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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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Making Adverbs from Adjectives

Adverbs are words that describe how something is done. They can modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. In a previous lesson, we saw what happens when adverbs and adjectives get cozy with each other in the same sentence. Now we'll explore what happens when they get even cozier—when an adverb is formed from an adjective.

In English, adverbs often end in -ly: “comfortably,” “unfortunately,” “obviously,” etc. Likewise, many French adverbs end in -ment: confortablement (comfortably), malheureusement (unfortunately), évidemment (obviously).

Here’s an example of a French adverb in action, describing one of fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld’s collections: 

Une petite merveille de cohérence, de charme et de légèreté où la cliente perd facilement vingt ans.

A little treasure of coherency, charm, and lightness in which the wearer easily loses twenty years.

Caption 2, Le Journal: Défilé de mode - Part 3 

So what's the one thing that English -ly adverbs and French -ment adverbs have in common? You guessed it—they all come from adjectives! Just take away the -ly and the -ment to get “unfortunate” (malheureuse), “easy” (facile), and “obvious” (évident).

However, this formula is a bit more complicated in French than in English. Facilement and confortablement can be neatly broken down into their separate components: the adjectives facile and confortable plus the ending -ment. But why do we have malheureusement and not "malheureuxment"? (Malheureux is the masculine form of malheureuse.) And why évidemment instead of "évidentment"? 

The answer: French has a small set of rules for determining how to turn an adjective into an adverb. Once you learn them, you'll be able to spot the adverbs in any sentence effortlessly. 

First take the masculine form of the adjective:

1. If the adjective ends in a vowel, simply add -ment

We just saw some examples of this with facile + ment = facilement and confortable + ment = confortablement. Other common examples include:

vrai            → vraiment (true → truly)

probable  → probablement (probable → probably)

spontanéspontanément (spontaneous → spontaneously)

absolu      → absolument (absolute → absolutely)

2. If the adjective ends in a consonant, add -ment to the feminine form of the adjective. 

This is the case of malheureux/malheureusement. You’ll also see this rule at work in words such as:

religieuxreligieusement (religious → religiously) 

direct     → directement (direct → directly)

réel        → réellement (real → really) 

léger      → légèrement (light → lightly)

massif    → massivement (massive → massively)

3. If the adjective ends in -ant or -ent, replace the ending with -amment or -emment, respectively.

So even though évident ends in a consonant, its adverbial form is not "évidentement," but évidemment. Likewise, you have:

constant   → constamment (constant → constantly)

récent       → récemment (recent → recently)

apparent  → apparemment (apparent → apparently) 

brillant      → brillamment (brilliant → brilliantly)

A special note: the ending -emment has the same pronunciation as -amment. An easy way to remember this is to think of the word femme (woman), which is pronounced /fam/, not /fem/.

You can hear an example of this pronunciation in these two videos:

Ben la ville est petite et en même temps suffisamment grande pour qu’y ait à peu près tout.

Well the town is small and at the same time it’s big enough to have just about everything.

Cap. 19, Strasbourg: Les passants

Il était absolument impossible, évidemment, d’exprimer le moindre regret....

It was absolutely impossible, obviously, to express the slightest regret...

Cap. 33-34, Le Journal: Joëlle Aubron libérée

Although there are a few exceptions here and there, these are the basic rules for creating adverbs from adjectives in French. You can find a thorough list of these exceptions in this about.com article on the subject: http://french.about.com/library/weekly/aa060300m.htm

The one simple guideline underlying all three of these rules (which has no exceptions!) is that the adverbial ending -ment (or -mment) is always preceded by a vowel. So if you keep at least that in mind when constructing your adverbs, you should succeed brillamment!

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La bise

In this weather forecast for the Mont Blanc area, you'll come across a word with a very specific meteorological meaning: la bise. Translated as "north wind," la bise is more precisely a chilly wind that passes through certain areas of eastern France and Switzerland (you can find a more detailed and scientific account of this phenomenon here). Some French windows might feature un brise-bise (literally, "breaks" or "stops the north wind"), a small curtain usually made of lace that covers only a portion of the window. These are definitely more decorative than functional

On an unrelated note, une bise is also an informal way of saying "a kiss." You might hear it most often in the expression faire la bise, which refers to the customary French greeting of giving someone a peck (or more than one!) on both cheeks. This helpful article breaks down when and how to use this very common gesture: http://french.about.com/library/weekly/aa051801f.htm.

