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Four More "Faux Amis"

You may recall our previous lesson on three adverbs that were false cognates, or words that look similar in two languages but mean different things. In French, these are called faux amis (literally, “false friends”), and there are too many French-English ones to count. In this lesson, we’ll just focus on four more, all from our most recent videos

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We’ve been learning a lot about Galileo lately in the Il était une fois (Once Upon a Time) series, the third installment of which deals with the scientist’s experiments with pendulums, which move in a very specific way:

 

Vous allez voir que cet instrument va se balancer de moins en moins fort!

You'll see that this instrument is going to swing less and less intensely!

Caption 11, Il était une fois - Les découvreurs - 9. Galilée - Part 3

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You may have expected se balancer to mean “to balance,” but it actually means “to swing.” “To balance” is tenir en équilibre (literally, “to hold in equilibrium”).

In part four of the series, we finally get to the revolutionary idea that made Galileo famous and ultimately cost him his life

 

Vous vous rendez compte, mon cher, qu'ils se trouvent des savants pour prétendre que la Terre n'est pas le centre de l'univers!

You realize, my dear friend, that there are scientists claiming that the earth is not the center of the universe!

Captions 22-23, Il était une fois - Les découvreurs 9. - Galilée - Part 4

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Galileo didn’t “pretend” that the earth revolved around the sun—on the contrary, he was pretty sure of it! So sure, in fact, that he boldly “claimed” it. “To pretend” is faire semblant or feindre.

Prétendre is followed by que when you're making a claim ("to claim that..."), but when you're claiming a specific thing for yourself, you use prétendre à

Il peut prétendre à une allocation chômage.

He can claim unemployment benefits. 

On a different note, there’s no pretending that the angora rabbits on the Croix de Pierre Farm aren’t adorable, or that their breeder doesn’t take the utmost care to make sure that they’re warm and cozy:

 

Le plus galère pour eux c'est quand tu les épiles et que le temps n'est pas très au beau ou qu'il gèle très fort.

The toughest time for them is when you shear them and that the weather is not very nice or that there is a very hard frost.

Captions 19-20, Ferme de la Croix de Pierre - Les lapins

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Il gèle is an impersonal expression (more on those in this lesson) meaning “it’s freezing” or “there’s a frost,” and it comes from the verb geler. That may look like it might mean “to gel”—and indeed, the noun le gel means both “frost” and “gel”—but “to gel” is more like prendre forme (to take shape).

Finally, we’ll leave the French countryside for Montreal, where Geneviève Morissette has been making waves on the music scene as a singer-songwriter and as the host of the “Rendez-Vous de la Chanson Vivante” (Meetings of the Living Song) festival: 

 

Ça fait deux ans que je les anime.

I've been hosting them for two years.

Caption 4, Geneviève Morissette - À propos de la musique

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Geneviève certainly animates the festival with her impassioned lyrics and powerful voice (and animer can in fact mean “to animate” or “enliven”), but in this context the verb means “to host” or “present.” We could also say that Geneviève is l’animatrice (“host” or “presenter”) of the festival.

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Faux amis can be tricky (not to mention a bit sneaky), so be on the lookout for them when watching Yabla videos. Whenever you spot one you don’t know, you can just click on it to add it to your flashcards list. Then, once you review your flashcards, you’ll have it mastered in no time! Bonne chance (“good luck,” not “good chance”)!

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Less Is More with "Moins"

In our last lesson, we talked about the word plus (more) and how its different pronunciations affect its meaning. Now let’s take a look at the opposite of plusmoins (fewer, less)—which only has one pronunciation, but no fewer meanings! 

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Like plus, moins is an adverb of comparison, and can modify both adjectives and nouns. When it modifies an adjective, it’s usually followed by que to form the comparative phrase “less than.” In his video on French breakfast customs, Éric observes that cereal is less popular in France than it is in English-speaking countries: 

 

Et puis les céréales, mais c'est moins commun que chez vous, qu'aux États-Unis, qu'en Angleterre.

And then cereal, but that's less common than where you come from, than in the United States, than in England.

Captions 37-38, Arles - Le petit déjeuner

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When modifying a noun, moins is usually followed by de:

 

Il y a moins de bêtes à chasser.

There are fewer animals to hunt.

Caption 9, Il était une fois - Les Amériques - 1. Les premiers Américains

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You can even make moins a noun by putting le in front of it, in which case it means “the least”: 

C’est le moins que je puisse faire. 

That’s the least that I can do. 

When you put an adjective after le moins, the adjective becomes superlative: 

 

C'est le livre le moins cher et presque tous les éditeurs ont une collection de poche.

This is the cheapest book, and almost all publishers have a paperback collection.

Caption 36, Manon et Clémentine - Vocabulaire du livre

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Moins is also the basis for several common expressions. There’s the phrase à moins que (unless), which Adonis uses when singing about what he believes is the only acceptable reason for cutting down trees: 

 

À moins que ce soit pour faire Mes jolis calendriers

Unless it's to make My pretty calendars

Captions 4-5, Nouveaux Talents? - Adonis chante

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Try not to confuse à moins que with au moins, which means “at least”: 

 

Tout le monde connaît le Père Noël, tout le monde lui a écrit au moins une fois...

Everybody knows Santa Claus, everybody's written him at least once...

Caption 3, Télé Miroir - Adresse postale du Père Noël

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Finally, there’s de moins en moins (“fewer and fewer” or “less and less”):

 

Ça peut aider aussi à sauver les animaux, à ce qu'ils soient de moins en moins abandonnés.

That can also help save animals so that fewer and fewer are abandoned.

Caption 12, Grand Lille TV - Des photos contre l'abandon des animaux

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Since moins is a quantitative word like plus, it makes sense that it can be used with numbers as well. You’ll hear it the most often as a number modifier in expressions involving temperature, time, and basic arithmetic: 

 

Et voilà, me voilà parée pour, sortir par, moins zéro, moins quinze degrés.

And there we have it, here I am dressed to go out in below zero, negative fifteen degrees.

Caption 14, Fanny parle des saisons - S'habiller en hiver

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Il est dix heures moins le quart. 

It’s a quarter to ten. 

Deux plus cinq moins trois égale quatre.

Two plus five minus three equals four. 

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We hope you are plus ou moins satisfait(e) (more or less satisfied) with our presentation of plus and moins! And for any math whizzes out there, here’s an informative article on French math vocabulary beyond addition and subtraction. Why not try learning (or relearning) geometry in French? 

