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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",

And when we say, "they fell,"

on mettra "es" à la fin de "tombé"

we'll put "es" at the end of "tombé"

car "elles" sont des sujets féminins et pluriels.

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

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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

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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...

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 -u: obtenu, 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

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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,

But... as she left,

elle m'a donné son numéro de téléphone.

she gave me her phone number.

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

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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

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

 

Drôles d'étudiants que ceux-là,

Strange students they are,

habitant l'hôtel et sortant en robe longue et nœud papillon.

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

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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,

After dad's death,

elle a fini ses études

she finished her studies

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

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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?

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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.

And the past participle is very simple.

Il suffit de remplacer "er" par "é".

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

I really would have liked, to pass the time

te serrer dans mes bras amicalement

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.

I really like hugging trees.

-Allez viens. On va lui faire un petit câlin

-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

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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

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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

Many French people are having a bit of trouble

à changer les habitudes,

changing their habits,

un peu de mal à oublier la bise.

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

This mother admits to kissing

la plupart de ses connaissances.

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

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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

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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

We are all here just with the desire to have

un bon moment, de boire un verre.

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

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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

I'm looking toward the future

et vers tout ce qu'on va construire... 

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.

So we're going to write "green." Masculine.

Sinon... "verte".

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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Just Kidding!

The verb se moquer is used in two recent videos, in two slightly different senses:

 

Et il n'est pas le seul à se moquer.

And he's not the only one making fun.

Caption 40, d'Art d'Art - "Impression, soleil levant" - Monet

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Non mais tu te moques de moi?

No but are you kidding me?

Caption 61, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Ma fille et mon mari se sont fait berner

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Se moquer means to make or poke fun, or to kid. If it takes an object, as in the second example, you have to add de after it (to make fun of someone). It's cognate with "to mock" in English, and can also have that sense, depending on context: 

 

Se moquer gentiment de personnages célèbres est très courant

Gently mocking famous people is very common

pendant la période de carnaval.

during the carnival period.

Caption 20, Le saviez-vous? - Le carnaval en France

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But se moquer has another meaning that isn't quite as obvious. It's the verb you use when you don't care about something, or more precisely, when you couldn't care less:

 

Je me moque des règles. 

I couldn't care less about the rules.

 

In more informal speech, se ficher is often used instead of se moquer in most of its senses:

 

On se fiche de nous ou quoi?

Are you kidding us or what?

Caption 5, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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Je me fiche des règles.

I couldn't care less about the rules.

 

Another way of saying "to make/poke fun" is taquiner (to tease):

 

Ne taquine pas ta sœur.

Don't tease your sister.

 

There are a few other verbs for "to kid" in French. If you want to say "I'm kidding" or "just kidding," use plaisanter or rigoler:

 

Je plaisante, pas du tout.

I'm kidding, not at all.

Caption 22, Elisa et Mashal - Mon chien Roméo

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Je ne ferai pas l'idiote. Non, je rigole.

I will not act like an idiot. No, I'm kidding.

Caption 52, Margaux et Manon - Conjugaison du verbe faire

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Rigoler is an informal synonym of rire (to laugh). So you can think of je rigole as "I'm just having a laugh." Plaisanter, the verb form of une plaisanterie (a joke), means "to joke" or "joke around." So je plaisante is more along the lines of "I'm just joking around."

 

If you want to say "you're kidding," as an exclamation, you can say, Tu plaisantes! Or, you can even just say, Tu parles! (literally, "You're talking!")

 

Tu parles. Impôts?

You're kidding. Taxes?

Caption 37, Patricia - Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones

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And for the phrase "no kidding," you can use the phrase sans blague (no joke). For more on that and other joke-related expressions, see our lesson Telling Jokes in French.

 

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Leveling up with au niveau de

The expression au niveau de means "at the level of" or "on the level of." You can use this expression to talk about something that's physically level with something else:

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...pour avoir de l'eau au niveau des genoux,

...having the water at knee level,

vous allez être emporté de ce côté.

you are going to be carried away to this side.

Captions 12-13, À la plage avec Lionel - La plage

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La ville est au niveau de la mer.

The city is at sea level.

