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Lessons for topic Expressions

Idiomatic Animals

While discussing pigeons in Paris with his friend Lea, Lionel brings up an amusing French idiom referencing those ubiquitous city birds:

 

Alors se faire pigeonner en français, c'est vraiment se faire arnaquer, se faire avoir par une personne qui vous a soutiré de l'argent. 
So "se faire pigeonner" [to be taken for a ride] in French is really to get ripped off, to be had by a person who has extracted money from you.
Cap. 54-59, Lea & Lionel L: Le parc de Bercy - Part 1

 

Se faire pigeonner literally means "to be taken for a pigeon." In English too, "a pigeon" can refer to someone who's gullible or easily swindled. Pigeons get a bad rap in both languages! 

 

Let's take a look at some more animal expressions and idioms used in Yabla videos. Here's another bird-related one:

 

Oui. J'avoue être un peu poule mouillée.
Yes. I admit to being a bit of a wet hen [a wimp].
Cap. 23, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Notre appartement est hanté - Part 3 

 

Calling someone poule mouillée is equivalent to calling them "chicken." A slightly less pejorative poultry-inspired moniker is un canard:

 

Qu'ils me disent que je m'affiche, qu'ils me traitent de canard
That they'll say that I am showing off, that they'll call me a duck [a slave to love]
Cap. 6-7, Grand Corps Malade: Comme une évidence

 

Un canard is a person who's so lovestruck they'll do whatever their partner desires. Believe it or not, it's also a slang term for "newspaper." There's even a famous French newspaper called Le Canard enchaîné (The Chained Duck), which Lionel discusses in a few other videos

 

Don't confuse canard with cafard, the word for "cockroach." When used metaphorically, cafard means "depression" or "the blues":

 

Mon cafard me lâche moins souvent qu'autrefois...
My blues don't let me go as much as before...
Cap. 8, Debout Sur Le Zinc: Les mots d'amour

 

The expression avoir le cafard means "to be depressed," or literally, "to have the cockroach." And there's the adjective cafardeux/cafardeuse, which can mean either "depressing" or "depressed." Encountering a cockroach in your home can certainly be depressing, to say the least!

 

Though dogs are as beloved in France as they are in other countries, the word chien (dog) typically means "bad" or "nasty" when used as an adjective:

 

Fais demain quand le présent est chien
Make tomorrow when the present is bad
Cap. 3, Corneille: Comme un fils

 

You'll find chien in a couple of idioms involving bad weather, such as un temps de chien (nasty weather) and un coup de chien (a storm):

 

On va avoir un coup de chien, regarde!
We're going to have a dog's blow [stormy weather], look!
Cap. 55, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs: 10. Amerigo Vespucci - Part 5

 

You can also say un temps de cochon (pig weather) instead of un temps de chien:

 

Et aujourd'hui on a pas un temps de cochon par contre.
And today we don't have pig weather [rotten weather] however.
Cap. 22, Lionel: La Cathédrale de Toul - Part 2

 

In American English, "pigs" is a slang term for "cops." But the French call them vaches (cows):

 

Mort aux vaches, mort aux cons!
Death to the cows ["pigs," i.e., cops], death to the jerks!
Cap. 5, Patrice Maktav: La Rue

 

Finally, they don't celebrate April Fools' Day in France, but rather "April Fish":

 

En tout cas j'espère que ce n'est pas un poisson d'avril
In any event, I hope that it's not an April fish [April fool]
Cap. 21, Lionel: à Lindre-Basse - Part 5

 

You can find out more about the poisson d'avril tradition here. And be sure to check out Manon and Clémentine's video Mots et animaux to learn some more expressions featuring cats, dogs, and wolves.

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Pas Mal: Not Bad and Quite a Bit

The phrase pas mal literally means "not bad," and like its English counterpart, it's often used to express an assessment of something: 

 

La nourriture à ce restaurant n'est pas mal.
The food at that restaurant isn't bad

 

C'est pas mal déjà! 
That's not bad at all! [or: That's pretty good!]
Cap. 21, Actus de Quartier: Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 1

 

But just as often, pas mal is used not as a qualitative assessment, but a quantitative one. Take a look at this example from our video on Paris's Rue des Martyrs:

 

Y a pas mal de bars dans la rue
There are quite a few bars on the street
Cap. 42, Adrien: Rue des Martyrs

 

Adrien isn't saying that the bars on the street "aren't bad." If he were, he might have said something like, Les bars dans la rue ne sont pas malInstead, he uses pas mal to indicate that there are "quite a few" bars on the street. When followed by de (of) plus a noun, pas mal can mean anything along the lines of "quite a few," "quite a bit," or "quite a lot":

 

C'est quelque chose qui est très important pour nous depuis pas mal de temps
This is something that has been very important to us for quite a bit of time
Cap. 18, Alsace 20: Grain de Sel - le titre de Maître Restaurateur, c'est quoi?

