at the same time. 

 

There's another category of être verbs that also agree in gender and number with the subject, but in a slightly different way. These verbs are called reflexive or pronominal verbs, which we will discuss in the next lesson. 

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It's All in the Past! - Part 5 - Past Participle Agreement

 

In our first four lessons on the passé composé, we focused on the conjugation of all three major verb groups:

 

First-group or -er verbs: past participle -é

Second-group or -ir verbs: past participle -i

Third-group or -re, -oir, and irregular -ir verbs: past participle -u

 

In addition to having different endings, past participles have one more trick up their sleeves… agreement! Verbs from all three groups can take masculine, feminine, and plural endings. All verbs in the past tense have past participles that follow two sets of agreement rules depending on which auxiliary they take. Verbs conjugated with the auxiliary avoir (to have) will follow one set of rules, and those that go with être (to be) will follow another. In this lesson, we'll focus on verbs conjugated with avoir

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If a direct object comes before the verb, the past participle agrees in gender and number with the direct objectIf the direct object comes after the verb, no agreement is necessary. 

 

In the example below, the direct object mes clés (my keys) comes after the past participle vu (seen), so no agreement is necessary. 

 

As-tu vu mes clés quelque part?

Have you seen my keys somewhere?

Caption 68, Le saviez-vous? Les différentes négations - Part 2

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A direct object answers the question “what”: Have you seen what? Mes clés (my keys).

 

But in the answer to that question, the direct object pronoun comes before the verb and thus has to agree with the past participle. 

 

Non, je ne les ai vues nulle part.

No, I haven't seen them anywhere.

Caption 69, Le saviez-vous? Les différentes négations - Part 2

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Les (them), standing for les clés (the keys), comes before the past participle vu (seen). So, agreement is necessary, and vu becomes vues to agree with the feminine plural noun clés. You just add -es to make vu feminine and plural, as you would do with an adjective agreement.

 

Note that, unlike in English, direct (and indirect) object pronouns are always placed before the verb in French. So be on the lookout for pronouns in compound tenses!

 

In the passé composé, only direct object pronouns such as la (her, it) agree with the past participle, whereas indirect ones such as lui (to him, to her) do not. So make sure you know the difference between a direct and indirect object pronoun!

 

When a verb is normally followed by the preposition à (to) as in téléphoner à (to call/telephone), it takes an indirect object, which you can replace with an indirect object pronoun such as lui (to him, to her).

 

Et ta sœur, tu lui as téléphoné pour son anniversaire? 

And your sister, did you call her for her birthday?

 

No agreement is necessary because lui (to her) is an indirect object pronoun, so you don’t need to add an -e to téléphoné even though the pronoun is feminine.

 

You might be tempted to say tu l'as téléphonée, but in French we say "to call/telephone to someone." It goes to show you can’t always rely on English to decide whether a verb takes an indirect object or not.                        

 

Recognizing and knowing when to use a direct and indirect object will come in handy when you use a combination of direct and indirect object pronouns before a past participle. You will be able to tell which pronoun agrees with the verb. In the example below, the direct object pronoun la (it) is followed by the indirect pronoun lui (to her) in the phrase la lui a donnée (gave it to her). (The direct object pronoun always comes first.)

 

Et la bague pour sa petite amie? Il la lui a donnée hier. 

And the ring for his girlfriend? He gave it to her yesterday.

 

The past participle becomes donnée (gave) with an -e at the end to agree with the direct object pronoun la (it), which stands for the feminine singular noun la bague (the ring). 

 

The same agreement rules apply when we use the relative pronoun que (that) instead of a direct object pronoun:

 

La bague qu’il lui a offerte est très jolie.

The ring that he gave her is very pretty.

 

Que (that) is the relative pronoun that stands for la bague (the ring), which agrees with offerte (gave, offered). Don’t forget to pronounce the “t” in offerte! And note that the relative pronoun que is not optional in French, unlike "that" in English.

 

Now let's see what happens when you add another complication to the scenario… an infinitive! This rule is what the French might call un casse-tête (a brainteaser or a headache), so buckle up!

 

When a past participle is followed by an infinitive verb, as in entendu chanter (heard singing), the past participle agrees with the direct object if the direct object performs the action expressed by the infinitive. Or looking at it from an English speaker’s perspective, a past participle followed by an infinitive in French is the equivalent of “to see/hear somebody do/doing something." French uses an infinitive for the second verb.

