French Lessons

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An vs. Année

We've discussed the differences in meaning between the two ways of saying “day" (jour/journée), “morning” (matin/matinée), and “evening” (soir/soirée). Now we’ll take a look at the remaining word pair, an/année (year).

 

An/année works similarly to the other word pairs. The masculine term (un an) usually refers to a specific point in time with an emphasis on quantity, while its feminine counterpart (une année) focuses on duration, content, and quality. 

 

However, there are many exceptions, mostly with année. So, let’s begin with time expressions that call for année exclusively.

 

The demonstrative adjective ce (this) is always paired with annéecette année (this year).

 

Cette année, nous avons décidé d'interviewer Vincent Glad

This year, we decided to interview Vincent Glad

Caption 20, Caroline et l'Express

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Even though we can say ce matin/soir/jour (this morning/evening/day), we can never say cet an! Logic doesn’t always apply…

 

We also always use année with ordinal numbers like première/deuxième/dernière (first/second/last). So we say la première année (the first year):

 

Et c'est la première année qu'on a autant de monde qui reste à la party.

And this is the first year that we had so many people stay at the party.

Caption 27, Ultimate frisbee KYM, le tournoi

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Année is also required with the indefinite adjective quelques (a few): quelques années (a few years). In the conversation below, two friends discuss what they did il y a quelques années (a few years ago):

 

Oh, j'y allais beaucoup avec ma fille, il y a quelques années.

Oh, I used to go there a lot with my daughter a few years ago.

Caption 47, Claire et Philippe La campagne

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The same rule applies to indefinite plural article des (some), as in depuis des années (for years). In the video below, Caroline tells her friend Amal, who has been singing depuis des années (for years), that she should stop because she’s an awful singer. Apparently, Caroline has been putting up with her bad singing for years:

 

Euh... je sais que tu fais ça depuis des années.

Uh... I know that you've been doing this for years.

Caption 7, Amal et Caroline Je n'aime pas quand tu chantes

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And Amal is wondering what took Caroline so long to finally tell her what she really thinks. After all, they’ve been friends depuis plusieurs années (for several years):

 

Justement on est amies depuis plusieurs années.

As it happens, we've been friends for several years.

Caption 45, Amal et Caroline Je n'aime pas quand tu chantes

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Although we say chaque jour (each day), we can’t say chaque an, even though we're referring to a specific point in time. We have to say chaque année (every/each year). In the video below, a journalist asks people on the street if they come to the gay pride parade “every year," first using tous les ans, then chaque année.

 

Tous les ans (every year) is more or less equivalent to chaque année, except it emphasizes the quantity of years. It literally means "all the years":

 

Vous venez tous les ans ou pas? -Oui, tous les ans.

Do you come every year or not? -Yes, every year.

Captions 11-12, Gay Pride La fierté

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Then the journalist uses chaque année (every year) to emphasize the experience itself:

 

Et pour vous c'est important de... chaque année renouveler, euh...?

And for you is it important to... every year, to repeat, uh...?

Caption 13, Gay Pride La fierté

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The journalist could have also asked the people combien d’années (how many years) they had been going to the parade:

 

Vous y allez depuis combien d’années?

How many years have you been going there?

 

Finally, we have one more instance that requires année: de/en quelle année (from/in what year). In the example below, Lionel asks de quelle année (from what year) the cloister dates:

 

Et le cloître, il date de quelle année?

And the cloister, it dates from what year?

Caption 1, Lionel La Cathédrale de Toul - Part 2

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Interestingly, to answer the question de quelle année (from what year), we revert to the masculine term an(s) to refer to the specific point in time:

 

La plus vieille structure que l'on ait trouvée date de six mille cinq cents ans avant Jésus-Christ.

The oldest [umbrella] structure that was found dates back to six thousand five hundred years before Jesus Christ [BC].

Captions 74-76, Pep's Réparation de parapluies

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We almost always say an with numbers and dates. So, we use an to date a building or an object and, of course, to describe the age of a person:

 

Pierre a alors vingt-six ans quand est déclenchée la Seconde Guerre mondiale.