 

When pas mal comes before an adjective, it means "a lot" or "pretty":

 

Ben c'est sûr que... c'est pas mal plus naturel.
Well, for sure... that's a lot more natural.
Cap. 46, Bateau sport 100% électrique: Le Nautique 196 E

 

Ce livre est pas mal intéressant.
This book is pretty interesting.

 

And when referring to a verb, it means "really" or, again, "quite a bit/a lot":

 

J'essaie de rechercher pas mal le son
I'm trying to really research the sound [or: I'm trying to research the sound quite a bit].
Cap. 12, Phil Cambron: Ses révélations   

                                     

Here's an example sentence that contains both senses of pas mal:

 

Pas mal de nuages mais quand même des éclaircies, et au niveau des températures, c'est pas mal non plus.
Quite a few clouds but still some sunny spells, and as far as temperatures go, that's not bad either.
Cap. 9-10, Alsace 20: Météo des Maquilleurs

 

But be careful: just because you see the words pas and mal next to each other doesn't necessarily mean you're dealing with the expression pas mal. Namely, when a verb phrase with mal (such as faire mal [to hurt] or le prendre mal [to take it the wrong way]) is negated, the pas mal portion doesn't mean "not bad" or "quite a bit"—it's just part of the negation:

 

Ça fait pas mal? -Non, non.
It doesn't hurt? -No, no. 
Cap. 16, Cap 24: Rasage et Epilation du Visage - Alessandro Di Sarno teste!

 

Ne le prends pas mal. 
Don't take it the wrong way

 

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Ça te dit?

At the end of our last lesson, we introduced the question ça te dit (or ça vous dit), which literally means "does it say/speak to you," but is mostly used as an informal way of proposing something to someone. It's more or less equivalent to the English phrase "what do you say":

 

Du coup, je propose un apéro ce soir chez moi, dix-neuf heures. Ça vous dit?
So I propose an aperitif tonight at my place, seven p.m. What do you say?
Cap. 62, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 4

 

But ça te dit can be translated a number of other ways too, depending on its position in the sentence: 

 

Alors ça te dit
So are you interested?
Cap. 68, Le Jour où tout a basculé: J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils - Part 3

 

Ça te dit qu'on aille boire un thé?
How would you like to go have some tea?
Cap. 5, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Mes grands-parents sont infidèles - Part 5 

 

At the beginning of a sentence, ça te dit can precede either que or de. But be careful: the phrase ça te dit que requires the subjunctive, as you can see in the example above (qu'on aille). Ça te dit de, on the other hand, simply takes the infinitive:

 

Ça te dit d'aller boire un thé?
How would you like to go have some tea? 

 

Ça te dit has another meaning too. If you're not sure whether someone is familiar with what you're referring to, you can use the expression to double-check:

 

Non. Je connais pas Saguenay. -Bien, voyons, le fleuve, tout ça... non, ça te dit rien?
No. I don't know Saguenay. -Come on, the river, all that... no, that doesn't mean anything to you?
Cap. 53, Le Québec parle aux Français: Part 1

 

C'est situé dans le huitième arrondissement; je ne sais pas si ça vous dit quelque chose, mais voilà.
It's located in the eighth district; I don't know if that means anything to you, but there you go.
Cap. 18, Paris Tour: Visite guidée de Paris

 

Ça vous dit de regarder de nouvelles vidéos sur Yabla? 
 

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Ça se dit en français?

In Part 2 of "Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an," Danièle Gerkens, a journalist at Elle magazine, talks about the health benefits she experienced after cutting sugar from her diet for one year. When the year was almost up, she was expecting to break her sugar fast with mountains of whipped cream, but it was actually a single piece of dark chocolate that did her in:

 

Je me disais que j'allais me rouler dans la chantilly, et cetera. Et puis en fait, plus ça arrivait, plus je me disais, mais qu'est-ce que je vais faire?
I told myself that I was going to wallow in whipped cream, et cetera. And then in fact, the closer it came [to the end], the more I was wondering, but what am I going to do?
Cap. 102-104, Le Figaro: Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 2

 

Note the two different translations of je me disais here: "I told myself" and "I was wondering." The reflexive verb se dire can mean a number of things depending on context, namely "to tell/say to oneself" and "to wonder/think." In a sense, these both mean the same thing: when you wonder or think about something, you're telling yourself about it. 

 

When multiple people se disent, they could be thinking about something or telling themselves something, but they could also just be talking to each other: 

 

Christine et Alice sont de meilleures amies. Elles se disent tout. 
Christine and Alice are best friends. They tell each other everything.

