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Si, Si, Si!

Si is a little French word that mainly corresponds to three little English words: "if," "so," and "yes." Although these are three very different words, it’s usually easy to tell which one si is referring to in context. So let’s see what si can do!                

Most of the time, you’ll probably hear si used to mean "if," as Bertrand Pierre uses it in his emotional song Si vous n’avez rien à me dire (with text by Victor Hugo, of Les Misérables fame): 

 

Si vous n'avez rien à me dire

If you have nothing to say to me

Pourquoi venir auprès de moi?

Why come up to me?

Captions 1-2, Bertrand Pierre - Si vous n'avez rien à me dire

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Note that when si meaning "if" is followed by il ("he" or "it") or ils ("they," masculine), it is contracted to s'. This is perhaps most commonly seen in the expression for "please," s’il vous plaît (formal) or s’il te plaît (informal), which literally translates to "if it pleases you."

Si can also be used to indicate a contrast or opposition, in which case it means "whereas":                   

Si Émilie aime la musique rock, Henri la déteste.

Whereas Émilie loves rock music, Henri hates it. 

Since si and "so" look quite similar, it shouldn’t be too hard to remember this meaning of the word. Just keep in mind that si refers to the adverb "so" (as in "so happy"), not to "so" as a conjunction (as in "move so I can see"):

 

Pourquoi si long et pourquoi si las, tenir à bout de bras?

Why so long and why so weary, to hold at arm's length?

Caption 26, Dahlia - Contre-courant

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One of the first words you learn in French is the word for "yes," oui, but sometimes si can also mean "yes" (as it does in Spanish and Italian). However, si only means "yes" in a very specific context: when someone is contradicting a negative question or statement. In case that sounds kind of convoluted, here's an example:       

 

Non! Il n'est pas bien, Sarkozy! -Si, si, si. -Si, il est bien.

No! He's not good, Sarkozy! -Yes, yes, yes. -Yes, he's good.

Captions 15-17, Interviews à Central Park - Discussion politique

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If oui were used here instead of si, the speaker would just be confirming the negative statement ("Yes, Sarkozy is not good"). On the other hand, si takes a negative proposition ("He's not good, Sarkozy!") and turns it into a positive one ("Yes, he's good"). This is why it can come in very handy when you want to correct someone or express a contrary opinion. 

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To conclude, here are two expressions with si that you might find useful: si ça se trouve... ("maybe" or "it could be the case that") and si ce n'est que... (apart from the fact that):

Si ça se trouve, Georges n'a jamais terminé ses études.

It could be that Georges never finished school.

Nous n'avons rien en commun, si ce n'est que nous sommes tous les deux français. 

We have nothing in common apart from the fact that we are both French. 

This tiny word is probably one of the most versatile in the French language. So now that you know all about si, here's a challenge for you: try writing a two-sentence dialogue using as many meanings of the word as you can. Just use this lesson as a guide, and it'll be easier than you think! 

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See here, see there!

Voilà is a very common word in French, and depending on the context, it can take a number of different meanings, the most general of which is "there/here it is." In grammatical terms, voilà is categorized as a presentative, or a word that is used to introduce something. Voilà comes from the imperative phrase vois là (see there), which makes the presentative nature of the word even more apparent. At its most basic, voilà is used to present a specific object or person

 

Donc voilà mon super falafel, avec de l'aubergine grillée...

So here is my super falafel, with grilled eggplant...

Caption 9, Mon Lieu Préféré - Rue des Rosiers

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Ah! Ben tiens, voilà Socrate.

Oh! Well look, here comes Socrates.

Caption 9, Il était une fois... l’Homme - 6. Le siècle de Périclès

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In these two examples, we see how voilà can be used to direct our attention to both an object (Caroline's "super falafel") and a person (Socrates). But when voilà isn't literally presenting us with something, it is often used as a way of emphasizing a statement:

 

La poésie c'est comme l'amour: c'est le plus court chemin entre deux êtres. Voilà.

Poetry is like love: it's the shortest path between two people. There.

Caption 39, Marché de la Poésie - Des poètes en tout genre

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In a sense, you could say that voilà is "presenting" us here with the metaphor on poetry that precedes it. But on a slightly less articulate note, when voilà is used for emphasis, it often acts as a sort of filler word, used when someone wants to end one topic and move on to another:

 

Euh... voilà. Après, l'inspiration, elle... elle vient de plein de sources diverses et variées.

Uh... there you are. Well, inspiration, it... it comes from a lot of different and varied sources.

Caption 48, Niko de La Faye - "Visages"

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You can also use voilà to affirm another person's statement:

 

Voilà, vous pouvez même voir le petit bateau en photo, euh, ici.

That's right, you can even see the little boat in the photo, uh, here.

Caption 50, Arles - Le marché d'Arles

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Or you can use it to express a period of time:

 

Voilà près de sept ans que les professionnels du bois attendaient ça.

For nearly seven years, the lumber business has been waiting for this.

Caption 5, Le Journal - Firewood

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Because voilà can be used in so many different situations, it is often tricky to translate ("there," "here," "there you go," "there you have it," "that's it," "there you are," and so on). And since no English word can really capture voilà's breadth of meaning, sometimes it's best not to translate it at all. In fact, the difficulty of translating voilà might be why it's become an (often humorous) English exclamation as well.

Now let's take a look at voilà's sister word, voici (from vois ici, "see here"). Like voilà, voici is also a presentative, but whereas voilà can either mean "there it is" or "here it is," voici usually just means "here it is." And unlike voilà, voici isn't used for emphatic or filler purposes, but almost exclusively for introducing or presenting a specific person or thing:

 

Nous voici devant une des quatre Statues de la Liberté que l'on peut trouver dans la ville de Paris.

