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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: 

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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

 

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Expressions

This and That - Part 1

This and That - Part 2

The expressions "this one" and "that one" are probably the most basic way of distinguishing between two things, such as two different types of saxophone: 

 

Le saxophone alto, celui-ci, et le saxophone ténor. C'est celui-là.

The alto saxophone, this one, and the tenor saxophone. That's that one.

Caption 5, Alex Terrier - Le saxophone - Part 1

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As you can see, the French equivalents of these terms have two different components: the word before the hyphen and the word after the hyphen. In this example, celui is the masculine singular demonstrative pronoun referring to le saxophoneCi and là mean "here" and "there," respectively, but when added as a suffix to celui, they mean "this" and "that." An easy way to remember this distinction is to remember that there is an in both ci and "this," and an a in both  (note the accent) and "that." 

 

The demonstrative pronoun changes depending on the number and gender of the word it refers to. Its other forms are celle (feminine singular), ceux (masculine plural), and celles (feminine plural): 

 

Elle prendra place dans une collection comme celle-ci à l'Assemblée Nationale.

She will take her place in a collection like this one at the National Assembly.

Caption 34, Le Journal - Marianne

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Donc, tous ceux-là, ce sont des thés verts.

So all those are green teas.

Caption 16, Joanna - Torréfaction du faubourg

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Et dans chacune des batteries, on a cent deux cellules comme celles-ci.

And in each of the batteries, we have one hundred and two cells like these.

Caption 55, Bateau sport 100% électrique - Le Nautique 196 E

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As you can see from the last two examples, the plural forms of these expressions are best translated as simply "these" and "those." 

In more formal language, celui-là/celle-là means "the former," while celui-ci/celle-ci means "the latter":

 

J'ai un frère et une sœur. Celui-là est professeur et celle-ci est avocate. 
I have one brother and one sister. The former is a teacher and the latter is a lawyer. 

 

Ci and  can also be attached to nouns as a more demonstrative way of saying "this" and "that," but only when the noun is already preceded by a demonstrative adjective (ce/cet/cette/ces):

 

Le courant apparemment remonte un petit peu par ce côté-là.

the... the current apparently goes up a little bit on that side.

Caption 9, À la plage avec Lionel - La plage

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Je préfère ces photographies-ci. 
I prefer these photographs. 

 

If someone were asking your opinion on a collection of photographs, you could also just point to the ones you like and say, Je préfère celles-ci (I prefer these) or, Je préfère celles-là (I prefer those). 

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There are even more uses of celui/celle/ceux/celles that we'll save for another lesson. C'est tout pour cette leçon-ci (That's all for this lesson)!

Grammar

Du or Dû?

As we’ve noted in previous lessons, accent marks are very important in French. Their presence or absence can completely change the meaning of a word, as in cote, côte, and côté or des, dés, and dès. In this lesson, we’ll investigate a more straightforward but no less significant distinction, between du and

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You may already know that in French de + le ("of" + "the") is always contracted into du. That’s why, in their introduction to their video on springtime trends (or trends of the springtime), Fanny and Corinne say tendances du printemps:

 

On va vous parler des tendances du printemps.

We're going to tell you about some springtime trends.

Caption 3, Fanny & Corrine parlent de la mode - Tendances du printemps

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Printemps is masculine, so, to put it mathematically: de + le printemps = du printemps. Note that, in the title, Fanny and Corinne parlent de la mode (talk about fashion). De + la can appear together in French, so no contraction is necessary there. You can find out more about these rules on this page.

When you put a circumflex on du, its pronunciation doesn’t change, but it’s no longer a contraction of de + le. is the past participle of the verb devoir, which means “to have to” or “to owe.” So why does require a circumflex? For no other reason than to distinguish it from du! Though the circumflex is only used to distinguish meaning in this case, it can serve some other purposes as well, which you can learn more about here.

Here’s an example of used as a past participle, from a video about an electric sporting boat: 

 

Donc, on a dû utiliser deux moteurs.

So we had to use two motors.

Caption 25, Bateau sport 100% électrique - Le Nautique 196 E

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can also be used as an adjective, in which case it means “due,” as in the expression “due to” (dû à): 

 

Peut-être que c'est aussi au fait que ma mère aimait beaucoup chanter.