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"Ne" without a "pas"

Do you notice anything strange about the use of ne in this sentence from our video on deep-sea creatures?  

Ils vont servir de sujets d’étude aux scientifiques...  avant que leurs enseignements ne soient exploités par l’industrie. 

They will serve as test subjects for scientists...  before their lessons are exploited by industry. 

Captions 20, Le Journal: 2000 mètres sous les mers

You might be thinking that the narrator made a mistake by leaving out the pas in the phrase ne soient exploités par l’industrie. But actually, adding a pas to this sentence would completely change its meaning (and make it nonsensical). What’s going on here? The ne in this sentence is called a ne explétif (also known as ne pléonastique). Instead of negating the clause (as it does when combined with pas, plus, personne, etc.), this ne emphasizes the general feeling that the clause expresses. So the phrase ne soient exploités par l’industrie doesn’t mean “are not exploited by industry,” but something like: “are exploited by industry (which would be bad).” The ne here does not negate the phrase, but rather highlights its negative connotations.   

We find a similar case in our video about avian flu:  

Exemple, avec une petite astuce pour éviter que votre chat ne rapporte des oiseaux indésirables. 

For instance, with a little trick to keep your cat from bringing home unwanted birds.

Caption 16, Le Journal: La grippe aviaire – Part 3

As French learners, upon first glance we might be fooled into thinking there is a trick that prevents your cat from “not bringing” unwanted birds home (thus forcing him to do so), but the fact that ne is not coupled with the usual pas (nor rien, personne, plus, jamais, etc.) clues us in that this is quite likely another example of ne explétif (which it is). The ne is emphasizing the idea that we want to prevent such creatures from being brought into our parlors. This emphasis is too subtle to find a place in the English translation.  We very often find the ne explétif used after “unequal” comparisons, those in which one thing is NOT like the other. 

Have a look at this example from our video about life in the trenches during World War I:  

Ces soldats... ressemblent plus aux combattants du Premier Empire, des guerres napoléoniennes... qu’ils ne nous ressemblent... à nous. 

These soldiers... are more like fighters of the First French Empire, of the Napoleonic wars... than they are like... like us. 

Captions 5-7, Le Journal: La vie dans les tranchées 

Do you see the untranslated ne before nous ressemblent? Once again, that’s ne explétif in action.  

To continue exploring this topic, here are two great resources:  

http://www.cce.umontreal.ca/observations/ne.htm 

http://french.about.com/od/grammar/a/negation_form_2.htm  

P.S. Thanks to viewer Allen B. for asking about what this mysterious ne was doing. Great question!

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Le h aspiré

As a French learner, you have no doubt begun to see (if not been outright taught) that words that begin with vowels are treated differently than words that begin with consonants. Perhaps most obvious to the casual observer is the process known as elision, which is the contraction formed by many common words, such as je, le, la, que, ce, and de (to name only a few) when they come before words that begin with a vowel. Elision is the reason why, for example, even the biggest francophobe can be heard confidently uttering c’est la vie (that’s life!) and not ce est la vie.

Another thing that you probably know by now is that the French h is always silent. However, since French words that start with h are almost always followed by a vowel (heure, histoire, honneur, etc.), an obvious question to ask is: do we treat words that begin with h as we do words that begin with a vowel (since a vowel is the first sound that we actually hear)?

The answer is: sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t! The vast majority of French words that start with h are treated as if they start with a vowel (even though, technically, the French consider h a consonant). The French call the h at the beginning of these words an h muet (mute h). However, there is a relatively small group of "h words" that are treated as if they begin with a consonant (which they do!). The French call the h at the beginning of these words an h aspiré (aspirated h).   

Ils ont été écrits comme ça, je pense, en un quart d'heure...

They were written like that, I think, in a quarter of an hour...

Caption 5, Bertand Pierre: Victor Hugo

In the caption above, we see that singer Bertrand Pierre says en un quart d’heure, forming an elision between de and heure to create d’heure. This is because heure, like most French words that start with h, begins with an h muet; it forms elision just as words that start with a vowel do.

