As we’ve noted in previous lessons, accent marks are very important in French. Their presence or absence can completely change the meaning of a word, as in cote, côte, and côté or des, dés, and dès. In this lesson, we’ll investigate a more straightforward but no less significant distinction, between du and dû.
You may already know that in French de + le ("of" + "the") is always contracted into du. That’s why, in their introduction to their video on springtime trends (or trends of the springtime), Fanny and Corinne say tendances du printemps:
On va vous parler des tendances du printemps.
We're going to tell you about some springtime trends.
Cap. 2, Fanny & Corrine parlent de la mode: Tendances du printemps
Printemps is masculine, so, to put it mathematically: de + le printemps = du printemps. Note that, in the title, Fanny and Corinne parlent de la mode (talk about fashion). De + la can appear together in French, so no contraction is necessary there. You can find out more about these rules on this page.
When you put a circumflex on du, its pronunciation doesn’t change, but it’s no longer a contraction of de + le. Dû is the past participle of the verb devoir, which means “to have to” or “to owe.” So why does dû require a circumflex? For no other reason than to distinguish it from du! Though the circumflex is only used to distinguish meaning in this case, it can serve some other purposes as well, which you can learn more about here.
Here’s an example of dû used as a past participle, from a video about an electric sporting boat:
Donc, on a dû utiliser deux moteurs.
So we had to use two motors.
Cap. 25, Bateau sport 100% électrique: Le Nautique 196 E
Dû can also be used as an adjective, in which case it means “due,” as in the expression “due to” (dû à):
Peut-être que c'est aussi dû au fait que ma mère aimait beaucoup chanter.
Maybe it's also due to the fact that my mother liked very much to sing.
Cap. 16, Mai Lingani: Mai et Burkina Electric
Dû is the masculine singular form of the adjective, but note that the circumflex disappears in every other form: the feminine singular (due), the masculine plural (dus), and the feminine plural (dues). Remember: in this case, the circumflex is only there to prevent confusion with du.
In this caption from a video on AIDS, dû modifies the singular feminine noun banalisation, so it becomes due:
Une banalisation qui est due d'ailleurs à la trithérapie.
A trivialization which, besides, is due to the tritherapy.
Cap. 3-4, Le Journal: Le sida
Finally, dû can be used as a noun (un dû) to mean “a due,” or something that one is owed:
Je lui paierai son dû.
I will pay him his due.
We hope that we have duly (dûment) demonstrated how much of a difference one little accent mark can make!
In English, "to find" can also be a synonym for “to think,” when expressing an opinion. Likewise, trouver can be a synonym for the standard French words for "to think," penser and croire. Like the person in this video, we at Yabla find foreign language learning to be very important:
Je trouve que c'est très important de... étudier les langues étrangères.
I think it's very important to... study foreign languages.
Cap. 1, Allons en France: Pourquoi apprendre le français?
When you make trouver and retrouver reflexive, their meanings become less straightforward. Take a look at this sentence, in which the explorer James Bruce expresses his certainty about the location of the source of the Nile:
Et elle se trouve sûrement là-bas!
And it is certainly over there!
Cap. 9, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs: 15. Bruce et les sources du Nil - Part 5
Elle se trouve literally means “it is found,” but se trouver can also be translated as “to be located” or simply “to be.” Don’t confuse this with the set expression il se trouve que..., which means “it just so happens that…” or “it turns out that…”:
Il se trouve que j’ai une autre paire de gants.
It just so happens that I have another pair of gloves.
When you make retrouver reflexive, it has the sense of being somewhere again or meeting again:
Les Marseillais ne cachent pas le plaisir de se retrouver.
The Marseille residents are not hiding the pleasure of getting together again.
Cap. 32, Alsace 20: Rencontre avec les membres d’IAM
On se retrouve au café après l'école?
Shall we meet at the café after school?
Se retrouver can also refer to finding oneself in a particular situation:
Je me suis retrouvé le bec dans l'eau.
I found myself with my beak in the water. [I was left high and dry.]
We hope you’ve found this lesson helpful and that you find everything you may have lost!
