French Lessons

Topics

Sensé(e) or Censé(e)?

The adjectives sensé(e) and censé(e) are easy to confuse, since they have the same pronunciation and almost the same spelling (in other words, they're homophones). Sensé(e) is related to the English word "sense," and means "sensible," "reasonable," or "sane": 

 

J'étais face à trois personnes que je considérais comme étant parfaitement sensées.
I was facing three people whom I considered to be perfectly sane.
Cap. 80-81, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Notre appartement est hanté - Part 5

 

Censé(e) might remind you of the words "census," "censor," or "censure," but it means something quite different. It's the word for "supposed," as in "supposed to do something." Just like "supposed to," it's nearly always preceded by the verb "to be" (être) and followed by an infinitive: 
 

On est censé faire réparer des objets qui ont quelques problèmes. 
We're supposed to bring items that have some problems for repair.
Cap. 2, Actus de Quartier: Repair Café

 

On était censé n'avoir aucun souci, avoir des centrales complètement fiables...
They were supposed to have no concerns, to have totally reliable power plants...
Cap. 25, Manif du Mois: Fukushima plus jamais ça

 

Alors que la police, elle est censée être là pour nous protéger.
While the police are supposed to be there to protect us.
Cap. 14, Banlieues françaises: jeunes et policiers, l'impossible réconciliation? - Part 2

 

You can always say supposé(e) instead of censé(e), which might be a little easier to remember:

 

...son fameux pont qui était supposé être un lieu où [on] profitait de beaux panoramas.
...its famous bridge, which was supposed to be a place where you enjoy beautiful panoramas.
Cap. 26-27, De nouvelles découvertes avec Marion: Le parc des Buttes Chaumont

 

Or you can use the verb devoir, especially in the past tense:

 

...bien qu'elle se demanda en quoi cela devait l'aider à se rendre au bal.
...although she wondered in what way that was supposed to help her get to the ball.
Cap. 47-48, Contes de fées: Cendrillon - Part 1

 

Whichever version of "supposed to" you use is perfectly sensé!

Continue Reading

Ça te dit?

At the end of our last lesson, we introduced the question ça te dit (or ça vous dit), which literally means "does it say/speak to you," but is mostly used as an informal way of proposing something to someone. It's more or less equivalent to the English phrase "what do you say":

 

Du coup, je propose un apéro ce soir chez moi, dix-neuf heures. Ça vous dit?
So I propose an aperitif tonight at my place, seven p.m. What do you say?
Cap. 62, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 4

 

But ça te dit can be translated a number of other ways too, depending on its position in the sentence: 

 

Alors ça te dit
So are you interested?
Cap. 68, Le Jour où tout a basculé: J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils - Part 3

 

Ça te dit qu'on aille boire un thé?
How would you like to go have some tea?
Cap. 5, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Mes grands-parents sont infidèles - Part 5 

 

At the beginning of a sentence, ça te dit can precede either que or de. But be careful: the phrase ça te dit que requires the subjunctive, as you can see in the example above (qu'on aille). Ça te dit de, on the other hand, simply takes the infinitive:

 

Ça te dit d'aller boire un thé?
How would you like to go have some tea? 

 

Ça te dit has another meaning too. If you're not sure whether someone is familiar with what you're referring to, you can use the expression to double-check:

 

Non. Je connais pas Saguenay. -Bien, voyons, le fleuve, tout ça... non, ça te dit rien?
No. I don't know Saguenay. -Come on, the river, all that... no, that doesn't mean anything to you?
Cap. 53, Le Québec parle aux Français: Part 1

 

C'est situé dans le huitième arrondissement; je ne sais pas si ça vous dit quelque chose, mais voilà.
It's located in the eighth district; I don't know if that means anything to you, but there you go.
Cap. 18, Paris Tour: Visite guidée de Paris

 

Ça vous dit de regarder de nouvelles vidéos sur Yabla? 
 

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for our next lesson and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

Continue Reading

Ça se dit en français?

In Part 2 of "Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an," Danièle Gerkens, a journalist at Elle magazine, talks about the health benefits she experienced after cutting sugar from her diet for one year. When the year was almost up, she was expecting to break her sugar fast with mountains of whipped cream, but it was actually a single piece of dark chocolate that did her in:

 

Je me disais que j'allais me rouler dans la chantilly, et cetera. Et puis en fait, plus ça arrivait, plus je me disais, mais qu'est-ce que je vais faire?
I told myself that I was going to wallow in whipped cream, et cetera. And then in fact, the closer it came [to the end], the more I was wondering, but what am I going to do?
Cap. 102-104, Le Figaro: Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 2

 

Note the two different translations of je me disais here: "I told myself" and "I was wondering." The reflexive verb se dire can mean a number of things depending on context, namely "to tell/say to oneself" and "to wonder/think." In a sense, these both mean the same thing: when you wonder or think about something, you're telling yourself about it. 

 

When multiple people se disent, they could be thinking about something or telling themselves something, but they could also just be talking to each other: 

 

Christine et Alice sont de meilleures amies. Elles se disent tout. 
Christine and Alice are best friends. They tell each other everything.