 

Se dire can also mean "to say of oneself," or in other words, "to claim to be":

 

Le Charles de Gaulle, où la direction se dit d'abord victime de son image.
Charles de Gaulle [Hospital], where the management claims first of all to be a victim of its image.
Cap. 29, Le Journal: Hôpital ultra-moderne à Burkina Faso

 

Or se dire can simply mean "to be said," which has a few different connotations. Here Danièle is (somewhat cheekily) talking about something she thinks is taboo and can't be mentioned in public. Believe it or not, she's referring to her love of milk chocolate! 

 

Je sais, ça se dit pas, mais j'adorais ça.
I know you're not supposed to say it, but that's what I loved.
Cap. 112, Le Figaro: Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 2

 

In its most general sense, se dire refers to anything that "is said" in everyday language:

 

Par contre, "faire le beau" se dit d'un chien qui se tient sur les pattes arrière pour réclamer un sucre.
On the other hand, faire le beau is said of a dog that stands on its hind legs to beg for a lump of sugar.
Cap. 24-25, Margaux et Manon: Emplois du verbe faire

 

"Je n'ai pas des biscuits": ça se dit en français? -Non. Il faut dire: "je n'ai pas de biscuits".
Can you say je n'ai pas des biscuits in French? -No. You have to say je n'ai pas de biscuits [I don't have any cookies].

 

Don't confuse ça se dit with ça te dit (or ça vous dit in the plural), which means "how does that sound" or "how would you like..." (literally, "does it speak to you"):

 

Ça te dit de réviser les multiples sens de l'expression "se dire"? 
How would you like to review the multiple meanings of the expression se dire

 

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Avoir Beau

At the end of the second installment of Le Jour où tout a basculé: J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils, Sarah uses an interesting construction to express remorse about something she did at work: 

 

Et j'avais beau me dire que je l'avais fait pour Nino, j'avais vraiment honte.
And even though I told myself that I'd done it for Nino, I was really ashamed.
Cap. 55-56, Le Jour où tout a basculé: J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils - Part 2

 

Beau means "beautiful" or "handsome," but the expression "avoir beau + infinitive" doesn't have anything to do with beauty. It can mean a variety of things depending on context, but it generally describes a failed effort or something done in vain. Sometimes it's just a synonym of bien que, malgré, or quoique ("even though" or "although"), as in the example above: 

 

T'as beau le travailler, ça ne vient pas.
Even though you work at it, it doesn't come.
Cap. 67, Alsace 20: Laurent Chandemerle, l'homme aux 100 voix

 

Ça a beau être une pizzeria, nos prix sont assez élevés pour le commun des mortels.
Although it's a pizzeria, our prices are pretty high for the everyday mortal.
Cap. 5, F&F Pizza: Chez F&F

 

Or it can correspond to the English expressions "no matter what" or "no matter how hard": 

 

Elle a beau faire, son copain la critique toujours. 
No matter what she does, her boyfriend always criticizes her. 

 

J'ai beau trimer, sans toi ma vie n'est qu'un décor qui brille, vide de sens
No matter how hard I slave away, without you my life is just decor that shines, empty of meaning
Cap. 19, Indila: Dernière danse

 

When used with the verb essayer (to try), it means "try as one might":

 

Et j'ai eu beau essayer de le convaincre d'arrêter ses enfantillages, rien à faire.
And try as I might to convince him to stop his childish games, it was useless. 
Cap. 6-8, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Mes grands-parents sont infidèles - Part 4

 

And when used with être (to be), the expression is often translated as "may be" or "may well be": 

 

Yseult a beau être jeune, elle sait bien où elle veut aller.
Yseult may be young, but she knows exactly where she wants to go.
Cap. 5, Watt’s In: Yseult - La Vague Interview Exclu

 

Tu as beau être désolé, tu m'as blessé profondément. 
You may well be sorry, but you hurt me deeply.

 

Note that, while the English requires a "but" in both of these sentences, there's no need for a mais in the French. So you wouldn't say: Yseult a beau être jeune, mais elle sait bien où elle veut aller. 

 

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De quoi s'agit-il dans cette leçon?

