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Tout as an Adverb

In our last lesson, we discussed the word tout (all) as an adjective in the constructions tout + noun versus tout + determiner + noun, and we learned that tout, like all adjectives, agrees in gender and number with the noun it modifies. In this lesson, we'll explore tout as an adverb. And in the process, we'll discover how this strange adverb sometimes goes rogue and starts behaving like an adjective! So, buckle up!


Before we examine the quirks and tricks of adverbial tout, let's look at tout as a regular adverb, a word that is typically invariable (never changes form). Indeed, tout always stays the same in front of another adverb. The construction tout + adverb is equivalent to très (very) + adverb:


Et voilà. Allez, mélange tout doucement.

And there we are. Go on, mix very slowly.

Caption 40, Delphine et Automne Le gâteau au yaourt - Part 1

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Delphine could have said this instead:


Voilà. Allez, mélange très doucement

And there we are. Go on, mix very slowly.


Tout also combines well with adverbs like simplementtout simplement (quite simply). 


Alors tout simplement parce que ça fait maintenant dix ans qu'on travaille à notre compte.

So quite simply because it has now been ten years since we've been self-employed.

Caption 22, Alsace 20 Grain de Sel: le titre de Maître Restaurateur, c'est quoi?

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The adverb tout can also modify an adjective to mean "all" or "very," as in "to the full extent." Again, tout behaves like a typical adverb and does not change. In his song "Cha Cha du Marin," singer Cré Tonnerre describes a sailor in a happy mood, using the construction tout + singular masculine adjectives:


Tout heureux, tout amoureux, tout bleu comme le ciel bleu

All happy, all in love, all blue as the blue sky

Caption 26, Cré Tonnerre Cha Cha du Marin

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Did you notice that all the t’s are sounded except the last one? That's because it's necessary to employ liaison in constructions like tout heureux (all happy) and tout amoureux (all/totally in love).


But when the adverb tout appears before a feminine adjective, the liaison becomes a bit more dangerous (or at least trickier). If the feminine adjective (singular or plural) starts with a vowel, as in excitée (excited), tout does not change:


J'étais tout excitée d'avoir ce privilège.

I was all excited to have that privilege.

Caption 16, Melissa Mars From Paris with Love

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Tout also stays the same before a feminine adjective starting with a mute h (since a word beginning with a mute h behaves like a word beginning with a vowel, in the sense that it allows a liaison to occur):


Elle est tout heureuse.

She is very happy.


Elles sont tout heureuses.

They are very happy.


But wait, there is another type of h in French! Unlike the mute h, the aspirated h acts like a consonant. Therefore, no liaison is possible, which would make the second t in tout silent. Tout agrees in number and gender before a feminine adjective beginning with an aspirated h. In the example below, toute agrees with the feminine adjective honteuse (ashamed):


Elle est toute honteuse.

She is very ashamed.


In the same sentence in the plural form, toutes takes -es just like the feminine plural adjective it modifies:


Elles sont toutes honteuses.

They are very ashamed.


Just as adverbial tout agrees with a feminine adjective starting with an aspirated h, tout also agrees with a feminine adjective starting with a consonant:


Et puis après, je me retrouve toute seule... 

and then after, I find myself all alone...

Caption 29, Amal et Caroline Pourquoi tu n'es pas venue à mon anniversaire ?

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Elles peuvent fonctionner toutes seules.

They can operate on their own.

Caption 66, Lionel & Lahlou La grève

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However, there is sometimes ambiguity in the feminine plural form. In some cases, you will need context to determine whether toutes is acting as an adverb (meaning "very," modifying the adjective) or as an adjective (meaning "all," modifying the subject):


Elles sont toutes tristes.

They are very sad./All of them are sad.


Elles sont toutes honteuses.

They are very ashamed./All of them are ashamed.


