French Filler Words

If you're a Yabla subscriber, you may have noticed that we translate every word in the video captions, even if it's a repeated word or a filler word such as euh... (uh...). This allows you to really hear everything the speaker is saying and gives you a better understanding of everyday French speech patterns. In this lesson, we'll review some of the most common filler words and interjections that pop up in Yabla French videos. 

 

While euh (uh) is pretty straightforward, hein is a filler word whose translation really depends on context. In general, it's used as an interrogative to mean anything from "right," to "isn't it," to "you know": 

 

Donc, euh... c'est le même système, hein, pour les légumes comme pour les homards.
So, uh... it's the same method, right, for the vegetables as for the lobsters.
Cap. 36, 4 Mains Pour 1 Piano: Médaillon de Homard - Part 2

 

Il bouillonne bien, hein
It's bubbling nicely, isn't it?
Cap. 52, 4 Mains Pour 1 Piano: Médaillon de Homard - Part 1 

 

Enfin, j'ai déjà trois filles, hein!
After all, I already have three daughters, you know!
Cap. 39, Actu Vingtième: Vendanges parisiennes

 

If you didn't quite catch something someone said, you can simply say, Hein? (Huh?) But like its English counterpart, this usage of hein is very informal. A more polite way of expressing the same sentiment is, Pouvez-vous répéter, s'il vous plaît? (Can you repeat that, please?)

 

The word quoi usually means "what," but as a filler word it has the same meaning as hein:

 

Ouais, euh... ça serait vraiment le rêve ultime, quoi, pour le fan…
Yeah, uh... that'd really be the ultimate dream, you know, for a fan…
Cap. 9, Alsace 20: Rammstein à Strasbourg

 

Also like heinquoi can stand alone to express incomprehension: Quoi? (What?) It's a little less informal than hein in this context.

 

 ("here," "there," or "now") can also mean "you know," but it's often used as an informal way of adding emphasis: 

 

Parce qu'en fait hier, on allait avec des grands, ...
Because actually, yesterday, we were going with some older kids, you know...
Cap. 79, Actus de Quartier: Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois

 

 tu exagères!  
You're really exaggerating [going too far]!

 

Ben or eh ben (well) is another common filler word. It's a shortened form of bien, the standard word for "well": 

 

Les températures, eh ben, cela va être relativement facile, quatre degrés partout...
The temperature, well, that's going to be relatively easy, four degrees everywhere...
Cap. 6, Alsace 20: Météo des Maquilleurs

 

You'll also find it in the expression, Ben oui! (But of course!)

 

Our final example contains two common interjections: 

 

Oh la la! Oh mais dis donc, non mais... oh, qu'est-ce qui se passe? 
Oh my! Oh but you don't say, no but... oh, what's going on?
Cap. 24, Il était une fois… l’Homme: 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 4

 

The first has been adapted into English as "ooh la la!" But while "ooh la la" is a comical way of expressing attraction or excitement, oh la la (often shortened to oh la) is a more neutral expression of surprise (more like "oh my" in English). 

 

The second interjection, dis donc, literally means "say then," but is better translated by the phrase "you don't say" or a number of others

 

In short, if you ever find yourself at a loss for words in French, a filler word or an interjection is a good way to plug the gap!

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The French Subjunctive, Part 2: Irregular Verbs

In our last lesson, we introduced the general rule for conjugating French verbs in the present subjunctive: take the third-person plural (ils/elles) present indicative form of the verb, remove the -ent, and add the subjunctive endings: -e, -es, -e, -ions, -iez, and -ent.While this rule applies to the vast majority of verbs, some of the most common French verbs have irregular subjunctive conjugations. 

 

In this video about a tile factory in Courboissy, we find two irregular subjunctive verbs in the same caption, both introduced by the phrase pour que (in order that, so that): 

 

Alors soit pour que ça soit respirant, pour que vous ayez une maison respirante…
So either in order for it to be breathable, so that you have a breathable house…
Cap. 36, Salon Eco Habitat: Terres cuites de Courboissy

 

The first verb is être (to be)which is conjugated as follows in the subjunctive: je sois, tu sois, il/elle/on soit, nous soyons, vous soyez, ils/elles soient. Note that the first soit in the above caption is not the same as the third-person subjunctive form of être—it's a separate word meaning "either." See our lesson Either/Or for more information on that. 

