French Lessons

Topics

Striking Agreements and Chords with Accord

We've touched on grammatical agreement in previous lessons, but in this one we're focusing on the word "agreement" itself. The French word for "agreement" is un accord, and its verbal form, accorder, means "to agree" or "to make an agreement":

 

Et les accords, également. Savoir comment on accorde un adjectif à son sujet, par exemple.
And agreements too. Knowing how you make an adjective agree with its subject, for example.
Cap. 11-12, Le saviez-vous? - Les bénéfices de la dictée

 

Un accord is "an agreement" in all senses, not just a grammatical one. It can refer to an official agreement, something you might sign or seal:

 

Eh bien, scellons cet accord!
Well then, let's seal this agreement!
Cap. 16, Il était une fois... l’Homme - 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 3

 

Or it can refer to a verbal agreement, to permission or consent:

 

Il me fallait aussi l'accord de ses parents.
I also needed the consent of her parents.
Cap. 30, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon père s'oppose à ma passion - Part 4

 

It's pretty obvious that this is where the English word "accord" comes from. But did you know that accord is also the root of the word "chord"?

 

Ce morceau se joue sur trois accords.
This piece is played with three chords.
Cap. 7, Leçons de guitare - Leçon 3

 

(It's not, however, the root of the word "cord." That would be une corde—a cord, rope, or string.)

 

On another musical note, accord is also the word for "harmony" in a figurative sense, referring to a match, fit, rapport, or understanding: 

 

Le riesling ça reste quand même sur les huîtres un accord parfait.
Riesling still remains in perfect harmony with oysters.
Cap. 71, Alsace 20 - 100 recettes pour 100 vins

 

Alors c'est quoi le bon accord mets et vins?
So what is the good pairing of food and wine?
Cap. 8, Alsace 20 - 100 recettes pour 100 vins

 

Nous sommes en parfait accord.
We are in complete agreement/harmony.

 

But you're most likely to encounter accord in the expression d'accord, the French equivalent of "OK" or "all right":

 

D'accord, ça marche pour moi.
OK, that works for me.

 

D'accord is an abbreviated form of the phrase être d'accord, "to agree" or "to be in agreement":

 

On s'est quitté d'un commun accord, mais elle était plus d'accord que moi
We left each other with a mutual agreement, but she was more in agreement than I
Cap. 51, Grand Corps Malade - Les Voyages en train

 

Certaines personnes sont pas d'accord avec l'enfermement des animaux.
Some people don't agree with the confinement of animals.
Cap. 21, Actus Quartier - Bêtes de scène ?

 

D'accord, c'est tout pour cette leçon!

Vocabulary

Une poignée de dollars: French Collective Nouns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grammar

Prendre pour acquis - Taking for granted

You can tell from his soulful singing that Corneille is a sweet and sensitive man—but there is one thing we just can’t take for granted: knowing how to express that we are taking something for granted! First, take a look at what Corneille croons:

Et si je prends pour acquis mes chances / Fais-moi peur que plus jamais j’y pense

And if I take my luck for granted / Scare me so that I don't think of it ever again 

Captions 26-27, Corneille: Comme un fils

Corneille says that he doesn’t want to take his chances (his luck) for granted. The infinitive of this verb phrase is prendre pour acquis. As you may have guessed, it literally translates as “to take for acquired,” but what it really means is “to take for granted.” This phrase is popular in French Canada, where Corneille eventually settled after leaving Africa.

Now, if you are a real stickler for grammar, you are probably thinking that, because chances is feminine in gender and plural in number, Corneille should have made the adjective agree, using acquises instead of the masculine and singular acquis. However, in actual practice, French Canadians often don’t make the acquis in prendre pour acquis agree with the noun to which it refers, though some make the argument that they should.

Tenir pour acquis is the more traditional way to express the same sentiment, and is considered more “correct” (if not more popular). In France, both prendre pour acquis and tenir pour acquis are understood, but sound a bit formal and old-fashioned. The French prefer the phrase considérer comme acquis for use in common, everyday speech.

