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Tenir: To Have and to Hold

Avoir is the general French verb for "to have," but if you’re talking about something that you physically have, tenir might be the better verb to use. The simplest meaning of tenir is "to hold." This is the way the singer Corneille uses it in one of our most popular music videos, Comme un fils (Like a Son):

Tiens ma tête quand elle fait plus de sens.

Hold my head when it no longer makes sense.

Cap. 28, Corneille: Comme un fils

When it’s not referring to something that you’re holding in your hand, tenir can also be used for something that you keep, maintain, or manage, such as a restaurant:          

Aller chez Gilles Spannagel qui tient Le Cruchon, qui est le petit restaurant...

To go visit Gilles Spannagel who owns Le Cruchon, which is the little restaurant...

Cap. 22, Strasbourg: Les passants 

Or it can refer to something that is attached to something else, like needles on a Christmas tree:

...des épines qui tiennent plus longtemps

...needles that stay on longer

Cap. 7, TV Tours: Une seconde vie pour vos sapins de Noël? 

Tenir also applies to situations in which you are compelled to do something, in the expressions tenir à and être tenu(e) de:

Je tiens à préciser que la Bretagne a son charme aussi.

I have to mention that Brittany has its charms too.

Cap. 14, Fanny et Corinne: Leurs origines

Mais ils sont tenus d’avoir... un certificat de capacité.

But they are required to have... a certificate of competency.

Cap. 48, TV Sud: Fête de la Tortue 2012

Tenir à can also mean "to be fond of," "to be attached to," or "to care about":

Elle tient à son emploi.

She is fond of her job. 

And when you make tenir reflexive (se tenir), it means "to stand," "remain," or "behave." Can you imagine walking into someone’s house and seeing a llama standing in the living room?

C’est bien un lama qui se tient fièrement en plein milieu d’un salon.

That’s really a llama proudly standing in the middle of a living room.

Cap. 2, Angers 7: Un lama en plein apartment 

Tiens-toi tranquille, hein sinon!

Hold still, OK, or else!

Cap. 5, Il était une fois... les Explorateurs: 10. Amerigo Vespucci - Part 4

Les enfants se tiennent bien.

The children are behaving themselves. 

You can also use tiens, the singular imperative form of tenir, for the interjection "look" (or more literally, "behold"):

Tiens, ça doit être bon, ça!

Look, this should be good!

Cap. 23, Il était une fois... les Explorateurs: 10. Amerigo Vespucci - Part 4

The verb détenir is related to tenir and is often translated the same way, though it has the specific connotation of "to possess" or even "detain":

...qui autorise des gens à détenir des animaux, des tortues chez eux.

...which allows some people to keep animals, turtles, at home.

Cap. 47, TV Sud: Fête de la Tortue 2012

Crois-moi, tu détiens là, la base de toute connaissance.

Believe me, you hold there the basis of all knowledge.

Cap. 12, Il était une fois... l’Homme: 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 5 

Even if you don’t hold the basis of all knowledge, with this lesson you should hold everything you need to make good use of the verb tenir. You can check out the WordReference page on the verb for even more uses. So soyez sûr de retenir le verbe tenir (be sure to hold onto the verb tenir)! 

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Euphony in French: On or L'on?

We've dealt with the concept of euphony before, in our lessons on the French aspirated h and on liaisons. Euphony in French is the tendency to avoid having a word that ends in a vowel before a word that begins with a vowel. It's the reason why you have l'animal instead of le animal—it just "flows" better! In this lesson, we'll look at two specific instances of euphony, before the pronoun on and before the indefinite article un/une

Take a look at the way on is used in this caption: 

Ce que l'on demande, c'est d'avoir uniquement la photo de l'animal.

What we’re asking is to have only the photo of the animal.

Cap. 17, Grand Lille TV: Des photos contre l’abandon des animaux

You might be wondering what l’ is doing before on here. L’ is the contracted form of le and la (the), and on is a singular pronoun meaning "we," "they," or "one." But it doesn’t make any sense to say "the we." So what does the l’ mean here? Actually, it doesn’t really mean anything! In formal and written French, you’ll see l’on instead of on and l’un/l’une instead of un/une in certain situations for euphonic purposes.

There are two situations where l’on is preferred over on

1. After que (see the example above) and words that end in que, such as lorsque (when), puisque (since), and quoique (although). This is to avoid the contraction qu'on, which sounds the same as a rude French word that we won't mention here. 

2. After short words ending in a vowel sound, such as et (and), ou (or), (where), and si (if):

Si l’on fait la queue, on a froid.

If we wait in line, we’re cold.

Cap. 11, Fanny parle des saisons: Activités

And there are two situations where l’un/l’une is preferred over un/une:

1. When un/une is followed by a preposition (usually de or des):

Voici Indira, sans doute l'un des animaux de compagnie les plus insolites qui puissent exister.

Here is Indira, undoubtedly one of the most unusual pets that could possibly exist.

Cap. 3, Angers 7: Un lama en plein appartement

2. At the beginning of a clause:

L’une des icônes principales de l’église est le martyr saint Mina.

One of the church’s principal icons is the martyr Saint Mina.

Cap. 15, LCM: Joyeux Noël... orthodoxe! 

As we mentioned, l’on and l’un/l’une are mainly used in formal and written French. In casual spoken French, you’ll often just see the words without the l’:

Ça fait longtemps qu’on attend ça.

We’ve been waiting a long time for this.

Cap. 16, Alsace 20: Rammstein à Strasbourg 

But since it’s always good to know the "proper" way of speaking, keep these rules in mind!

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Five Ways of Saying "Only"

"Only" might seem like a pretty lonely word, but there are actually several different ways of saying it in French: the adjectives seul(e) and unique, the adverb seulement and uniquement, and the verb phrase ne... que.

First let’s take a look at the words seul(e) and seulement:

Parce que le mardi, c’est le seul jour où je ne travaille pas.

Because Tuesday is the only day when I don’t work.

Cap. 10, Fred et Miami Catamarans: Fred et sa vie à Miami

Aussi je vais dire seulement trois choses.