 

The second verb, avoir (to have), looks like this in the subjunctive: j'aie, tu aies, il/elle/on ait, nous ayons, vous ayez, ils/elles aient. 

 

Like the first-person subjunctive forms of avoir, those of aller (to go) also begin withai-j'aille, tu ailles, il/elle/on aille.

 

Si vous voulez que je m'en aille
If you want me to go away
Cap. 17, Bertrand Pierre: Si vous n’avez rien à me dire

 

But in the nous and vous forms, the changes position: nous allions, vous alliezThen it goes back to where it was for the third-person plural: ils/elles aillent

 

Most forms of vouloir (to want) contain the letters euilleje veuille, tu veuilles, il/elle/on veuille, ils/elles veuillent.

 

…il n'y a rien d'autre à faire qu'à attendre que le vent veuille bien se lever.
…there's nothing else to do but wait until the wind finally decides to pick up.
Cap. 15-16, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs: 10. Amerigo Vespucci - Part 1  

 

But its nous and vous forms look a little different: nous voulionsvous vouliez

 

Faire (to make or to do) and pouvoir (to be able to) both have a double s in the subjunctive: 

 

Maintenant qu'on est en numéro trois, il faut qu'on fasse quatre, cinq, six.
Now that we are on step three, we have to do four, five, six.
Cap. 34, B-Girl Frak: Le “6-Step”

 

Et maintenant pose ton assiette en or devant moi pour que je puisse manger son contenu.
And now set your gold plate before me so that I can eat its contents.
Cap. 4-5, Contes de fées: Le roi grenouille - Part 2

 

The full subjunctive conjugations of these verbs are:

je fasse, tu fasses, il/elle/on fasse, nous fassions, vous fassiez, ils/elles fassent 
je puisse, tu puisses, il/elle/on puisse, nous puissions, vous puissiez, ils/elles puissent

 

Finally, there's savoir (to know), which has a ch in the subjunctive: je sache, tu saches, il/elle/on sache, nous sachions, vous sachiez, ils/elles sachent.

 

Comment tu veux que je le sache moi?
How do you want [expect] me to know?
Cap. 26, Plus belle la vie: Episode 2771 - Part 2

 

Congrats! You're now fully capable of conjugating any French verb in the present subjunctive. Feel free to send us any suggestions for future lesson topics by tweeting us @yabla or emailing us at newsletter@yabla.com.

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The French Subjunctive: Emotional and Hypothetical

In this lesson, we'll be tackling the subjunctive, a verbal mood that expresses a wide range of situations, such as a wish, an obligation, a possibility, a doubt, or an emotion. Whereas the indicative mood simply describes something that happens, the subjunctive mood describes something that may happen, something you want to happen, something you're afraid will happen, and other hypothetical situations. It's the difference between the phrases "you are here" and "I wish you were here." 

 

The general rule for forming the subjunctive in French is to take the third-person plural (ils/elles) present indicative form of the verb, remove the -ent, and add the subjunctive endings: -e, -es, -e, -ions, -iez, and -ent. Take a look at this handy chart for a concise summary of the conjugation of regular subjunctive verbs. We'll go over irregular subjunctive conjugations in another lesson. 

 

Let's take the verbs dire (to say) and réfléchir (to think about) as examples. To conjugate them in the first-person singular subjunctive, we would go to the third-person present plural indicative (disent and réfléchissent), drop the -ent, and add the first-person singular subjunctive ending -e. The results are dise and réfléchisse

 

Qu’est-ce que tu veux que je te dise? 
What do you want me to tell you
Cap. 32, Plus belle la vie: Episode 2771 - Part 2 

 

Avec tout ce choix, il faut que je réfléchisse.
With all these choices, I have to think about it.
Cap. 10, Il était une fois… L’Espace: 3. La planète verte - Part 3

 

Besides the conjugation, the most important aspect of the French subjunctive is that it almost always follows the word que (that), as in the expressions tu veux que and il faut que above. Vouloir que (to want) and il faut que (it is necessary that) are among the large number of French expressions that require the subjunctive. You can find a detailed list of these expressions here.
   
