There are two ways of saying "either... or..." in French, and they both involve repeating one word. The first is the construction soit... soit.... Soit is a conjunction that marks a set of alternatives, and it is also spelled the same as the third-person present subjunctive form of the verb être (to be):
Les médecins étaient soit morts, soit partis.
The doctors were either dead or gone.
Caption 4, TV8 Mont Blanc - De retour de HaïtiPlay Caption
A similar construction with soit is que ce soit... que ce soit..., which can best be translated as "be it... or...":
Que ce soit déposer dans le sable, que ce soit déposer dans la neige...
Be it landing on sand, or on snow...
Caption 26, Le Journal - École de pilotagePlay Caption
The second way of saying "either... or..." is ou... ou.... Ou by itself just means "or" (not to be confused with où, "where"), but when it is repeated to describe two or more choices or alternatives, the first ou means "either":
Ou vous pouvez le laisser tout simplement sur la plage, ou vous en servir comme cendrier.
You could either simply leave it on the beach or you could use it as an ashtray.
Caption 15, Jean-Marc - La plagePlay Caption
Sometimes, bien can be added to ou to emphasize the distinction:
Ou bien il est très heureux, ou bien il est misérable.
Either he's very happy or he's miserable.
Note that you will often see a comma separating the alternatives soit... soit... and ou... ou... (soit morts, soit partis).
Now that we've learned how to say "either... or...," we'll move on to its opposite, "neither... nor...." There is only one way to say this in French: ni... ni....
Ni vu ni connu
Neither seen nor known [on the sly]
When using ni... ni... with verb phrases, add a ne in front of the verb:
Nous ne sommes ni les premiers, ni les derniers.
We are neither the first nor the last.
Caption 3, La Conspiration d'Orion - Conspiration 2/4Play Caption
Sometimes, you might just find a single ni:
Cette femme habite un monde sans foi ni loi...
This woman inhabits a world without faith or law...
Caption 19, Le Journal - MiladyPlay Caption
So now, if you're ever asked to recite the unofficial creed of the US Postal Service in French, you won't hesitate to say:
"Ni la neige, ni la pluie, ni la chaleur, ni la nuit n'empêchent de fournir leur carrière avec toute la célérité possible".
"Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
(The creed is actually a line from Herodotus.)
In a previous lesson, we introduced a trio of words that are spelled the same except for their accent marks: côté, côte, and cote. We will examine a similar trio in this lesson: des, dés, and dès.
You might already know that des is a contraction of de and les. It is always followed by a plural noun, and can be used as a preposition to mean "of," "from," or "by," or as an article to mean "some" or "a few." Note that when des is used as an article, it is often left untranslated.
Ce monde des images, habité par les images, dans les images.
This world of images, inhabited by images, in the images.Play Caption
Des gens super beaux avec des... avec des peaux super lisses.
Really beautiful people with… with really smooth skin.
Caption 34, Niko de La Faye - "Visages"Play Caption
When you place an acute accent on the e of des, you get the French word for "dice": les dés (le dé in the singular). In the kitchen, you might hear the expression couper en dés (to dice). And if you're sewing by hand, it might be helpful to use un dé à coudre (a thimble; literally, a "sewing dice").
Le backgammon se joue avec des dés.
Backgammon is played with dice.
With a grave accent, des becomes dès, a preposition meaning "starting from," "as early as," or "since." Here are some examples of this versatile little word from our video library:
Près de trois cent mille personnes venues dès l'aube applaudir les héros des océans.
Nearly three hundred thousand people who came as early as dawn to applaud the heroes of the oceans.
Captions 14-15, Le Journal - Les navigateurs du Vendée GlobePlay Caption
Et j'ai toujours, euh... dès les... les premières fois où j'ai découvert...
And I've always, uh... ever since I first... first discovered...
Caption 24, Manu le Malin - Album Biomechanik IIIPlay Caption
Les épreuves commencent dès demain.
The exams begin as early as tomorrow.
Caption 28, Le Journal - Le baccalauréatPlay Caption
Although dès is frequently used on its own, you'll also sometimes see it coupled with another word, notably in the expressions dès que (as soon as, whenever) and dès lors (from then on, since then, consequently, therefore):
Tout de suite, en fait, dès que je suis arrivée ici, euh...
Right away, in fact, as soon as I arrived here, uh...
Caption 6, Alsace 20 - Mangez bien, mangez alsacien!Play Caption
Dès lors, elle n'est jamais retournée à la maison.
From then on, she never returned home.
Now that you're familiar with the difference between des, dés, and dès, let's see if you can decipher this sneaky little sentence:
Le magicien a su piper des dés dès l'âge de cinq ans.
(The magician knew how to load dice from the age of five.)
Take a look at the following captions and see if you notice anything unusual:
Et si vous regardez bien au deuxième étage, il y a une magnifique frise.
And if you look closely at the second ["third" in the US] floor, there is a splendid frieze.
Caption 14, Voyage dans Paris - Butte MontmartrePlay Caption
Donc vous voyez la petite lumière rouge en... au premier étage?
So do you see the little red light in... on the first ["second" in the US] floor?
Caption 32, Mon Lieu Préféré - Rue des RosiersPlay Caption
Although it might seem like we’ve made some errors in our translations, the number discrepancy you see is actually completely accurate. This is because the floors of French buildings are not numbered in the same way that American floors are.
As you can see, a given French floor is always one number lower than a given American floor: le deuxième étage corresponds to the third floor, not the second, and le dix-huitième étage corresponds to the nineteenth floor, not the eighteenth.
