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 h 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...
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.
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.
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!
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?
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)
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!
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!
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!
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)!
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 où, 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 où je suis...
I'm all right where I am...
In their worldwide hit "Senegal Fast Food," Amadou and Mariam, the singing-songwriting duo from Mali, ask:
Dakar, Bamako, Rio de Janeiro: où est le problème, où 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 où 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 où 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 où, 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!
In her song "Diesel" (extremely popular with Yabla viewers!), Elea Lumé declares:
Et si il y a eu maldonne, je me fais mon propre prud'homme
And if there was a mistake, I'll take responsibility for it
Captions 33–34, Elea Lumé: Diesel
When we are playing cards, la donne is "the deal." It comes from the verb donner, that very common French verb that means "to give." It also means "to deal," which is not hard to see since cards are "given out" to the players. Sometimes the dealer (le donneur—literally, "the giver") screws up, and hands too many or too few cards to one or more of the players. In the poker rooms of Paris this is known as a fausse donne (false deal), mauvaise donne (bad deal), or maldonne—which we get when we preface donne (deal) with mal ("bad" or "wrong"): a "wrong deal." In English the common term for all of these is "misdeal."
Cards are ripe metaphors for life, as anyone who's ever been "dealt a bad hand" or suffered "the luck of the draw" knows. In French, the phrase il y a maldonne has drifted from the cards-specific "there is a misdeal" to the more general "there is a mistake."
A quick aside about another of Elea's lyrical selections here: if you look up prud'homme in the dictionary, you find that it is a member of a labor court, one which decides disputes between management and workers. So when Elea says je me fais mon propre prud'homme (literally something like, "I'll be my own jury"), she is saying that she'll assume full responsibility; she's not going to take it to a third party for help—she'll stand on her own.
Besides signaling a mistake, il y a maldonne takes on another metaphorical meaning: "there is a misunderstanding." The exuberant chanteuse Cassandre expresses a negated variation of the phrase when she sings:
Mais non, y a pas maldonne / C'est super romantique!
But no, there's no misunderstanding / It's super romantic!
Caption 33, Vous avez du talent: Cassandre – Je te saoule
So make no mistake! As in English, French words or phrases often evolve from literal to metaphorical meanings, and their meaning can change based on their context. Getting to know these subtleties is not a bad deal at all!
To wrap up our series of lessons on adjectives, we want to show you a few examples of multiple adjectives qualifying the same noun.
Native speakers of a language know instinctively how to order multiple adjectives. For example, Anglophones know that we say a "big old black truck" rather than "black big old truck." The rules that govern this ordering process are somewhat cumbersome to explain, and are often a bit flexible. (It's not exactly "wrong" to say "black big old truck"; it just doesn't sound quite as good—don't you agree?)
We won't delve into too many nitty-gritty details governing multiple-adjective order today. We'll leave that to the linguistics PhDs. Since, to most of us, it's simply a matter of what sounds good, we thought we'd give you a sense of what sounds good in French by taking a look at some examples and offering you a few simple pieces of advice.
Let's start out where many lessons do: in a classroom. In French, the teacher at the front of the room will write on un grand tableau noir (a big blackboard)—ordered this way because we say: un "grand" tableau (a big board), and because we say: un tableau "noir" (a blackboard). (Adjectives like grand are explained in this lesson, and color adjectives are explained in this lesson.)
Ready for some more examples? Off we go to the land of fashion. Even if you aren’t a celebrity or your pockets aren’t lined with gold, you can still check out the Chanel collection in Le Journal's fashion show videos:
La fameuse petite robe noire
The famous little black dress
Caption 3, Le Journal: Défilé de mode - Part 3
Notice how each adjective takes its usual place in this phrase. The adjective petite (which, like grand, is discussed here) comes before the noun robe. It turns out that fameuse is also an adjective that tends to come before the noun in French. And color, as we established in our blackboard example, comes after the noun. So, we place each adjective in its proper place and we get fameuse petite robe noire
Of course, sometimes you'll see multiple adjectives on just one one side of a noun (either before or after). Take a look at the story of little Morgane, who was, at two pounds, a greatly premature baby who grew up to be a perfectly healthy and cheery child.