In an introductory French class, Lionel gives a rundown of some basic ways to greet people in French:
C'est le soir. Bonne soirée.
It's the evening. Good evening.
Cap. 26, Leçons avec Lionel: Salutations
In English, a “soirée” is a fancy party usually held in the evening. Though the French word soirée can also refer to a party, its basic meaning is just “evening,” which isn’t quite as fancy. You can see from the example above that there is another French word for “evening”: le soir. Likewise, there is also another way to say “good evening”: bonsoir. So what’s the difference between le soir and la soirée and bonsoir and bonne soirée?
It’s not just that le soir is masculine and la soirée is feminine or that bonsoir is one word and bonne soirée is two. It’s more a question of emphasis: la soirée generally refers to the duration of an evening, whereas le soir just refers to a specific time. The difference is pretty subtle, and the words are often interchangeable, but it’s good to know that this pattern applies to other time-related words as well: matin/matinée (morning), jour/journée (day), and an/année (year).
In this weather report, the phrase toute la matinée emphasizes the durational aspect of matinée:
En effet, le soleil va briller de Wissembourg à Saint-Louis durant toute la matinée.
Indeed, the sun will shine from Wissembourg to Saint-Louis all morning long.
Cap. 3, Alsace 20: Météo du 2 juillet 2010
If she just wanted to emphasize the specific time of day, the weather reporter could have said something like:
En effet, le soleil va briller de Wissembourg à Saint-Louis demain matin.
Indeed, the sun will shine from Wissembourg to Saint-Louis tomorrow morning.
Note that matinée never refers to a daytime theater performance or movie screening, as it does in English. In French, it just means "morning." To get another sense of morning as a duration of time, think about the French expression for “sleeping in,” faire la grasse matinée (literally, “fat morning”). When you sleep in, you spend a good amount of the morning (if not the whole morning, or toute la matinée!) in bed:
Il travaille bien en classe; il ne fait jamais la grasse matinée!
He works hard in class; he never sleeps in!
Cap. 15, Les zooriginaux: 2 - Tel père tel fils - Part 1
The pattern continues with jour/journée. Notice the difference in meaning between toute la journée and tous les jours:
Je suis sur la plage toute la journée.
I'm on the beach all day long.
Cap. 8, Fred et Miami Catamarans: Fred et sa vie à Miami
Je suis sur la plage tous les jours.
I'm on the beach every day.
Bonjour is the standard way to say “hello” (or “good day”), but as you may have guessed, you can also say bonne journée. Bonne journée is usually translated as “have a good day,” and this same distinction can be applied to bonsoir and bonne soirée. You'd tend to say bonjour/bonsoir when greeting someone and bonne journée/bonne soirée when leaving them. However, you generally won’t hear bon matin or bonne matinée in French—”good morning” is simply bonjour. And there is only one way to say “good afternoon” (bon après-midi) and “good night” (bonne nuit), which you only say before going to bed.
Finally, there is an/année. Again, you would use an to refer to a specific year or number of years:
Dans trois ans, j’aurai trente ans.
In three years, I will be thirty years old.
Une année is a one-year span, but it can also refer less precisely to a period of 11 or 13 months (whereas un an is strictly 12 months):
C'est pour ça que je voulais vraiment absolument m'arrêter ici pendant pendant une année...
That's why I really absolutely wanted to stop here for a year....
Cap. 36-37, Le Québec parle aux Français: Part 2/1
You can’t wish somebody a bon an in French, but you can certainly wish them a bonne année. In fact, bonne année happens to be the phrase for “Happy New Year," while "New Year's" (referring to the specific day) is le Nouvel An or le jour de l'An. Since the holidays are fast approaching, in addition to a bonne journée and a bonne soirée, we at Yabla also wish you a bonne année for le Nouvel An (a few months in advance)!
Auprès de is a French preposition that doesn’t have a direct English translation. It generally refers to a situation of proximity and has a range of meanings, including “beside,” “next to,” “with,” “among,” “by,” “at,” “close to,” and more. It’s one of those words whose definition almost entirely depends on context, so let’s take a look at how it’s used in some Yabla videos.