Also I am only going to say three things.

Cap. 10, Le Journal: Joëlle Aubron libérée

Seulement is the adverbial form of the adjective seul(e), which has another similar (and sadder!) meaning as well:

Alors je me retrouve un petit peu seul en ce moment. 

So I find myself a little alone right now.

Cap. 5, Hugo Bonneville: Gagner sa vie 

Some other ways of saying "alone" or "lonely" are solitaire and isolé(e).

And seulement has some additional meanings of its own. It can be used to express a regret ("if only...") and to mean "however":

Si seulement je l'avais su avant. 

If only I had known before.

Il veut venir, seulement il ne peut pas.

He wants to come, however he can't. 

Although unique and uniquement are most directly translated as "unique" and "uniquely," they can also mean "only":

Je suis un enfant unique.

I am an only child. 

Ce que l’on demande, c’est d’avoir uniquement la photo de l’animal.

What we’re asking is to have only the photo of the animal.

Cap. 17, Grand Lille TV: Des photos contre l’abandon des animaux 

Now let’s look at a bit more complicated way of saying "only": the verb phrase ne... que. As you might have guessed, ne... que is a negative construction, as in ne... pas (not), ne... personne (no one), and ne... rien (nothing). In these constructions, the two components go on either side of the verb:

Il ne mesure que soixante-dix mètres carrés.

It only measures seventy square meters.

Cap. 8, Voyage dans Paris: Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Moi, je ne parlais que français.

Me, I spoke only French.

Cap. 9, Annie Chartrand: Grandir bilingue 

Most of the time, ne... que can be replaced with seulement:

Il mesure seulement soixante-dix mètres carrés.

It only measures seventy square meters.

Moi, je parlais seulement français.

Me, I spoke only French. 

Sometimes, que can mean "only" outside of the ne... que construction. For example, in an interview with Le Figaro, A-lister Ashton Kutcher laments being typecast as a jokester, declaring: "Je ne suis pas qu’un clown!" (I’m not only a clown!)

The ne in this sentence goes with pas (not), while the que stands on its own to mean "only." Ashton (or his translator) could just as well have said, Je ne suis pas seulement un clown! 

Maybe the former "Punk’d" star can shed his clownish reputation by undertaking some serious French studies at Yabla French! Since he’s known to be an avid tweeter, he might want to start by following us on Twitter @Yabla. And you should follow us too!  

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Monter's Many Meanings

Monter is a French verb that can come in handy in many situations. We find the most basic meaning of the verb in our interview with Joanna, whose apartment is so tiny that her entire kitchen fits inside a cupboard! And although living on the ground floor means she doesn’t have to climb any stairs, she does have to climb a ladder to get to her bed

J’habite au rez-de-chaussée, donc je n’ai pas besoin de monter les escaliers. 

I live on the ground floor, so I don’t need to go up the stairs.

Cap. 6, L’appartement: de Joanna

C’est pour dormir, avec mon lit, et je dois monter à cette échelle.

It’s for sleeping, with my bed, and I have to climb this ladder.

Cap. 14, L’appartement: de Joanna

Joanna uses the verb monter to describe going up the stairs and climbing the ladder. Although “to go up” is the verb's most basic meaning, there are quite a few others. For example, a price or a level of something can also monter:

Le prix de l’essence monte chaque année.

The price of gas rises every year. 

Jean-Marc also uses the verb to talk about getting inside his dream car:

À chaque fois que je monte dedans, j’y prends beaucoup de plaisir. 

Every time I get in, I enjoy it very much.

Cap. 12, Jean-Marc: Voiture de rêve 

The opposite of monter is descendre (to go down), and just as monter can refer to getting into a car or onto a bus or train, descendre refers to getting out or off:

On va monter dans le train à Bastille et descendre à République.

We’ll get on the train at Bastille and get off at République. 

Note that it’s monter dans le train (literally, “to go up into the train”) and descendre du train (to descend from the train).

When monter is used with a direct object, it can mean “to put up,” “set up,” “establish,” or “put together”:

C’était un peu une façon pour moi et de faire un film et de monter une pièce.

It was kind of a way for me to make not only a film but also to stage a play.

Cap. 17, TLT Toulouse: Dorfman mis en scène à Toulouse

Il a réussi à monter sa propre pizzeria.

He succeeded in opening his own pizzeria.

Cap. 3, Le Journal: Les microcrédits

Donc, le crapaud, il va falloir beaucoup plus de temps pour le monter.

So for the squat armchair, it will take much longer to put it together

Cap. 37, Le Tapissier: L’artisan et son travail

Speaking of direct objects, it’s good to know what to do with monter in the past tense (passé composé). Monter is one of the few verbs that usually takes the auxiliary être in the passé composé instead of avoir:

Joanna est montée à l’échelle. 

Joanna climbed the ladder.

But when monter takes a direct object and becomes transitive, it does take avoir:

Nous avons monté une pièce.

We staged a play.

The passé composé is a very tricky aspect of French grammar. You can find a detailed introduction to it here.

This lesson just dips its toe into the verb’s numerous possibilities: you can also monter un film (edit a film), monter à cheval (ride a horse), monter un complot (hatch a plot), monter au combat (go to battle), monter des blancs d’œufs (whisk egg whites), and much more!

You can find a comprehensive list of monter's meanings on this site.

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Tu peux y arriver!

In this lesson, we’ll focus on the verb arriver, which has four different but equally common meanings. As you might guess, arriver is cognate with the English word “arrive,” which is the first meaning of the word:

On arrive au square de l’Opéra Louis Jouvet, que je trouve très joli aussi.

We arrive at the Opéra Louis Jouvet Square, which I also find very pretty.

Cap. 33, Mon Lieu Préféré: Place Édouard VII 

Just as “arrive” doesn’t only refer to reaching a specific location (you can “arrive at” a solution, for example), arriver can also mean “to manage” or “succeed”:

On arrive enfin à se mettre d’accord.

We manage finally to come to an agreement.