À quatre ans, Morgane est une enfant gaie et vive sans aucun problème de santé.
At four years old, Morgane is a happy and playful child without any health problem.
Caption 2, Le Journal: Grands prématurés
Here the two adjectives describe the same type of quality—the little girl's pleasant disposition—so the conjunction et (and) is appropriately positioned between them. And, of course, both adjectives come after the noun they qualify, as they would if they were used alone: We say une enfant gaie (happy) and we also say une enfant vive ("playful" or "vivacious").
Let's look at another example, this time love-related:
Comme deux jeunes mariés, nos destins sont liés.
Like two newlyweds, our destinies are linked.
Caption 5, Ina-Ich: Âme armée
Perhaps this is just common sense, but when you have a common expression in French that's made up of an adjective-noun combo, and is then modified by another adjective, keep that common expression together. In Ina-Ich's song lyrics above, we have the common adjective-noun combo jeunes mariés (newlyweds—literally "young marrieds"). And as newlyweds typically come in pairs, we see this expression quantified by the numerical adjective deux (two), which, because it is a number, appears in front of the noun phrase, as seen in this lesson.
Here's a final point to leave you with, and perhaps the most important thing to take away from our series of adjective lessons. As is wisely written in one of Pierre Larousse's famous language books:
C’est le goût et surtout l’oreille qui déterminent la place que doivent occuper les adjectifs!
"It’s taste and especially sound that determine the place that adjectives must occupy!"
Keep taking your daily dose of Yabla video vitamins and you'll get more and more of that native-speaker sense of how to season your phrases with multiple adjectives!
Some French adjectives change their meaning depending on whether we put them before or after the noun they modify. For example, in Le Journal's video Les microcrédits, we learn about a fellow who realizes his dream of opening a business. This pauvre homme (poor, as in "pitiable," man) had spent years doing nothing every day. But, because he was also an homme pauvre (poor, as in "penniless," man), he qualified for a microcredit loan, and is now a proud restaurateur!
Il a réussi à monter sa propre pizzeria, il y a maintenant trois mois.
He succeeded in opening his own pizzeria, just three months ago.
Caption 3, Le Journal: Les microcrédits
Sa propre pizzeria means it's his alone, but if he wants customers to keep coming back, he'd better make sure it's also a pizzeria propre (a clean pizzeria)! As you can see, if placed in front of the noun, propre signals ownership; if placed after, it indicates cleanliness.
We hear another interesting example when rugby-player-turned-singer Cali sings the romantic ballad C'est quand le bonheur?
Car qui mieux que ces vieux amants, sait qu'on perd l'amour
Because who knows better than those old lovers that you lose lov
Caption 34, Cali: C'est quand le bonheur?
You may notice that Cali does not mention anyone's age; ces vieux amants, "those old lovers," refers to lovers who have experienced long-lasting love. They might be in their twenties or in their eighties—we don’t know. If Cali had placed the adjective vieux (old) after the noun amants (lovers), then we'd know that he meant elderly lovers (who, for all we know, met last week at bingo). So, amants vieux would indicate their age, while vieux amants indicates the duration of their love.
Dropping in on the Paris Poetry Fair, we hear:
Antonin Artaud, grand homme de théâtre, grand poète du vingtième siècle...
Antonin Artaud, famous playwright, famous poet from the twentieth century...
Notice that grand, placed before the noun, means "famous" or "great"—quite different from when it appears after the noun. Un homme grand means a tall man—a man of physically grand proportions. Can you spot any poètes grands (tall poets) among the aspiring grands poètes (great poets) at this Paris Poetry Fair?
Did you see Le Journal's piece about teen use of marijuana?
Selon lui, certains signes devraient alerter vite les parents.
According to him, certain signs should quickly alert parents.