Here we are in front of one of the four Statues of Liberty that you can find in the city of Paris.

Captions 24-25, Voyage dans Paris - Jardin du Luxembourg

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You can get a better sense of the difference between voici and voilà when they are both used in the same sentence:

Voici ma maison et voilà celle de mon ami.

Here is my house and there is my friend's.

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As you can see, voilà is used to point out something at a distance, whereas voici indicates something close by. The difference between voici and voilà is similar to the difference between ceci (this) and cela (that). In fact, another way of translating the sentence above would be, "this is my house and that is my friend's."

You've probably heard voilà used in English before, but voici hasn't really managed to make the crossover. Besides the fact that voilà is often hard to translate (voici is much more straightforward), this could also be because voilà often acts as a standalone phrase (Voilà!), whereas voici generally doesn't. But don't underestimate a good voici when speaking French: if you want people to notice something that's right in front of them, it's the word to use!

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Bienvenue

In this lesson, we'll take a look at some of the different ways of welcoming people in French, all involving the word bienvenue (welcome).

 

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In English, you usually welcome people to a particular place: “welcome to my house,” “welcome to New York,” and so on. In French, however, any number of prepositions can follow bienvenue, depending on their object:

 

Bonjour et bienvenue sur Yabla.

Hello and welcome to Yabla.

Caption 1, Yabla à Nancy - Le masculin et le féminin

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Bienvenue dans la plus chic des stations alpines, Gstaad.

Welcome to the most fashionable of the Alpine ski resorts, Gstaad.

Caption 3, Le Journal - Gstaad

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Bienvenue au théâtre, mes amis!

Welcome to the theater, my friends!

Caption 18, Il était une fois... l’Homme - 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 2

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The choice of preposition specifies the kind of place where you are being welcomed. In the first example, Yabla is a website, and if you are on a website, you are sur un site web. So here you are literally being welcomed “onto” the website. In the second example, you are being welcomed “into” a ski resort, dans une station alpine. And in the third example, you are being welcomed “to” the theater: au théâtre.

 

Another way to welcome someone in French is with the expression être le bienvenu / la bienvenue / les bienvenus / les bienvenues (to be welcome):

 

Que les visiteurs soient les bienvenus sous mon toit.

May visitors be welcome under my roof.

Caption 9, Il était une fois... l’Homme - 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 3

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Ben, vous êtes les bienvenus à découvrir de visu...

So, everyone is welcome to come in and see with their own eyes...

Caption 38, Galerie "Art Up Déco" - La galerie d'art

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Literally translated, the expression vous êtes les bienvenus means something like, “you are the welcome ones.” 

 

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Note that bienvenue used as a greeting (either alone or at the beginning of a sentence) is a feminine noun, short for je vous souhaite la bienvenue (literally, “I wish you welcome”). Therefore, its spelling doesn’t change. On the other hand, the bienvenu/e/s after être le/la/les is an adjective used as a noun that must agree with its subject. So you would write, Vous êtes les bienvenus/bienvenues en France, but not, Bienvenus/Bienvenues en France! The correct form would be: Bienvenue en France! 

 

You can also put the above expression in the imperative form:

 

Soyez les bienvenus chez moi.

Welcome to my home.

 

It is also very common to see bienvenu/bienvenue used to express a wish, as in this sentence:

 

Vos suggestions seraient les bienvenues

Your suggestions would be welcome.

 

And if you’re in Quebec, you’ll hear bienvenue used by itself to mean “you’re welcome.” So when you say merci (thank you) to a French person, he or she will respond with de rien or je vous en prie. But a French Canadian will answer, Bienvenue!

 

As you can see, you have a lot of options with this one elementary word. But no matter how you use it, you’ll definitely make people feel welcome!

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Either/Or

There are two ways of saying "either... or..." in French, and they both involve repeating one word. The first is the construction soit... soit.... Soit is a conjunction that marks a set of alternatives, and it is also spelled the same as the third-person present subjunctive form of the verb être (to be):  

 

Les médecins étaient soit morts, soit partis.

The doctors were either dead or gone.

Caption 4, TV8 Mont Blanc - De retour de Haïti

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A similar construction with soit is que ce soit... que ce soit..., which can best be translated as "be it... or...":  

 

Que ce soit déposer dans le sable, que ce soit déposer dans la neige...

Be it landing on sand, or on snow...

Caption 26, Le Journal - École de pilotage

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The second way of saying "either... or..." is ou... ou.... Ou by itself just means "or" (not to be confused with , "where"), but when it is repeated to describe two or more choices or alternatives, the first ou means "either":

 

Ou vous pouvez le laisser tout simplement sur la plage, ou vous en servir comme cendrier.

You could either simply leave it on the beach or you could use it as an ashtray.

Caption 15, Jean-Marc - La plage

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Sometimes, bien can be added to ou to emphasize the distinction:

Ou bien il est très heureux, ou bien il est misérable. 

Either he's very happy or he's miserable.    

Note that you will often see a comma separating the alternatives soit... soit... and ou... ou... (soit morts, soit partis). 

Now that we've learned how to say "either... or...," we'll move on to its opposite, "neither... nor...." There is only one way to say this in French: ni... ni....

Ni vu ni connu

Neither seen nor known [on the sly]

When using ni... ni... with verb phrases, add a ne in front of the verb:

 

Nous ne sommes ni les premiers, ni les derniers.

We are neither the first nor the last.

Caption 3, La Conspiration d'Orion - Conspiration 2/4

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Sometimes, you might just find a single ni:

 

Cette femme habite un monde sans foi ni loi...

This woman inhabits a world without faith or law...

Caption 19, Le Journal - Milady

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So now, if you're ever asked to recite the unofficial creed of the US Postal Service in French, you won't hesitate to say:

"Ni la neige, ni la pluie, ni la chaleur, ni la nuit n'empêchent de fournir leur carrière avec toute la célérité possible".

"Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." 

(The creed is actually a line from Herodotus.)

 

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Des, Dés, Dès

In a previous lesson, we introduced a trio of words that are spelled the same except for their accent marks: côté, côte, and cote. We will examine a similar trio in this lesson: des, dés, and dès

You might already know that des is a contraction of de and les. It is always followed by a plural noun, and can be used as a preposition to mean "of," "from," or "by," or as an article to mean "some" or "a few." Note that when des is used as an article, it is often left untranslated.

 

Ce monde des images, habité par les images, dans les images.

This world of images, inhabited by images, in the images.

Caption 25, Projet "Polygon" - PIIMS et la République des Images

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Des gens super beaux avec des... avec des peaux super lisses.

Really beautiful people with… with really smooth skin.

Caption 34, Niko de La Faye - "Visages"

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When you place an acute accent on the e of des, you get the French word for "dice": les dés (le dé in the singular). In the kitchen, you might hear the expression couper en dés (to dice). And if you're sewing by hand, it might be helpful to use un dé à coudre (a thimble; literally, a "sewing dice"). 

Le backgammon se joue avec des dés.

Backgammon is played with dice

With a grave accent, des becomes dès, a preposition meaning "starting from," "as early as," or "since." Here are some examples of this versatile little word from our video library: 

 

Près de trois cent mille personnes venues dès l'aube applaudir les héros des océans.

Nearly three hundred thousand people who came as early as dawn to applaud the heroes of the oceans.

Captions 14-15, Le Journal - Les navigateurs du Vendée Globe

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Et j'ai toujours, euh... dès les... les premières fois où j'ai découvert...

And I've always, uh... ever since I first... first discovered...

Caption 24, Manu le Malin - Album Biomechanik III

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Les épreuves commencent dès demain.

The exams begin as early as tomorrow.

Caption 28, Le Journal - Le baccalauréat

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Although dès is frequently used on its own, you'll also sometimes see it coupled with another word, notably in the expressions dès que (as soon as, whenever) and dès lors (from then on, since then, consequently, therefore):

 

Tout de suite, en fait, dès que je suis arrivée ici, euh...

Right away, in fact, as soon as I arrived here, uh...

Caption 6, Alsace 20 - Mangez bien, mangez alsacien!

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Dès lors, elle n'est jamais retournée à la maison.

From then on, she never returned home.

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Now that you're familiar with the difference between des, dés, and dès, let's see if you can decipher this sneaky little sentence:

Le magicien a su piper des dés dès l'âge de cinq ans. 

(The magician knew how to load dice from the age of five.)

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Le rez-de-chaussée

Take a look at the following captions and see if you notice anything unusual:

 

Et si vous regardez bien au deuxième étage, il y a une magnifique frise.

And if you look closely at the second ["third" in the US] floor, there is a splendid frieze.

Caption 14, Voyage dans Paris - Butte Montmartre

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Donc vous voyez la petite lumière rouge en... au premier étage?

So do you see the little red light in... on the first ["second" in the US] floor?

Caption 32, Mon Lieu Préféré - Rue des Rosiers

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Although it might seem like we’ve made some errors in our translations, the number discrepancy you see is actually completely accurate. This is because the floors of French buildings are not numbered in the same way that American floors are.

As you can see, a given French floor is always one number lower than a given American floor: le deuxième étage corresponds to the third floor, not the second, and le dix-huitième étage corresponds to the nineteenth floor, not the eighteenth.

The explanation for this is simple: the French (and most other Europeans) don’t count the ground floor of a building when numbering its stories, whereas Americans do. The French word for "ground floor" is rez-de-chaussée, and the floor above le rez-de-chaussée is le premier étage (the second floor). In American English, "ground floor" and "first floor" are generally synonymous and thus can both be used for rez-de-chaussée. So when you’re in a French elevator, instead of seeing a button marked "G" for "ground floor," you’ll see one marked "RC" for rez-de-chaussée.

Note, however, that French-Canadian speakers have adopted the US system, so you won't have to worry about subtracting floor numbers when you're in Quebec (you can learn some more about Canadian French in this lesson). You'll notice this when listening to Annie Chartrand, a French-Canadian musician, describe her childhood home:

 

J'habitais au deuxième étage avec mes parents et au premier étage, c'était un bar taverne...

I lived on the second floor with my parents and on the first floor, there was a bar-tavern with...

Captions 24-25, Annie Chartrand - Sa musique

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Here is a little table to review:

 In France  In the U.S.  In Quebec

 le rez-de-chaussée       

 first floor         

 le rez-de-chaussée/le premier étage

 le premier étage

 second floor

 le deuxième étage

 le deuxième étage

 third floor

 le troisième étage

Therefore, a three-story house in the US (first floor + second floor + third floor) is the same as une maison à deux étages in France (rez-de-chaussée + premier étage + deuxième étage) and une maison à trois étages in Quebec (rez-de-chaussée/premier étage + deuxième étage + troisième étage)

To make this a bit easier, you could take the word étage to mean specifically an upstairs floor in France. Indeed, one way of saying "upstairs" in French is à l’étage (the other way is en haut, while "downstairs" is en bas). In that case, le premier étage could be translated more precisely as "the first upstairs floor," i.e., the second floor.

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A side note: To remember the word rez-de-chaussée, a bit of etymology might be useful. Une chaussée is another word for "road," and rez is Old French for ras, meaning "flat" or "level" (think of the word "razor"). The ground floor is called le rez-de-chaussée in French because it is level with the road.