Cap. 18, Rémy de Bores: Auteur

The expression y arriver specifically means “to make it” or “do it”:

Pour sortir des toilettes, c’est vraiment extrêmement étroit et avec le fauteuil, on y arrive....

To come out of the restroom, it’s really extremely narrow and you can do it with the wheelchair....

Cap. 18, Le Journal: Manifestation des paralysés 

And if someone is waiting for you and you’re on your way, you can use arriver to let them know that you’re coming (or arriving):

Dépêche-toi, Michel, je suis en retard! -Oui, j’arrive!

Hurry up, Michel, I’m late! -Yes, I’m coming

Car Ivan arrive; le cyclone progresse à trente kilomètres / heure.

Because Ivan is coming; the cyclone is moving at thirty kilometers per hour.

Cap. 11, Le Journal: La Martinique

The final meaning of arriver is “to happen.” In this sense, it is synonymous with the verb se passer:

Ce qui ne m’était pas arrivé depuis six ans

Which had not happened to me for six years

Cap. 24, Voyage en France: La Normandie – Cabourg

Qu’est-ce qui se passe?

What’s happening

There is also the expression il arrive que... (it happens that...), which is usually translated as “sometimes”:

Il arrive que les rêves se réalisent.

Sometimes dreams come true.

Note that il arrive que... takes the subjunctive.

So whether someone or something is arriving, succeeding, coming, or happening, you can cover a lot of ground with the verb arriver. See if you can come up with sentences for each of its meanings! 

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"Faire" + Infinitive: Causing Something to Happen

There's a simple French construction you can use when you're talking about getting someone to do something: faire ("to make" or "to do") + infinitive. It may even be easier than actually getting them to do it!

The construction is known as the causative, and as its name suggests, it's used whenever the subject is causing something to happen. Just put faire in front of whatever action you want someone to do:

On essaie juste de se défouler et de faire rire l'autre

They just try to unwind and to make each other laugh.

Cap. 5, Le Journal: Les effets bénéfiques du rire!

"Faire + infinitive" is especially useful when you're having someone perform a service:

Henri Quatre... décida de faire construire une place en l'honneur du Dauphin, la place Dauphine

Henry the Fourth... decided to have a square built in honor of the Dauphin, the Place Dauphine

Cap. 17-18, Voyage dans Paris: Ponts de Paris

Je vais faire réparer mon ordinateur.

I'm going to get my computer fixed.  

Incidentally, if you're talking about making someone or something an adjective, the construction to use is rendre ("to make" or "to render") + adjective (never "faire + adjective"):

Ce cadeau va rendre mon ami heureux.

This gift will make my friend happy

Like most verbal constructions, "faire + infinitive" can also become reflexive. In this case, the subject is being made to do something (not making someone else do it). Of course, being made to do something isn't always a good thing:

Je me suis fait voler mon sac.

I had my bag stolen

Je me suis retrouvé en train de me faire réveiller

I found myself being awakened

Cap. 10, Le Journal: Les relations franco-gabonaises

Il faut se faire entendre, hein.

You have to be heard, you know.

Cap. 57, Manif du mois: Fukushima plus jamais ça

Me faire réveiller and se faire entendre could be translated more literally as "having myself be awakened" and "make oneself be heard."

The reflexive form of "faire + infinitive" can also be used to describe something that you have someone do for you or to you:

Je me fais livrer mon dîner chaque nuit.

I have my dinner delivered to me every night. 

On peut aller se faire faire des massages.

You can go have a massage.

Cap. 25, Le Journal: iDTGV - Part 1

There's no typo in that last example—the second faire is just the infinitive part of the "faire + infinitive" construction. Without it, you would have on peut aller se faire des massages, or "you can go give yourself a massage," which isn't nearly as luxurious. 

Now that you know all this, you can sit back and have a French person build a square in your honor. You deserve it! 

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Chez moi, c'est chez toi!

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

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

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

Cap. 11, Alex Terrier: Le musicien et son jazz 

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

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

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

Cap. 23, Le Journal: Le baccalauréat - Part 1 

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

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

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

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

Cap. 1, Fanny parle des saisons: La Bouffe 

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

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

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

Cap. 2, F&F Pizza: Chez F&F - Part 1 

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

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

Cap. 10, Micro-Trottoirs: Art ou science? 

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

On se sentait absolument chez nous.

We felt right at home.

Cap. 22, Les Nubians: Le multiculturalisme 

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

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

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

Cap. 53, Alphabétisation: des filles au Sénégal

Les pâtes sont très populaires chez les Italiens.

Pasta is very popular among Italians

Il y a beaucoup de figures bizarres chez Salvador Dalí.

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

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

 

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Three "Faux Amis"

Take a look at these three words: éventuellement, actuellement, forcément. If you read one of our previous lessons, you would probably guess that these words are all adverbs. And you would be right! You might also guess that they mean "eventually," "actually," and "forcefully." No such luck this time. These words are all false cognates (or faux amis, literally "false friends"), which are words that look similar in two languages but mean different things. French and English share too many faux amis to include in one lesson, so for now we'll focus on these three deceptive adverbs.

Éventuellement is synonymous with possiblement, which means "possibly" (no false friends there!). It can also be more specifically translated as "when necessary" or "if needed." 

Éventuellement dans... dans telle ou telle de... situation...

Possibly, in... in such and such a... situation...

Cap. 19, Actu Vingtième: La burqa 

Aujourd'hui il y a dix-sept médicaments disponibles, utilisés éventuellement en combinaison.

Today there are seventeen medications available, sometimes used in combination.

Cap. 17, Le Journal: Le sida

"Eventually" is usually translated as finalement (finally) or tôt ou tard (sooner or later):

J'ai décidé finalement de ne pas aller à la fête.

I eventually decided not to go to the party. 

Nous y arriverons tôt ou tard

We'll get there eventually

Our second adverb, actuellement, is not "actually," but "currently" or "presently": 

Actuellement sans travail, ils résident aujourd'hui près de Saintes, en France....

Currently unemployed, they now live near Saintes, in France....