 

C’est la chanteuse que j’ai entendue chanter hier.

She’s the singer whom I heard sing/singing yesterday.

 

What I heard was la chanteuse (the singer) chanter (singing). La chanteuse performs the action of the infinitive chanter. So the past participle entendue has to agree with chanteuse.

 

On the other hand, when you see or hear something being done, the past participle doesn’t change. In this type of sentence construction, the infinitive in French is the equivalent of a passive verb in English:

 

C'est la chanson que j'ai entendu chanter.
It's the song that I heard being sung.

 

A song can’t do its own singing, so the direct object la chanson (the song) is clearly not performing the action of the infinitive chanter, which is then translated in the passive voice (sung) in English. In this case, no agreement rule applies.

 

Stay tuned for our next lesson, which will focus on agreement in verbs conjugated with être in the passé composé

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It's All in the Past! - Part 4 - Third-Group Verbs

In Part 3, we explored the passé composé of third-group verbs whose infinitives end in -ir with a present participle ending in -antIn this lesson, we will discuss the remaining third-group verbs, whose infinitives end in -oir, like vouloir (to want), and verbs ending in -re, like comprendre (to understand). 

 

Like irregular -ir verbs mentioned in our previous lesson, most -oir and -re verbs also have a past participle ending in -u, but, of course, there are a few exceptions which we’ll discuss further on.

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First, let’s take a look at third-group verbs with an infinitive ending in -oir, which have a regular past participle ending in -u, as in voulu (wanted):  

 

Hier, j'ai voulu me rendre au travail.

Yesterday, I wanted to get to work.

Caption 16, Amal et Caroline - Jurons

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The past participle voulu (wanted) is built on the regular infinitive stem voul- to which you add the ending -u.  

 

The verb falloir (to have to) works in much the same way, with a regular past participle fallu (had to):

 

Il a fallu que je fouille pour apprendre la vérité!

I had to search to find out the truth!

Caption 18, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Nos bébés ont été échangés... - Part 1

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It’s worth noting that falloir (to have to) is an impersonal verb that only exists in the third person. It simply expresses a need or necessity.  

 

So far so good, but as always, there are exceptions. Verbs like savoir (to know) have an irregular past participle that is not built on a regular stem. Its past participle is su (known):

 

Non mais j'ai toujours su que j'avais du goût.

No, but I always knew that I had taste.

Caption 52, Elisa et Mashal - Les fringues

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Other verbs also have very short past participles of just one syllable. Pouvoir (to be able to) becomes pu (was able to) in the past tense: 

 

Et elle a pu rentrer

And she was able to get in

Caption 45, Amal et Caroline - Quartier du Louvre

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The same thing happens with devoir (to have to), which becomes (had to):

 

Et en fait, ils ont tout simplement arrêter

And in fact, they simply had to stop

Caption 34, Lionel L - Le "Canard" a 100 ans

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Did you notice the circumflex accent in ils ont dû (they had to)? This tiny accent is the only thing that differentiates  from the indefinite article du (some). Accents sometimes make a big difference!

 

So, to sum up, the past participles of savoir, pouvoir, and devoir are su, pu, and dû (don’t forget the circumflex!).

 

Now let’s look at some -re verbs with a regular past participle, more specifically verbs that end in -endre, like vendre (to sell), which becomes vendu (sold):

 

Et donc, euh... la propriétaire a vendu son appartement.

And so, uh... the landlady sold her apartment.

Caption 103, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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Verbs like descendre (to go down) and défendre (to defend) have past participles that rhyme with vendu (sold)descendu (went down), défendu (defended).

 

dont le niveau était descendu de cent mètres.

the level of which had dropped one hundred meters.

Caption 32, Il était une fois - Les Amériques 1. Les premiers Américains - Part 1

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But this isn't the case for all verbs ending in -endre. Some of these have an irregular past participle that ends in -is instead of -uFor example, prendre (to take) becomes pris (take) in the past tense:

 

Pourquoi est-ce que tu n'as pas pris le bon train vers, euh... Versailles

Why didn't you take the right train toward, uh... Versailles

Caption 37, Claire et Philippe - Je suis en retard

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Incidentally, all the derivatives of prendre, like apprendre (to learn), surprendre (to surprise), reprendre (to take back) follow the same pattern. Just take out the ending -prendre and tack on -pris to form the past participles appris (learned), surpris (surprised), repris (took back), etc.

