French Lessons

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Declining Décliner

The word "decline" can mean "decrease," "deteriorate," "move downward," or "politely refuse." Its source, the French verb décliner, can have all of these meanings and more.

 

Most of these other meanings stem from a more specialized grammatical one. To "decline" a noun, pronoun, or adjective is to list all of its forms according to case, number, and gender. You don't have to worry about doing this in French—it only applies to certain languages, such as Latin and Ancient Greek. But décliner can refer to a similar activity of enumerating, presenting something in various forms, offering a range of something, laying out all its different facets.

 

Because décliner has such a wide variety of meanings, its translation is highly context-specific. For example, you can use it to talk about a fashion designer "presenting" all the styles of his latest collection on the runway:

 

Du blanc, du noir, presque exclusivement, tous les codes déclinés inlassablement,

Almost exclusively white and black, all the styles presented tirelessly,

Caption 5, Le Journal - Défilé de mode - Part 2

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Or you can use it in the sense of "depicting" several aspects of something:

 

...des travaux de couture d'une jeune femme qui décline un petit peu l'Alsace sur du tissu

...some sewing projects from a young woman who kind of depicts the various faces of Alsace on fabric

Captions 18-19, Alsace 20 - Mangez bien, mangez alsacien!

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Businesses often use décliner to advertise a product available in various forms. When Lionel visited a madeleine shop in Liverdun, the owner used it to refer to the different flavors she sells:

 

Nous l'avons déclinée à la mirabelle... -Oui. et à la bergamote.

We've adapted it with mirabelle plum... -Yes. and with bergamot orange.

Captions 32-33, Lionel - La boutique de madeleines de Liverdun - Part 2

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This restaurant owner in Nice uses décliner in a somewhat particular sense. He's not talking about the different forms of socca he offers, but rather all the times of day people order it:

 

Ça se décline comme ça, et on peut en manger vraiment à n'importe quelle heure.

It's available like that, and you can really eat it at any time.

Captions 34-35, Le saviez-vous? - La socca, spécialité niçoise

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If you see décliner on a form you're filling out, or hear it from an administrative official, you're being asked to provide information about yourself:

 

Déclinez votre nom et adresse.
State your name and address.

 

Don't forget that décliner also has all the senses of the English "decline": "decrease," "deteriorate," "move downward," "politely refuse."

 

We've now "declined" all the meanings of décliner!

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Surprise, Surprise!

In the latest segment of Le Jour où tout a basculé - J'ai piégé mon fan, Alex uses a phrase whose meaning may surprise you:

 

Mais bon, c'était pour la bonne cause. Tu m'étonnes. Regarde.

But OK, it was for a good cause. You're not kidding. Look.

Captions 7-8, Le Jour où tout a basculé - J'ai piégé mon fan - Part 7

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The literal translation of tu m'étonnes is "you surprise me," but it's often used as a set phrase meaning "you're not kidding," "no kidding," or "tell me something I don't know." Used in this way, it has the opposite meaning of its literal translation—the person is not surprised by what they just heard. Tu m'étonnes is very similar to the English expression "surprise, surprise," which is also used ironically to convey a lack of surprise. 

 

Sans blague is another phrase meaning "no kidding" or, more literally, "no joke." This one, however, can express surprise:

 

Je suis né le 3 novembre. -Sans blague! Moi aussi!
I was born on November 3. -No kidding! So was I!

 

The verb étonner has the same root as the English verb "to stun." It means "to surprise," "astonish," or "amaze":

 

Sur l'eau, il vit son reflet, totalement étonné

In the water, he saw his reflection, totally surprised

Caption 29, Contes de fées - Le vilain petit canard - Part 2

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Les héritiers de Jules Verne n'ont pas fini de nous étonner.

Jules Verne's heirs have never ceased to amaze us.

Caption 26, Le Journal - Le record du Tour de Monde!

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And the English "surprise" comes directly from the French surpris(e):

 

Je suis un peu surpris.

I'm a little surprised.

Caption 38, Lea & Lionel L - Le parc de Bercy - Part 1

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Unsurprisingly, the verb surprendre means "to surprise":
 

Tu vas mener l'attaque pour les surprendre.

You're going to lead the attack to surprise them.

Caption 28, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 15. Bruce et les sources du Nil - Part 2

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But it can also have the related meaning "to catch," "come upon," or "discover":

 

Louise surprend René et Edna en pleine conversation.

Louise catches René and Edna deep in conversation.

Caption 2, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mes grands-parents sont infidèles - Part 8

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Just as there are two words for "to surprise" (étonner and surprendre) and two words for "surprised" (étonné[e] and surpris[e]), there are two words for "surprising": 

 

C'est pas étonnant que beaucoup de peintres soient venus s'installer ici sur Arles.

It's not surprising that many painters came to settle here in Arles.

Caption 12, Arles - Un Petit Tour d'Arles - Part 3

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C'est un endroit vraiment surprenant en plein cœur de Paris.

It's a really surprising place right in the heart of Paris.

Caption 14, Voyage dans Paris - Les Secrets de Belleville

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Can you guess what la surprise and l'étonnement mean? Surprise, surprise! 

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Verbs in -ayer

French singer-songwriter Zaz uses the verb essayer (to try) a few times in her interview on Watt's In, and it's conjugated in two different ways:

 

Enfin j'essaie toujours de faire du mieux possible.

Well, I always try to do the best I can.

Caption 72, Watt’s In - Zaz : On Ira Interview Exclu

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Mais au moins tu essayes...

But at least you try...