Maladie qui ne l’empêche nullement d’être un sportif de haut niveau

An illness which in no way keeps him from being an elite athlete

Caption 4, Le Journal: Un sportif handicapé 

On the other hand, the h in the word haut is aspiré; it is treated the same as other words that begin with a consonant. This is why we hear no elision between de and haut in the caption above. We hear three distinct words: de haut niveau, NOT d’haut niveau. (Put another way, h aspiré “prevents” the elision.)

How do we know whether an at the beginning of a word is an h muet or an h aspiré? Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing just by looking at it! H aspiré words will usually have an asterisk or an apostrophe before them in French dictionaries. Also, lists of h aspiré words have been published that can be used for reference or (gasp!) memorization.

Other than that, exposure to fluent French speakers will hopefully help you build a “native-like” feel for which words are h aspiré and which are h muet. H aspiré words tend to be of “foreign” origin (“borrowed” from another language, e.g. le hockey), but this is not always the case, and even when it is, it is not always obvious.

Another common phenomenon associated with words that begin with a vowel is known as liaison, which has to do with pronunciation changes caused by certain types of words (contingent upon the letter they end with) when they precede a word that starts with a vowel. As you might have guessed, we also hear liaison occurring with h muet words and not with h aspiré words.

Passez par chez nous, restaurant “Les Héritiers”, n'oubliez pas c'est un “apporter son vin"...

Stop by our place, “Les Héritiers” [The Heirs] restaurant, don't forget it's a “bring your own wine”...

Caption 28, Les Héritiers: Les bonnes recettes - Part 1

Do you notice that when the chef says the name of his restaurant we hear something like "les-Zhéritiers"? That “z” sound is an example of liaison. We hear something similar in les heures (the hours), les histoires (the stories), and any number of h muet words. 

In contrast, have a listen to the lovely lady from Le Mans we met one day in Manhattan’s Central Park, extolling the virtues of the fair city of New York:

Et les hamburgers sont meilleurs ici...

And the hamburgers are better here...

Caption 40, Interviews in Central Park: Différences culturelles

You will notice that we do not hear any “z” sound between les and hamburgers. This is because hamburger begins with an h aspiré—there is no liaison between the les and an h aspiré word, just as there is no liaison between the les and a word that begins with a consonant

The thing about most “rules” is that you know they will be broken! It is not terribly uncommon to hear native French speakers forming elisions and liaisons with some words that the dictionary tells us are h aspiré. For example, even though the venerable Larousse dictionary insists that hamburger is h aspiré, it is entirely possible to encounter French natives forming the elision l’hamburger, or saying perhaps un hamburger with a liaison, such that we hear it pronounced as “un-Nhamburger.”

Side note: We use the word “contraction” when describing “elisions” because our English readers are familiar with contractions such as “didn’t,” “don’t” and “wouldn’t,” and the similarities are obvious. Technically speaking, to a linguist or the like, a contraction and an elision are not exactly the same thing.

 

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Cette leçon de français, ce n'est pas de la petite bière!

Who doesn't like to quietly sip a beer? 

...s'attabler au comptoir et boire tranquillement sa bière...

...sit at the counter and quietly sip his beer...

Captions 11–12, Le Village de la Bière: Ceci n'est pas un bar!

But at the Village de la Bière, in Strasbourg, a sip is all that you are going to get, as this emporium of brew has only une licence-dégustation (tasting license). This permits them to supply you with a mere sampling of, for example, une bière brune (dark beer), une bière blonde (light-colored beer), or une bière rousse (brown ale), before you settle on the bouteille de bière (bottle of beer) that most meets your approval. (You won't find many canettes de bière or "cans of beer" in this establishment!)

Owner Alain Pesez is passionate about his calling, and he will guide you through a vast selection:

J'ai entre trois et quatre cents sortes de bières... un assortiment qui bouge, qui varie et on vend de la bière des quatre coins du monde.

I have between three and four hundred kinds of beers... a selection that changes, that varies, and we sell beer from the four corners of the world.

