French Lessons

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Six Changing Adjectives

We’ve dealt with adjectives a lot in previous Yabla lessons, and in this one we’ll focus on five of them that all share one important feature. See if you notice something peculiar about the spelling of the French words for “new” and “old” in the following examples: 

Donc je vais vous présenter mon nouvel appartement.
So I'm going to show you my new apartment.
Cap. 20, Joanna: Son nouvel appartement

Ce square a la particularité d'héberger le plus vieil arbre de Paris.
This square has the distinction of housing the oldest tree in Paris.
Cap. 27, Voyage dans Paris: Saint-Germain-des-Prés

You may already know that “new” in French is nouveau (masculine) and nouvelle (feminine), and that “old” is vieux (masculine) and vieille (feminine). So where did nouvel and vieil come from? 

 

The answer is that, for a small group of adjectives, the masculine singular form changes when the adjective is followed by a noun starting with a vowel or a non-aspirated (mute) h. So instead of nouveau appartement, you have nouvel appartement, and instead of vieux arbre, you have vieil arbre

 

If you think about it in terms of pronunciation, you might get a better sense of why this happens. The phrase nouvel appartement “flows” better than nouveau appartement because the l sound prevents the little pause that occurs when you move from the “eau” of nouveau to the “a” of appartement. French pronunciation places a heavy emphasis on words flowing together smoothly (a concept called “euphony”), an idea we previously touched on in our lesson on liaisons. This little rule is just another way of making sure the language sounds pleasing to the ear. 

 

The three other descriptive adjectives that exhibit this spelling change are beau/bel/belle (beautiful), fou/fol/folle (mad, crazy), and mou/mol/molle (soft). 

Je préfère un mol oreiller.
I prefer a soft pillow. 

Le fol espoir d'un rendez-vous
The mad hope of a rendezvous
Cap. 15, Oldelaf: interprète “Bérénice”

Alors, qui me fait une offre pour ce bel athlète?
So, who's making me an offer for this handsome athlete?
Cap. 25, Il était une fois… l’Homme: 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 3

This phenomenon also occurs with the demonstrative adjective ce/cette (this, that), which becomes cet before a singular masculine noun starting with a vowel or mute h. So if we removed the word “handsome” from the sentence above, it would become:

Alors, qui me fait une offre pour cet athlète?
So, who’s making me an offer for this athlete? 

Note that if another word beginning with a consonant (usually another adjective) is placed between the noun and the special form of the adjective, you don’t need to use the special form anymore. You can see this in the previous example, where you have ce bel athlète instead of cet bel athlète

 

As you may have noticed, all of these adjectives belong to a small group of adjectives that go before the noun they modify. You can learn more about adjectives like this in our previous lesson on the subject. Also, remember that this spelling change only occurs with the masculine singular forms of these adjectives. The masculine plural forms (nouveaux, vieux, mous, fous, beaux, ces) don’t change before a noun beginning with a vowel or mute h. According to the rules of liaison, their endings are pronounced to indicate the plural. 

 

Since this spelling change happens with such a small number of adjectives, the best way to learn it is probably just to memorize them. Here’s a little memory aid for you using fragments of all the example sentences in this lesson: 

Cet homme a le fol espoir de trouver… (This man has the mad hope of finding…)
    ...le plus nouvel appartement de Paris. (...the newest apartment in Paris.)
    ...le plus vieil arbre de Paris. (...the oldest tree in Paris.)
    ...le plus mol oreiller de Paris. (...the softest pillow in Paris.)
    ...le plus bel athlète de Paris. (...the handsomest athlete in Paris.) 

Adjectives from Names and Verbs

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.

Caption 7, La Conspiration d'Orion: Conspiration 3/4 – Part 3

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.

Grammar

Forward-Thinking Adjectives

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!

Grammar

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!

Grammar

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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!

Grammar

When Adverbs Get Cozy with Adjectives

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!

 

Grammar

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Pas de Deux

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!

