In our last lesson, we looked at three different ways of saying "to look like" in French. We'll continue that pattern in this lesson by introducing the three different ways of saying "to feel": sentir, se sentir, and ressentir. Though these verbs all look alike and have the same meaning, each of them is used in a different context.
Sentir (related to "sense" in English) generally refers to feeling the physical effects of something, such as a post-run stretch or a cool breeze:
Tu dois sentir une petite tension au niveau musculaire.
You should feel a little tension at the muscular level.
Cap. 12, Joanna: La course à pied - Récupération
J'aime sentir la brise rafraîchissante sur mon visage.
I love feeling the cool breeze on my face.
Besides bodily sensations, sentir can refer to feeling any kind of external pressure:
Mais cette année on sent la crise, hein.
But this year we're feeling the financial crisis, you know.
Cap. 25, Actu Vingtième: Le vide-grenier
But "feeling" isn't the only sense of sentir. It can also mean "to smell," both in terms of smelling something and giving off a scent:
Peut-être que vous sentez les odeurs qui sortent des studios de temps en temps.
Maybe you smell the aromas that come out of the studios from time to time.
Non, oh pas vraiment parce que nous, on est derrière les cuisines et puis ça sent!
No, oh not really because us, we're behind the stoves, and so it smells!
Cap. 9-10, 4 Mains Pour 1 Piano: Médaillon de Homard - Part 1
When you make sentir reflexive (se sentir), it becomes less about external, physical feelings and more about internal, emotional ones. While sentir usually takes an object, se sentir usually precedes an adjective or adverb to describe a person's condition or state of mind:
Très vite, elle se sent menacée.
Very soon, she feels threatened.
Cap. 5, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 1
Ah, je me sens mieux!
Ah, I feel better!
Cap. 42, Cap 24: Les bus sont-ils toujours en retard ?
Finally, there's ressentir, which literally means "to feel again." That might give you a clue about this verb's connotations. Like se sentir, ressentir also refers to an interior feeling, but it's generally used to describe a strong emotion, something you really feel. Like sentir, it usually takes an object:
Vous voyez cette exigence que je ressentais…
You see this demand that I felt…
Cap. 20, Le Journal: Défilé de mode - Part 4
…c'était vraiment quelque chose que je ressentais, qui me rendait vraiment heureuse.
…it was something that I really felt, that made me really happy.
Cap. 5, B-Girl Frak: La danse
Though ressentir is related to the English verb "to resent," it doesn't have the same meaning. Le ressentiment, however, does mean "resentment."
It's always a good thing to talk about your feelings, and these three verbs will help you do it in French!
In this lesson, we'll introduce three different ways of saying "to look like" in French.
The first expression is ressembler à, which looks a lot like the English word "resemble" (but note the extra s) and is used in much the same way:
Chacun de tes gestes ressemble aux miens
Each of your gestures looks like mine
Cap. 2, Ina-Ich: Âme armée
Ressembler is always followed by à, except when à is replaced by an indirect object pronoun:
Elle me ressemble.
She looks like me.
Cap. 31, Le saviez-vous? - La conjugaison au au présent, au passé et au futur
The second expression, avoir l'air de, is more informal and figurative than ressembler à. Its literal translation is "to have the air/appearance of," but it generally means "to look like" or "to seem":
Tu n'as pas l'air de trouver ça suffisant, Psi.
You don't seem to think that's sufficient, Psi.
Cap. 41, Il était une fois... L'Espace: 6. La révolte des robots - Part 7
Ce chien a l'air d'un loup.
That dog looks like a wolf.
When the expression is in front of an adjective, the de is dropped:
Ça a l'air délicieux, mais j'ai des crampes à l'estomac, je peux rien avaler.
It looks delicious, but I have stomach cramps, I can't swallow anything.
Cap. 4, Plus belle la vie: 2772 - Part 3
Avoir l'air (de) can often be replaced with the verb sembler (to seem):
Tu ne sembles pas trouver ça suffisant, Psi.
You don't seem to think that's sufficient, Psi.
