French Lessons

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Hello and Have a Good Day!

In an introductory French class, Lionel gives a rundown of some basic ways to say hello and goodbye people in French:

 

C'est le soir. Bonne soirée.

It's the evening. Have a good evening.

Caption 39, Leçons avec Lionel - L'heure et les salutations

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In English, a “soirée” is a fancy party usually held in the evening. Though the French word soirée can also refer to a party, its basic meaning is just “evening,” which isn’t quite as fancy. You can see from the example above that there is another French word for “evening”: le soir. Likewise, there is also another way to say “good evening”: bonsoir. So what’s the difference between le soir and la soirée and bonsoir and bonne soirée?

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It’s not just that le soir is masculine and la soirée is feminine or that bonsoir is one word and bonne soirée is two. It’s more a question of emphasis: la soirée generally refers to the duration of an evening, whereas le soir just refers to a specific time. The difference is pretty subtle, and the words are often interchangeable, but it’s good to know that this pattern applies to other time-related words as well: matin/matinée (morning), jour/journée (day), and an/année (year). 

In this weather report, the phrase toute la matinée emphasizes the durational aspect of matinée:

 

En effet, le soleil va briller de Wissembourg à Saint-Louis durant toute la matinée.

Indeed, the sun will shine from Wissembourg to Saint-Louis all morning long.

Caption 3, Alsace 20 - Météo du 2 juillet 2010

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If she just wanted to emphasize the specific time of day, the weather reporter could have said something like:

En effet, le soleil va briller de Wissembourg à Saint-Louis demain matin
Indeed, the sun will shine from Wissembourg to Saint-Louis tomorrow morning

Note that matinée never refers to a daytime theater performance or movie screening, as it does in English. In French, it just means "morning." To get another sense of morning as a duration of time, think about the French expression for “sleeping in,” faire la grasse matinée (literally, “fat morning”). When you sleep in, you spend a good amount of the morning (if not the whole morning, or toute la matinée!) in bed: 

 

Il travaille bien en classe; il ne fait jamais la grasse matinée!

He works hard in class; he never sleeps in!

Caption 17, Les zooriginaux - 2 Tel père tel fils

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The pattern continues with jour/journée. Notice the difference in meaning between toute la journée and tous les jours

 

J'suis sur la plage toute la journée.

I'm on the beach all day long.

Caption 8, Fred et Miami Catamarans - Fred et sa vie à Miami

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Je suis sur la plage tous les jours
I'm on the beach every day

 

Bonjour is the standard way to say “hello” (or “good day”), but as you may have guessed, you can also say bonne journée. Bonne journée is usually translated as “have a good day,” and this same distinction can be applied to bonsoir and bonne soirée. You'd tend to say bonjour/bonsoir when greeting someone and bonne journée/bonne soirée when leaving them. However, you generally won’t hear bon matin or bonne matinée in French—”good morning” is simply bonjour. And there is only one way to say “good afternoon” (bon après-midi) and “good night” (bonne nuit), which you only say before going to bed. 

Finally, there is an/année. Again, you would use an to refer to a specific year or number of years:

Dans trois ans, j’aurai trente ans.
In three years, I will be thirty years old. 

Une année is a one-year span, but it can also refer less precisely to a period of 11 or 13 months (whereas un an is strictly 12 months):

 

C'est pour ça que je voulais vraiment absolument m'arrêter ici pendant une année...

That's why I really absolutely wanted to stop here for a year...

Captions 36-37, Le Québec parle - aux Français

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You can’t wish somebody a bon an in French, but you can certainly wish them a bonne année. In fact, bonne année happens to be the phrase for “Happy New Year," while "New Year's" (referring to the specific day) is le Nouvel An or le jour de l'An. Since the holidays are fast approaching, in addition to a bonne journée and a bonne soirée, we at Yabla also wish you a bonne année for le Nouvel An (a few months in advance)! 

Vocabulary

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! 

Vocabulary

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. 

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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!  

Vocabulary

Une poignée de dollars: French Collective Nouns

A collective noun (nom collectif) is a singular noun that represents a group of objects or people. Some French examples include une série (a series), une poignée (a handful or fistful), un tas (a pile), une foule (a crowd), and, of course, un groupe (a group). Although collective nouns can stand alone in a sentence, they are often followed by a complement (a group of something). The tricky part about using collective nouns is determining whether the verb should agree with the collective noun (and be singular) or with its complement (and be plural).

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The agreement all depends on which of the two (the collective or its individual parts) is being emphasized. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at two different ways of using the word poignée:

 

Une poignée d'humains s'est emparée d'un pouvoir qui les dépasse eux-mêmes.

A handful of people has taken over a power that's beyond their control.

Captions 93-94, Actus Quartier - Manif anti-nucléaire à Bastille

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Une poignée de nationalistes saluaient la naissance tant espérée.

A handful of nationalists were greeting the much hoped-for birth.

Caption 9, Le Journal - Un petit prince japonais

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In the first example, the singular verb agrees with the collective noun (poignée) because the group of people as a whole has taken over. In the second example, the plural verb agrees with the complement (nationalistes) because the emphasis is on the individual nationalists who are giving the greeting. So if you’re talking about what a group of things does as a single entity, you use a singular verb. But if you’re talking about what the things in the group do themselves, as individuals, you use a plural verb.

Sometimes, the word preceding the collective noun can indicate whether the verb is singular or plural. If the noun is preceded by a definite article (le, la) or a demonstrative (ce, cet, cette) or possessive (mon, ton, etc.) pronoun, the verb will often agree with the collective noun and be singular:

Cet ensemble d'obstacles sera difficile à surmonter.
This group of obstacles will be difficult to overcome.

If the noun is preceded by an indefinite article (un, une), the verb will often be plural and agree with the complement:

Un ensemble de personnes marchent dans la rue.
A group of people are walking in the street.

But many times, the decision to make the verb agree with the collective noun or its complement all boils down to personal preference or the speaker’s intention. This is true of number words like une douzaine (a dozen), une quinzaine (around fifteen), and une vingtaine (around twenty), which can take either a singular or a plural verb:

 

Une centaine d'exilés tibétains ont tenté d'occuper l'ambassade de Chine à New Delhi.

About a hundred Tibetan exiles have tried to occupy the Chinese embassy in New Delhi.

Caption 2, Le Journal - Manifestations au Tibet

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Une douzaine d'huîtres coûte dix euros.
A dozen oysters costs ten euros.

 

You can see our lesson on words like centaine and douzaine here.

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There’s no room for personal preference when it comes to the words la plupart (most), la majorité (the majority), and une quantité (a lot). These always take a plural verb:

 

La plupart des gens à Miami parlent l'espagnol, pour vous dire.

Most people speak Spanish in Miami, you know.

Caption 22, Fred et Miami Catamarans - Fred et sa vie à Miami

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Notre équipe de traducteurs chez Yabla vous souhaite une multitude de succès! (Our translating team at Yabla wishes you a multitude of success!)

Grammar

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