Caption 77, Watt’s In - Zaz : On Ira Interview Exclu

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Why do we have j'essaie (with an i) and tu essayes (with a y)? The answer is that the spelling of many conjugations of essayer is variable. Here's the verb in the present indicative:

 

j'essaie or j'essaye (I try)
tu essaies or tu essayes (you try [singular])
il/elle essaie or il/elle essaye (he/she tries)
nous essayons (we try)
vous essayez (you try [formal/plural])
ils/elles essaient or ils/elles essayent (they try)

 

Whether you spell the variable forms with an i or a y is completely up to you (except for nous essayons and vous essayez, which you must spell with a y). However, there's a bit of a catch: the pronunciation of the verb changes depending on which spelling you use. You can hear the difference in the two captions above: Zaz pronounces the -aie of essaie as a short "e" (as in mai, "May"), and the -ayes of essayes as a longer "e" (as in pareil, "same"). That's how we knew to spell them the way we did.

 

In fact, pretty much all verbs ending in -ayer follow this pattern. Listen to Patricia demonstrate the difference between je paie and je paye (I pay) here:

 

Petite particularité pour le verbe "payer": on peut dire "je paie avec ce billet" ou "je paye avec ce billet".

A small particularity for the verb "to pay": you can say "I pay with this bill" or "I pay with this bill."

Captions 31-34, Le saviez-vous? - Les verbes du 1er groupe les plus utilisés

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Variable spellings don't only occur in the present indicative form of -ayer verbs. You'll also come across them in the future (e.g. vous paierez/payerez, "you will pay"), in the present subjunctive (qu'ils essaient/essayent, "that they try"), in the present conditional (tu paierais/payerais, "you would pay"), and in the imperative (essaie/essaye, "try!").

 

Some other common verbs that follow this pattern are balayer (to sweep), bégayer (to stutter), délayer (to mix, dilute), effrayer (to frighten), égayer (to cheer up), and rayer (to scratch, cross out).

 

See this WordReference page for a full conjugation of essayer and other verbs like it. 
 

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Logement pour tous!

In early 2018, a group of protesters gathered in front of the headquarters of the SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français [French National Railway Company]) to demand that the company convert its empty buildings into public housing:

 

Logement! -Pour qui? -Pour tous!

Housing! -For whom? -For everyone! 

Captions 19-21, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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Logement is the word for "housing" or "lodging" in general, but it can also refer more specifically to an apartment, house, or home: 

 

J'aurais pas pu avoir mon logement.

I wouldn't have been able to get my apartment.

Caption 58, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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Lorsque j'avais pas mon logement.

When I didn't have my home.

Caption 110, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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The verbal form of logementloger, means "to house" or "to accommodate." It's synonymous with héberger:

 

ces beaux immeubles vides pour héberger, pour loger les personnes qui sont à la rue.

these beautiful empty buildings to house, to provide housing for people who are on the street.

Captions 17-18, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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On the flip side, loger can also mean "to be housed," "to stay," or "to live":

 

Je loge chez mon amie
I'm staying at my friend's place.

 

If someone is mal logé, they're living in poor housing conditions:
 

La honte, la honte à ce pouvoir qui fait la guerre aux mal-logés.

Shame, shame on this authority that's waging war on the poorly housed.

Captions 28-29, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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And if someone is homeless, they're SDF—an acronym for sans domicile fixe (without a fixed abode):

 

Moi, je suis là parce que je suis SDF. Je suis sans domicile fixe.

Me, I'm here because I'm homeless. I'm without a fixed abode.

Caption 100, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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Another word for "homeless" is sans-abri (without shelter).

 

Many people lucky enough to have a fixed abode pay un loyer (rent) to un/une propriétaire (a landlord/landlady):

 

j'ai de quoi payer un... un loyer

I have enough to pay... rent

Caption 120, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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La propriétaire a vendu son appartement.

The landlady sold her apartment.

Caption 103, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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Propriétaire is also the word for "owner." Un propriétaire foncier is a property owner, such as the SNCF:

 

Faut quand même savoir que la SNCF, c'est le deuxième propriétaire foncier du pays après l'État.

You should know, however, that the SNCF is the second largest property owner in the country after the State.

Captions 43-45, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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You'll find two words for "building" in this video—immeuble and bâtiment:

 

Vous avez vu dimanche le bel immeuble vide

On Sunday you saw the beautiful empty building

Caption 10, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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Parce qu'ils ont des bâtiments vides, complètement vides

Because they have vacant buildings, completely vacant

Caption 30, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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While both are general terms for "building," un immeuble can also be an "apartment building" or "apartment block," which is what the protesters are hoping the SNCF will provide for those in need.

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The Pronoun En

In Part 2 of her lesson on negation, Patricia explains three common negative constructions: rien ne... (nothing), ne... aucun(e) (not any), and ne... nulle part (nowhere). In a few of her examples, she uses the pronoun en, which some beginners might not be familiar with: 

 

Veux-tu quelques pommes? Non, je n'en veux aucune.

Do you want some apples? No, I don't want any.

Captions 41-42, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négations - Part 2

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As-tu quelques stylos à me passer? -Non, je n'ai aucun stylo. Je n'en ai aucun.

Do you have some pens to give me? -No, I don't have any pens. I don't have any.

Captions 53, 57-58, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négations - Part 2

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In English, we know that the "any" of "I don't want any" and "I don't have any" refers back to "apples" and "pens," respectively. But in French, we can't just say je ne veux aucune and je n'ai aucun. We need to add en to refer back to the objects in question—quelques pommes and quelques stylos.