 

Se dire can also mean "to say of oneself," or in other words, "to claim to be":

 

Le Charles de Gaulle, où la direction se dit d'abord victime de son image.
Charles de Gaulle [Hospital], where the management claims first of all to be a victim of its image.
Cap. 29, Le Journal: Hôpital ultra-moderne à Burkina Faso

 

Or se dire can simply mean "to be said," which has a few different connotations. Here Danièle is (somewhat cheekily) talking about something she thinks is taboo and can't be mentioned in public. Believe it or not, she's referring to her love of milk chocolate! 

 

Je sais, ça se dit pas, mais j'adorais ça.
I know you're not supposed to say it, but that's what I loved.
Cap. 112, Le Figaro: Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 2

 

In its most general sense, se dire refers to anything that "is said" in everyday language:

 

Par contre, "faire le beau" se dit d'un chien qui se tient sur les pattes arrière pour réclamer un sucre.
On the other hand, faire le beau is said of a dog that stands on its hind legs to beg for a lump of sugar.
Cap. 24-25, Margaux et Manon: Emplois du verbe faire

 

"Je n'ai pas des biscuits": ça se dit en français? -Non. Il faut dire: "je n'ai pas de biscuits".
Can you say je n'ai pas des biscuits in French? -No. You have to say je n'ai pas de biscuits [I don't have any cookies].

 

Don't confuse ça se dit with ça te dit (or ça vous dit in the plural), which means "how does that sound" or "how would you like..." (literally, "does it speak to you"):

 

Ça te dit de réviser les multiples sens de l'expression "se dire"? 
How would you like to review the multiple meanings of the expression se dire

 

Continue Reading

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, j'avais vraiment honte.
And even though I told myself that I'd done it for Nino, I was really ashamed.
Cap. 55-56, Le Jour où tout a basculé: J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils - Part 2

 

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.
Cap. 67, Alsace 20: Laurent Chandemerle, l'homme aux 100 voix

 

Ça a beau être une pizzeria, nos prix sont assez élevés pour le commun des mortels.
Although it's a pizzeria, our prices are pretty high for the everyday mortal.
Cap. 5, F&F Pizza: Chez F&F

 

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, sans toi ma vie n'est qu'un décor qui brille, vide de sens
No matter how hard I slave away, without you my life is just decor that shines, empty of meaning
Cap. 19, Indila: Dernière danse

 

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

 

Et j'ai eu beau essayer de le convaincre d'arrêter ses enfantillages, rien à faire.
And try as I might to convince him to stop his childish games, it was useless. 
Cap. 6-8, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Mes grands-parents sont infidèles - Part 4

 

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

 

Yseult a beau être jeune, elle sait bien où elle veut aller.
Yseult may be young, but she knows exactly where she wants to go.
Cap. 5, Watt’s In: Yseult - La Vague Interview Exclu

 

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. 

 

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for our next lesson and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

Continue Reading

Bouffer de la bonne bouffe

There are two new videos dealing with food on Yabla this week. The first is the latest episode of Le Jour où tout a basculé, which focuses on a struggling frozen-food worker and her difficult son. The second is an interview with Christian Le Squer, the head chef at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Cinq. Both videos contain a good number of interesting food-related words, which we'll go over in this lesson. 

 

1. Des pâtes

Y a quoi pour le dîner? -Des pâtes.
What's for dinner? -Pasta.
Cap. 3-4, Le Jour où tout a basculé: J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils - Part 1  

"Pasta" is a singular noun, but when you say you're having pasta for dinner, you don't mean you're just having one piece of pasta, right? That's why you say des pâtes (plural) in French when talking about a pasta meal. Une pâte (singular) refers to one piece of pasta, and it's also the word for "paste," "pastry," and "dough." Don't confuse it with le pâté, which means—you guessed it—"pâté."

 

 

2. Bouffer

Pourtant, ça empêche pas mes potes de bouffer de la viande.
Even so, that doesn't stop my buddies from eating meat.
Cap. 49,  Le Jour où tout a basculé: J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils - Part 1  

This is a very common slang word meaning "to eat." You can use it instead of the standard verb manger when speaking informally. And instead of la nourriture (food), you can say la bouffe.

 

 

3. Des plats surgelés

Sarah est secrétaire dans une société de fabrication de plats surgelés.
Sarah is a secretary at a frozen-food manufacturing company.
Cap. 35, Le Jour où tout a basculé: J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils - Part 1  

Des plats surgelés are frozen foods, but the term literally means "frozen dishes." Surgelé(e) is mostly used in food contexts and is often interchangeable with the related adjective congelé(e). The more general word for "frozen" is simply gelé(e). 

 

 

4. Le couvert 

Une quarantaine de couverts...
About forty place settings...
Cap. 9, Christian Le Squer: Je ne fais que goûter!

Couvert is the past participle of the verb couvrir (to cover), but when used as a noun (le couvert) it means "place setting" or "cutlery." This makes sense if you think about it, since when you set a table, you cover it with plates, glasses, and silverware. In fact, the phrase mettre le couvert means "to set the table," or literally, "to put down the place setting." 

 

 

5. Torréfier 

Faut la faire torréfier.
It's got to be roasted.
Cap. 23, Christian Le Squer: Je ne fais que goûter!

Christian Le Squer is referring to a hazelnut (une noisette) that he thinks needs to be roasted. Torréfier is mainly used when talking about roasting nuts or coffee beans. When you're roasting meat or vegetables, you use the verb rôtir or faire rôtir

 

 

6. Une entrée

viande, poisson, entrée, et sucrée
meat, fish, starters, and sweets
Cap. 34, Christian Le Squer: Je ne fais que goûter!