Ne considère pas mon amour comme acquis, ou tu risquerais de me voir partir

Don't take my love for granted, or one day you may find me gone.

So far we have been talking about “to take for granted” in the sense of under-appreciating your blessings. That’s all well and good, but what if you want to talk about “taking something for granted” in its alternate sense, that of “taking something as a given,” or “taking something as self-evident”? Similar to English, prendre pour acquis serves double duty, and can be used to express this meaning of “to take for granted” as well. Once again, this usage is more commonly heard in Canada, while a contemporary French person is more likely to just say that he or she is “sure” of the thing.

J’ai pris pour acquis que le facteur viendrait tous les jours, mais je me suis trompé. [Canada] 

J’étais sûr que le facteur viendrait tous les jours, mais je me suis trompé. [France]

I took for granted that the mailman would come daily, but I was wrong.

Nous prenons pour acquis que le prix de l’essence va augmenter. [Canada]

Nous sommes sûrs que le prix de l’essence va augmenter. [France]

We take for granted that the price of gas will go up.

Allant de soi (literally, “going from itself”) means being “obvious” or “a given.” When we place considérer comme before it, we get considérer comme allant de soi, which literally means “to consider as obvious” or “to consider as a given." This can often be best translated as “to take as self-evident” and is frequently used in scholarly writing.

La plupart des gens acceptent comme allant de soi que chaque ville-région n’ait qu’un seul gouvernement municipal.

Most people seem to regard it as self-evident that every city-region needs a single municipal government.

[from “Globalization Does Not Need Amalgamation” in Policy Options (Nov. 1999), a bilingual Canadian journal of public policy]

A related phrase that means “it's a given” is ça va de soi (literally, "it goes from itself"). This phrase, which is widely used in both France and Canada, is usually translated using the common English phrase “it goes without saying.” There is a more “proper” and formal version, cela va de soi, which is more often used in writing and less in casual conversation.

Sommes-nous heureux avec les résultats de l’élection? Ça va de soi! [Casual]

Sommes-nous heureux avec les résultats de l’élection? Cela va de soi! [Formal]

Are we happy with the election results? It goes without saying!

It is not at all unusual to hear a sentence begin with Ça va de soi que… as we see in the example below, but once again, we find there is a more formal version. Il va de soi que… is considered more “proper” and is therefore the construction you are more likely to see in written texts.

Ça va de soi que les Américains fondent beaucoup d’espoir sur leur nouveau président. [Less formal]

Il va de soi que les Américains fondent beaucoup d’espoir sur leur nouveau président. [More formal]

It goes without saying that Americans are hopeful about their new president.

There are many other ways and variations of expressing both meanings of “to take for granted” in French. If you’d like to learn a few more, read this interesting discussion.

Expressions

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This and That - Part 2

This and That - Part 1

In our last lesson, we introduced the French demonstrative pronouns (celui, celle, ceux, celles), which combine with the suffixes ci (here) and  (there) to form expressions such as "this one," "that one," "these," and "those." In this lesson, we'll explore two other useful constructions featuring these pronouns.

 

The first is celui/celle/ceux/celles + de + noun, which is used to indicate ownership or possession. Here's a straightforward example from the Beauty and the Beast trailer: 

Je suis venue échanger ma vie contre celle de mon père.
I've come to exchange my life for that of my father.
Cap. 23, Bande-annonce: La Belle et La Bête

"That of my father" is the literal translation of celle de mon père, but the sentence could also have been translated as, "I've come to exchange my life for my father's." As we mentioned in the last lesson, the demonstrative pronoun has to agree in gender and number with the word it's referring to. In this case, the feminine singular celle refers to the feminine singular noun vie

 

 

The second construction is celui/celle/ceux/celles + qui, que, or dontQui (that, who) and que (that, whom) are relative pronouns, or words that introduce a dependent clause. While qui acts as the subject of the clause (usually followed by a verb), que acts as the object (usually followed by a noun or pronoun). With a demonstrative pronoun in front of them, they create expressions like "the one(s) that/who" (demonstrative pronoun + qui) and "the one(s) that/whom" (demonstrative pronoun + que): 

