French Lessons

Topics

Risky Business

In his latest video on the coronavirus pandemic, Lionel talks about the measures being taken to control the spread of the virus in France. Like everyone else in the world, French people are trying to minimize the risk of catching the virus by staying inside and wearing masks when they have to go out. 

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Though risk is a major theme of the video, when Lionel uses the verb risquer, he means something a bit different: 

 

Lors du déconfinement,

During reopening,

nous risquons de sortir avec des masques

we're likely going out with masks

et... les distanciations sociales

and... social distancing

risquent de durer un bon moment.

is likely going to last for quite some time.

Captions 35-38, Lionel L - La pandémie, un mois déjà

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We don't "risk" going out with masks on, nor does social distancing "risk" lasting for a while longer. (Quite the contary: these are the very measures that are reducing risk). Risquer often just means "to be likely" (être probable) or "there's a good chance that." The stakes don't have to be that high:

 

Cette année, Noël risque d'être très présent dans les rues.

This year, Christmas is bound to be very present on the streets.

Caption 22, TV Vendée - Le sapin de Noël décoré par les enfants

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But risquer can also mean "to risk" or "run the risk of":

 

Si ça continue à cuire, ça risque de perdre sa belle couleur.

If they continue to cook, they run the risk of losing their beautiful color.

Caption 57, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano - Médaillon de Homard

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Il a risqué sa vie pour sauver le chien.

He risked his life to save the dog. 

 

Its noun form, risque, can mean "risk," "danger," or "chance." Note that, though it ends in an e, risque is masculine: 

 

Le risque avec les lamas, c'est qu'en grandissant,

The danger with llamas is that as they grow up,

ils peuvent devenir agressifs.

they may become aggressive.

Caption 25, Angers 7 - Un lama en plein appartement

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There's also the adjective risqué, which you probably recognize. Though risqué can mean "racy" and "suggestive," as it does in English, it also just means "risky":

 

Pour elles c'est trop risqué de s'accrocher à la locomotive.

For them it's too risky to grab on to the engine.

Caption 47, Grand Corps Malade - Les Voyages en train

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Some say it's a good thing to take a lot of risks, but these days, that doesn't seem like the safest advice. Ne prenez pas de risque! (Don't take any risks!)

Vocabulary

French Si Clauses

In our previous lessons on the French conditional, we briefly mentioned si (if) clauses, which express the possibility or likelihood of an event. These are comparable to "if/then" constructions in English, as in "if you didn't want to go, then you should have said something" or "if I rest now, I'll have more energy later." French si clauses are made up of two parts: a condition (e.g. "if I rest now") and a result ("I'll have more energy later"). They come in three different forms, each expressing different likelihoods and employing different verb tenses and moods. Let's break them down one by one. 

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1. Si + present-tense verb
The first type of si clause describes a possible or likely event. It expresses what could or will probably happen if a present condition is met. When the "condition" part (si + verb) of the clause is in the present tense, the "result" part can be in the presentimperative, or future

 

Si on surveille pas, elle les prend et puis elle les fait tomber un par un.

If we don't watch, she takes them and then makes them fall one by one.

Caption 23, Angers 7 - Un lama en plein appartement

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Donc si vous pouvez éviter de sortir, évitez.

So if you can avoid going out, avoid it.

Caption 7, Alsace 20 - Météo des Maquilleurs

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Même aujourd'hui, si on me fait chanter, je chanterai.

Even today, if you make me sing, I'll sing.

Caption 55, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciens

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2. Si + imperfect verb
The second type describes something that's contrary to the present situation or unlikely to happen. Here the si is followed by an imperfect verb and the "result" part of the clause requires the conditional:

 

Si on avait pas tant de bénévoles... cela serait pas possible.

If we didn't have so many volunteers... it wouldn't be possible.

Captions 34-35, Farmer François - Le stand de légumes

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Je pourrais aller au cinéma avec toi si je n'étais pas malade. 
I could go to the movies with you if I weren't sick. 

 

As you can see from the above example, the "result" doesn't always have to follow the "condition"—it can just as easily be placed before it. So we could rewrite the "Farmer François" sentence as: Cela serait pas possible si on avait pas tant de bénévoles (it wouldn't be possible if we didn't have so many volunteers). As long as both parts of a si clause are in the right tense/mood, it doesn't matter which comes first.

