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Pas Mal: Not Bad and Quite a Bit

The phrase pas mal literally means "not bad," and like its English counterpart, it's often used to express an assessment of something: 

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La nourriture à ce restaurant n'est pas mal.
The food at that restaurant isn't bad

 

C'est pas mal déjà!

That's not bad at all! [or: That's pretty good!]

Caption 21, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois

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But just as often, pas mal is used not as a qualitative assessment, but a quantitative one. Take a look at this example from our video on Paris's Rue des Martyrs:

 

Y a pas mal de bars dans la rue.

There are quite a few bars on the street.

Caption 42, Adrien - Rue des Martyrs

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Adrien isn't saying that the bars on the street "aren't bad." If he were, he might have said something like, Les bars dans la rue ne sont pas malInstead, he uses pas mal to indicate that there are "quite a few" bars on the street. When followed by de (of) plus a noun, pas mal can mean anything along the lines of "quite a few," "quite a bit," or "quite a lot":

 

C'est quelque chose qui est très important

This is something that has been very important

pour nous depuis pas mal de temps.

to us for quite a bit of time.

Caption 18, Alsace 20 - Grain de Sel: le titre de Maître Restaurateur, c'est quoi?

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When pas mal comes before an adjective, it means "a lot" or "pretty":

 

Ben c'est sûr que... c'est pas mal plus naturel.

Well, for sure... that's a lot more natural.

Caption 46, Bateau sport 100% électrique - Le Nautique 196 E

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Ce livre est pas mal intéressant.
This book is pretty interesting.

 

And when referring to a verb, it means "really" or, again, "quite a bit/a lot":

 

J'essaie de rechercher pas mal le son.

I'm trying to really research the sound [or: I'm trying to research the sound quite a bit].

Caption 12, Phil Cambron - Ses révélations

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Here's an example sentence that contains both senses of pas mal:

 

Pas mal de nuages mais quand même des éclaircies,

Quite a few clouds but still some sunny spells,

et au niveau des températures, c'est pas mal non plus.

and as far as temperatures go, that's not bad either.

Captions 9-10, Alsace 20 - Météo des Maquilleurs

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But be careful: just because you see the words pas and mal next to each other doesn't necessarily mean you're dealing with the expression pas mal. Namely, when a verb phrase with mal (such as faire mal [to hurt] or le prendre mal [to take it the wrong way]) is negated, the pas mal portion doesn't mean "not bad" or "quite a bit"—it's just part of the negation:

 

Ça fait pas mal? -Non, non.

It doesn't hurt? -No, no.

Caption 16, Cap 24 - Rasage et Epilation du Visage : Alessandro Di Sarno teste!

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Ne le prends pas mal. 
Don't take it the wrong way

 

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Expressions

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

French Filler Words

If you're a Yabla subscriber, you may have noticed that we translate every word in the video captions, even if it's a repeated word or a filler word such as euh... (uh...). This allows you to really hear everything the speaker is saying and gives you a better understanding of everyday French speech patterns. In this lesson, we'll review some of the most common filler words and interjections that pop up in Yabla French videos. 

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While euh (uh) is pretty straightforward, hein is a filler word whose translation really depends on context. In general, it's used as an interrogative to mean anything from "right," to "isn't it," to "you know": 

 

Donc, euh... c'est le même système, hein, pour les légumes, euh... comme pour les homards.

So, uh... it's the same method, right, for the vegetables, uh... as for the lobsters.

Caption 54, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano - Médaillon de Homard - Part 2

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Il bouillonne bien, hein?

It's bubbling nicely, isn't it?

Caption 77, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano - Médaillon de Homard - Part 1

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Enfin, j'ai déjà trois filles, hein!

After all, I already have three daughters, you know!

Caption 42, Actu Vingtième - Vendanges parisiennes

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If you didn't quite catch something someone said, you can simply say, Hein? (Huh?) But like its English counterpart, this usage of hein is very informal. A more polite way of expressing the same sentiment is, Pouvez-vous répéter, s'il vous plaît? (Can you repeat that, please?)

 

The word quoi usually means "what," but as a filler word it has the same meaning as hein:

 

Ouais, euh... ça serait vraiment le... le rêve ultime, quoi, pour le fan...

Yeah, uh... that'd really be the... the ultimate dream, you know, for a fan...