 

Or, as in English, it can refer to more general things, such as one's health or one's skills or abilities:

 

Ben, c'est vrai qu'au niveau de la santé,

Well, it's true that on a health level,

 je le ressens parfois.

I feel it sometimes.

Captions 80-81, Amal et Caroline - La cigarette

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Je ne suis pas au niveau des autres élèves.

I'm not at the (same) level as the other students.

 

Another way of saying "on a health level" is au niveau sanitaire. You'll often see "au niveau + adjective" (no de) used in this way: au niveau national (on a national level), au niveau économique (on an economic level), au niveau spirituel (on a spiritual level), etc.

 

But sometimes "on the level of" or "on an x level" isn't the most succinct translation of au niveau de. It's also equivalent to phrases such as "when it comes to," "regarding," and "in regards to":

 

Parce que... en France

Because... in France

on a souvent tendance

we often have a tendency

à faire des amalgames

to mix them together

en particulier au niveau du sandwich, du kebab...

particularly when it comes to sandwiches, kebabs...

-Au niveau des fromages...

-When it comes to cheeses...

Captions 54-57, Lionel et J.B. - La salade grecque

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Ensuite au niveau de la selle,

Then regarding the seat,

faut bien la régler à votre hauteur.

you should really adjust it to your height.

Captions 35-36, Amal - Vélib

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Even when referring to physical spaces, au niveau de doesn't necessarily imply that something is level with something else. It could just mean "near," "by," or "in the region/area of":

 

Bruce se rend compte qu'un autre cours d'eau rejoint son

Bruce realized that another river joined his

Nil au niveau de Khartoum.

Nile near Khartoum.

Caption 42, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 15. Bruce et les sources du Nil

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Au niveau de also functions as a simple preposition when used with body parts, in which case it means "in":

 

Je ressens une douleur au niveau de mon genou.

I feel a pain in my knee.

 

No matter your niveau de françaisau niveau de is a great expression to know! 

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French Art Vocabulary

In the series d'Art d'Art, new at Yabla French, you'll learn the stories behind some of the most famous works of European art. You'll also learn plenty of art-related vocab too! Here are some key words from the first two videos in the series, on the Mona Lisa and The Death of Marat:

 

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une œuvre - a work

 

"D'Art d'Art", c'est l'histoire d'une œuvre d'art.

"D'Art d'Art" is the story of a work of art.

Caption 3, d'Art d'Art - "La Mort de Marat" - David

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When we talk about an artist's "œuvre" in English, we're usually referring to the artist's entire body of work. In French, une œuvre can have that same connotation, but it can also just mean a single work of art.

 

un tableau - a painting

 

Voyez la solennité antique quasi religieuse

See the ancient, almost religious solemnity

qui se dégage de ce tableau.

that emerges from this painting.

Captions 10-11, d'Art d'Art - "La Mort de Marat" - David

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As we explained in a previous lesson, there are three French words for "painting": une peinture (cognate with "painting"), une toile (literally, "canvas"), and un tableau (literally, "little table"). 

 

un pinceau - a paintbrush

 

Sous son pinceau, la mort de Marat devient la mort de Jésus.

Under his brush, the death of Marat becomes the death of Jesus.

Captions 35-36, d'Art d'Art - "La Mort de Marat" - David

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Un pinceau is a paintbrush, but it can also refer to a makeup brush (un pinceau de maquillage). It's related to the English word "pencil" (un crayon in French).

 

tracer - to trace, draw, write

 

Les dernières lignes

The last words

qu'il a tracées avec sa plume, désormais inerte,

that he wrote out with his quill, now unmoving,

ce sont des noms destinés à la guillotine

are names (of those) intended for the guillotine

Captions 43-45, d'Art d'Art - "La Mort de Marat" - David

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In an artistic sense, "to trace" usually just means to copy something by drawing over it. Tracer has that connotation too, but depending on context, it can also be a synonym of dessiner (to draw) and écrire (to write).

 

un cadre - a frame 

un chef-d'œuvre - a masterpiece

 

Ce jour-là, au musée du Louvre,

That day, at the Louvre Museum,

à la place du chef-d'œuvre de Léonard de Vinci,

in the place of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece,

il ne reste que le cadre.

only the frame remains.