Caption 24, Le Journal: Cannabis en hausse chez les jeunes
This specialist talks about certains signes (certain, as in "some specific," signs). But are these also signes certains (certain, as in "definite, unquestionable," signs)? Watch the video and decide for yourself!
Keep an eye out for these and other adjectives that change their meaning depending on where they sit!
Extra credit: Certain language sages have noted that, generally speaking, these types of adjectives take a more figurative meaning when placed before a noun, and a more literal one when placed after. Can you see what they mean?
We know you look to Yabla for language, not math, so apologies in advance to any arithmophobes out there. Yes, we're going to talk some numbers today, but you can count on us to go easy on you
Remember last time, when we talked about French adjectives that come before the noun they modify? Well, there's another category of adjectives that behave that way: numbers!
Parmi les expériences inoubliables des deux plongeurs...
Among the unforgettable experiences of the two divers...
Caption 20, Le Journal: Sillonner & photographier les océans
In this video about Pierre and Laurent's beautiful underwater photography, you see an example where the adjective deux (two) comes before the noun plongeurs (divers). It's just like in English: "two divers."
And staying on the numerical track, when an adjective indicates a place in a series, like premier (first), prochain (next), or dernier (last), it should also be placed in front of the noun it qualifies. For example, le premier président (the first president).
If you'd rather be on top of the water than underneath it, take a look at this lightning trip around the world in 50 days. Captain Bruno Peyron and his crew break Steve Fossett's record on their impressive catamaran.
Lorsque le jeune Bruno Peyron boucle le premier tour du monde en équipage et sans escale...
When the young Bruno Peyron completed the first trip around the world with a crew and without a stop...
Caption 13, Le Journal: Le record du Tour du Monde!
Notice the adjective premier (first) that precedes the noun tour (trip), because premier indicates a place in a series (the first place).
However, be aware that prochain (next) and dernier (last) do not always precede the noun they modify. In fact, they follow the noun when they indicate a notion of time, as when they are used with a week, month, or year. For example: le mois prochain (next month).
We hear an example in the video about French youth up in arms against the loi Fillon designed to reform French education.
Trois mille à Lyon, ils étaient deux fois plus la semaine dernière.
Three thousand in Lyon, they were twice as many last week.
In this instance, the adjective dernière (last) is placed after the noun semaine (week) because it indicates an expression of time: the protest is simmering down a bit compared to the previous week.
Finally, one last number-related point: a tip on where to place an adjective if, after all you've learned from the Yabla lessons, you still aren't quite sure where the darn thing should go. It's easy math: count and compare the number of syllables in the two words, adjective and noun. Most often, the qualifying adjective is placed in front of the noun if the noun is composed of a greater number of syllables than the adjective. In other words, if the adjective is shorter, it goes in front.
Corrine, a young and charming French woman, shows us an example of this when talking about the merits of her hometown.
On a la chaleur, on a, euh... peut-être la pollution, mais en tout cas, on a de beaux paysages.
We've got warm weather, we have, uh... maybe pollution, but in any case, we have beautiful landscapes.
Caption 16-17, Fanny et Corrine: Leurs origines
Notice how Corrine mentions Marseilles' beaux paysages (beautiful landscapes). The adjective beaux (beautiful) has fewer syllables than the noun paysages (landscapes), so beaux is placed before paysages.
Conversely, the adjective is usually placed after the noun if it has more syllables than does the noun. For example, you would say une voix horrible (a horrible voice); the noun voix (voice) has fewer syllables than the adjective horrible, so the noun comes first.
Le Journal tells the story of Claudia Rusch, a young Francophile who was one of the first to scramble over the falling Berlin Wall to join a friend on that memorable day, November 9th, 1989.
...escalade ce grillage insupportable qui les sépare...
...scales this unbearable fence which separates them...
Caption 23, Le Journal: Le mur de Berlin s'écroule
Here, because the adjective insupportable (unbearable) has a greater number of syllables than the noun grillage (fence), the adjective goes last.
See? It's as easy as 1, 2, 3!