The most literal meaning of auprès de is “beside” or “next to,” referring to physical proximity (another expression for this is à côté de). At the end of the classic French fairy tale La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast), Belle wants nothing more than to be beside her beloved Beast:
Laissez-moi retourner auprès de lui; c'est mon seul souhait...
Let me return to his side; it's my only wish…
Cap. 42, Bande-annonce: La Belle et la Bête
On a less romantic note, you can also use auprès de to describe two things that are next to each other:
L’hôpital se trouve auprès du parc.
The hospital is located next to the park.
Auprès de doesn’t always refer to being directly beside someone or something. More generally, it can mean “with” (avec) or “among” (parmi) a group of people or things:
Thalar, mon cher ami, avez-vous enquêté auprès de tous les animaux?
Thalar, my dear friend, did you inquire among all the animals?
Cap. 40, Les zooriginaux: 3. Qui suis-je? - Part 4
Une fois que tu seras auprès des chefs, tu pourras leur parler de ce que tu voudras.
Once you're with the chiefs, you'll be able to talk to them about whatever you like.
Cap. 2-3, Il était une fois… L’Espace: 6. La révolte des robots - Part 5
When looking at two people or things that are beside one another, or considering two ideas or situations in your head, it’s almost impossible not to compare them. Along those lines, in addition to “with,” auprès de can also mean “compared with” or "compared to":
Nous sommes pauvres auprès de nos voisins.
We are poor compared to our neighbors.
Auprès de is also used in more formal administrative and governmental contexts to mean “at” or “with,” usually to direct people to a certain department or office or to describe people connected to a department or office:
Les visites ont donc lieu tous les jours et sont gratuites mais pensez à réserver auprès de l'Office du Tourisme de Tourcoing.
So visits take place every day and are free, but think about making a reservation at the Tourcoing Tourism Office.
Cap. 17-18, Grand Lille TV: Visite des serres de Tourcoing
Aujourd'hui, par exemple, elle reçoit des chargés de mission auprès du gouvernement.
Today, for example, she meets with government representatives.
Cap. 33, Le Journal: Les microcrédits
J’ai laissé un message auprès de ta secrétaire.
I left a message with your secretary.
You may have noticed that auprès de looks very similar to another preposition, près de (near, nearly, around). Près de also describes proximity, but it implies a greater distance than auprès de. It’s a question of being near something versus being next to something. In the first green example sentence, the hospital is directly beside the park. But in the sentence, L’hôpital est près du parc, the hospital is just in the park’s general vicinity.
So whether you’re talking about being snuggled up beside a loved one or just walking among a group of people, auprès de is the phrase to use. Try using it to describe what or who is next to you right now!
If you’ve studied our recent lesson on French numbers, you should theoretically be able to count to a billion (compter jusqu’à un milliard) in French. But since no one has time to do that, let’s focus on some other, more practical uses of the verb compter.
Counting doesn’t always involve numbers. For example, if you’re relying on someone to do something, you’re counting on (compter sur) them, as this Parisian chef is counting on us to visit his restaurant:
À vous aussi de venir ici, on compte sur vous.
Up to you to come here too, we're counting on you.
You can also count on a future event to happen (or not happen). Bertrand Pierre is an extremely talented singer-songwriter, but for some reason he doesn’t expect to make it big. He expresses his pragmatism with the construction “compter + infinitive”:
Je compte pas devenir une star internationale, c'est pas ça que je veux dire.
I'm not expecting to become an international star, that's not what I mean.
Cap. 22, Bertrand Pierre: Autre Chose
Sometimes compter refers not to counting numbers, but containing them. If the subject of the verb compter is an inanimate object, it’s most likely describing contents:
Après un peu de lecture, dans une bibliothèque qui compte quarante mille volumes...
