Francese Lezioni

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A Lesson in Limits

In Les endives au jambon - Part 1, Sophie gives Patrice's recipe for endive with ham a rave review. She uses the word limite twice:

 

J'ai limite léché l'assiette, quoi!
I almost licked the plate, you know!
Cap. 64, Sophie et Patrice - Les endives au jambon - Part 1

 

Et limite... limite... limite, tu pourrais mettre un tout petit peu de miel, hein?
And almost... almost... you could almost put in a tiny little bit of honey, right?
Cap. 106-107, Sophie et Patrice - Les endives au jambon - Part 1

 

Une limite is "a limit," but limite can also be an adverb or adjective. As an adverb (which is how Sophie uses it here), limite is a more informal synonym of presque (almost, nearly). So Sophie could also have said:

 

J'ai presque léché l'assiette, quoi!
I almost licked the plate, you know!

 

Tu pourrais presque mettre un tout petit peu de miel, hein?
You could almost put in a tiny little bit of honey, right?

 

In the first example, she could also have used the expression "avoir failli + infinitive" (to almost do something):

 

J'ai failli lécher l'assiette, quoi!
I almost licked the plate, you know!

 

But let's get back to limite. As an adjective, it usually means "maximum," as in la vitesse limite (maximum speed) or le prix limite (maximum price, upper price limit). You'll also see it in phrases like la date limite (deadline) or la date limite de vente (sell-by date).

 

More colloquially, limite can describe a close call, something you just barely succeeded in doing:

 

J'ai réussi mon permis de conduire, mais c'était limite.
I passed my driver's test, but just barely.

 

You might also say j'ai limite raté mon permis de conduire, j'ai presque raté mon permis de conduire, or j'ai failli rater mon permis de conduire (I almost failed my driver's test).

 

Finally, limite is also the word for "edgy" or "borderline," as in something that's risqué or just shy of being offensive:

 

Ton ami est sympa mais ses blagues sont un peu limites.
Your friend is nice but his jokes are borderline offensive

 

We've reached the limit for this lesson! Tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

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Ones, Eighties, and Hundreds

When it comes to writing numbers in French, there are a good number (bon nombre) of rules to remember. Luckily, Sophie and Patrice have broken down most of them in their latest video series. They pay particular attention to the rules concerning the numeral one (un), the eighties (quatre-vingts), and the hundreds (cents).

 

In French, there’s only one numeral that changes according to the gender of the noun it modifies: the numeral one!

 

Je n’ai acheté qu’une chemise et un pantalon.

I only bought one [feminine] shirt and one [masculine] pair of pants.

 

This rule applies to any number ending in “one,” such as vingt-et-un (“twenty-one,” masculine) or vingt-et-une (“twenty-one,” feminine):

 

J’ai acheté trop de vêtements: vingt-et-une chemises et vingt-et-un pantalons.

I bought too many clothes: twenty-one shirts and twenty-one pairs of pants.

 

However, there’s an exception to this: the numeral un never changes when it comes after a noun indicating a number. For example:

 

Tournez à la page un [not: une].

Turn to page one.

 

Pourriez-vous me passer la revue numéro vingt-et-un [not: vingt-et-une]?

Could you pass me the magazine issue number twenty-one?

Cap. 25, Sophie et Patrice - Chiffres et nombres - Part 2

 

Most other numbers—from deux (two) to quarante (forty) to deux mille quarante (two thousand forty)—never change in any situation. For those that do (besides those ending in un), it’s generally a question of knowing when to add an -s at the end. Take the number quatre-vingts (eighty) for example. Quatre-vingts literally means “four twenties” (4 x 20 = 80) and always takes an -s, except—once again—after a noun indicating a number. So we would write: la page quatre-vingt (page eighty) and les années quatre-vingt (the nineteen eighties), but quatre-vingts pages (eighty pages) and quatre-vingts années (eighty years).

 

The -s is also dropped whenever quatre-vingts is followed by a number—as in quatre-vingt-un (eighty-one) or quatre-vingt-cinq (eighty-five):

 

Quatre-vingt-cinq personnes sont attendues ce soir.