 

To make this clearer, let's simplify these sentences by making them affirmative:

 

Veux-tu quelques pommes? -Oui, j'en veux.
Do you want some apples? -Yes, I want some.

 

As-tu quelques stylos à me passer? -Oui, j'en ai.
Do you have some pens to give me? -Yes, I have some.

 

Just as it would be incorrect to respond to the English questions with "yes, I want" and "yes, I have," in French you wouldn't say oui, je veux or oui, j'ai. You need to specify what you're referring to. So you add "some"/en. As you can see, while "some" is placed right after the verb, en is placed right before.

 

Though the examples above use quelques (some), the general rule for en is that it replaces de + a noun. In fact, we can rewrite these sentences using des instead of quelques without changing their meaning: 

 

Veux-tu des pommes? -Non, je n'en veux aucune. 
Do you want some apples? -No, I don't want any.

 

As-tu des stylos à me passer? -Non, je n'en ai aucun.
Do you have some pens to give me? -No, I don't have any.

 

There's also an example of en replacing de + a noun later on in the video:

 

Y a-t-il de la neige partout? Non, il n'y en a nulle part.

Is there snow everywhere? No, there's not any anywhere.

Captions 71-72, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négations - Part 2

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`

If you want to avoid using en for now, you can simply include the object you're referring to in the sentence:

 

Y a-t-il de la neige partout? -Non, il n'y a pas de neige nulle part.
Is there snow everywhere? -No, there's no snow anywhere.

 

Veux-tu quelques/des pommes? -Non, je ne veux pas de pomme.
Do you want some apples? -No, I don't want any apples.

 

As-tu quelques/des stylos à me passer? -Non, je n'ai aucun stylo [or: je n'ai pas de stylo].
Do you have some pens to give me? -No, I don't have any pens.

 

For an in-depth look at negation in French, be sure to check out the rest of Patricia's videos on the subject.

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Un Truc: A (Not So) Tricky Thing

In this lesson, we're going to discuss a very common word that isn't very specific. It's un truc, an informal word for "thing" (une chose has the same meaning). You can use it when you're not quite sure what an object is called:

 

J'attends que le truc passe parce que ça fait un petit bruit...

I'm waiting for the thing to pass because it's making a little noise...

Caption 82, Lea - Cour Saint-Émilion

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Or when you're talking about something abstract:

 

On n'a plus de souvenirs. C'est ça, le truc aussi.

We don't have any more memories. That's the thing too.

Captions 25-26, Elisa et sa maman - La technologie

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When someone says "it's not my thing," they're saying they don't really like it (it's not their cup of tea) or they're not really good at it (it's not their forte). There's an exact cognate of this expression in French—ce n'est pas mon truc:

 

La baignade, c'est pas mon truc. -Oh, moi non plus!

Swimming isn't my thing. -Oh, me neither!

Caption 26, Il était une fois - Notre Terre - 25. Technologies - Part 5

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Un truc means "a thing," but it often translates as "something." It's a more informal way of saying quelque chose (something):

 

Tu sais j'vais te dire un truc. Tu sais c'que c'est qu'une utopie?

You know, I'll tell you something. Do you know what a utopia is?

Caption 70, Actus Quartier - Manif anti-nucléaire à Bastille

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Manon, à toi de commencer. Dis-moi un petit truc en français.

Manon, your turn to start. Tell me a little something in French.

Caption 3, Manon et Clémentine - Virelangues

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Sometimes, un truc (or des trucs) is just "stuff" in general:

 

Je sais pas encore mais en tout cas je sais que je veux créer un truc.

I don't know yet, but in any case I know that I want to create stuff.

Caption 58, Watt’s In - Louane : Avenir Interview Exclu

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But there is one instance in which truc does have a specific meaning. It's also the word for "trick," as in a magic trick or a clever way of doing something:

 

Moi, j'ai un truc miraculeux

Me, I have a miraculous trick

Caption 2, Le Mans TV - Benjamin Perrot: "La rébellion du combiné"

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You'll find a synonym for truc in the next caption:

 

Une astuce qui ne coûte rien

A trick that costs nothing

Caption 3, Le Mans TV - Benjamin Perrot: "La rébellion du combiné"

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Besides ce n'est pas mon truc, there are two expressions with truc with close English cognates. The first is avoir le truc:

 

Je n'ai pas le truc pour ça.
don't have the knack for it. 

 

Tu commences à avoir le truc.
You're getting the hang of it.

 

The second is chacun son truc (literally, "each his/her thing"), synonymous with chacun ses goûts (there's no accounting for taste; literally, "each his/her tastes"):

 

J'aime les chats. Tu aimes les chiens. Chacun son truc! / Chacun ses goûts!
I like cats. You like dogs. To each his own!

 

Vous commencez à avoir le truc pour "truc"!  Stay tuned for our next lesson and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

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A Rendezvous with Rendez-Vous

The word rendez-vous is the second-person plural imperative form of the verb se rendre ("to go" or "to present oneself"). It literally means "go!" or "present yourself!" But rather than a command, you'll hear it most often used as a noun—un rendez-vous. In English, "a rendezvous" is another word for "a meeting." Un rendez-vous means that and much more, as you'll see in this lesson.

 

If you're a regular Yabla French user, you'll recognize this word from the final caption of nearly every video in our Voyage en France series:

 

Je vous donne rendez-vous très bientôt pour de nouvelles découvertes.

I will meet you very soon for some new discoveries.