 

Similarly, the past participle of mettre (to put) is mis (put), and its derivatives follow the sampe pattern: promettre (to promise) > promis (promised), admettre (to admit) > admis (admitted). The past participle of promettre is easy to remember, since promis is close to “promise” in English.

 

Les syndicats ont promis d'intensifier la mobilisation jusqu'à mardi prochain

The unions have promised to intensify their mobilization until next Tuesday

Caption 23, Le Journal - Grève de l'EDF à Lille - Part 2

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Finally, another subgroup of verbs whose infinitives end in -ire, like dire (to say, tell), tend to have a past participle ending in -it or -is, like dit (said, told):

 

Comme je vous l'ai dit...

As I've told you...

Caption 41, Adrien - Rue des Martyrs

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Comme nous l'avons dit, irregular verbs are legion in the passé composé. The world of verbs is filled with surprises and peculiarities. To help you master these verbs, click here for a list of common irregular third-group verbs.

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It's All in the Past! - Part 3 - Irregular -Ir Verbs

In Part 2, we explored the passé composé of second-group verbs, or verbs whose infinitives end in -ir. In this lesson, we’ll discuss irregular -ir verbs, which belong to the third group.

 

As mentioned in our previous lesson, -ir verbs are classified, in addition to their infinitive endings, according to their present participles (equivalent to the -ing ending of a verb in English). So, all -ir verbs with a present participle ending in -issant (such as finirfinissant [finishing]) belong to the second group and have a past participle ending in -i.

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On the other hand, most irregular -ir verbs have a present participle ending in -ant and a past participle ending in -u.

 

For example, tenir (to keep, hold) becomes tenant (keeping, holding) and tenu (kept, held): 

 

en tenant la poêle de la main droite

while holding the pan with the right hand

Caption 33, Le saviez-vous? - La tradition de la Chandeleur - Part 2

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Mais elle a également tenu sa promesse.

But she has also kept her promise.

Caption 33, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon père s'oppose à ma passion - Part 6

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It’s a good idea to learn the derivatives of a verb, as they usually share the same conjugation rules. All verbs ending in -tenir will work the same way. So, obtenir (to obtain) and retenir (to retain) also have a past participle ending in -uobtenu, retenu

 

The same applies to all the derivatives of venir (to come), such as devenir (to become) and prévenir (to warn):

 

Et il a prévenu les flics.

And he called the cops.

Caption 32, Le Jour où tout a basculé - À la recherche de mon père - Part 8

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Having said that… there’s an oddball bunch of -ir verbs that have a present participle ending in -ant and a past participle ending in -i, not -u

 

For example, partir (to leave) becomes partant and parti

 

Mais... en partant, elle m'a donné son numéro de téléphone.

But... as she left, she gave me her phone number.

Captions 35-36, Extr@ Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 3

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Leurs parents sont partis vivre en Australie il y a une dizaine d'années

Their parents went to live in Australia around ten years ago

Caption 10, Le Jour où tout a basculé - À la recherche de mon passé - Part 3

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And sortir (to go out) becomes sortant and sorti:

 

Drôles d'étudiants que ceux-là, habitant l'hôtel et sortant en robe longue et nœud papillon.

Strange students they are, living in a hotel and going out in long dresses and bow ties.

Caption 12, Le Journal - L'Institut du goût

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Le mec, il est sorti

The guy went out

Caption 3, Sophie et Patrice - La révolution est-elle en cours?

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Note that partir and sortir are also part of a small group of verbs that require the auxiliary être (to be) in the passé composé, which we will discuss in a future lesson.

 

Finally, there is a minority of -ir verbs that are quite irregular and unpredictable, with a past participle ending in -ert

 

For example, the past participle of ouvrir (to open) is actually ouvert, not ouvri as its stem would suggest!

 

...qui a ouvert ses portes récemment à Mittelhausbergen

that recently opened its doors in Mittelhausbergen

Caption 3, Alsace 20 - Mangez bien, mangez alsacien!