Eighty-five people are expected tonight.

Cap. 79, Sophie et Patrice - Chiffres et nombres - Part 2

 

Did you notice we wrote quatre-vingt-un (eighty-one), but vingt-et-un (twenty-one, or “twenty and one”) above? That’s another rule of eighties and ones: you say vingt-et-un (twenty-one), trente-et-un (thirty-one), quarante-et-un (forty-one), cinquante-et-un (fifty-one), soixante-et-un (sixty-one), and soixante-et-onze (seventy-one, or “sixty and eleven”), but quatre-vingt-un (eighty-one) and quatre-vingt-onze (ninety-one, or “four-twenty-eleven” [4 x 20 + 11 = 91]).

 

The rules for the hundreds (cents) are the same as those for the eighties:

 

À chaque fois qu'il y a un nombre qui suit le cent, même s'il y a un nombre qui précède le cent, on ne met pas de S.

Each time there's a number that follows the cent, even if there's a number that precedes the cent, we don't add an S.

Cap. 43-45, Sophie et Patrice - Chiffres et nombres - Part 2

 

So we would write: trois cent(three hundred), la page trois cent (page three hundred), trois cent un (three hundred one; not trois cent et un!). For more on cent, and numbers like mille (thousand) and million (million), see our lesson on big numbers in French.

 

If your head is spinning from all these number rules, don’t fret! It’s easier to just memorize numbers like soixante-quinze and quatre-vingt-onze rather than having to calculate 60 + 15 and 4 x 20 + 11 each time you want to say "seventy-five" and "ninety-one."

 

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Painting Three Ways

Since France has such a rich artistic history, from Gothic architecture to Surrealism and beyond, it's not too surprising that there are three different words for "painting" in French. You'll find one of them in our new video on the artist Karine Rougier:

 

Un travail à la fois de peintures, de sculptures... de pierres peintes
Works of both paintings, of sculptures... of painted rocks
Cap. 9-10, Le saviez-vous? - Karine Rougier présente son art - Part 1

 

Une peinture shouldn't be too hard to remember, since it's a cognate of "painting." Its relatives also have direct English equivalents: peindre (to paint), peint/peinte (painted), peintre (painter).

 

Peinture is also the word for "paint," as in the substance: 

 

Et la peinture, euh... on peut dire, se sépare pas comme une vinaigrette.
And the paint, uh... we can say, doesn't separate like a vinaigrette. 
Cap. 31, Salon Eco Habitat - La peinture à l'ocre

 

So la peinture à l'huile, for example, can either mean "oil painting" or "oil paint."

 

In English, a "tableau" is an artistic grouping or arrangement, originally referring to a motionless group of people representing a scene or historical event, kind of like a living painting. As a matter of fact, "tableau" is short for tableau vivant, which means exactly that. Un tableau (literally, "little table") is another word for "painting" in French:

 

Actuellement, je prépare un grand tableau, "La naissance de Vénus".
At the moment, I'm preparing a great painting, "The Birth of Venus."
Cap. 67, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 10. Amerigo Vespucci - Part 1

 

Finally, there's la toile, which technically means "canvas," but is just as often used for "painting":

 

Vous y découvrirez la reproduction d'une toile de Sisley
There you'll find the reproduction of a Sisley painting
Cap. 10, Voyage en France - Saint-Mammès

 

But that's not all! Une toile is also "a web," as in une toile d'araignée (spider's web). And just as you can say "the web" in English to refer to the internet, in French you can say la toile.

 

We hope this lesson has inspired you to get out your pinceaux (paintbrushes)!
 

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Tirer: Pulling, Drawing, Shooting, and More

The galette des rois (kings' cake) is a holiday treat prepared throughout the French-speaking world. Associated with the feast of Epiphany on January 6, the cake contains a small figurine (called la fève) representing the baby Jesus. Whoever finds la fève in their slice is crowned king or queen for the day.