Cap. 3, Le Journal: Les Français de Côte d'Ivoire

"Actually" in French is en fait (in fact):

Et... pour imaginer le texte, en fait j'ai eu une vision dans ma tête.

And... to imagine the lyrics, actually I had a vision in my head.

Cap. 16, Melissa Mars: On "Army of Love"

And in case this wasn't complicated enough, "currently" has a faux ami of its own: couramment (fluently).

Nicole parle couramment cinq langues.

Nicole speaks five languages fluently

Finally, forcément means "necessarily" or "inevitably." "Forcefully" is simply avec force or avec vigueur:

Je l'aime bien, mais... enfin, ce n'est pas forcément le meilleur qui soit....

I like him all right, but... well, he's not necessarily the best there is....

Cap. 14, Interviews à Central Park: Discussion politique

This one actually makes sense if you break up the word. Like many adverbs, forcément is made up of an adjective (forcé) plus the ending -ment, which corresponds to the English adverbial ending -ly. Forcé(e) means "forced," so forcément literally means "forcedly" or "done under force," i.e., "necessarily."

Actuellement and éventuellement are also made up of an adjective plus -ment, and their adjectives are also false cognates: actuel(le) means "current" (not "actual") and éventuel(le) means "possible" (not "eventual"). These words have noun forms as well: les actualités are the news or current events, and une éventualité is a possibility. (Interestingly, éventualité is a cognate of "eventuality," another word for "possibility.") 

English and French share so many faux amis that there are entire books dedicated to the subject. But if you're not itching to memorize them all right away, you can learn why there are so many of them in this article

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Au revoir, mademoiselle

Well, it's official. French Prime Minister François Fillon has declared that the title mademoiselle (Miss) will no longer be included on any government forms or documents. The decision comes after months of campaigning by two French feminist groups, Osez le féminisme! (Dare To Be Feminist!) and Les Chiennes de garde (The Watchdogs), who argue that the term places an unfair emphasis on a woman's marital status. Mademoiselle literally means "my young lady" (ma + demoiselle), just as madame comes from "my lady" and monsieur "my lord." Monsieur has long been used to identify both single and married men, as the archaic male equivalent of mademoiselle, mon damoiseau, never became an honorific title. Now madame will be used for all women, whether single or married, and is thus best translated as "Ms." instead of "Mrs."   

The Prime Minister's order will also replace nom de jeune fille (maiden name) and nom patronymique (patronymic) with nom de famille (family name), and nom d'époux/nom d'épouse (married name) with nom d'usage (used name). 
 
Like "Ms." and "Mr." in English, madame and monsieur are usually abbreviated and capitalized when preceding a name:
 
Mes professeurs préférés sont Mme Fournier et M. Martin.
My favorite teachers are Ms. Fournier and Mr. Martin.
 
Note that there is no period after Mme, but there is one after M. (The abbreviation for mademoiselle, Mlle, also has no period.)
 
You can use madame and monsieur by themselves to address a person as "ma'am" or "sir":
 
Madame, qu'est-ce que vous avez préparé, vous?
Ma'am, what about you, what did you prepare?
 
Ne riez pas, monsieur, c'est très sérieux.
Do not laugh, sir, it's quite serious.
 
Madame and monsieur are used quite a bit more often in French than "ma'am" or "sir" in English. When you enter a shop, for example, you’re more likely to hear Bonjour, madame/monsieur! rather than just Bonjour
 
When referring to a third person, madame and monsieur can also be used for "lady" and "gentleman": 
 
Non, c'est madame qui a préparé le riz.
No, it's the lady who prepared the rice.
 
Y a un beau monsieur là de quatre-vingt-treize ans qui veut vous inviter, hein!
There's a handsome ninety-three-year-old gentleman here who wants to invite you, you know!
 
Sometimes, you might see madame, monsieur, and mademoiselle in the plural (mesdames, messieurs, mesdemoiselles), especially when someone or something is being introduced:
 
Mesdames et messieurs, sans plus tarder, voici Hugo Bonneville.
Ladies and gentlemen, without further delay, here is Hugo Bonneville.
 
Monsieur le Premier Ministre (Mr. Prime Minister) may have banned mademoiselle from official use, but that probably won't cause the singer Mademoiselle K to change her stage name. You can watch the video for her song Me taire te plaire (Keeping Quiet to Please You), featuring Zazie, right here on Yabla French. 
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Une poignée de dollars: French Collective Nouns

A collective noun (nom collectif) is a singular noun that represents a group of objects or people. Some French examples include une série (a series), une poignée (a handful or fistful), un tas (a pile), une foule (a crowd), and, of course, un groupe (a group). Although collective nouns can stand alone in a sentence, they are often followed by a complement (a group of something). The tricky part about using collective nouns is determining whether the verb should agree with the collective noun (and be singular) or with its complement (and be plural).

The agreement all depends on which of the two (the collective or its individual parts) is being emphasized. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at two different ways of using the word poignée:

Une poignée d'humains s'est emparée d'un pouvoir qui les dépasse eux-mêmes.
A handful of people has taken over a power beyond their control.
Cap. 89-90, Actus de Quartier: Manif anti-nucléaire à Bastille

Une poignée de nationalistes saluaient la naissance tant espérée.
A handful of nationalists were greeting the much hoped-for birth.
Cap. 9, Le Journal: Un petit prince japonais

In the first example, the singular verb agrees with the collective noun (poignée) because the group of people as a whole has taken over. In the second example, the plural verb agrees with the complement (nationalistes) because the emphasis is on the individual nationalists who are giving the greeting. So if you’re talking about what a group of things does as a single entity, you use a singular verb. But if you’re talking about what the things in the group do themselves, as individuals, you use a plural verb.

Sometimes, the word preceding the collective noun can indicate whether the verb is singular or plural. If the noun is preceded by a definite article (le, la) or a demonstrative (ce, cet, cette) or possessive (mon, ton, etc.) pronoun, the verb will often agree with the collective noun and be singular:

Cet ensemble d'obstacles sera difficile à surmonter.
This group of obstacles will be difficult to overcome.

