French Lessons

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In the Mood for Envie

In "Dimanche soir" (Sunday Night), the slam poet Grand Corps Malade declares his love for his wife in beautiful lines such as: 

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Je l'ai dans la tête comme une mélodie, alors mes envies dansent

I have her in my head like a melody, so my desires dance

Caption 17, Grand Corps Malade - Dimanche soir

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If you didn't see the translation, you might have guessed that envie means "envy." And you would have been right!

 

Vous ne connaissez que l'envie, la hâte, la rage de les tuer.

You knew only envy, haste, the urge to kill them.

Caption 60, Il était une fois... L’Espace - 3. La planète verte - Part 6

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However, besides désir, envie is also the word for "desire." While un désir is a more general desire, envie connotes yearning, longing, or craving:
 

Il peut rester une envie intellectuelle.

There can remain a mental craving.

Caption 129, Le Figaro - Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 1

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If you think about it, this double meaning of envie makes a lot of sense, since envy is bound up with desire: if you envy (envier) someone, you covet what they have.

 

J'envie les caresses

I envy the caresses

Caption 18, Oldelaf - interprète "Bérénice"

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Quitte à en crever de son histoire déçue, de son passé tant envié

Despite wanting to die from her disappointing history, her so envied past

Caption 12, Yaaz - La place des anges

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But envie isn't always so intense. The extremely common expression avoir envie de doesn't mean "to envy" or "yearn for," but simply "to want," "feel like," or "be in the mood for":

 

Vous avez pas envie de faire la sieste?

You don't feel like taking a nap?

Caption 29, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciens

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J'ai envie d'une limonade.
I'm in the mood for a lemonade.

 

There's also the expression donner envie (literally, "to give desire"), which means "to make someone want something":

 

D'avoir des quantités de choses Qui donnent envie d'autres choses

To have things in large quantities That make you want other things

Captions 4-5, Fréro Delavega - Foule Sentimentale

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In English, we have the phrase "green with envy." But in French, one becomes "green with jealousy": vert(e) de jalousie. You can, however, make someone "pale with envy" (faire pâlir d'envie).

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Finally, here's a bizarre quirk of the French language: envie is also the word for "birthmark" and "hangnail." What those have to do with envy and desire is an etymological mystery. 

Vocabulary

Ne faites pas de bêtises!

Animals are generally (and perhaps unjustly) considered to be less intelligent than humans, which explains why the French word bête can mean both "beast" and "stupid":

 

Après tout, c'est bête la guerre.

After all, war is stupid.

Caption 25, Il était une fois: les Explorateurs - 15. Bruce et les sources du Nil

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The related noun bêtise can mean anything along the lines of "stupidity" or "idiocy." You can use it in a general sense to talk about "something stupid":

 

Après les parents, ils me disent, quand ils font une bêtise...

Later the parents tell me, when they do something stupid...

Caption 56, Banlieues françaises - jeunes et policiers, l'impossible réconciliation?

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Or you might use it to refer to something more specific, such as a mistake. Une bêtise isn't just any old mistake, but a particularly stupid one:

 

Vous allez réparer vos bêtises.

You're going to repair your stupid mistakes.

Caption 31, Il était une fois: Notre Terre - 9. Les écosystèmes

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Of course, if you tell someone he or she has made a stupid mistake, you could be implying that the person him or herself is stupid. Une erreur is a more neutral word for "mistake" that doesn't connote stupidity:

 

Elle fait une terrible erreur.

She's making a terrible mistake.

Caption 4, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mes grands-parents sont infidèles

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The plural bêtises is often used to refer to "nonsense," "mischief," or any kind of naughty behavior:

 

Arrête tes bêtises.

Stop your nonsense.

 

Mais si on fait des bêtises, on sait jamais...

But if we get into mischief, you never know...

Caption 90, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciens

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If you argue with someone over des bêtises, you're arguing over nothing:

 

Mes enfants se disputent toujours pour des bêtises.
My kids are always arguing with each other over nothing.

 

When it comes to learning a language, there's no such thing as a stupid mistake. So don't fret if you forget an accent mark or type in the wrong word in a Yabla game—you've just made a simple erreur, not une bêtise!

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For fun, here's an 80s throwback for you: Sabine Paturel's "Les Bêtises," which was a smash hit in France in 1986. 

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

If we don't watchshe takes them

et puis elle les fait tomber un par un.

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

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Hier j'aurais levé le bras

Yesterday I would have raised my arm

pour appeler le taxi si j'avais d'abord soigné mon épaule.

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

Les noms en français

If someone asks you what your name is in French (Comment t’appelles-tu?), you probably know to respond with the phrase je m’appelle… (my name is…). But what’s in a name? Or, more specifically, what are the different parts of a French name?

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First there is le prénom (“first name,” literally “pre-name”), which is not to be confused with le pronom, or “pronoun” (le nom means both “name” and “noun”). This “Le Journal” video is all about first names, focusing on the most popular baby names in France: 

 

C'est un prénom qui passe bien pour une jeune fille, pour une dame.