Ça semble délicieux, mais j'ai des crampes à l'estomac, je peux rien avaler.
It looks delicious, but I have stomach cramps, I can't swallow anything.
Finally, there's on dirait, which literally means "one would say," but is often used idiomatically to mean "it looks like":
À première vue, on dirait une pharmacie, mais non...
At first glance, it looks like a pharmacy, but no...
Cap. 1, Le Journal: Chocolats
On dirait qu'il va neiger.
It looks like it's going to snow.
The main difference between these expressions is that ressembler à is only used to compare similar things, whereas avoir l'air de/sembler and on dirait can also be used to convey an impression of something.
We hope this lesson lived up to its title! Feel free to tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to email@example.com.
In this lesson, we'll take a look at some special uses of the elementary French word petit(e), which, as you probably already know, means "little," "small," or "short." Though it generally refers to something or someone of a small size, it can take on a variety of other related meanings. For example, since children are smaller than adults, petit(e) can also mean "little" as in "young":
-Mais tu voulais vivre de la musique? T'étais attachée à la musique?
-Depuis toute petite. Oui, oui.
-But you wanted to make a living from music? You were attached to music?
-Since [I was] very little. Yes, yes.
Cap. 23-24, Alsace 20: Femmes d'exception - Christine Ott
In fact, if you turn the adjective into a (usually plural) noun, you get an informal word for "children":
Les petits sont à l'école.
The kids [or "little ones"] are in school.
But if you address someone as mon petit or ma petite, you're affectionately calling them "my dear" (another expression for that is mon chéri/ma chérie).
Speaking of affectionate uses of petit(e), the words for "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" are petit ami and petite amie (literally, "little friend"):
Et pour parler de ma première petite amie, l'une de mes premières petites amies est encore ma femme.
And as for my first girlfriend, one of my first girlfriends is still my wife.
Cap. 18, Mario Canonge: Ses propos - Part 1
Going back to petit(e) as in "young," the words for "granddaughter" and "grandson" are petite-fille ("little daughter") and petit-fils ("little son"). Note that these words are hyphenated, unlike petit ami/petite amie:
Les parents de ma petite-fille sont morts dans un accident de voiture, et c'est moi qui l'élève.
The parents of my granddaughter died in a car accident, and I am the one raising her.
Cap. 13, Plus belle la vie: Episode 2771 - Part 3
If you're only a little bit hungry, you might want to eat something with une petite cuillère (a teaspoon):
Si vous avez une petite faim, je vous recommande de vous arrêter quelques minutes juste ici.
If you're feeling a little hungry, I recommend that you stop for a few minutes right here.
Cap. 12, Voyage dans Paris: Autour de l'Hôtel de Ville
...et pour finir, des couverts comme une fourchette, un couteau, ou une petite cuillère.
...and finally, some cutlery like a fork, a knife, or a teaspoon.
Cap. 34, Joanna: Son nouvel appartement
You can also use the word to give a rough approximation of something:
Il y a une petite dizaine de places...
There are barely ten seats or so...
Cap. 25, Voyage dans Paris: Cité Florale
The number of expressions with petit(e) is by no means small! Here are a few more, just to give you un petit goût (a little taste):
avoir une petite mine (to look pale)
avoir une petite pensée pour quelqu'un (to be thinking of someone)
une petite douceur (a little something sweet)
en petite tenue (in one's underwear, scantily clad)
chercher la petite bête (to nitpick)
à petite dose (in small doses)
une petite nature (a weakling)
une petite foulée (a trot)
une petite voix (a quiet voice)
petit à petit l'oiseau fait son nid (every little bit helps; literally, "little by little the bird makes its nest")
In her hit song "Christine," the French artist Christine and the Queens (aka Héloïse Letissier) plays with the phrase tenir debout:
Je ne tiens pas debout
I can't stand up
Cap. 7, Christine and the Queens: Christine
Ça ne tient pas debout
It doesn't hold up
Cap. 9, Christine and the Queens: Christine
The expression in the first caption is se tenir debout, which means "to stand up" (literally, "to hold oneself upright"). Since it's a reflexive expression, there should actually be a me in the caption (Je ne me tiens pas debout), but reflexive pronouns are often dropped in informal speech.