Captions 10-12, d'Art d'Art - "La Joconde" - Vinci

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Le cadre is the frame around a painting or photograph. But that's not all! It's also the word for "framework" (as in the expression dans le cadre de, "within the framework of"), the word for "setting" or "surroundings," and the word for "executive" or "manager." You could say le cadre contains a lot of meanings within its "frame."

 

Finally, we have un chef-d'œuvre. We can think of a masterpiece as an artist's "chief work," or the "chief" of the artist's entire œuvre. 

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Surtout, Above All

The adverb surtout is actually two words combined: sur (over, above) and tout (all). Once you know that, its meaning is self-explanatory:

 

Et surtout n'oubliez rien.

And above all, don't forget anything.

Caption 9, Bande-annonce - La Belle et la Bête

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There are a couple different ways of saying "above all" in English, all of which are encompassed by surtout. There's "most of all":

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Mais surtout c'est toi

But most of all, it's you

Caption 30, Aldebert - La vie c'est quoi ?

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"Especially":

 

J'ai du mal à mentir, surtout quand c'est pas vrai

I find it hard to lie, especially when it's not true

Caption 29, Babylon Circus - J'aurais bien voulu

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And "particularly" or "in particular":

 

J'aime surtout la cuisine japonais.

particularly like Japanese cuisine. / I like Japanese cuisine in particular.

 

Note, though, that "especially," "particularly," and "in particular" have more direct equivalents in French as well:

 

C'est le sujet qui nous intéresse tous spécialement aujourd'hui.

It's the subject that's especially of interest to all of us today.

Caption 62, Uderzo et Goscinny - 1968

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Mais quand on est sensible à la peinture,

But for one who appreciates painting,

ici, la lumière est particulièrement belle.

the light here is particularly beautiful.

Caption 8, Arles - Un Petit Tour d'Arles

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Les plages de la côte atlantique et en particulier

The beaches on the Atlantic coast and in particular

de la côte basque sont des plages très étendues.

on the Basque coast are very vast beaches.

Caption 31, Voyage en France - Saint-Jean-de-Luz

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Surtout can also mean "mainly" or "mostly," which isn't quite the same as "above all":

 

En fait c'est ça surtout

In fact that's it, mostly

Caption 37, Alsace 20 - La chronique Mode de Caroline: mode éthique

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Aujourd'hui j'ai surtout travaillé au bureau.

Today I mainly worked in the office.

 

In informal speech, surtout is also the equivalent of "whatever you do" or "be sure to":

 

Surtout, ne rate pas le prochain épisode de "Extra"!

Whatever you do, don't miss the next episode of "Extra"!

Caption 10, Extr@ - Ep. 5 - Une étoile est née

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Surtout, regardez les vidéos les plus récentes sur Yabla French!
Be sure to check out the most recent Yabla French videos!

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How to Talk About "Stuff"

Un machin doesn't mean "a machine" (that's une machine). In fact, it doesn't mean anything specific at all. It's a filler word, used when you're speaking generally or when you can't think of the proper word for something. It's an informal alternative to une chose (a thing), roughly equivalent to "thingy" or "thingamajig," or when plural, "stuff":

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C'est-à-dire... de la confiture et des machins comme ça.

That is to say... jam and stuff like that.

Caption 10, Sophie et Patrice - Le petit-déjeuner

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D'abord, je mets un peu d'acétone

First, I apply a little bit of acetone

parce que souvent y a des étiquettes, des machins avec de la colle.

because often there are labels, stuff with glue. 

Captions 58-59, Sophie et Patrice - Les lampes de Sophie

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C'est quoi ce machin-là?

What is that thing?

 

Je savais que ça n'allait pas être le single, le machin...

I knew that it was not going to be the single, the whatever...

Caption 110, Watt’s In - Maître Gims : J'me Tire Interview Exclu

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Un truc is another informal way of saying une chose. It's basically synonymous with un machin:

 

Mais y a un truc aussi qui se faisait avant,

But there was another thing that was done before,

c'est que la police, ils intervenaient au collège...

it's that the police went in to the middle school...

Captions 16-17, Banlieues françaises - jeunes et policiers, l'impossible réconciliation?