And for an in-depth discussion of floor numbering around the world, see this Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storey#Numbering 

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La bise

In this weather forecast for the Mont Blanc area, you'll come across a word with a very specific meteorological meaning: la bise. Translated as "north wind," la bise is more precisely a chilly wind that passes through certain areas of eastern France and Switzerland (you can find a more detailed and scientific account of this phenomenon here). Some French windows might feature un brise-bise (literally, "breaks" or "stops the north wind"), a small curtain usually made of lace that covers only a portion of the window. These are definitely more decorative than functional.

 

Donc le temps va s'arranger; on aura toujours un peu de bise pour ce mardi matin.

So the weather will settle down; we'll still have a bit of a north wind for this Tuesday morning.

Caption 10, TV8 Mont Blanc - Météo du 26 octobre 2010

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On an unrelated note, une bise is also an informal way of saying "a kiss." You might hear it most often in the expression faire la bise, which refers to the customary French greeting of giving someone a peck (or more than one!) on both cheeks. This helpful article breaks down when and how to use this very common gesture: https://www.thoughtco.com/french-kisses-french-english-bilingual-story-1368026.

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Cette leçon de français, ce n'est pas de la petite bière!

Who doesn't like to quietly sip a beer?

 

...s'attabler au comptoir et boire tranquillement sa bière...

...sit at the counter and quietly sip his beer...

Captions 11-12, Le Village de la Bière - Ceci n'est pas un bar!

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But at the Village de la Bière, in Strasbourg, a sip is all that you are going to get, as this emporium of brew has only une licence-dégustation (tasting license). This permits them to supply you with a mere sampling of, for example, une bière brune (dark beer), une bière blonde (light-colored beer), or une bière rousse (brown ale), before you settle on the bouteille de bière (bottle of beer) that most meets your approval. (You won't find many canettes de bière or "cans of beer" in this establishment!)

Owner Alain Pesez is passionate about his calling, and he will guide you through a vast selection:

 

J'ai entre trois et quatre cents sortes de bières... un assortiment qui bouge, qui varie et on vend de la bière des quatre coins du monde.

I have between three and four hundred kinds of beers... a selection that changes, that varies, and we sell beer from the four corners of the world.

Captions 6-7, Le Village de la Bière - Des bières de partout

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Stocking over three hundred types of beer in one single shop is no small feat! We might even say, Ce n'est pas de la petite bière! On the surface, we might read that as, "This is not a little beer!" but, in actuality, this expression means "It's no small thing/It's no small matter" or "It's really something/It's a big deal." The expression dates back to the eighteenth century, when une petite bière was a weak, poor-quality beer, created by reusing the grains from an earlier batch.

The phrase can not only imply that a matter is significant, but also that something or someone is of high caliber, of quality.

Un Nikon, c'est un très bon appareil photo. Ce n'est pas de la petite bière.

A Nikon is a very good camera. It's not a piece of junk.

These days, you might drink a high-quality bière pression (draft beer) to accompany a tarte flambée at your local Flam's:

 

Donc c'est tout de suite plus sympathique accompagnée d'une petite bière pression.

So it's nicer right away accompanied by a small draft beer.

Caption 28, Le Restaurant "Flam's" - Les tartes

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Bière pression originates in un baril (a barrel/keg) and flows out of le robinet (the tap) and into une chope (a mug). Of course, you might prefer un panaché with your meal: that's a very popular mixture of beer and lemonade.

There is another meaning of bière that has nothing to do with fermenting grains to create a delightful effervescent beverage. The expressions mettre quelqu'un en bière and la mise en bière both refer to placing a body into a bière or "coffin." Note that, apart from these expressions, "coffin" is usually not referred to as une bière, but rather un cercueil.

On that note, remember that life is short! Tune in to these and hundreds of other fun and interesting authentic videos here at Yabla that will help quench your thirst for French mastery!

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Découvrez des centaines de vidéos chez Yabla!

When you think vineyards, you probably conjure up images of rolling hills and sprawling fields, lush with grapevines planted in neat rows. So it may surprise you to learn that vineyards aren't just for la campagne. In fact, that most urban of French locales, la grande ville de Paris, has a few grapevines of its own!

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Our favorite Parisian tour guide, Daniel Benchimol, takes us around the neighborhood known as La Butte Bergeyre, which, believe it or not, is home to a couple of vineyards. It's surprising such a tiny neighborhood could fit a vineyard—after all, there are only ten or so streets:

 

Il y a en tout une dizaine de rues avec des très, très jolies villas.

There are a total of about ten streets with some very, very pretty villas.

Caption 11, Voyage dans Paris - Butte Bergeyre

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Take a look at the word dizaine. On first glance, an English speaker might be tempted to translate this as its phonological cousin, "dozen." But dizaine actually means "about ten." Why the similarity? "Dozen" comes from the Old French dozaine, and its modern French equivalent is douzaine.

As you can probably guess by now, -aine as a suffix added to numbers indicates an approximation of quantity. So, une dizaine is "about ten," une douzaine is "about twelve" (a dozen), une trentaine is "about thirty," and so on. "Dozen" is the only similar word of this type in English, but who's to say we couldn't one day have a "tenzen" or a "thirtyzen" too?

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Masculin féminin: quelques faits précis

A Yabla French subscriber recently asked an interesting question about a caption in one of our videos.

 

L'éco-musée du pays de Rennes ... s'en est occupé...

The eco-museum of the county of Rennes ... took it upon itself....

Captions 18-19, Le Journal - Gourmet en Bretagne

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Shouldn't, the subscriber asked, the participle actually be occupée—with an extra e—to match the subject eco-musée? After all, the word-ending -ée most often denotes a feminine word in French—so wouldn't the verb need to agree in gender here? As it turns out, even though musée ends in -ée, it is actually a masculine noun. So occupé is correct. Musée is not the only word that's masculine despite ending in -ée.

 

Moi, je me souviens à l'époque, même que j'étais dans un lycée d'filles...