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C'est donnant donnant: French Expressions with "Donner"

Given that (étant donné que) it's the season of Thanksgiving (or Le Jour de l’Action de Grâce in Canadian French), let’s commemorate the act of giving by exploring the French verb for “to give,” donner. Besides thanks, there is an infinite number of things you can give, so we’ll focus on some specific expressions with donner that are featured in our videos. 

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Let’s start by giving some thanks to our favorite tour guide, Daniel Benchimol, who likes to close his always informative travel videos with the phrase donner rendez-vous

 

Je vous donne rendez-vous très rapidement pour d'autres découvertes.

I'll meet you very soon for some other discoveries.

Caption 45, Voyage dans Paris - Les Secrets de la Bastille

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Daniel is literally “giving you a rendezvous,” and you can accept his gift by watching his latest tour, which will take you around Paris’s beautiful Bastille neighborhood. 

It’s also good to give thanks for the rights (les droits) that we’re granted every day, whether our human rights or the occasional promotional perk: 

 

Une place de concert achetée donne droit également à une entrée gratuite au château.

A purchased concert seat also entitles you to a free entry to the castle.

Captions 27-28, TV Tours - Ouverture du 3ème festival de Chambord

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And let’s not forget about what we can give back to others, even if it’s just a helping hand: 

 

Je viens là et puis je leur donne un petit coup de main!

I come here and then I give them a bit of a helping hand!

Caption 24, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois

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If you’re dealing with someone stubborn, you might not want to give them anything or get anything from them—you might just want them to give in (se donner): 

 

Seul face à Beethoven encore et toujours, Beethoven qui résiste et qui se donne et s'enfuit.

Alone in front of Beethoven, as always, Beethoven who resists and who gives in and runs away.

Caption 18, Le Journal - Gstaad

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As a gift to you for being such great Yabla subscribers, here is a list of some other useful expressions with donner. Think of it as a bit of a donnant donnant (give and take) situation. For even more donner-related expressions, see our previous lesson on the word maldonne.

 

donner de sa personne - to give a lot of oneself, go out of one’s way

donner à penser que - to suggest, lead to believe

donner faim/soif/chaud/froid - to make hungry/thirsty/hot/cold 

donner sur - to look out onto 

donner dans - to lapse into

se donner à fond - to go all out, give it one’s all 

se donner du mal - to go to a lot of trouble

donner du fil à retordre - to give a hard time, give the runaround

se donner en spectacle - to make a spectacle of oneself 

s'en donner à cœur joie - to enjoy wholeheartedly

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The Reasons "Pourquoi"

In any language, it’s good to know how to explain the reasons for things. It’s great to say j’aime la langue française (I love the French language), but it’s even better to be able to say why (pourquoi) you love it. This lesson will show you some words that all answer the question, Pourquoi? 

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The most basic response to "why" is "because," and the most basic translation of "because" in French is parce que. This Frenchman in New York City uses parce que to explain why the Big Apple’s Bastille Day celebration makes him feel at home: 

 

Je pense que c'est bien parce que ça crée une atmosphère française.

I think it's a good thing because it creates a French atmosphere.

Caption 5, Bastille Day NYC - Le 14 juillet à New York

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In English, "because" can refer either to the reason behind something or the cause of something. The difference is subtle, but the French might help clear it up. Whenever you want to say "because of" something, use à cause de instead of parce que

 

J'ai pourtant passé une nuit horrible et triste à cause de toi!

Yet I spent a horrible and sad night because of you!

Caption 27, Les zooriginaux - Léa jacta est

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It helps that "because" and à cause de both include the word "cause"! Note that à cause de is most often used in negative or neutral situations—its more positive counterpart is grâce à (thanks to):

J'ai passé une nuit merveilleuse grâce à toi! 

I spent a marvelous night thanks to you!

"Because" is not the only word that answers "why," nor is parce que (or à cause de) the only phrase that answers pourquoi. There’s also "since," or puisque:  

 

C'est peut-être le temps de se préparer justement, puisque tout arrive très vite.

It may indeed be time to get ready, since everything happens very quickly.

Caption 27, JT - Risques d’avalanche sur les massifs des Alpes du Nord

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Note that puisque is one word, while parce que is two. Why is that, you may ask? Unfortunately that’s a question that has no real answer! 

Another way to give a reason for something is with the word "as," which in this case translates to car

 

Je vais au marché, car j'ai repéré une petite robe.

I'm going to the market, as I noticed a little dress.

Caption 24, Manon et Clémentine - Conjugaison du verbe aller

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You can also translate car more formally as "for" ("I’m going to the market, for I noticed a little dress"). Incidentally, the French word for a car that you drive is une voiture, but attention: un car (or un autocar) is also a vehicle in French—it means "coach," as in the kind of bus you might take on a long journey (a city bus is called un autobus).

The final French expression for giving a reason conveniently includes the word "reason" (raison) within it. The expression is en raison de, usually translated as "due to":

 

Cette race de géants va disparaître en raison d'une gravité terrestre devenue trop forte.

This race of giants was to disappear due to a terrestrial gravity which had grown too powerful.

Captions 40-41, La Conspiration d'Orion - Conspiration 1/4

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If you think the idea of a "race of giants" is totally unreasonable, watch the Conspiration d’Orion series and see if its conspiracy theories might convince you otherwise....

We hope that the reason you give when someone asks why your French is so amazing is: parce que j’utilise Yabla tous les jours (because I use Yabla every day)! 

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Quant à vous, qu'en pensez-vous?

In keeping with the Yabla French tradition of presenting three words that look or sound the same but mean different things (see our lessons on des, dés, and dès and si, si, and si), here are three more: quand, quant, and qu’en.

Of the three words, quand is the one you might be the most familiar with. It means “when,” both as an interrogative adverb (e.g. When are you going?) and as a conjunction (e.g. I’m going when I get off work). 

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In their discussion on multiculturalism, the R&B sister duo Les Nubians use quand as an adverb to speculate on a sort of global passport that would allow us all to become “universal citizens”:  

 

D'ailleurs quand est-ce qu'on invente le passeport?

By the way, when will they invent the passport?

Caption 26, Les Nubians - Le multiculturalisme

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As an interrogative adverb, quand can sometimes be replaced with à quel moment... or à quelle heure... (at what time…?). 

While Les Nubians are looking to the future, Axel reflects on the past in his tour of Paris’s Luxembourg Gardens, using quand as a conjunction: 

 

Je me rappelle quand j'étais petit, quand j'étais avec mes copains.

I remember when I was little, when I was with my friends.