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Et on va aller acheter des trucs.

And we're gonna buy some stuff.

Caption 59, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois

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But unlike un machinun truc can also mean "a trick":

 

Tout ça, c'est des trucs pour nous faire travailler encore plus!

All these are tricks to make us work even more!

Caption 42, Il était une fois: Notre Terre - 25. Technologies

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And there are a couple of idioms with truc that can't be replaced with machin

 

Je n'aime pas faire la fête. Ce n'est pas mon truc.

I don't like partying. It's not my thing.

 

Chacun son truc!

To each his own!

 

Likewise, there's one idiom that only uses machin:

 

Et quand je dis un grand ancien,

And when I say a great elder,

ça veut pas dire un vieux machin, pas du tout.

that doesn't mean an old so-and-so, not at all.

Captions 55-57, Uderzo et Goscinny - 1968

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Un vieux machin is a grumpy old man, an old fogey. 

 

You can even use machin and truc as proper nouns when you don't know or can't remember someone's name. In this case they're capitalized:

 

Demande à Machin* de t'aider.

Demande à Truc de t'aider.

Ask what's-his-name to help you.

 

*As a proper noun, Machin becomes Machine in the feminine (Demande à Machine de t'aider/Ask what's-her-name to help you). Truc doesn't change.

 

There's also another expression you can use when you don't know someone's name: Monsieur Untel/Madame Unetelle

 

Demande à Monsieur Untel/Madame Unetelle de t'aider.

Ask Mr./Ms. so-and-so to help you.

 

So when you don't know the name of something or someone, or you're just talking about "stuff" in general, machin and truc are the words to use. 

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Risky Business

In his latest video on the coronavirus pandemic, Lionel talks about the measures being taken to control the spread of the virus in France. Like everyone else in the world, French people are trying to minimize the risk of catching the virus by staying inside and wearing masks when they have to go out. 

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Though risk is a major theme of the video, when Lionel uses the verb risquer, he means something a bit different: 

 

Lors du déconfinement,

During reopening,

nous risquons de sortir avec des masques

we're likely going out with masks

et... les distanciations sociales

and... social distancing

risquent de durer un bon moment.

is likely going to last for quite some time.

Captions 35-38, Lionel L - La pandémie, un mois déjà

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We don't "risk" going out with masks on, nor does social distancing "risk" lasting for a while longer. (Quite the contary: these are the very measures that are reducing risk). Risquer often just means "to be likely" (être probable) or "there's a good chance that." The stakes don't have to be that high:

 

Cette année, Noël risque d'être très présent dans les rues.

This year, Christmas is bound to be very present on the streets.

Caption 22, TV Vendée - Le sapin de Noël décoré par les enfants

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But risquer can also mean "to risk" or "run the risk of":

 

Si ça continue à cuire, ça risque de perdre sa belle couleur.

If they continue to cook, they run the risk of losing their beautiful color.

Caption 57, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano - Médaillon de Homard

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Il a risqué sa vie pour sauver le chien.

He risked his life to save the dog. 

 

Its noun form, risque, can mean "risk," "danger," or "chance." Note that, though it ends in an e, risque is masculine: 

 

Le risque avec les lamas, c'est qu'en grandissant,

The danger with llamas is that as they grow up,

ils peuvent devenir agressifs.

they may become aggressive.

Caption 25, Angers 7 - Un lama en plein appartement

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There's also the adjective risqué, which you probably recognize. Though risqué can mean "racy" and "suggestive," as it does in English, it also just means "risky":

 

Pour elles c'est trop risqué de s'accrocher à la locomotive.

For them it's too risky to grab on to the engine.

Caption 47, Grand Corps Malade - Les Voyages en train

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Some say it's a good thing to take a lot of risks, but these days, that doesn't seem like the safest advice. Ne prenez pas de risque! (Don't take any risks!)

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Rest Assured!

In his conversation with Lionel, Lahlou describes his daughters' success in school and sports in an interesting way. He uses the verb assurer:

 

Les deux grandes franchement, elles assurent.

The two older girls, frankly, they're doing great.

Elles assurent super bien à l'école, au sport.

They're doing really well in school, in sports.