Without the reflexive pronoun, tenir debout is an idiomatic expression meaning "to hold up" (its literal translation), "to add up," or "to make sense."
Se mettre debout and se lever are two other common ways of saying "to stand up":
Donc on se lève et l'effet de surprise les fait s'envoler dans le filet.
So we stand up and the surprise effect makes them fly into the net.
Cap. 9, Canal 32: Les secrets des cailles des blés
Il s'est mis debout quand je suis entré dans la chambre.
He stood up when I entered the room.
These phrases describe the action of standing up, but if you wanted to describe someone who is already standing, you would use the phrase être debout or even just debout by itself:
Par exemple lui, il était debout, elle, elle était allongée.
For example, him, he was standing up; her, she was lying down.
Cap. 17, Niko de La Faye: "Visages" - Part 1
Debout, une rose à la main
Standing up, a rose in hand
Cap. 17, Indila: Love Story
We can't talk about standing up without also talking about sitting down! There are two expressions for sitting in French: s'asseoir (to sit) and être assis/assise (to be seated):
Le Jardin du joli Cœur est un tout petit parc où on peut s'asseoir tranquillement.
The Jardin du Joli Cœur is a very small park where you can sit quietly.
Cap. 35, Joanna: Son quartier
Tout le reste du temps, je dors... là où je suis assise.
The rest of the time, I sleep... right where I'm sitting.
Cap. 15, Le Journal: Les navigateurs du Vendée Globe - Part 2
Thanks for reading! If you have a suggestion for a future lesson topic, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us @yabla.
If you're a Yabla subscriber, you may have noticed that we translate every word in the video captions, even if it's a repeated word or a filler word such as euh... (uh...). This allows you to really hear everything the speaker is saying and gives you a better understanding of everyday French speech patterns. In this lesson, we'll review some of the most common filler words and interjections that pop up in Yabla French videos.
While euh (uh) is pretty straightforward, hein is a filler word whose translation really depends on context. In general, it's used as an interrogative to mean anything from "right," to "isn't it," to "you know":
Donc, euh... c'est le même système, hein, pour les légumes comme pour les homards.
So, uh... it's the same method, right, for the vegetables as for the lobsters.
Cap. 36, 4 Mains Pour 1 Piano: Médaillon de Homard - Part 2
Il bouillonne bien, hein?
It's bubbling nicely, isn't it?
Cap. 52, 4 Mains Pour 1 Piano: Médaillon de Homard - Part 1
Enfin, j'ai déjà trois filles, hein!
After all, I already have three daughters, you know!
Cap. 39, Actu Vingtième: Vendanges parisiennes
If you didn't quite catch something someone said, you can simply say, Hein? (Huh?) But like its English counterpart, this usage of hein is very informal. A more polite way of expressing the same sentiment is, Pouvez-vous répéter, s'il vous plaît? (Can you repeat that, please?)
The word quoi usually means "what," but as a filler word it has the same meaning as hein:
Ouais, euh... ça serait vraiment le rêve ultime, quoi, pour le fan…
Yeah, uh... that'd really be the ultimate dream, you know, for a fan…
Cap. 9, Alsace 20: Rammstein à Strasbourg
Also like hein, quoi can stand alone to express incomprehension: Quoi? (What?) It's a little less informal than hein in this context.
Là ("here," "there," or "now") can also mean "you know," but it's often used as an informal way of adding emphasis:
Parce qu'en fait hier, on allait avec des grands, là...
Because actually, yesterday, we were going with some older kids, you know...
Cap. 79, Actus de Quartier: Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois
Là tu exagères!
You're really exaggerating [going too far]!
Ben or eh ben (well) is another common filler word. It's a shortened form of bien, the standard word for "well":
Les températures, eh ben, cela va être relativement facile, quatre degrés partout...
The temperature, well, that's going to be relatively easy, four degrees everywhere...