Caption 50, Voyage en France - Mont-Valérien

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Donner rendez-vous à (literally, "to give meeting to") is to arrange to meet someone, to set up a date or an appointment with someone. Indeed, besides "a meeting," un rendez-vous can also be "a date" or "an appointment": 

 

C'est au premier rendez-vous qu'ils franchissent le pas

It's on the first date that they take that step

Caption 5, Grand Corps Malade - Roméo kiffe Juliette

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

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

Caption 10, Micro-Trottoirs - Art ou science?

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Note the discrepancy between the French and the English in that last example: when talking about having an appointment with someone, you don't have to say j'ai un rendez-vousJ'ai rendez-vous will suffice.

 

In French, you don't "make" an appointment with someone—you "take" (prendre) one:

 

Aujourd'hui, on va apprendre à prendre rendez-vous chez le médecin.

Today we're going to learn how to make an appointment at the doctor's.

Caption 1, Manon et Clémentine - Rendez-vous chez le médecin

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And if something is by appointment only, it's sur rendez-vous ("on appointment"):

 

au trente-neuf rue Saint-Pavin des Champs sur rendez-vous

at thirty-nine Saint-Pavin des Champs Street by appointment

Caption 38, Le Mans TV - Le Mans: Ouverture d'un nouvel atelier d'artistes

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Un rendez-vous can refer both to a meeting and a meeting place:

 

Ce château était un rendez-vous de chasse.

This castle was a rendezvous point for hunting.

Caption 26, Le Mans TV - Mon Village - Malicorne

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Here's an interesting example that uses rendez-vous in more of a metaphoric sense: 

 

Le soleil est au rendez-vous pour ce nouveau numéro de la découverte de la ville de Provins.

The sun is present for this new episode of the discovery of the city of Provins.

Caption 2, Voyage en France - La ville de Provins

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The sun is "at the meeting" for this new episode—in other words, the sun is out. Être au rendez-vous means "to be present." The expression is used in the negative in Part 1 of Le Jour où tout a basculé - J'ai piégé mon fan to describe an actress's lack of success in recent years:

 

Sophie est une comédienne célèbre, mais depuis quelques années le succès n'est plus au rendez-vous.

Sophie is a famous actress, but success has been hard to come by for several years.

Captions 1-2, Le Jour où tout a basculé - J'ai piégé mon fan

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Mais depuis deux ans, le succès n'est plus vraiment au rendez-vous.

But for the last two years, success has been somewhat elusive.

Caption 41, Le Jour où tout a basculé - J'ai piégé mon fan - Part 1

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That about does it for this lesson. Nous vous donnons rendez-vous très bientôt pour une nouvelle leçon (We'll meet you very soon for a new lesson)!

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Je Peux or Je Puis?

Pouvoir is an elementary French verb meaning "to be able to." It's an irregular verb, which means it's not conjugated like most other verbs ending in -irIn this lesson, we'll be focusing on the first-person present indicative form of pouvoir, which has two variants: je peux and je puis (I can). How do we know which one to use?

 

Je peux is by far the more common of the two:

 

Qu'est-ce que je peux faire différemment?

What can I do differently?

Caption 21, Actus Quartier - Manif anti-nucléaire à Bastille

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Puis is actually an archaic conjugation of pouvoir that nowadays is only used in specific, mostly formal contexts. One of them is inversion, when the pronoun and verb switch places:

 

Que puis-je faire? Puis-je voir ces hommes?

What can I do? May I see these men?

Caption 8, Il était une fois... L’Espace - 3. La planète verte - Part 6

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You would never say que peux-je faire or peux-je voir ces hommes. If you're inverting the first-person present indicative form of pouvoir, you need to use puis. But you could easily rephrase these questions with peux using the constructions est-ce que or qu'est-ce que:

 

Qu'est-ce que je peux faire? Est-ce que je peux voir ces hommes? 

 

You're more likely to hear qu'est-ce que je peux or est-ce que je peux than puis-je in everyday speech. Je puis isn't used very often, though it can be found in a few set formal expressions, usually beginning with si:

 

Si je puis me permettre, essayez ces lunettes

If I may, try these glasses...

Caption 19, Cap 24 - Paris : Alessandro fait les Puces! - Part 2

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C'est un petit peu notre... notre crédo si je puis dire.

It's a little bit like our... our credo, if I may say so.

Caption 18, Télé Lyon Métropole - L'opéra Carmen dans un... boulodrome!

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As a less formal alternative to puis-je (and slightly more formal than je peux), use the conditional form je pourrais:

 

Alors je pourrais essayer la nuit, Monsieur Watt?

Then I could try at night, Mister Watt?

Caption 2, Il était une fois - Les découvreurs - 13. Stephenson - Part 3

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And don't forget that puis is also an adverb meaning "then":

 

Puis y en a qui donnent beaucoup moins.

Then there are some who give a lot less. 

Caption 42, Actus Quartier - Repair Café

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Passing Time with Passer

In the latest installment of Le Jour où tout a basculé, we find two very different uses of the verb passer. The first is a direct cognate of the English verb "to pass," referring to time passing:

 

Quatre mois ont passé.

Four months have passed.

Caption 30, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon père s'oppose à ma passion - Part 6

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The second, referring to taking an exam, is a false cognate. You might assume that passer son bac means "to pass one's baccalaureate exam." But that's wrong! Passer in this context actually means "to take":  

 

J'ai passé mon bac.

I took my baccalaureate.

Caption 41, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon père s'oppose à ma passion - Part 6

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If you want to talk about passing an exam, use the verb réussir (to succeed):

 

Demain il réussira son examen.

Tomorrow he will pass his exam.