Grammar

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Unchanging Colors

In this lesson, we're going to discuss a somewhat tricky aspect of French color words. Like the vast majority of adjectives, most French color words agree in gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural) with the noun they modify. Let's take the adjective noir (black) as an example:

 

[Les cheveux] peuvent être noirs
[Hair] can be black.
Cap. 11, Le saviez-vous? - Le vocabulaire de la tête

 

Ensuite vous avez mon écharpe noire, une simple étole.
Then you have my black scarf, a simple wrap. 
Cap. 9, Fanny parle des saisons: S'habiller en hiver

 

In the first sentence, noir modifies the masculine plural noun cheveux ("hair" is always plural in French), so it takes the masculine plural ending -s (noirs). In the second sentence, noir modifies the feminine singular noun écharpe, so it takes the feminine singular ending -e (noire).

 

However, certain color adjectives are invariable—that is, they never change regardless of the gender and number of the noun. All of these adjectives are derived from nouns. Take orange for example. As in English, in French orange refers to both the color and the fruit (une orange). Though you can certainly have de multiples oranges (multiple oranges), the adjective form of the word never changes, even in the plural:

 

J'ai acheté des chaussures orange
I bought orange shoes. 

 

On the other hand, rouge (red) isn't invariable (since it's not derived from a noun), so it does change in the plural: 

 

Tu as acheté des chaussures rouges
You bought red shoes. 

 

Another common color adjective that never changes is marron. Un marron is a chestnut, but when used as an adjective, it just means "brown": 

 

Regardez ces chiens. Ils sont marron?
Look at these dogs. Are they brown?
Cap. 52, Leçons avec Lionel: Couleurs

 

The other word for brown, brun, is variable. In this example, it modifies the feminine plural noun feuilles (leaves): 

 

De tas de feuilles à moitié mortes... un jour vertes, un jour brunes
Lots of half-dead leaves... one day green, one day brown
Cap. 9-11, Stromae: Bienvenue chez moi

 

There's another word for "chestnut" too! It's une châtaigne. The related adjective châtain is variable and is often used to describe hair color:

 

[Les cheveux] peuvent être châtains. "Châtain", c'est marron. 
[Hair] can be chestnut-colored. "Chestnut" is brown.
Cap. 12-13, Le saviez-vous? - Le vocabulaire de la tête

 

Some other invariable color adjectives are: abricot (apricot), ardoise (slate), argent (silver), azur (azure), brique (brick), bronze (bronze), café (coffee), caramel (caramel), champagne (champagne), chocolat (chocolate).

 

There's one more instance of invariability you should be aware of when dealing with color words. When you use more than one adjective to designate a single color (like "light blue," "dark green," etc.), neither of the adjectives changes according to the noun it modifies. For example:

 

Il a les yeux bleu clair et les cheveux brun foncé
He has light blue eyes and dark brown hair

 

But: 

 

Il a les yeux bleus et les cheveux bruns.
He has blue eyes and brown hair

 

As you may have noticed, like many other adjectives, color adjectives always follow the noun in French. See our previous lesson for more information on that. And for a good introduction to colors in French, check out Lionel's video on the subject.

 

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

Grammar

What's New with New?

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.

Vocabulary

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Caption 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 12, 14
Beginner

C'est l'heure de ton Yabla, pauvre gosse!

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...

Caption 8, Marché de la Poésie: Des poètes en tout genre

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?

Grammar

Words for Good and Bad

In a recent lesson, we talked about the words bon/bonne and mauvais/mauvaise, which respectively mean "good" and "bad," but can also mean "right" and "wrong" depending on context. It's easy to confuse these with the words bien and mal, which have similar meanings ("well" and "badly/poorly") but different functions. 

 

Bon/bonne and mauvais/mauvaise are adjectives, which means they change according to the number and gender of the noun they modify:

 

Alors justement je crois que c'est vraiment une très bonne chose...
So, exactly, I think that it's really a very good thing...
Cap. 56, Alsace 20: 100 recettes pour 100 vins

 

Il y a eu la destruction de la partie de maison existante qui était en très mauvais état.
There was the destruction of the existing part of the house that was in very bad shape.
Cap. 22, Thomas: Thomas et sa maison

 

On the other hand, bien and mal are adverbs, which can modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Unlike adjectives, these never change in French: 

 

...un grand orfèvre parisien que Balzac connaissait bien.
...a great Parisian goldsmith whom Balzac knew well.
Cap. 28, Exposition: Balzac, architecte d'intérieurs

 