In American English, "entrée" is another word for "main course." But une entrée actually means an "appetizer" or "starter" in French. It also means "an entrance." To remember this difference in meaning, just think of an appetizer as the "entrance" to a meal. If you'd like to learn the history of the word "entrée" in English, check out this interesting blog post.

 

And for more food-related words, see this Yabla lesson

Continue Reading

Training Dogs in French

Lionel is back with his cousin Jean-Pierre, who, in addition to being a wildlife expert, is also a dog expert. With the help of his trusty border collie, Chic, Jean-Pierre gives Lionel some helpful pointers on training dogs.

 

In part two of the series, Jean-Pierre gives Chic a number of basic dog commands, which Chic performs perfectly. We'll go over some of those commands in this lesson. You may want to revisit our lessons on the imperative mood before reading on, since most of the commands are in that mood.

 

We'll start with the most basic ones—"come," "look," and "sit": 

 

Viens! Regarde. Viens. Assis!
Come! Look. Come. Sit!
Cap. 31-33, Lionel: au club canin - Part 2

 

Of the above commands, can you spot the one that isn't in the imperative? If you guessed assis, you're correct! Assis is in fact the past participle of the verb s'asseoir (to sit) and literally means "seated." Jean-Pierre could also have said assieds-toi (sit), which is the true imperative of the verb s'asseoir, but assis is more commonly used as a command for dogs. 

 

Jean-Pierre uses another past participle as a command a few captions later: 

 

Allez, couché.
Go on, lie down.
Cap. 39, Lionel: au club canin - Part 2

 

Couché is the past participle of coucher (to go to bed), but to a well-trained dog, it's a command to "lie down." 

 

After Jean-Pierre throws a ball, he says: 

 

Prends! Voilà. Apporte
Catch! That's it. Fetch
Cap. 50-52, Lionel: au club canin - Part 2

 

Prends and apporte are imperative forms of the verbs prendre (to take) and apporter (to bring). So it makes sense that they also mean "catch" and "fetch."

 

Jean-Pierre uses another word for "catch" at another point in the video: 

 

Tu sais attraper, là?
Can you catch, there? 
Cap. 35, Lionel: au club canin - Part 2

 

Finally, he tells Chic to heel, or, literally, to "come to foot": 

 

Viens au pied, là.
Come to foot [heel], there.
Cap. 45, Lionel: au club canin - Part 2

 

You'll also find a fair number of races de chiens (dog breeds) mentioned in this video: 

 

un teckel - a dachshund
un dalmatien - a Dalmatian 
un chien de chasse - a hunting dog
un berger allemand - a German shepherd
un chien terrier - a terrier (un terrier also means "a burrow")
un bâtard - a mutt 

 

And of course, there's un border collie, like Chic!

Continue Reading

Silence, moteur, action!

Daniel Benchimol concludes his latest video, on the town of Montmorency, a little differently than he usually does. He introduces us to Philippe, the man behind the scenes of Daniel's numerous travel videos. Philippe does it all: he films, he directs, he edits. Daniel uses some basic film terminology in his description of Philippe: 

 

Laissez-moi vous présenter mon compagnon de tournage, Philippe, qui réalise, qui monte et qui fait l'ensemble de ce que vous ne voyez pas.
Let me present to you my filming companion, Philippe, who directs, who edits, and who does everything that you don't see. 
Cap. 47-48, Voyage en France: Montmorency - Part 4

 

Tournage comes from the verb tourner, which, as you might have guessed, means "to turn." But in movie parlance, tourner means "to film" (and le tournage means "filming" or "film shoot"). To remember this, just think of film reels turning on an old movie camera. 

 

We discussed the verb réaliser in a previous lesson. Among its many meanings is "to direct" a film or stage production. The related word réalisateur (masculine) or réalisatrice (feminine) means "director" or "filmmaker"—in other words, the person who "realizes" the film.

 

Yabla has a lesson on monter as well! Its basic meanings are "to climb" and "to put up," but monter can also mean "to edit" a film. The English word "montage" refers to a specific technique of combining short clips to form a continuous sequence, but the French le montage refers more generally to the "editing" of a film. 

 

Another Yabla video takes us to Concarneau in Brittany, where a film crew documented the town's rich maritime heritage. You'll find some interesting film-related words at the beginning of the video:

 

Moteur! Séance de tournage sur le port de Concarneau. En face de l'objectif, le maître du port.
ActionFilming session on the Concarneau harbor. In front of the camera lens, the harbormaster.
Cap. 1-3, Télévision Bretagne Ouest: Concarneau - Un tournage sur la vie maritime

 

Moteur usually just means "motor" or "engine," but here it means "Action!" This is actually a shortened version of the phrase silence, moteur, action! (literally, "silence, motor, action!"), the French equivalent of "lights, camera, action!" You can also say moteur, ça tourne, action! ("motor, it's filming, action!"). 

 

You might be wondering what a "camera lens" has to do with an "objective." If you consider that un objectif also means "an aim," the relationship might be clearer. A filmmaker or photographer aims their camera lens at their subject, so it makes sense that objectif is the word for "camera lens." 

 

Check out this lesson for some more French film words.
 
