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Thinking about Penser

Penser (to think) is a handy verb to know when it comes to sharing your thoughts or opinions. It’s also a regular -er verb, which makes it easy to use. However, the tricky part is that it requires different prepositions depending on what type of thinking is involved. So when should you use penser à versus penser de, as both translate as “to think of” in English? And what happens when penser is followed by another infinitive?


Let’s start with the most common construction: penser à + noun (to think of/about), as in penser à quelque chose/à quelqu’un (to think of something/someone). Use this construction to describe what's on your mind, what your thoughts are turning to. The singer in the video below has only one thing on his mind: his beloved. Note the use of the disjunctive pronoun after the preposition à (of): 


Toutes les nuits je pense à toi

Every night I think of you

Caption 31, Alsace 20 Colonel Reyel en session live acoustique!

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Bear in mind that the preposition à takes on many forms—à, à la, aux, au—as it agrees with the noun it modifies. With feminine singular nouns, it’s quite straightforward; we simply say à la. In the example below, Caroline can’t stop penser à la cigarette (thinking about the cigarette) that she can’t have: 


Puis, c'est vrai que parfois je suis irritable, parce que justement je suis en train de penser à la cigarette que je ne peux pas prendre

Then, it's true that sometimes I'm irritable, because, precisely, I'm thinking about the cigarette that I can't have

Captions 85-87, Amal et Caroline La cigarette

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Remember to make the necessary changes to à before masculine nouns, plural and singular: à le becomes au, and à les becomes aux.


Je pense aux Québécois... ils doivent en avoir ras le bol et ras la casquette

I think of the Quebecois... they must have a bowlful, and up to the hat [be fed up and have had it up to here]

Caption 12, Le Québec parle aux Français - Part 1

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Now that we have explored penser à, which is reserved for expressing what’s on your mind, what you're thinking about, let’s focus on penser de. Why switch to de? Because penser requires the preposition de to express an opinion. This construction usually comes in the form of a question, as it involves asking someone’s view of things. In the video below, a French person wonders what French Canadians think of his fellow countrymen:


Et puis, j'étais un petit peu stressé à l'idée de... savoir: qu'est-ce qu'ils pensent de nous ?

And then, I was a little bit stressed at the idea of... finding out, what do they think of us?

Caption 11, Le Québec parle aux Français - Part 1

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You seldom come across penser de in a declarative sentence, but it’s possible. An answer to the question mentioned in the example above might look something like this:


Vous me demandez ce que je pense des Québécois. Je ne sais pas ce que je pense de ces gens.

You’re asking what I think of Quebecois. I don’t know what I think of these people.


So far, we’ve focused on the construction penser + preposition + noun and learned that penser is followed by à to describe what you're thinking about and by de to express an opinion. Similar rules apply with infinitive verbs. Penser à + infinitive means to “consider,” “to have in mind,” or “to remember." In this trailer for La Belle et la Bête, the Beast is hoping to escape, and is warned about entertaining such a thought:


Ne pense même pas à t'échapper.

Don't even think of escaping.

Caption 27, Bande-annonce La Belle et la Bête

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Penser à + infinitive is also good to use when toying with ideas and considering possibilities. The cartoonists in this video explain how they first thought of drawing Gauls:


Nous devions faire une histoire pour le journal que nous venions de créer, et nous avons pensé à faire des Gaulois, très simplement.

We had to make a story for the publication that we had just created, and we thought of doing Gauls, very simply.

Captions 8-10, Uderzo et Goscinny 1968

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In addition, you can use penser à as an alternative to se rappeler de, “to remember” to do something or "to remind" someone to do something:


Tu devrais penser à le faire chaque fois que tu manges des choses sucrées.

You should remember to do it every time you eat something sweet.

Caption 7, Il était une fois: la vie 14. La bouche et les dents - Part 6

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Penser de + infinitive is used in the same way as with a noun: to express an opinion, or more frequently, to ask someone their opinion about doing something.


Qu'est-ce que tu penses d'aller au ciné ce soir ?

What do you think/How do you feel about going to the movies tonight?


On the other hand, the construction penser + infinitive, with no preposition in between the verbs, expresses what you’re thinking of doing, your intentions, plans, or hopes. It usually indicates a firmer course of action rather than a passing thought. In the following video, penser is translated as “hope to,” as the sense of hope is strongly implied: pour lesquelles nous pensons pouvoir réaliser des offres intéressantes et compétitives.

...and to whom we hope to offer interesting and competitive prices.

Caption 16, Le Journal Opérateurs virtuels de portables

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Penser + indicative indicates an intention, however uncertain it might be. Discussing the presidential elections, Edmée and Fanny mention who they might vote for, although they have not quite decided yet:


Je pense potentiellement voter Macron, mais c'est pas sûr.

I'm thinking of potentially voting for Macron, but it's not certain.

Captions 17-18, Edmée et Fanny Les présidentielles à 20 ans

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In this example, penser + indicative conveys a stronger intention, as the speaker had actually planned to come earlier but was held up at work:


Je suis désolé. Là, je pensais venir plus tôt, mais c'était de la folie au boulot aujourd'hui.

I'm sorry. I was thinking of coming here earlier, but it was crazy at work today.