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Again, to make it easier for yourself, learn how to conjugate ouvrir along with its derivatives, like découvrir (to discover), recouvrir (to cover up), couvrir (to cover), whose past participles all end in -ouvertThat will save you a lot of trouble. Speaking of trouble, the group of Canadians in the example below suffered a lot because of English…

 

Moi j'ai souffert beaucoup dans mon enfance de l'anglais ici.

I suffered a lot in my childhood with English here.

Caption 19, Le Québec parle aux Français - Part 3

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We hope that vous n’avez pas trop souffert (you didn’t suffer too much) learning about irregular -ir verbs in the passé composé, because we have another round of third-group verbs waiting to be discovered (découvert) in our next lesson!

 
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It's All in the Past! - Part 2 - Second-Group Verbs

In our previous lesson, we covered the passé composé of first-group verbs, or -er verbs. In this lesson, we’ll explore second-group verbs, or verbs whose infinitives end in -ir

 

To make it easier to conjugate verbs, French grammarians divided them into three groups according to their infinitive endings. This broad classification also helps you determine their past participles, so it is worth noting which group a verb belongs to.

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First-group or -er verbs: past participle -é

Second-group or -ir verbs: past participle -i

Third-group or -re, -oir, and irregular -ir verbs: past participle -u

 

Regular -ir verbs belong to the second-largest group of verbs in French. Regular verbs follow a predictable pattern, making them easier to conjugate than irregular verbs, which have their quirks.

 

Second-group -ir verbs follow the same basic rules as -er verbs in the passé composé, combining the auxiliaries avoir or être with the past participle.  

 

The main difference is that the past participle of regular -ir verbs ends in -i instead of .

 

For example, to form the past participle of finir (to finish), take out the r in finir and voilà! You have the past participle fini!

 

Après la mort de papa, elle a fini ses études

After dad's death, she finished her studies

Captions 7-8, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon père n'est pas mort - Part 9

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Interestingly, the expression finir par in the passé composé doesn’t mean to finish something. Instead, it describes an outcome, something that eventually happened or ended up happening:

 

Elle a gagné et j'ai fini par être chanteuse

It won and I ended up being a singer

Caption 13, Watt’s In - Indila : Dernière Danse Interview Exlu

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In any case, finir is a typical second-group verb that is handy to know, as you will be able to use it as a model to conjugate other similar verbs, like choisir (to choose):

 

Nous avons choisi de passer une semaine sur place à Aulnay.

We chose to spend a week on-site in Aulnay.

Caption 9, Banlieues françaises - jeunes et policiers, l'impossible réconciliation? - Part 1

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When describing where you grew up, you'll use the passé composé of the verb grandir:

 

J'ai grandi là.

I grew up here.

Caption 34, Actu Vingtième - Fête du quartier Python-Duvernois

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As you can see, conjugating second-group verbs in the passé composé is quite straightforward since they are regular verbs. 

 

Another thing worth noting is that in addition to being recognizable by their past participles, second-group verbs can also be classified by their present participles, which end in -issant: finissant (finishing), choisissant (choosing), grandissant (growing up), etc. This information will prove useful when you learn about irregular -ir verbs belonging to the third group. 

 

So, nous n'avons pas encore fini (we haven't finished yet), as there are more -ir verbs in store for you to explore in another lesson! For now, have a look at some of Patricia's videos on second-group verbs: Les verbes du 2ème groupeLes verbes du 2ème groupe les plus utilisés. And for a list of common second-group verbs, click here

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It's All in the Past! - Introducing the Passé Composé

When talking about things that happened in the past in French, you will most likely use the compound tense known as the passé composé.

 

It’s called a compound tense because it’s made of two parts, an auxiliary and a past participle.

 

In the example below, ai (have) is the auxiliary and pensé (thought) is the past participle. Together, they make up the passé composé.

 

J'ai pensé à vous hier.

I thought of you yesterday.

Caption 5, Le saviez-vous? - Conjugaison des verbes du 1er groupe au passé composé de l’indicatif

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In this lesson we will focus on conjugating verbs ending in -er (also known as first-group verbs) in the infinitive form or dictionary form, since they are the most common verbs.

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To make up the passé composé, you conjugate the auxiliaries avoir (to have) or être (to be) in the present tense and add the past participle of the main verb. Most verbs take the auxiliary avoir and only a few take the auxiliary être, which we'll explore in a future lesson.