Caption 27, Le saviez-vous? - Conjugaison des verbes du 2ème groupe au futur simple

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Passer's other meanings are more predictable. You can use it transitively (i.e., with an object) to to talk about passing something to someone:

 

Passe le micro.

Pass the mic.

Caption 54, Arles - Le marché d'Arles

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Or you can use it intransitively (without an object) to describe someone passing by or passing from one place to another:

 

Tous les ans, effectivement, nous demandons à Saint-Nicolas de passer.

Every year, in fact, we ask Saint Nicholas to pass by.

Caption 44, Grand Lille TV - Focus: la tradition de Saint-Nicolas

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Et maintenant on va passer en cuisine avec le chef.

And now we'll go into the kitchen with the chef.

Caption 33, Parigot - Le bistrot

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Just as you can "pass time" (or "spend time") in English, you can passer du temps in French: 

 

Et puis ça permet de passer un bon petit moment ensemble.

And then it allows us to spend a good bit of time together.

Caption 47, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 2

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The expression passer pour means "to pass for," as in "to be taken for" or "seem like":

 

La maîtrise des synonymes vous permettra donc d'élargir votre vocabulaire, mais aussi, de ne pas passer pour un psychopathe.

Mastering synonyms will therefore allow you to broaden your vocabulary, but also to not be taken for a psychopath.

Captions 23-24, Le saviez-vous? - Les synonymes

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As passer is such a versatile verb, it's no surprise that it's used in many, many common expressions. We'll pass along a handful of them to you:

 

passer à autre chose - to move on to something else
passer à l'acte - to take action
passer à la caisse - to pay/checkout
passer à la télévision - to be on TV
passer à table - to sit down for a meal (also has the figurative meaning "to snitch" or "spill the beans")
passer un coup de fil - to make a phone call
passer de la musique - to put on some music
passer au bloc - to go under the knife/have surgery
passer au peigne fin - to go over with a fine-tooth comb
passer à côté de - to miss/miss out on
laisser passer sa chance - to miss one's chance

 

You can find even more expressions on this WordReference page.

 

And to learn about the reflexive form of passerse passer, check out our lesson Se Passer: To Bypass and Pass By.

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One Word, Two Genders

You may know that all French nouns are either masculine or feminine, but did you know that some nouns can be both? A word like après-midi (afternoon), for example, can be either masculine or feminine depending on the speaker's preference:

 

Vous deux, là, qu'est-ce que vous allez faire de beau cet après-midi?

You two, here, what are you going to do that's exciting this afternoon?

Caption 57, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 1

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On passe une super après-midi.

You spend a great afternoon.

Caption 90, LCM - Rétine argentique, le paradis des photographes

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Un après-midi (masculine) and une après-midi (feminine) both mean "an afternoon." But usually, when a word's gender changes, its meaning changes too. Take the word mode, for example. La mode (feminine) means "fashion," but le mode (masculine) means "mode" or "(grammatical) mood":

 

Le milieu de la mode est aussi touché hein, forcément.

The world of fashion is also affected, you know, necessarily.

Caption 36, Cap 24 Paris - Alessandro fait les Puces! - Part 1

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Le temps présent fait partie du mode indicatif.

The present tense is part of the indicative mood.

Caption 10, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode indicatif, c'est quoi?

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Like mode, a lot of dual-gender words end in -e. Another common one is poste. When masculine, it means "post" as in "position" or "job" (among other things), and when feminine, it means "post" as in "post office" or "mail":

 

J'ai trouvé mon premier poste de libraire

I found my first bookseller position

Caption 3, Gaëlle - Librairie "Livres in Room"

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Si je venais à gagner, vous m'enverrez mon chèque par la poste.

If I were to win, you'll send me my check in the mail.

Caption 27, Patricia - Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones - Part 2

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You'll most often find the word livre in its masculine form, meaning "book." When feminine, it means "pound," as in the unit of weight and currency:

 

L'extérieur d'un livre s'appelle la couverture.

The outside of a book is called the cover.

Caption 4, Manon et Clémentine - Vocabulaire du livre

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Une livre équivaut à environ quatre cent cinquante-quatre grammes. 
One pound is equal to around four hundred fifty-four grams. 

 

Voile has related meanings in both its masculine and feminine forms. Both refer to things made of fabric—a veil (un voile) and a sail (une voile): 

 

Un niqab, c'est donc un voile intégral qui ne laisse, euh, voir que les yeux.

So a niqab is a full-length veil that only, uh, shows the eyes.

Caption 10, Cap Caen Normandie TV - Danse - Héla Fattoumi se dévoile

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Il a une seule voile.

It has a single sail.

Caption 11, Fred et Miami Catamarans - Les Bateaux

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This video takes you on a tour (un tour) of Paris, making a requisite stop at the Eiffel Tower (la Tour Eiffel):

 

La Tour Eiffel, qui est le symbole de la France.

The Eiffel Tower, which is the symbol of France.

Caption 20, Paris Tour - Visite guidée de Paris

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Gender can be tricky in French, doubly so when you're dealing with words that can be both masculine and feminine. Remembering them is just a matter of practice. You can find a comprehensive list of dual-gender words on this page.

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Pas de souci!

If you have any worries, concerns, or problems in a French-speaking country, souci is the word to use to express your predicament. In the first two senses ("worry" and "concern"), it's synonymous with inquiétude

 

Ne te fais pas de souci. Fais-moi confiance!

Don't worry. Trust me!

Caption 6, Il était une fois... l’Homme - 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 4

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Alors, le souci, quand elles en font deux, c'est que si elles sont pas très bonnes productrices de lait...