The explanation for this is simple: the French (and most other Europeans) don’t count the ground floor of a building when numbering its stories, whereas Americans do. The French word for "ground floor" is rez-de-chaussée, and the floor above le rez-de-chaussée is le premier étage (the second floor). In American English, "ground floor" and "first floor" are generally synonymous and thus can both be used for rez-de-chaussée. So when you’re in a French elevator, instead of seeing a button marked "G" for "ground floor," you’ll see one marked "RC" for rez-de-chaussée.
Note, however, that French-Canadian speakers have adopted the US system, so you won't have to worry about subtracting floor numbers when you're in Quebec (you can learn some more about Canadian French in this lesson). You'll notice this when listening to Annie Chartrand, a French-Canadian musician, describe her childhood home:
J'habitais au deuxième étage avec mes parents et au premier étage, c'était un bar taverne...
I lived on the second floor with my parents and on the first floor, there was a bar-tavern with...
Captions 24-25, Annie Chartrand - Sa musiquePlay Caption
Here is a little table to review:
|In France||In the U.S.||In Quebec|
|first floor|| |
le rez-de-chaussée/le premier étage
le premier étage
le deuxième étage
le deuxième étage
le troisième étage
Therefore, a three-story house in the US (first floor + second floor + third floor) is the same as une maison à deux étages in France (rez-de-chaussée + premier étage + deuxième étage) and une maison à trois étages in Quebec (rez-de-chaussée/premier étage + deuxième étage + troisième étage)
To make this a bit easier, you could take the word étage to mean specifically an upstairs floor in France. Indeed, one way of saying "upstairs" in French is à l’étage (the other way is en haut, while "downstairs" is en bas). In that case, le premier étage could be translated more precisely as "the first upstairs floor," i.e., the second floor.
A side note: To remember the word rez-de-chaussée, a bit of etymology might be useful. Une chaussée is another word for "road," and rez is Old French for ras, meaning "flat" or "level" (think of the word "razor"). The ground floor is called le rez-de-chaussée in French because it is level with the road.
And for an in-depth discussion of floor numbering around the world, see this Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storey#Numbering
Let's have a listen to Cali's beautiful tune C'est quand le bonheur, paying special attention to this line:
Il paraît que vous faiblissez devant les hommes bien habillés
It appears that you swoon for well-dressed men
Caption 22, Cali - C'est quand le bonheurPlay Caption
Do you hear a "z" sound sneaking its way in between les and hommes, such that we hear “les-Zhommes”? You might also notice an "n" sound between bien and habillés, such that we hear “bien-Nhabillés."
What you are hearing are examples of liaison, which often happens when the (usually silent) final consonant of one word can be heard pronounced at the beginning of the following word, if the following word begins with a vowel or a mute h (learn more about the distinction between “mute h” and “aspirated h” here).
In most cases, the sound produced by liaison is very straightforward. In the Cali song, for example, the n of bien tacks right onto habillés. Simple! As is the first liaison we hear in the next line of the song:
Je suis tendu, c'est aujourd'hui que je viens vous offrir ma vie
I am tense, today is the day I am coming to offer you my life
Caption 23, Cali - C'est quand le bonheurPlay Caption
We hear a liaison in "c’est-Taujourd’hui." The final consonant of c'est, t (which we usually don't hear in French), binds with the vowel sound at the beginning of aujourd'hui.
But liaison doesn't always result in the sound you might expect. The next liaison in the line is in vous offrir. As in the case of les hommes, we have a preceding word that ends in an s (generally not pronounced in French) rendering a "z" sound that binds to the next "vowel-starting" word, resulting in "vous-Zoffrir."
A final s is not the only consonant that renders a "z" sound in liaison; the same is true for a word ending in -x. Let’s return to Cali and his romantic vieux amants (with our handkerchiefs close by):
Car qui mieux que ces vieux amants, sait qu'on perd l'amour...
Because who knows better than those old lovers that you lose love...
Caption 35, Cali C'est quand le bonheurPlay Caption
As you can hear, Cali is singing of "vieux-Zamants"; the final x in vieux, usually silent, renders a "z" sound at the beginning of amants.
Another case where a consonant produces an unexpected sound in liaison involves words ending in -d. Here, the liaison carries over not as a "d" sound, but a "t" sound.
Here's an example concerning Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer who was the basis for Nicolas Cage's character in the movie Lord of War:
L'un des hommes les plus recherchés au monde, finalement arrêté dans un grand hôtel de Bangkok.
One of the most sought-after men in the world, finally arrested at a big hotel in Bangkok.
Captions 5-6, Le Journal - Viktor BoutPlay Caption
Did you catch where Bout was arrested? Not in a "grand-Dhôtel," but a "grand-Thôtel."
As you expose yourself to more authentic French, you will become accustomed to liaison and start to get a feel for where it does, and doesn't, belong. It's a tough subject to get a full handle on, and it's not uncommon to hear native French speakers adding a liaison where it "technically" shouldn't exist, or vice versa.
Here is an interesting article on liaison from french.about.com:
And another, from the Académie Française:
Adverbs are words that describe how something is done. They can modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. In a previous lesson, we saw what happens when adverbs and adjectives get cozy with each other in the same sentence. Now we'll explore what happens when they get even cozier—when an adverb is formed from an adjective.