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for our next lesson and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

Continue Reading

Telling Jokes in French

Our friend Lionel is known for his witty puns and excellent comedic timing. He even filmed a standup set for Yabla! Apparently, a good sense of humor runs in his family. In Lionel's latest video, his cousin Jean-Pierre cracks a joke about the Vosges mountain range: 

 

Y a une blague à propos des Vosges du Nord. Quand on voit pas les Vosges du Nord, c'est qu'il pleut. Et quand on les voit bien, c'est qu'il va pleuvoir. 
There's a joke about the Northern Vosges. When you don't see the Northern Vosges, it's because it's raining. And when you see them clearly, it means it's going to rain. 
Cap. 85-90, Lionel: à Lindre-Basse - Part 7

 

If you didn't laugh at Jean-Pierre's joke, you probably had to be there (near the Northern Vosges, that is). 

 

Une blague doesn't only refer to a verbal joke. It can also be a trick or a prank you play on someone: 

 

On va leur faire une bonne blague!
We're going to play a nice trick on them!
Cap. 23, Il était une fois... Notre Terre: 9. Les écosystèmes - Part 4

 

Une farce and un tour are the other words for "trick," "prank," or "practical joke":

 

Une farce joyeuse et de franche gaieté. 
A joyous prank with uninhibited gaiety.
Cap. 10, Il était une fois... l’Homme: 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 4

 

Ils ont plus d'un tour dans leur sac. 
They have more than one trick in their bag [up their sleeves].
Cap. 34, Il était une fois... La vie: 14. La bouche et les dents - Part 6

 

There's also another word for "joke": une plaisanterie. This example explains what happens in your body when you laugh at a joke: 

 

Vous savez que ce sont les lèvres glottiques qui sous l'effet d'une plaisanterie se mettent à vibrer.
You know that it's the glottic folds that start vibrating when a joke is told.
Cap. 8-9, Le Journal: Les effets bénéfiques du rire!

 

So how do you say "to crack a joke" or "to tell a joke" in French? You can either say raconter une plaisanterie or raconter une blague

 

Il aime raconter des plaisanteries [or des blagues] grivoises.
He loves to tell dirty jokes

 

But if you're talking about "joking" or "joking/messing around," then you use the verbs plaisanter or blaguer:

 

Ils blaguaient tout le temps pendant leur enfance.
They always used to joke around when they were little. 

 

Tu plaisantes! Je ne crois pas ça. -Non, je ne plaisante pas! 
You're kidding! I don't believe that. -No, I'm not kidding!

 

Thanks for reading! We'll be back soon with a new lesson. Sans blague! (No joke!)

Continue Reading

Ne faites pas de bêtises!

Animals are generally (and perhaps unjustly) considered to be less intelligent than humans, which explains why the French word bête can mean both "beast" and "stupid":

 

Après tout, c'est bête la guerre.
After all, war is stupid
Cap. 25, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs: 15. Bruce et les sources du Nil - Part 7

 

The related noun bêtise can mean anything along the lines of "stupidity" or "idiocy." You can use it in a general sense to talk about "something stupid":

 

Après les parents, ils me disent, quand ils font une bêtise...
Later the parents tell me, when they do something stupid...
Cap. 56, Banlieues françaises: jeunes et policiers, l'impossible réconciliation? - Part 1

 

Or you might use it to refer to something more specific, such as a mistake. Une bêtise isn't just any old mistake, but a particularly stupid one:

 

Vous allez réparer vos bêtises.
You're going to repair your stupid mistakes.
Cap. 31, Il était une fois - Notre Terre: 9. Les écosystèmes - Part 4

 

Of course, if you tell someone he or she has made a stupid mistake, you could be implying that the person him or herself is stupid. Une erreur is a more neutral word for "mistake" that doesn't connote stupidity:

 

Elle fait une terrible erreur
She's making a terrible mistake
Cap. 4, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Mes grands-parents sont infidèles - Part 3

 

The plural bêtises is often used to refer to "nonsense," "mischief," or any kind of naughty behavior:

 

Arrête tes bêtises.
Stop your nonsense.
Cap. 28, Agnès Varda: Le lion volatil - Part 2

 

Mais si on fait des bêtises, on sait jamais...
But if we get into mischief, you never know...
Cap. 89, Actu Vingtième: Le Repas des anciens

 

If you argue with someone over des bêtises, you're arguing over nothing:

 

Mes enfants se disputent toujours pour des bêtises.
My kids are always arguing with each other over nothing.

 

When it comes to learning a language, there's no such thing as a stupid mistake. So don't fret if you forget an accent mark or type in the wrong word in a Yabla game—you've just made a simple erreur, not une bêtise!

 

For fun, here's an 80s throwback for you: Sabine Paturel's "Les Bêtises," which was a smash hit in France in 1986. 

Continue Reading

French Si Clauses

In our previous lessons on the French conditional, we briefly mentioned si (if) clauses, which express the possibility or likelihood of an event. These are comparable to "if/then" constructions in English, as in "if you didn't want to go, then you should have said something" or "if I rest now, I'll have more energy later." French si clauses are made up of two parts: a condition (e.g. "if I rest now") and a result ("I'll have more energy later"). They come in three different forms, each expressing different likelihoods and employing different verb tenses and moods. Let's break them down one by one. 