Il paraît que les voyages en train finissent mal en général
It seems that train rides generally end badly
Cap. 54, Grand Corps Malade: Les Voyages en train

 

Just as it's ungrammatical to say "whom Balzac knew good" and "train rides generally end bad" in English, in French you can't say que Balzac connaissait bon or les voyages en train finissent mauvais. You have to use bien/mal

 

Bien and mal can also function as nouns. In philosophical terms, they refer to "good" and "evil":

 

Quelle est la différence entre le bien et le mal
What is the difference between good and evil

 

But they have more down-to-earth meanings as well. For instance, the plural les biens means "goods," as in commodities or possessions. And mal can also refer to illness or harm, as in the expressions avoir mal and faire mal:

 

J'ai mal à l'oreille.
I have an earache

 

Ne me fais pas mal
Don't hurt me! 

 

In everyday speech, bon and bien are also used as interjections, in which case they're more or less interchangeable. They both correspond to the English interjection "well" in this context:

 

Eh bien, j'espère que vous avez passé un bon moment, ici, sur Arles.
Well, I hope you had a good time here, in Arles.
Cap. 21, Arles: Un Petit Tour d'Arles - Part 3

 

Bon, il y a des raisons personnelles évidemment qui jouent.
Well, obviously there are personal reasons that come into play.
Cap. 17, Alphabétisation: des filles au Sénégal

 

It's sometimes hard to tell the difference between good and bad, but at least now you know the difference between bon, mauvais, bien, and mal
 
Stay tuned for our next lesson and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

Vocabulary

Adjective Arithmetic

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.

Caption 7, Le Journal: Manifestation des lycéens - Part 1

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!

Grammar

Three "Faux Amis"

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

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

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

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

Cap. 19, Actu Vingtième: La burqa 

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

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

Cap. 17, Le Journal: Le sida

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

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

I eventually decided not to go to the party. 

Nous y arriverons tôt ou tard

We'll get there eventually

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole parle couramment cinq langues.

Nicole speaks five languages fluently

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

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

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

Cap. 14, Interviews à Central Park: Discussion politique

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

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

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

Vocabulary

When "Good" Means "Right" and "Bad" Means "Wrong"

Did you know that, in French, "good" can also mean "right," and "bad" can also mean "wrong"? This might sound sort of philosophical, but it's really just an issue of translation. Bon/bonne and mauvais/mauvaise are two of the most basic adjectives in French. They usually mean "good" and "bad" respectively, but depending on context, they can also mean "right" and "wrong": 

 

C'est la mauvaise réponse à la question. 
That's the wrong answer to the question. 

 

Vous pouvez aussi me donner deux numéros de compte. Je vous dirai lequel est le bon.
You can also give me two account numbers. I will tell you which is the right one.
Cap. 20-21, Patricia: Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones - Part 3

 

When bon/bonne and mauvais/mauvaise mean "right" and "wrong," they're often preceded by a definite article (le, la, les). For example, take a look at the difference between the phrases un bon moment and au (à + le) bon moment:

 

Eh bien, j'espère que vous avez passé un bon moment, ici, sur Arles...
Well, I hope you had a good time here, in Arles...
Cap. 21, Arles: Un Petit Tour d'Arles - Part 3

 

Tout cet art, c'est de faire en sorte de mettre dans l'eau au bon moment, hein...
All this is an art to ensure that you put in the water at the right time, you see...
Cap. 8, Ostréiculture: Rencontre avec Gildas Mourier (Morbihan)

 

Using these adjectives isn't the only way to describe correctness and incorrectness. You can also use the verbal phrases avoir raison (to be right, literally "to have reason") and avoir tort (to be wrong, literally "to have fault"):

 

Oui, tu as raison. Je ne suis pas trop dans mon assiette.
Yes, you're right. I feel under the weather.
Cap. 25, Manon et Clémentine: Expressions toutes faites

 

J'ai peut-être eu tort de me fier à lui pour ce projet.
Maybe I was wrong to trust him with this project.
Cap. 53, Il était une fois - Les Amériques: 9. Cortés et les Aztèques - Part 3

 

In a previous lesson, we mentioned one other way to say "to be wrong"—se tromper:

 

Donc, tu crois que Colomb se trompe!
So you think that Columbus is wrong!
Cap. 6, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs: 10. Amerigo Vespucci - Part 3

 

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to write to us at newsletter@yabla.com or tweet us @yabla.

