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Telling Jokes in French

Our friend Lionel is known for his witty puns and excellent comedic timing. He even filmed a standup set for Yabla! Apparently, a good sense of humor runs in his family. In Lionel's latest video, his cousin Jean-Pierre cracks a joke about the Vosges mountain range: 

 

Y a une blague à propos de... justement des Vosges du Nord. Quand on voit pas les Vosges du Nord, c'est qu'il pleut. Et quand on les voit bien, c'est qu'il va pleuvoir.

There's a joke about... precisely about the Northern Vosges. When you don't see the Northern Vosges, it's because it's raining. And when you see them clearly, it means that it's going to rain.

Captions 85-90, Lionel - à Lindre-Basse - Part 7

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If you didn't laugh at Jean-Pierre's joke, you probably had to be there (near the Northern Vosges, that is). 

 

Une blague doesn't only refer to a verbal joke. It can also be a trick or a prank you play on someone: 

 

On va leur faire une bonne blague!

We're going to play a nice trick on them!

Caption 23, Il était une fois - Notre Terre - 9. Les écosystèmes - Part 4

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Une farce and un tour are the other words for "trick," "prank," or "practical joke":

 

Une farce joyeuse et de franche gaieté.

A joyous prank with uninhibited gaiety.

Caption 10, Il était une fois... l’Homme - 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 4

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Ils ont plus d'un tour dans leur sac.

They have more than one trick in their bag [up their sleeves].

Caption 34, Il était une fois... la vie - 14. La bouche et les dents - Part 6

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There's also another word for "joke": une plaisanterie. This example explains what happens in your body when you laugh at a joke: 

 

Vous savez que ce sont les lèvres glottiques qui sous l'effet d'une plaisanterie se mettent à vibrer.

You know that it's the glottic folds that start vibrating when a joke is told.

Captions 8-9, Le Journal - Les effets bénéfiques du rire!

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So how do you say "to crack a joke" or "to tell a joke" in French? You can either say raconter une plaisanterie or raconter une blague

 

Il aime raconter des plaisanteries [or des blagues] grivoises.
He loves to tell dirty jokes

 

But if you're talking about "joking" or "joking/messing around," then you use the verbs plaisanter or blaguer:

 

Ils blaguaient tout le temps pendant leur enfance.
They always used to joke around when they were little. 

 

Tu plaisantes! Je ne crois pas ça. -Non, je ne plaisante pas! 
You're kidding! I don't believe that. -No, I'm not kidding!

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Thanks for reading! We'll be back soon with a new lesson. Sans blague! (No joke!)

Vocabulary

Ne faites pas de bêtises!

Animals are generally (and perhaps unjustly) considered to be less intelligent than humans, which explains why the French word bête can mean both "beast" and "stupid":

 

Après tout, c'est bête la guerre.

After all, war is stupid.

Caption 25, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 15. Bruce et les sources du Nil - Part 7

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The related noun bêtise can mean anything along the lines of "stupidity" or "idiocy." You can use it in a general sense to talk about "something stupid":

 

Après les parents, ils me disent, quand ils font une bêtise...

Later the parents tell me, when they do something stupid...

Caption 56, Banlieues françaises - jeunes et policiers, l'impossible réconciliation? - Part 1

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Or you might use it to refer to something more specific, such as a mistake. Une bêtise isn't just any old mistake, but a particularly stupid one:

 

Vous allez réparer vos bêtises.

You're going to repair your stupid mistakes.

Caption 31, Il était une fois - Notre Terre - 9. Les écosystèmes - Part 4

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Of course, if you tell someone he or she has made a stupid mistake, you could be implying that the person him or herself is stupid. Une erreur is a more neutral word for "mistake" that doesn't connote stupidity:

 

Elle fait une terrible erreur.

She's making a terrible mistake.

Caption 4, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mes grands-parents sont infidèles - Part 3

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The plural bêtises is often used to refer to "nonsense," "mischief," or any kind of naughty behavior:

 

Arrête tes bêtises.

Stop your nonsense.

 

Mais si on fait des bêtises, on sait jamais...

But if we get into mischief, you never know...

Caption 90, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciens

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If you argue with someone over des bêtises, you're arguing over nothing:

 

Mes enfants se disputent toujours pour des bêtises.
My kids are always arguing with each other over nothing.

 

When it comes to learning a language, there's no such thing as a stupid mistake. So don't fret if you forget an accent mark or type in the wrong word in a Yabla game—you've just made a simple erreur, not une bêtise!

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For fun, here's an 80s throwback for you: Sabine Paturel's "Les Bêtises," which was a smash hit in France in 1986. 

Vocabulary

This and That - Part 2

This and That - Part 1

In our last lesson, we introduced the French demonstrative pronouns (celui, celle, ceux, celles), which combine with the suffixes ci (here) and  (there) to form expressions such as "this one," "that one," "these," and "those." In this lesson, we'll explore two other useful constructions featuring these pronouns.

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The first is celui/celle/ceux/celles + de + noun, which is used to indicate ownership or possession. Here's a straightforward example from the Beauty and the Beast trailer: 

 

Je suis venue échanger ma vie contre celle de mon père.

I've come to exchange my life for that of my father.

Caption 26, Bande-annonce - La Belle et La Bête

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"That of my father" is the literal translation of celle de mon père, but the sentence could also have been translated as, "I've come to exchange my life for my father's." As we mentioned in the last lesson, the demonstrative pronoun has to agree in gender and number with the word it's referring to. In this case, the feminine singular celle refers to the feminine singular noun vie

 

The second construction is celui/celle/ceux/celles + qui, que, or dontQui (that, who) and que (that, whom) are relative pronouns, or words that introduce a dependent clause. While qui acts as the subject of the clause (usually followed by a verb), que acts as the object (usually followed by a noun or pronoun). With a demonstrative pronoun in front of them, they create expressions like "the one(s) that/who" (demonstrative pronoun + qui) and "the one(s) that/whom" (demonstrative pronoun + que): 

 

Vous savez... celui qui se trouve derrière la maison voisine.

You know... the one that's behind the house next door.

Caption 20, Il était une fois - Notre Terre - 9. Les écosystèmes

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...dans des situations un peu meilleures que celles qu'ils avaient en arrivant.

...in situations that are a little bit better than the ones that they had when they arrived.

Caption 26, Le Journal - Les Restos du Cœur

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Cet homme n'est pas celui que j'ai vu hier. 
That man is not the one whom I saw yesterday. 

 

Dont is another relative pronoun that means "whose" or "of which": 

 

J'habite une maison dont les volets sont bleus.
I live in a house whose shutters are blue. 

 

The demonstrative pronoun + dont combination means "the one(s) whose" or "the one(s) of/about which." In this combination, dont often replaces an object preceded by de:
 

Tu parles de ma chemise rouge? -Non, celle dont je parle est bleue. 
Are you talking about my red shirt? -No, the one that I'm talking about is blue. 

 

So, to review, the three major constructions featuring demonstrative pronouns are:

 

-demonstrative pronoun + -ci or - (celui-cicelle-là, etc.)
-demonstrative pronoun + de + noun (celle de mon père)
-demonstrative pronoun + qui, que, or dont (celui que j'ai vu hier)

 

The two big takeaways here are that demonstrative pronouns always replace a previously mentioned noun (and must agree with it in gender and number) and are always accompanied by another word, whether the suffixes ci and , the preposition de, or the relative pronouns qui, que, and dont

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That about covers it for demonstrative pronouns! If you have any suggestions for future lesson topics, feel free to tweet us @yabla or email us at newsletter@yabla.com.

Grammar

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