In English, adverbs often end in -ly: “comfortably,” “unfortunately,” “obviously,” etc. Likewise, many French adverbs end in -ment: confortablement (comfortably), malheureusement (unfortunately), évidemment (obviously).
Here’s an example of a French adverb in action, describing one of fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld’s collections:
Une petite merveille de cohérence, de charme et de légèreté où la cliente perd facilement vingt ans.
A little treasure of coherency, charm, and lightness in which the wearer easily loses twenty years.
Captions 2-3, Le Journal - Défilé de modePlay Caption
So what's the one thing that English -ly adverbs and French -ment adverbs have in common? You guessed it—they all come from adjectives! Just take away the -ly and the -ment to get “unfortunate” (malheureuse), “easy” (facile), and “obvious” (évident).
However, this formula is a bit more complicated in French than in English. Facilement and confortablement can be neatly broken down into their separate components: the adjectives facile and confortable plus the ending -ment. But why do we have malheureusement and not "malheureuxment"? (Malheureux is the masculine form of malheureuse.) And why évidemment instead of "évidentment"?
The answer: French has a small set of rules for determining how to turn an adjective into an adverb. Once you learn them, you'll be able to spot the adverbs in any sentence effortlessly.
First take the masculine form of the adjective:
1. If the adjective ends in a vowel, simply add -ment.
We just saw some examples of this with facile + ment = facilement and confortable + ment = confortablement. Other common examples include:
vrai → vraiment (true → truly)
probable → probablement (probable → probably)
spontané → spontanément (spontaneous → spontaneously)
absolu → absolument (absolute → absolutely)
2. If the adjective ends in a consonant, add -ment to the feminine form of the adjective.
This is the case of malheureux/malheureusement. You’ll also see this rule at work in words such as:
religieux → religieusement (religious → religiously)
direct → directement (direct → directly)
réel → réellement (real → really)
léger → légèrement (light → lightly)
massif → massivement (massive → massively)
3. If the adjective ends in -ant or -ent, replace the ending with -amment or -emment, respectively.
So even though évident ends in a consonant, its adverbial form is not "évidentement," but évidemment. Likewise, you have:
constant → constamment (constant → constantly)
récent → récemment (recent → recently)
apparent → apparemment (apparent → apparently)
brillant → brillamment (brilliant → brilliantly)
A special note: the ending -emment has the same pronunciation as -amment. An easy way to remember this is to think of the word femme (woman), which is pronounced /fam/, not /fem/.
You can hear an example of this pronunciation in these two videos:
Ben la ville est petite et en même temps suffisamment grande pour qu'y ait à peu près tout.
Well the town is small and at the same time it's big enough to have just about everything.
Captions 19-20, Strasbourg - Les passantsPlay Caption
Il était absolument impossible, évidemment, d'exprimer le moindre regret...
It was absolutely impossible, obviously, to express the slightest regret...
Captions 33-34, Le Journal - Joëlle Aubron libéréePlay Caption
Although there are a few exceptions here and there, these are the basic rules for creating adverbs from adjectives in French. You can find a thorough list of these exceptions in this about.com article on the subject: https://www.thoughtco.com/french-adverbs-of-manner-4084830
The one simple guideline underlying all three of these rules (which has no exceptions!) is that the adverbial ending -ment (or -mment) is always preceded by a vowel. So if you keep at least that in mind when constructing your adverbs, you should succeed brillamment!
In this weather forecast for the Mont Blanc area, you'll come across a word with a very specific meteorological meaning: la bise. Translated as "north wind," la bise is more precisely a chilly wind that passes through certain areas of eastern France and Switzerland (you can find a more detailed and scientific account of this phenomenon here). Some French windows might feature un brise-bise (literally, "breaks" or "stops the north wind"), a small curtain usually made of lace that covers only a portion of the window. These are definitely more decorative than functional.
Donc le temps va s'arranger; on aura toujours un peu de bise pour ce mardi matin.
So the weather will settle down; we'll still have a bit of a north wind for this Tuesday morning.
Caption 10, TV8 Mont Blanc - Météo du 26 octobre 2010Play Caption
On an unrelated note, une bise is also an informal way of saying "a kiss." You might hear it most often in the expression faire la bise, which refers to the customary French greeting of giving someone a peck (or more than one!) on both cheeks. This helpful article breaks down when and how to use this very common gesture: https://www.thoughtco.com/french-kisses-french-english-bilingual-story-1368026.
Do you notice anything strange about the use of ne in this sentence from our video on deep-sea creatures?
Ils vont servir de sujets d'étude aux scientifiques... avant que leurs enseignements ne soient exploités par l'industrie.
They will serve as test subjects for scientists... before their lessons are exploited by industry.
Captions 21-22, Le Journal - 2000 mètres sous les mersPlay Caption
You might be thinking that the narrator made a mistake by leaving out the pas in the phrase ne soient exploités par l’industrie. But actually, adding a pas to this sentence would completely change its meaning (and make it nonsensical). What’s going on here? The ne in this sentence is called a ne explétif (also known as ne pléonastique). Instead of negating the clause (as it does when combined with pas, plus, personne, etc.), this ne emphasizes the general feeling that the clause expresses. So the phrase ne soient exploités par l’industrie doesn’t mean “are not exploited by industry,” but something like: “are exploited by industry (which would be bad).” The ne here does not negate the phrase, but rather highlights its negative connotations.
We find a similar case in our video about avian flu:
Exemple, avec une petite astuce pour éviter que votre chat ne rapporte des oiseaux indésirables.
