French Lessons


Jamais: Never, Ever, Forever

The French word jamais usually means “never,” in the negative construction ne… jamais:


On nous dit que les bus ne sont jamais à l'heure.

They tell us that the buses are never on time.

Caption 11, Cap 24 - Les bus sont-ils toujours en retard ?

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Technically, jamais only means “never” when it’s attached to a ne (though the ne is sometimes dropped in informal speech). An easy way to remember that the French word for “never” is actually two words is to note that “never” is just another way of saying “not ever,” which is the literal translation of ne jamais. But jamais doesn't always have a negative meaning, and sometimes is better translated as “ever.” In fact, as with the word “ever,” there are plenty of instances in which jamais can be used by itself (without the ne) to have a positive meaning. 


Cyril uses jamais in this way two times while showing us some of his impressive rollerblading skills: 


Le plus gros tricks [sic] que j'aie jamais fait...

The greatest trick that I ever did...

Caption 7, Cap 24 - Démonstration de roller freestyle

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Si jamais on a envie d'aller skater là-bas...

If we ever feel like going to skate over there...

Caption 18, Cap 24 - Démonstration de roller freestyle

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Si jamais is a very common expression that usually is not broken up, like “if ever” is (which is why you have si jamais on a envie instead of si on a jamais envie above, but “if we ever feel” instead of “if ever we feel”).


Another common expression is plus que jamais, “more than ever”: 


Les oiseaux sont plus que jamais sous haute surveillance.

More than ever, the birds are under high surveillance.

Caption 32, Le Journal - La grippe aviaire

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Don’t confuse this with the negative expression ne… plus jamais (never again), which Charles-Baptiste uses extensively (in an inverted form) in his love song “Sale Type” (Dirty Guy):


Plus jamais je ne me couperai les cheveux Depuis que tu as mis tes mains dedans

Never again will I cut my hair Since you put your hands in it

Captions 6-7, Charles-Baptiste - Sale type

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The opposite of ne… jamais is toujours (always, forever), but sometimes jamais can be used as a synonym for toujours in more formal or poetic contexts (just as “ever” can be a synonym of “always”). 

Singer Ina-Ich waxes lyrical with the expression à jamais (forever) in her song “Libre comme l’eau”:


À jamais libre comme le vent

Forever free like the wind

Caption 55, Ina-Ich - Libre comme l'eau

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A similar expression meaning “forever” is pour jamais, which is a more formal version of pour toujours. And if you really want to emphasize eternalness, you can use à tout jamais (forever and ever). 


To summarize, let’s take the old adage “never say never” and apply it to jamaisjamais sometimes “says never,” sometimes says “ever,” and sometimes says “forever.” But it never, ever says anything else!  

Si la chaussure chausse bien...

In one of our latest videos, our friends Margaux and Manon revisit their childhood for a bit by playing shop. Margaux, the customer, sees a pair of shoes she likes, and Manon, the shopkeeper, asks her what size she is:


Vous faites du combien?

What shoe size are you?

Un bon trente-sept.

A solid thirty-seven [American size seven].

Captions 21-22, Margaux et Manon - Magasin de chaussures

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If it’s not quite obvious what Manon’s question has to do with shoe sizes, keep in mind that the phrase "faire du + [shoe size]" means "to wear a size x."

(And if Margaux’s size thirty-seven seems impossibly large, note that shoe-sizing scales vary from one region of the world to another. You can use this handy chart for all your future foreign shoe purchases.)  


Another way of saying "to wear a size x" is "chausser du + [shoe size]":

Vous chaussez du combien?

What shoe size are you?

Je chausse du trente-sept.

I wear a size thirty-seven.

The French word for "shoe size" is la pointure (as opposed to the word for clothing size, la taille). So yet another way of rephrasing Manon’s question would be: 

Quelle est votre pointure?

What shoe size are you?

Chausser is a pretty important verb when it comes to shoes (les chaussures). Besides its meaning above, it can also refer to "putting on" shoes or anything that covers your feet... even rollerblades!


La chose qui me fait le plus plaisir, c'est de chausser, d'aller rouler.

The thing that gives me the most pleasure is to put on my blades, to go and roll.

Caption 6, Cap 24 - Démonstration de roller freestyle

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Manon takes the verb even further when describing how Margaux’s shoes might fit:


Je vais vous prendre un trente-sept et un trente-huit, mais elles chaussent grand.

I'll get you a thirty-seven and a thirty-eight, but they run big.

Caption 23, Margaux et Manon - Magasin de chaussures

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Luckily, Margaux’s shoes chaussent bien (fit well)!

If you’re talking about wearing shoes (or any other article of clothing), the verb to use is porter:

Margaux porte des escarpins noirs.

Margaux is wearing black pumps.


J'ai plus besoin de porter cette écharpe.

I don't need to wear this scarf anymore.

Caption 27, Flora - et le théâtre

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If black pumps aren't your thing, you can try some of these on for size:            

les sandales - sandals

les chaussons/les pantoufles - slippers

les chaussures de sport/de tennis - sneakers

les mocassins - loafers, flats              

les bottes - boots

les ballerines - ballet shoes

les chaussures à talons hauts - high heels

les tongs - flip-flops 

les chaussures de marche - hiking boots 

les sabots - clogs


Now that you know all about buying shoes in France, why not try reenacting Margaux and Manon’s dialogue with a friend? You can go shopping after!


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