After a bit of reading, in a library that contains forty thousand volumes…
Quite a few expressions are based on the noun form of compter, compte, which can mean “count,” “total,” or “account.” If you’re a Yabla subscriber, for example, you have un compte (an account) with us. Un compte can also mean “account” in a more figurative sense, as in the expression prendre en compte (to take into account):
Tous ces éléments-là sont importants aussi à prendre en compte...
All those elements there are also important to take into account...
Cap. 19, Le Journal: Grands prématurés
A very common expression with compte is se rendre compte, which means “to realize” or “become aware” (literally, “to give an account to oneself”). In the latest installment of our Il était une fois episode on Scottish explorer James Bruce, a shipmate reflects on the crew's recent discovery of Abyssinia:
Tu te rends compte, Luigi, nous repoussons les limites de l'inconnu.
You realize, Luigi, we're pushing the limits of the unknown.
Don’t forget that se rendre compte is a reflexive expression, and its meaning changes completely when you remove the se: instead of giving an account to yourself, you’re giving an account to someone else, i.e., reporting to them:
On y va? -Oui, mais d'abord, on rend compte à Oméga.
Shall we go? -Yes, but first we report to Omega.
We’ll end with a compte expression that deals with endings: en fin de compte (literally, “at the end of the account”), which can be translated as “ultimately,” “at the end of the day,” or “when all is said and done”:
En fin de compte, un bateau qui est propulsé par une motorisation cent pour cent électrique.
Ultimately, a boat that's propelled by one hundred percent electric power.
Compte tenu de (taking into account) all of the different ways of using compter and compte, you might feel overwhelmed when trying to remember them all. But don’t worry if you can’t master them right away: c’est l’intention qui compte (it’s the thought that counts)!
If someone asks you what your name is in French (Comment t’appelles-tu?), you probably know to respond with the phrase je m’appelle… (my name is…). But what’s in a name? Or, more specifically, what are the different parts of a French name?
First there is le prénom (“first name,” literally “pre-name”), which is not to be confused with le pronom, or “pronoun” (le nom means both “name” and “noun”). This “Le Journal” video is all about first names, focusing on the most popular baby names in France:
C'est un prénom qui passe bien pour une jeune fille, pour une dame
It's a name that works well for a girl, for a woman
Cap. 15, Le Journal: Choisir un nom d’enfant
After le prénom comes le deuxième prénom, which literally means “second first name,” i.e. “middle name.” Finally, there’s le nom de famille (“family name” or “surname”).
Watch out for the word surnom, which is a faux ami of “surname.” Un surnom is “a nickname,” and its verbal form surnommer means “to nickname”:
Et enfin, les habitants de la Butte aux Cailles sont surnommés les Cailleux.
And finally, the residents of the Butte aux Cailles are nicknamed the "Cailleux."
Surnommer comes from the verb nommer (to name, to call). When you make nommer reflexive (se nommer), it means “to be named” or “to be called”:
Ce système de redistribution “intelligent” se nomme “smart grid”.
This “intelligent” redistribution system is called “smart grid.”
You can also use se nommer to refer to a person’s name, but it’s a bit more formal in that context than its synonym s’appeler:
Ma mère se nomme Louise.
My mother is named Louise.
There are other types of names besides your birth name (nom de naissance). If you’re a performer, for example, you might adopt a new name for your stage persona:
C’est quoi ton nom de scène?
What’s your stage name?
Cap. 33, Actu Vingtième: Le Repas des anciens
Or, if you prefer the pen to the stage, you might take on a nom de plume:
"Voltaire" était le nom de plume de François-Marie Arouet.
"Voltaire" was the pen name of François-Marie Arouet.
In a previous lesson on the word mademoiselle, we talked about some recent changes that were made to the vocabulary used in French government documents. Among them is the abolition of the phrase nom de jeune fille (maiden name) in favor of nom de famille, and the phrase nom d’époux/nom d’épouse (married name) in favor of nom d’usage (used name).
So now, if you ever have the pleasure of filling out paperwork in French, you shouldn’t have to worry about writing your names in the wrong boxes!