If the noun is preceded by an indefinite article (un, une), the verb will often be plural and agree with the complement:

Un ensemble de personnes marchent dans la rue.
A group of people are walking in the street.

But many times, the decision to make the verb agree with the collective noun or its complement all boils down to personal preference or the speaker’s intention. This is true of number words like une douzaine (a dozen), une quinzaine (around fifteen), and une vingtaine (around twenty), which can take either a singular or a plural verb:

Une centaine d’exilés tibétains ont tenté d’occuper l’ambassade de Chine à New Delhi
About a hundred Tibetan exiles have tried to occupy the Chinese embassy in New Delhi
Cap. 2, Le Journal: Manifestations au Tibet

Une douzaine d'huîtres coûte dix euros.
A dozen oysters costs ten euros.

You can see our lesson on words like centaine and douzaine here.

There’s no room for personal preference when it comes to the words la plupart (most), la majorité (the majority), and une quantité (a lot). These always take a plural verb:

La plupart des gens à Miami parlent l’espagnol, pour vous dire
Most people speak Spanish in Miami, you know
Cap. 22, Fred et Miami Catamarans: Fred et sa Vie à Miami

Notre équipe de traducteurs chez Yabla vous souhaite une multitude de succès! (Our translating team at Yabla wishes you a multitude of success!)

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Inversion: When Subjects and Verbs Switch Places

The normal word order in both French and English is "subject + verb," as in il dit (he says). But in certain situations, such as asking questions and using quotations, it is very common in French to switch the order to "verb + subject": dit-il. This is common in English as well: "They are going to the concert" versus "Are they going to the concert?" This switch from "subject + verb" to "verb + subject" is known as inversion.

In French, most instances of inversion occur between pronouns and verbs. When a pronoun and its verb are inverted, the two must be joined with a hyphen:

Eh bien, mon garçon, dis-moi, que sais-tu?

Well, my boy, tell me, what do you know?

Caption 10, Il était une fois... L’Homme: 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 5

"Non, je ne veux pas sortir avec toi", répond-elle.

"No, I don’t want to go out with you," she responds.

When inverting a third-person pronoun (il, elle, on, ils, elles) and verb, you must pronounce the two with a liaison (see our lesson on liaison here). Thus we have "dit-Til," "répond-Telle," "est-Til," and so on.

When a third-person singular verb does not end in a t or d, you must insert a -t- between the inverted pronoun and verb. This inserted -t- does not have any meaning by itself; its sole purpose is to create the liaison:

A-t-il peur du noir?

Is he afraid of the dark?

Combien d’années, combien de siècles faudra-t-il, avant que ne se retrouvent pareilles constellations?

How many years, how many centuries will be needed before such constellations can be found again?

Captions 3-4, Il était une fois...: L’Homme - Part 6

For third-person plural verbs, the final t (which is usually silent) is pronounced in inversion:

ils donnent ("they give," pronounced like il donne)

donnent-ils (pronounced "donne-Tils")

In other words, all inverted third-person pronouns must be preceded by a t sound.

The first-person pronoun je is rarely inverted, except in interrogative constructions such as puis-je... (may I...), dois-je... (must I...), and suis-je... (am I...).

Although not as frequently as pronouns, nouns can also be inverted with their verbs, as the above example demonstrates (se retrouvent pareilles constellations). In this case, a hyphen is not required:

"Non, je ne veux pas sortir avec toi", répond Christine.

"No, I don’t want to go out with you," Christine responds.

A common way to ask questions in French is to use a "double subject," in which a noun is followed by an inverted verb and pronoun. This can be seen in the title of the video Alsace 20: Pourquoi le bio est-il plus cher? (Why is organic more expensive?) and in this caption:

L’art, est-il moins nécessaire que la science?

Is art less necessary than science?

Caption 3, Micro-Trottoirs: Art ou science?

Although the inversion method is a bit more concise, these two questions could easily be rephrased with est-ce que:

Pourquoi est-ce que le bio est plus cher?

Est-ce que l’art est moins nécessaire que la science?

To learn more about asking questions in French, including some notes on inversion, see this page

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Si, Si, Si!

Si is a little French word that mainly corresponds to three little English words: "if," "so," and "yes." Although these are three very different words, it’s usually easy to tell which one si is referring to in context. So let’s see what si can do!                

Most of the time, you’ll probably hear si used to mean "if," as Bertrand Pierre uses it in his emotional song Si vous n’avez rien à me dire (with text by Victor Hugo, of Les Misérables fame): 

Si vous n'avez rien à me dire / Pourquoi venir auprès de moi?

If you have nothing to say to me / Why come up to me?

Captions 1-2, Bertrand Pierre: Si vous n'avez rien à me dire 

Note that when si meaning "if" is followed by il ("he" or "it") or ils ("they," masculine), it is contracted to s'. This is perhaps most commonly seen in the expression for "please," s’il vous plaît (formal) or s’il te plaît (informal), which literally translates to "if it pleases you."

Si can also be used to indicate a contrast or opposition, in which case it means "whereas":                   

Si Émilie aime la musique rock, Henri la déteste.

Whereas Émilie loves rock music, Henri hates it. 

Since si and "so" look quite similar, it shouldn’t be too hard to remember this meaning of the word. Just keep in mind that si refers to the adverb "so" (as in "so happy"), not to "so" as a conjunction (as in "move so I can see"):

Pourquoi si long et pourquoi si las, tenir à bout de bras?

Why so long and why so weary, to hold at arm's length?

Caption 26, Dahlia: Contre courant  

One of the first words you learn in French is the word for "yes," oui, but sometimes si can also mean "yes" (as it does in Spanish and Italian). However, si only means "yes" in a very specific context: when someone is contradicting a negative question or statement. In case that sounds kind of convoluted, here's an example:       

Non! Il n'est pas bien, Sarkozy! -Si, si, si. -Si, il est bien.

No! He's not good, Sarkozy! -Yes, yes, yes. -Yes, he's good.