In the latest segment of his tour of L'Isle-Adam, Daniel makes repeated use of the common expression il s'agit de:

 

Il s’agit tout simplement de la plus grande piscine fluviale de France.
Quite simply, it is the largest river pool in France.
Cap. 7, Voyage en France: L'Isle-Adam - Part 3 of 4

 

Il s’agissait du Tarzan de l'époque, le célèbre Johnny Weissmuller.
It was the Tarzan of the time, the famous Johnny Weissmuller.
Cap. 13, Voyage en France: L'Isle-Adam - Part 3 of 4

 

We could rewrite the above sentences with the expression c'est/c'était: C'est tout simplement la plus grande piscine fluviale..., C'était le Tarzan de l'époque.... But whereas c'est simply means "it is," il s'agit de can also mean "it's about" or "it's a question of." You can use it to specify something you just mentioned:

 

Il s’agit de voir où sont les abus.
It’s a question of seeing where the abuses are.
Cap. 12, Le Journal: Contrôle des prix alimentaires - Part 1

 

La seule prison qui se trouve dans Paris intra-muros, il s’agit de la prison de la Santé...
The only prison located within Paris itself, namely, the Santé [Health] Prison...
Cap. 19, Voyage dans Paris: Le Treizième arrondissement de Paris - Part 1
 


Or you can use it to describe the content of something, for example a movie. Here's a very basic synopsis of the movie Jaws

 

Dans ce film, il s'agit des attaques de requin.
This movie is about shark attacks [literally: "In this film, it's about/it's a question of shark attacks"]. 

 

S'agir is an impersonal verb, which means it can only be conjugated with the pronoun il. So you couldn't say, Ce film s'agit des attaques de requin, even though that might seem like a more direct translation of the English. 
 

The best way to understand the nuances of il s'agit de is to hear it in context. You can do a Yabla search to find all the videos containing this extremely common expression. 
 

Stay tuned for our next lesson and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com!

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Cette leçon est à vous!

In her latest video series, Patricia talks about the different ways of expressing possession in French. Though she mainly focuses on possessive adjectives (which correspond to "my," "your," "his/her," etc.) and possessive pronouns (which correspond to "mine," "yours," "his/hers," etc.), Patricia also uses another possessive construction throughout the videos. It's the expression à + stressed pronoun (moi, toi, lui, elle, nous, vous, eux, elles), which can be used as an alternative to a possessive pronoun: 

 

Si cette tasse est à moi... je dis: c'est la mienne.
If this cup is mine... I say: it's mine
Cap. 27-30, Le saviez-vous? - Les pronoms possessifs - Part 1

 

This expression usually follows the verb être, as in the example above, but you'll also find it in other contexts: 

 

J'ai trouvé une robe à elle dans le grenier. 
I found a dress of hers in the attic. 

 

Unlike possessive adjectives and pronouns, which change depending on the gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural) of the possessed object, this construction corresponds to the gender and number of the possessor:

 

Et si je veux dire que cette chaussure est à lui... je vais dire: c'est sa chaussure. 
And if I want to say that this shoe is his... I'm going to say: it's his shoe. 
Cap. 55-59, Le saviez-vous? - Les adjectifs possessifs - Part 1

 

Since chaussure is feminine and singular, the possessive adjective modifying it also needs to be feminine and singular (sa). But sa chaussure can either mean "his shoe" or "her shoe" depending on context. We know that Patricia means "his shoe" here because she says cette chaussure est à lui (this shoe is his). If she had said cette chaussure est à elle (this shoe is hers), then sa chaussure would mean "her shoe." 

 

You'll often find this construction in combination with a possessive adjective. Let's say you're at a dog park and you're telling someone whose dog is whose. If you say c'est mon chien (that's my dog), they'll immediately know that the dog in question belongs to you. But if you say c'est son chien (that's his or her dog), they might not know who you're referring to. You can specify by saying: 

 

C'est son chien à elle. / C'est son chien à lui
That's her dog. / That's his dog. 

 

The expression c'est à + stressed pronoun also has another meaning that has nothing to do with possession. It's the equivalent of the English expression "it's up to me, you, etc.": 

 

C'est à toi de décider ce que tu veux faire. 
It's up to you to decide what you want to do. 

 

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Getting the Facts Straight

In her new sci-fi series Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones, Patricia imagines a dystopian future in which all credit card companies have merged into one:

 

Du fait de nombreuses fusions, il ne reste plus qu'une société anonyme de cartes de crédit
Because of many mergers, there remains only one limited liability credit card company
Cap. 15, Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones: Part 1 

 

Du fait de is one of several French expressions that mean "because" (you can learn more about these expressions in our past lesson on the topic). It's also one of many expressions featuring the word fait, which you might recognize as a conjugation of the verb faire (to make, to do). But fait is also a noun meaning "fact"—du fait de literally means "from the fact of." In this lesson, we'll review some other "fact"-based expressions in French. 