Vous savez... celui qui se trouve derrière la maison voisine.
You know... the one that's behind the house next door.
Cap. 20, Il était une fois: Notre Terre - 9. Les écosystèmes - Part 4

...dans des situations un peu meilleures que celles qu'ils avaient en arrivant.
...in situations that are a little bit better than the ones that they had when they arrived.
Cap. 24, Le Journal: Les Restos du Cœur 

Cet homme n'est pas celui que j'ai vu hier. 
That man is not the one whom I saw yesterday. 

 

Dont is another relative pronoun that means "whose" or "of which": 

J'habite une maison dont les volets sont bleus.
I live in a house whose shutters are blue. 

 

The demonstrative pronoun + dont combination means "the one(s) whose" or "the one(s) of/about which." In this combination, dont often replaces an object preceded by de:
 

Tu parles de ma chemise rouge? -Non, celle dont je parle est bleue. 
Are you talking about my red shirt? -No, the one that I'm talking about is blue. 

 

So, to review, the three major constructions featuring demonstrative pronouns are:

-demonstrative pronoun + -ci or - (celui-cicelle-là, etc.)
-demonstrative pronoun + de + noun (celle de mon père)
-demonstrative pronoun + qui, que, or dont (celui que j'ai vu hier)

 

The two big takeaways here are that demonstrative pronouns always replace a previously mentioned noun (and must agree with it in gender and number) and are always accompanied by another word, whether the suffixes ci and , the preposition de, or the relative pronouns qui, que, and dont

 

That about covers it for demonstrative pronouns! If you have any suggestions for future lesson topics, feel free to tweet us @yabla or email us at newsletter@yabla.com.

Grammar

La Traducteure: Feminization of Professions in French

You've no doubt noticed the difference in accent between the French and the Québécois. But have you noticed that the vocabulary, and even the grammar, is different? There are a lot of words that are unique to Québécois French—for example, the word blonde in the band name Ma blonde est une chanteuse (see the video of the same name) means "girlfriend"—the French would say copine or, more informally, nana.

These linguistic distinctions are simple enough, but sometimes there's something even trickier at play.

Annie Chartrand says that she spoke good enough English as a kid to act as la traducteure (the translator) for her mom or dad:

Ça m'a permis beaucoup de voyager et d'être parfois même la traducteure pour mon père ou ma mère lorsqu'on on partait en vacances dans le sud.

It's allowed me to travel a lot and to sometimes even be the translator for my dad or my mom when we went on vacation in the south.

Captions 18-20, Annie Chartrand: Grandir bilingue 

But if we look in the dictionary, the "correct" feminine form of the masculine traducteur is traductrice—and this in fact is the form you will find used both in Quebec and in France. So where would Annie have gotten this other form (which, as far as we know, is not in common use anywhere)?

Annie's use of the phrase la traducteure is probably related to the fact that Quebec, historically, has been in the vanguard of the movement to feminize professional titles in the French language. In fact, the period Annie is talking about in the video was not long after the election of the progressive Parti Québécois in the provincial election of 1976. What does this have to do with anything? To make a long story short, a lot of women were elected to positions of power that used to be held by men, and they wanted feminine titles in cases where traditional French lacked them. They petitioned the Office de la langue française, Quebec's authority on all things linguistic, and got official approval. Specifically, the OLF decreed that feminine titles (in those cases where none previously existed) could be created by "spontaneously creating a feminine form that respects French morphology." Thereafter, the Québécois got in the habit of feminizing titles when appropriate.

Ingénieur (engineer), for example, had no feminine form, so, respecting French morphology, we get une ingénieure. Or we get une professeure from un professeur (professor) as well as une auteure from un auteur (author).

And this, we speculate, is why Annie came up with la traducteure. Even though traducteur already has a traditional feminine form in traductrice, Annie applied the logic behind the many "modern" feminizations that she grew up with to produce this novel alternative.