Numbers are an essential feature of every language, and learning them usually just involves a good amount of memorization. In his latest video, Lionel provides an excellent and comprehensive review of numbers in French and explains how some of the more complicated ones are constructed. This lesson will supplement Lionel’s expert counting knowledge with some additional number facts. We won’t spend time going over the basic French numbers, since Lionel did such a great job with that. Instead, we’ll focus on the big numbers (above 100) and on decimals.
Although there are quite a few numbers above 100 (cent), you really only need to know a few of them for the rest to fall into place. Besides cent, there’s mille (a thousand), un million (a million), and un milliard (a billion).
When dealing with the word cent, the most important thing to consider is whether or not it takes an s at the end (and thus becomes plural). It never does in the 100s, since you only have one hundred: cent un (101), cent vingt (120), cent quatre-vingts (180), etc.
Cent vingt-huit personnes ont été relogées ce soir.
One hundred twenty-eight people were rehoused this evening.
Once you get into the multiple hundreds, however, you do need an s after cent, except when cent is followed by another number. So if your rent is neuf cents dollars ($900) and your landlord is nice enough to raise it by only $50, your new rent will be neuf cent cinquante dollars ($950).
You won’t have to worry about adding an extra s to the word mille, which always stays singular:
En France, huit cent cinquante mille personnes sont atteintes de la maladie d'Alzheimer.
In France, eight hundred fifty thousand people are affected by Alzheimer's disease.
But once you reach the millions, things get a bit trickier. Once again, an s is required when you’re talking about multiple millions (deux millions vs. un million). But unlike cent and mille, when you’re talking about one million, you need to say un million. That is, the word million never stands alone, yet you never say un cent or un mille as we would say "one hundred" or "one thousand" in English:
Si j’avais un million de dollars, je parcourrais le monde.
If I had a million dollars, I would travel the world.
You might be wondering why there is a de in un million de dollars but there isn’t one in neuf cents dollars. That’s another rule for million: when the word is followed by a noun, you need a de in between. Note that all three of these million rules are also true for un milliard (a billion).
Numbers aren’t always as neat as 1,000,000 and 950. How do you deal with more unwieldy quantities like 950.23 or 3.6 in French? Take a look at this sentence from our video on the booming number of film shoots near the small town of Saint-Cyr-du-Gault:
En deux mille onze, la région a consacré deux virgule deux millions d'euros
In two thousand eleven, the area devoted two point two million euros
Cap. 22, TV Tours: Hollywood sur Loire!
You may know that virgule means “comma.” So why is it translated as “point” here? The answer is that French deals with decimals in a slightly different way than English does. While the above number would be written 2.2 million in English, in French it would be 2,2 millions.
The general rule is that where English uses a period when writing numbers, French uses a comma, and vice versa. So while “one million” in English is 1,000,000, in French it’s 1.000.000. Alternately, un million can also be written 1 000 000, where the periods are replaced by single spaces.
What would you do with un million de dollars or deux virgule deux millions d’euros? Even if you aren’t a millionaire at this point in time, at least you now have the vocabulary to count to a billion in French!
When learning to speak a language, we mostly focus on words. But when learning to write that language, it’s equally important to think about what goes on between the words—that is, how they’re punctuated. While there are many similarities between English and French punctuation, there are some important differences that you’ll need to know when writing your next brilliant essay in French
The major French punctuation marks are easily recognizable: there’s le point (period), la virgule (comma), les deux-points (colon), le point-virgule (semicolon), le point d’exclamation (exclamation point), and le point d’interrogation (question mark).
Speaking of what goes on between words, one of the major differences between French and English punctuation has to do with spacing. Generally, colons, semicolons, exclamation points, and question marks are all preceded by a space:
Lesquelles préférez-vous : les pommes ou les oranges ? -Les pommes !
Which do you prefer: apples or oranges? -Apples!
There is one set of French punctuation that might not look very familiar to English readers. This sentence alludes to them using an idiom:
C'est la "morale du film", entre guillemets.
That's the quote-unquote "moral of the film."
Cap. 27, Télé Grenoble: La famille Maudru
The phrase entre guillemets literally means "between guillemets." Guillemets are the French version of quotation marks, and they look like this: « ». So the above sentence could be more accurately written: C’est la « morale du film », entre guillemets.
