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In the Mood for Envie

In "Dimanche soir" (Sunday Night), the slam poet Grand Corps Malade declares his love for his wife in beautiful lines such as: 

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Je l'ai dans la tête comme une mélodie, alors mes envies dansent

I have her in my head like a melody, so my desires dance

Caption 17, Grand Corps Malade - Dimanche soir

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If you didn't see the translation, you might have guessed that envie means "envy." And you would have been right!

 

Vous ne connaissez que l'envie, la hâte, la rage de les tuer.

You knew only envy, haste, the urge to kill them.

Caption 60, Il était une fois... L’Espace - 3. La planète verte - Part 6

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However, besides désir, envie is also the word for "desire." While un désir is a more general desire, envie connotes yearning, longing, or craving:
 

Il peut rester une envie intellectuelle.

There can remain a mental craving.

Caption 129, Le Figaro - Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 1

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If you think about it, this double meaning of envie makes a lot of sense, since envy is bound up with desire: if you envy (envier) someone, you covet what they have.

 

J'envie les caresses

I envy the caresses

Caption 18, Oldelaf - interprète "Bérénice"

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Quitte à en crever de son histoire déçue, de son passé tant envié

Despite wanting to die from her disappointing history, her so envied past

Caption 12, Yaaz - La place des anges

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But envie isn't always so intense. The extremely common expression avoir envie de doesn't mean "to envy" or "yearn for," but simply "to want," "feel like," or "be in the mood for":

 

Vous avez pas envie de faire la sieste?

You don't feel like taking a nap?

Caption 29, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciens

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J'ai envie d'une limonade.
I'm in the mood for a lemonade.

 

There's also the expression donner envie (literally, "to give desire"), which means "to make someone want something":

 

D'avoir des quantités de choses Qui donnent envie d'autres choses

To have things in large quantities That make you want other things

Captions 4-5, Fréro Delavega - Foule Sentimentale

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In English, we have the phrase "green with envy." But in French, one becomes "green with jealousy": vert(e) de jalousie. You can, however, make someone "pale with envy" (faire pâlir d'envie).

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Finally, here's a bizarre quirk of the French language: envie is also the word for "birthmark" and "hangnail." What those have to do with envy and desire is an etymological mystery. 

Vocabulary

Six Changing Adjectives

We’ve dealt with adjectives a lot in previous Yabla lessons, and in this one we’ll focus on five of them that all share one important feature. See if you notice something peculiar about the spelling of the French words for “new” and “old” in the following examples: 

 

Donc je vais vous présenter mon nouvel appartement.

So I'm going to show you my new apartment.

Caption 20, Joanna - Son nouvel appartement

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Ce square a la particularité d'héberger le plus vieil arbre de Paris.

This square has the distinction of housing the oldest tree in Paris.

Caption 27, Voyage dans Paris - Saint-Germain-des-Prés

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You may already know that “new” in French is nouveau (masculine) and nouvelle (feminine), and that “old” is vieux (masculine) and vieille (feminine). So where did nouvel and vieil come from? 

 

The answer is that, for a small group of adjectives, the masculine singular form changes when the adjective is followed by a noun starting with a vowel or a non-aspirated (mute) h. So instead of nouveau appartement, you have nouvel appartement, and instead of vieux arbre, you have vieil arbre

 

If you think about it in terms of pronunciation, you might get a better sense of why this happens. The phrase nouvel appartement “flows” better than nouveau appartement because the l sound prevents the little pause that occurs when you move from the “eau” of nouveau to the “a” of appartement. French pronunciation places a heavy emphasis on words flowing together smoothly (a concept called “euphony”), an idea we previously touched on in our lesson on liaisons. This little rule is just another way of making sure the language sounds pleasing to the ear. 

 

The three other descriptive adjectives that exhibit this spelling change are beau/bel/belle (beautiful), fou/fol/folle (mad, crazy), and mou/mol/molle (soft). 

 

Je préfère un mol oreiller.
I prefer a soft pillow. 

 

Le fol espoir d'un rendez-vous

The mad hope of a rendezvous

Caption 15, Oldelaf - interprète "Bérénice"

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Alors, qui me fait une offre pour ce bel athlète?

So, who's making me an offer for this handsome athlete?

Caption 25, Il était une fois... l’Homme - 6. Le siècle de Périclès

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This phenomenon also occurs with the demonstrative adjective ce/cette (this, that), which becomes cet before a singular masculine noun starting with a vowel or mute h. So if we removed the word “handsome” from the sentence above, it would become:

Alors, qui me fait une offre pour cet athlète?
So, who’s making me an offer for this athlete? 

Note that if another word beginning with a consonant (usually another adjective) is placed between the noun and the special form of the adjective, you don’t need to use the special form anymore. You can see this in the previous example, where you have ce bel athlète instead of cet bel athlète

 

As you may have noticed, all of these adjectives belong to a small group of adjectives that go before the noun they modify. You can learn more about adjectives like this in our previous lesson on the subject. Also, remember that this spelling change only occurs with the masculine singular forms of these adjectives. The masculine plural forms (nouveaux, vieux, mous, fous, beaux, ces) don’t change before a noun beginning with a vowel or mute h. According to the rules of liaison, their endings are pronounced to indicate the plural. 

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Since this spelling change happens with such a small number of adjectives, the best way to learn it is probably just to memorize them. Here’s a little memory aid for you using fragments of all the example sentences in this lesson: 

Cet homme a le fol espoir de trouver… (This man has the mad hope of finding…)
    ...le plus nouvel appartement de Paris. (...the newest apartment in Paris.)
    ...le plus vieil arbre de Paris. (...the oldest tree in Paris.)
    ...le plus mol oreiller de Paris. (...the softest pillow in Paris.)
    ...le plus bel athlète de Paris. (...the handsomest athlete in Paris.) 

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