Maybe it's also due to the fact that my mother liked very much to sing.

Caption 16, Mai Lingani - Mai et Burkina Electric

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is the masculine singular form of the adjective, but note that the circumflex disappears in every other form: the feminine singular (due), the masculine plural (dus), and the feminine plural (dues). Remember: in this case, the circumflex is only there to prevent confusion with du.

In this caption from a video on AIDS, modifies the singular feminine noun banalisation, so it becomes due

 

Une banalisation qui est due d'ailleurs à la trithérapie.

A trivialization which, besides, is due to the tritherapy.

Captions 3-4, Le Journal - Le sida

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Finally, can be used as a noun (un dû) to mean “a due,” or something that one is owed: 

Je lui paierai son
I will pay him his due

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We hope that we have duly (dûment) demonstrated how much of a difference one little accent mark can make! 

Spelling

C'est l'intention qui compte!

If you’ve studied our recent lesson on French numbers, you should theoretically be able to count to a billion (compter jusqu’à un milliard) in French. But since no one has time to do that, let’s focus on some other, more practical uses of the verb compter

Counting doesn’t always involve numbers. For example, if you’re relying on someone to do something, you’re counting on (compter sur) them, as this Parisian chef is counting on us to visit his restaurant:

 

À vous aussi de venir ici, on compte sur vous.

Up to you to come here too, we're counting on you.

Caption 42, Cap 24 - Découverte d'un restaurant parisien

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You can also count on a future event to happen (or not happen). Bertrand Pierre is an extremely talented singer-songwriter, but for some reason he doesn’t expect to make it big. He expresses his pragmatism with the construction “compter + infinitive”:

 

Je compte pas devenir une, une star internationale, c'est pas ça que je veux dire.

I'm not expecting to become an, an international star, that's not what I mean.

Caption 25, Bertrand Pierre - Autre Chose

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Sometimes compter refers not to counting numbers, but containing them. If the subject of the verb compter is an inanimate object, it’s most likely describing contents:

 

Après un peu de lecture, dans une bibliothèque qui compte quarante mille volumes...

After a bit of reading, in a library that contains forty thousand volumes...

Caption 39, Canal 32 - Mesnil-Saint-Loup : moines artisans

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Quite a few expressions are based on the noun form of compter, compte, which can mean “count,” “total,” or “account.” If you’re a Yabla subscriber, for example, you have un compte (an account) with us. Un compte can also mean “account” in a more figurative sense, as in the expression prendre en compte (to take into account):

 

Tous ces éléments-là sont importants aussi à prendre en compte...

All those elements there are also important to take into account...

Caption 19, Le Journal - Grands prématurés

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A very common expression with compte is se rendre compte, which means “to realize” or “become aware” (literally, “to give an account to oneself”). In the latest installment of our Il était une fois episode on Scottish explorer James Bruce, a shipmate reflects on the crew's recent discovery of Abyssinia:

 

Tu te rends compte, Luigi, nous repoussons les limites de l'inconnu.

You realize, Luigi, we're pushing the limits of the unknown.

Caption 1, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 15. Bruce et les sources du Nil

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Don’t forget that se rendre compte is a reflexive expression, and its meaning changes completely when you remove the se: instead of giving an account to yourself, you’re giving an account to someone else, i.e., reporting to them: 

 

On y va? Oui, mais d'abord, on rend compte à Oméga.

Shall we go? Yes, but first we report to Omega.

Captions 24-25, Il était une fois... L’Espace - 3. La planète verte

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We’ll end with a compte expression that deals with endings: en fin de compte (literally, “at the end of the account”), which can be translated as “ultimately,” “at the end of the day,” or “when all is said and done”: 

 

En fin de compte, un bateau qui est propulsé par une motorisation cent pour cent électrique.

Ultimately, a boat that's propelled by one hundred percent electric power.

Caption 5, Bateau sport 100% électrique - Le Nautique 196 E

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BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Compte tenu de (taking into account) all of the different ways of using compter and compte, you might feel overwhelmed when trying to remember them all. But don’t worry if you can’t master them right away: c’est l’intention qui compte (it’s the thought that counts)! 

Vocabulary

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