Cap. 6, Alsace 20: Météo des Maquilleurs
You'll also find it in the expression, Ben oui! (But of course!)
Our final example contains two common interjections:
Oh la la! Oh mais dis donc, non mais... oh, qu'est-ce qui se passe?
Oh my! Oh but you don't say, no but... oh, what's going on?
Cap. 24, Il était une fois… l’Homme: 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 4
The first has been adapted into English as "ooh la la!" But while "ooh la la" is a comical way of expressing attraction or excitement, oh la la (often shortened to oh la) is a more neutral expression of surprise (more like "oh my" in English).
The second interjection, dis donc, literally means "say then," but is better translated by the phrase "you don't say" or a number of others.
In short, if you ever find yourself at a loss for words in French, a filler word or an interjection is a good way to plug the gap!
In our last lesson, we introduced the general rule for conjugating French verbs in the present subjunctive: take the third-person plural (ils/elles) present indicative form of the verb, remove the -ent, and add the subjunctive endings: -e, -es, -e, -ions, -iez, and -ent.While this rule applies to the vast majority of verbs, some of the most common French verbs have irregular subjunctive conjugations.
In this video about a tile factory in Courboissy, we find two irregular subjunctive verbs in the same caption, both introduced by the phrase pour que (in order that, so that):
Alors soit pour que ça soit respirant, pour que vous ayez une maison respirante…
So either in order for it to be breathable, so that you have a breathable house…
Cap. 36, Salon Eco Habitat: Terres cuites de Courboissy
The first verb is être (to be), which is conjugated as follows in the subjunctive: je sois, tu sois, il/elle/on soit, nous soyons, vous soyez, ils/elles soient. Note that the first soit in the above caption is not the same as the third-person subjunctive form of être—it's a separate word meaning "either." See our lesson Either/Or for more information on that.
The second verb, avoir (to have), looks like this in the subjunctive: j'aie, tu aies, il/elle/on ait, nous ayons, vous ayez, ils/elles aient.
Like the first-person subjunctive forms of avoir, those of aller (to go) also begin withai-: j'aille, tu ailles, il/elle/on aille.
Si vous voulez que je m'en aille
If you want me to go away
Cap. 17, Bertrand Pierre: Si vous n’avez rien à me dire
But in the nous and vous forms, the i changes position: nous allions, vous alliez. Then it goes back to where it was for the third-person plural: ils/elles aillent.
Most forms of vouloir (to want) contain the letters euille: je veuille, tu veuilles, il/elle/on veuille, ils/elles veuillent.
…il n'y a rien d'autre à faire qu'à attendre que le vent veuille bien se lever.
…there's nothing else to do but wait until the wind finally decides to pick up.
Cap. 15-16, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs: 10. Amerigo Vespucci - Part 1
But its nous and vous forms look a little different: nous voulions, vous vouliez.
Faire (to make or to do) and pouvoir (to be able to) both have a double s in the subjunctive:
Maintenant qu'on est en numéro trois, il faut qu'on fasse quatre, cinq, six.
Now that we are on step three, we have to do four, five, six.
Cap. 34, B-Girl Frak: Le “6-Step”
Et maintenant pose ton assiette en or devant moi pour que je puisse manger son contenu.
And now set your gold plate before me so that I can eat its contents.
Cap. 4-5, Contes de fées: Le roi grenouille - Part 2
The full subjunctive conjugations of these verbs are:
je fasse, tu fasses, il/elle/on fasse, nous fassions, vous fassiez, ils/elles fassent
je puisse, tu puisses, il/elle/on puisse, nous puissions, vous puissiez, ils/elles puissent
Finally, there's savoir (to know), which has a ch in the subjunctive: je sache, tu saches, il/elle/on sache, nous sachions, vous sachiez, ils/elles sachent.
Comment tu veux que je le sache moi?
How do you want [expect] me to know?
Cap. 26, Plus belle la vie: Episode 2771 - Part 2
Congrats! You're now fully capable of conjugating any French verb in the present subjunctive. Feel free to send us any suggestions for future lesson topics by tweeting us @yabla or emailing us at email@example.com.