 

Patricia explains the tradition of the galette des rois in her latest video. While doing so, she also happens to use the verb tirer in all three of its major senses: 

 

En début d'année, au mois de janvier, nous tirons les rois.
At the beginning of the year, in the month of January, we draw kings.
Cap. 4-5, Le saviez-vous? - La tradition de la galette des rois - Part 1

 

Non, il ne s'agit pas de tirer les moustaches du roi ou encore tirer des fléchettes sur le roi.
No, it's not about pulling the king's mustache or shooting darts at the king.
Cap. 6-7, Le saviez-vous? - La tradition de la galette des rois - Part 1

 

Le roi et la reine qu'on a donc tirés, c'est-à-dire tirés au sort, choisis au hasard, portent leur couronne pour clôturer cette célébration.
So the king and the queen that were drawn, that is to say drawn at random, chosen at random, wear their crowns to close this celebration.
Cap. 19-22, Le saviez-vous? - La tradition de la galette des rois - Part 1

 

"To pull" is the most basic meaning of tirer. You'll often come across it when approaching a door (tirez, "pull"), along with its opposite (poussez, "push"). And in the event of an emergency, you might tirer l'alarme incendie (pull the fire alarm).

 

Tirer means "to draw" not in the sense of "drawing" a picture (the verb for that is dessiner), but rather "drawing" something toward you or extracting something (such as la fève from a galette des rois). It's also "to draw" as in "to pick" or "select." For example, a French magician might say to you:

 

Tirez une carte. 
Pick a card.

 

Tirer's more sinister meaning is "to shoot" or "to fire," referring to a weapon. This also has to do with pulling—you pull the trigger to fire a gun and pull the bow to shoot an arrow. Be careful with your prepositions here: we say "to shoot or fire at" in English, but in French it's not tirer à but tirer sur (tirer des fléchettes sur le roi).

 

Tirer has many, many other meanings. For instance, you can use it to describe skin irritation (which, if you think about it, kind of feels like your skin is being pulled):

 

J'ai la peau qui tire
My skin is irritated.

 

On a totally different note, tirer can also refer to printing something, such as a book, a photo, or a poster. In this case it's synonymous with imprimer

 

On a tiré [or imprimédes affiches pour le concert. 
We printed some posters for the concert. 

 

Note that there are two noun forms of tirerle tirage and le tirTir exclusively refers to "shooting" or "firing" a weapon, as in le tir à l'arc (archery). Tirage refers to "drawing" or "printing," as in le tirage au sort (drawing lots) or le tirage d'un livre (the printing of a book).

 

For even more usages of tirer, check out this page or do a search in our video library. 

 

On se tire! (We're out of here!) Thanks for reading. Tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

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Au moins or du moins?

Moins is a comparative word meaning "less" or "least" (its opposite, plus, means "more" or "most"). In this lesson, we'll focus on two common expressions with moinsau moins and du moins, both equivalent to "at least." How do we know when to use which?

 

If you think about it, "at least" has (at least!) three usages. It can specify the minimum amount of something ("I need at least two cups of coffee every day"), it can emphasize a positive aspect of an otherwise negative situation ("The car was totaled, but at least we're all OK"), and it can alter the connotation of a previous statement ("That restaurant is terrible. At least that's what I've heard"). In general, au moins corresponds to the first two usages, and du moins to the third.

 

We use au moins when referring to a minimum amount. It's often followed by a number:

 

On fait au moins sept ou huit groupes différents.
We have at least seven or eight different bands.
Cap. 5, French Punk - Frustration

 

Tu pourras leur parler de ce que tu voudras, pourvu que tu parles au moins deux heures.
You'll be able to talk to them about whatever you like, as long as you speak for at least two hours.
Cap. 3-4, Il était une fois... L’Espace - 6. La révolte des robots - Part 5

 

Au moins is synonymous with au minimum in this sense: 

 

Pour jouer à la pétanque il faut au minimum deux joueurs.
To play pétanque, you need at the minimum two players.
Cap. 5, Lionel - Les nombres

 

But like "at least," au moins doesn't have to refer to a numerical minimum. It can also refer to the "bare minimum," as in the minimum you can do if you can't or don't want to do something else:

 