Caption 58, Mon Lieu Préféré - Jardin du Luxembourg

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The other adverbial form of “when” is lorsque:

 

Lorsque je vous vois, je tressaille

When I see you, I quiver

Caption 19, Bertrand Pierre - Si vous n'avez rien à me dire

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Quand is also used fairly often in the expression quand même, which means “still,” “even though,” or “all the same”: 

 

Pas mal de nuages mais quand même des éclaircies.

Quite a few clouds but still some sunny spells.

Caption 9, Alsace 20 - Météo des Maquilleurs

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The words quand and quant are only off by one letter, so make sure not to confuse them in writing. Quant is always followed by à or one of its variants (à la, au, aux) and means “as for” or “regarding”:

 

Quant à l'adresse du destinataire, il s'agit du Père Noël.

As for the recipient's address, it's Santa Claus.

Caption 24, Télé Miroir - Adresse postale du Père Noël

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An expression to replace quant à is en ce qui concerne (concerning): En ce qui concerne l'adresse du destinataire, il s'agit du Père Noël.

Less confusable in writing is qu’en, which nevertheless sounds the same as quand and quant. Qu’en is a contraction of the relative pronoun que and the indefinite pronoun en and is used in phrases like:

Qu’en penses-tu?

What do you think about that

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As you may know, en replaces phrases beginning with de (or de la, du, des), so the above sentence could also be written as: Que penses-tu de cela? 

So what do you think about these three homonyms? (Quant à vous, qu'en pensez-vous?) We hope this lesson helped clear up any confusion you may have had! 

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Still and Always

The French words encore and toujours have a few different meanings, but they share one in common: "still." Because of this shared meaning, it’s easy to confuse these two very common words. Let’s take an in-depth look at both of them to see where they merge and diverge. 

In general, when you're using "still" in the sense of continuity (i.e. "to still be doing something"), encore and toujours are interchangeable. For example, "he is still on the phone" could be both il est encore au téléphone and il est toujours au téléphone

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Besides "still," the basic meanings of encore and toujours are: 

encore: more/another, again, yet

toujours: always, anyway/anyhow

Let’s start with encore. In their video for "La place des anges" (The Angels’ Place), the Belgian band Yaaz manages to fit two of encore’s meanings into one sad little line: 

 

Elle a encore peur, elle a encore pleuré

She is still afraid, she has cried again

Caption 13, Yaaz - La place des anges

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Hopefully she’ll be feeling better soon! On a different note, encore can also mean "another" or "more" (as in "one more," "two more," etc.), as the band Dahlia uses it in this song lyric: 

 

Encore une fois, encore une autre, et encore une voix, encore un manque

One more time, another one, and one more voice, another lack

Caption 25, Dahlia - Contre-courant

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So now do you see why a band’s return to the stage is called an "encore"? It’s because the audience wants to see them once again! 

Along these same lines, encore + a noun usually means "more of something," like food at the dinner table:

Vous voulez encore du pain?

Do you want some more bread? 

Encore can also mean "yet," usually in the sense of "not yet" (pas encore): 

 

Donc elle est pas encore prête pour la ferme.

So it's not ready for the farm yet.

Caption 8, Agriculture verticale - TerraSphere

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Now let’s explore toujours. Daniel Benchimol uses it as "still" when orienting us on his tour of the Normandy town of Honfleur: 

 

Toujours à Honfleur, nous sommes maintenant sur la place Sainte-Catherine.

Still in Honfleur, we are now in Sainte-Catherine Square.

Caption 17, Voyage en France - La Normandie: Honfleur

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And Fred uses it as "always" to describe the perpetually perfect weather in Miami:

 

Il fait toujours chaud, toujours beau, toujours agréable.

It's always warm, always nice, always pleasant.

Caption 34, Fred et Miami Catamarans - Fred et sa vie à Miami

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You can remember this meaning by breaking the word down: toujours is a combination of the words tous (all) and jours (days), so it literally means "all days."

The final meaning of toujours is "anyway":

Je ne vais probablement pas gagner à la loterie, mais je vais toujours essayer. 

I probably won’t win the lottery, but I’m going to try anyway

Since both of these words have quite a few meanings, context is key when determining which one they’re referring to. So if you receive a text message after a first date that reads, Tu as toujours envie de me voir?, don't freak out! Your potential love interest isn't asking you if you always feel like seeing him or her, but rather if you still feel like seeing him or her. You're just being asked out on a second date! Context is also important when the two words are used in the same sentence:

 

Il y a encore autre chose que nous t'avons toujours caché!

There is still another thing that we've always hidden from you!

Caption 6, Les zooriginaux - 3 Qui suis-je?

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We could rehash this subject encore et toujours (again and again), but maybe it’s best for you to explore these words on your own by looking out for them in the Yabla French videos. They should pop up quite often! 

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Bringing and Taking in French

The verbs "to bring" and "to take" are often interchangeable in English, but their French equivalents are much more specific, and knowing when to use them can be a bit tricky. French actually has four different translations of these two simple verbs: amener, emmener, apporter, and emporter.

 

You can see that each of these verbs begins with a- or em- and ends with mener or porter. Keeping that in mind will help you determine when to use which verb. You can break it down like this:

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1. The verbs ending in mener are only used for things that can move (namely people, animals, or vehicles). The verbs ending in porter are only used for inanimate objects. Mener means "to lead" and porter means "to carry"—you’re more likely to "lead" people and animals and "carry" inanimate objects.

 

2. The verbs beginning with a- refer to bringing something or someone to another place or another person (emphasis on the arrival or destination; remember that à means "to" in French). The verbs beginning with em- refer to taking something or someone with you, away from the original location (emphasis on the departure or the journey).

 

The first rule is pretty straightforward, but context is key for the second one. Let’s explore them both by looking at these two examples: 

 

Ils avaient emmené avec eux quelques animaux d'élevage.

They had brought with them a few farm animals.

Caption 24, Il était une fois - Notre Terre - 9. Les écosystèmes

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Ils avaient emporté des tonnes de conserves?

Did they bring tons of canned food?

Caption 23, Il était une fois - Notre Terre - 9. Les écosystèmes

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Farm animals are living, breathing creatures, and canned food is just about as inanimate as you can get, so it makes sense that emmené was used in the first sentence and emporté was used in the second. But why the em-verbs instead of the a-verbs? The words avec eux help us to see where the emphasis lies—not on where they brought the animals and food, but on the fact that they brought things with them.

 

Now let’s take a look at amener and apporter:

 

Aujourd'hui notre rendez-vous nous amène dans l'est de Paris.

Today our rendezvous brings us to the east of Paris.