In this lesson, we'll be tackling the subjunctive, a verbal mood that expresses a wide range of situations, such as a wish, an obligation, a possibility, a doubt, or an emotion. Whereas the indicative mood simply describes something that happens, the subjunctive mood describes something that may happen, something you want to happen, something you're afraid will happen, and other hypothetical situations. It's the difference between the phrases "you are here" and "I wish you were here."
The general rule for forming the subjunctive in French is to take the third-person plural (ils/elles) present indicative form of the verb, remove the -ent, and add the subjunctive endings: -e, -es, -e, -ions, -iez, and -ent. Take a look at this handy chart for a concise summary of the conjugation of regular subjunctive verbs. We'll go over irregular subjunctive conjugations in another lesson.
Let's take the verbs dire (to say) and réfléchir (to think about) as examples. To conjugate them in the first-person singular subjunctive, we would go to the third-person present plural indicative (disent and réfléchissent), drop the -ent, and add the first-person singular subjunctive ending -e. The results are dise and réfléchisse:
Qu’est-ce que tu veux que je te dise?
What do you want me to tell you?
Cap. 32, Plus belle la vie: Episode 2771 - Part 2
Avec tout ce choix, il faut que je réfléchisse.
With all these choices, I have to think about it.
Cap. 10, Il était une fois… L’Espace: 3. La planète verte - Part 3
Besides the conjugation, the most important aspect of the French subjunctive is that it almost always follows the word que (that), as in the expressions tu veux que and il faut que above. Vouloir que (to want) and il faut que (it is necessary that) are among the large number of French expressions that require the subjunctive. You can find a detailed list of these expressions here.
The subjunctive is used to express some of the most basic emotions, such as happiness and sadness:
On est vraiment très heureux que nos huit jeunes puissent partir.
We are truly very happy that our eight young people are able to go.
Cap. 8, Télé Lyon Métropole: Sport dans la ville & Afrique du Sud
Je suis triste que mon ami ne vienne pas au concert avec nous.
I'm sad that my friend isn't coming to the concert with us.
It's also used in a number of conjunctive phrases such as pourvu que (as long as), bien que (even though), and avant que (before):
Tu pourras leur parler de ce que tu voudras, pourvu que tu parles au moins deux heures.
You'll be able to talk to them about whatever you like, as long as you speak for at least two hours.
Cap. 3-4, Il était une fois... L'Espace: 6. La révolte des robots - Part 5
J'aime le karaoké bien que je ne chante pas très bien.
I love karaoke even though I don't sing very well.
...avant que leurs enseignements ne soient exploités par l'industrie.
...before their lessons are exploited by industry.
Cap. 21, Le Journal: 2000 mètres sous les mers
As the above example demonstrates, some subjunctive constructions (like avant que) require a ne without a pas (known as a ne explétif) before the verb. See our previous lesson for an in-depth look at this special use of ne.
Some phrases, such as penser que (to think that), only take the subjunctive in the negative:
Je ne pense pas que ça serve à grand-chose, ce que tu comptes faire.
I don't think it's going to help much, what you're planning to do.
Cap. 29, Plus belle la vie: 2772 - Part 3
If we make that sentence affirmative, we'll need to change servir from the subjunctive to the indicative:
Je pense que ça sert à beaucoup de choses, ce que tu comptes faire.
I think it's going to help a lot, what you're planning to do.
To sum up, the subjunctive is used after a vast number of expressions that convey a wide variety of subjective and hypothetical states. This multitude of usages makes learning the subjunctive no easy feat, but the fact that the subjunctive almost always follows the word que makes it a little less daunting. So if there's one thing you should take away from this lesson, it's that whenever you see a verb after the word que, there's a good chance it should be in the subjunctive!
Il y a is probably one of the most common French expressions, and appears countless times in Yabla videos, which makes it a perfect lesson topic! Though it literally means "it has there," il y a is the equivalent of "there is" or "there are." You'll find it very useful when describing a location or a situation:
Donc, en effet, il y a des vagues, il y a du courant. Le courant est fort.