 

Les auxiliaires "être" et "avoir" sont utilisés pour conjuguer les formes composées.

The auxiliaries "être" and "avoir" are used to conjugate compound forms.

Caption 9, Manon et Clémentine - Conjugaison du verbe être

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Par exemple, le verbe "manger" avec "avoir". J'ai mangé une pomme.

For example, the verb "manger" [to eat] with "avoir." I ate an apple.

Caption 10, Manon et Clémentine Conjugaison du verbe être

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The passé composé is the equivalent of the simple past (I did) and the present perfect (I have done).   

 

So, for example, j’ai pensé can be translated as "I thought" or "I have thought" depending on the context. In any case, the auxiliary avoir cannot be dropped in French, as we do with "have" in English.

 

In her lesson on the passé composé, Patricia explains how to form a past participle:

 

Et le participe passé, c'est très simple. Il suffit de remplacer "er" par "é".

And the past participle is very simple. You just have to replace "er" with "é".

Captions 30-31, Le saviez-vous? Conjugaison des verbes du 1er groupe au passé composé de l’indicatif

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The -er ending that Patricia mentions is the ending of an infinitive verb, which will become a past participle ending in -é (don't forget the accent mark!). For example, take out the -er ending of préparer (to prepare) and replace it with -é to make up the past participle préparé (prepared). Note that préparer and préparé sound the same, as the -r ending of the infinitive form is always silent.

 

Et donc j'ai préparé une leçon très utile pour vous.

And so I prepared a very useful lesson for you.

Caption 7, Le saviez-vous? Conjugaison des verbes du 1er groupe au passé composé de l’indicatif

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Here's a final example of the passé composé:

 

Ils ont cuisiné hier, tous ensemble.

They cooked yesterday, all together.

Caption 51, Le saviez-vous? Conjugaison des verbes du 1er groupe au passé composé de l’indicatif

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Remember that you will need to be familiar with the present tense of avoir in order to form the passé composé.

 

For a complete conjugation of cuisiner (to cook) in the passé composé, check out Patricia’s lesson.

 

So far, we’ve focused on conjugating first-group, -er verbs, but there are many more to explore! We'll see you for another round of verbs in a future lesson!

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How to Hug in French

In our last lesson, we talked about the different words for kissing in French, and how the COVID pandemic has affected the French custom of la bise. Now we'll focus on hugging. Yes, French people hug too! However, there are differences. Unlike in Anglo-Saxon countries, where hugging is what la bise is to French people, hugging is not so prevalent in France. A hug is not used as a greeting, as full-body contact may be considered intrusive. Hugging is more of a private affair, a heartfelt show of affection. So, if you’re not comfortable with la bise, don’t think that you can make a compromise by giving a hug instead! 

 

In fact, the word for “hug” doesn’t have a direct translation in French.

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Instead, you’ll find a paraphrase: serrer dans ses bras (to squeeze in one's arms) or prendre dans ses bras (to hold in one’s arms).

 

J'aurais bien voulu, pour passer le temps te serrer dans mes bras amicalement

I really would have liked, to pass the time to squeeze you warmly in my arms

Captions 1-2, Babylon Circus - J'aurais bien voulu

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Un câlin is a more familiar hug, more like a cuddle:

 

Que le mot soit doux comme un câlin

May the word be sweet like a cuddle

Caption 4, Les Nubians - Que le mot soit perle

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You can also use the verbal phrase faire un câlin (to hug or cuddle). Sophie and Patrice even use it when talking about hugging their Christmas tree!

 

Moi, j'aime bien faire des câlins aux arbres. -Allez viens. On va lui faire un petit câlin

I really like hugging trees. -Come on, we'll go give it a little hug

Caption 86, Sophie et Patrice - Après Noël

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And you can give bisous, bises, and câlins in writing too, with no fear of contamination! It's equivalent to "kisses and hugs" at the end of a letter, text message, or email:

 

Bisous, câlins, Maman.

Kisses and hugs, Mom.

Caption 40, Extr@ Ep. 1 - L'arrivée de Sam - Part 1

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Finally, there's the more formal une étreinte, which is "an embrace," and its verbal form étreindre (to embrace):

 

J'aurais voulu que cette étreinte avec mon père dure éternellement.