I remember in those days, even though I was in an all-girls high school...

Caption 21, Le Journal - Baisers interdits dans les couloirs!

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Like musée, the noun lycée—even a lycée filled with girls and only girls—is masculine, which we can tell here because it's preceded by the masculine article un. Un ("a," masc.) or le ("the," masc.) are the right determiners to use with lycée or musée, and not une ("a," fem.) or la ("the," fem.), as one may have expected with such an ending.

What other nouns end with -ée but are nevertheless masculine words? The most commonly used are:

un athée (an atheist)

à l'apogée (at the peak)

un camée (a cameo)

un mausolée (a mausoleum)

un trophée (a trophy)

un macchabée (a stiff, also a Maccabee)

un pygmée (a pygmy)

un scarabée (a beetle)

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A front row seat to learning French!

 

C'est dans sa loge qu'on a retrouvé Buridane.

It's in her dressing room that we caught up with Buridane.

Caption 2, Télé Lyon Métropole - Buridane

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Did you catch the interview with the lovely chanteuse Buridane? It took place backstage, in her loge, what we would call her "dressing room." However, on the other side of the curtain, loge can also refer to box seating, usually private, elevated, and not cheap—a nice place from which to watch the show. Sport and theater fans will recognize that we have the same word in English: "loge" seating areas offer a bird's-eye view in a luxurious setting. It's from this meaning that we get the common French expression être aux premières loges, which means "to have a great view," or "front row seats."

Where else will you find une loge? Out in the country! A rustic cabin (or "lodge") of the kind used by skiers, hunters, or park rangers is also called a loge.

Finally, if you enter a French building, bourgeois or not, beware of the loge du concierge or "caretaker's apartment." You won’t sneak past unnoticed, even if you tiptoe... so be sure to have a good reason to be there!

And just as loge can be "lodge," logement can mean "lodging," as in housing or a place to stay. Take this example, where retirement-age protesters point out that Sarkozy doesn't quite share their concerns:

 

Et lui, il a pas de souci de voiture, il a pas de souci de logement...

And him, he has no car worries, he has no housing worries...

Caption 22, Le Journal - À la retraite en France

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There's also the verb loger, which, as you may now be able to guess, means "to house" or "provide accommodation for."

See if you can spot any other lodging-related words in our videos!

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Heart, Soul, and Lung!

Soul Sisters

After watching her scour the desert Mad Max–style for clues to track down her amour perdu in the video for "Love Machine," we know that Melissa Mars is a romantic. Her "Army of Love" video also gives us a few clues—on how to speak the language of love, en français.

 

Petites fées du cœur / Accueillent les âmes sœurs

Little love fairies / Welcome the soulmates

Captions 25-26, Melissa Mars Music Videos - Army of Love

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If you know that the word âme is "soul" and the word sœur means "sister," you might think that Melissa is referring to her many Mini-Me's as "soul sisters." Actually, âme sœur is French for "soulmate," and even though the term is of the female persuasion, it can apply to any member of a happy couple. In French, guys can be soul sisters too!

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The "Lung" of Things

Our favorite friendly tour guide, Daniel Benchimol, gives us a look in living color at the history-rich, up-and-coming Paris quartier of Belleville.

As sometimes happens with urban areas that were once on the sketchy side, Belleville has recently gentrified. These days, it's home to a thriving diverse community. You'll see people from all walks of life strolling along the Rue de Belleville and the Boulevard de Belleville. (It's easy to know you're in the right neighborhood. Just look at the street signs!) 

There's even a Parc de Belleville:

 

Nous sommes ici dans le Parc de Belleville, qui est vraiment le... le poumon de ce quartier.

We're here in the Parc de Belleville [Belleville Park], which is really the... the heart ["lungs"] of this neighborhood.

Captions 12-13, Voyage dans Paris - Belleville

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Notice that Daniel tells us the park is le poumon of the neighborhood—"the lung" of the hood—just as Central Park is sometimes called "the lungs" of New York City, thanks to the fresh air it offers.

Les Bellevillois are known for their distinctive fun and funky accents. Wondering what they sound like? Just listen to France's favorite songbird, Édith Piaf. La Môme hails from the streets—the rues and boulevards—of Belleville!

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What do your mother, your mayor, and the sea have in common?

Give up? Start thinking in French. Do you see it now? They're all French homophones! So what are the tricks to distinguishing between mère, maire, and mer

Let’s start off where life itself does—with our proud moms. In French, your mother is your mère.

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Annie Chartrand, from Quebec, recalls the limited English ability of her own mère (as well as her père, her father).

 

Si je pense à mes parents, à mon père et ma mère, ils parlent anglais, mais c'est un peu plus, comme on dit en bon québécois, "baragouiné".

If I think of my parents, my dad or my mom, they speak English, but it's a bit more like, as we say in good Quebecois French, "baragouiné."

Captions 14-16, Annie Chartrand - Grandir bilingue

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Charles Baptiste, from Paris, sings of something nobody wants their mother to do (nobody nice anyway) in the song Je sais:

 

Tandis que ma mère se met à pleurer

Whereas my mother starts crying

Caption 21, Charles-Baptiste - Je sais

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Let's move away from such sadness (we hope Charles's mère is feeling better) to our second homophone: maire (mayor).

One way to distinguish this word from its homophones: maire (mayor) is a masculine noun and so is preceded by the masculine article le. But la mère (the mother) and la mer (the sea) are both feminine. Note that more people nowadays are using la maire to refer to a female mayor (see our lesson about the feminization of professions in French), although the officially correct term is la mairesse.

The mayor of Groslay, a town north of Paris, is not very popular… He banned chicken in municipal lunchrooms because of fears of avian flu.

 

L'interdiction du maire a également déclenché la colère des agriculteurs.

