French Lessons

Topics

People and Individuals

Did you know that in French, "a person" is always feminine, regardless of their gender? That is, the word personne is always feminine, even when it refers to a male person. Our friend Farmer François refers to himself as une personne (not un personne) when talking to us about his vegetable stand: 

 

Moi, je suis une personne qui est né dans la banlieue.

Me, I'm someone who was born in the suburbs.

Caption 48, Farmer François - Le stand de légumes

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And in another video, a woman describes a male friend of hers as la seule personne (not le seul personne):

 

C'était un Français, bien sûr. C'est la seule personne que je connais à West Berlin.

It was a Frenchman, of course. He's the only person I knew in West Berlin.

Captions 18-19, Le Journal - Le mur de Berlin s'écroule

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On the flip side, "an individual" is always masculine: 

 

Ce n'est pas Bérangère qui la regarde mais un individu pour le moins étrange.

It's not Bérangère who is watching her but a rather strange individual.

Caption 10, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 2

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Elle est un individu sain. 
She is a healthy individual.

 

There's an interesting combination of personne and individu in this article about the recent evacuation of Mont-Saint-Michel. The subject of the article is a man who made threats against police at the popular French tourist destination. He's designated as both il (referring to individu) and elle (referring to personne):

 

Selon Ouest-France, l'individu aurait affirmé vouloir «tuer des policiers». Descendu de la navette, il se serait ensuite volatilisé avant l'arrivée des gendarmes.... Plusieurs témoins ont signalé cette personne alors qu'elle rentrait sur le site touristique, a annoncé la gendarmerie.


According to Ouest-France, the individual expressed a desire to "kill police officers." After getting off the shuttle, he reportedly disappeared before the officers arrived.... Several witnesses identified this person when he returned to the tourist site, the police reported. 

 

Don't forget that personne can also be used as a pronoun in combination with ne, meaning "no one":

 

Maintenant on dit: "Il n'y a pas un chat", pour parler d'un endroit où il n'y a personne.

Now one says, "There's not one cat" [not a soul] to talk about a place where there isn't anyone.

Caption 13, Manon et Clémentine - Mots et animaux

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Personne ne peut vivre là-dedans!

No one could live in there!

Caption 16, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 10. Amerigo Vespucci - Part 4

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Stay tuned for Patricia's upcoming video on ne... personne and similar expressions, part of her series on negation

 

Thanks to Michael H. for bringing this topic to our attention! 

Vocabulary

The French Imperative - Part 2

The French Imperative - Part 1

In our last lesson, we introduced the French imperative mood, which is used to express a command or a request. We concluded the lesson with a discussion of reflexive verbs, which become hyphenated in the imperative: for example, se souvenir (to remember) becomes souviens-toi! (remember!). In fact, any imperative verb followed by an object pronoun requires a hyphen:

 

Donne-moi l'info. 
Give me the info. 

 

An imperative verb can even precede two object pronouns (and therefore two hyphens). For example, we could shorten the above sentence to: 

 

Ouais, donne-la-moi.
Yeah, give it to me.  

 

Let's break that down: donne is the imperative verb (give), la is the direct object pronoun ("it," referring to "the info"), and moi is the indirect object pronoun (to me). Note that in imperative expressions like this, the direct object pronoun always comes before the indirect object pronoun.

 

On the other hand, when you negate an imperative verb with object pronouns, the hyphens disappear and the pronouns move before the verb:

 

Ne te souviens pas. 
Don't remember

 

Ne me la donne pas.
Don't give it to me

 

Though we mentioned in our previous lesson that the imperative is nearly identical to the present indicative form of a verb, there are four very common verbs for which this is not the case: avoir (to have), être (to be), savoir (to know), and vouloir (to want). For these verbs, the imperative is nearly identical to their present subjunctive forms:

 

Mon ami, n'aie pas peur

My friend, don't be afraid

Caption 18, Arthur H et M - Est-ce que tu aimes?

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Mais soyons prudents!