The subjunctive is used to express some of the most basic emotions, such as happiness and sadness: 

 

On est vraiment très heureux que nos huit jeunes puissent partir.
We are truly very happy that our eight young people are able to go.
Cap. 8, Télé Lyon Métropole: Sport dans la ville & Afrique du Sud

 

Je suis triste que mon ami ne vienne pas au concert avec nous. 
I'm sad that my friend isn't coming to the concert with us. 

 

It's also used in a number of conjunctive phrases such as pourvu que (as long as), bien que (even though), and avant que (before):

 

Tu pourras leur parler de ce que tu voudras, pourvu que tu parles au moins deux heures.
You'll be able to talk to them about whatever you like, as long as you speak for at least two hours.
Cap. 3-4, Il était une fois... L'Espace: 6. La révolte des robots - Part 5 

 

J'aime le karaoké bien que je ne chante pas très bien. 
I love karaoke even though I don't sing very well. 

 

...avant que leurs enseignements ne soient exploités par l'industrie.
...before their lessons are exploited by industry.
Cap. 21, Le Journal: 2000 mètres sous les mers

 

As the above example demonstrates, some subjunctive constructions (like avant que) require a ne without a pas (known as a ne explétif) before the verb. See our previous lesson for an in-depth look at this special use of ne.
  
Some phrases, such as penser que (to think that), only take the subjunctive in the negative: 

 

Je ne pense pas que ça serve à grand-chose, ce que tu comptes faire.
I don't think it's going to help much, what you're planning to do.
Cap. 29, Plus belle la vie: 2772 - Part 3

 

If we make that sentence affirmative, we'll need to change servir from the subjunctive to the indicative:

 

Je pense que ça sert à beaucoup de choses, ce que tu comptes faire.
I think it's going to help a lot, what you're planning to do.  

 

To sum up, the subjunctive is used after a vast number of expressions that convey a wide variety of subjective and hypothetical states. This multitude of usages makes learning the subjunctive no easy feat, but the fact that the subjunctive almost always follows the word que makes it a little less daunting. So if there's one thing you should take away from this lesson, it's that whenever you see a verb after the word que, there's a good chance it should be in the subjunctive! 

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Qu'est-ce qu'il y a?

Il y a is probably one of the most common French expressions, and appears countless times in Yabla videos, which makes it a perfect lesson topic! Though it literally means "it has there," il y a is the equivalent of "there is" or "there are." You'll find it very useful when describing a location or a situation: 

Donc, en effet, il y a des vagues, il y a du courant. Le courant est fort.
So, indeed, there are waves, there is a current. The current is strong.
Cap. 2, À la plage avec Lionel: La plage

As the above example demonstrates, il y a remains unchanged regardless of whether its object is singular (du courant) or plural (des vagues). It does change, however, according to the tense of the sentence. Here it is in the imperfect, passé composé, and future tenses: 

Il y avait un lièvre mais, tu vois, il courait trop vite.
There was a hare, but you see, it was running too fast.
Cap. 14, Il était une fois - Les Amériques: 1. Les premiers Américains - Part 7 

Quand il est mort, il y a eu un million de Parisiens qui ont suivi le cortège.
When he died, there were a million Parisians following the procession. 
Cap. 15, Bertrand Pierre: Victor Hugo

Il y aura beaucoup de tableaux à voir au musée.
There will be many paintings to see at the museum. 

Il y a can also be used to indicate the passage of time, in which case it usually means "ago":

On a commencé il y a dix minutes. 
We started ten minutes ago
Cap. 47, Actus de quartier: Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 3

You can also use the phrase il y a... que to express the same thing, though in this case it usually means "for" or "since":

Il y a trois mois que j'habite à Paris. 
I've lived in Paris for three months. 

Incidentally, you could rewrite the above sentence three different ways, all with the same meaning: 

Ça fait trois mois que j'habite à Paris. 
Voilà trois mois que j'habite à Paris. 
J'habite à Paris depuis trois mois. 

Another more informal way of using il y a is when you notice someone looking sad or upset and you ask them: Qu'est-ce qu'il y a? (What's wrong?) Even more informally, you can shorten that question to: Qu'y a-t-il? If you're wondering why there's suddenly a "t" and two hyphens there, check out our lesson on inversion for a full explanation. 