For instance, with a little trick to keep your cat from bringing home unwanted birds.
Captions 19-20, Le Journal - La grippe aviairePlay Caption
As French learners, upon first glance we might be fooled into thinking there is a trick that prevents your cat from “not bringing” unwanted birds home (thus forcing him to do so), but the fact that ne is not coupled with the usual pas (nor rien, personne, plus, jamais, etc.) clues us in that this is quite likely another example of ne explétif (which it is). The ne is emphasizing the idea that we want to prevent such creatures from being brought into our parlors. This emphasis is too subtle to find a place in the English translation. We very often find the ne explétif used after “unequal” comparisons, those in which one thing is NOT like the other.
Have a look at this example from our video about life in the trenches during World War I:
Ces soldats... ressemblent plus aux combattants du Premier Empire, des guerres napoléoniennes... qu'ils ne nous ressemblent... à nous.
These soldiers... are more like fighters of the First French Empire, of the Napoleonic Wars than they are like... like us.
Captions 5-7, Le Journal - La vie dans les tranchéesPlay Caption
Do you see the untranslated ne before nous ressemblent? Once again, that’s ne explétif in action.
To continue exploring this topic, here are two great resources:
P.S. Thanks to viewer Allen B. for asking about what this mysterious ne was doing. Great question!
As a French learner, you have no doubt begun to see (if not been outright taught) that words that begin with vowels are treated differently than words that begin with consonants. Perhaps most obvious to the casual observer is the process known as elision, which is the contraction formed by many common words, such as je, le, la, que, ce, and de (to name only a few) when they come before words that begin with a vowel. Elision is the reason why, for example, even the biggest francophobe can be heard confidently uttering c’est la vie (that’s life!) and not ce est la vie.
Another thing that you probably know by now is that the French h is always silent. However, since French words that start with h are almost always followed by a vowel (heure, histoire, honneur, etc.), an obvious question to ask is: do we treat words that begin with h as we do words that begin with a vowel (since a vowel is the first sound that we actually hear)?
The answer is: sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t! The vast majority of French words that start with h are treated as if they start with a vowel (even though, technically, the French consider h a consonant). The French call the h at the beginning of these words an h muet (mute h). However, there is a relatively small group of "h words" that are treated as if they begin with a consonant (which they do!). The French call the h at the beginning of these words an h aspiré (aspirated h).
Ils ont été écrits comme ça, je pense, en un quart d'heure...
They were written like that, I think, in a quarter of an hour...
Caption 5, Bertrand Pierre - Victor HugoPlay Caption
In the caption above, we see that singer Bertrand Pierre says en un quart d’heure, forming an elision between de and heure to create d’heure. This is because heure, like most French words that start with h, begins with an h muet; it forms elision just as words that start with a vowel do.
Maladie qui ne l'empêche nullement d'être un sportif de haut niveau.
An illness which in no way keeps him from being an elite athlete.
Caption 4, Le Journal - Un sportif handicapéPlay Caption
On the other hand, the h in the word haut is aspiré; it is treated the same as other words that begin with a consonant. This is why we hear no elision between de and haut in the caption above. We hear three distinct words: de haut niveau, NOT d’haut niveau. (Put another way, h aspiré “prevents” the elision.)
How do we know whether an h at the beginning of a word is an h muet or an h aspiré? Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing just by looking at it! H aspiré words will usually have an asterisk or an apostrophe before them in French dictionaries. Also, lists of h aspiré words have been published that can be used for reference or (gasp!) memorization.
Other than that, exposure to fluent French speakers will hopefully help you build a “native-like” feel for which words are h aspiré and which are h muet. H aspiré words tend to be of “foreign” origin (“borrowed” from another language, e.g. le hockey), but this is not always the case, and even when it is, it is not always obvious.
Another common phenomenon associated with words that begin with a vowel is known as liaison, which has to do with pronunciation changes caused by certain types of words (contingent upon the letter they end with) when they precede a word that starts with a vowel. As you might have guessed, we also hear liaison occurring with h muet words and not with h aspiré words.
Passez par chez nous, restaurant ''Les Héritiers", n'oubliez pas c'est un ''apporter son vin''...
Stop by our place, "Les Héritiers" restaurant, don't forget it's ''bring your own wine,''...
Captions 31-32, Les Héritiers - Les bonnes recettesPlay Caption
Do you notice that when the chef says the name of his restaurant we hear something like "les-Zhéritiers"? That “z” sound is an example of liaison. We hear something similar in les heures (the hours), les histoires (the stories), and any number of h muet words.
In contrast, have a listen to the lovely lady from Le Mans we met one day in Manhattan’s Central Park, extolling the virtues of the fair city of New York:
Et les hamburgers sont meilleurs ici...
And the hamburgers are better here...Play Caption
You will notice that we do not hear any “z” sound between les and hamburgers. This is because hamburger begins with an h aspiré—there is no liaison between the les and an h aspiré word, just as there is no liaison between the les and a word that begins with a consonant
The thing about most “rules” is that you know they will be broken! It is not terribly uncommon to hear native French speakers forming elisions and liaisons with some words that the dictionary tells us are h aspiré. For example, even though the venerable Larousse dictionary insists that hamburger is h aspiré, it is entirely possible to encounter French natives forming the elision l’hamburger, or saying perhaps un hamburger with a liaison, such that we hear it pronounced as “un-Nhamburger.”