So, indeed, there are waves, there is a current. The current is strong.
Cap. 2, À la plage avec Lionel: La plage
As the above example demonstrates, il y a remains unchanged regardless of whether its object is singular (du courant) or plural (des vagues). It does change, however, according to the tense of the sentence. Here it is in the imperfect, passé composé, and future tenses:
Il y avait un lièvre mais, tu vois, il courait trop vite.
There was a hare, but you see, it was running too fast.
Cap. 14, Il était une fois - Les Amériques: 1. Les premiers Américains - Part 7
Quand il est mort, il y a eu un million de Parisiens qui ont suivi le cortège.
When he died, there were a million Parisians following the procession.
Cap. 15, Bertrand Pierre: Victor Hugo
Il y aura beaucoup de tableaux à voir au musée.
There will be many paintings to see at the museum.
Il y a can also be used to indicate the passage of time, in which case it usually means "ago":
On a commencé il y a dix minutes.
We started ten minutes ago.
Cap. 47, Actus de quartier: Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 3
You can also use the phrase il y a... que to express the same thing, though in this case it usually means "for" or "since":
Il y a trois mois que j'habite à Paris.
I've lived in Paris for three months.
Incidentally, you could rewrite the above sentence three different ways, all with the same meaning:
Ça fait trois mois que j'habite à Paris.
Voilà trois mois que j'habite à Paris.
J'habite à Paris depuis trois mois.
Another more informal way of using il y a is when you notice someone looking sad or upset and you ask them: Qu'est-ce qu'il y a? (What's wrong?) Even more informally, you can shorten that question to: Qu'y a-t-il? If you're wondering why there's suddenly a "t" and two hyphens there, check out our lesson on inversion for a full explanation.
It's very common for il y a to be shortened to y a in casual speech:
C'est festif, euh... Y a de la barbe à papa.
It's festive, uh... There's cotton candy.
Cap. 32, Actus de Quartier: Fête de la rose au caviar rouge
To sum up, let's review all the uses of il y a in a short dialogue:
Qu'est-ce qu'il y a? -Je suis en colère parce qu'il y a trop de tableaux au musée du Louvre. Il y a trois mois que j'habite à Paris et je n'ai pas encore tout vu!
What's wrong? -I'm mad because there are too many paintings in the Louvre. I've lived in Paris for three months and I still haven't seen everything!
Imagine your friend is trying to decide on a shirt to wear to a party and asks for your opinion. In French, there are two main forms that question could take:
Quelle chemise préfères-tu?
Which shirt do you prefer?
Laquelle de ces chemises préfères-tu?
Which of these shirts do you prefer?
There's a slight but important difference between these two questions. Though quelle and laquelle both mean "which," laquelle more specifically means "which one." Since laquelle is a pronoun, you can simplify the second sentence and just say, Laquelle préfères-tu? (Which one do you prefer?) However, you can't simplify the first one (Quelle préfères-tu?) because quelle is an adjective and therefore always precedes a noun.
Note that quelle and laquelle agree in number (singular) and gender (feminine) with the noun they refer to, chemise. Their other forms are quel/lequel (masculine singular), quels/lesquels (masculine plural), and quelles/lesquelles (feminine plural). As you can see, the pronoun is formed by combining the definite article le, la, or les with the corresponding form of quel.
Besides introducing a question, lequel/laquelle/lesquels/lesquelles can also be used after a preposition. Here they are in action with the prepositions sur (on) and dans (in):
Le territoire sur lequel ils sont installés…
The territory on which they have settled…
Cap. 40, Actus de Quartier: Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 4
Par exemple, j'ai ma deuxième robe, dans laquelle je chante mon duo.
For example, I have my second dress, in which I sing my duet.