It's very common for il y a to be shortened to y a in casual speech:

C'est festif, euh... Y a de la barbe à papa.
It's festive, uh... There's cotton candy.
Cap. 32, Actus de Quartier: Fête de la rose au caviar rouge

To sum up, let's review all the uses of il y a in a short dialogue: 

Qu'est-ce qu'il y a? -Je suis en colère parce qu'il y a trop de tableaux au musée du Louvre. Il y a trois mois que j'habite à Paris et je n'ai pas encore tout vu!
What's wrong? -I'm mad because there are too many paintings in the Louvre. I've lived in Paris for three months and I still haven't seen everything!

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Which Is Which?

Imagine your friend is trying to decide on a shirt to wear to a party and asks for your opinion. In French, there are two main forms that question could take: 

Quelle chemise préfères-tu? 
Which shirt do you prefer? 

Laquelle de ces chemises préfères-tu? 
Which of these shirts do you prefer? 

There's a slight but important difference between these two questions. Though quelle and laquelle both mean "which," laquelle more specifically means "which one." Since laquelle is a pronoun, you can simplify the second sentence and just say, Laquelle préfères-tu? (Which one do you prefer?) However, you can't simplify the first one (Quelle préfères-tu?) because quelle is an adjective and therefore always precedes a noun. 

Note that quelle and laquelle agree in number (singular) and gender (feminine) with the noun they refer to, chemise. Their other forms are quel/lequel (masculine singular), quels/lesquels (masculine plural), and quelles/lesquelles (feminine plural). As you can see, the pronoun is formed by combining the definite article le, la, or les with the corresponding form of quel.

Besides introducing a question, lequel/laquelle/lesquels/lesquelles can also be used after a preposition. Here they are in action with the prepositions sur (on) and dans (in):

Le territoire sur lequel ils sont installés…
The territory on which they have settled…
Cap. 40, Actus de Quartier: Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 4

Par exemple, j'ai ma deuxième robe, dans laquelle je chante mon duo.
For example, I have my second dress, in which I sing my duet.
Cap. 25, Melissa Mars: Mozart, L'opéra rock - Part 1 

Watch out for the prepositions à (to) and de (of, from) in this construction. Just as à + le becomes au instead of à le, and de + le becomes du instead of de leà + lequel and de + lequel become auquel (to which) and duquel (from which, of which, about which). In all forms except the feminine singular (à laquellede laquelle), à and de combine with the pronoun to form one word: 

Masculine singular: duquel (de + lequel), auquel (à + lequel)
Masculine plural: desquels (de + lesquels), auxquels (à + lesquels)
Feminine plural: desquelles (de + lesquelles), auxquelles (à + lesquelles)

An important note about duquel/de laquelle/desquels/desquelles: these constructions are often replaced by the word dont, the subject of our previous lesson. So instead of a sentence like: 

Voici le livre duquel je t'ai parlé hier. 
Here is the book about which I spoke to you yesterday. 

You would more often hear:

Voici le livre dont je t'ai parlé hier. 
Here is the book I spoke to you about yesterday. 

However, you have to use duquelde laquelle, etc., whenever the de is part of a prepositional phrase such as près de (near), à côté de (next to), or loin de (far from):

Il est bordé des quais de Valmy et de Jemmapes au bord duquel se trouve le fameux Hôtel du Nord.
It is bordered by the Quais de Valmy and Jemmapes, along which is found the famous Hôtel du Nord.
Cap. 32-33, De nouvelles découvertes avec Marion: Le canal Saint-Martin

Another important note: Though it's common in English to end a clause with a preposition like "about" or "from," you can never do this with deduquel/de laquelle, etc., or dont. For example, you can say "the book I spoke to you about," but you can never say le livre je t'ai parlé duquel or le livre je t'ai parlé dont. You can only say le livre duquel je t'ai parlé or le livre dont je t'ai parlé (the book about which I spoke to you).  

Thanks for reading! Tweet us @yabla or email us at newsletter@yabla.com with any questions, feedback, or suggestions for future lesson topics. 

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Don't Forget About "Dont"!

