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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 et puis elle les fait tomber un par un.

If we don't watch, she takes them 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 - Part 6

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Hier j'aurais levé le bras pour appeler le taxi si j'avais d'abord soigné mon épaule.

Yesterday I would have raised my arm 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

Une leçon à ne pas manquer!

At the end of "Tango," new on Yabla this week, Mélanie Laurent sings: 

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Parce qu'au fond tu l'aimes bien, elle te manquerait je crois

Because deep down you really love her, you would miss her, I think

Caption 52, Mélanie Laurent - "Circus" & "Tango"

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When you're talking about missing someone in French, manquer is the verb to use. However, in this context, manquer actually means "to be missing" rather than "to miss." Though elle te manquerait might appear to mean "she would miss you" upon first glance, its literal translation is actually "she would be missing from you," which is just another (perhaps more romantic) way of saying "you would miss her." So when talking to someone close to you whom you haven't seen in a while, make sure to say tu me manques ("I miss you," literally "you're missing from me") rather than je te manque ("you miss me," literally "I'm missing from you").

 

On the other hand, manquer does mean "to miss" when you're talking about missing something in the sense of not being there for it. In this context it's synonymous with the verb rater

 

J'ai manqué [or ratéle bus. 
missed the bus. 

 

The expression "manquer de + infinitive" (or just "manquer + infinitive") means "to nearly do something." "Faillir + infinitive" has the same meaning:

 

Il a manqué d'être tué [or: Il a failli être tué]
He was nearly killed. 

 

But in the negative, this expression more often means "to not forget to do something": 

 

Ne manquez pas de vous arrêter au numéro treize de l'avenue Junot.

Don't forget to stop at number thirteen Avenue Junot.

Caption 12, Voyage dans Paris - Butte Montmartre

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Another common meaning of manquer is "to lack," usually in the expression "manquer de + noun":

 

L'hôpital manque de moyens, comme toutes nos formations sanitaires, hein?

The hospital lacks resources, like all our medical facilities, huh?

Caption 22, Le Journal - Hôpital ultra-moderne à Burkina Faso

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In fact, the noun form of manquerun manque, specifically means "a lack": 

 

J'ai compris qu'il y avait un manque énorme au niveau, euh, alimentaire.

I saw that there was an enormous lack at the, uh, alimentary level.

Caption 7, Alsace 20 - Mangez bien, mangez alsacien!

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Finally, manquer is also used in the impersonal expression "il manque + noun" ("x is missing"):

 

Il ne manque plus que l'argent nécessaire.

All that's missing is the necessary money.

Caption 6, Il était une fois - Les découvreurs - 13. Stephenson - Part 6

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Don't forget (ne manquez pas) to check out our new videos this week and feel free to tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com!

Vocabulary

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