Captions 6–7, Le Village de la Bière: Des bières de partout

Stocking over three hundred types of beer in one single shop is no small feat! We might even say, Ce n'est pas de la petite bière! On the surface, we might read that as, "This is not a little beer!" but, in actuality, this expression means "It's no small thing/It's no small matter" or "It's really something/It's a big deal." The expression dates back to the eighteenth century, when une petite bière was a weak, poor-quality beer, created by reusing the grains from an earlier batch.

The phrase can not only imply that a matter is significant, but also that something or someone is of high caliber, of quality.

Un Nikon, c'est un très bon appareil photo. Ce n'est pas de la petite bière.

A Nikon is a very good camera. It's not a piece of junk.

These days, you might drink a high-quality bière pression (draft beer) to accompany a tarte flambée at your local Flam's:

Donc c'est tout de suite plus sympathique accompagnée d'une petite bière pression

So it's nicer right away accompanied by a small draft beer

Caption 27, Le restaurant "Flam's": Les Tartes

Bière pression originates in un baril (a barrel/keg) and flows out of le robinet (the tap) and into une chope (a mug). Of course, you might prefer un panaché with your meal: that's a very popular mixture of beer and lemonade.

There is another meaning of bière that has nothing to do with fermenting grains to create a delightful effervescent beverage. The expressions mettre quelqu'un en bière and la mise en bière both refer to placing a body into a bière or "coffin." Note that, apart from these expressions, "coffin" is usually not referred to as une bière, but rather un cercueil.

On that note, remember that life is short! Tune in to these and hundreds of other fun and interesting authentic videos here at Yabla that will help quench your thirst for French mastery!

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Découvrez des centaines de vidéos chez Yabla!

When you think vineyards, you probably conjure up images of rolling hills and sprawling fields, lush with grapevines planted in neat rows. So it may surprise you to learn that vineyards aren't just for la campagne. In fact, that most urban of French locales, la grande ville de Paris, has a few grapevines of its own!

Our favorite Parisian tour guide, Daniel Benchimol, takes us around the neighborhood known as La Butte Bergeyre, which, believe it or not, is home to a couple of vineyards. It's surprising such a tiny neighborhood could fit a vineyard—after all, there are only ten or so streets:

Il y a en tout une dizaine de rues avec des très, très jolies villas.

There are a total of about ten streets with very, very pretty villas. 

Caption 11, Voyage dans Paris: Butte Bergeyre

Take a look at the word dizaine. On first glance, an English speaker might be tempted to translate this as its phonological cousin, "dozen." But dizaine actually means "about ten." Why the similarity? "Dozen" comes from the Old French dozaine, and its modern French equivalent is douzaine.

As you can probably guess by now, -aine as a suffix added to numbers indicates an approximation of quantity. So, une dizaine is "about ten," une douzaine is "about twelve" (a dozen), une trentaine is "about thirty," and so on. "Dozen" is the only similar word of this type in English, but who's to say we couldn't one day have a "tenzen" or a "thirtyzen" too?

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Masculin féminin: quelques faits précis

A Yabla French subscriber recently asked an interesting question about a caption in one of our videos

L'éco-musée du pays de Rennes ... s'en est occupé...

The eco-museum of the county of Rennes ... took it upon itself...

Captions 16–17, Le Journal: Gourmet en Bretagne

Shouldn't, the subscriber asked, the participle actually be occupée—with an extra e—to match the subject eco-musée? After all, the word-ending -ée most often denotes a feminine word in French—so wouldn't the verb need to agree in gender here? As it turns out, even though musée ends in -ée, it is actually a masculine noun. So occupé is correct. Musée is not the only word that's masculine despite ending in -ée.

Moi, je me souviens à l'époque, même que j'étais dans un lycée d'filles...

I remember in those days, even though I was in an all-girls high school...

Caption 21, Le Journal: Baisers interdits dans les couloirs!

Like musée, the noun lycée—even a lycée filled with girls and only girls—is masculine, which we can tell here because it's preceded by the masculine article un. Un ("a," masc.) or le ("the," masc.) are the right determiners to use with lycée or musée, and not une ("a," fem.) or la ("the," fem.), as one may have expected with such an ending.

What other nouns end with -ée but are nevertheless masculine words? The most commonly used are:

un athée (an atheist)

à l'apogée (at the peak)

un camée (a cameo)

un mausolée (a mausoleum)

un trophée (a trophy)

un macchabée (a stiff, also a Maccabee)

un pygmée (a pygmy)

un scarabée (a beetle)

 

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A front row seat to learning French!