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.
...a rich merchant whose favorite daughter was called Belle.
Cap. 2, Bande-annonce: La Belle et la Bête

 

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.
Cap. 29, Le Québec parle aux Français - Part 2 

 

 

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 pronounsdont 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 expressionssuch 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.
Cap. 35, Le Journal: L'île de Pâques 

...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.
Cap. 17, Il était une fois... Notre Terre: 25. Technologies - Part 8 

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! 

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This and That, Part 2

In our last lesson, we introduced the French demonstrative pronouns (celui, celle, ceux, celles), which combine with the suffixes ci (here) and  (there) to form expressions such as "this one," "that one," "these," and "those." In this lesson, we'll explore two other useful constructions featuring these pronouns.

 

The first is celui/celle/ceux/celles + de + noun, which is used to indicate ownership or possession. Here's a straightforward example from the Beauty and the Beast trailer: 

Je suis venue échanger ma vie contre celle de mon père.
I've come to exchange my life for that of my father.
Cap. 23, Bande-annonce: La Belle et La Bête

"That of my father" is the literal translation of celle de mon père, but the sentence could also have been translated as, "I've come to exchange my life for my father's." As we mentioned in the last lesson, the demonstrative pronoun has to agree in gender and number with the word it's referring to. In this case, the feminine singular celle refers to the feminine singular noun vie

 

 

The second construction is celui/celle/ceux/celles + qui, que, or dontQui (that, who) and que (that, whom) are relative pronouns, or words that introduce a dependent clause. While qui acts as the subject of the clause (usually followed by a verb), que acts as the object (usually followed by a noun or pronoun). With a demonstrative pronoun in front of them, they create expressions like "the one(s) that/who" (demonstrative pronoun + qui) and "the one(s) that/whom" (demonstrative pronoun + que): 

Vous savez... celui qui se trouve derrière la maison voisine.
You know... the one that's behind the house next door.
Cap. 20, Il était une fois: Notre Terre - 9. Les écosystèmes - Part 4

...dans des situations un peu meilleures que celles qu'ils avaient en arrivant.
...in situations that are a little bit better than the ones that they had when they arrived.
Cap. 24, Le Journal: Les Restos du Cœur 

Cet homme n'est pas celui que j'ai vu hier. 
That man is not the one whom I saw yesterday. 

 

Dont is another relative pronoun that means "whose" or "of which": 

J'habite une maison dont les volets sont bleus.
I live in a house whose shutters are blue. 

 

The demonstrative pronoun + dont combination means "the one(s) whose" or "the one(s) of/about which." In this combination, dont often replaces an object preceded by de:
 

Tu parles de ma chemise rouge? -Non, celle dont je parle est bleue. 
Are you talking about my red shirt? -No, the one that I'm talking about is blue. 

 

So, to review, the three major constructions featuring demonstrative pronouns are:

-demonstrative pronoun + -ci or - (celui-cicelle-là, etc.)
-demonstrative pronoun + de + noun (celle de mon père)
-demonstrative pronoun + qui, que, or dont (celui que j'ai vu hier)

 

The two big takeaways here are that demonstrative pronouns always replace a previously mentioned noun (and must agree with it in gender and number) and are always accompanied by another word, whether the suffixes ci and , the preposition de, or the relative pronouns qui, que, and dont

 

That about covers it for demonstrative pronouns! If you have any suggestions for future lesson topics, feel free to tweet us @yabla or email us at newsletter@yabla.com.

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This and That Part 1

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
Cap. 5, Alex Terrier: Le saxophone - Part 1

 

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 i 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. 
Cap. 26, Le Journal: Marianne

Donc, tous ceux-là, ce sont des thés verts. 
So all those are green teas. 
Cap. 16, Joanna: Torréfaction du faubourg

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
Cap. 54, Bateau sport 100% électrique: Le Nautique 196 E

 

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 current apparently goes up a little bit on that side
Cap. 9, À la plage avec Lionel: La plage

 

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). 
 

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)!

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Terrible or Terrific?