Caption 2, Voyage dans Paris - Belleville

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Vous voulez que je vous apporte une paire pour que vous puissiez comparer?

Do you want me to bring you a pair so that you can compare?

Caption 27, Margaux et Manon - Magasin de chaussures

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Our rendezvous with tour guide Daniel Benchimol is "bringing" us to the east of Paris, so amener is used here, since we’re all animate human beings. On the other hand, Manon brings Margaux a pair of inanimate shoes to try on, so she uses apporter. In both cases, the emphasis is on where we and the shoes are being brought—to the east of Paris and to Margaux.

 

As a final example, let's see how one situation can call for both types of verbs. We already saw that apporter was the right verb to use when Manon asked Margaux if she wanted her to bring her a pair of shoes to try on. But if the shoes don't fit, Margaux could say to Manon: 

 

Emportez-les, elles sont trop petites. 

Take them away, they're too small.  

 

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She wants Manon to bring the shoes back with her (not necessarily to any particular place), so emporter is the right fit here.  

 

This is a lot to take in, so you might need some time to chew it over. In fact, why not go to a restaurant and review it all over a nice meal? If you decide to amener un ami (bring a friend) you'll want to have it sur place (to stay); if you're alone you might want to take it à emporter (to go)!

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Face-to-face with "la face"

In his new travel video on the Parisian suburb of Saint-Mammès, Daniel Benchimol uses the word face quite frequently when giving directions on getting around town: 

 

Face aux péniches de Saint-Mammès, arrêtez-vous quelques instants face au numéro quarante-et-un.

Facing the barges of Saint-Mammès, stop for a few moments in front of number forty-one.

Captions 8-9, Voyage en France - Saint-Mammès

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Face à Saint-Mammès, nous sommes à Saint Moret-sur-Loing maintenant.

Opposite Saint-Mammès, we are in Saint Moret-sur-Loing now.

Caption 40, Voyage en France - Saint-Mammès

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Face à is a useful expression meaning "facing," "in front of," or "opposite." You can even put the verb faire in front of it to make the verbal expression for "to face," in the sense of both "to be in front of" and "to cope with": 

 

La NASA a dû faire face à une avalanche de données et de preuves embarrassantes.

NASA had to face an avalanche of data and embarrassing evidence.

Caption 7, La Conspiration d'Orion - Conspiration 3/4

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The word face is used in a number of other directional expressions, such as en face (across, opposite), as the lead singer of Babylon Circus uses it when lamenting the seating arrangement of him and his love interest: 

 

 Je suis assis en face, et pas à tes côtés

I'm sitting across from you and not by your side

Caption 23, Babylon Circus - J'aurais bien voulu

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They might not be sitting close, but at least they’re maintaining eye contact by sitting face à face (face-to-face)!

Unsurprisingly, the French face is related to the English "face," but it usually doesn’t refer to the front part of your head. French actually has two words for that: la figure and le visage. (To see some incredible French faces, check out our interview with artist and master visage-painter Niko de La Faye.)

Sometimes face can in fact mean "face," mainly in a figurative sense: 

 

Ça change pas la face du monde, mais qui sait?

That doesn't change the face of the world, but who knows?

Caption 26, Le Journal - Laurent Voulzy

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Il peut voir la face cachée des choses.

He is able to see the hidden face of things. 

 

If you're particularly concerned about your reputation, you might make a lot of effort to sauver la face (save face) or worry that you might perdre la face (lose face). 

By itself, la face generally just means "side" (synonymous with le côté). Chef Wodling Gwennaël uses face in this way when explaining his delicious recipe for fried scallops: 

 

On va les saisir, euh, à peu près une minute sur chaque face.

We're going to sear them, uh, for about one minute on each side.

Caption 14, Les Irrésistibles - Recette: Saint-Jacques poêlées

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Face also applies to the side of a coin, namely, the "heads" side (that is, the side that usually features someone's face). So whenever you want to settle something in French with a coin toss, you can say: 

Pile ou face

Heads or tails?

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Voyons les choses en face (let’s face it): the word face has many faces! In other "face"-related news, make sure to check out our Facebook page for all the latest information from Yabla. 

 

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Si la chaussure chausse bien...

In one of our latest videos, our friends Margaux and Manon revisit their childhood for a bit by playing shop. Margaux, the customer, sees a pair of shoes she likes, and Manon, the shopkeeper, asks her what size she is:

 

Vous faites du combien?

What shoe size are you?

Un bon trente-sept.

A solid thirty-seven [American size seven].

Captions 21-22, Margaux et Manon - Magasin de chaussures

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If it’s not quite obvious what Manon’s question has to do with shoe sizes, keep in mind that the phrase "faire du + [shoe size]" means "to wear a size x."

(And if Margaux’s size thirty-seven seems impossibly large, note that shoe-sizing scales vary from one region of the world to another. You can use this handy chart for all your future foreign shoe purchases.)  

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Another way of saying "to wear a size x" is "chausser du + [shoe size]":

Vous chaussez du combien?

What shoe size are you?

Je chausse du trente-sept.

I wear a size thirty-seven.

The French word for "shoe size" is la pointure (as opposed to the word for clothing size, la taille). So yet another way of rephrasing Manon’s question would be: 

Quelle est votre pointure?

What shoe size are you?

Chausser is a pretty important verb when it comes to shoes (les chaussures). Besides its meaning above, it can also refer to "putting on" shoes or anything that covers your feet... even rollerblades!

 

La chose qui me fait le plus plaisir, c'est de chausser, d'aller rouler.

The thing that gives me the most pleasure is to put on my blades, to go and roll.

Caption 6, Cap 24 - Démonstration de roller freestyle

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Manon takes the verb even further when describing how Margaux’s shoes might fit:

 

Je vais vous prendre un trente-sept et un trente-huit, mais elles chaussent grand.

I'll get you a thirty-seven and a thirty-eight, but they run big.

Caption 23, Margaux et Manon - Magasin de chaussures

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Luckily, Margaux’s shoes chaussent bien (fit well)!

If you’re talking about wearing shoes (or any other article of clothing), the verb to use is porter:

Margaux porte des escarpins noirs.

Margaux is wearing black pumps.

 

J'ai plus besoin de porter cette écharpe.

I don't need to wear this scarf anymore.

Caption 27, Flora - et le théâtre

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If black pumps aren't your thing, you can try some of these on for size:            

les sandales - sandals

les chaussons/les pantoufles - slippers

les chaussures de sport/de tennis - sneakers

les mocassins - loafers, flats              

les bottes - boots

les ballerines - ballet shoes

les chaussures à talons hauts - high heels

les tongs - flip-flops 

les chaussures de marche - hiking boots 

les sabots - clogs

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Now that you know all about buying shoes in France, why not try reenacting Margaux and Manon’s dialogue with a friend? You can go shopping after!