C'est dans sa loge qu'on a retrouvé Buridane

It's in her dressing room that we caught up with Buridane 

Caption 1, Télé Lyon Métropole: Buridane 

Did you catch the interview with the lovely chanteuse Buridane? It took place backstage, in her loge, what we would call her "dressing room." However, on the other side of the curtain, loge can also refer to box seating, usually private, elevated, and not cheap—a nice place from which to watch the show. Sport and theater fans will recognize that we have the same word in English: "loge" seating areas offer a bird's-eye view in a luxurious setting. It's from this meaning that we get the common French expression être aux premières loges, which means "to have a great view," or "front row seats."

Where else will you find une loge? Out in the country! A rustic cabin (or "lodge") of the kind used by skiers, hunters, or park rangers is also called a loge.

Finally, if you enter a French building, bourgeois or not, beware of the loge du concierge or "caretaker's apartment." You won’t sneak past unnoticed, even if you tiptoe... so be sure to have a good reason to be there!

And just as loge can be "lodge," logement can mean "lodging," as in housing or a place to stay. Take this example, where retirement-age protesters point out that Sarkozy doesn't quite share their concerns:

Et lui, il a pas de souci de voiture, il a pas de souci de logement...

And him, he has no car worries, he has no housing worries...

Caption 22, Le Journal: À la retraite en France

There's also the verb loger, which, as you may now be able to guess, means "to house" or "provide accommodation for."

See if you can spot any other lodging-related words in our videos!

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Heart, Soul, and Lung!

Soul Sisters

After watching her scour the desert Mad Max–style for clues to track down her amour perdu in the video for "Love Machine," we know that Melissa Mars is a romantic. Her "Army of Love" video also gives us a few clues—on how to speak the language of love, en français.

Petites fées du cœur / Accueillent les âmes sœurs

Little love fairies / Welcome the soulmates

Captions 25–26, Melissa Mars: Army of Love

If you know that the word âme is "soul" and the word sœur means "sister," you might think that Melissa is referring to her many Mini-Me's as "soul sisters." Actually, âme sœur is French for "soulmate," and even though the term is of the female persuasion, it can apply to any member of a happy couple. In French, guys can be soul sisters too!

The "Lung" of Things

Our favorite friendly tour guide, Daniel Benchimol, gives us a look in living color at the history-rich, up-and-coming Paris quartier of Belleville.

As sometimes happens with urban areas that were once on the sketchy side, Belleville has recently gentrified. These days, it's home to a thriving diverse community. You'll see people from all walks of life strolling along the Rue de Belleville and the Boulevard de Belleville. (It's easy to know you're in the right neighborhood. Just look at the street signs!) 

There's even a Parc de Belleville:

Nous sommes ici dans le Parc de Belleville, qui est vraiment le... le poumon de ce quartier.

We're here in the Parc de Belleville [Belleville Park], which is really the... the lungs of this neighborhood.

Captions 11–12, Voyage dans Paris: Belleville

Notice that Daniel tells us the park is le poumon of the neighborhood—"the lung" of the hood—just as Central Park is sometimes called "the lungs" of New York City, thanks to the fresh air it offers.

Les Bellevillois are known for their distinctive fun and funky accents. Wondering what they sound like? Just listen to France's favorite songbird, Édith Piaf. La Môme hails from the streets—the rues and boulevards—of Belleville!

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What do your mother, your mayor, and the sea have in common?

Give up? Start thinking in French. Do you see it now? They're all French homophones! So what are the tricks to distinguishing between mère, maire, and mer

Let’s start off where life itself does—with our proud moms. In French, your mother is your mère.

Annie Chartrand, from Quebec, recalls the limited English ability of her own mère (as well as her père, her father).

Si je pense à mes parents, à mon père et ma mère, ils parlent anglais, mais c'est un peu plus, comme on dit en bon québécois, "baragouiné".

If I think of my parents, my dad or my mom, they speak English, but it's a bit more like, as we say in good Quebecois French, baragouiné.

