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Three "Faux Amis"

Take a look at these three words: éventuellement, actuellement, forcément. If you read one of our previous lessons, you would probably guess that these words are all adverbs. And you would be right! You might also guess that they mean "eventually," "actually," and "forcefully." No such luck this time. These words are all false cognates (or faux amis, literally "false friends"), which are words that look similar in two languages but mean different things. French and English share too many faux amis to include in one lesson, so for now we'll focus on these three deceptive adverbs.

Éventuellement is synonymous with possiblement, which means "possibly" (no false friends there!). It can also be more specifically translated as "when necessary" or "if needed." 

 

Éventuellement dans... dans telle ou telle de cir'... situation...

Possibly, in... in such and such a cir'... situation...

Caption 19, Actu Vingtième - La burqa

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Aujourd'hui il y a dix-sept médicaments disponibles, utilisés éventuellement en combinaison.

Today there are seventeen medications available, sometimes used in combination.

Caption 17, Le Journal - Le sida

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"Eventually" is usually translated as finalement (finally) or tôt ou tard (sooner or later):

J'ai décidé finalement de ne pas aller à la fête.

I eventually decided not to go to the party. 

Nous y arriverons tôt ou tard

We'll get there eventually

Our second adverb, actuellement, is not "actually," but "currently" or "presently":

 

Actuellement sans travail, ils résident aujourd'hui près de Saintes, en France...

Currently unemployed, they now live near Saintes, in France...

Caption 3, Le Journal - Les Français de Côte d'Ivoire

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"Actually" in French is en fait (in fact):

 

Et... pour imaginer le texte, en fait j'ai eu une vision dans ma tête.

And... to imagine the lyrics, actually I had a vision in my head.

Caption 16, Melissa Mars - On "Army of Love"

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And in case this wasn't complicated enough, "currently" has a faux ami of its own: couramment (fluently).

Nicole parle couramment cinq langues.

Nicole speaks five languages fluently

Finally, forcément means "necessarily" or "inevitably." "Forcefully" is simply avec force or avec vigueur:

 

Je l'aime bien, mais euh, enfin, ce n'est pas forcément le meilleur qui soit...

I like him all right, but uh, well, he's not necessarily the best there is...

Caption 14, Interviews à Central Park - Discussion politique

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This one actually makes sense if you break up the word. Like many adverbs, forcément is made up of an adjective (forcé) plus the ending -ment, which corresponds to the English adverbial ending -ly. Forcé(e) means "forced," so forcément literally means "forcedly" or "done under force," i.e., "necessarily."

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Actuellement and éventuellement are also made up of an adjective plus -ment, and their adjectives are also false cognates: actuel(le) means "current" (not "actual") and éventuel(le) means "possible" (not "eventual"). These words have noun forms as well: les actualités are the news or current events, and une éventualité is a possibility. (Interestingly, éventualité is a cognate of "eventuality," another word for "possibility.") 

English and French share so many faux amis that there are entire books dedicated to the subject. But if you're not itching to memorize them all right away, you can learn why there are so many of them in this article

Vocabulary

Si, Si, Si!

Si is a little French word that mainly corresponds to three little English words: "if," "so," and "yes." Although these are three very different words, it’s usually easy to tell which one si is referring to in context. So let’s see what si can do!                

Most of the time, you’ll probably hear si used to mean "if," as Bertrand Pierre uses it in his emotional song Si vous n’avez rien à me dire (with text by Victor Hugo, of Les Misérables fame): 

 

Si vous n'avez rien à me dire

If you have nothing to say to me

Pourquoi venir auprès de moi?

Why come up to me?

Captions 1-2, Bertrand Pierre - Si vous n'avez rien à me dire

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Note that when si meaning "if" is followed by il ("he" or "it") or ils ("they," masculine), it is contracted to s'. This is perhaps most commonly seen in the expression for "please," s’il vous plaît (formal) or s’il te plaît (informal), which literally translates to "if it pleases you."

Si can also be used to indicate a contrast or opposition, in which case it means "whereas":                   

Si Émilie aime la musique rock, Henri la déteste.

Whereas Émilie loves rock music, Henri hates it. 

Since si and "so" look quite similar, it shouldn’t be too hard to remember this meaning of the word. Just keep in mind that si refers to the adverb "so" (as in "so happy"), not to "so" as a conjunction (as in "move so I can see"):

 

Pourquoi si long et pourquoi si las, tenir à bout de bras?

Why so long and why so weary, to hold at arm's length?

Caption 26, Dahlia - Contre-courant

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One of the first words you learn in French is the word for "yes," oui, but sometimes si can also mean "yes" (as it does in Spanish and Italian). However, si only means "yes" in a very specific context: when someone is contradicting a negative question or statement. In case that sounds kind of convoluted, here's an example:       

 

Non! Il n'est pas bien, Sarkozy! -Si, si, si. -Si, il est bien.

No! He's not good, Sarkozy! -Yes, yes, yes. -Yes, he's good.

Captions 15-17, Interviews à Central Park - Discussion politique

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If oui were used here instead of si, the speaker would just be confirming the negative statement ("Yes, Sarkozy is not good"). On the other hand, si takes a negative proposition ("He's not good, Sarkozy!") and turns it into a positive one ("Yes, he's good"). This is why it can come in very handy when you want to correct someone or express a contrary opinion. 

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To conclude, here are two expressions with si that you might find useful: si ça se trouve... ("maybe" or "it could be the case that") and si ce n'est que... (apart from the fact that):

Si ça se trouve, Georges n'a jamais terminé ses études.

It could be that Georges never finished school.

Nous n'avons rien en commun, si ce n'est que nous sommes tous les deux français. 

We have nothing in common apart from the fact that we are both French. 

This tiny word is probably one of the most versatile in the French language. So now that you know all about si, here's a challenge for you: try writing a two-sentence dialogue using as many meanings of the word as you can. Just use this lesson as a guide, and it'll be easier than you think! 

Vocabulary

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