 

Patricia uses a similar expression to du fait de earlier on in her video—de ce fait(therefore, literally "from this fact"):

 

De ce fait, toutes les procédures de paiement sont réalisées sans argent physique. 
Therefore, all payment procedures are performed without physical money. 
Cap. 13, Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones: Part 1 

 

Now that you know that fait means "fact," you can probably guess what en fait means. Alessandro uses it when interviewing a flea market vendor: 

 

Vous, c'est une véritable passion que vous partagez tous les jours en fait.
For you, it's a true passion that you share every day, in fact.
Cap. 6, Cap 24: Paris - Alessandro fait les Puces! - Part 1

 

The vendor responds in the next caption with another fait expression, tout à fait (exactly):

 

Oui, oui. Tout à fait
Yes, yes. Exactly.  
Cap. 7, Cap 24: Paris - Alessandro fait les Puces! - Part 1

 

Don't confuse en fait with au fait, which means "by the way" or "incidentally":
 

Ah, au fait, j'ai parlé à Vanessa de nos nouveaux voisins.
Oh, by the way, I spoke to Vanessa about our new neighbors.
Cap. 22, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 8 

 

En fait and au fait are easily confused not only because they look similar, but also because the t is pronounced in both of them. In most other instances of the word fait, the t is silent.  

 

If someone has done a good job on something, you can say, Bien fait! (Well done!) In this case fait isn't a noun but the past participle of the verb faire:

 

Oui, chef. Bien fait!
Yes, chief. Well done!
Cap. 6, Il était une fois... L'Espace: 3. La planète verte - Part 2 

 

As a noun, fait doesn't only mean "fact." It can also mean "event" or "occurrence" depending on the context:

 

Cette histoire est inspirée de faits réels.
This story is inspired by real events.
Cap. 29, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 1 

 

This lesson is now a fait accompli (accomplished fact). Thanks for reading! 

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Wild and Crazy

In her latest video, Patricia gives us an overview of French synonyms, or words with the same basic meaning but different nuances and intensities. To demonstrate, she illustrates some examples of synonyms for "happy" and "angry." She repeatedly uses the expressionêtre fou/folle de (to be mad or wild with) to describe the more intense degrees of those emotions:

 

Elles sont folles de bonheur.
They are mad with happiness.
Cap. 17, Le saviez-vous? - Les synonymes

 

You can use this expression to heighten just about any word describing an emotion:

 

Ils sont extatiques, fous de joie, béats.
They are ecstatic, overjoyed, blissful. 
Cap. 17, Le saviez-vous? - Les synonymes

 

Elles sont folles de colèrefolles de rage, horripilées. 
They are wild with angerraging mad, incensed. 
Cap. 52-54, Le saviez-vous? - Les synonymes

 

Or, you can use it with any other noun or pronoun to describe something or someone you're "crazy about": 

 

Non, je ne suis pas fou. Je suis seulement fou de vous!
No, I am not crazy. I'm only crazy about you!
Cap. 6, Charles-Baptiste: Interview

 

...qui montre la vie trépidante des jeunes, fous de voitures dans les années soixante-dix.
...that shows the hectic life of young people who are crazy about cars in the seventies.
Cap. 8, L'auteur: Bernard Colin

 

If you haven't already, check out Patricia's other videos in the Le saviez-vous? series for more of her excellent insights into French language and culture. 

 

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or comments, please write to us at newsletter@yabla.com or tweet us @yabla.

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Expressions with "En"

In part three of "Le Jour où tout a basculé: Nos bébés ont été échangés," one of our new videos this week, Anne-Sophie and Frédéric receive some shocking paternity test results that throw a wrench into their already troubled marriage. Less scandalously, the video also features three common set phrases featuring the pronoun en. Though en usually replaces de + a noun, it doesn't really translate to anything in these three idioms. It's just along for the ride. 

 

Anne-Sophie uses the first expression, ne pas en croire ses yeux (to not believe one's eyes), when describing her reaction to the unbelievable test results: 

 

Je n'en croyais pas mes yeux.
couldn't believe my eyes.
Cap. 5, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Nos bébés ont été échangés... - Part 3

 

Later, when she calls Frédéric to tell him the news, she says: 

 

Rappelle-moi de toute urgence. Je t'en supplie!
Call me back urgently. I beg you!
Cap. 12, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Nos bébés ont été échangés... - Part 3

 

Je t'en supplie (or je vous en supplie in formal speech) is an impassioned, urgent way of saying "please" (just like "I beg you" or "I implore you" in English). It's very similar to another en idiom, je t'en prie, which can mean the same thing:

 

Je t'en prie, arrête, arrête
I'm begging you, stop, stop
Cap. 30, Indila: Love Story 

 

But unlike je t'en supplie, je t'en prie can also mean "you're welcome": 

 

Oh, je t'en prie, y a pas de quoi, hein.
Oh, you're welcome. Don't mention it, OK?
Cap. 15, Plus belle la vie: 2772 - Part 5

 

The narrator uses the most idiomatic of these expressions when describing Frédéric's state of mind: 

 

Il lui en veut toujours mais la donne va bientôt changer.
He is still mad at her, but the situation will soon change. 
Cap. 16, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Nos bébés ont été échangés... - Part 3

 

Vouloir means "to want," but en vouloir à means "to be mad at." The en makes quite a difference here! Note the indirect object pronoun lui in this example, which stands for à + elle, as we mentioned in a previous lesson.