 

1. Si + present-tense verb
The first type of si clause describes a possible or likely event. It expresses what could or will probably happen if a present condition is met. When the "condition" part (si + verb) of the clause is in the present tense, the "result" part can be in the presentimperative, or future

 

Si on surveille pas, elle les prend et puis elle les fait tomber un par un.
If we don't watch, she takes them and then makes them fall one by one.
Cap. 23, Angers 7 - Un lama en plein appartement

 

Donc si vous pouvez éviter de sortir, évitez
So if you can avoid going out, avoid it.
Cap. 7, Alsace 20 - Météo des Maquilleurs

 

Même aujourd'hui, si on me fait chanter, je chanterai.
Even today, if you make me sing, I'll sing.
Cap. 55, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciens

 

2. Si + imperfect verb
The second type describes something that's contrary to the present situation or unlikely to happen. Here the si is followed by an imperfect verb and the "result" part of the clause requires the conditional:

 

Si on avait pas tant de bénévoles... cela serait pas possible. 
If we didn't have so many volunteers... it wouldn't be possible.
Cap. 34-35, Farmer François - Le stand de légumes

 

Je pourrais aller au cinéma avec toi si je n'étais pas malade. 
I could go to the movies with you if I weren't sick. 

 

As you can see from the above example, the "result" doesn't always have to follow the "condition"—it can just as easily be placed before it. So we could rewrite the "Farmer François" sentence as: Cela serait pas possible si on avait pas tant de bénévoles (it wouldn't be possible if we didn't have so many volunteers). As long as both parts of a si clause are in the right tense/mood, it doesn't matter which comes first.

 

3. Si + pluperfect verb
The final type of si clause is a lot like the second type, but a bit more complex. It describes something that's contrary to a past event—for instance, something you wish had happened or regret not having done. In other words, it expresses an impossibility. The pluperfect is paired with the past conditional here: 

 

Si j'avais su, je serais venu avec deux chevaux. 
If I had known, I would have come with two horses.
Cap. 50, Il était une fois - Les découvreurs - 13. Stephenson - Part 6

 

Hier j'aurais levé le bras pour appeler le taxi si j'avais d'abord soigné mon épaule.
Yesterday I would have raised my arm to hail the taxi if I had treated my shoulder first.
Cap. 39-41, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode du conditionnel

 

 

To learn about some other meanings of si besides "if," check out this lesson. And if you have any suggestions for future lesson topics, feel free to tweet us @yabla or email us at newsletter@yabla.com.

Continue Reading

The French Conditional - Part 2

The French Conditional - Part 1

As Patricia mentions in her recent video, the French conditional mood only comes in two tenses: present and past. While the present conditional expresses something you would do, the past conditional expresses something you would have done. We discussed the present conditional in our previous lesson, so now we'll focus on the past. 

 

The past conditional is a compound tense, which means it's made up of multiple parts. Two parts, to be exact: an auxiliary verb (avoir or être) in the conditional, plus the past participle of the main verb. Here's an example of the verb pouvoir (to be able to) in the past conditional:

 

On aurait pu les cuire individuellement, mais là ça va le faire.
We could have cooked them individually, but here, this'll do it.
Cap. 49, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano: Médaillon de Homard - Part 2

 

Like most verbs, pouvoir combines with the auxiliary verb avoir (to have) in compound past tenses. But as Patricia explains in another video, some verbs combine with être (to be) in those instances, such as the verbs aller (to go) and naître (to be born):

 

Je serais allé à la plage mais il faisait trop froid. 
I would have gone to the beach, but it was too cold. 

 

L'histoire officielle dit que ce drapeau serait né sous la Révolution française de dix-sept cent quatre-vingt-neuf.
Official history says that this flag was supposedly born under the French Revolution of seventeen eighty-nine.
Cap. 6-7, Le saviez-vous? - Histoire du drapeau français

 

The important thing to remember is that in the past tense, you only need to conjugate the auxiliary verb in the conditional, not the main verb (so you wouldn't say on aurait pourrait or je serais irais, for instance). 

 

It's easy to confuse the past conditional with the pluperfect (or plus-que-parfait) tense, which is used to describe things that happened in the remote past. Both constructions contain an auxiliary verb followed by a past participle (in the pluperfect, the auxiliary verb is in the imperfect tense, not the conditional), and you'll often find both of them in sentences containing si (if) clauses:

 

Hier, j'aurais levé le bras pour appeler le taxi si j'avais d'abord soigné mon épaule.
Yesterday, I would have raised my arm to hail the taxi if I had treated my shoulder first.
Cap. 39-41, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode du conditionnel

 

We'll talk about si clauses in further detail in a future lesson. In the meantime, you might want to check out the song Si by Zaz, which contains a good number of si clauses and verbs in the conditional.

Continue Reading

The French Conditional - Part 1

The French Conditional - Part 2

In her latest lesson, Patricia introduces the conditional mood, used to describe hypothetical situations. Unlike the indicative mood, which refers to definite, certain actions or events, the conditional refers to anything indefinite or uncertain. The French conditional generally corresponds to "would" in English—"would go," "would say," "would run," etc. 