Notice that the comma is placed outside the guillemets, as are all other punctuation marks. Also, there is always a space after the first guillemet and another one before the second.
Written French looks different on the page than it does in Yabla captions. Manon and Clémentine have already given us a thorough lesson on book-related vocabulary—now we’ll take an excerpt from one of their helpful skits and show you what it might look like in book form. Here’s the original, from their video on visiting the doctor:
Bonjour! j'ai pris un rendez-vous pour cet après-midi avec le docteur Séléno-Gomez, mais j'ai un empêchement. -Bien. C'est à quel nom? -C'est au nom de Manon Maddie. -Ah oui. Madame Maddie à dix-sept heures quarante-cinq
Hi! I made an appointment for this afternoon with Doctor Séléno-Gomez, but I have an engagement. -Fine. It's under what name? -It's under the name Manon Maddie. -Oh yes. Ms. Maddie at five forty-five.
Cap. 42-45, Manon et Clémentine: Rendez-vous chez le médecin
And here’s how that might look as dialogue in a novel:
« Bonjour ! dit Manon. J’ai pris un rendez-vous pour cet après-midi avec le docteur Séléno-Gomez, mais j'ai un empêchement.
—Bien. C'est à quel nom ? répond Florence.
—C'est au nom de Manon Maddie.
—Ah oui. Madame Maddie à dix-sept heures quarante-cinq ».
This is certainly different from what you would find in an English-language novel! The major difference is that, unlike quotation marks, guillemets are used to mark off the entire dialogue, not a change of speaker, which is instead indicated by a dash (un tiret).
You won’t have to worry too much about punctuation here at Yabla. We use a special style tailored to work well with the Yabla Player. But it’s always good to know proper punctuation when writing in any language, whether you’re fluent in it or just learning it. If you’re looking for something to inspire you to write in French, here are the first few lines of Marcel Proust’s classic novel À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), as presented by Manon and Clémentine:
"Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure. Parfois, à peine ma bougie éteinte, mes yeux se fermaient si vite que je n'avais pas le temps de me dire: 'Je m'endors'."
"For a long time, I used to go to bed early. Sometimes, my candle barely put out, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not even time to say to myself, 'I am falling asleep.'"
Cap. 81-83, Manon et Clémentine: Vocabulaire du livre
You may recall our previous lesson on three adverbs that were false cognates, or words that look similar in two languages but mean different things. In French, these are called faux amis (literally, “false friends”), and there are too many French-English ones to count. In this lesson, we’ll just focus on four more, all from our most recent videos
We’ve been learning a lot about Galileo lately in the Il était une fois (Once Upon a Time) series, the third installment of which deals with the scientist’s experiments with pendulums, which move in a very specific way:
Vous allez voir que cet instrument va se balancer de moins en moins fort!
You'll see that this instrument is going to swing less and less intensely!
You may have expected se balancer to mean “to balance,” but it actually means “to swing.” “To balance” is tenir en équilibre (literally, “to hold in equilibrium”).
In part four of the series, we finally get to the revolutionary idea that made Galileo famous and ultimately cost him his life
Vous vous rendez compte, mon cher, qu'ils se trouvent des savants pour prétendre que la Terre n'est pas le centre de l'univers!
You realize, my dear friend, that there are scientists claiming that the earth is not the center of the universe!
Galileo didn’t “pretend” that the earth revolved around the sun—on the contrary, he was pretty sure of it! So sure, in fact, that he boldly “claimed” it. “To pretend” is faire semblant or feindre.
Prétendre is followed by que when you're making a claim ("to claim that..."), but when you're claiming a specific thing for yourself, you use prétendre à:
Il peut prétendre à une allocation chômage.
He can claim unemployment benefits.
On a different note, there’s no pretending that the angora rabbits on the Croix de Pierre Farm aren’t adorable, or that their breeder doesn’t take the utmost care to make sure that they’re warm and cozy:
Le plus galère pour eux c'est quand tu les épiles et que le temps n'est pas très au beau ou qu'il gèle très fort.