 

When you make this expression reflexive (s'en vouloir), it doesn't mean "to be mad at oneself," but rather "to feel guilty": 

 

Je m'en veux vraiment de ne pas t'avoir cru; je suis vraiment désolée.
I feel really guilty for not having believed you; I'm really sorry.
Cap. 3, Plus belle la vie: 2773 - Part 7

 

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or comments, please write to us at newsletter@yabla.com or tweet us @yabla.

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"Être en train de": Process and Progress

Être en train de is a handy French expression that describes an event in progress. It's always followed by an infinitive and is often translated as "to be in the process of" or "to be in the middle of":

 

Donc, je suis en deuxième année là; je suis en train d'achever ma formation.
So, I'm in my second year now; I'm in the process of completing my training.
Cap. 19, 4 Mains Pour 1 Piano: Médaillon de Homard - Part 1

 

Là je suis en train de régler les meules pour que le grain soit correctement écrasé.
Here I am in the middle of setting the millstones so that the grain is crushed correctly.
Cap. 4, Télé Lyon Métropole: Chaillé-les-Marais - Une biscuiterie 100 % familiale 

 

But just as often, être en train de can simply be translated with the present progressive tense ("to be doing," "to be making," etc.):

 

Donc, en ce moment, on est en train de faire des truffes cacao.
So, right now, we're making cocoa truffles.
Cap. 7, Canadian Chocolate Seller: Chocolats

 

In French, there is no difference between the present tense and the present progressive tense: on fait can mean both "we make" and "we are making." So the above example could also be written:

 

Donc, en ce moment, on fait des truffes cacao.
So, right now, we're making cocoa truffles. 

 

Être en train de emphasizes the fact that the activity is currently in progress (further emphasized above by en ce moment). In fact, "currently" is another possible translation of être en train de:

 

...je suis en train de travailler avec celui qui a fait "Pulp Fiction" 
...I'm currently working with the person who made "Pulp Fiction"
Cap. 7, Melissa Mars: From Paris With Love

 

You can also use être en train de to describe a continuing event in the past. In this case, it's synonymous with the imperfect tense: 

 

Quand j'ai fait cette photo, la baleine était en train de dormir.
When I took this picture, the whale was sleeping.
Cap. 25, Le Journal: Sillonner & photographier les océans

 

Quand j'ai fait cette photo, la baleine dormait.
When I took this picture, the whale was sleeping.

 

Here again, être en train de stresses the continuousness of the action: the whale was "in the process of" sleeping when the speaker took the picture. 

 

Être en cours de has the same meaning and function as être en train de, except it's usually followed by a noun instead of an infinitive:

 

Un immense chantier est en cours d'achèvement.
A huge construction project is being completed.
Cap. 23, Voyage dans Paris: Cour de l'Industrie - Part 1 

 

A final note: Make sure not to confuse en train with entrain, a noun meaning "enthusiasm" or "liveliness." Nous espérons que vous êtes en train d'étudier le français avec entrain! (We hope you're in the process of studying French with enthusiasm!)

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Se Passer: To Bypass and Pass By

The subject of Lionel's latest video is Article 49-3 of the French Constitution, which gives the prime minister the power to push through legislation without a parliamentary vote. The government most recently invoked Article 49-3 to push through a labor reform bill that has sparked much controversy in France. Public outcry over the bill culminated in the Nuit Debout protest movement, which Lionel has also been covering for Yabla. 

 

In his video, Lionel uses the verb phrase se passer de (to bypass, to do without) to describe the government's action: 

 

Au final le gouvernement a décidé de passer en force, et s'est passé du vote de l'Assemblée Nationale et du Sénat.
In the end, the government decided to force its passage, and bypassed the vote of the National Assembly and the Senate.
Cap. 7-8, Lionel L: Le 49-3

 

The de in se passer de is crucial. If you remove it, you'll get a completely different expression, as Lionel demonstrates later on in the video: 

 

…et que d'ores et déjà nous pouvons comparer à ce qui s'est passé en France
…and that already we can compare it to what happened in France
Cap. 19, Lionel L: Le 49-3


By itself, se passer means "to happen" or "occur," as in the expression, Qu'est-ce qui se passe? (What's happening?/What's going on?) You'll also hear it in the impersonal expression il s'est passé...: 
 

Et il s'est passé quelque chose de complètement inédit pour moi…
And something happened that was completely new for me…
Cap. 45, Watt’s In: Indila - Dernière Danse Interview Exclu


But that's not all! Se passer can also mean "to pass" or "pass by" when referring to a period of time:

 

Six mois se sont passés depuis ma dernière visite. 
Six months have passed since my last visit.


