In our last lesson, we introduced the word dont, a relative pronoun with a wide variety of uses. Let's start with the two most straightforward meanings of dont: "whose" and "including":
...un riche marchand dont la fille préférée s'appelait Belle.
...there was a rich merchant whose favorite daughter was called Belle.
Caption 2, Bande-annonce - La Belle et La BêtePlay Caption
Et grâce à lui, j'ai rencontré beaucoup de gens très intéressants, dont Gilles Proulx.
And thanks to him, I met lots of very interesting people, including Gilles Proulx.
Caption 29, Le Québec parle - aux Français - Part 2Play Caption
It's usually pretty easy to distinguish these two uses of dont from context, but punctuation also provides a clue: dont is usually preceded by a comma when it means "including," but not when it means "whose."
Now let's get into the grammar behind dont. Like all relative pronouns, dont refers back to an element in the main clause (un riche marchand and gens très intéressants in the examples above). But in many cases, dont more specifically refers to the preposition de + a noun. To see how this plays out, let's look at how dont can be used to combine two sentences into one:
J'ai un chat. Le poil de mon chat est très doux.
I have a cat. My cat's fur is very soft.
J'ai un chat dont le poil est très doux.
I have a cat whose fur is very soft.
As you can see, dont stands in for de and refers back to chat. It also prevents the redundancy of saying chat twice.
Dont often replaces the de used in fixed expressions, such as être fier/fière de (to be proud of), parler de (to talk about), and avoir besoin de (to need):
Et puis il y a une chose dont Michel est particulièrement fier.
And then there is one thing that Michel is particularly proud of.
Caption 36, Le Journal - L'île de PâquesPlay Caption
...dans la ville de Dongtan en Chine, dont nous avons déjà parlé.
...in the city of Dongtan in China, about which we've already spoken.Play Caption
Voici le livre dont j'ai besoin.
Here is the book that I need.
We could rewrite all of these examples using de:
Et puis Michel est particulièrement fier d'une chose.
And then Michel is particularly proud of one thing.
Nous avons déjà parlé de la ville de Dongtan en Chine.
We've already spoken about the city of Dongtan in China.
J'ai besoin de ce livre-ci.
I need this book.
That about covers it for dont! Though the scope of its applications can be a little daunting, it's a very useful and succinct word that will make your French sound very sophisticated. Don't neglect to use dont whenever you can!
In an introductory French class, Lionel gives a rundown of some basic ways to say hello and goodbye people in French:
C'est le soir. Bonne soirée.
It's the evening. Have a good evening.
Caption 39, Leçons avec Lionel - L'heure et les salutationsPlay Caption
In English, a “soirée” is a fancy party usually held in the evening. Though the French word soirée can also refer to a party, its basic meaning is just “evening,” which isn’t quite as fancy. You can see from the example above that there is another French word for “evening”: le soir. Likewise, there is also another way to say “good evening”: bonsoir. So what’s the difference between le soir and la soirée and bonsoir and bonne soirée?
It’s not just that le soir is masculine and la soirée is feminine or that bonsoir is one word and bonne soirée is two. It’s more a question of emphasis: la soirée generally refers to the duration of an evening, whereas le soir just refers to a specific time. The difference is pretty subtle, and the words are often interchangeable, but it’s good to know that this pattern applies to other time-related words as well: matin/matinée (morning), jour/journée (day), and an/année (year).
In this weather report, the phrase toute la matinée emphasizes the durational aspect of matinée:
En effet, le soleil va briller de Wissembourg à Saint-Louis durant toute la matinée.
Indeed, the sun will shine from Wissembourg to Saint-Louis all morning long.
Caption 3, Alsace 20 - Météo du 2 juillet 2010Play Caption
If she just wanted to emphasize the specific time of day, the weather reporter could have said something like:
En effet, le soleil va briller de Wissembourg à Saint-Louis demain matin.
Indeed, the sun will shine from Wissembourg to Saint-Louis tomorrow morning.
Note that matinée never refers to a daytime theater performance or movie screening, as it does in English. In French, it just means "morning." To get another sense of morning as a duration of time, think about the French expression for “sleeping in,” faire la grasse matinée (literally, “fat morning”). When you sleep in, you spend a good amount of the morning (if not the whole morning, or toute la matinée!) in bed:
Il travaille bien en classe; il ne fait jamais la grasse matinée!
He works hard in class; he never sleeps in!
Caption 17, Les zooriginaux - 2 Tel père tel filsPlay Caption
The pattern continues with jour/journée. Notice the difference in meaning between toute la journée and tous les jours:
J'suis sur la plage toute la journée.
I'm on the beach all day long.Play Caption
Je suis sur la plage tous les jours.
I'm on the beach every day.
Bonjour is the standard way to say “hello” (or “good day”), but as you may have guessed, you can also say bonne journée. Bonne journée is usually translated as “have a good day,” and this same distinction can be applied to bonsoir and bonne soirée. You'd tend to say bonjour/bonsoir when greeting someone and bonne journée/bonne soirée when leaving them. However, you generally won’t hear bon matin or bonne matinée in French—”good morning” is simply bonjour. And there is only one way to say “good afternoon” (bon après-midi) and “good night” (bonne nuit), which you only say before going to bed.
Finally, there is an/année. Again, you would use an to refer to a specific year or number of years:
Dans trois ans, j’aurai trente ans.
In three years, I will be thirty years old.
Une année is a one-year span, but it can also refer less precisely to a period of 11 or 13 months (whereas un an is strictly 12 months):
C'est pour ça que je voulais vraiment absolument m'arrêter ici pendant une année...
That's why I really absolutely wanted to stop here for a year...
Captions 36-37, Le Québec parle - aux FrançaisPlay Caption
You can’t wish somebody a bon an in French, but you can certainly wish them a bonne année. In fact, bonne année happens to be the phrase for “Happy New Year," while "New Year's" (referring to the specific day) is le Nouvel An or le jour de l'An. Since the holidays are fast approaching, in addition to a bonne journée and a bonne soirée, we at Yabla also wish you a bonne année for le Nouvel An (a few months in advance)!