Captions 15-17, Interviews à Central Park: Discussion politique

If oui were used here instead of si, the speaker would just be confirming the negative statement ("Yes, Sarkozy is not good"). On the other hand, si takes a negative proposition ("He's not good, Sarkozy!") and turns it into a positive one ("Yes, he's good"). This is why it can come in very handy when you want to correct someone or express a contrary opinion. 

To conclude, here are two expressions with si that you might find useful: si ça se trouve... ("maybe" or "it could be the case that") and si ce n'est que... (apart from the fact that):

Si ça se trouve, Georges n'a jamais terminé ses études.

It could be that Georges never finished school.

Nous n'avons rien en commun, si ce n'est que nous sommes tous les deux français. 

We have nothing in common apart from the fact that we are both French. 

This tiny word is probably one of the most versatile in the French language. So now that you know all about si, here's a challenge for you: try writing a two-sentence dialogue using as many meanings of the word as you can. Just use this lesson as a guide, and it'll be easier than you think! 

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See here, see there!

Voilà is a very common word in French, and depending on the context, it can take a number of different meanings, the most general of which is "there/here it is." In grammatical terms, voilà is categorized as a presentative, or a word that is used to introduce something. Voilà comes from the imperative phrase vois là (see there), which makes the presentative nature of the word even more apparent. At its most basic, voilà is used to present a specific object or person

Donc voilà mon super falafel, avec de l’aubergine grillée....

So here is my super falafel, with grilled eggplant....

Caption 8, Mon Lieu Préféré: Rue des Rosiers - Part 2     

Ah! Ben tiens, voilà Socrate.

Oh! Well look, here comes Socrates.

Caption 8, Il était une fois... L’Homme: 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 5

In these two examples, we see how voilà can be used to direct our attention to both an object (Caroline's "super falafel") and a person (Socrates). But when voilà isn't literally presenting us with something, it is often used as a way of emphasizing a statement:

La poésie c'est comme l'amour: c'est le plus court chemin entre deux êtres. Voilà.

Poetry is like love: it's the shortest path between two people. There.

Caption 34, Marché de la Poésie: Des poètes en tout genre

In a sense, you could say that voilà is "presenting" us here with the metaphor on poetry that precedes it. But on a slightly less articulate note, when voilà is used for emphasis, it often acts as a sort of filler word, used when someone wants to end one topic and move on to another:

Euh... voilà. Après, l'inspiration, elle... elle vient de plein de sources diverses et variées.

Uh... there you are. Well, inspiration, it... it comes from a lot of different and varied sources.

Caption 45, Niko de La Faye: "Visages" - Part 2

You can also use voilà to affirm another person's statement:

Voilà, vous pouvez même voir le petit bateau en photo, euh... ici.

That's right, you can even see the little boat in the picture, uh... here.

Caption 50, Arles: Le marché d'Arles

Or you can use it to express a period of time:

Voilà près de sept ans que les professionnels du bois attendaient ça.

For nearly seven years, the lumber business has been waiting for this.

Caption 4, Le Journal: Firewood

Because voilà can be used in so many different situations, it is often tricky to translate ("there," "here," "there you go," "there you have it," "that's it," "there you are," and so on). And since no English word can really capture voilà's breadth of meaning, sometimes it's best not to translate it at all. In fact, the difficulty of translating voilà might be why it's become an (often humorous) English exclamation as well.

Now let's take a look at voilà's sister word, voici (from vois ici, "see here"). Like voilà, voici is also a presentative, but whereas voilà can either mean "there it is" or "here it is," voici usually just means "here it is." And unlike voilà, voici isn't used for emphatic or filler purposes, but almost exclusively for introducing or presenting a specific person or thing:

Nous voici devant une des quatre Statues de la Liberté que l'on peut trouver dans la ville de Paris.

Here we are in front of one of the four Statues of Liberty that you can find in the city of Paris.

Caption 23, Voyage dans Paris: Jardin du Luxembourg

You can get a better sense of the difference between voici and voilà when they are both used in the same sentence:

Voici ma maison et voilà celle de mon ami.

Here is my house and there is my friend's.

As you can see, voilà is used to point out something at a distance, whereas voici indicates something close by. The difference between voici and voilà is similar to the difference between ceci (this) and cela (that). In fact, another way of translating the sentence above would be, "this is my house and that is my friend's."

You've probably heard voilà used in English before, but voici hasn't really managed to make the crossover. Besides the fact that voilà is often hard to translate (voici is much more straightforward), this could also be because voilà often acts as a standalone phrase (Voilà!), whereas voici generally doesn't. But don't underestimate a good voici when speaking French: if you want people to notice something that's right in front of them, it's the word to use!

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Bienvenue

In this lesson, we'll take a look at some of the different ways of welcoming people in French, all involving the word bienvenue (welcome).

 

In English, you usually welcome people to a particular place: “welcome to my house,” “welcome to New York,” and so on. In French, however, any number of prepositions can follow bienvenue, depending on their object:

 

Bonjour et bienvenue sur Yabla.

Hello and welcome to Yabla.

Cap. 1, Yabla à Nancy: Le masculin et le féminin

Bienvenue dans la plus chic des stations alpines, Gstaad.

Welcome to the most fashionable of the Alpine ski resorts, Gstaad.

Cap. 3, Le Journal: Gstaad 

Bienvenue au théâtre, mes amis!

Welcome to the theater, my friends!

Cap. 18, Il était une fois... L’Homme: 6. Le siècle de Périclès – Part 2 

 

The choice of preposition specifies the kind of place where you are being welcomed. In the first example, Yabla is a website, and if you are on a website, you are sur un site web. So here you are literally being welcomed “onto” the website. In the second example, you are being welcomed “into” a ski resort, dans une station alpine. And in the third example, you are being welcomed to the theater: au théâtre.

 

Another way to welcome someone in French is with the expression être le bienvenu / la bienvenue / les bienvenus / les bienvenues (to be welcome):

 

Que les visiteurs soient les bienvenus sous mon toit.

May visitors be welcome under my roof.

Cap. 9, Il était une fois... L’Homme: 6. Le siècle de Périclès – Part 3

Ben, vous êtes les bienvenus à découvrir de visu...