Captions 42-43, Le Jour où tout a basculé J'ai escroqué mon assurance ! - Part 2

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You can also use penser + infinitive to reflect on and evaluate past actions, as in penser avoir fait (thinking that [I] have done) This construction is equivalent to penser que (to think that), which is the way it usually translates in English anyway:


Je pense toujours les avoir bien éduqués.

I still think I've raised them well.

Caption 19, Alain Etoundi Allez tous vous faire enfilmer! - Part 2

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Alternatively, the speaker could have said:


Je pense que je les ai toujours bien éduqués.

I still think I've raised them well.


In conclusion, there is a lot to think about in this lesson, so here is a summary for you:


Penser à + noun: to have in mind, to think about

Penser de + noun: to think of (expressing an opinion)

Penser à + infinitive: to consider, to have in mind, to remember doing something

Penser de + infinitive: to think of/feel about doing something (expressing an opinion)

Penser + infinitive: to hope to, to plan, to intend


But there's even more à penser (to think about) than that, so stay tuned for the second part of this lesson. In the meantime, pensez à regarder beaucoup de vidéos sur Yabla (remember to watch many Yabla videos)!


Arabic Words in the French Language

It’s no secret that many English words have become part of the French language. What is not so well-known, however, is how much Arabic has influenced European languages. From the Moorish occupation of Spain to the latest waves of North African immigrants, Arabs have had a strong presence in Europe. So, it’s no surprise that Arabic terms have crept into the French language. Let’s explore some of them.


Many of these words were adapted to sound more like French over time, so much so that French people use words of Arabic origin every day without realizing it. For example, a typical day may start with un café, derived from the Arabic word qahwa:


Les adultes boivent plus du café ou du thé

Adults drink coffee or tea more

Caption 9, Arles Le petit déjeuner

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Arab cuisine has also become part of the French cooking repertoire. For example, you can find the spicy Maghrebi sausage called merguez in most supermarkets nowadays. In the video below, Parisians can’t resist the smell of merguez:


les odeurs de merguez, de frites, euh...

the smells of merguez, of French fries, uh...

Caption 8, Manif du Mois La traditionnelle manif du 1er mai

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People even use Arabic terms when talking about routine activities, like aller au magasin (going to the store), a word borrowed from the Arabic makazin, which originally referred to a warehouse. The meaning of introduced words often departs from the original:


Alors, nous sommes dans un magasin.

So, we're in a shop.

Caption 24, Extr@ Ep. 2 - Sam fait du shopping - Part 3

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Other times, loanwords have remained close to the original Arabic meaning. French borrowed the term souk, which is a marketplace in Northern Africa. But the word has also become slang for a messy place and is often accompanied by an exclamation mark:


Quel souk!

What a mess!


The somewhat dated expression faire la nouba (to party) kept its Arabic sound but lost its original meaning. La nouba refers to traditional songs and dances performed by Algerian women. The term later became slang, first used in the military, for partying and living it up:


J’aime trop faire la nouba.

I love to party a lot.


While young people may not use the same Arabic expressions as their parents, today’s youth adopted their own new set of Arabic words to add to their vocabulary and complement their favorite verlan expressions. In his conversation with Anna, Louis greets her using the term wesh, borrowed directly from Algerian slang, which is equivalent to "hi," "yo," or "what's up":


Wesh ["salut" en arabe] Anna.

Wesh ["hi" in Arabic] Anna.

Caption 1, Anna et Louis Le vocabulaire des jeunes

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Louis also uses the word kiffer (to love). Kif originally served as a slang word for drugs, equivalent to "dope" or "hash" in English. By extension, the verb kiffer came to mean "to smoke hash." Nowadays, though, kiffer mostly functions as a general synonym of aimer:


En vrai, Louis, je kiffe bricoler

For real, Louis, I love tinkering

Caption 45, Anna et Louis J'ai besoin d'un coup de main

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Conversely, something that is pas kiffant is not fun:


Enfin c'était pas kiffant, quoi

Well, it wasn't fun, you know

Caption 14, Anna et Louis Hier soir

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Speaking of pas kiffant, you might hear someone in trouble use the expression avoir le seum, slang for being depressed, frustrated, or in a bad spot:


Moi, j'ai trop le seum.

Me, I'm really frustrated.

Caption 14, Sophie et Edmée Les études de médecine

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Ben, euh... moi j'ai un peu le seum

Well, uh... I'm kind of in a bad spot

Caption 8, Edmée et Fanny Les présidentielles à 20 ans

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The reason for all this seum (trouble) might be a lack of moula (moolah), which is one of several slang terms for money:


Pour les langages des jeunes et plus récemment: "la moula", "la moulaga", "les lovés", "les bifs" et "les waris."

In youth language, and more recently: "la moula" [moolah], "la moulaga," "les lovés," "les bifs," and "les waris."

Captions 24-26, Lionel L L'argent

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The lack of moula might well prompt the use of the Maghrebi expression c’est la hess ("it’s hell," "it’s a struggle"). Imagine a hungry teenager opening an empty refrigerator, saying:


Le frigo est vide, c’est vraiment la hess.

The fridge is empty, it’s hell.


The Algerian term hess or hass originally referred to licking the plate clean, in other words starving. 


As you may have noticed, many Arabic loanwords come into French as slang, and thus change from generation to generation. However, many of these words, such as café and magasin, have been part of the French vocabulary for many years, centuries even, and are not at all slang. In any case, there is no shortage of Arabic words in the French language. Watch for new ones in Yabla videos!