The toughest time for them is when you shear them and that the weather is not very nice or that there is a very hard frost.
Cap. 19-20, Ferme de la Croix de Pierre: Les lapins
Il gèle is an impersonal expression (more on those in this lesson) meaning “it’s freezing” or “there’s a frost,” and it comes from the verb geler. That may look like it might mean “to gel”—and indeed, the noun le gel means both “frost” and “gel”—but “to gel” is more like prendre forme (to take shape).
Finally, we’ll leave the French countryside for Montreal, where Geneviève Morissette has been making waves on the music scene as a singer-songwriter and as the host of the “Rendez-Vous de la Chanson Vivante” (Meetings of the Living Song) festival:
Ça fait deux ans que je les anime.
I've been hosting them for two years.
Geneviève certainly animates the festival with her impassioned lyrics and powerful voice (and animer can in fact mean “to animate” or “enliven”), but in this context the verb means “to host” or “present.” We could also say that Geneviève is l’animatrice (“host” or “presenter”) of the festival.
Faux amis can be tricky (not to mention a bit sneaky), so be on the lookout for them when watching Yabla videos. Whenever you spot one you don’t know, you can just click on it to add it to your flashcards list. Then, once you review your flashcards, you’ll have it mastered in no time! Bonne chance (“good luck,” not “good chance”)!
In our last lesson, we talked about the word plus (more) and how its different pronunciations affect its meaning. Now let’s take a look at the opposite of plus—moins (fewer, less)—which only has one pronunciation, but no fewer meanings!
Like plus, moins is an adverb of comparison, and can modify both adjectives and nouns. When it modifies an adjective, it’s usually followed by que to form the comparative phrase “less than.” In his video on French breakfast customs, Éric observes that cereal is less popular in France than it is in English-speaking countries:
Et puis les céréales, mais c'est moins commun que chez vous, qu'aux États-Unis, qu'en Angleterre.
And then cereal, but that's less common than where you come from, than in the United States, than in England.
Cap. 37-38, Arles: Le petit déjeuner
When modifying a noun, moins is usually followed by de:
Il y a moins de bêtes à chasser.
There are fewer animals to hunt.
You can even make moins a noun by putting le in front of it, in which case it means “the least”:
C’est le moins que je puisse faire.
That’s the least that I can do.
When you put an adjective after le moins, the adjective becomes superlative:
C'est le livre le moins cher et presque tous les éditeurs ont une collection de poche.
This is the cheapest book, and almost all publishers have a paperback collection.
Moins is also the basis for several common expressions. There’s the phrase à moins que (unless), which Adonis uses when singing about what he believes is the only acceptable reason for cutting down trees:
À moins que ce soit pour faire mes jolis calendriers
Unless it’s to make my pretty calendars
Cap. 4-5, Nouveaux Talents: Adonis chante
Try not to confuse à moins que with au moins, which means “at least”:
Tout le monde connaît le Père Noël, tout le monde lui a écrit au moins une fois..
Everybody knows Santa Claus, everybody's written him at least once...
Finally, there’s de moins en moins (“fewer and fewer” or “less and less”):
Ça peut aider aussi à sauver les animaux, à ce qu'ils soient de moins en moins abandonnés.
That can also help save animals so that fewer and fewer are abandoned.
Since moins is a quantitative word like plus, it makes sense that it can be used with numbers as well. You’ll hear it the most often as a number modifier in expressions involving temperature, time, and basic arithmetic:
Et voilà, me voilà parée pour sortir par moins zéro, moins quinze degrés.
And there we have it, here I am dressed to go out in below zero, negative fifteen degrees.
Il est dix heures moins le quart.
It’s a quarter to ten.
Deux plus cinq moins trois égale quatre.
Two plus five minus three equals four.
We hope you are plus ou moins satisfait(e) (more or less satisfied) with our presentation of plus and moins! And for any math whizzes out there, here’s an informative article on French math vocabulary beyond addition and subtraction. Why not try learning (or relearning) geometry in French?