Do you remember from our last lesson Michel Garcia and his mysterious catch from Easter Island? Today we will reveal his secret: what made him famous worldwide was his discovery of a beautiful shell, extremely rare and previously unknown. And the name of this shellfish? The Garciai! Michel's pride in his namesake is second only to that for his son, Tokiroa.
Tokiroa est tout de même plus important que la belle Garciai.
Tokiroa is all the same more important than the beautiful Garciai.
Caption 41, Le Journal: L'île de Pâques
By now, you're probably used to adjectives in French following the nouns that they modify (as in le ciel bleu, "the blue sky"). But, as you can see above, the adjective belle precedes the noun Garciai. That's because Garciai is a proper noun, a nom propre, and in French, adjectives precede proper nouns.
In fact, there are a few other occasions when you'll see an adjective placed before the noun it modifies. It can also occur when an adjective is used very often in day-to-day language and is easily associated with the noun that it qualifies (generally these adjectives are short words). For example, notice that the common and monosyllabic adjective long (long), comes before frisson (shiver) in the lovely music video Les mots d'amour (The Words of Love) by Debout Sur Le Zinc.
Et ce long frisson qui n'en finit pas
And this long shiver that does not end
Caption 6, Debout Sur Le Zinc: Les mots d'amour
And, similarly, Ina-Ich places the short and common adjective beau (beautiful/handsome) before gosse (kid), giving us beau gosse, a common French expression that means "handsome" or "good-lookin'," as in, "Hey handsome!"
À quoi penses-tu beau gosse?
What are you thinking about, handsome?
Caption 3, Ina-Ich: Âme armée
The most common adjectives that you will find placed before a noun are: beau (beautiful), bon (good), grand (tall), gros (big), jeune (young), joli (pretty), mauvais (bad/mean), nouveau (new), petit (small), vieux (old) and their feminine forms. Some examples: un bon livre (a good book), une jolie fleur (a pretty flower), un gentil chien (a nice dog).
However, we should point out that when an adjective of this type is accentuated or highlighted, the tendency is to place it after the noun. You would normally say, C'est une gentille fille (She's a nice girl), but you'd say C’est une fille gentille! (She's a really nice girl!) if you wanted to emphasize gentille.
We expect hot sunny days in the summer, but in Un automne bien chaud, a bright, warm November day throws some people off.
Quinze centimètres sous les pas, un soleil gros comme ça, et pourtant pas un chat!
Fifteen centimeters under your feet, a big sun like this, and yet nothing stirring!
Caption 1, Le Journal: Un automne bien chaud
Notice that the short and common adjective gros (big) this time follows the noun soleil (sun) to emphasize how exceptionally large the sun seems to be on an unusually warm autumn day.
The sun, the sea, and the words of love: three magical elements right there at your fingertips, waiting to teach you more about the placement of French adjectives. What are you waiting for? Check out the videos!
Laurence Boccolini, the beloved rich and famous French host of TV Channel 2, should be a happy woman. Quite the contrary, malheureusement. In Le Journal’s video on age and fertility, she describes her sorrow at being unable to conceive
Mais c'est une femme profondément meurtrie, parce qu'elle n'a pas réussi à donner la vie.
But she's a deeply wounded woman, because she hasn't been able to create a life.
Caption 2, Le Journal: L'âge et la fertilité
Notice that the adverb profondément (deeply) is modifying the adjective meurtrie (wounded), and that both words together describe this femme (woman). It's important to note that, like in English, the adverb precedes the adjective, so it's profondément meurtrie, not meurtrie profondément, but unlike the English translation, this phrase meaning "deeply wounded" follows the noun it modifies, femme. Indeed, that is the typical pattern; in most cases, when an adverb modifies an adjective that is qualifying a noun, the adverb-adjective pair will appear after the noun.
Let's take another look, this time at an, ahem, somewhat happier example. Someone who was not concerned with fertility problems was the famous poet Victor Hugo. He conceived five children. For those interested in learning about more than just the literary side of Victor Hugo, the singer Bertrand Pierre clues us in to some of the poet's other "talents" in this Yabla exclusive interview:
Il avait une activité sentimentale et sexuelle assez débordante.