Vocabulary

Cette leçon est à vous!

In her latest video series, Patricia talks about the different ways of expressing possession in French. Though she mainly focuses on possessive adjectives (which correspond to "my," "your," "his/her," etc.) and possessive pronouns (which correspond to "mine," "yours," "his/hers," etc.), Patricia also uses another possessive construction throughout the videos. It's the expression à + stressed pronoun (moi, toi, lui, elle, nous, vous, eux, elles), which can be used as an alternative to a possessive pronoun: 

 

Si cette tasse est à moi... je dis: c'est la mienne.
If this cup is mine... I say: it's mine
Cap. 27-30, Le saviez-vous? - Les pronoms possessifs - Part 1

 

This expression usually follows the verb être, as in the example above, but you'll also find it in other contexts: 

 

J'ai trouvé une robe à elle dans le grenier. 
I found a dress of hers in the attic. 

 

Unlike possessive adjectives and pronouns, which change depending on the gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural) of the possessed object, this construction corresponds to the gender and number of the possessor:

 

Et si je veux dire que cette chaussure est à lui... je vais dire: c'est sa chaussure. 
And if I want to say that this shoe is his... I'm going to say: it's his shoe. 
Cap. 55-59, Le saviez-vous? - Les adjectifs possessifs - Part 1

 

Since chaussure is feminine and singular, the possessive adjective modifying it also needs to be feminine and singular (sa). But sa chaussure can either mean "his shoe" or "her shoe" depending on context. We know that Patricia means "his shoe" here because she says cette chaussure est à lui (this shoe is his). If she had said cette chaussure est à elle (this shoe is hers), then sa chaussure would mean "her shoe." 

 

You'll often find this construction in combination with a possessive adjective. Let's say you're at a dog park and you're telling someone whose dog is whose. If you say c'est mon chien (that's my dog), they'll immediately know that the dog in question belongs to you. But if you say c'est son chien (that's his or her dog), they might not know who you're referring to. You can specify by saying: 

 

C'est son chien à elle. / C'est son chien à lui
That's her dog. / That's his dog. 

 

The expression c'est à + stressed pronoun also has another meaning that has nothing to do with possession. It's the equivalent of the English expression "it's up to me, you, etc.": 

 

C'est à toi de décider ce que tu veux faire. 
It's up to you to decide what you want to do. 

 

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

Expressions

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Five Ways of Saying "Only"

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

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

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

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

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

Aussi je vais dire seulement trois choses.

Also I am only going to say three things.

Cap. 10, Le Journal: Joëlle Aubron libérée

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

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

So I find myself a little alone right now.

Cap. 5, Hugo Bonneville: Gagner sa vie 

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

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

Si seulement je l'avais su avant. 

If only I had known before.

Il veut venir, seulement il ne peut pas.

He wants to come, however he can't. 

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

Je suis un enfant unique.

I am an only child. 

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

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

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

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

Il ne mesure que soixante-dix mètres carrés.

It only measures seventy square meters.

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

Moi, je ne parlais que français.

Me, I spoke only French.

Cap. 9, Annie Chartrand: Grandir bilingue 

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

Il mesure seulement soixante-dix mètres carrés.

It only measures seventy square meters.

Moi, je parlais seulement français.

Me, I spoke only French. 

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

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

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

Vocabulary

Less Is More with "Moins"

In our last lesson, we talked about the word plus (more) and how its different pronunciations affect its meaning. Now let’s take a look at the opposite of plusmoins (fewer, less)—which only has one pronunciation, but no fewer meanings! 

Like plus, moins is an adverb of comparison, and can modify both adjectives and nouns. When it modifies an adjective, it’s usually followed by que to form the comparative phrase “less than.” In his video on French breakfast customs, Éric observes that cereal is less popular in France than it is in English-speaking countries: 

Et puis les céréales, mais c'est moins commun que chez vous, qu'aux États-Unis, qu'en Angleterre.

And then cereal, but that's less common than where you come from, than in the United States, than in England.

Cap. 37-38, Arles: Le petit déjeuner 

When modifying a noun, moins is usually followed by de:

Il y a moins de bêtes à chasser.  

There are fewer animals to hunt.  