I would have liked this embrace with my father to last forever.

Caption 25, Le Jour où tout a basculé À la recherche de mon père - Part 9

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Le soir, on s'étreint, les deux pieds dans l'eau

In the evening, we embrace, both feet in the water

Caption 21, Duel - Caramel

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The word embrasser is cognate with "embrace," but don't let that confuse you: it means "to kiss," not "to hug." See our last lesson for more on that.

 

The French might not hug each other as much as Americans do, but they have quite a few different ways of saying "hug"!

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To Kiss or Not to Kiss?

The COVID pandemic has forced French people to fundamentally rethink how they interact with each other. They will need to reconsider the way they typically greet and say goodbye to one another with a peck or two on each cheek, a kiss known as la bise.  

 

Should this customary greeting, this deeply ingrained cultural habit of faire la bise be avoided during a pandemic? 

 

In the video below, French Public Health authorities keep telling the inhabitants of the Grand-Est region to please stop kissing, which translates as s’embrasser:

 

Arrêtez de vous embrasser.

Stop kissing.

Caption 1, RMC Covid-19: faut-il encore se faire la bise?

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Hold it! Does that mean that French people should stop kissing altogether? Not exactly. It simply means skipping the traditional peck or two on each cheek (la bise or s’embrasser sur la joue) every time you greet a friend or an acquaintance. The French health authorities are not specifically referring to romantic kissing. 

 

Still, despite the risk of contamination, many French people are finding it difficult to abandon this tradition as it feels very awkward and unnatural to them, and they just can’t help themselves!

 

Beaucoup de Français ont un peu de mal à changer les habitudes, un peu de mal à oublier la bise.

Many French people are having a bit of trouble changing their habits, a bit of trouble forgetting the kiss on the cheek.

Captions 12-14, RMC Covid-19: faut-il encore se faire la bise?

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Cette mère de famille avoue embrasser la plupart de ses connaissances.

This mother admits to kissing most of her acquaintances.

Captions 43-44, RMC Covid-19: faut-il encore se faire la bise?

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Back in pre-COVID days, if you wanted to break the ice and exchange bises for the first time, you could just plunge ahead or you could simply ask, On se fait la bise? (Shall we give each other a peck on the cheek?). In a subtle way, asking or granting permission to exchange bises indicates the beginning of a friendship, in partnership with se tutoyer (using tu, the informal form of “you”).

 

But for now, the habit is hard to break. It’s usually de rigueur and not optional among family members. And it’s up to you to guess or decide how many bises you should exchange. Usually two will suffice, but that can vary. 

 

The pressure to exchange la bise is greater on girls than boys as girls are expected to kiss everyone, regardless of gender. Girls especially feel the social pressure to exchange bises as they worry that they will come across as cold and unfriendly if they don’t kiss their friends and family members.

 

(Speaking of cold, la bise is also a cold northerly wind that bites your cheeks. We discussed this in a previous lesson.)

 

As for males, they aren’t expected to kiss everyone, and serrer la main (shaking hands) with male friends or relatives is acceptable.

 

If a man is feeling very gallant and old-fashioned, he can kiss a lady’s hand: faire un baiser sur la main. There’s even a special word for this: le baisemain (kissing someone’s hand as a mark of respect). 

 

Although not so much used as a formal greeting anymore, le baiser remains a beautiful expression of love. Un baiser often refers to a romantic kiss:

 

Depuis que tu m'as laissé ce baiser fiévreux

Since you left me that feverish kiss

Caption 9, Charles-Baptiste Sale type

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The verb baiser used to mean “to kiss,” and it was perfectly acceptable to use the term in formal circumstances and otherwise:

 

Il faut se mettre à genoux et baiser le pied de l'empereur. C'est la coutume.

We must kneel and kiss the emperor's foot. It's the custom.

Caption 11, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs 15. Bruce et les sources du Nil - Part 6

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But beware! Baiser as a verb means something else entirely now! It’s slang for “to have sex.” But don’t worry: un baiser (a kiss) is safe to use in a sentence.

 

In addition to le baiser (kiss) and la bise (peck on each cheek), you may come across a couple of variations:

 

Le bisou, or “little kiss,” is warmer and more playful than la bise. The term is often used when talking to children, but also with good friends or lovers. It’s an expression of love and affection and is not typically used as a greeting like la bise

 

Et moi, j'ai pas droit à un petit bisou?