So, everyone is welcome to come in and see with their own eyes...

Cap. 28, Galerie “Art Up Déco”: La galerie d’art

 

Literally translated, the expression vous êtes les bienvenus means something like, “you are the welcome ones.” 

 

Note that bienvenue used as a greeting (either alone or at the beginning of a sentence) is a feminine noun, short for je vous souhaite la bienvenue (literally, “I wish you welcome”). Therefore, its spelling doesn’t change. On the other hand, the bienvenu/e/s after être le/la/les is an adjective used as a noun that must agree with its subject. So you would write, Vous êtes les bienvenus/bienvenues en France, but not, Bienvenus/Bienvenues en France! The correct form would be: Bienvenue en France! 

 

You can also put the above expression in the imperative form:

 

Soyez les bienvenus chez moi.

Welcome to my home.

 

It is also very common to see bienvenu/bienvenue used to express a wish, as in this sentence:

 

Vos suggestions seraient les bienvenues

Your suggestions would be welcome.

 

And if you’re in Quebec, you’ll hear bienvenue used by itself to mean “you’re welcome.” So when you say merci (thank you) to a French person, he or she will respond with de rien or je vous en prie. But a French Canadian will answer, Bienvenue!

 

As you can see, you have a lot of options with this one elementary word. But no matter how you use it, you’ll definitely make people feel welcome!

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Either/Or

There are two ways of saying "either... or..." in French, and they both involve repeating one word. The first is the construction soit... soit.... Soit is a conjunction that marks a set of alternatives, and it is also spelled the same as the third-person present subjunctive form of the verb être (to be):  

Les médecins étaient soit morts, soit partis.

The doctors were either dead or gone.

Cap. 4, TV8 Mont Blanc: De retour du Haïti

A similar construction with soit is que ce soit... que ce soit..., which can best be translated as "be it... or...":  

que ce soit déposer dans le sable, que ce soit déposer dans la neige....

be it landing on sand, or on snow....

Cap. 25, Le Journal: École de pilotage

The second way of saying "either... or..." is ou... ou.... Ou by itself just means "or" (not to be confused with , "where"), but when it is repeated to describe two or more choices or alternatives, the first ou means "either":

Ou vous pouvez le laisser tout simplement sur la plage, ou vous en servir comme cendrier.

You could either simply leave it on the beach or you could use it as an ashtray.

Cap. 15, Jean-Marc: La plage - Part 1

Sometimes, bien can be added to ou to emphasize the distinction:

Ou bien il est très heureux, ou bien il est misérable. 

Either he's very happy or he's miserable.    

Note that you will often see a comma separating the alternatives soit... soit... and ou... ou... (soit morts, soit partis). 

Now that we've learned how to say "either... or...," we'll move on to its opposite, "neither... nor...." There is only one way to say this in French: ni... ni....

Ni vu ni connu

Neither seen nor known [on the sly]

When using ni... ni... with verb phrases, add a ne in front of the verb:

Nous ne sommes ni les premiers, ni les derniers.

We are neither the first nor the last.

Cap. 3, La Conspiration d’Orion: Conspiration 2/4 - Part 2

Sometimes, you might just find a single ni:

Cette femme habite un monde sans foi ni loi...              

This woman inhabits a world without faith or law...            

Cap. 19, Le Journal: Milady 

So now, if you're ever asked to recite the unofficial creed of the US Postal Service in French, you won't hesitate to say:

"Ni la neige, ni la pluie, ni la chaleur, ni la nuit n'empêchent de fournir leur carrière avec toute la célérité possible".

"Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." 

(The creed is actually a line from Herodotus.)

 

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Des, Dés, Dès

In a previous lesson, we introduced a trio of words that are spelled the same except for their accent marks: côté, côte, and cote. We will examine a similar trio in this lesson: des, dés, and dès

You might already know that des is a contraction of de and les. It is always followed by a plural noun, and can be used as a preposition to mean "of," "from," or "by," or as an article to mean "some" or "a few." Note that when des is used as an article, it is often left untranslated.

Ce monde des images, habité par les images, dans les images

This world of images, inhabited by images, in the images

Cap. 24, Projet "Polygon": PIIMS et la République des Images

Des gens super beaux avec des... peaux super lisses

Really beautiful people with... really smooth skin

Cap. 31, Niko de la Faye: "Visages" - Part 1

When you place an acute accent on the e of des, you get the French word for "dice": les dés (le dé in the singular). In the kitchen, you might hear the expression couper en dés (to dice). And if you're sewing by hand, it might be helpful to use un dé à coudre (a thimble; literally, a "sewing dice"). 

Le backgammon se joue avec des dés.

Backgammon is played with dice

With a grave accent, des becomes dès, a preposition meaning "starting from," "as early as," or "since." Here are some examples of this versatile little word from our video library: 

Près de trois cent mille personnes venues dès l'aube applaudir les héros des océans

Nearly three hundred thousand people who came as early as dawn to applaud the heroes of the oceans

Cap. 14, Le Journal: Les navigateurs du Vendée Globe - Part 1

Et j'ai toujours eu, euh... dès les, les premières fois où j'ai découvert...

And I've always, uh... ever since I first discovered...

Cap. 19, Manu le Malin: Album Biomecanik III - Part 1

Les épreuves commencent dès demain.

The exams begin as early as tomorrow. 

Cap. 23, Le Journal: Le baccalauréat - Part 2

Although dès is frequently used on its own, you'll also sometimes see it coupled with another word, notably in the expressions dès que (as soon as, whenever) and dès lors (from then on, since then, consequently, therefore):

Tout de suite, en fait dès que je suis arrivée ici, euh...

Right away, in fact as soon as I arrived here, uh...

Cap. 6, Alsace 20: Mangez bien, mangez alsacien!

Dès lors, elle n'est jamais retournée à la maison.

From then on, she never returned home.

Now that you're familiar with the difference between des, dés, and dès, let's see if you can decipher this sneaky little sentence:

Le magicien a su piper des dés dès l'âge de cinq ans. 

(The magician knew how to load dice from the age of five.)