It's a name that works well for a girl, for a woman.

Caption 15, Le Journal - Choisir un nom d'enfant

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After le prénom comes le deuxième prénom, which literally means “second first name,” i.e. “middle name.” Finally, there’s le nom de famille (“family name” or “surname”). 

Watch out for the word surnom, which is a faux ami of “surname.” Un surnom is “a nickname,” and its verbal form surnommer means “to nickname”: 

 

Et enfin, les habitants de la Butte aux Cailles sont surnommés les Cailleux.

And finally, the residents of the Butte aux Cailles are nicknamed the "Cailleux."

Caption 35, Voyage dans Paris - La Butte aux Cailles

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Surnommer comes from the verb nommer (to name, to call). When you make nommer reflexive (se nommer), it means “to be named” or “to be called”: 

 

Ce système de redistribution "intelligent" se nomme "smart grid".

This "intelligent" redistribution system is called "smart grid."

Caption 18, Canal 32 - Le futur de l’éolien se joue dans l'Aube

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You can also use se nommer to refer to a person’s name, but it’s a bit more formal in that context than its synonym s’appeler:

Ma mère se nomme Louise.

My mother is named Louise. 

There are other types of names besides your birth name (nom de naissance). If you’re a performer, for example, you might adopt a new name for your stage persona: 

 

C'est quoi ton nom de scène?

What's your stage name?

Caption 41, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciens

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Or, if you prefer the pen to the stage, you might take on a nom de plume:

"Voltaire" était le nom de plume de François-Marie Arouet. 

"Voltaire" was the pen name of François-Marie Arouet. 

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In a previous lesson on the word mademoiselle, we talked about some recent changes that were made to the vocabulary used in French government documents. Among them is the abolition of the phrase nom de jeune fille (maiden name) in favor of nom de famille, and the phrase nom d’époux/nom d’épouse (married name) in favor of nom d’usage (used name).

So now, if you ever have the pleasure of filling out paperwork in French, you shouldn’t have to worry about writing your names in the wrong boxes! 

Vocabulary

Au revoir, mademoiselle

Well, it's official. French Prime Minister François Fillon has declared that the title mademoiselle (Miss) will no longer be included on any government forms or documents. The decision comes after months of campaigning by two French feminist groups, Osez le féminisme! (Dare To Be Feminist!) and Les Chiennes de garde (The Watchdogs), who argue that the term places an unfair emphasis on a woman's marital status. Mademoiselle literally means "my young lady" (ma + demoiselle), just as madame comes from "my lady" and monsieur "my lord." Monsieur has long been used to identify both single and married men, as the archaic male equivalent of mademoiselle, mon damoiseau, never became an honorific title. Now madame will be used for all women, whether single or married, and is thus best translated as "Ms." instead of "Mrs."   

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The Prime Minister's order will also replace nom de jeune fille (maiden name) and nom patronymique (patronymic) with nom de famille (family name), and nom d'époux/nom d'épouse (married name) with nom d'usage (used name). 
 
Like "Ms." and "Mr." in English, madame and monsieur are usually abbreviated and capitalized when preceding a name:
 
Mes professeurs préférés sont Mme Fournier et M. Martin.
My favorite teachers are Ms. Fournier and Mr. Martin.
 
Note that there is no period after Mme, but there is one after M. (The abbreviation for mademoiselle, Mlle, also has no period.)
 
You can use madame and monsieur by themselves to address a person as "ma'am" or "sir":
 

Madame, qu'est-ce que vous avez préparé, vous?

Ma'am, what about you, what did you prepare?

Caption 17, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois

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Ne riez pas, monsieur, c'est très sérieux.

Do not laugh, sir, it's quite serious.

Caption 17, Le Journal - Les effets bénéfiques du rire!

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Madame and monsieur are used quite a bit more often in French than "ma'am" or "sir" in English. When you enter a shop, for example, you’re more likely to hear Bonjour, madame/monsieur! rather than just Bonjour
 
When referring to a third person, madame and monsieur can also be used for "lady" and "gentleman": 
 

Non, c'est madame qui a préparé le riz.

No, it's the lady who prepared the rice.

Caption 38, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois

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Y a un beau monsieur là de quatre-vingt-treize ans qui veut vous inviter, hein!

There's a handsome ninety-three-year-old gentleman here who wants to invite you, you know!

Caption 33, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciens

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Sometimes, you might see madame, monsieur, and mademoiselle in the plural (mesdames, messieurs, mesdemoiselles), especially when someone or something is being introduced:
 

Mesdames et messieurs, sans plus tarder, voici Hugo Bonneville.

Ladies and gentlemen, without further delay, here is Hugo Bonneville.

Captions 4-5, Hugo Bonneville - Être musicien

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Monsieur le Premier Ministre (Mr. Prime Minister) may have banned mademoiselle from official use, but that probably won't cause the singer Mademoiselle K to change her stage name. You can watch the video for her song Me taire te plaire (Keeping Quiet to Please You), featuring Zazie, right here on Yabla French. 
Vocabulary

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