So the concern, when they have two, is that if they are not very good producers of milk...

Caption 4, Ferme de la Croix de Pierre - Les chèvres

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Pas d'inquiétude. De nos jours, le pont est protégé d'un grillage.

Not to worry. Nowadays, the bridge is protected by a wire fence.

Caption 29, De nouvelles découvertes avec Marion - Le parc des Buttes Chaumont

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Souci and inquiétude both have verbal forms (se soucier, s'inquiéter) and adjectival forms (soucieux/soucieuse, inquiet/inquiète): 

 

Sans se soucier [or: s'inquiéterde dévoiler ses sentiments.

Without worrying about revealing her feelings.

Caption 7, Vous avez du talent Paulin - "Elle"

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Donc si vous êtes un petit peu soucieux [or: inquiet] de votre santé...

So if you're a little bit concerned about your health...

Caption 16, Voyage dans Paris - Cité Florale

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Un souci is also "a problem" or "an issue" you might have with something—for instance, if there's something wrong with a bike you've rented: 

 

...si y a aucun souci avec les pédales.

...if there's any problem with the pedals.

Caption 34, Amal - Vélib

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Et si y a le moindre souci avec un vélo...

And if there's the slightest issue with a bike...

Caption 57, Amal - Vélib

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But un souci doesn't always involve a sense of frustration or anxiety. It can also mean "a concern," as in something you really care about and pay a lot of attention to. 

 

Le souci du détail est un dogme.

Concern over detail [or: Attention to detail] is a dogma.

Caption 27, Le Journal Chocolats

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Nous avons un grand souci de l'environnement. 
We have a great concern for [or: We really care about] the environment. 

 

There are also the expressions par souci de and dans un souci de, both meaning "in the interest of" or "for the sake of":

 

Si une partie de Lyon a été retenue, c'est d'abord par souci de [or: dans un souci decohérence.

If a portion of Lyon has been contained, it is primarily for the sake of coherence.

Caption 11, Le Journal - La grippe aviaire - Part 2

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Finally, souci is also the word for "marigold." So while the informal expression pas de souci most often means "no worries," it can also mean "no marigolds"!

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People and Individuals

Did you know that in French, "a person" is always feminine, regardless of their gender? That is, the word personne is always feminine, even when it refers to a male person. Our friend Farmer François refers to himself as une personne (not un personne) when talking to us about his vegetable stand: 

 

Moi, je suis une personne qui est né dans la banlieue.

Me, I'm someone who was born in the suburbs.

Caption 48, Farmer François - Le stand de légumes

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And in another video, a woman describes a male friend of hers as la seule personne (not le seul personne):

 

C'était un Français, bien sûr. C'est la seule personne que je connais à West Berlin.

It was a Frenchman, of course. He's the only person I knew in West Berlin.

Captions 18-19, Le Journal - Le mur de Berlin s'écroule

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On the flip side, "an individual" is always masculine: 

 

Ce n'est pas Bérangère qui la regarde mais un individu pour le moins étrange.

It's not Bérangère who is watching her but a rather strange individual.

Caption 10, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 2

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Elle est un individu sain. 
She is a healthy individual.

 

There's an interesting combination of personne and individu in this article about the recent evacuation of Mont-Saint-Michel. The subject of the article is a man who made threats against police at the popular French tourist destination. He's designated as both il (referring to individu) and elle (referring to personne):

 

Selon Ouest-France, l'individu aurait affirmé vouloir «tuer des policiers». Descendu de la navette, il se serait ensuite volatilisé avant l'arrivée des gendarmes.... Plusieurs témoins ont signalé cette personne alors qu'elle rentrait sur le site touristique, a annoncé la gendarmerie.


According to Ouest-France, the individual expressed a desire to "kill police officers." After getting off the shuttle, he reportedly disappeared before the officers arrived.... Several witnesses identified this person when he returned to the tourist site, the police reported. 

 

Don't forget that personne can also be used as a pronoun in combination with ne, meaning "no one":

 

Maintenant on dit: "Il n'y a pas un chat", pour parler d'un endroit où il n'y a personne.

Now one says, "There's not one cat" [not a soul] to talk about a place where there isn't anyone.

Caption 13, Manon et Clémentine - Mots et animaux

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Personne ne peut vivre là-dedans!

No one could live in there!

Caption 16, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 10. Amerigo Vespucci - Part 4

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Stay tuned for Patricia's upcoming video on ne... personne and similar expressions, part of her series on negation

 

Thanks to Michael H. for bringing this topic to our attention! 

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A Lesson in Pieces

The latest episode of Le Jour où tout a basculé begins with a homeless man asking pedestrians for une petite pièce, which is not "a little piece," but rather "a small coin" or "some small change":

 

Monsieur, s'il vous plaît, une petite pièce, un petit ticket restaurant.

Sir, please, a small coin, a small restaurant voucher.

Caption 30, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon père s'oppose à ma passion - Part 1

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Vous n'auriez pas une petite pièce?

You wouldn't have some small change?

Caption 35, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon père s'oppose à ma passion - Part 1

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Une pièce is short for une pièce de monnaie, "a piece of change." Monnaie is where we get the English word "money" (l'argent in French), but it actually means "change" or "currency":

 

Nous allons récupérer de la monnaie.

We're going to retrieve some change.

Caption 50, Lionel - Voyage en train - Part 1

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Une pièce can also be short for une pièce de théâtre ("a theater piece"), that is, "a play":

 

En général, on prenait la pièce d'un auteur connu.