Cap. 8, Il était une fois - Les Amériques: 1. Les premiers Américains - Part 9 

You can even make moins a noun by putting le in front of it, in which case it means “the least”: 

C’est le moins que je puisse faire. 

That’s the least that I can do. 

When you put an adjective after le moins, the adjective becomes superlative: 

C'est le livre le moins cher et presque tous les éditeurs ont une collection de poche.

This is the cheapest book, and almost all publishers have a paperback collection.

Cap. 36, Manon et Clémentine: Vocabulaire du livre 

Moins is also the basis for several common expressions. There’s the phrase à moins que (unless), which Adonis uses when singing about what he believes is the only acceptable reason for cutting down trees: 

À moins que ce soit pour faire mes jolis calendriers

Unless it’s to make my pretty calendars 

Cap. 4-5, Nouveaux Talents: Adonis chante

Try not to confuse à moins que with au moins, which means “at least”: 

Tout le monde connaît le Père Noël, tout le monde lui a écrit au moins une fois..

Everybody knows Santa Claus, everybody's written him at least once...

Cap. 3, Télé Miroir: Adresse postale du Père Noël

Finally, there’s de moins en moins (“fewer and fewer” or “less and less”):

Ça peut aider aussi à sauver les animaux, à ce qu'ils soient de moins en moins abandonnés.

That can also help save animals so that fewer and fewer are abandoned.

Cap. 12, Grand Lille TV: Des photos contre l’abandon des animaux 

Since moins is a quantitative word like plus, it makes sense that it can be used with numbers as well. You’ll hear it the most often as a number modifier in expressions involving temperature, time, and basic arithmetic: 

Et voilà, me voilà parée pour sortir par moins zéro, moins quinze degrés.

And there we have it, here I am dressed to go out in below zero, negative fifteen degrees.

Cap. 11, Fanny parle des saisons: S’habiller en hiver

Il est dix heures moins le quart. 

It’s a quarter to ten. 

Deux plus cinq moins trois égale quatre.

Two plus five minus three equals four. 

We hope you are plus ou moins satisfait(e) (more or less satisfied) with our presentation of plus and moins! And for any math whizzes out there, here’s an informative article on French math vocabulary beyond addition and subtraction. Why not try learning (or relearning) geometry in French? 

Vocabulary

Sensé(e) or Censé(e)?

The adjectives sensé(e) and censé(e) are easy to confuse, since they have the same pronunciation and almost the same spelling (in other words, they're homophones). Sensé(e) is related to the English word "sense," and means "sensible," "reasonable," or "sane": 

 

J'étais face à trois personnes que je considérais comme étant parfaitement sensées.
I was facing three people whom I considered to be perfectly sane.
Cap. 80-81, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Notre appartement est hanté - Part 5

 

Censé(e) might remind you of the words "census," "censor," or "censure," but it means something quite different. It's the word for "supposed," as in "supposed to do something." Just like "supposed to," it's nearly always preceded by the verb "to be" (être) and followed by an infinitive: 
 

On est censé faire réparer des objets qui ont quelques problèmes. 
We're supposed to bring items that have some problems for repair.
Cap. 2, Actus de Quartier: Repair Café

 

On était censé n'avoir aucun souci, avoir des centrales complètement fiables...
They were supposed to have no concerns, to have totally reliable power plants...
Cap. 25, Manif du Mois: Fukushima plus jamais ça

 

Alors que la police, elle est censée être là pour nous protéger.
While the police are supposed to be there to protect us.
Cap. 14, Banlieues françaises: jeunes et policiers, l'impossible réconciliation? - Part 2

 

You can always say supposé(e) instead of censé(e), which might be a little easier to remember:

 

...son fameux pont qui était supposé être un lieu où [on] profitait de beaux panoramas.
...its famous bridge, which was supposed to be a place where you enjoy beautiful panoramas.
Cap. 26-27, De nouvelles découvertes avec Marion: Le parc des Buttes Chaumont

 

Or you can use the verb devoir, especially in the past tense:

 

...bien qu'elle se demanda en quoi cela devait l'aider à se rendre au bal.
...although she wondered in what way that was supposed to help her get to the ball.
Cap. 47-48, Contes de fées: Cendrillon - Part 1

 

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

Vocabulary

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