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"Un Briefing" on English Loanwords in French

Just as English contains a large number of French loanwords, you’ll also find a good deal of anglicismes in French. In this lesson, we’ll focus on a specific group of English loanwords to French, all ending in -ing.

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Like most loanwords, many of these -ing words have the same meaning in both languages, such as un meeting (a meeting), le marketing (marketing), un kidnapping (a kidnapping), le baby-sitting (babysitting), le shopping (shopping), and le jogging (jogging):

 

Elle fait son jogging sur la banquise.

She's out jogging on the ice field.

Caption 40, Les zooriginaux - Léa jacta est - Part 3

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There are quite a few -ing words related to sports or other physical activities, including le footing (jogging), le bowling (bowling or bowling alley), le stretching (stretching), le karting (go-karting), le body-building (body-building), and le camping (camping or campsite). In case you haven't noticed, these -ing loanwords are always masculine, so you won't have to worry about gender here!       

Sometimes, these words have slightly different meanings from their English counterparts. Le parking, for example, doesn’t mean "parking," but "parking lot," like the one that was formerly the site of a beautiful hotel near the castle of Fontainebleau:

 

Aujourd'hui, derrière, malheureusement, il ne reste plus qu'un parking.

Today, behind it, unfortunately, all that's left is a parking lot.

Caption 25, Voyage en France - Fontainebleau

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(The parking lot probably takes away from the splendor of Fontainebleau, but who knows—maybe someone will find a king buried beneath it, as Richard III was found in England.)

A fair number of French -ing words deal with beauty and grooming, such as the two hair-related words le shampooing (shampoo) and un brushing (a blow-out). Note that while most -ing loanwords sound very similar to the English, shampooing sounds completely different (it rhymes with poing, "fist"). You can hear the difference in these captions:

 

Ici le shampooing, le savon de corps, et le savon menthe.

Here the shampoo, the body soap, and the mint soap.

Caption 28, Visiter un yacht - Visite du yacht

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Les brushings des serveuses se répandent

The waitresses' blow-outs [hairstyles] spread

Caption 31, Boulbar - Motor Hotel

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On the more extreme side of cosmetic -ing words, there’s un relooking (a makeover) and un lifting (a facelift). Of course, for your relooking, if you don't want to go all the way with a lifting, you could just get un peeling (a facial peel). And for proper grooming before a black tie affair, it’s always good to make sure one’s smoking (tuxedo) is perfectly clean:  

Il y a du chewing-gum sur mon smoking, donc je dois l’apporter au pressing avant la fête.  

There’s gum on my tuxedo, so I have to bring it to the dry cleaner’s before the party.

And don't forget that if you ever get du chewing-gum in your hair, you can wash it out with du shampooing!  

Keep on the lookout for some other -ing anglicismes in your Yabla French studies and see how similar or different their meanings are to their English source words. You can use this helpful WordReference forum thread as a guide.  

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Coup: A Violent but Versatile Word

You may have heard the word "coup" in English before, in phrases like "a major coup" (a successful, unexpected action), "a coup d’état" (a sudden overthrow of a government), or even "a coup de grâce" (a deathblow). In French, un coup means "a blow," "stroke," or "shot," and the construction "un coup de + noun" can give rise to a wide variety of expressions. Un coup d’état, for example, is literally "a blow of the state," and un coup de grâce is "a stroke of grace." 

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Two very common expressions with coup are un coup de poing (a punch or "strike of the fist") and un coup de pied (a kick or "strike of the foot"). But coup doesn’t always have to refer to violence! In general, "un coup de + noun" can just refer to something that happens very quickly. It’s often used in sports lingo, as Caroline uses it in her how-to video on the basics of badminton: 

 

C'est un petit coup comme ça, un petit coup de raquette.

It's a little shot like this, a little stroke with the racket.

Caption 33, Caroline - et le badminton

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And in French soccer terminology, you have un coup d’envoi, a "sending shot" (better known as a "kickoff"):

 

Une demi-heure avant le coup d'envoi.

Half an hour before kickoff.

Caption 29, Le Journal - Le football - Part 1

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Have you ever been spooked by a "clap of thunder"? That’s un coup de tonnerre in French, and as the band Château Flight points out, it can be a beautiful thing:

 

Ainsi qu'un coup d'tonnerre Dont la beauté sidère

As well as a thunderbolt Whose beauty astonishes

Captions 10-11, Château Flight featuring Bertrand Burgalat - Les antipodes

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And let's not forget the counterpart of un coup de tonnerre, un coup de foudre (a lightning strike), which can also mean "love at first sight." 

In contrast with the violent coup de poing and coup de pied, there is the much more benevolent coup de pouce or "stroke of the thumb." This is the phrase for a "helping hand" or a "push in the right direction," and it’s also the name of a French organization that held a contest to benefit abandoned pets:

 

Un concours organisé par l'Association Coup de Pouce.

A competition organized by the "Coup de Pouce" [Push in the Right Direction] Association.

Caption 15, Grand Lille TV - Des photos contre l'abandon des animaux

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Besides the construction "coup de + noun," two other expressions with coup are quite common: tout d’un coup (all of a sudden) and du coup (as a result):

 

Jai des images dans la tête et puis tout d'un coup ça devient réalité.

I have images in my head and then all of a sudden that becomes reality.

Caption 26, Melissa Mars - Ses propos

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Donc du coup on devient très créatif.

So as a result you become very creative.

Caption 16, Les Nubians - Les origines et les influences

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The list of coup expressions could fill a book, but here are some more interesting ones:

un coup d’essai – a trial run

un coup d’œil – a glance

un coup de chapeau – a pat on the back ("hat’s off")

un coup de chance – a stroke of luck

un coup de fil – a phone call

un coup de soleil – a sunburn

un coup de vent – a gust of wind

un coup de théâtre – a turn of events

un coup de cœur – a favorite, an infatuation 

un coup fourré – a dirty trick

boire un coup – to have a drink 

faire d'une pierre deux coups – to kill two birds with one stone 

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We hope you’re not experiencing un coup de barre (a sudden fatigue) and that you will be able to tenir le coup (cope) with learning so much about this little word! If you do need to unwind, why not watch a movie? We here at Yabla recommend one of the defining films of the French New Wave movement, François Truffaut's Les quatre cents coups ("The Four Hundred Blows"; the phrase faire les quatre cents coups means "to live a wild life"). 