 

Conjugating the conditional is fairly straightforward. You just take the infinitive form of the verb and add the ending -ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, or -aient (though there are some exceptions to this rule). Let's take the verb parler (to talk) as an example:

 

je parlerais (I would talk)                        nous parlerions (we would talk)
tu parlerais (you [sing.] would talk)        vous parleriez (you [pl.] would talk)
il/elle parlerait (he/she would talk)          ils/elles parleraient (they would talk)

 

You may have noticed that these endings are the same as those used in the imperfect tense. In fact, you'll often see the conditional paired with the imperfect in si (if) clauses:

 

Que ferais-tu si tu gagnais à la loterie?  
What would you do if you won the lottery?

 

Si j'avais soigné mon épaule, je lèverais mon bras.
If I had taken care of my shoulder, I would raise my arm.
Cap. 14-15, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode du conditionnel 

 

(J'avais soigné is actually a pluperfect construction, which Patricia reviews in another video.)

 

The conditional isn't only found in si clauses. You can also use it to express a request or a wish:

 

Pardon, excusez-moi, est-ce que vous pourriez m'aider à traverser la rue? 
Sorry, excuse me, could you help me cross the street?
Cap. 22, Cap 24: Alessandro Di Sarno se met à nu !

 

Je voudrais juste une rose.
I would just like a rose.
Cap. 11, Bande-annonce - La Belle et La Bête

 

As we discussed in a previous lesson, the conditional can also be used to express uncertainty or to report something you heard from someone else. In this case it's often translated with words like "apparently," "supposedly," "reportedly," etc.:

 

Le rire serait aussi bénéfique que le sport.
Laughter is apparently as good for you as sports.
Caption 14, Le Journal: Les effets bénéfiques du rire! 

 

In our next lesson, we'll show you how to construct the conditional in the past tense. In the meantime, be sure to check out Patricia's video on the future tense, which has a similar conjugation pattern to the conditional. You wouldn't want to get them confused!
 

Continue Reading

C'est or il/elle est?

C'est and il/elle est are two common expressions used to describe people or things in French. Though they have the same meaning (he/she/it is), they're not interchangeable. So how do you know when to use which? It all depends on what comes after the verb est (is). Let's look at some examples. 

 

Il est (masculine) and elle est (feminine) are primarily used before an adjective alone, or before an adverb and adjective (such as très intelligent): 

 

Il s'appelle André. Il est très intelligent. 
His name is André. He's very smart. 

 

They're also used to describe someone's nationality, religion, or profession:

 

Elle est japonaise. Elle est bouddhiste. Elle est chimiste. 
She is Japanese. She is Buddhist. She is a chemist. 

 

Note the difference between the French and the English in that last sentence. You don't need an indefinite article (un, une) after il/elle est when talking about someone's profession. So you don't say elle est une chimiste, but simply elle est chimiste. 

 

C'est is used in pretty much every other circumstance. You'll find it before a modified noun, such as mon ami:

 

Il s'appelle André. C'est mon ami. [Not: il est mon ami.]
His name is André. He's my friend. 

 

Or before a disjunctive pronoun (moi, toi, lui, etc.):

 

Ah, oui, c'est moi. -C'est toi mais c'est vrai! 
Oh, yes, it's me. -It's you, but it's true!
Cap. 63, Actus de Quartier: Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 3

 

L'État, c'est moi. 
The State, it is I (or "I am the State"; attributed to King Louis XIV of France). 

 

C'est can also come before a standalone adjective (such as c'est vrai in the example above), but only when you're making a general statement about a situation. If you're referring to something specific, then you use il/elle est:

 

Cette histoire n'est pas inventée. Elle est vraie. 
This story isn't made-up. It's true.  

 

If you're describing a group of people or things, then you need to use the plural forms of c'est and il/elle est. These are ce sont and ils/elles sont (they are):

 

Ah, ce sont les fameuses pommes de terre violettes.
Oh, they are the famous purple potatoes.
Cap. 37, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano: Médaillon de Homard - Part 1

 

Ne vous approchez pas des ours. Ils sont très dangereux. 
Don't go near the bears. They are very dangerous. 

 

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for our next lesson and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

Continue Reading

Words for Good and Bad

In a recent lesson, we talked about the words bon/bonne and mauvais/mauvaise, which respectively mean "good" and "bad," but can also mean "right" and "wrong" depending on context. It's easy to confuse these with the words bien and mal, which have similar meanings ("well" and "badly/poorly") but different functions. 

 

Bon/bonne and mauvais/mauvaise are adjectives, which means they change according to the number and gender of the noun they modify:

 

Alors justement je crois que c'est vraiment une très bonne chose...
So, exactly, I think that it's really a very good thing...
Cap. 56, Alsace 20: 100 recettes pour 100 vins

 

Il y a eu la destruction de la partie de maison existante qui était en très mauvais état.
There was the destruction of the existing part of the house that was in very bad shape.
Cap. 22, Thomas: Thomas et sa maison

 

On the other hand, bien and mal are adverbs, which can modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Unlike adjectives, these never change in French: 

 

...un grand orfèvre parisien que Balzac connaissait bien.
...a great Parisian goldsmith whom Balzac knew well.
Cap. 28, Exposition: Balzac, architecte d'intérieurs

 

Il paraît que les voyages en train finissent mal en général
It seems that train rides generally end badly
Cap. 54, Grand Corps Malade: Les Voyages en train

 

Just as it's ungrammatical to say "whom Balzac knew good" and "train rides generally end bad" in English, in French you can't say que Balzac connaissait bon or les voyages en train finissent mauvais. You have to use bien/mal

 

Bien and mal can also function as nouns. In philosophical terms, they refer to "good" and "evil":

 

Quelle est la différence entre le bien et le mal
What is the difference between good and evil

 

But they have more down-to-earth meanings as well. For instance, the plural les biens means "goods," as in commodities or possessions. And mal can also refer to illness or harm, as in the expressions avoir mal and faire mal:

 

J'ai mal à l'oreille.
I have an earache

 

Ne me fais pas mal
Don't hurt me! 