 

3. Si + pluperfect verb
The final type of si clause is a lot like the second type, but a bit more complex. It describes something that's contrary to a past event—for instance, something you wish had happened or regret not having done. In other words, it expresses an impossibility. The pluperfect is paired with the past conditional here: 

 

Si j'avais su, je serais venu avec deux chevaux.

If I had known, I would have come with two horses.

Caption 50, Il était une fois - Les découvreurs - 13. Stephenson - Part 6

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Hier j'aurais levé le bras pour appeler le taxi si j'avais d'abord soigné mon épaule.

Yesterday I would have raised my arm to hail the taxi if I had treated my shoulder first.

Captions 39-41, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode du conditionnel

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To learn about some other meanings of si besides "if," check out this lesson. And if you have any suggestions for future lesson topics, feel free to tweet us @yabla or email us at newsletter@yabla.com.

Grammar

Tenir: To Have and to Hold

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

 

Tiens ma tête quand elle fait plus de sens.

Hold my head when it no longer makes sense.

Caption 28, Corneille - Comme un fils

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

 

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

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

Caption 23, Strasbourg - Les passants

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

 

Des épines qui tiennent plus longtemps...

Needles that stay on longer...

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

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

 

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

I have to mention that Brittany has its charms too.

Caption 13, Fanny et Corrine - Leurs origines

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

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

Caption 48, TV Sud - Fête de la Tortue 2012

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

Elle tient à son emploi.

She is fond of her job. 

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

 

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

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

Caption 2, Angers 7 - Un lama en plein appartement

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Tiens-toi tranquille, hein sinon!

Hold still, OK, or else!

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

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Les enfants se tiennent bien.

The children are behaving themselves. 

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

 

Tiens, ça doit être bon, ça!

Look, this should be good!

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

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

 

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

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

Caption 47, TV Sud - Fête de la Tortue 2012

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

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

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

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

Vocabulary

Euphony in French: On or L'on?

We've dealt with the concept of euphony before, in our lessons on the French aspirated h and on liaisons. Euphony in French is the tendency to avoid having a word that ends in a vowel before a word that begins with a vowel. It's the reason why you have l'animal instead of le animal—it just "flows" better! In this lesson, we'll look at two specific instances of euphony, before the pronoun on and before the indefinite article un/une

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Take a look at the way on is used in this caption: 

 

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

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

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

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You might be wondering what l’ is doing before on here. L’ is the contracted form of le and la (the), and on is a singular pronoun meaning "we," "they," or "one." But it doesn’t make any sense to say "the we." So what does the l’ mean here? Actually, it doesn’t really mean anything! In formal and written French, you’ll see l’on instead of on and l’un/l’une instead of un/une in certain situations for euphonic purposes.

There are two situations where l’on is preferred over on

1. After que (see the example above) and words that end in que, such as lorsque (when), puisque (since), and quoique (although). This is to avoid the contraction qu'on, which sounds the same as a rude French word that we won't mention here. 

2. After short words ending in a vowel sound, such as et (and), ou (or), (where), and si (if):

 

Si l'on fait la queue, on... on a froid.

If we wait in line, we... we're cold.

Caption 11, Fanny parle des saisons - Activités

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And there are two situations where l’un/l’une is preferred over un/une:

1. When un/une is followed by a preposition (usually de or des):

 

Voici Indira, sans doute l'un des animaux de compagnie les plus insolites qui puissent exister.

Here is Indira, undoubtedly one of the most unusual pets that could possibly exist.

Caption 3, Angers 7 - Un lama en plein appartement

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2. At the beginning of a clause:

 

L'une des icônes principales de l'église est le martyr saint Mina.

One of the church's principal icons is the martyr Saint Mina.

Caption 15, LCM - Joyeux Noël... orthodoxe!

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As we mentioned, l’on and l’un/l’une are mainly used in formal and written French. In casual spoken French, you’ll often just see the words without the l’:

 

Ça fait longtemps qu'on attend ça, hein.

We've been waiting a long time for this, you know.

Caption 18, Alsace 20 - Rammstein à Strasbourg

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But since it’s always good to know the "proper" way of speaking, keep these rules in mind!

Grammar

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