If you’ve been following the latest drama series on Yabla French, Plus belle la vie, you know that Zoé has been fighting to prove her father Stéphane’s innocence after he was identified as a murder suspect. In the most recent episode, Stéphane asks Zoé how she’s holding up when she comes to visit him in prison: 

Comment tu te sens? -Pas terrible. Je sais que c'est pas toi qui as fait ça.
How are you feeling? -Not great. I know it’s not you who did this. 
Cap. 1-2, Plus belle la vie - Episode 2771: Part 2

 

If Zoé were feeling “not terrible,” that might suggest that she’s doing fairly well, but the rest of the video suggests otherwise. In fact, pas terrible is an idiom meaning “not great.” Though terrible often has a negative sense as it does in English, it can also mean something along the lines of “formidable,” “huge,” or even “terrific”:

J’ai eu une chance terrible cette année.
I’ve been tremendously lucky this year. 

 

The meaning of terrible really depends on context. So when the narrator of this news segment calls Roman Polanski’s Death and the Maiden un film terrible,” we can assume he’s not giving the movie a bad review, but rather commenting on its harrowing subject matter: 

Une pièce du Chilien Ariel Dorfman, dont Polanski tira un film terrible avec Sigourney Weaver et Ben Kingsley...
A play by the Chilean Ariel Dorfman, which Polanski made into a chilling film with Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley...
Cap. 2-3, TLT Toulouse: Dorfman mis en scène à Toulouse

 

Though it can be easy for English speakers to misunderstand the meaning of terrible, there are many occasions when it directly translates as "terrible," as in this trailer for Beauty and the Beast:

Lors d'une terrible tempête, le marchand perdit sa fortune.
During a terrible storm, the merchant lost his fortune.
Cap. 3, Bande-annonce: La Belle et La Bête

 

You might be wondering why we have une terrible tempête here but un film terrible and une chance terrible above. The answer will help you decipher the adjective's meaning: when terrible comes before the noun, it usually means "terrible," but when it comes after the noun, it usually means "tremendous," "formidable," or something similar.

 

Just double-check whenever you come across it to make sure you aren’t in the midst of une terrible méprise (a terrible misunderstanding)!

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D'où viens-tu?

Our latest video asks the question, D'où vient le nom de la France? (Where does France's name come from?) As you'll learn from the video, the name comes from les Francs (the Franks), the Germanic people who settled in the region in ancient times, when it was known as Gaul.

 

If you ask a French person, D'où viens-tu? (Where are you from?), he or she might say, Je viens de la France (I come from France). But there are two other ways of saying the same thing:

Je suis français(e).
I am French

Je suis un Français/une Française.
I am a Frenchman/a Frenchwoman.

 

Here, you can see an important rule that applies to all French demonyms (or words referring to the inhabitants of a place): when used as an adjective (as in the first example), they're written all in lowercase, but when used as a noun (as in the second), their first letter is capitalized. 

 

You can see this distinction played out in this caption from the video: 

Les plus anciens ancêtres connus des Français sont des peuples gaulois.
The oldest known ancestors of the French are the Gallic people.
Cap. 32, Le saviez-vous: D’où vient le nom de la France? 

 

While les Français is a noun, gaulois is an adjective. As an alternative, we could rewrite the sentence by flipping the parts of speech and changing the capitalization accordingly:

Les plus anciens ancêtres connus du peuple français sont les Gaulois
The oldest known ancestors of the French people are the Gauls.

 

On a related note, the names of languages in French are always lowercase: whereas le Français means "the Frenchman," le français means "the French language." And whereas demonyms can change gender and number, language names are always masculine and singular. So you can have le Français (the Frenchman), les Français (the Frenchmen/French people), la Française (the Frenchwoman), and les Françaises (the Frenchwomen), but you can only have le français (the French language).

 

Finally, another way of answering the question d'où viens-tu is with the expression être originaire de (to be originally from/to be a native of). Aïssa Maïga uses this expression in her video on promoting literacy among girls and women in Senegal: 

Vu le fait que je sois originaire du Sénégal et aussi du Mali...
Seeing as I am originally from Senegal and also from Mali...
Cap. 18, Alphabétisation des filles au Sénégal

Aïssa is a French actress with origins in Senegal and Mali, or in other words: Aïssa est une actrice française, originaire du Sénégal et du Mali. 

 

For practice, try describing where you're from in French in a few different ways. You can find a thorough list of French demonyms here

 

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