Pierre was twenty-six years old then when the Second World War started.

Captions 36-37, TV Vendée Vendée : Pierre Zucchi, 104 ans, raconte ses mémoires

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With time expressions like pendant (for/during), we tend to use ans for counting the years. In the first part of this video, the journalist tells the story of a woman who decided to give up sugar pendant un an (for a year), with an emphasis on a definite time:

 

Elle a décidé de supprimer le sucre de son alimentation pendant un an.

She decided to remove sugar from her diet for a year.

Caption 2, Le Figaro Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 1

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Then the journalist switches to pendant une année (for a year) to emphasize the woman's experience: 

 

Et vous avez raconté cette expérience de supprimer le sucre de votre alimentation dans cet ouvrage, "Zéro sucre", pendant une année.

And you recounted this experience of removing sugar from your diet in this book, "Zero Sugar," for a year.

Captions 10-12, Le Figaro Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 1

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As you may have noticed, there is some flexibility within those guidelines depending on the situation. So much so that, sometimes, the choice is entirely yours! For example, the expressions l’an prochain/dernier and l’année prochaine/dernière (next/last year) are pretty much interchangeable, as the difference in meaning is negligible. 

 

Here, the speaker uses l’an dernier to refer to a point in time, but l’année dernière would have worked too:

 

L'an dernier, huit départements français avaient participé à cette enquête.

Last year, eight French departments had participated in this survey.

Caption 17, Canal 32 Les secrets des cailles des blés

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And in this example, the speaker uses l’année dernière, as the exact timing is not as important as what happened. But he just as well could have said l’an dernier:

 

Ça a commencé l'année dernière.

It started last year.

Caption 6, Le Jour où tout a basculé À l'audience: Mon chirurgien était ivre - Part 4

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Here are a few examples of idiomatic expressions with an/année.

 

To refer to New Year’s, the public holiday, we say le Nouvel An:

 

...au lendemain du réveillon du Nouvel An.

...to the day after the New Year's Eve celebration.

Caption 34, TV Vendée Fêtes de fin d’année : manger léger et équilibré

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(Note, however, that when referring to the “new year” in general, we say la nouvelle année.) 

 

And au Nouvel An, on New Year’s Day, it’s customary to wish everyone bonne année et bonne santé (Happy New Year and good health), which is what this Good Samaritan did while visiting the homeless:

 

Merci beaucoup. Bonne année et bonne santé.

Thank you very much. Happy New Year and good health.

Caption 27, Dao Evolution Noël pour les sans-abris

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Le Nouvel An (New Year’s Day) may be a time to reflect on the old days, like les années cinquante (the fifties), which was a time of decline for the Hôtel Negresco in Nice:

 

La crise économique de mille neuf cent vingt-neuf ralentissent le fonctionnement de l'hôtel qui se trouve au bord de la faillite dans les années cinquante.

The economic crisis of nineteen twenty-nine slow down the operation of the hotel, which finds itself on the verge of bankruptcy in the fifties.

Captions 27-30, Le saviez-vous? L'hôtel Negresco - Part 1

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And if nothing fazes you, you might use the slang phrase:

 

Je m’en moque comme de l’an quarante.

I couldn’t care less (literally, "l don't care about it like [I don't care about] the year forty").

 

For more idiomatic expressions, click here.

 

In conclusion, the choice between an and année is somewhat subjective and contradictory with its many exceptions, so let’s recap.

 

Expressions that go with année are as follows:

 

la dernière/première/deuxième année (the last year/first year/second year)

pendant l’année (during the year)

plusieurs années (several years)

quelques années (a few years)

chaque année (each/every year)

toute l’année (all year)

durant/pendant des années (for years)

cette année (this year)

combien d'années (how many years)

quelle année (what year)

 

Expressions that go with either an or année include:

 

l’année dernière/l’an dernier (last year)

l’année prochaine/l’an prochain (next year)

 

Just remember that in general, an is used to refer to a point in time and année to emphasize duration.

 

Bonne journée et bonne lecture! (Enjoy your day, and happy reading!).