Captions 82-83, Lionel & Lahlou - Être musulman

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Elles assurent is a familiar way of saying "they're doing great," "they're doing a great job." Lahlou also could have used the preposition en to specify what the girls are succeeding in: elles assurent en maths (they're good at math), elles assurent en natation (they're good at swimming). 

 

More often, assurer means "to assure" or "ensure," or, when reflexive, "to make sure"/"to check":

 

Je vous assure qu'elle est là.

I assure you that it's there.

Caption 37, Le saviez-vous? - Les verbes du 1er groupe les plus utilisés

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Mais on doit s'assurer que le pneu est bien assis

But we have to make sure/check that the tire is well-seated

sur la jante et ne pas trop gonfler.

on the rim and that we don't inflate too much.

Caption 19, Sports Shop - La mécanique d'un vélo

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Assurer has a few other meanings as well. It can mean "to secure" or "achieve":

 

Ses affiches et ses tableaux

His posters and his paintings

ont permis au Moulin Rouge

allowed the Moulin Rouge

d'assurer une notoriété rapide et internationale.

to achieve rapid international notoriety.

Captions 19-21, Amal et Caroline - Moulin Rouge

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Il est difficile d'assurer un emploi en ce moment.

It's hard to secure a job these days.

 

It can mean "to take care of," "handle," or "deal with":

 

Je dois assurer l'école.

I have to take care of the school.

Caption 13, Les zooriginaux - 3 Qui suis-je?

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La brigade des pompiers assure l'extinction des incendies.

The fire department takes care of putting out fires. 

 

Or it can mean "to insure," as in "to provide insurance coverage":

 

Notre maison est assurée.

Our house is insured

 

Likewise, its noun form assurance can either mean "insurance" or "assurance," or more precisely, "self-assurance," "confidence," "certainty":

 

Le stress au travail a en effet un coût, humain bien sûr,

Stress at work does indeed have a cost, a human one of course,

et économique pour l'assurance maladie:

and an economic one for national health insurance:

près de cinquante milliards d'euros.

close to fifty billion euros.

Captions 57-58, Le Journal - Le stress au travail

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Il faut parler avec assurance pour convaincre les gens.

You have to speak with self-assurance/confidently in order to convince people.

 

So whether you're assuring, ensuring, making sure, or insuring, assurer is the verb to use. You can find even more ways of using it here.

 

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Savoir: The More You Know

You may already know that the verb savoir means “to know.” But did you know that, when followed by an infinitive, it can also mean “to be able to” or “to manage to" (synonymous with pouvoir)?

 

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L'Observatoire Paris-Meudon...

The Paris-Meudon Observatory...

a su garder sa spécificité d'astrophysique

was able to keep its astrophysical specificity

Captions 18-20, Voyage en France - Meudon

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L’article a su le convaincre à recycler.

The article managed to convince him to recycle.

 

It’s easy to see that “know” wouldn’t really work in either of these examples, since their subjects aren’t human. You wouldn’t say that the Paris-Meudon Observatory “knew” how to keep its astrophysical specificity, nor that an article “knew” how to convince someone. 

 

On the other hand, there are plenty of cases where savoir plus an infinitive can go either way:

 

Pour quelqu'un qui sait faire la cuisine.

For someone who knows how to cook.

Caption 63, Alsace 20 - Grain de Sel: le titre de Maître Restaurateur, c'est quoi?

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Bref, Jean de La Fontaine fait partie pour moi de ces auteurs intemporels

In a word, Jean de La Fontaine is for me one of those timeless authors

qui à travers une forme littéraire intéressante

who, through an interesting literary form,

a su toucher le fond de la nature humaine.

was able to reach the depth of human nature.

Captions 38-40, Le saviez-vous? - Jean de La Fontaine

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We could just as well switch the translations here: “someone who can cook”; “Jean de La Fontaine… knew how to reach the depth of human nature.” "To be able to" and "to know how to" are more or less synonymous, so it makes sense that they overlap in the same French verb.  

 

Just note that the other verb for "to know," connaîtredoesn't have this extra connotation. While savoir means "to know how to" or "to be aware of," connaître means "to know someone" or "to be acquainted/familiar with." 

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