Examples of other modern feminizations of professions which traditionally had no feminine counterpart include these:

Un député/une députée (deputy)

Un chirurgien/une chirurgienne  (surgeon)

Un praticien/une praticienne (medical practitioner)

Un pilote/une pilote (pilot)

Un juge/une juge (judge)

Un guitariste/une guitariste (guitarist)

Though the tradition-bound French have been slow to keep up with the progressive Québécois in this aspect of the language, the term la ministre is now common in French politics. The French generally agree that the issue is all very confusing, and they sometimes aren't even sure how to feminize a title. A good rule of thumb: say it in Québécois!

Grammar

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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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Masculin féminin: quelques faits précis

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

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

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

Captions 16–17, Le Journal: Gourmet en Bretagne

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

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

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

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

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

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

un athée (an atheist)

à l'apogée (at the peak)

un camée (a cameo)

un mausolée (a mausoleum)

un trophée (a trophy)

un macchabée (a stiff, also a Maccabee)

un pygmée (a pygmy)

un scarabée (a beetle)

 

Vocabulary

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Bienvenue

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

 

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

 

Bonjour et bienvenue sur Yabla.

Hello and welcome to Yabla.

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

Bienvenue dans la plus chic des stations alpines, Gstaad.

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

Cap. 3, Le Journal: Gstaad 

Bienvenue au théâtre, mes amis!

Welcome to the theater, my friends!

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

 

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

 

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

 

Que les visiteurs soient les bienvenus sous mon toit.

May visitors be welcome under my roof.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Soyez les bienvenus chez moi.

Welcome to my home.

 

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

 

Vos suggestions seraient les bienvenues

Your suggestions would be welcome.

 

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

 

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

Vocabulary

Which Is Which?

Imagine your friend is trying to decide on a shirt to wear to a party and asks for your opinion. In French, there are two main forms that question could take: 

Quelle chemise préfères-tu? 
Which shirt do you prefer? 

Laquelle de ces chemises préfères-tu? 
Which of these shirts do you prefer? 

There's a slight but important difference between these two questions. Though quelle and laquelle both mean "which," laquelle more specifically means "which one." Since laquelle is a pronoun, you can simplify the second sentence and just say, Laquelle préfères-tu? (Which one do you prefer?) However, you can't simplify the first one (Quelle préfères-tu?) because quelle is an adjective and therefore always precedes a noun. 

Note that quelle and laquelle agree in number (singular) and gender (feminine) with the noun they refer to, chemise. Their other forms are quel/lequel (masculine singular), quels/lesquels (masculine plural), and quelles/lesquelles (feminine plural). As you can see, the pronoun is formed by combining the definite article le, la, or les with the corresponding form of quel.

Besides introducing a question, lequel/laquelle/lesquels/lesquelles can also be used after a preposition. Here they are in action with the prepositions sur (on) and dans (in):

Le territoire sur lequel ils sont installés…
The territory on which they have settled…
Cap. 40, Actus de Quartier: Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 4

Par exemple, j'ai ma deuxième robe, dans laquelle je chante mon duo.
For example, I have my second dress, in which I sing my duet.
Cap. 25, Melissa Mars: Mozart, L'opéra rock - Part 1 

Watch out for the prepositions à (to) and de (of, from) in this construction. Just as à + le becomes au instead of à le, and de + le becomes du instead of de leà + lequel and de + lequel become auquel (to which) and duquel (from which, of which, about which). In all forms except the feminine singular (à laquellede laquelle), à and de combine with the pronoun to form one word: 

Masculine singular: duquel (de + lequel), auquel (à + lequel)
Masculine plural: desquels (de + lesquels), auxquels (à + lesquels)
Feminine plural: desquelles (de + lesquelles), auxquelles (à + lesquelles)

An important note about duquel/de laquelle/desquels/desquelles: these constructions are often replaced by the word dont, the subject of our previous lesson. So instead of a sentence like: 

Voici le livre duquel je t'ai parlé hier. 
Here is the book about which I spoke to you yesterday. 

