French Lessons

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Avoir Beau

At the end of the second installment of Le Jour où tout a basculé - J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils, Sarah uses an interesting construction to express remorse about something she did at work: 

 

Et j'avais beau me dire que je l'avais fait pour Nino,

And even though I told myself that I'd done it for Nino,

 j'avais vraiment honte.

I was really ashamed.

Captions 54-55, Le Jour où tout a basculé - J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils

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Beau means "beautiful" or "handsome," but the expression "avoir beau + infinitive" doesn't have anything to do with beauty. It can mean a variety of things depending on context, but it generally describes a failed effort or something done in vain. Sometimes it's just a synonym of bien que, malgré, or quoique ("even though" or "although"), as in the example above: 

 

T'as beau le travailler, ça ne vient pas.

Even though you work at it, it doesn't come.

Caption 67, Alsace 20 - Laurent Chandemerle, l'homme aux 100 voix

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Ça a beau être une pizzeria,

Although it's a pizzeria,

nos prix sont assez élevés pour le commun des mortels.

our prices are pretty high for the everyday mortal.

Caption 5, F&F Pizza - Chez F&F

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Or it can correspond to the English expressions "no matter what" or "no matter how hard": 

 

Elle a beau faire, son copain la critique toujours. 
No matter what she does, her boyfriend always criticizes her. 

 

J'ai beau trimer,

No matter how hard I slave away,

sans toi ma vie n'est qu'un décor qui brille, vide de sens.

without you my life is just decor that shines, empty of meaning.

Caption 19, Indila - Dernière danse

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When used with the verb essayer (to try), it means "try as one might":

 

Et j'ai eu beau essayer de le convaincre

And try as I might to convince him

d'arrêter ses enfantillages, rien à faire.

to stop his childish games, it was useless.

Captions 6-8, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mes grands-parents sont infidèles

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And when used with être (to be), the expression is often translated as "may be" or "may well be": 

 

Yseult a beau être jeune,

Yseult may be young,

elle sait bien où elle veut aller.

[but] she knows exactly where she wants to go

Caption 5, Watt’s In - Yseult : La Vague Interview Exclu

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Tu as beau être désolé, tu m'as blessé profondément. 
You may well be sorry, but you hurt me deeply.

 

Note that, while the English requires a "but" in both of these sentences, there's no need for a mais in the French. So you wouldn't say: Yseult a beau être jeune, mais elle sait bien où elle veut aller. 

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Expressions

Chez moi, c'est chez toi!

Chez is one of those few French words with no exact English equivalent. It’s a preposition that can be literally translated as "at the home of" or "at the establishment of," as Alex Terrier uses it when describing his early music influences.

 

Ensuite j'ai découvert chez mes parents des disques trente-trois tours...

Then I discovered at my parents' place some thirty-three rpm records...

Caption 11, Alex Terrier - Le musicien et son jazz

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It can also be used in front of a surname to indicate a family household:

 

Chez les Marchal, le bac c'est une affaire de famille.

At the Marchals', the bac is a family affair.

Caption 23, Le Journal - Le baccalauréat - Part 1

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(Note that French surnames don’t take an extra s when pluralized: les Marchal.)

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Or it can be used with disjunctive pronouns (moi, toi, soi, etc.) to mean "at my house," "at your house," or even just "at home":

 

L'hiver, les gens préfèrent rester chez eux...

In the winter, people prefer to stay at home...

Caption 1, Fanny parle des saisons - La Bouffe

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You can also use chez for businesses, offices, restaurants, and other commercial locations: 

 

Je suis pizzaman chez F&F Pizza, un shift par semaine.

I'm a pizza man at F&F Pizza, one shift per week.

Caption 2, F&F Pizza - Chez F&F - Part 1

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J'ai rendez-vous chez le dentiste et je suis en retard!

I have an appointment at the dentist and I'm late!

Caption 10, Micro-Trottoirs - Art ou science?

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But chez doesn’t only refer to buildings! Quite often, you will also see it used more figuratively. For example, just as "at home" can mean "in one’s house," "in one's country/native land," and just "familiar" in general, chez soi (or chez nous, chez moi, etc.) carries all those meanings as well: 

 

On se sentait absolument chez nous.

We felt right at home.

Caption 23, Les Nubians - Le multiculturalisme

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Finally, when describing something "about" or "in" a person, "among" a group of people, or "in the work of" an author or artist, chez is the word to use: 

 

Je l'ai retrouvée, je l'ai vue chez toutes les femmes, toutes les filles.

I recognized it, I saw it in all the women, all the girls.

Caption 53, Alphabétisation - des filles au Sénégal

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Les pâtes sont très populaires chez les Italiens.

Pasta is very popular among Italians

 

Il y a beaucoup de figures bizarres chez Salvador Dalí.

There are many bizarre figures in the work of Salvador Dalí.

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We chez Yabla encourage you to speak French as much as you can chez vous

 

Vocabulary

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