 

In everyday speech, bon and bien are also used as interjections, in which case they're more or less interchangeable. They both correspond to the English interjection "well" in this context:

 

Eh bien, j'espère que vous avez passé un bon moment, ici, sur Arles.
Well, I hope you had a good time here, in Arles.
Cap. 21, Arles: Un Petit Tour d'Arles - Part 3

 

Bon, il y a des raisons personnelles évidemment qui jouent.
Well, obviously there are personal reasons that come into play.
Cap. 17, Alphabétisation: des filles au Sénégal

 

It's sometimes hard to tell the difference between good and bad, but at least now you know the difference between bon, mauvais, bien, and mal
 
Stay tuned for our next lesson and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

Continue Reading

Unchanging Colors

In this lesson, we're going to discuss a somewhat tricky aspect of French color words. Like the vast majority of adjectives, most French color words agree in gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural) with the noun they modify. Let's take the adjective noir (black) as an example:

 

[Les cheveux] peuvent être noirs
[Hair] can be black.
Cap. 11, Le saviez-vous? - Le vocabulaire de la tête

 

Ensuite vous avez mon écharpe noire, une simple étole.
Then you have my black scarf, a simple wrap. 
Cap. 9, Fanny parle des saisons: S'habiller en hiver

 

In the first sentence, noir modifies the masculine plural noun cheveux ("hair" is always plural in French), so it takes the masculine plural ending -s (noirs). In the second sentence, noir modifies the feminine singular noun écharpe, so it takes the feminine singular ending -e (noire).

 

However, certain color adjectives are invariable—that is, they never change regardless of the gender and number of the noun. All of these adjectives are derived from nouns. Take orange for example. As in English, in French orange refers to both the color and the fruit (une orange). Though you can certainly have de multiples oranges (multiple oranges), the adjective form of the word never changes, even in the plural:

 

J'ai acheté des chaussures orange
I bought orange shoes. 

 

On the other hand, rouge (red) isn't invariable (since it's not derived from a noun), so it does change in the plural: 

 

Tu as acheté des chaussures rouges
You bought red shoes. 

 

Another common color adjective that never changes is marron. Un marron is a chestnut, but when used as an adjective, it just means "brown": 

 

Regardez ces chiens. Ils sont marron?
Look at these dogs. Are they brown?
Cap. 52, Leçons avec Lionel: Couleurs

 

The other word for brown, brun, is variable. In this example, it modifies the feminine plural noun feuilles (leaves): 

 

De tas de feuilles à moitié mortes... un jour vertes, un jour brunes
Lots of half-dead leaves... one day green, one day brown
Cap. 9-11, Stromae: Bienvenue chez moi

 

There's another word for "chestnut" too! It's une châtaigne. The related adjective châtain is variable and is often used to describe hair color:

 

[Les cheveux] peuvent être châtains. "Châtain", c'est marron. 
[Hair] can be chestnut-colored. "Chestnut" is brown.
Cap. 12-13, Le saviez-vous? - Le vocabulaire de la tête

 

Some other invariable color adjectives are: abricot (apricot), ardoise (slate), argent (silver), azur (azure), brique (brick), bronze (bronze), café (coffee), caramel (caramel), champagne (champagne), chocolat (chocolate).

 

There's one more instance of invariability you should be aware of when dealing with color words. When you use more than one adjective to designate a single color (like "light blue," "dark green," etc.), neither of the adjectives changes according to the noun it modifies. For example:

 

Il a les yeux bleu clair et les cheveux brun foncé
He has light blue eyes and dark brown hair

 

But: 

 

Il a les yeux bleus et les cheveux bruns.
He has blue eyes and brown hair

 

As you may have noticed, like many other adjectives, color adjectives always follow the noun in French. See our previous lesson for more information on that. And for a good introduction to colors in French, check out Lionel's video on the subject.

 

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

Continue Reading

Coin coin!

In a recent video, Lionel samples some beer at a local market in the town of Toul. In classic Lionel fashion, he delivers a witty pun: 

 

Quand on boit de la bière Coin Coin il faut vivre dans une pièce sans coins.
When you drink "Coin Coin" [Quack Quack] beer, you need to live in a room without corners.
Cap. 36-37, Lionel: Les bières artisanales Coin Coin

 

The name of the beer is derived from the onomatopoeic expression coin coin, or "quack quack," as in the sound a duck makes (check out this page for some more French animal sounds). When not repeated, the word coin has several meanings. As Lionel demonstrates, un coin usually means "a corner." He's talking specifically about the corner of a room, but un coin can also be a street corner: 

 

Au coin de la rue Fabre et de la rue Laurier...
At the corner of Rue Fabre [Fabre Street] and Rue Laurier [Laurier Street]...
Cap. 39, Canadian Chocolate Seller: Chocolats

 

The other word for "corner" in French is angle (which literally means "angle," as you may have guessed). So you could just as easily say l'angle de la pièce (the corner of the room) or l'angle de la rue (the street corner). 