Side note: We use the word “contraction” when describing “elisions” because our English readers are familiar with contractions such as “didn’t,” “don’t” and “wouldn’t,” and the similarities are obvious. Technically speaking, to a linguist or the like, a contraction and an elision are not exactly the same thing.
Who doesn't like to quietly sip a beer?
...s'attabler au comptoir et boire tranquillement sa bière...
...sit at the counter and quietly sip his beer...
Captions 11-12, Le Village de la Bière - Ceci n'est pas un bar!Play Caption
But at the Village de la Bière, in Strasbourg, a sip is all that you are going to get, as this emporium of brew has only une licence-dégustation (tasting license). This permits them to supply you with a mere sampling of, for example, une bière brune (dark beer), une bière blonde (light-colored beer), or une bière rousse (brown ale), before you settle on the bouteille de bière (bottle of beer) that most meets your approval. (You won't find many canettes de bière or "cans of beer" in this establishment!)
Owner Alain Pesez is passionate about his calling, and he will guide you through a vast selection:
J'ai entre trois et quatre cents sortes de bières... un assortiment qui bouge, qui varie et on vend de la bière des quatre coins du monde.
I have between three and four hundred kinds of beers... a selection that changes, that varies, and we sell beer from the four corners of the world.
Captions 6-7, Le Village de la Bière - Des bières de partoutPlay Caption
Stocking over three hundred types of beer in one single shop is no small feat! We might even say, Ce n'est pas de la petite bière! On the surface, we might read that as, "This is not a little beer!" but, in actuality, this expression means "It's no small thing/It's no small matter" or "It's really something/It's a big deal." The expression dates back to the eighteenth century, when une petite bière was a weak, poor-quality beer, created by reusing the grains from an earlier batch.
The phrase can not only imply that a matter is significant, but also that something or someone is of high caliber, of quality.
Un Nikon, c'est un très bon appareil photo. Ce n'est pas de la petite bière.
A Nikon is a very good camera. It's not a piece of junk.
Donc c'est tout de suite plus sympathique accompagnée d'une petite bière pression.
So it's nicer right away accompanied by a small draft beer.
Caption 28, Le Restaurant "Flam's" - Les tartesPlay Caption
Bière pression originates in un baril (a barrel/keg) and flows out of le robinet (the tap) and into une chope (a mug). Of course, you might prefer un panaché with your meal: that's a very popular mixture of beer and lemonade.
There is another meaning of bière that has nothing to do with fermenting grains to create a delightful effervescent beverage. The expressions mettre quelqu'un en bière and la mise en bière both refer to placing a body into a bière or "coffin." Note that, apart from these expressions, "coffin" is usually not referred to as une bière, but rather un cercueil.
On that note, remember that life is short! Tune in to these and hundreds of other fun and interesting authentic videos here at Yabla that will help quench your thirst for French mastery!
When you think vineyards, you probably conjure up images of rolling hills and sprawling fields, lush with grapevines planted in neat rows. So it may surprise you to learn that vineyards aren't just for la campagne. In fact, that most urban of French locales, la grande ville de Paris, has a few grapevines of its own!
Our favorite Parisian tour guide, Daniel Benchimol, takes us around the neighborhood known as La Butte Bergeyre, which, believe it or not, is home to a couple of vineyards. It's surprising such a tiny neighborhood could fit a vineyard—after all, there are only ten or so streets:
Il y a en tout une dizaine de rues avec des très, très jolies villas.
There are a total of about ten streets with some very, very pretty villas.
Caption 11, Voyage dans Paris - Butte BergeyrePlay Caption
Take a look at the word dizaine. On first glance, an English speaker might be tempted to translate this as its phonological cousin, "dozen." But dizaine actually means "about ten." Why the similarity? "Dozen" comes from the Old French dozaine, and its modern French equivalent is douzaine.
As you can probably guess by now, -aine as a suffix added to numbers indicates an approximation of quantity. So, une dizaine is "about ten," une douzaine is "about twelve" (a dozen), une trentaine is "about thirty," and so on. "Dozen" is the only similar word of this type in English, but who's to say we couldn't one day have a "tenzen" or a "thirtyzen" too?
A Yabla French subscriber recently asked an interesting question about a caption in one of our videos.
L'éco-musée du pays de Rennes ... s'en est occupé...
The eco-museum of the county of Rennes ... took it upon itself....
Captions 18-19, Le Journal - Gourmet en BretagnePlay Caption
Shouldn't, the subscriber asked, the participle actually be occupée—with an extra e—to match the subject eco-musée? After all, the word-ending -ée most often denotes a feminine word in French—so wouldn't the verb need to agree in gender here? As it turns out, even though musée ends in -ée, it is actually a masculine noun. So occupé is correct. Musée is not the only word that's masculine despite ending in -ée.
Moi, je me souviens à l'époque, même que j'étais dans un lycée d'filles...
I remember in those days, even though I was in an all-girls high school...Play Caption
Like musée, the noun lycée—even a lycée filled with girls and only girls—is masculine, which we can tell here because it's preceded by the masculine article un. Un ("a," masc.) or le ("the," masc.) are the right determiners to use with lycée or musée, and not une ("a," fem.) or la ("the," fem.), as one may have expected with such an ending.
What other nouns end with -ée but are nevertheless masculine words? The most commonly used are:
un athée (an atheist)
à l'apogée (at the peak)
un camée (a cameo)
un mausolée (a mausoleum)
un trophée (a trophy)
un macchabée (a stiff, also a Maccabee)
un pygmée (a pygmy)
un scarabée (a beetle)
C'est dans sa loge qu'on a retrouvé Buridane.