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Le rez-de-chaussée

Take a look at the following captions and see if you notice anything unusual:

Et si vous regardez bien au deuxième étage, il y a une magnifique frise

And if you look closely at the third floor, there is a magnificent frieze

Caption 14, Voyage dans Paris: Butte Montmartre

Donc vous voyez la petite lumière rouge en... au premier étage?

So do you see the little red light in... on the second floor?          

Caption 31, Mon Lieu Préféré: Rue des Rosiers - Part 1

Although it might seem like we’ve made some errors in our translations, the number discrepancy you see is actually completely accurate. This is because the floors of French buildings are not numbered in the same way that American floors are.

As you can see, a given French floor is always one number lower than a given American floor: le deuxième étage corresponds to the third floor, not the second, and le dix-huitième étage corresponds to the nineteenth floor, not the eighteenth.

The explanation for this is simple: the French (and most other Europeans) don’t count the ground floor of a building when numbering its stories, whereas Americans do. The French word for "ground floor" is rez-de-chaussée, and the floor above le rez-de-chaussée is le premier étage (the second floor). In American English, "ground floor" and "first floor" are generally synonymous and thus can both be used for rez-de-chaussée. So when you’re in a French elevator, instead of seeing a button marked "G" for "ground floor," you’ll see one marked "RC" for rez-de-chaussée.

Note, however, that French-Canadian speakers have adopted the US system, so you won't have to worry about subtracting floor numbers when you're in Quebec (you can learn some more about Canadian French in this lesson). You'll notice this when listening to Annie Chartrand, a French-Canadian musician, describe her childhood home:

J'habitais au deuxième étage avec mes parents et au premier étage, c'était un bar taverne....

I lived on the second floor with my parents and on the first floor, there was a bar-tavern....

Captions 21-22: Annie Chartrand: Sa musique

Here is a little table to review:

 In France  In the U.S.  In Quebec

 le rez-de-chaussée       

 first floor         

 le rez-de-chaussée/le premier étage

 le premier étage

 second floor

 le deuxième étage

 le deuxième étage

 third floor

 le troisième étage

Therefore, a three-story house in the US (first floor + second floor + third floor) is the same as une maison à deux étages in France (rez-de-chaussée + premier étage + deuxième étage) and une maison à trois étages in Quebec (rez-de-chaussée/premier étage + deuxième étage + troisième étage)

To make this a bit easier, you could take the word étage to mean specifically an upstairs floor in France. Indeed, one way of saying "upstairs" in French is à l’étage (the other way is en haut, while "downstairs" is en bas). In that case, le premier étage could be translated more precisely as "the first upstairs floor," i.e., the second floor.

A side note: To remember the word rez-de-chaussée, a bit of etymology might be useful. Une chaussée is another word for "road," and rez is Old French for ras, meaning "flat" or "level" (think of the word "razor"). The ground floor is called le rez-de-chaussée in French because it is level with the road.

And for an in-depth discussion of floor numbering around the world, see this Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storey#Numbering 

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Liaisons, Numerous and Dangerous

Let's have a listen to Cali's beautiful tune C'est quand le bonheur, paying special attention to this line:

Il paraît que vous faiblissez devant les hommes bien habillés

It appears that you swoon for well-dressed men

Caption 21, Cali: C'est quand le bonheur

Do you hear a "z" sound sneaking its way in between les and hommes, such that we hear “les-Zhommes”? You might also notice an "n" sound between bien and habillés, such that we hear “bien-Nhabillés."

What you are hearing are examples of liaison, which often happens when the (usually silent) final consonant of one word can be heard pronounced at the beginning of the following word, if the following word begins with a vowel or a mute h (learn more about the distinction between “mute h” and “aspirated hhere).  

In most cases, the sound produced by liaison is very straightforward. In the Cali song, for example, the n of bien tacks right onto habillés. Simple! As is the first liaison we hear in the next line of the song:

Je suis tendu, c'est aujourd'hui que je viens vous offrir ma vie

I am tense, today is the day I am coming to offer you my life

Caption 22, Cali: C'est quand le bonheur

We hear a liaison in "c’est-Taujourd’hui." The final consonant of c'est, t (which we usually don't hear in French), binds with the vowel sound at the beginning of aujourd'hui.

But liaison doesn't always result in the sound you might expect. The next liaison in the line is in vous offrir. As in the case of les hommes, we have a preceding word that ends in an s (generally not pronounced in French) rendering a "z" sound that binds to the next "vowel-starting" word, resulting in "vous-Zoffrir." 

A final s is not the only consonant that renders a "z" sound in liaison; the same is true for a word ending in -x. Let’s return to Cali and his romantic vieux amants (with our handkerchiefs close by):

Car qui mieux que ces vieux amants sait qu'on perd l'amour..

Because who knows better than those old lovers that we lose love...

Caption 34, Cali: C'est quand le bonheur

As you can hear, Cali is singing of "vieux-Zamants"; the final x in vieux, usually silent, renders a "z" sound at the beginning of amants.  

Another case where a consonant produces an unexpected sound in liaison involves words ending in -d. Here, the liaison carries over not as a "d" sound, but a "t" sound.

Here's an example concerning Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer who was the basis for Nicolas Cage's character in the movie Lord of War:

L'un des hommes les plus recherchés au monde, finalement arrêté dans un grand hôtel de Bangkok...        

One of the most sought after men in the world, finally arrested in a big hotel in Bangkok...

Caption 5-6, Le Journal: Viktor Bout

Did you catch where Bout was arrested? Not in a "grand-Dhôtel," but a "grand-Thôtel."

As you expose yourself to more authentic French, you will become accustomed to liaison and start to get a feel for where it does, and doesn't, belong. It's a tough subject to get a full handle on, and it's not uncommon to hear native French speakers adding a liaison where it "technically" shouldn't exist, or vice versa. 

Here is an interesting article on liaison from french.about.com:

http://french.about.com/library/pronunciation/bl-liaisons-L.htm

And another, from the Académie Française:

http://www.academie-francaise.fr/langue/questions.html#liaisons

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