And me, don't I get a little kiss?

Caption 49, Le Jour où tout a basculé Mon histoire d'amour est impossible - Part 1

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Un bécot is a somewhat more intimate kiss, more like a “smooch.” In this video on school regulations regarding public displays of affection, students smooch (se bécotent) in school. You can watch the entire video to discover more slang words for kissing:

 

Cela dit, le règlement ne prévoit aucune sanction pour les amoureux qui se bécotent à l'école publique.

That said, the regulations do not allow for any sanctions against lovers who kiss at public school.

Caption 31, Le Journal Baisers interdits dans les couloirs!

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So there you have it: multiple ways of greeting and expressing love and affection in French, whether it be la bise, un bisou, un baiser, or un bécot. It may have to be une bise virtuelle à distance (a virtual, socially distanced kiss) or an elbow bump until we can kiss the pandemic goodbye!

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It All Sounds the Same to Me! - A Lesson on Homophones

Have you noticed that while some French words have many variations in spelling, they sound the same?

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For example, the words un verre, un ver, vers, and vert(s) share the same pronunciation yet have different meanings. That makes them homophones.

 

Homophones are especially common in French as the letters t, d, and s, when placed at the end of a word, are usually silent.

 

Check out Patricia’s video on homophones and homonyms, which she turned into a fun story.

 

Let’s examine the examples mentioned earlier.

 

Un verre can mean "a glass" or "a drink." The expression boire un verre means "to have a drink." Or, you can say prendre un verre.

 

On est tous là avec juste l'envie de passer un bon moment, de boire un verre

We are all here just with the desire to have a good time, to have a drink

Caption 52, Actu Vingtième Vendanges parisiennes

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Le verre also refers to the material itself. It means "glass," as in English:

 

Nous sommes maintenant chez le souffleur de verre de L'Isle-Adam.

We are now at the L'Isle-Adam glassblower's.

Caption 11, Voyage en France L'Isle-Adam - Part 4

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Speaking of verre, did you know that Cinderella’s slippers might originally have been made not of verre, but of vair (squirrel fur)?

 

Some scholars believe the original fable described pantoufles de vair (squirrel fur slippers), which became pantoufles de verre (glass slippers) in Charles Perrault's famous version. No one knows if he made a mistake or simply chose a new material for the slippers in his version of the fairy tale.

 

From squirrels to worms…. Un ver de terre is an earthworm, a critter that Claire and Philippe remember fondly in their La campagne video.

 

Alors elle prenait le petit ver de terre dans la main.

So she used to take the little earthworm in her hand.

Caption 71, Claire et Philippe La campagne

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And the poetically named ver solitaire (literally, "solitary worm") is the French word for "tapeworm”!

 

If the thought of many vers solitaires turns you off (vers being the plural of ver), let’s turn toward vers, an innocuous word that simply means "toward."

 

In the Actus Quartier video, this young lady is looking toward the future:

 

Je suis tournée vers l'avenir et vers tout ce qu'on va construire... 

I'm looking toward the future and toward all that we're going to build… 

Caption 40, Actus Quartier Fête de la rose au caviar rouge

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Vers also means "around," "about":

 

Plutôt vers deux heures du matin

Instead around two o'clock in the morning

Caption 60, Adrien Le métro parisien

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Now, for a more colorful version of this homophone, you have the word vert, which means "green." 

 

As you probably know, vert, like most adjectives, takes on masculine, feminine, and plural endings. For more information on adjective agreements, refer to previous lessons.

 

As mentioned earlier, -t and -s are often not pronounced at the end of a word. So vert (masculine singular) sounds exactly like verts (masculine plural). However, note that vert will become verte when agreeing with a feminine singular noun, and the t in verte will be pronounced! 

 

Donc, on va écrire "vert". Masculin. Sinon... "verte".

So we're going to write "green." Masculine. Otherwise... "green" [feminine].

Caption 28, Leçons avec Lionel Couleurs

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Now that you’ve acquainted yourself with homophones, you’ll be surprised how many you'll be able to spot! But if you haven't satisfied your appetite for homophones, click here to learn some more.

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