Stay tuned to Yabla to learn more about ce qui se passe (what's happening) throughout the French-speaking world!

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Cette leçon a l'air très instructive!

In this lesson, we'll introduce three different ways of saying "to look like" in French. 

 

The first expression is ressembler à, which looks a lot like the English word "resemble" (but note the extra s) and is used in much the same way: 

 

Chacun de tes gestes ressemble aux miens
Each of your gestures looks like mine
Cap. 2, Ina-Ich: Âme armée 

 

Ressembler is always followed by à, except when à is replaced by an indirect object pronoun: 

 

Elle me ressemble.
She looks like me
Cap. 31, Le saviez-vous? - La conjugaison au au présent, au passé et au futur 

 

The second expression, avoir l'air de, is more informal and figurative than ressembler à. Its literal translation is "to have the air/appearance of," but it generally means "to look like" or "to seem": 

 

Tu n'as pas l'air de trouver ça suffisant, Psi.
You don't seem to think that's sufficient, Psi. 
Cap. 41, Il était une fois... L'Espace: 6. La révolte des robots - Part 7

 

Ce chien a l'air d'un loup. 
That dog looks like a wolf.

 

When the expression is in front of an adjective, the de is dropped: 

 

Ça a l'air délicieux, mais j'ai des crampes à l'estomac, je peux rien avaler.
It looks delicious, but I have stomach cramps, I can't swallow anything.
Cap. 4, Plus belle la vie: 2772 - Part 3

 

Avoir l'air (de) can often be replaced with the verb sembler (to seem): 

 

Tu ne sembles pas trouver ça suffisant, Psi. 
You don't seem to think that's sufficient, Psi. 

 

Ça semble délicieux, mais j'ai des crampes à l'estomac, je peux rien avaler.
It looks delicious, but I have stomach cramps, I can't swallow anything.

 

Finally, there's on dirait, which literally means "one would say," but is often used idiomatically to mean "it looks like":  

 

À première vue, on dirait une pharmacie, mais non...
At first glance, it looks like a pharmacy, but no...
Cap. 1, Le Journal: Chocolats

 

On dirait qu'il va neiger. 
It looks like it's going to snow. 

 

The main difference between these expressions is that ressembler à is only used to compare similar things, whereas avoir l'air de/sembler and on dirait can also be used to convey an impression of something. 

 

We hope this lesson lived up to its title! Feel free to tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

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D'ailleurs, je vais ailleurs

Ailleurs is an adverb with a few different meanings. By itself, ailleurs means “elsewhere,” in both a literal and figurative sense:  

On te souhaite, ben, beaucoup de réussite, su tu vas en Australie ou ailleurs

We wish you, well, a great deal of success, whether you go to Australia, or elsewhere.

Cap. 80, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano: Médaillon de Homard - Part 3

Désolé, je n’ai pas entendu la question. J’avais la tête ailleurs.

Sorry, I didn’t hear the question. My mind was elsewhere. 

You can also find ailleurs in the more absolute phrases nulle part ailleurs (nowhere else) and partout ailleurs (everywhere else):

...et des poissons qu'on ne trouve nulle part ailleurs.

...and fish that one cannot find anywhere else.

Cap. 15, Le Journal: L’île de Pâques

La situation s’améliore partout ailleurs.

The situation is improving everywhere else.

Ailleurs can also be found in two common phrases that are used to add extra information to a topic. The first of these is par ailleurs (otherwise, additionally): 

La préfecture du Rhône a par ailleurs mis en place un centre d'appel 

Additionally, the Rhône Prefecture has set up a call center

Cap. 28, Le Journal: La grippe aviaire - Part 2

The second phrase, d’ailleurs, has a wide range of meanings: 

C'est un très bon vin et d'ailleurs je vous conseille de le boire.

It's a very good wine and I recommend that you drink it, for that matter.

Cap. 4, Actu Vingtième: Vendanges parisiennes

C'est d'ailleurs lui qui préface le livre.​

He's the one who prefaces the book, by the way.

Cap. 10, Alsace 20: 100 recettes pour 100 vins

Un très beau lieu d’ailleurs.

A very beautiful place, incidentally.

Cap. 66, LCM - Concert: La Folia à l’abbaye Saint-Victor

Both d’ailleurs and par ailleurs can be placed pretty much anywhere in a sentence. For instance, we could easily move the phrases from the middle of the sentence to the beginning in the examples above: 

Par ailleurs, la préfecture du Rhône a mis en place un centre d’appel

D’ailleurs, c’est lui qui préface le livre.