The mayor's ban has also triggered the anger of the farmers.

Caption 9, Le Journal - Le poulet dans les cantines

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However, some mayors are less cautious than others. The mayor of Lille, for example, not only supported protesters who recklessly (and illegally) switched off street lighting in the city center, she joined their rally, French flag in hand!

 

Et c'est toujours au nom du service public que la maire de Lille soutient les agents d'EDF en grève.

And it is still in the name of the public service that the mayor of Lille supports the EDF agents on strike.

Captions 22-23, Le Journal - Grève de l'EDF à Lille

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Let's move on to our last homophone: la mer (the sea).

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La mer is often a romantic image in popular songs. (Who doesn't love a little Charles Trenet?) Lyon-based ska band Babylon Circus sings about the sea in a song about dreams and lost hopes:

 

Les rames étaient trop courtes pour atteindre le niveau de la mer

The oars were too short to reach sea level

Caption 12, Babylon Circus - J'aurais bien voulu

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So now, no more confusion between la mère (the mother), le maire (the mayor), and la mer (the sea)!

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The Story of Ou

An accent, or the lack of one, can sometimes determine the meaning of a French word.

For example, let's take ou, the common conjunction that means "or." After his extensive travel abroad, Chef Rachel Gesbert likes to use exotic ingredients when he returns to France "or" to Europe:

 

Et quand on revient en France,

And when we return to France,

ou en Europe... on a envie de certains produits.

or to Europe... we feel like mixing certain products.

Captions 27-28, Le Journal - Gourmet en Bretagne

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Ou bien also means "or," plain and simple. Anglophones, seeing the extra word bien, might be tempted to translate ou bien as "or even," or to add some other nuance. But in fact, ou bien is used pretty much interchangeably with ou, as we find in the report on the recent discovery of Saint-Exupéry's lost plane, near Marseilles.

 

Mais personne ne sait s'il s'agit d'un accident, d'un suicide,

But nobody knows whether it's a question of an accident, of a suicide,

ou bien d'un tir ennemi.

or of enemy fire.

Captions 27-28, Le Journal - Saint-Exupéry

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However, when we draw a simple accent grave over the u in ou, we get the adverb , which is used to indicate "where." Anne Liardet, mother of three, racing solo around the world on the "Vendée Globe," tells us:

 

J'suis bien, là je suis...

I'm all right where I am...

Caption 25, Le Journal - Les navigateurs du Vendée Globe

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In their worldwide hit "Senegal Fast Food," Amadou and Mariam, the singing-songwriting duo from Mali, ask:

 

Dakar, Bamako, Rio de Janeiro

Dakar, Bamako, Rio de Janeiro

est le problème, est la frontière?

Where is the problem, where is the border?

Captions 25-26, Amadou et Mariam - Sénégal Fast Food

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Another meaning of is "when," indicating time. Notice the way French movie star Agnès Jaoui uses it when talking about dreams and fame:

 

C'est bien... de rêver, mais y a un moment

It's good... to dream, but there comes a time when

il faut juste se récupérer soi-même.

you have to go back to who you are.

Captions 32-33, Le Journal - Le rôle de sa vie

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So, there you have it: the short story of ou!

FYI: Keep in mind there are at least two other words that sound exactly the same as ou and , but have their own unique spellings: une houe is "a hoe," like we use in the garden, and du houx is "holly," the stuff the halls are decked out with come Christmas!

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Maldonne: Make No Mistake!

In her song "Diesel" (extremely popular with Yabla viewers!), Elea Lumé declares:

 

Et si il y a eu maldonne / Je me fais mon propre prud'homme

And if there was a mistake / I'll take responsibility for it

Captions 33-34, Elea Lumé - Diesel

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When we are playing cards, la donne is "the deal." It comes from the verb donner, that very common French verb that means "to give." It also means "to deal," which is not hard to see since cards are "given out" to the players. Sometimes the dealer (le donneur—literally, "the giver") screws up, and hands too many or too few cards to one or more of the players. In the poker rooms of Paris this is known as a fausse donne (false deal), mauvaise donne (bad deal), or maldonne—which we get when we preface donne (deal) with mal ("bad" or "wrong"): a "wrong deal." In English the common term for all of these is "misdeal."

Cards are ripe metaphors for life, as anyone who's ever been "dealt a bad hand" or suffered "the luck of the draw" knows. In French, the phrase il y a maldonne has drifted from the cards-specific "there is a misdeal" to the more general "there is a mistake." 

A quick aside about another of Elea's lyrical selections here: if you look up prud'homme in the dictionary, you find that it is a member of a labor court, one which decides disputes between management and workers. So when Elea says je me fais mon propre prud'homme (literally something like, "I'll be my own jury"), she is saying that she'll assume full responsibility; she's not going to take it to a third party for help—she'll stand on her own.

Besides signaling a mistake, il y a maldonne takes on another metaphorical meaning: "there is a misunderstanding." The exuberant chanteuse Cassandre expresses a negated variation of the phrase when she sings:

 

Mais non y a pas maldonne / C'est super romantique!

But no, there's no misunderstanding / It's super romantic!

Captions 33-34, Vous avez du talent - Cassandre - "Je te saoule"

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So make no mistake! As in English, French words or phrases often evolve from literal to metaphorical meanings, and their meaning can change based on their context. Getting to know these subtleties is not a bad deal at all!

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What's New with New?

In Le Journal's video on chalets, we're treated to a fascinating description of a modern cabin entirely built of ancient wood. And speaking of modernity, the speaker's story includes quite a few instances of neuf and nouveau. Both adjectives mean "new," but each corresponds to a different meaning of the word "new."