Cap. 25, Melissa Mars: Mozart, L'opéra rock - Part 1
Watch out for the prepositions à (to) and de (of, from) in this construction. Just as à + le becomes au instead of à le, and de + le becomes du instead of de le, à + lequel and de + lequel become auquel (to which) and duquel (from which, of which, about which). In all forms except the feminine singular (à laquelle, de laquelle), à and de combine with the pronoun to form one word:
Masculine singular: duquel (de + lequel), auquel (à + lequel)
Masculine plural: desquels (de + lesquels), auxquels (à + lesquels)
Feminine plural: desquelles (de + lesquelles), auxquelles (à + lesquelles)
An important note about duquel/de laquelle/desquels/desquelles: these constructions are often replaced by the word dont, the subject of our previous lesson. So instead of a sentence like:
Voici le livre duquel je t'ai parlé hier.
Here is the book about which I spoke to you yesterday.
You would more often hear:
Voici le livre dont je t'ai parlé hier.
Here is the book I spoke to you about yesterday.
However, you have to use duquel, de laquelle, etc., whenever the de is part of a prepositional phrase such as près de (near), à côté de (next to), or loin de (far from):
Il est bordé des quais de Valmy et de Jemmapes au bord duquel se trouve le fameux Hôtel du Nord.
It is bordered by the Quais de Valmy and Jemmapes, along which is found the famous Hôtel du Nord.
Cap. 32-33, De nouvelles découvertes avec Marion: Le canal Saint-Martin
Another important note: Though it's common in English to end a clause with a preposition like "about" or "from," you can never do this with de, duquel/de laquelle, etc., or dont. For example, you can say "the book I spoke to you about," but you can never say le livre je t'ai parlé duquel or le livre je t'ai parlé dont. You can only say le livre duquel je t'ai parlé or le livre dont je t'ai parlé (the book about which I spoke to you).
Thanks for reading! Tweet us @yabla or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, feedback, or suggestions for future lesson topics.
In our last lesson, we introduced the word dont, a relative pronoun with a wide variety of uses. Let's start with the two most straightforward meanings of dont: "whose" and "including":
...un riche marchand dont la fille préférée s'appelait Belle.
...a rich merchant whose favorite daughter was called Belle.
Cap. 2, Bande-annonce: La Belle et la Bête
Et grâce à lui, j'ai rencontré beaucoup de gens très intéressants, dont Gilles Proulx.
And thanks to him, I met lots of very interesting people, including Gilles Proulx.
Cap. 29, Le Québec parle aux Français - Part 2
It's usually pretty easy to distinguish these two uses of dont from context, but punctuation also provides a clue: dont is usually preceded by a comma when it means "including," but not when it means "whose."
Now let's get into the grammar behind dont. Like all relative pronouns, dont refers back to an element in the main clause (un riche marchand and gens très intéressants in the examples above). But in many cases, dont more specifically refers to the preposition de + a noun. To see how this plays out, let's look at how dont can be used to combine two sentences into one:
J'ai un chat. Le poil de mon chat est très doux.
I have a cat. My cat's fur is very soft.
J'ai un chat dont le poil est très doux.
I have a cat whose fur is very soft.
As you can see, dont stands in for de and refers back to chat. It also prevents the redundancy of saying chat twice.
Dont often replaces the de used in fixed expressions, such as être fier/fière de (to be proud of), parler de (to talk about), and avoir besoin de (to need):
Et puis il y a une chose dont Michel est particulièrement fier.
And then there is one thing that Michel is particularly proud of.
Cap. 35, Le Journal: L'île de Pâques
...dans la ville de Dongtan en Chine, dont nous avons déjà parlé.
...in the city of Dongtan in China, about which we've already spoken.
Cap. 17, Il était une fois... Notre Terre: 25. Technologies - Part 8
Voici le livre dont j'ai besoin.
Here is the book that I need.
We could rewrite all of these examples using de:
Et puis Michel est particulièrement fier d'une chose.
And then Michel is particularly proud of one thing.
Nous avons déjà parlé de la ville de Dongtan en Chine.
We've already spoken about the city of Dongtan in China.
J'ai besoin de ce livre-ci.
I need this book.
That about covers it for dont! Though the scope of its applications can be a little daunting, it's a very useful and succinct word that will make your French sound very sophisticated. Don't neglect to use dont whenever you can!