Caption 12–13, Annie Chartrand: Grandir bilingue

Charles Baptiste, from Paris, sings of something nobody wants their mother to do (nobody nice anyway) in the song Je sais:

Tandis que ma mère se met à pleurer

Whereas my mother starts crying

Caption 21, Charles Baptiste: Je sais

Let's move away from such sadness (we hope Charles's mère is feeling better) to our second homophone: maire (mayor).

One way to distinguish this word from its homophones: maire (mayor) is a masculine noun and so is preceded by the masculine article le. But la mère (the mother) and la mer (the sea) are both feminine. Note that more people nowadays are using la maire to refer to a female mayor (see our lesson about the feminization of professions in French), although the officially correct term is la mairesse.

The mayor of Groslay, a town north of Paris, is not very popular… He banned chicken in municipal lunchrooms because of fears of avian flu.

L'interdiction du maire a également déclenché la colère des agriculteurs.

The mayor's ban has also triggered the anger of the farmers.

Caption 9, Le Journal: Le poulet dans les cantines

However, some mayors are less cautious than others. The mayor of Lille, for example, not only supported protesters who recklessly (and illegally) switched off street lighting in the city center, she joined their rally, French flag in hand!

Et c'est toujours au nom du service public que la maire de Lille soutient les agents d'EDF en grève.

And it is still in the name of the public service that the mayor of Lille supports the EDF agents on strike.

Caption 18, Le Journal: Grève de l'EDF à Lille – Part 1

Let's move on to our last homophone: la mer (the sea).

La mer is often a romantic image in popular songs. (Who doesn't love a little Charles Trenet?) Lyon-based ska band Babylon Circus sings about the sea in a song about dreams and lost hopes:

Les rames étaient trop courtes pour atteindre le niveau de la mer

The oars were too short to reach sea level

Caption 12, Babylon Circus: J'aurais bien voulu

So now, no more confusion between la mère (the mother), le maire (the mayor), and la mer (the sea)!

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The Story of Ou

An accent, or the lack of one, can sometimes determine the meaning of a French word.

For example, let's take ou, the common conjunction that means "or." After his extensive travel abroad, Chef Rachel Gesbert likes to use exotic ingredients when he returns to France "or" to Europe:

Et quand on revient en France ou en Europe... on a envie de mélanger certains produits.

And when you return to France or to Europe... you feel like mixing certain products.

Caption 25, Le Journal: Gourmet en Bretagne

Ou bien also means "or," plain and simple. Anglophones, seeing the extra word bien, might be tempted to translate ou bien as "or even," or to add some other nuance. But in fact, ou bien is used pretty much interchangeably with ou, as we find in the report on the recent discovery of Saint-Exupéry's lost plane, near Marseilles.

Mais personne ne sait s'il s'agit d'un accident, d'un suicide ou bien d'un tir ennemi.

But nobody knows whether it's a question of an accident, of a suicide, or of enemy fire. 

Captions 24–25, Le Journal: Saint-Exupéry – Part 1

However, when we draw a simple accent grave over the u in ou, we get the adverb , which is used to indicate "where." Anne Liardet, mother of three, racing solo around the world on the "Vendée Globe," tells us:

J'suis bien, là je suis...

I'm all right where I am...

Caption 23, Le Journal: Les navigateurs du Vendée Globe – Part 2

In their worldwide hit "Senegal Fast Food," Amadou and Mariam, the singing-songwriting duo from Mali, ask:

Dakar, Bamako, Rio de Janeiro: est le problème, est la frontière?

Dakar, Bamako, Rio de Janeiro: where is the problem, where is the border?

Captions 25–26: Amadou et Mariam: Sénégal Fast Food

Another meaning of is "when," indicating time. Notice the way French movie star Agnès Jaoui uses it when talking about dreams and fame:

C'est bien... de rêver, mais y a un moment il faut juste se récupérer soi-même.

It's good... to dream, but there comes a time when you have to go back to who you are.

Captions 29–30, Le Journal: Le Rôle de sa Vie

So, there you have it: the short story of ou!

FYI: Keep in mind there are at least two other words that sound exactly the same as ou and , but have their own unique spellings: une houe is "a hoe," like we use in the garden, and du houx is "holly," the stuff the halls are decked out with come Christmas!

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