Before we talk about the trick to distinguishing between neuf and nouveau, we should point out the feminine forms, which are irregular, of each adjective: the feminine of neuf is neuve, and the feminine of nouveau is nouvelle (though nouvel is used as the masculine form before words beginning with vowels or the silent letter h. For example: un nouvel album).

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We see an instance of nouvelle right at the beginning of the chalet video.

 

Ce tronc d'arbre a été coupé il y a plus de deux cents ans. Aujourd'hui Michel Ferrari lui redonne une nouvelle vie.

This log was cut more than two hundred years ago. Today, Michel Ferrari gives it back a new life.

Captions 1-2, Le Journal - Le chalet

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Here, nouvelle vie denotes a life different from before. Notice that the qualifying adjective nouvelle precedes the noun vie.

A little further, we see nouveaux (the plural form of nouveau):

 

La Pologne fait par exemple partie des nouveaux fournisseurs.

Poland, for example, is among the new suppliers.

Caption 14, Le Journal Le chalet

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Again, the adjective here indicates a change; the list of suppliers is now different from the previous one. And, once again, the adjective nouveaux is placed before the substantive fournisseurs.

Now, the following captions give us some examples of an entirely different meaning of "new."

 

Le vieux bois, un matériau très recherché pour les constructions de montagne, même s'il coûte deux fois plus cher que le bois neuf.

Old timber, a much sought-after material for building in the mountains, even if it costs twice as much as new wood.

Captions 3-4, Le Journal - Le chalet

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Here, bois neuf means wood that was recently produced. Notice that neuf is placed after the substantive bois.

We see the same primary meaning for neuf below:

 

Aujourd'hui pour construire, comme ici, du neuf avec du vieux.

Nowadays, to build, like here, the new with the old.

Caption 12, Le Journal - Le chalet

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The speaker is talking about the recent construction of these houses. (And note that neuf is a substantive here: "the new.")

Want some more examples of objects with which you could use neuf? You could have un manteau neuf (a new coat) or un livre neuf (a new book). And don't forget about the ironically named Pont-Neuf, which is actually the oldest bridge in Paris!

And what other types of changes would you describe with the word nouveau? You could use it to talk about une nouvelle amie (a new friend) or un nouveau numéro de téléphone (a new phone number).

If you look at all the examples above, you'll see that neuf is used for recent creations: objects, like wood, constructions, etc., that were recently manufactured and are thus "new to the world." Nouveau, however, is used to indicate a change: either something different or the most recent example of something (a change from before).

Now that we've explored the linguistic subtleties of these two adjectives, let’s look at a few more ways to use the words neuf and nouveau.

La Nouvelle Vague is the name of the post-WWII cinematic trend in France of shooting movies in a different, more realistic way and using modern, spontaneous young actors rather than handsome, classical movie stars. In English, we call this type of cinema "French New Wave." Nouvelle vague also became a cultural term, applying to the youth of the time, who aspired to change their lives, to have freedom without convention.

There is also the term nouvelle cuisine, which refers to a French cooking approach that uses light ingredients and emphasizes presentation—a change from the previous heavy classical cuisine.

So what about other ways to use neuf

You probably know that neuf also means the number nine.

Neuf is also used in some common expressions, like peau neuve, which we can also see in the chalet video.

 

Nous voici dans une ancienne ferme proche de Megève. C'est l'heure pour elle de faire peau neuve.

Here we are in an old farmhouse near Megève. It's time for it to get a face-lift.

Captions 5-6, Le Journal - Le chalet

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This old farm is in need of a "new skin" to look better.

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And speaking of old, our curious readers may be interested to know that the opposite of neuf/neuve is vieux/vieil/vieille; (vieil, like nouvel, is the masculine adjective for preceding vowel sounds), and the opposite of nouveau/nouvel/nouvelle is ancien/ancienne. Hard to believe there are five different options for such a simple word as "old"!

Stay tuned for a lesson that further discusses the placement of adjectives in French, which will help you solve that pesky "before or after?" dilemma.

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Brought to You by the Letter C: Côté, côte et cote

You may have noticed the difference a little accent mark can make. Take the words côté, cote, and côte, for example. It’s the same four letters, but depending on the accents, both the meaning and the pronunciation can change.

Côté is a two-syllable word, while côte and cote are one-syllable words, each with its own unique pronunciation (though in some regions of France there may be little distinction in pronunciation).

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In its most straightforward definition, côté means “side.”

 

Que je suis assis en face, et pas à tes côtés

Over the fact that I'm sitting across from you and not by your side

Caption 23, Babylon Circus - J'aurais bien voulu

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It may seem a bit odd that "by your side" is à tes côtés (plural) and not à ton côté (singular), but this is just how it's done in French.

When getting directions, you will often hear du côté droit (on the right hand side) or du côté gauche (on the left hand side). “Next to” (which, if you think about it, could be said “on the side of”) is expressed as à côté:

C'est juste à côté de la voiture.

It's right next to the car.

Côté can also be used to describe an aspect, a quality, or a “side” of something:

 

Je dirais les ingrédients qu'on a dans cette farce va [sic] donner ce côté savoureux et moelleux à la volaille.

I would say the ingredients in this stuffing will give the bird a savory and tender quality.

Captions 33-34, Le Journal - Gourmet en Bretagne

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But the word côté is not only used literally. It also appears in expressions like:

D’un côté... D’un autre côté...

On one hand... On the other hand...

Côté can also be used to show someone’s opinion, their “side” on an issue, or their perspective.

 

De son côté, Nicolas Sarkozy annonce sa volonté de rupture avec la politique africaine de la France.

For his part, Nicolas Sarkozy announces his desire to break away from France's African policies.

Caption 17, Le Journal - Sarkozy en Afrique du Sud - Part 1

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And we see the same sort of côté in the video on the marché in Rennes:

 

Bon, du côté de Cocotte, secret défense.