 

Sometimes, un coin can refer not simply to a street corner, but to a broader area of a town or city:

 

De l'extérieur, on dit que c'est un coin... un quartier chaud.
Outsiders say that this is an area... a rough neighborhood.
Cap. 29, Actus de Quartier: Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 3

 

Or it can have a more general locational meaning, like "spot" or "place":

 

J'ai trouvé un coin sympa au bord de l'eau. 
I found a nice spot on the waterfront. 

 

There's also the adjectival phrase du coin, which refers to all things local: 

 

Pas de polémique: qu'ils soient du coin ou qu'ils viennent de loin...
No argument: whether they're from around here or from far away...
Cap. 14, Le Journal: Un automne bien chaud

 

Nous sommes allés au bistrot du coin
We went to the local bistro. 

 

Coin is a false cognate of the English word "coin." The word for "coin" is pièce, which also means "room," as in Lionel's example above. Try not to get them confused! 

 

C'est la pièce de dix euros qui représente la région.
It's the ten-euro coin that represents the region.
Cap. 2, Normandie TV: La pièce de 10 euros bas-normande 

 

You can find many expressions featuring coin on this page. Keep them dans un coin de la tête (at the back of your mind) for whenever you speak French! 

 

Tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

Continue Reading

Getting Angry in French

We all know that when you're angry about something, it's better to talk about your emotions than to keep them pent up inside. If you ever need to vent in French, there are several constructions you can use to express your anger.

 

Two of these constructions employ the French word for anger, la colère (related to the English word "choleric," meaning "bad-tempered" or "irritable"). As in English, there's a distinction in French between being angry (être en colère) and getting angry (se mettre en colère, literally, "to put oneself in anger"):

 

J'étais très en colère contre Harold.
I was very angry at Harold.
Cap. 28, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Notre appartement est hanté - Part 6

 

Elle devenait nerveuse, elle se mettait en colère.
She became nervous, she got angry.
Caption 3, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Mon père n'est pas mort - Part 2

 

Note the preposition contre in the example above. Whereas in English you can be angry "at" or "with" someone, in French you're angry "against" someone. 

 

If you're really angry about something, you can use the construction fou/folle de (which we discussed in a previous lesson): 

 

Elles sont folles de colèrefolles de rage, horripilées. 
They are wild with angerraging mad, incensed. 
Cap. 52-54, Le saviez-vous? - Les synonymes 

 

Besides expressions with colère, the other main way of describing anger in French is with the adjective fâché(e) (angry) or the reflexive verb se fâcher (to get angry):

 

Tu es fâché contre Léon?
Are you angry with Leon?
Cap. 2, Les zooriginaux: Léa jacta est - Part 3

 

Ça va, vieux, te fâche pas!
It's OK, old pal, don't get upset!
Cap. 22, Il était une fois... L’Espace: 3. La planète verte - Part 3

 

Don't confuse the adjective fâché(e) with the adjective fâcheux/fâcheuse, which has a slightly more subdued meaning. It can mean anything along the lines of "annoying," "unfortunate," "regrettable," or "aggravating":

 

C'est fâcheux qu'il ne puisse pas venir. 
It's unfortunate that he can't come. 

 

We hope there was nothing in this lesson that made you angry! Stay tuned for our next lesson and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

Continue Reading

De quoi s'agit-il dans cette leçon?

In the latest segment of his tour of L'Isle-Adam, Daniel makes repeated use of the common expression il s'agit de:

 

Il s’agit tout simplement de la plus grande piscine fluviale de France.
Quite simply, it is the largest river pool in France.
Cap. 7, Voyage en France: L'Isle-Adam - Part 3 of 4

 

Il s’agissait du Tarzan de l'époque, le célèbre Johnny Weissmuller.
It was the Tarzan of the time, the famous Johnny Weissmuller.
Cap. 13, Voyage en France: L'Isle-Adam - Part 3 of 4

 

We could rewrite the above sentences with the expression c'est/c'était: C'est tout simplement la plus grande piscine fluviale..., C'était le Tarzan de l'époque.... But whereas c'est simply means "it is," il s'agit de can also mean "it's about" or "it's a question of." You can use it to specify something you just mentioned:

 

Il s’agit de voir où sont les abus.
It’s a question of seeing where the abuses are.
Cap. 12, Le Journal: Contrôle des prix alimentaires - Part 1

 

La seule prison qui se trouve dans Paris intra-muros, il s’agit de la prison de la Santé...
The only prison located within Paris itself, namely, the Santé [Health] Prison...
Cap. 19, Voyage dans Paris: Le Treizième arrondissement de Paris - Part 1
 


Or you can use it to describe the content of something, for example a movie. Here's a very basic synopsis of the movie Jaws

 

Dans ce film, il s'agit des attaques de requin.
This movie is about shark attacks [literally: "In this film, it's about/it's a question of shark attacks"]. 

 

S'agir is an impersonal verb, which means it can only be conjugated with the pronoun il. So you couldn't say, Ce film s'agit des attaques de requin, even though that might seem like a more direct translation of the English. 
 

The best way to understand the nuances of il s'agit de is to hear it in context. You can do a Yabla search to find all the videos containing this extremely common expression. 
 

Stay tuned for our next lesson and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com!

Continue Reading