An easy way to learn the difference between these very similar phrases is to learn synonyms for them. Par ailleurs is generally synonymous with d’autre part and d’un autre côté (otherwise, on the other hand), while d’ailleurs is synonymous with du reste (furthermore), en outre (besides), and de plus (moreover). In other words, while d’ailleurs tends to be used to confirm what was previously said, par ailleurs is more often used to contradict it or provide an alternative. 

That pretty much covers all the uses of this word, but if you’re interested in looking ailleurs for some more translations and example sentences, this Larousse entry is a handy summary of everything we mentioned above.

 

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Prendre pour acquis - Taking for granted

You can tell from his soulful singing that Corneille is a sweet and sensitive man—but there is one thing we just can’t take for granted: knowing how to express that we are taking something for granted! First, take a look at what Corneille croons:

Et si je prends pour acquis mes chances / Fais-moi peur que plus jamais j’y pense

And if I take my luck for granted / Scare me so that I don't think of it ever again 

Captions 26-27, Corneille: Comme un fils

Corneille says that he doesn’t want to take his chances (his luck) for granted. The infinitive of this verb phrase is prendre pour acquis. As you may have guessed, it literally translates as “to take for acquired,” but what it really means is “to take for granted.” This phrase is popular in French Canada, where Corneille eventually settled after leaving Africa.

Now, if you are a real stickler for grammar, you are probably thinking that, because chances is feminine in gender and plural in number, Corneille should have made the adjective agree, using acquises instead of the masculine and singular acquis. However, in actual practice, French Canadians often don’t make the acquis in prendre pour acquis agree with the noun to which it refers, though some make the argument that they should.

Tenir pour acquis is the more traditional way to express the same sentiment, and is considered more “correct” (if not more popular). In France, both prendre pour acquis and tenir pour acquis are understood, but sound a bit formal and old-fashioned. The French prefer the phrase considérer comme acquis for use in common, everyday speech.

Ne considère pas mon amour comme acquis, ou tu risquerais de me voir partir

Don't take my love for granted, or one day you may find me gone.

So far we have been talking about “to take for granted” in the sense of under-appreciating your blessings. That’s all well and good, but what if you want to talk about “taking something for granted” in its alternate sense, that of “taking something as a given,” or “taking something as self-evident”? Similar to English, prendre pour acquis serves double duty, and can be used to express this meaning of “to take for granted” as well. Once again, this usage is more commonly heard in Canada, while a contemporary French person is more likely to just say that he or she is “sure” of the thing.

J’ai pris pour acquis que le facteur viendrait tous les jours, mais je me suis trompé. [Canada] 

J’étais sûr que le facteur viendrait tous les jours, mais je me suis trompé. [France]

I took for granted that the mailman would come daily, but I was wrong.

Nous prenons pour acquis que le prix de l’essence va augmenter. [Canada]

Nous sommes sûrs que le prix de l’essence va augmenter. [France]

We take for granted that the price of gas will go up.

Allant de soi (literally, “going from itself”) means being “obvious” or “a given.” When we place considérer comme before it, we get considérer comme allant de soi, which literally means “to consider as obvious” or “to consider as a given." This can often be best translated as “to take as self-evident” and is frequently used in scholarly writing.

La plupart des gens acceptent comme allant de soi que chaque ville-région n’ait qu’un seul gouvernement municipal.

Most people seem to regard it as self-evident that every city-region needs a single municipal government.

[from “Globalization Does Not Need Amalgamation” in Policy Options (Nov. 1999), a bilingual Canadian journal of public policy]

A related phrase that means “it's a given” is ça va de soi (literally, "it goes from itself"). This phrase, which is widely used in both France and Canada, is usually translated using the common English phrase “it goes without saying.” There is a more “proper” and formal version, cela va de soi, which is more often used in writing and less in casual conversation.

Sommes-nous heureux avec les résultats de l’élection? Ça va de soi! [Casual]

Sommes-nous heureux avec les résultats de l’élection? Cela va de soi! [Formal]

Are we happy with the election results? It goes without saying!

It is not at all unusual to hear a sentence begin with Ça va de soi que… as we see in the example below, but once again, we find there is a more formal version. Il va de soi que… is considered more “proper” and is therefore the construction you are more likely to see in written texts.

Ça va de soi que les Américains fondent beaucoup d’espoir sur leur nouveau président. [Less formal]

Il va de soi que les Américains fondent beaucoup d’espoir sur leur nouveau président. [More formal]

It goes without saying that Americans are hopeful about their new president.

There are many other ways and variations of expressing both meanings of “to take for granted” in French. If you’d like to learn a few more, read this interesting discussion.

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