It's in her dressing room that we caught up with Buridane.
Caption 2, Télé Lyon Métropole - BuridanePlay Caption
Did you catch the interview with the lovely chanteuse Buridane? It took place backstage, in her loge, what we would call her "dressing room." However, on the other side of the curtain, loge can also refer to box seating, usually private, elevated, and not cheap—a nice place from which to watch the show. Sport and theater fans will recognize that we have the same word in English: "loge" seating areas offer a bird's-eye view in a luxurious setting. It's from this meaning that we get the common French expression être aux premières loges, which means "to have a great view," or "front row seats."
Where else will you find une loge? Out in the country! A rustic cabin (or "lodge") of the kind used by skiers, hunters, or park rangers is also called a loge.
Finally, if you enter a French building, bourgeois or not, beware of the loge du concierge or "caretaker's apartment." You won’t sneak past unnoticed, even if you tiptoe... so be sure to have a good reason to be there!
And just as loge can be "lodge," logement can mean "lodging," as in housing or a place to stay. Take this example, where retirement-age protesters point out that Sarkozy doesn't quite share their concerns:
Et lui, il a pas de souci de voiture, il a pas de souci de logement...
And him, he has no car worries, he has no housing worries...
Caption 22, Le Journal - À la retraite en FrancePlay Caption
There's also the verb loger, which, as you may now be able to guess, means "to house" or "provide accommodation for."
See if you can spot any other lodging-related words in our videos!
After watching her scour the desert Mad Max–style for clues to track down her amour perdu in the video for "Love Machine," we know that Melissa Mars is a romantic. Her "Army of Love" video also gives us a few clues—on how to speak the language of love, en français.
Petites fées du cœur / Accueillent les âmes sœurs
Little love fairies / Welcome the soulmates
Captions 25-26, Melissa Mars Music Videos - Army of LovePlay Caption
If you know that the word âme is "soul" and the word sœur means "sister," you might think that Melissa is referring to her many Mini-Me's as "soul sisters." Actually, âme sœur is French for "soulmate," and even though the term is of the female persuasion, it can apply to any member of a happy couple. In French, guys can be soul sisters too!
Our favorite friendly tour guide, Daniel Benchimol, gives us a look in living color at the history-rich, up-and-coming Paris quartier of Belleville.
As sometimes happens with urban areas that were once on the sketchy side, Belleville has recently gentrified. These days, it's home to a thriving diverse community. You'll see people from all walks of life strolling along the Rue de Belleville and the Boulevard de Belleville. (It's easy to know you're in the right neighborhood. Just look at the street signs!)
There's even a Parc de Belleville:
Nous sommes ici dans le Parc de Belleville, qui est vraiment le... le poumon de ce quartier.
We're here in the Parc de Belleville [Belleville Park], which is really the... the heart ["lungs"] of this neighborhood.
Captions 12-13, Voyage dans Paris - BellevillePlay Caption
Notice that Daniel tells us the park is le poumon of the neighborhood—"the lung" of the hood—just as Central Park is sometimes called "the lungs" of New York City, thanks to the fresh air it offers.
Les Bellevillois are known for their distinctive fun and funky accents. Wondering what they sound like? Just listen to France's favorite songbird, Édith Piaf. La Môme hails from the streets—the rues and boulevards—of Belleville!
Give up? Start thinking in French. Do you see it now? They're all French homophones! So what are the tricks to distinguishing between mère, maire, and mer
Let’s start off where life itself does—with our proud moms. In French, your mother is your mère.
Annie Chartrand, from Quebec, recalls the limited English ability of her own mère (as well as her père, her father).
Si je pense à mes parents, à mon père et ma mère, ils parlent anglais, mais c'est un peu plus, comme on dit en bon québécois, "baragouiné".
If I think of my parents, my dad or my mom, they speak English, but it's a bit more like, as we say in good Quebecois French, "baragouiné."
Captions 14-16, Annie Chartrand - Grandir bilinguePlay Caption
Charles Baptiste, from Paris, sings of something nobody wants their mother to do (nobody nice anyway) in the song Je sais:
Tandis que ma mère se met à pleurer
Whereas my mother starts crying
Caption 21, Charles-Baptiste - Je saisPlay Caption
Let's move away from such sadness (we hope Charles's mère is feeling better) to our second homophone: maire (mayor).
One way to distinguish this word from its homophones: maire (mayor) is a masculine noun and so is preceded by the masculine article le. But la mère (the mother) and la mer (the sea) are both feminine. Note that more people nowadays are using la maire to refer to a female mayor (see our lesson about the feminization of professions in French), although the officially correct term is la mairesse.
The mayor of Groslay, a town north of Paris, is not very popular… He banned chicken in municipal lunchrooms because of fears of avian flu.
L'interdiction du maire a également déclenché la colère des agriculteurs.
The mayor's ban has also triggered the anger of the farmers.
Caption 9, Le Journal - Le poulet dans les cantinesPlay Caption
However, some mayors are less cautious than others. The mayor of Lille, for example, not only supported protesters who recklessly (and illegally) switched off street lighting in the city center, she joined their rally, French flag in hand!
Et c'est toujours au nom du service public que la maire de Lille soutient les agents d'EDF en grève.
And it is still in the name of the public service that the mayor of Lille supports the EDF agents on strike.
Captions 22-23, Le Journal - Grève de l'EDF à LillePlay Caption
Let's move on to our last homophone: la mer (the sea).