He had a rather overactive romantic and sex life.
Caption 30, Bertrand Pierre: Victor Hugo
Here we see a noun, activité (activity), which we translated as "life" to fit this context (you wouldn't really say "a romantic activity" in English), being modified by two adjectives: sentimentale (romantic) and sexuelle (sexual). Then that whole chunk, his "romantic and sex life," is being modified by the adjective-adverb combo assez débordante (rather overactive).
Take a look at the order of the words. It might help to think of the words like building blocks. First you have activité. Now, what kind of activité do you mean? Since you are talking about his romantic and sexual life, you add the building blocks sentimentale and sexuelle. In English, these blocks go before the noun; in French, they go after. Now, what kind of romantic, sexual life did he have? Well, a rather overactive one! So you add the building blocks assez débordante to what you've already built to finish up the block tower. And again, in English we see that "rather overactive" appears before the phrase it modifies, while in French, assez débordante follows it.
So is it always the case that an adverb+adjective modifier will follow the noun? If only it were so simple. In fact, the Bertrand Pierre example above is an interesting case. Bertrand could actually also have said: il avait une assez débordante activité sexuelle (he had a rather overactive sex life) and placed the adjective débordante (overactive) before the noun activité (activity). Why? Because the adverb assez (rather) modifying the adjective débordante (overactive) is a short adverb.
Most adverbs in French are formed by adding the suffix -ment (as in profondément above), and the general rule is to place the adjective qualified by an adverb after a noun (as in une femme profondément meurtrie). However, if the adverb is short (generally, these are adverbs not ending in -ment), like très (very), plus (more), assez (rather), etc., then the adjective can be placed in either location: before or after the noun that it describes.
You can see an example of this "before" placement in the beautiful Le Journal video about Easter Island—a video that may be as beautiful as the native French Riviera that Michel Garcia left twenty-eight years ago:
On se rend compte que la France, c'est un très beau pays et qu'on y vit très bien.
You realize that France is a very beautiful country and that life is very good there.
Caption 33, Le Journal: L'île de Pâques
Notice the very short adverb très (very) that modifies the adjective beau (beautiful) placed here before the noun that it qualifies: pays (country). This diver who appreciates the beauty of both countries could have easily said, and would have been equally correct to say: La France, c’est un pays très beau, placing the adjective after the noun. Remember, this is because très (very) is a short adverb that qualifies the adjective beau (beautiful).
Whichever way Michel says it, we have to agree with his statement!
Adjectives derived from verbs
Cet astronaute expérimenté a passé des heures à observer la Terre.
This experienced astronaut spent hours observing Earth.
Caption 10, Le Journal: La Grande Muraille vue de l'espace?
If you have watched our video "The Great Wall Visible from Space?" you may have noticed that French astronaut Jean-François Clervoy is described as expérimenté (experienced). This adjective is formed by the past participle of the verb expérimenter (to experience). Adjectives derived from verbs are almost always placed after the noun, as we see here: astronaute expérimenté.
Native English speakers might be tempted to say that Jean-François is expériencé, but this word does not exist, nor does any such verb expériencer. Of course the noun expérience does mean "experience" and one could say, l'astronaute a de l'expérience, which would translate as "the astronaut is experienced." Note also that expérimenter can also mean "to experiment," as an English speaker might surmise.
Heading back into space, in Part 3 of our thriller La Conspiration d'Orion, we hear another type of verb-derived adjective:
La NASA a dû faire face à une avalanche de données et de preuves embarrassantes.
NASA had to face an avalanche of data and embarrassing evidence.
The verb embarrasser means "to embarrass," just as an English speaker might guess, and from its present participle is formed the adjective embarrassant (embarrassing). In this case we are modifying preuves ("evidence," or more literally, "proofs"), which is feminine (so we add an e) and which is also plural (so we add an s), giving us the feminine plural form: embarrassantes.