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Tenir: To Have and to Hold

Avoir is the general French verb for "to have," but if you’re talking about something that you physically have, tenir might be the better verb to use. The simplest meaning of tenir is "to hold." This is the way the singer Corneille uses it in one of our most popular music videos, Comme un fils (Like a Son):

 

Tiens ma tête quand elle fait plus de sens.

Hold my head when it no longer makes sense.

Caption 28, Corneille - Comme un fils

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When it’s not referring to something that you’re holding in your hand, tenir can also be used for something that you keep, maintain, or manage, such as a restaurant:          

 

Aller chez Gilles Spannagel qui tient Le Cruchon, qui est le petit restaurant...

To go visit Gilles Spannagel who owns Le Cruchon [The Little Jug], which is the little restaurant...

Caption 23, Strasbourg - Les passants

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Or it can refer to something that is attached to something else, like needles on a Christmas tree:

 

Des épines qui tiennent plus longtemps...

Needles that stay on longer...

Caption 7, TV Tours - Une seconde vie pour vos sapins de Noël?

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Tenir also applies to situations in which you are compelled to do something, in the expressions tenir à and être tenu(e) de:

 

Je tiens à préciser que la Bretagne a son charme aussi.

I have to mention that Brittany has its charms too.

Caption 13, Fanny et Corrine - Leurs origines

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Mais ils sont tenus d'avoir... un certificat de capacité.

But they are required to have... a certificate of competency.

Caption 48, TV Sud - Fête de la Tortue 2012

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Tenir à can also mean "to be fond of," "to be attached to," or "to care about":

Elle tient à son emploi.

She is fond of her job. 

And when you make tenir reflexive (se tenir), it means "to stand," "remain," or "behave." Can you imagine walking into someone’s house and seeing a llama standing in the living room?

 

C'est bien un lama qui se tient fièrement en plein milieu d'un salon.

That's really a llama proudly standing in the middle of a living room.

Caption 2, Angers 7 - Un lama en plein appartement

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Tiens-toi tranquille, hein sinon!

Hold still, OK, or else!

Caption 5, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 10. Amerigo Vespucci

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Les enfants se tiennent bien.

The children are behaving themselves. 

You can also use tiens, the singular imperative form of tenir, for the interjection "look" (or more literally, "behold"):

 

Tiens, ça doit être bon, ça!

Look, this should be good!

Caption 24, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 10. Amerigo Vespucci

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The verb détenir is related to tenir and is often translated the same way, though it has the specific connotation of "to possess" or even "detain":

 

...qui autorise des gens à détenir des animaux, des tortues chez eux.

...which allows some people to keep animals, turtles, at home.

Caption 47, TV Sud - Fête de la Tortue 2012

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Crois-moi, tu détiens là, la base de toute connaissance.

Believe me, you hold there the basis of all knowledge.

Caption 13, Il était une fois... l’Homme - 6. Le siècle de Périclès

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BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Even if you don’t hold the basis of all knowledge, with this lesson you should hold everything you need to make good use of the verb tenir. You can check out the WordReference page on the verb for even more uses. So soyez sûr de retenir le verbe tenir (be sure to hold onto the verb tenir)! 

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Five Ways of Saying "Only"

"Only" might seem like a pretty lonely word, but there are actually several different ways of saying it in French: the adjectives seul(e) and unique, the adverb seulement and uniquement, and the verb phrase ne... que.

First let’s take a look at the words seul(e) and seulement:

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Parce que le mardi, c'est le seul jour où je ne travaille pas.

Because Tuesday is the only day when I don't work.

Caption 10, Fred et Miami Catamarans - Fred et sa vie à Miami

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Aussi je vais dire seulement trois choses.

Also I am only going to say three things.

Caption 10, Le Journal - Joëlle Aubron libérée

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Seulement is the adverbial form of the adjective seul(e), which has another similar (and sadder!) meaning as well:

 

Alors je me retrouve un petit peu seul en ce moment.

So I find myself a little alone right now.

Caption 5, Hugo Bonneville - Gagner sa vie

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Some other ways of saying "alone" or "lonely" are solitaire and isolé(e).

And seulement has some additional meanings of its own. It can be used to express a regret ("if only...") and to mean "however":

Si seulement je l'avais su avant. 

If only I had known before.

Il veut venir, seulement il ne peut pas.

He wants to come, however he can't. 

Although unique and uniquement are most directly translated as "unique" and "uniquely," they can also mean "only":

 

Je suis un enfant unique.

I am an only child. 

 

Ce que l'on demande, c'est d'avoir uniquement la photo de l'animal.

What we're asking is to have only the photo of the animal.

Caption 17, Grand Lille TV - Des photos contre l'abandon des animaux

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Now let’s look at a bit more complicated way of saying "only": the verb phrase ne... que. As you might have guessed, ne... que is a negative construction, as in ne... pas (not), ne... personne (no one), and ne... rien (nothing). In these constructions, the two components go on either side of the verb:

 

Il ne mesure que soixante-dix mètres carrés,

It only measures seventy square meters,

Caption 8, Voyage dans Paris - Saint-Germain-des-Prés

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Moi je ne parlais que français.

Me, I spoke only French.

Caption 10, Annie Chartrand - Grandir bilingue

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Most of the time, ne... que can be replaced with seulement:

Il mesure seulement soixante-dix mètres carrés.

It only measures seventy square meters.

Moi, je parlais seulement français.

Me, I spoke only French. 

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Sometimes, que can mean "only" outside of the ne... que construction. For example, in an interview with Le Figaro, A-lister Ashton Kutcher laments being typecast as a jokester, declaring: "Je ne suis pas qu’un clown!" (I’m not only a clown!)

The ne in this sentence goes with pas (not), while the que stands on its own to mean "only." Ashton (or his translator) could just as well have said, Je ne suis pas seulement un clown! 

Maybe the former "Punk’d" star can shed his clownish reputation by undertaking some serious French studies at Yabla French! Since he’s known to be an avid tweeter, he might want to start by following us on Twitter @Yabla. And you should follow us too!  

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Monter's Many Meanings

Monter is a French verb that can come in handy in many situations. We find the most basic meaning of the verb in our interview with Joanna, whose apartment is so tiny that her entire kitchen fits inside a cupboard! And although living on the ground floor means she doesn’t have to climb any stairs, she does have to climb a ladder to get to her bed.

 

J'habite au rez-de-chaussée, donc je n'ai pas besoin de monter les escaliers.

I live on the ground floor, so I don't need to go up the stairs.

