French Lessons

Topics

How to Talk About "Stuff"

Un machin doesn't mean "a machine" (that's une machine). In fact, it doesn't mean anything specific at all. It's a filler word, used when you're speaking generally or when you can't think of the proper word for something. It's an informal alternative to une chose (a thing), roughly equivalent to "thingy" or "thingamajig," or when plural, "stuff":

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

 

C'est-à-dire... de la confiture et des machins comme ça.

That is to say... jam and stuff like that.

Caption 10, Sophie et Patrice - Le petit-déjeuner

 Play Caption

 

D'abord, je mets un peu d'acétone

First, I apply a little bit of acetone

parce que souvent y a des étiquettes, des machins avec de la colle.

because often there are labels, stuff with glue. 

Captions 58-59, Sophie et Patrice - Les lampes de Sophie

 Play Caption

 

C'est quoi ce machin-là?

What is that thing?

 

Je savais que ça n'allait pas être le single, le machin...

I knew that it was not going to be the single, the whatever...

Caption 110, Watt’s In - Maître Gims : J'me Tire Interview Exclu

 Play Caption

 

Un truc is another informal way of saying une chose. It's basically synonymous with un machin:

 

Mais y a un truc aussi qui se faisait avant,

But there was another thing that was done before,

c'est que la police, ils intervenaient au collège...

it's that the police went in to the middle school...

Captions 16-17, Banlieues françaises - jeunes et policiers, l'impossible réconciliation?

 Play Caption

 

Et on va aller acheter des trucs.

And we're gonna buy some stuff.

Caption 59, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois

 Play Caption

 

But unlike un machinun truc can also mean "a trick":

 

Tout ça, c'est des trucs pour nous faire travailler encore plus!

All these are tricks to make us work even more!

Caption 42, Il était une fois: Notre Terre - 25. Technologies

 Play Caption

 

And there are a couple of idioms with truc that can't be replaced with machin

 

Je n'aime pas faire la fête. Ce n'est pas mon truc.

I don't like partying. It's not my thing.

 

Chacun son truc!

To each his own!

 

Likewise, there's one idiom that only uses machin:

 

Et quand je dis un grand ancien,

And when I say a great elder,

ça veut pas dire un vieux machin, pas du tout.

that doesn't mean an old so-and-so, not at all.

Captions 55-57, Uderzo et Goscinny - 1968

 Play Caption

 

Un vieux machin is a grumpy old man, an old fogey. 

 

You can even use machin and truc as proper nouns when you don't know or can't remember someone's name. In this case they're capitalized:

 

Demande à Machin* de t'aider.

Demande à Truc de t'aider.

Ask what's-his-name to help you.

 

*As a proper noun, Machin becomes Machine in the feminine (Demande à Machine de t'aider/Ask what's-her-name to help you). Truc doesn't change.

 

There's also another expression you can use when you don't know someone's name: Monsieur Untel/Madame Unetelle

 

Demande à Monsieur Untel/Madame Unetelle de t'aider.

Ask Mr./Ms. so-and-so to help you.

 

So when you don't know the name of something or someone, or you're just talking about "stuff" in general, machin and truc are the words to use. 

Vocabulary

One Word, Two Genders

You may know that all French nouns are either masculine or feminine, but did you know that some nouns can be both? A word like après-midi (afternoon), for example, can be either masculine or feminine depending on the speaker's preference:

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Vous deux, là, qu'est-ce que vous allez faire de beau cet après-midi?

You two, here, what are you going to do that's exciting this afternoon?

Caption 57, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 1

 Play Caption

 

On passe une super après-midi.

You spend a great afternoon.

Caption 90, LCM - Rétine argentique, le paradis des photographes

 Play Caption

 

Un après-midi (masculine) and une après-midi (feminine) both mean "an afternoon." But usually, when a word's gender changes, its meaning changes too. Take the word mode, for example. La mode (feminine) means "fashion," but le mode (masculine) means "mode" or "(grammatical) mood":

 

Le milieu de la mode est aussi touché hein, forcément.

The world of fashion is also affected, you know, necessarily.

Caption 36, Cap 24 Paris - Alessandro fait les Puces! - Part 1

 Play Caption

 

Le temps présent fait partie du mode indicatif.

The present tense is part of the indicative mood.

Caption 10, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode indicatif, c'est quoi?

 Play Caption

 

Like mode, a lot of dual-gender words end in -e. Another common one is poste. When masculine, it means "post" as in "position" or "job" (among other things), and when feminine, it means "post" as in "post office" or "mail":

 

J'ai trouvé mon premier poste de libraire

I found my first bookseller position

Caption 3, Gaëlle - Librairie "Livres in Room"

 Play Caption

 

Si je venais à gagner, vous m'enverrez mon chèque par la poste.

If I were to win, you'll send me my check in the mail.

Caption 27, Patricia - Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones - Part 2

 Play Caption

 

You'll most often find the word livre in its masculine form, meaning "book." When feminine, it means "pound," as in the unit of weight and currency:

 

L'extérieur d'un livre s'appelle la couverture.

The outside of a book is called the cover.

Caption 4, Manon et Clémentine - Vocabulaire du livre

 Play Caption

 

Une livre équivaut à environ quatre cent cinquante-quatre grammes. 
One pound is equal to around four hundred fifty-four grams. 

 

Voile has related meanings in both its masculine and feminine forms. Both refer to things made of fabric—a veil (un voile) and a sail (une voile): 

 

Un niqab, c'est donc un voile intégral qui ne laisse, euh, voir que les yeux.

So a niqab is a full-length veil that only, uh, shows the eyes.

Caption 10, Cap Caen Normandie TV - Danse - Héla Fattoumi se dévoile

 Play Caption

 

Il a une seule voile.

It has a single sail.

Caption 11, Fred et Miami Catamarans - Les Bateaux

 Play Caption

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

This video takes you on a tour (un tour) of Paris, making a requisite stop at the Eiffel Tower (la Tour Eiffel):

 

La Tour Eiffel, qui est le symbole de la France.

The Eiffel Tower, which is the symbol of France.

Caption 20, Paris Tour - Visite guidée de Paris

 Play Caption


Gender can be tricky in French, doubly so when you're dealing with words that can be both masculine and feminine. Remembering them is just a matter of practice. You can find a comprehensive list of dual-gender words on this page.

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: 

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

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 - Part 1

 Play Caption

 

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

 Play Caption

 

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 pour nous depuis pas mal de temps.

This is something that has been very important to us for quite a bit of time.

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

 Play Caption

 

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

 Play Caption

 

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

 Play Caption

                                     

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

 

Pas mal de nuages mais quand même des éclaircies, et au niveau des températures, c'est pas mal non plus.

Quite a few clouds but still some sunny spells, and as far as temperatures go, that's not bad either.

Captions 9-10, Alsace 20 - Météo des Maquilleurs

 Play Caption

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

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!

 Play Caption

 

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

 

Thanks for reading! Tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

Expressions

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. 

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

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

 Play Caption

Il bouillonne bien, hein?

It's bubbling nicely, isn't it?

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

 Play Caption

Enfin, j'ai déjà trois filles, hein!

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

Caption 42, Actu Vingtième - Vendanges parisiennes

 Play Caption

 

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

 Play Caption

 

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

 Play Caption

 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

 Play Caption

 

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

 Play Caption

 

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

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

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

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."   

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

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

 Play Caption
 

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!

 Play Caption
 
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

 Play Caption

 

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

 Play Caption
 

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

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

 Play Caption

 

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

You May Also Like