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How to Talk About "Stuff"

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

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

 

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

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

Caption 10, Sophie et Patrice - Le petit-déjeuner

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D'abord, je mets un peu d'acétone

First, I apply a little bit of acetone

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

because often there are labels, stuff with glue. 

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

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C'est quoi ce machin-là?

What is that thing?

 

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

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

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

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

 

Mais y a un truc aussi qui se faisait avant,

But there was another thing that was done before,

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

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

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

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Et on va aller acheter des trucs.

And we're gonna buy some stuff.

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

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

 

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

All these are tricks to make us work even more!

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

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

 

Je n'aime pas faire la fête. Ce n'est pas mon truc.
I don't like partying. It's not my thing.

 

Chacun son truc!
To each his own!

 

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

 

Et quand je dis un grand ancien,

And when I say a great elder,

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

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

Captions 55-57, Uderzo et Goscinny - 1968

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

 

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

 

Demande à Machin* de t'aider.
Demande à Truc de t'aider.
Ask what's-his-name to help you.

 

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

 

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

 

Demande à Monsieur Untel/Madame Unetelle de t'aider.
Ask Mr./Ms. so-and-so to help you.

 

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

Vocabulary

Sensé(e) or Censé(e)?

The adjectives sensé(e) and censé(e) are easy to confuse, since they have the same pronunciation and almost the same spelling (in other words, they're homophones). Sensé(e) is related to the English word "sense," and means "sensible," "reasonable," or "sane": 

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

J'étais face à trois personnes que je considérais comme étant parfaitement sensées.

I was facing three people whom I considered to be perfectly sane.

Captions 80-81, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Notre appartement est hanté - Part 5

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Censé(e) might remind you of the words "census," "censor," or "censure," but it means something quite different. It's the word for "supposed," as in "supposed to do something." Just like "supposed to," it's nearly always preceded by the verb "to be" (être) and followed by an infinitive: 
 

On est censé... faire réparer des objets qui ont quelques problèmes.

We're supposed to... bring items that have some problems for repair.

Caption 2, Actus Quartier - Repair Café

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On était censé n'avoir aucun souci, avoir des centrales complètement fiables.

They were supposed to have no concerns, to have totally reliable power plants.

Caption 25, Manif du Mois - Fukushima plus jamais ça

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Alors que la police, elle est censée être là pour nous protéger.

While the police are supposed to be there to protect us.

Caption 14, Banlieues françaises - jeunes et policiers, l'impossible réconciliation? - Part 2

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You can always say supposé(e) instead of censé(e), which might be a little easier to remember:

 

...son fameux pont qui était supposé être un lieu où [on] profitait de beaux panoramas.

...its famous bridge, which was supposed to be a place where you enjoy beautiful panoramas.

Captions 26-27, De nouvelles découvertes avec Marion - Le parc des Buttes Chaumont

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Or you can use the verb devoir, especially in the past tense:

 

...bien qu'elle se demanda en quoi cela devait l'aider à se rendre au bal.

...although she wondered in what way that was supposed to help her get to the ball.

Captions 47-48, Contes de fées - Cendrillon - Part 1

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BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Whichever version of "supposed to" you use is perfectly sensé!

Vocabulary

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