Caption 6, Joanna - Son appartement

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C'est pour dormir, avec mon lit, et je dois monter à cette échelle.

It's for sleeping, with my bed, and I have to climb this ladder.

Caption 14, Joanna - Son appartement

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Joanna uses the verb monter to describe going up the stairs and climbing the ladder. Although “to go up” is the verb's most basic meaning, there are quite a few others. For example, a price or a level of something can also monter:

Le prix de l’essence monte chaque année.

The price of gas rises every year. 

Jean-Marc also uses the verb to talk about getting inside his dream car:

 

À chaque fois que je monte dedans,  j'y prends beaucoup de plaisir.

Every time I get in, I enjoy it very much.

Caption 13, Jean-Marc - Voiture de rêve

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The opposite of monter is descendre (to go down), and just as monter can refer to getting into a car or onto a bus or train, descendre refers to getting out or off:

On va monter dans le train à Bastille et descendre à République.

We’ll get on the train at Bastille and get off at République. 

Note that it’s monter dans le train (literally, “to go up into the train”) and descendre du train (to descend from the train).

When monter is used with a direct object, it can mean “to put up,” “set up,” “establish,” or “put together”:

 

C'était un peu une façon pour moi et de faire un film et de monter une pièce.

It was kind of a way for me to make not only a film but also to stage a play.

Caption 18, TLT Toulouse - Dorfman mis en scène à Toulouse

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Il a réussi à monter sa propre pizzeria.

He succeeded in opening his own pizzeria.

Caption 3, Le Journal - Les microcrédits

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Donc, le crapaud il va falloir beaucoup plus de temps pour le monter.

So for the squat, it will take much longer to put it together.

Caption 37, Le Tapissier - L'artisan et son travail

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Speaking of direct objects, it’s good to know what to do with monter in the past tense (passé composé). Monter is one of the few verbs that usually takes the auxiliary être in the passé composé instead of avoir:

Joanna est montée à l’échelle. 

Joanna climbed the ladder.

But when monter takes a direct object and becomes transitive, it does take avoir:

Nous avons monté une pièce.

We staged a play.

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

The passé composé is a very tricky aspect of French grammar. You can find a detailed introduction to it here.

This lesson just dips its toe into the verb’s numerous possibilities: you can also monter un film (edit a film), monter à cheval (ride a horse), monter un complot (hatch a plot), monter au combat (go to battle), monter des blancs d’œufs (whisk egg whites), and much more!

You can find a comprehensive list of monter's meanings on this site.

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Tu peux y arriver!

In this lesson, we’ll focus on the verb arriver, which has four different but equally common meanings. As you might guess, arriver is cognate with the English word “arrive,” which is the first meaning of the word:

 

On arrive au square de l'Opéra Louis Jouvet, que je trouve très joli aussi.

We arrive at the Opéra Louis Jouvet Square, which I also find very pretty.

Caption 40, Mon Lieu Préféré - Place Édouard VII

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Just as “arrive” doesn’t only refer to reaching a specific location (you can “arrive at” a solution, for example), arriver can also mean “to manage” or “succeed”:

 

On arrive enfin à se mettre d'accord.

We manage finally to come to an agreement.

Caption 18, Rémy de Bores - Auteur

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The expression y arriver specifically means “to make it” or “do it”:

 

Pour sortir des toilettes, c'est vraiment extrêmement étroit et avec le fauteuil, on y arrive...

To come out of the restroom, it's really extremely narrow and you can do it with the wheelchair...

Captions 19-20, Le Journal - Manifestation de paralysés

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And if someone is waiting for you and you’re on your way, you can use arriver to let them know that you’re coming (or arriving):

Dépêche-toi, Michel, je suis en retard! -Oui, j’arrive!

Hurry up, Michel, I’m late! -Yes, I’m coming

 

Car Ivan arrive; le cyclone progresse à trente kilomètres / heure.

Because Ivan is coming; the cyclone is moving at thirty kilometers per hour.

Caption 12, Le Journal - La Martinique

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The final meaning of arriver is “to happen.” In this sense, it is synonymous with the verb se passer:

 

Ce qui ne m'était pas arrivé depuis six ans.

Which had not happened to me for six years.

Caption 24, Voyage en France - La Normandie: Cabourg

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Qu’est-ce qui se passe?

What’s happening

There is also the expression il arrive que... (it happens that...), which is usually translated as “sometimes”:

Il arrive que les rêves se réalisent.

Sometimes dreams come true.

Note that il arrive que... takes the subjunctive.

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So whether someone or something is arriving, succeeding, coming, or happening, you can cover a lot of ground with the verb arriver. See if you can come up with sentences for each of its meanings! 

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Chez moi, c'est chez toi!

Chez is one of those few French words with no exact English equivalent. It’s a preposition that can be literally translated as "at the home of" or "at the establishment of," as Alex Terrier uses it when describing his early music influences.

 

Ensuite j'ai découvert chez mes parents des disques trente-trois tours...

Then I discovered at my parents' place some thirty-three rpm records...

Caption 11, Alex Terrier - Le musicien et son jazz

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It can also be used in front of a surname to indicate a family household:

 

Chez les Marchal, le bac c'est une affaire de famille.

At the Marchals', the bac is a family affair.

Caption 23, Le Journal - Le baccalauréat - Part 1

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(Note that French surnames don’t take an extra s when pluralized: les Marchal.)

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Or it can be used with disjunctive pronouns (moi, toi, soi, etc.) to mean "at my house," "at your house," or even just "at home":

 

L'hiver, les gens préfèrent rester chez eux...

In the winter, people prefer to stay at home...

Caption 1, Fanny parle des saisons - La Bouffe

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You can also use chez for businesses, offices, restaurants, and other commercial locations: 

 

Je suis pizzaman chez F&F Pizza, un shift par semaine.

I'm a pizza man at F&F Pizza, one shift per week.

Caption 2, F&F Pizza - Chez F&F - Part 1

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J'ai rendez-vous chez le dentiste et je suis en retard!

I have an appointment at the dentist and I'm late!

Caption 10, Micro-Trottoirs - Art ou science?

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But chez doesn’t only refer to buildings! Quite often, you will also see it used more figuratively. For example, just as "at home" can mean "in one’s house," "in one's country/native land," and just "familiar" in general, chez soi (or chez nous, chez moi, etc.) carries all those meanings as well: 

 

On se sentait absolument chez nous.

We felt right at home.

