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 année: cette 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'ExpressPlay Caption
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 tournoiPlay Caption
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 campagnePlay Caption
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.Play Caption
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 chantesPlay Caption
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 fiertéPlay Caption
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 fiertéPlay Caption
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 2Play Caption
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 parapluiesPlay Caption
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 mémoiresPlay Caption
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.Play Caption
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 1Play Caption
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 blésPlay Caption
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.Play Caption
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.Play Caption
(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-abrisPlay Caption
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 1Play Caption
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!).
A reflexive verb generally refers to an action that reflects back on the subject (something you do to yourself or to each other). You will recognize a reflexive verb in the dictionary by the reflexive pronoun se (oneself) preceding the infinitive, as in se laver (to wash oneself).
Reflexive verbs usually agree… with themselves! That is, the past participle agrees in gender and number with both the subject (such as je) and the object (such as me) at the same time. For example:
Ce matin, je me suis réveillée avec le coq.
This morning, I woke up with the rooster.Play Caption
In the example above, we assume that the subject pronoun je and the reflexive pronoun me are referring to Patricia, the speaker, so the past participle réveillé (woke up) takes an -e at the end to become feminine.
On the other hand, in the example below, the husband wakes up his wife. In this case, the verb réveiller (to wake [someone] up) is no longer reflexive.
Il a même réveillé sa femme qui dormait.
He even woke up his wife, who was sleeping.
Caption 52, Dao Evolution - Noël pour les sans-abrisPlay Caption
In this case, you use the auxiliary avoir (to have) because he isn't waking up himself—he's waking up his wife.
Many reflexive verbs like se réveiller can also be non-reflexive (without the se). The verb dire (to say, to tell), for instance, can be used both ways:
C'est ce que je me suis dit.
That's what I told myself.
Caption 52, Claire et Philippe Je suis en retardPlay Caption
C'est ce que j'ai dit à ma sœur.
That's what I said to my sister.
The verb se dire also belongs to a category of reflexive verbs whose past participles never require agreement. We call these verbs intransitive, because their reflexive pronouns act as indirect objects, not direct objects. You can tell that a reflexive verb is intransitive because its non-reflexive form is usually followed by the preposition à (to). For example: se parler (to speak to each other, to speak to oneself), parler à quelqu’un (to speak to someone). For a complete list of these verbs, click here.
When a reflexive verb is intransitive, the se acts as an indirect object pronoun and thus indicates that the verb doesn’t require agreement:
Ils se sont parlé tous les jours.
They spoke to each other every day.
When a reflexive verb, whether transitive or intransitive, is followed by a direct object, the past participle also doesn't agree:
Ils se sont lavé les mains.
They washed their hands.
Because there's already a direct object in this sentence (les mains), the reflexive pronoun se is “demoted” from its direct object status and acts as an indirect object. And since the direct object is placed after the verb, no agreement is necessary.
However, if the verb is not followed by a direct object, the past participle agrees with the subject and the reflexive pronoun, as we discussed earlier:
Ils se sont lavés.
They washed (themselves).
On the other hand, if a reflexive verb is followed by an indirect object, agreement does occur:
Mes grand-parents, ils se sont beaucoup occupés de moi.
My grandparents, they looked after me a lot.Play Caption
You add an -s at the end of occupé (looked after) to agree with ils (they, masculine plural). The indirect object de moi (after me) doesn’t affect anything.
That about does it for our suite of lessons on the passé composé! It’s a lot to take in, so in case you’re not quite "in agreement" with all these rules yet, here is a summary:
• Verbs conjugated with the auxiliary avoir (to have) don't agree in gender and number with the subject, unless a direct object appears before the verb.
• Non-reflexive verbs conjugated with the auxiliary être (to be) always agree with the subject.
• Reflexive verbs are conjugated with être and usually agree with the subject, unless the verb is intransitive or a direct object appears after the verb.