Caption 9, Alsace 20 - Rammstein à Strasbourg

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Also like heinquoi can stand alone to express incomprehension: Quoi? (What?) It's a little less informal than hein in this context.

 

 ("here," "there," or "now") can also mean "you know," but it's often used as an informal way of adding emphasis: 

 

Parce qu'en fait hier, on allait... avec... avec, euh... avec des grands, ...

Because actually, yesterday, we were going... with... with, uh... with some older kids, you know...

Caption 80, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 1

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 tu exagères! 

You're really exaggerating [going too far]!

 

Ben or eh ben (well) is another common filler word. It's a shortened form of bien, the standard word for "well": 

 

Les températures, eh ben, cela va être relativement facile, quatre degrés partout...

The temperature, well, that's going to be relatively easy, four degrees everywhere...

Caption 6, Alsace 20 - Météo des Maquilleurs

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You'll also find it in the expression, Ben oui! (But of course!)

 

Our final example contains two common interjections: 

 

Oh la la! Oh mais dis donc, non mais... oh, qu'est-ce qui se passe?

Oh my! Oh but you don't say, no but... oh, what's going on?

Caption 24, Il était une fois... l’Homme - 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 4

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The first has been adapted into English as "ooh la la!" But while "ooh la la" is a comical way of expressing attraction or excitement, oh la la (often shortened to oh la) is a more neutral expression of surprise (more like "oh my" in English). 

 

The second interjection, dis donc, literally means "say then," but is better translated by the phrase "you don't say" or a number of others

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In short, if you ever find yourself at a loss for words in French, a filler word or an interjection is a good way to plug the gap!

Vocabulary

Quant à vous, qu'en pensez-vous?

In keeping with the Yabla French tradition of presenting three words that look or sound the same but mean different things (see our lessons on des, dés, and dès and si, si, and si), here are three more: quand, quant, and qu’en.

Of the three words, quand is the one you might be the most familiar with. It means “when,” both as an interrogative adverb (e.g. When are you going?) and as a conjunction (e.g. I’m going when I get off work). 

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In their discussion on multiculturalism, the R&B sister duo Les Nubians use quand as an adverb to speculate on a sort of global passport that would allow us all to become “universal citizens”:  

 

D'ailleurs quand est-ce qu'on invente le passeport?

By the way, when will they invent the passport?

Caption 26, Les Nubians - Le multiculturalisme

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As an interrogative adverb, quand can sometimes be replaced with à quel moment... or à quelle heure... (at what time…?). 

While Les Nubians are looking to the future, Axel reflects on the past in his tour of Paris’s Luxembourg Gardens, using quand as a conjunction: 

 

Je me rappelle quand j'étais petit, quand j'étais avec mes copains.

I remember when I was little, when I was with my friends.

Caption 58, Mon Lieu Préféré - Jardin du Luxembourg

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The other adverbial form of “when” is lorsque:

 

Lorsque je vous vois, je tressaille

When I see you, I quiver

Caption 19, Bertrand Pierre - Si vous n'avez rien à me dire

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Quand is also used fairly often in the expression quand même, which means “still,” “even though,” or “all the same”: 

 

Pas mal de nuages mais quand même des éclaircies.

Quite a few clouds but still some sunny spells.

Caption 9, Alsace 20 - Météo des Maquilleurs

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The words quand and quant are only off by one letter, so make sure not to confuse them in writing. Quant is always followed by à or one of its variants (à la, au, aux) and means “as for” or “regarding”:

 

Quant à l'adresse du destinataire, il s'agit du Père Noël.

As for the recipient's address, it's Santa Claus.

Caption 24, Télé Miroir - Adresse postale du Père Noël

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An expression to replace quant à is en ce qui concerne (concerning): En ce qui concerne l'adresse du destinataire, il s'agit du Père Noël.

Less confusable in writing is qu’en, which nevertheless sounds the same as quand and quant. Qu’en is a contraction of the relative pronoun que and the indefinite pronoun en and is used in phrases like:

Qu’en penses-tu?

What do you think about that

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As you may know, en replaces phrases beginning with de (or de la, du, des), so the above sentence could also be written as: Que penses-tu de cela? 

So what do you think about these three homonyms? (Quant à vous, qu'en pensez-vous?) We hope this lesson helped clear up any confusion you may have had! 

Vocabulary

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