But let's be careful!

Caption 18, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 10. Amerigo Vespucci

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Sachez qu'il y a de nombreux trains directs de Paris vers Trouville, Deauville.

Know that there are numerous trains direct from Paris toward Trouville, Deauville.

Caption 35, Voyage en France - La Normandie: Cabourg

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The imperative form of vouloir is mostly used in the second-person plural (veuillez) as a formal way of saying "please": 

 

Veuillez ne pas quitter. Vous allez être mise en relation avec notre secrétariat.

Please stay on the line. You will be connected to our administrator's office.

Caption 5, Manon et Clémentine - Rendez-vous chez le médecin

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That about covers it for the imperative! Don't forget (n'oubliez pas) to check out our new videos this week and don't hesitate (n'hésitez pas) to tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

Grammar

Tenir: To Have and to Hold

Avoir is the general French verb for "to have," but if you’re talking about something that you physically have, tenir might be the better verb to use. The simplest meaning of tenir is "to hold." This is the way the singer Corneille uses it in one of our most popular music videos, Comme un fils (Like a Son):

 

Tiens ma tête quand elle fait plus de sens.

Hold my head when it no longer makes sense.

Caption 28, Corneille - Comme un fils

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When it’s not referring to something that you’re holding in your hand, tenir can also be used for something that you keep, maintain, or manage, such as a restaurant:          

 

Aller chez Gilles Spannagel qui tient Le Cruchon, qui est le petit restaurant...

To go visit Gilles Spannagel who owns Le Cruchon [The Little Jug], which is the little restaurant...

Caption 23, Strasbourg - Les passants

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Or it can refer to something that is attached to something else, like needles on a Christmas tree:

 

Des épines qui tiennent plus longtemps...

Needles that stay on longer...

Caption 7, TV Tours - Une seconde vie pour vos sapins de Noël?

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Tenir also applies to situations in which you are compelled to do something, in the expressions tenir à and être tenu(e) de:

 

Je tiens à préciser que la Bretagne a son charme aussi.

I have to mention that Brittany has its charms too.

Caption 13, Fanny et Corrine - Leurs origines

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Mais ils sont tenus d'avoir... un certificat de capacité.

But they are required to have... a certificate of competency.

Caption 48, TV Sud - Fête de la Tortue 2012

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Tenir à can also mean "to be fond of," "to be attached to," or "to care about":

Elle tient à son emploi.

She is fond of her job. 

And when you make tenir reflexive (se tenir), it means "to stand," "remain," or "behave." Can you imagine walking into someone’s house and seeing a llama standing in the living room?

 

C'est bien un lama qui se tient fièrement en plein milieu d'un salon.

That's really a llama proudly standing in the middle of a living room.

Caption 2, Angers 7 - Un lama en plein appartement

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Tiens-toi tranquille, hein sinon!

Hold still, OK, or else!

Caption 5, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 10. Amerigo Vespucci

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Les enfants se tiennent bien.

The children are behaving themselves. 

You can also use tiens, the singular imperative form of tenir, for the interjection "look" (or more literally, "behold"):

 

Tiens, ça doit être bon, ça!

Look, this should be good!

Caption 24, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 10. Amerigo Vespucci

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The verb détenir is related to tenir and is often translated the same way, though it has the specific connotation of "to possess" or even "detain":

 

...qui autorise des gens à détenir des animaux, des tortues chez eux.

...which allows some people to keep animals, turtles, at home.

Caption 47, TV Sud - Fête de la Tortue 2012

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Crois-moi, tu détiens là, la base de toute connaissance.

Believe me, you hold there the basis of all knowledge.

Caption 13, Il était une fois... l’Homme - 6. Le siècle de Périclès

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BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Even if you don’t hold the basis of all knowledge, with this lesson you should hold everything you need to make good use of the verb tenir. You can check out the WordReference page on the verb for even more uses. So soyez sûr de retenir le verbe tenir (be sure to hold onto the verb tenir)! 

Vocabulary

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