Caption 23, Les Nubians - Le multiculturalisme

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Finally, when describing something "about" or "in" a person, "among" a group of people, or "in the work of" an author or artist, chez is the word to use: 

 

Je l'ai retrouvée, je l'ai vue chez toutes les femmes, toutes les filles.

I recognized it, I saw it in all the women, all the girls.

Caption 53, Alphabétisation - des filles au Sénégal

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Les pâtes sont très populaires chez les Italiens.

Pasta is very popular among Italians

 

Il y a beaucoup de figures bizarres chez Salvador Dalí.

There are many bizarre figures in the work of Salvador Dalí.

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We chez Yabla encourage you to speak French as much as you can chez vous

 

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Three "Faux Amis"

Take a look at these three words: éventuellement, actuellement, forcément. If you read one of our previous lessons, you would probably guess that these words are all adverbs. And you would be right! You might also guess that they mean "eventually," "actually," and "forcefully." No such luck this time. These words are all false cognates (or faux amis, literally "false friends"), which are words that look similar in two languages but mean different things. French and English share too many faux amis to include in one lesson, so for now we'll focus on these three deceptive adverbs.

Éventuellement is synonymous with possiblement, which means "possibly" (no false friends there!). It can also be more specifically translated as "when necessary" or "if needed." 

 

Éventuellement dans... dans telle ou telle de cir'... situation...

Possibly, in... in such and such a cir'... situation...

Caption 19, Actu Vingtième - La burqa

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Aujourd'hui il y a dix-sept médicaments disponibles, utilisés éventuellement en combinaison.

Today there are seventeen medications available, sometimes used in combination.

Caption 17, Le Journal - Le sida

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"Eventually" is usually translated as finalement (finally) or tôt ou tard (sooner or later):

J'ai décidé finalement de ne pas aller à la fête.

I eventually decided not to go to the party. 

Nous y arriverons tôt ou tard

We'll get there eventually

Our second adverb, actuellement, is not "actually," but "currently" or "presently":

 

Actuellement sans travail, ils résident aujourd'hui près de Saintes, en France...

Currently unemployed, they now live near Saintes, in France...

Caption 3, Le Journal - Les Français de Côte d'Ivoire

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"Actually" in French is en fait (in fact):

 

Et... pour imaginer le texte, en fait j'ai eu une vision dans ma tête.

And... to imagine the lyrics, actually I had a vision in my head.

Caption 16, Melissa Mars - On "Army of Love"

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And in case this wasn't complicated enough, "currently" has a faux ami of its own: couramment (fluently).

Nicole parle couramment cinq langues.

Nicole speaks five languages fluently

Finally, forcément means "necessarily" or "inevitably." "Forcefully" is simply avec force or avec vigueur:

 

Je l'aime bien, mais euh, enfin, ce n'est pas forcément le meilleur qui soit...

I like him all right, but uh, well, he's not necessarily the best there is...

Caption 14, Interviews à Central Park - Discussion politique

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This one actually makes sense if you break up the word. Like many adverbs, forcément is made up of an adjective (forcé) plus the ending -ment, which corresponds to the English adverbial ending -ly. Forcé(e) means "forced," so forcément literally means "forcedly" or "done under force," i.e., "necessarily."

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Actuellement and éventuellement are also made up of an adjective plus -ment, and their adjectives are also false cognates: actuel(le) means "current" (not "actual") and éventuel(le) means "possible" (not "eventual"). These words have noun forms as well: les actualités are the news or current events, and une éventualité is a possibility. (Interestingly, éventualité is a cognate of "eventuality," another word for "possibility.") 

English and French share so many faux amis that there are entire books dedicated to the subject. But if you're not itching to memorize them all right away, you can learn why there are so many of them in this article

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Au revoir, mademoiselle

Well, it's official. French Prime Minister François Fillon has declared that the title mademoiselle (Miss) will no longer be included on any government forms or documents. The decision comes after months of campaigning by two French feminist groups, Osez le féminisme! (Dare To Be Feminist!) and Les Chiennes de garde (The Watchdogs), who argue that the term places an unfair emphasis on a woman's marital status. Mademoiselle literally means "my young lady" (ma + demoiselle), just as madame comes from "my lady" and monsieur "my lord." Monsieur has long been used to identify both single and married men, as the archaic male equivalent of mademoiselle, mon damoiseau, never became an honorific title. Now madame will be used for all women, whether single or married, and is thus best translated as "Ms." instead of "Mrs."   

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The Prime Minister's order will also replace nom de jeune fille (maiden name) and nom patronymique (patronymic) with nom de famille (family name), and nom d'époux/nom d'épouse (married name) with nom d'usage (used name). 
 
Like "Ms." and "Mr." in English, madame and monsieur are usually abbreviated and capitalized when preceding a name:
 
Mes professeurs préférés sont Mme Fournier et M. Martin.
My favorite teachers are Ms. Fournier and Mr. Martin.
 
Note that there is no period after Mme, but there is one after M. (The abbreviation for mademoiselle, Mlle, also has no period.)
 
You can use madame and monsieur by themselves to address a person as "ma'am" or "sir":
 

Madame, qu'est-ce que vous avez préparé, vous?

Ma'am, what about you, what did you prepare?

Caption 17, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois

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Ne riez pas, monsieur, c'est très sérieux.

Do not laugh, sir, it's quite serious.

Caption 17, Le Journal - Les effets bénéfiques du rire!

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Madame and monsieur are used quite a bit more often in French than "ma'am" or "sir" in English. When you enter a shop, for example, you’re more likely to hear Bonjour, madame/monsieur! rather than just Bonjour
 
When referring to a third person, madame and monsieur can also be used for "lady" and "gentleman": 
 

Non, c'est madame qui a préparé le riz.

No, it's the lady who prepared the rice.

Caption 38, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois

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Y a un beau monsieur là de quatre-vingt-treize ans qui veut vous inviter, hein!

There's a handsome ninety-three-year-old gentleman here who wants to invite you, you know!

Caption 33, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciens

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Sometimes, you might see madame, monsieur, and mademoiselle in the plural (mesdames, messieurs, mesdemoiselles), especially when someone or something is being introduced:
 

Mesdames et messieurs, sans plus tarder, voici Hugo Bonneville.

Ladies and gentlemen, without further delay, here is Hugo Bonneville.

Captions 4-5, Hugo Bonneville - Être musicien

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Monsieur le Premier Ministre (Mr. Prime Minister) may have banned mademoiselle from official use, but that probably won't cause the singer Mademoiselle K to change her stage name. You can watch the video for her song Me taire te plaire (Keeping Quiet to Please You), featuring Zazie, right here on Yabla French. 
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