As you continue to dive into authentic French with Yabla and other sources, keep your eyes open for more verb-derived adjectives. Verify that in most cases they are found after the noun they modify. You will want to keep this in mind when you set out to speak or write du français correct (correct French) yourself!
Adjectives derived from proper names
Have you had a look at the fascinating Le Journal piece about World War I we recently added, "Life in the Trenches"? Listening in, we hear:
Ces soldats ressemblent plus aux combattants du Premier Empire, des guerres napoléoniennes...
These soldiers are more like the fighters of the First French Empire, of the Napoleonic wars...
Captions 5-6, Le Journal: La vie dans les tranchées
The adjective napoléonien (Napoleonic) is derived from the proper noun Napoléon, the famous Emperor of early 19th-century France. Guerre (war) is a feminine noun, so we must use the feminine version, napoléonienne, and guerres (wars) is plural, so it requires the feminine plural form, napoléoniennes. As is typical with adjectives derived from proper nouns, and like most adjectives, it is placed after the noun being modified.
Other examples are la théorie cartésienne (Cartesian theory) or la France chiraquienne (the France of Chirac/Chirac's France). Adjectives derived from proper names of places, such as regions, cities, and countries, behave similarly, as we already discussed in our lesson Adjectives of Color, Shape, and Origin.
You may have heard that most of the time, an adjective in French is placed after the noun. But not always. How are we supposed to know? We find plenty of clues and start to gain an intuitive understanding when we watch authentic French videos. Let's have a look at a few instances when the adjective almost always follows the noun it modifies: color or shape, and origin/nationality, ethnicity, or religion.
Let's have a look at shapes and colors first. In English we say "square meter," but in French, the adjective carré (square) follows the noun mètre (meter). This is evident in our video about "green tides" in Brittany:
Mètre carré par mètre carré.
Square meter by square meter.
Caption 3, Le Journal: Marée verte en Bretagne
Colors follow the same pattern. Listen to master chef Daniel Boulud describing what goes into his extremely high-end hamburgers:
Un pavé de bœuf braisé au vin rouge, avec du foie gras dedans...
A, a chunk of, of beef braised in red wine, with some foie gras inside...
Caption 9, Le Journal: Un hamburger très cher!
Like most Frenchmen, M. Boulud loves his vin rouge (red wine). Note that he puts the color "red," rouge, after the noun "wine," vin, not the other way around.
Similarly, Ina-Ich, the lovely chanteuse parisienne (Parisian singer) d'origine vietnamienne (of Vietnamese origin) places the color kaki (khaki) after the noun habits (dress/clothes), in her song Âme armée (Armed Soul).
En habits kakis, plus rien n’a de prix
In khaki dress, nothing more has any value
Caption 14, Ina-Ich: Âme armée
Notice that when we describe Ina-Ich, we say that she is a chanteuse parisienne and not a parisienne chanteuse; we say that she is d'origine vietnamienne and not de vietnamienne origine; and French web sites proclaim that she sings rock français (French rock) and not français rock. Why? Because another instance when adjectives pretty much always come after the noun in French is when the adjective is indicating origin, nationality, or ethnicity. That is why we find parisienne (Parisian) following chanteuse (singer), vietnamienne (Vietnamese) following origine (origin), and français (French) following rock.
We hear this in our "Farm Stand" video from Montreal, Quebec, when François, the proud farmer, describes for us his finest organic vegetables:
Ici, c'est le choux chinois.
Here, this is Chinese cabbage.
Caption 15, Farmer François: Le stand de légumes
Here again we find an adjective that describes origin/nationality, chinois (Chinese) coming after, not before, the noun it modifies, choux (cabbage).
In Le Journal's segment about last year's hotly contested Parisian Book Fair, the Salon du Livre, we hear an adjective describing ethnicity (arabe/Arab) and one describing religion (musulman/Muslim):
L'Egypte, pays arabe et musulman, pourrait bien être à son tour l'invitée d'honneur du Salon du Livre.
Egypt, an Arab and Muslim country, could well be the next guest of honor of the Book Fair.