OK, as for Cocotte, it's top secret.

Caption 14, Le Journal - Gourmet en Bretagne

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But côté is not only used to express the perspective of a person. It can also be translated as “about” or “on the subject of” or “as for.” In the following example, it’s used to distinguish between the main and secondary railway lines:

 

Côté grandes lignes, la SNCF a depuis longtemps pensé aux voyageurs handicapés.

As for the main lines, the SNCF has kept handicapped travelers in mind for a long time.

Caption 12, Le Journal - Manifestation de paralysés

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Just in case that’s not enough to satisfy your curiosity, keep in mind the word côté’s similarly spelled (and hence easy to confuse) counterparts...

For starters, there's côte, one of the primary meanings of which is very similar-sounding to its English equivalent: “coast” (as in "the Pacific coast"). Actually, en français, the French Riviera is called the “Azure Coast.”

 

Venu de sa Côte d'Azur natale, il est tombé amoureux de l'île et de ses fonds marins.

Having come from his native French Riviera, he fell in love with the island and its sea depths.

Caption 7, Le Journal - L'île de Pâques

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Côte can also mean “rib,” as in côte d’Adam or côte d’agneau (what we call a “lamb chop”).

And last but not least, the second video in the series on Sarkozy’s trip to South Africa gives us an example of an entirely different kind of cote, which means “stock.” This can be in the literal sense (stock market) or refer to the general worth/esteem of something or someone, as below. 

 

Alors que sa cote continue de chuter, Nicolas Sarkozy tente un quitte ou double vis-à-vis de l'opinion.

As his stock continues to tumble, Nicolas Sarkozy tries to double down on opinion.

Captions 17-18, Le Journal - Sarkozy en Afrique du Sud - Part 2

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There’s also a related verb, coter, which means to rate, quote, or list the price of something.

Cette voiture est cotée à 10.000$ dans le journal.

This car is listed at $10,000 in the newspaper.

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Whether you’re talking economics, opinions, proximity, food, or geography, you’ll be better equipped knowing the nuances and differences of these similarly spelled words!

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Relever

It's easy to get lost in the French language, let alone for things to get lost in translation. So many French words have multiple meanings, and often the meanings are surprisingly disparate. That makes context particularly important in the understanding of French. But what if the context itself seems to support multiple meanings? The solution is to redouble your efforts and discern the logic of the utterance as well as you can. The French appreciate the subtleties of language—and you have to pay close attention to properly parse them.

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The verb relever is a good example. It's made up of the verb lever (to raise) and the prefix re- (again). As a reflexive verb, se relever means to get back up (e.g., after you've fallen); as a transitive verb, relever means to stand something back up after it's fallen over (e.g., a lamp). It can also mean simply "to raise" something, including prices. (Ils ont relevé leurs prix: "They have raised their prices.") So we might easily be tempted to believe that the following, spoken by a France 2 reporter, is about a strange mission to raise the prices of food at a local supermarket:

 

Objectif de la matinée: relever les prix dans un magasin Carrefour.

The morning's goal is to note the prices at a Carrefour store.

Captions 5-6, Le Journal - Contrôle des prix alimentaires

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The news crew, however, is not setting out to jack up the price of butter and baguettes. As you can see from the translation we have chosen, relever has other meanings, one of which is "to note" or "to survey." The morning's goal is to take note of the prices found at a Carrefour (one of the world's largest supermarket chains), not to raise them. How do we know the meaning here is "to note" rather than "to raise"? It's hard to say, but we have to apply logic and common sense—good old French rationality. It simply wouldn't make sense for the French Minister of Finance to march into a store and raise prices.

We find the verb used again in the line that follows:

 

Yaourt nature par seize, deux cinquante-cinq, relevé à deux quatre-vingt-cinq.

Plain yogurt sixteen-pack, two fifty-five, noted at two eighty-five.

Captions 6-7, Le Journal - Contrôle des prix alimentaires

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The speaker is using a bit of verbal shorthand. The price for a sixteen pack of plain yogurt is found to be 2.55 euros today, but it had been "noted" (relevé) in the past at a higher rate, 2.85 euros. This story is a little bit complicated: it turns out that prices on supermarket shelves were found to be considerably lower than those reported in a study of online (delivery service) supermarket prices by the French consumer magazine Soixante Millions de Consommateurs (Sixty Million Consumers).

 

Donc, ça signifie que les prix en grande surface sont moins élevés que ce qui a été relevé par "Soixante Millions de Consommateurs".

So, that means prices in big supermarkets are lower than what was recorded by "Sixty Million Consumers" [French "Consumer Reports"].

Captions 8-9, Le Journal - Contrôle des prix alimentaires

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Once again, relever is used to indicate that information was "noted" or "recorded." A generic term for things that are recorded, in the context of an investigation such as the one conducted by the consumer magazine, is "findings." The French word for "findings" is relevés (the noun form of relever), and we find it used a few lines later in the same news report:

 

Et ses relevés, au moment de passer en caisse, sont l'occasion de répéter le même message...

And her findings, as she goes through checkout, provide the opportunity to repeat the same message...

Captions 13-14, Le Journal - Contrôle des prix alimentaires

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If you've ever had a French bank account, you're familiar with a relevé de comptes. Here, relevé means "record." Literally, then, a relevé de comptes is a "record of accounts," better known to English speakers as a "statement."

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So what have we noted today? Qu'est-ce qu'on a relevé? Certainly, you should now be familiar with some of the meanings of this intriguing word. (There's another interesting discussion of it here.) Perhaps you've also learned—or been reminded—to fully consider context before jumping to conclusions about the meaning of a word. Context, properly discerned with good common sense, is the trusty guide that can keep you from getting lost in French.

We provided you with a few things to take note of today, n'est-ce pas?

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