On the other hand, there is no ambiguity with the construction tout + plural feminine noun beginning with a vowel or mute h (e.g. tout heureuses). This tout can only act as an adverb, meaning "very":


Elles sont tout heureuses.

They are very happy.


Likewise, toutes heureuses can only mean "(they are) all happy." Rather than an adverb, toutes in this case is an adjective of quantity that modifies the subject elles:


Elles sont toutes heureuses.

All of them are happy.


Now let's recap the rules of the construction tout + feminine adjective (singular and plural):



When tout is before a feminine adjective starting with a consonant:

  • toutseul("all alone," feminine singular)
  • toutes seules ("all alone," feminine plural)


When tout is before a feminine adjective starting with an aspirated h:

  • toute honteuse ("very ashamed," feminine singular)
  • toutes honteuses ("very ashamed," feminine plural)



No Agreement

When tout is before a feminine adjective starting with a vowel:

  • tout excitée ("very excited," feminine singular)
  • tout excitées ("very excited," feminine plural)


When tout is before a feminine adjective starting with a mute h:

  • tout heureuse ("very happy," feminine singular)
  • tout heureuses ("very happy, feminine plural)


(And don’t forget that adverbial tout does not take agreement before ANY masculine adjective.)


Toute la leçon est terminée! (The whole lesson is over!) This may be a lot to take in, but keep in mind that exceptions are few. Tout only changes before feminine adjectives and only in limited situations. And don’t forget: L’équipe de Yabla est tout heureuse de vous aider! (The Yabla team is very happy to help you!)

"Être en train de": Process and Progress

Être en train de is a handy French expression that describes an event in progress. It's always followed by an infinitive and is often translated as "to be in the process of" or "to be in the middle of":


Donc, je suis en deuxième année là;

So, I'm in my second year now;

je suis en train de... achever ma formation.

I'm in the process of... completing my training.

Caption 25, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano - Médaillon de Homard

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je suis en train de régler les meules pour que

Here I am in the middle of setting the millstones so that

le grain soit correctement écrasé.

the grain is crushed correctly.

Caption 4, Télé Lyon Métropole - Chaillé-les-Marais : Une biscuiterie 100 % familiale

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But just as often, être en train de can simply be translated with the present progressive tense ("to be doing," "to be making," etc.):


Donc, en ce moment, on est en train de faire des truffes cacao.

So, right now, we're making cocoa truffles.

Caption 7, Canadian Chocolate Seller - Chocolats

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In French, there is no difference between the present tense and the present progressive tense: on fait can mean both "we make" and "we are making." So the above example could also be written:


Donc, en ce moment, on fait des truffes cacao.
So, right now, we're making cocoa truffles. 


Être en train de emphasizes the fact that the activity is currently in progress (further emphasized above by en ce moment). In fact, "currently" is another possible translation of être en train de: suis en train de travailler avec celui qui a fait 'Pulp Fiction',

...I'm currently working with the person who made 'Pulp Fiction,'

Caption 9, Melissa Mars - From Paris with Love

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You can also use être en train de to describe a continuing event in the past. In this case, it's synonymous with the imperfect tense: 


Quand j'ai fait cette photo, la baleine était en train de dormir.

When I took this picture, the whale was sleeping.

Caption 25, Le Journal - Sillonner & photographier les océans

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Quand j'ai fait cette photo, la baleine dormait.
When I took this picture, the whale was sleeping.


Here again, être en train de stresses the continuousness of the action: the whale was "in the process of" sleeping when the speaker took the picture. 


Être en cours de has the same meaning and function as être en train de, except it's usually followed by a noun instead of an infinitive:


Un immense chantier est en cours d'achèvement.

A huge construction project is being completed.

Caption 25, Voyage dans Paris - Cour de l'Industrie

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A final note: Make sure not to confuse en train with entrain, a noun meaning "enthusiasm" or "liveliness." Nous espérons que vous êtes en train d'étudier le français avec entrain! (We hope you're in the process of studying French with enthusiasm!)