Captions 19-20, Le Journal: Salon du Livre
(In a similar vein, you'll see the same placement, after the noun, for an adjective describing an official function: for example, une rencontre ministérielle, "a cabinet meeting.")
So there we have it: color, shape, origin, nationality, ethnicity, religion, and official function—a few of the types of adjectives that almost always come after the noun in French. Keep your ears open while watching Daniel Boulud making his infamous burger, farmer François talking up his organic vegetables, Ina-Ich singing Âme armée, and all the other videos on Yabla French and you'll notice the rule is nearly universal!
In Le Journal's video on chalets, we're treated to a fascinating description of a modern cabin entirely built of ancient wood. And speaking of modernity, the speaker's story includes quite a few instances of neuf and nouveau. Both adjectives mean "new," but each corresponds to a different meaning of the word "new."
Before we talk about the trick to distinguishing between neuf and nouveau, we should point out the feminine forms, which are irregular, of each adjective: the feminine of neuf is neuve, and the feminine of nouveau is nouvelle (though nouvel is used as the masculine form before words beginning with vowels or the silent letter h. For example: un nouvel album).
We see an instance of nouvelle right at the beginning of the chalet video.
Ce tronc d'arbre a été coupé il y a plus de deux cents ans. Aujourd'hui Michel Ferrari lui redonne une nouvelle vie.
This log was cut more than two hundred years ago. Today, MichelFerrari gives it back a new life.
Captions 1-2, Le Journal: Le chalet
Here, nouvelle vie denotes a life different from before. Notice that the qualifying adjective nouvelle precedes the noun vie.
A little further, we see nouveaux (the plural form of nouveau):
La Pologne fait par exemple partie des nouveaux fournisseurs.
Poland, for example, is among the new suppliers.
Caption 14, Le Journal: Le chalet
Again, the adjective here indicates a change; the list of suppliers is now different from the previous one. And, once again, the adjective nouveaux is placed before the substantive fournisseurs.
Now, the following captions give us some examples of an entirely different meaning of "new."
Le vieux bois, un matériau très recherché pour les constructions de montagne, même s'il coûte deux fois plus cher que le bois neuf.
Old timber, a much sought-after material for building in the mountains, even if it costs twice as much as new wood.
Captions 3-4, Le Journal: Le chalet
Here, bois neuf means wood that was recently produced. Notice that neuf is placed after the substantive bois.
We see the same primary meaning for neuf below:
Aujourd'hui pour construire, comme ici, du neuf avec du vieux
Nowadays, to build, like here, the new with the old
Caption 12, Le Journal: Le chalet
The speaker is talking about the recent construction of these houses. (And note that neuf is a substantive here: "the new.")
Want some more examples of objects with which you could use neuf? You could have un manteau neuf (a new coat) or un livre neuf (a new book). And don't forget about the ironically named Pont-Neuf, which is actually the oldest bridge in Paris!
And what other types of changes would you describe with the word nouveau? You could use it to talk about une nouvelle amie (a new friend) or un nouveau numéro de téléphone (a new phone number).
If you look at all the examples above, you'll see that neuf is used for recent creations: objects, like wood, constructions, etc., that were recently manufactured and are thus "new to the world." Nouveau, however, is used to indicate a change: either something different or the most recent example of something (a change from before).
Now that we've explored the linguistic subtleties of these two adjectives, let’s look at a few more ways to use the words neuf and nouveau.
La Nouvelle Vague is the name of the post-WWII cinematic trend in France of shooting movies in a different, more realistic way and using modern, spontaneous young actors rather than handsome, classical movie stars. In English, we call this type of cinema "French New Wave." Nouvelle vague also became a cultural term, applying to the youth of the time, who aspired to change their lives, to have freedom without convention.
There is also the term nouvelle cuisine, which refers to a French cooking approach that uses light ingredients and emphasizes presentation—a change from the previous heavy classical cuisine.
So what about other ways to use neuf?
You probably know that neuf also means the number nine.
Neuf is also used in some common expressions, like peau neuve, which we can also see in the chalet video.