La mer is often a romantic image in popular songs. (Who doesn't love a little Charles Trenet?) Lyon-based ska band Babylon Circus sings about the sea in a song about dreams and lost hopes:
Les rames étaient trop courtes pour atteindre le niveau de la mer
The oars were too short to reach sea level
Caption 12, Babylon Circus - J'aurais bien vouluPlay Caption
So now, no more confusion between la mère (the mother), le maire (the mayor), and la mer (the sea)!
An accent, or the lack of one, can sometimes determine the meaning of a French word.
For example, let's take ou, the common conjunction that means "or." After his extensive travel abroad, Chef Rachel Gesbert likes to use exotic ingredients when he returns to France "or" to Europe:
Et quand on revient en France,
And when we return to France,
ou en Europe... on a envie de certains produits.
or to Europe... we feel like mixing certain products.
Captions 27-28, Le Journal - Gourmet en BretagnePlay Caption
Ou bien also means "or," plain and simple. Anglophones, seeing the extra word bien, might be tempted to translate ou bien as "or even," or to add some other nuance. But in fact, ou bien is used pretty much interchangeably with ou, as we find in the report on the recent discovery of Saint-Exupéry's lost plane, near Marseilles.
Mais personne ne sait s'il s'agit d'un accident, d'un suicide,
But nobody knows whether it's a question of an accident, of a suicide,
ou bien d'un tir ennemi.
or of enemy fire.
Captions 27-28, Le Journal - Saint-ExupéryPlay Caption
However, when we draw a simple accent grave over the u in ou, we get the adverb où, which is used to indicate "where." Anne Liardet, mother of three, racing solo around the world on the "Vendée Globe," tells us:
J'suis bien, là où je suis...
I'm all right where I am...
Caption 25, Le Journal - Les navigateurs du Vendée GlobePlay Caption
In their worldwide hit "Senegal Fast Food," Amadou and Mariam, the singing-songwriting duo from Mali, ask:
Dakar, Bamako, Rio de Janeiro
Dakar, Bamako, Rio de Janeiro
Où est le problème, où est la frontière?
Where is the problem, where is the border?
Captions 25-26, Amadou et Mariam - Sénégal Fast FoodPlay Caption
Another meaning of où is "when," indicating time. Notice the way French movie star Agnès Jaoui uses it when talking about dreams and fame:
C'est bien... de rêver, mais y a un moment où
It's good... to dream, but there comes a time when
il faut juste se récupérer soi-même.
you have to go back to who you are.
Captions 32-33, Le Journal - Le rôle de sa viePlay Caption
So, there you have it: the short story of ou!
FYI: Keep in mind there are at least two other words that sound exactly the same as ou and où, but have their own unique spellings: une houe is "a hoe," like we use in the garden, and du houx is "holly," the stuff the halls are decked out with come Christmas!
In her song "Diesel" (extremely popular with Yabla viewers!), Elea Lumé declares:
Et si il y a eu maldonne / Je me fais mon propre prud'homme
And if there was a mistake / I'll take responsibility for it
Captions 33-34, Elea Lumé - DieselPlay Caption
When we are playing cards, la donne is "the deal." It comes from the verb donner, that very common French verb that means "to give." It also means "to deal," which is not hard to see since cards are "given out" to the players. Sometimes the dealer (le donneur—literally, "the giver") screws up, and hands too many or too few cards to one or more of the players. In the poker rooms of Paris this is known as a fausse donne (false deal), mauvaise donne (bad deal), or maldonne—which we get when we preface donne (deal) with mal ("bad" or "wrong"): a "wrong deal." In English the common term for all of these is "misdeal."
Cards are ripe metaphors for life, as anyone who's ever been "dealt a bad hand" or suffered "the luck of the draw" knows. In French, the phrase il y a maldonne has drifted from the cards-specific "there is a misdeal" to the more general "there is a mistake."
A quick aside about another of Elea's lyrical selections here: if you look up prud'homme in the dictionary, you find that it is a member of a labor court, one which decides disputes between management and workers. So when Elea says je me fais mon propre prud'homme (literally something like, "I'll be my own jury"), she is saying that she'll assume full responsibility; she's not going to take it to a third party for help—she'll stand on her own.
Besides signaling a mistake, il y a maldonne takes on another metaphorical meaning: "there is a misunderstanding." The exuberant chanteuse Cassandre expresses a negated variation of the phrase when she sings:
Mais non y a pas maldonne / C'est super romantique!
But no, there's no misunderstanding / It's super romantic!
Captions 33-34, Vous avez du talent - Cassandre - "Je te saoule"Play Caption
So make no mistake! As in English, French words or phrases often evolve from literal to metaphorical meanings, and their meaning can change based on their context. Getting to know these subtleties is not a bad deal at all!
To wrap up our series of lessons on adjectives, we want to show you a few examples of multiple adjectives qualifying the same noun.
Native speakers of a language know instinctively how to order multiple adjectives. For example, Anglophones know that we say a "big old black truck" rather than "black big old truck." The rules that govern this ordering process are somewhat cumbersome to explain, and are often a bit flexible. (It's not exactly "wrong" to say "black big old truck"; it just doesn't sound quite as good—don't you agree?)
We won't delve into too many nitty-gritty details governing multiple-adjective order today. We'll leave that to the linguistics PhDs. Since, to most of us, it's simply a matter of what sounds good, we thought we'd give you a sense of what sounds good in French by taking a look at some examples and offering you a few simple pieces of advice.