You would more often hear:

Voici le livre dont je t'ai parlé hier. 
Here is the book I spoke to you about yesterday. 

However, you have to use duquelde laquelle, etc., whenever the de is part of a prepositional phrase such as près de (near), à côté de (next to), or loin de (far from):

Il est bordé des quais de Valmy et de Jemmapes au bord duquel se trouve le fameux Hôtel du Nord.
It is bordered by the Quais de Valmy and Jemmapes, along which is found the famous Hôtel du Nord.
Cap. 32-33, De nouvelles découvertes avec Marion: Le canal Saint-Martin

Another important note: Though it's common in English to end a clause with a preposition like "about" or "from," you can never do this with deduquel/de laquelle, etc., or dont. For example, you can say "the book I spoke to you about," but you can never say le livre je t'ai parlé duquel or le livre je t'ai parlé dont. You can only say le livre duquel je t'ai parlé or le livre dont je t'ai parlé (the book about which I spoke to you).  

Thanks for reading! Tweet us @yabla or email us at newsletter@yabla.com with any questions, feedback, or suggestions for future lesson topics. 

Grammar

French Object Pronouns - Part 2 - Indirect Object Pronouns

French Objects Pronouns - Part 1

As we mentioned in our last lesson, a direct object is a noun that receives the action of a verb (such as "the ball" in "I throw the ball"). On the other hand, an indirect object indicates to whom or for whom the action is done (such as "my friend" in "I throw the ball to my friend"). Just as direct object pronouns replace direct objects (e.g. "I throw it to my friend"), indirect object pronouns replace indirect objects ("I throw the ball to him/her"). There are six indirect object pronouns in French: 


me (to me)              nous (to us)
te (to you)               vous (to you)
lui (to him/her)        leur (to them)


In French, an indirect object pronoun usually replaces "à (to) + a person." Unlike direct object pronouns, which can refer to either people or things, indirect object pronouns only refer to people.
 

Je jette le ballon à mon amie. / Je lui jette le ballon.
I throw the ball to my friend. / I throw her the ball [or "I throw the ball to her"].


The following example contains a mixture of direct and indirect pronouns. How did the speaker know when to use which? 
 

Il m'a dit: "Je le garde". Ben, je lui ai dit: "Écoutez, expliquez aux quatre cents personnes...”
He told me, "I'm keeping it." Well, I told him, "Listen, explain to the four hundred people...”
Cap. 24, Actu Vingtième: Vendanges parisiennes


It all depends on whether the verb in question would normally be followed by the preposition à. Garder isn't followed by à: you would say garder quelque chose (to keep something), but never garder à quelque chose. If you watch the video, you'll know from context that the speaker is referring to le fromage (cheese). So instead of saying je garde le fromage, he uses the direct object pronoun le (je le garde). On the other hand, you would say dire à quelqu'un (to tell someone), but never dire quelqu'un. Because of that à, the speaker knows to use the indirect objects me and lui


Here are some other examples of indirect object pronouns in action:


Si la nuit me parle de souvenirs passés
If the night speaks to me about past memories
Cap. 3-4, Boulbar: New York, 6 heures du matin

Mais je te donne plus que des mots
But I give you more than words
Cap. 12, Corneille: Comme un fils

Et là, je leur ai envoyé une petite nouvelle…
And here, I sent them a little short story…
Cap. 86, Claudine Thibout Pivert: 2ème Salon du livre et des vieux papiers Mazamet


We know these are indirect object pronouns because they all replace "à + person" in the verbal expressions parler à quelqu'un (to speak to someone), donner à quelqu'un (to give to someone), and envoyer à quelqu'un (to send to someone).


As you learned in our last lesson, when a direct object pronoun is followed by a verb in the past tense (passé composé), the past participle needs to agree in number and gender with the direct object pronoun. On the other hand, you don't have to worry about agreement in the passé composé with indirect object pronouns. That's why you have je leur ai envoyé in the example above and not je leur ai envoyés or je leur ai envoyées

 

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

Grammar

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

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