Nous voici dans une ancienne ferme proche de Megève. C'est l'heure pour elle de faire peau neuve.
Here we are in an old farmhouse near Megève. It's time for it to get a face-lift.
Caption 5-6, Le Journal: Le chalet
This old farm is in need of a "new skin" to look better.
And speaking of old, our curious readers may be interested to know that the opposite of neuf/neuve is vieux/vieil/vieille; (vieil, like nouvel, is the masculine adjective for preceding vowel sounds), and the opposite of nouveau/nouvel/nouvelle is ancien/ancienne. Hard to believe there are five different options for such a simple word as "old"!
Stay tuned for a lesson that further discusses the placement of adjectives in French, which will help you solve that pesky "before or after?" dilemma.
Our last lesson was about four tricky, same-sounding conjugations of être (to be). Now we're going to look more closely at two of them, seraient and serait, as examples of a special use of the conditional mood of être.
As you remember from last time, the conditional is often indicated in English by the use of "would." "That would be better with sugar" becomes, Ça serait mieux avec du sucre. However, the French conditional mood does not always correspond to an exact English equivalent using "would."
L'OMS publie un rapport inquiétant aujourd'hui: cinq pour cent des nouveaux cas de tuberculose seraient multirésistants, ce qui implique des traitements beaucoup plus lourds.
The WHO published a troublesome report today: five percent of new tuberculosis cases appear to be multi-resistant strains, which require much heavier treatments.
Captions 6-8, Le Journal: La tuberculose
Here we find a different use for the conditional in French, that of introducing a very slight element of uncertainty. It's often found in somewhat formal contexts, such as news reports. Notice that our translation doesn't say that the strains of TB "are" multi-resistant or that they "would be" multi-resistant, but rather that they "appear to be" so. We find something similar in a Le Journal story examining the trend toward "retro" baby names in France:
Et pourquoi pas? Après tout, Adèle, Victorine, Ernest ou Alphonse seraient sur le retour.
And why not? After all, Adèle, Victorine, Ernest or Alphonse seem to be coming back.
Caption 18, Le Journal: Choisir un nom d'enfant
In this usage, the speaker is indicating that she is not 100% sure of the facts at hand. It wouldn't do to say sont sur le retour (are coming back), perhaps because the evidence is anecdotal or otherwise unscientific. As you can see in the above translation, this use of the conditional, seraient, is analogous to the phrase "seem to be" in English. A closer, more literal translation might be "are supposed to be," but we wouldn't use that in English because "supposed to," idiomatically, connotes obligation (as in, "Aren't you supposed to be at school?"). But in a literal sense, the speaker is supposing that a given statement is true and scrupulously indicating so to the listener by using the conditional.
Similarly, "is apparently" might be the right fit:
Le rire serait aussi bénéfique que le sport.
Laughter is apparently as good for you as sports.
Caption 14, Le Journal: Les effets bénéfiques du rire!
In a slightly different context, it might make more sense to translate this usage with the phrase "are reportedly":
Près d'une centaine de domaines du Bordelais seraient aujourd'hui en vente.
Nearly a hundred properties in the Bordeaux region are reportedly for sale today.
Caption 26, Le Journal: Les vignobles
Mais attention! As with many things concerning the French language, the use of the conditional to express uncertainty can be quite subtle. In fact, it can express such a minute degree of doubt that we wouldn't bother to express it in English. So sometimes we don't translate it. There's an example of this in our video about climate change:
D'après les scientifiques, les bouleversements climatiques les plus profonds seraient à venir.
According to scientists, the most drastic climatic changes are yet to come.
Caption 31, Le Journal: Indices révélateurs des glaciers
The speaker here is using the conditional seraient to accentuate the subjective aspect of the assertion, already indicated by the phrase d'après les scientifiques (according to scientists). In English, we consider the introductory phrase to be sufficient—we wouldn't say "the most drastic climatic changes would be to come." It's no accident that "nuance" is a French word!
We hope there's no doubt whatsoever that this lesson was helpful!
For more discussion of this topic, visit this Word Reference Forum thread.