We usually picked a play from a well-known author.

Caption 33, Flora - et le théâtre

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And its meanings don't stop there. Une pièce is also "a room," which you might think of as a "piece" of a building:

 

Mais venez avec moi, dans l'autre pièce.

But come with me into the other room.

Caption 25, Il était une fois - Notre Terre - 9. Les écosystèmes - Part 7

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Sometimes, une pièce is just a plain old "piece," whether referring to a piece or part of something else:

 

Ce puzzle a cinq cents pièces
This puzzle has five hundred pieces.

 

J'ai besoin d'une pièce détachée pour mon vélo. 
I need a spare part for my bike. 

 

Or referring to an item or object, such as a piece of art or an article of clothing:

 

Ici, chaque pièce "d'art de la table" est unique.

Here, every piece of "table art" is unique.

Caption 9, Canal 32 - Mesnil-Saint-Loup : moines artisans

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Alors que c'est un ciré de création en pièce unique, quoi.

Although it's a unique piece, a designer raincoat, you know.

Caption 27, Lyon - La Croix-Rousse - Part 2

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You might also see pièce used as an adverb, generally when referencing the price of something. In this case it means "each" or, in a more direct translation, "apiece": 

 

Les livres d'occasion coûtent un euro pièce
The used books cost one euro each [or: apiece]. 

 

For even more pieces of information about the word pièce, see this extensive Larousse entry.

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Idiomatic Animals

While discussing pigeons in Paris with his friend Lea, Lionel brings up an amusing French idiom referencing those ubiquitous city birds:

 

Alors se faire pigeonner en français, c'est vraiment se faire arnaquer, se faire avoir par une personne qui vous a soutiré de l'argent.

So "se faire pigeonner" [to be taken for a ride] in French is really to get ripped off, to be had by a person who has extracted money from you.

Captions 54-59, Lea & Lionel L - Le parc de Bercy - Part 1

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Se faire pigeonner literally means "to be taken for a pigeon." In English too, "a pigeon" can refer to someone who's gullible or easily swindled. Pigeons get a bad rap in both languages! 

 

Let's take a look at some more animal expressions and idioms used in Yabla videos. Here's another bird-related one:

 

Oui. J'avoue être un peu poule mouillée.

Yes. I admit to being a bit of a wet hen [a wimp].

Caption 23, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Notre appartement est hanté - Part 3

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Calling someone poule mouillée is equivalent to calling them "chicken." A slightly less pejorative poultry-inspired moniker is un canard:

 

Qu'ils me disent que je m'affiche, qu'ils me traitent de canard

That they'll say that I am showing off, that they'll call me a duck [a slave to love]

Captions 6-7, Grand Corps Malade - Comme une évidence

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Un canard is a person who's so lovestruck they'll do whatever their partner desires. Believe it or not, it's also a slang term for "newspaper." There's even a famous French newspaper called Le Canard enchaîné (The Chained Duck), which Lionel discusses in a few other videos

 

Don't confuse canard with cafard, the word for "cockroach." When used metaphorically, cafard means "depression" or "the blues":

 

Mon cafard me lâche moins souvent qu'autrefois...

My blues don't let me go as much as before...

Caption 8, Debout Sur Le Zinc - Les mots d'amour

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The expression avoir le cafard means "to be depressed," or literally, "to have the cockroach." And there's the adjective cafardeux/cafardeuse, which can mean either "depressing" or "depressed." Encountering a cockroach in your home can certainly be depressing, to say the least!

 

Though dogs are as beloved in France as they are in other countries, the word chien (dog) typically means "bad" or "nasty" when used as an adjective:

 

Fais demain quand le présent est chien

Make tomorrow when the present is bad

Caption 3, Corneille - Comme un fils

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You'll find chien in a couple of idioms involving bad weather, such as un temps de chien (nasty weather) and un coup de chien (a storm):

 

On va avoir un coup de chien, regarde!

We're going to have a dog's blow [stormy weather], look!

Caption 55, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 10. Amerigo Vespucci - Part 5

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You can also say un temps de cochon (pig weather) instead of un temps de chien:

 

Et aujourd'hui on a pas un temps de cochon par contre.

And today we don't have pig weather [rotten weather] however.

Caption 22, Lionel - La Cathédrale de Toul - Part 2

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In American English, "pigs" is a slang term for "cops." But the French call them vaches (cows):

 

Mort aux vaches, mort aux cons!

Death to the cows ["pigs," i.e., cops], death to the jerks!

Caption 5, Patrice Maktav - La Rue

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Finally, they don't celebrate April Fools' Day in France, but rather "April Fish":

 

En tout cas j'espère que ce n'est pas un poisson d'avril.

In any event, I hope that it's not an April fish [April fool].

Caption 21, Lionel à Lindre-Basse - Part 5

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You can find out more about the poisson d'avril tradition here. And be sure to check out Manon and Clémentine's video Mots et animaux to learn some more expressions featuring cats, dogs, and wolves.

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Pas Mal: Not Bad and Quite a Bit

The phrase pas mal literally means "not bad," and like its English counterpart, it's often used to express an assessment of something: 

 

La nourriture à ce restaurant n'est pas mal.
The food at that restaurant isn't bad

 

C'est pas mal déjà!

That's not bad at all! [or: That's pretty good!]

Caption 21, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 1

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But just as often, pas mal is used not as a qualitative assessment, but a quantitative one. Take a look at this example from our video on Paris's Rue des Martyrs:

 

Y a pas mal de bars dans la rue.