Vocabulary

Idiomatic Animals

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

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Alors se faire pigeonner en français, c'est vraiment se faire arnaquer, se faire avoir par une personne qui vous a soutiré de l'argent.

So "se faire pigeonner" [to be taken for a ride] in French is really to get ripped off, to be had by a person who has extracted money from you.

Captions 54-59, Lea & Lionel L - Le parc de Bercy - Part 1

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

 

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

 

Oui. J'avoue être un peu poule mouillée.

Yes. I admit to being a bit of a wet hen [a wimp].

Caption 23, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Notre appartement est hanté - Part 3

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

 

Qu'ils me disent que je m'affiche, qu'ils me traitent de canard

That they'll say that I am showing off, that they'll call me a duck [a slave to love]

Captions 6-7, Grand Corps Malade - Comme une évidence

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

 

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

 

Mon cafard me lâche moins souvent qu'autrefois...

My blues don't let me go as much as before...

Caption 8, Debout Sur Le Zinc - Les mots d'amour

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

 

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

 

Fais demain quand le présent est chien

Make tomorrow when the present is bad

Caption 3, Corneille - Comme un fils

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

 

On va avoir un coup de chien, regarde!

We're going to have a dog's blow [stormy weather], look!

Caption 55, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 10. Amerigo Vespucci - Part 5

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

 

Et aujourd'hui on a pas un temps de cochon par contre.

And today we don't have pig weather [rotten weather] however.

Caption 22, Lionel - La Cathédrale de Toul - Part 2

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

 

Mort aux vaches, mort aux cons!

Death to the cows ["pigs," i.e., cops], death to the jerks!

Caption 5, Patrice Maktav - La Rue

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

 

En tout cas j'espère que ce n'est pas un poisson d'avril.

In any event, I hope that it's not an April fish [April fool].

Caption 21, Lionel à Lindre-Basse - Part 5

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BANNER PLACEHOLDER

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

Malin: Smart or Evil?

The adjective malin appears in two recent videos on Yabla, and it has two very different meanings in each. In the last segment of Le Jour où tout a basculé: Notre appartement est hanté, we finally get to the bottom of the spooky occurrences in Harold and Claire's apartment, thanks to Harold's clever investigations:

 

Mais cette fois-ci, le couple s'est attaqué à un adversaire plus malin que les autres.

But this time, the couple tackled an opponent who was more clever than the others.

Caption 34, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Notre appartement est hanté - Part 8

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BANNER PLACEHOLDER

And in Lionel's visit to Toul Cathedral, we learn about the cathedral's gargoyles and what they represent: 

 

Ici là-bas, on a une représentation, du diable, du malin, d'un démon.

Here, over there, we have a representation of the devil, of the evil one, of a demon.

Captions 27-28, Lionel - La Cathédrale de Toul - Part 2

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While malin is most often used as an adjective meaning "smart," it can also have darker undertones, especially when used as a noun. In the second example, the tour guide uses it as a synonym for the devil, but un malin can also just refer to a trickster or a wily person. And don't forget that "smart" can have a negative connotation in English too:

 

Ça sera peut-être d'avoir l'air malin dans l'interview, hein.

It might be looking like a smart aleck in the interview, you know?

Caption 21, Micro-Trottoirs - Un rêve récurrent?

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Bien sûr. Et nous aussi on voudrait du sucre, gros malin!

Of course. And us too, we would like some sugar, wise guy!

Caption 14, Il était une fois... la vie - 14. La bouche et les dents - Part 3

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Ne fais pas le malin avec moi. 
Don't get smart with me. 

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Note that the feminine form of malin isn't maline, but maligne:

 

Et même, très maligne, ma petite Clémentine!

And even very clever, my little Clémentine!

Caption 51, Manon et Clémentine - Conjugaison du verbe être

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You'll also see this -in/-igne ending in the word bénin/bénigne (benign, minor), which is actually an antonym of malin/maligneune tumeur maligne is a malignant tumor, and une tumeur bénigne is a benign tumor.  

 

Manu le Malin is a famous French hardcore DJ. You can check out some interviews with him on Yabla. 

 

Thanks for reading! Tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

Vocabulary

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