Let's start out where many lessons do: in a classroom. In French, the teacher at the front of the room will write on un grand tableau noir (a big blackboard)—ordered this way because we say: un "grand" tableau (a big board), and because we say: un tableau "noir" (a blackboard). (Adjectives like grand are explained in this lesson, and color adjectives are explained in this lesson.)
Ready for some more examples? Off we go to the land of fashion. Even if you aren’t a celebrity or your pockets aren’t lined with gold, you can still check out the Chanel collection in Le Journal's fashion show videos:
La fameuse petite robe noire
The famous little black dress
Caption 4, Le Journal - Défilé de modePlay Caption
Notice how each adjective takes its usual place in this phrase. The adjective petite (which, like grand, is discussed here) comes before the noun robe. It turns out that fameuse is also an adjective that tends to come before the noun in French. And color, as we established in our blackboard example, comes after the noun. So, we place each adjective in its proper place and we get fameuse petite robe noire
Of course, sometimes you'll see multiple adjectives on just one one side of a noun (either before or after). Take a look at the story of little Morgane, who was, at two pounds, a greatly premature baby who grew up to be a perfectly healthy and cheery child.
À quatre ans, Morgane est une enfant gaie et vive sans aucun problème de santé.
At four years old, Morgane is a happy and playful child without any health problems.
Caption 2, Le Journal - Grands prématurésPlay Caption
Here the two adjectives describe the same type of quality—the little girl's pleasant disposition—so the conjunction et (and) is appropriately positioned between them. And, of course, both adjectives come after the noun they qualify, as they would if they were used alone: We say une enfant gaie (happy) and we also say une enfant vive ("playful" or "vivacious").
Let's look at another example, this time love-related:
Comme deux jeunes mariés, nos destins sont liés
Like two newlyweds, our destinies are linked
Caption 5, Ina-Ich - Âme arméePlay Caption
Perhaps this is just common sense, but when you have a common expression in French that's made up of an adjective-noun combo, and is then modified by another adjective, keep that common expression together. In Ina-Ich's song lyrics above, we have the common adjective-noun combo jeunes mariés (newlyweds—literally "young marrieds"). And as newlyweds typically come in pairs, we see this expression quantified by the numerical adjective deux (two), which, because it is a number, appears in front of the noun phrase, as seen in this lesson.
Here's a final point to leave you with, and perhaps the most important thing to take away from our series of adjective lessons. As is wisely written in one of Pierre Larousse's famous language books:
C’est le goût et surtout l’oreille qui déterminent la place que doivent occuper les adjectifs!
"It’s taste and especially sound that determine the place that adjectives must occupy!"
Keep taking your daily dose of Yabla video vitamins and you'll get more and more of that native-speaker sense of how to season your phrases with multiple adjectives!
Some French adjectives change their meaning depending on whether we put them before or after the noun they modify. For example, in Le Journal's video Les microcrédits, we learn about a fellow who realizes his dream of opening a business. This pauvre homme (poor, as in "pitiable," man) had spent years doing nothing every day. But, because he was also an homme pauvre (poor, as in "penniless," man), he qualified for a microcredit loan, and is now a proud restaurateur!
Il a réussi à monter sa propre pizzeria, il y a maintenant trois mois.
He succeeded in opening his own pizzeria, just three months ago.
Caption 3, Le Journal - Les microcréditsPlay Caption
Sa propre pizzeria means it's his alone, but if he wants customers to keep coming back, he'd better make sure it's also a pizzeria propre (a clean pizzeria)! As you can see, if placed in front of the noun, propre signals ownership; if placed after, it indicates cleanliness.
We hear another interesting example when rugby-player-turned-singer Cali sings the romantic ballad C'est quand le bonheur?
Car qui mieux que ces vieux amants, sait qu'on perd l'amour
Because who knows better than those old lovers that you lose love
Caption 35, Cali - C'est quand le bonheurPlay Caption
You may notice that Cali does not mention anyone's age; ces vieux amants, "those old lovers," refers to lovers who have experienced long-lasting love. They might be in their twenties or in their eighties—we don’t know. If Cali had placed the adjective vieux (old) after the noun amants (lovers), then we'd know that he meant elderly lovers (who, for all we know, met last week at bingo). So, amants vieux would indicate their age, while vieux amants indicates the duration of their love.
Dropping in on the Paris Poetry Fair, we hear:
Antonin Artaud, grand homme de théâtre, grand poète du vingtième siècle...
Antonin Artaud, famous playwright, famous poet of the twentieth century...Play Caption
Notice that grand, placed before the noun, means "famous" or "great"—quite different from when it appears after the noun. Un homme grand means a tall man—a man of physically grand proportions. Can you spot any poètes grands (tall poets) among the aspiring grands poètes (great poets) at this Paris Poetry Fair?
Did you see Le Journal's piece about teen use of marijuana?
Selon lui, certains signes devraient alerter vite les parents.
According to him, certain signs should quickly alert parents.
Caption 24, Le Journal - Cannabis en hausse chez les jeunesPlay Caption
This specialist talks about certains signes (certain, as in "some specific," signs). But are these also signes certains (certain, as in "definite, unquestionable," signs)? Watch the video and decide for yourself!
Keep an eye out for these and other adjectives that change their meaning depending on where they sit!
Extra credit: Certain language sages have noted that, generally speaking, these types of adjectives take a more figurative meaning when placed before a noun, and a more literal one when placed after. Can you see what they mean?