There are quite a few bars on the street.

Caption 42, Adrien - Rue des Martyrs

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Adrien isn't saying that the bars on the street "aren't bad." If he were, he might have said something like, Les bars dans la rue ne sont pas malInstead, he uses pas mal to indicate that there are "quite a few" bars on the street. When followed by de (of) plus a noun, pas mal can mean anything along the lines of "quite a few," "quite a bit," or "quite a lot":

 

C'est quelque chose qui est très important pour nous depuis pas mal de temps.

This is something that has been very important to us for quite a bit of time.

Caption 18, Alsace 20 - Grain de Sel: le titre de Maître Restaurateur, c'est quoi?

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When pas mal comes before an adjective, it means "a lot" or "pretty":

 

Ben c'est sûr que... c'est pas mal plus naturel.

Well, for sure... that's a lot more natural.

Caption 46, Bateau sport 100% électrique - Le Nautique 196 E

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Ce livre est pas mal intéressant.
This book is pretty interesting.

 

And when referring to a verb, it means "really" or, again, "quite a bit/a lot":

 

J'essaie de rechercher pas mal le son.

I'm trying to really research the sound [or: I'm trying to research the sound quite a bit].

Caption 12, Phil Cambron - Ses révélations

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Here's an example sentence that contains both senses of pas mal:

 

Pas mal de nuages mais quand même des éclaircies, et au niveau des températures, c'est pas mal non plus.

Quite a few clouds but still some sunny spells, and as far as temperatures go, that's not bad either.

Captions 9-10, Alsace 20 - Météo des Maquilleurs

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But be careful: just because you see the words pas and mal next to each other doesn't necessarily mean you're dealing with the expression pas mal. Namely, when a verb phrase with mal (such as faire mal [to hurt] or le prendre mal [to take it the wrong way]) is negated, the pas mal portion doesn't mean "not bad" or "quite a bit"—it's just part of the negation:

 

Ça fait pas mal? -Non, non.

It doesn't hurt? -No, no.

Caption 16, Cap 24 - Rasage et Epilation du Visage : Alessandro Di Sarno teste!

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Ne le prends pas mal. 
Don't take it the wrong way

 

Thanks for reading! Tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

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To Doubt or Not to Doubt

In the latest episode of Le Jour où tout a basculé, Sarah receives some troubling news from her son Nino that could put her job in jeopardy:

 

Sarah ne se doute pas un instant de la tournure des évènements.

Sarah doesn't suspect for a moment the turn of events.

Captions 2-3, Le Jour où tout a basculé - J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils - Part 6

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The verb douter looks a lot like the English verb "to doubt," and indeed, the two are exact cognates: 

 

Et puis, je commençais aussi à douter.

And then, I also began to doubt.

Caption 26, Le Jour où tout a basculé - À la recherche de mon père - Part 3

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But se douter, the reflexive form of douter, doesn't mean "to doubt oneself," as you might expect. Instead, it means "to suspect" or "to guess": 

 

Mais il ne se doute pas qu'à sa place va se présenter Edna, la complice de Louise.

But little does he know [he doesn't suspect] that in her place will be Edna, Louise's accomplice.

Captions 63-65, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mes grands-parents sont infidèles - Part 4

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If you're really certain about something, you can use the phrase se douter bien:

 

Avec un regard comme celui-là, on se doute bien qu'il a dû en voir.

With a look like this, one might well guess that he must have seen a lot.

Caption 1, Le Journal - Le photographe Cartier-Bresson

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Je me doute bien qu'il sait comment cuisiner.
I'm sure he knows how to cook.

 

Both douter and se douter can be followed by de or que. (Se) douter de always comes before a noun (as in Sarah ne se doute pas un instant de la tournure des évènements), while (se) douter que always comes before an independent clause (as in je me doute bien qu'il sait comment cuisiner).

 

But douter and se douter differ in another important way besides their meaning. While se douter que always takes the indicative mood (since it expresses a certainty or near certainty), douter que can take the indicative or the subjunctive depending on context. In general, douter que takes the subjunctive in the affirmative and the indicative in the negative: 

 

Je doute qu'il sache comment cuisiner.
I doubt he knows how to cook.

 

Je ne doute pas qu'elle sait la meilleure façon d'y arriver.   
I don't doubt she knows the best way to get there.

 

As you may recall, the subjunctive is used to express a wish, uncertainty, or doubt. So if you're saying you don't doubt something, it makes sense that you would use the indicative rather than the subjunctive in that case. 

 

We'll be back with a new lesson soon, sans aucun doute (without a doubt)!

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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.

Captions 80-81, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Notre appartement est hanté - Part 5

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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.

Caption 2, Actus Quartier - Repair Café

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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.

Caption 25, Manif du Mois - Fukushima plus jamais ça

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Alors que la police, elle est censée être là pour nous protéger.

While the police are supposed to be there to protect us.

Caption 14, Banlieues françaises - jeunes et policiers, l'impossible réconciliation? - Part 2

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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.

Captions 26-27, De nouvelles découvertes avec Marion - Le parc des Buttes Chaumont

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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.

Captions 47-48, Contes de fées - Cendrillon - Part 1

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

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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?

Caption 62, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Espion dans l'immeuble

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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?

Caption 68, Le Jour où tout a basculé - J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils

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Ça te dit qu'on aille boire un thé?

How would you like to go have some tea?

Caption 5, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mes grands-parents sont infidèles

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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?

Caption 53, Le Québec parle - aux Français - Part 1

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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.

Caption 18, Paris Tour - Visite guidée de Paris

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