Bien entendu, il faut réapprendre ou tout au moins se remettre au niveau
Of course, it's necessary to relearn or at the very least get up to speed
Cap. 24, Lionel - Le club de foot de Nancy - Part 2

 

Au moins is a great expression to use when you're being optimistic or encouraging someone:

 

C'était pas comme t'imaginais, mais au moins tu essayes
It was not as you imagined, but at least you're trying
Cap. 76-77, Watt’s In - Zaz : On Ira Interview Exclu

 

Just don't confuse it with à moins (que), which means "unless":

 

Ne plus couper les forêts à moins que ce soit pour faire mes jolis calendriers
No longer cut down the forests unless it's to make my pretty calendars
Cap. 3-5, Nouveaux Talents? - Adonis chante

 

Du moins restricts the meaning of a previous statement. You can use it to modify or clarify what you just said:

 

Je suis le fou du village. Du moins, c'est ce que les gens disent.
I'm the village idiot. At least that's what people say.
Cap. 68-69, Patrice Zana - L'artiste et ses inspirations - Part 2'

 

C'est parti pour quatre heures de réflexion. Du moins en théorie.
Time for four hours of recollection. At least in theory.
Cap. 4-5, Le Journal - Le bac

 

Du moins is more or less synonymous with en tout cas (in any event, anyway): en tout cas c'est ce que les gens disent (that's what people say, in any event); en tout cas en théorie (in theory, anyway).

 

To get an even better sense of how to use these two expressions, just do a search for au moins and du moins on the Yabla site. 

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In the Mood for Envie

In "Dimanche soir" (Sunday Night), the slam poet Grand Corps Malade declares his love for his wife in beautiful lines such as: 

 

Je l'ai dans la tête comme une mélodie, alors mes envies dansent
I have her in my head like a melody, so my desires dance
Cap. 17, Grand Corps Malade - Dimanche soir

 

If you didn't see the translation, you might have guessed that envie means "envy." And you would have been right!

 

Vous ne connaissez que l'envie, la hâte, la rage de les tuer. 
You knew only envy, haste, the urge to kill them.
Cap. 60, Il était une fois... L’Espace - 3. La planète verte - Part 6

 

However, besides désir, envie is also the word for "desire." While un désir is a more general desire, envie connotes yearning, longing, or craving:
 

Il peut rester une envie intellectuelle.
There can remain a mental craving.
Cap. 129, Le Figaro - Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 1

 

If you think about it, this double meaning of envie makes a lot of sense, since envy is bound up with desire: if you envy (envier) someone, you covet what they have.

 

J'envie les caresses
envy the caresses
Cap. 18, Oldelaf - interprète "Bérénice"

 

Quitte à en crever de son histoire déçue, de son passé tant envié
Despite wanting to die from her disappointing history, her so envied past
Cap. 12, Yaaz - La place des anges

 

But envie isn't always so intense. The extremely common expression avoir envie de doesn't mean "to envy" or "yearn for," but simply "to want," "feel like," or "be in the mood for":

 

Vous avez pas envie de faire la sieste?
You don't feel like taking a nap?
Cap. 29, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciens

 

J'ai envie d'une limonade.
I'm in the mood for a lemonade.

 

There's also the expression donner envie (literally, "to give desire"), which means "to make someone want something":

 

D'avoir des quantités de choses
Qui donnent envie d'autres choses
To have things in large quantities
That make you want other things
Cap. 4-5, Fréro Delavega - Foule Sentimentale

 

In English, we have the phrase "green with envy." But in French, one becomes "green with jealousy": vert(e) de jalousie. You can, however, make someone "pale with envy" (faire pâlir d'envie).

 

Finally, here's a bizarre quirk of the French language: envie is also the word for "birthmark" and "hangnail." What those have to do with envy and desire is an etymological mystery. 

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Pleasing with Plaire

The verb plaire is most often used in the expressions s'il vous plaît (formal) and s'il te plaît (informal), which, as you probably know, both mean "please"––or more accurately, "if it pleases you." "To please" is the basic meaning of plaire:

 

Ça peut pas leur plaire.
That can't please them.
Cap. 18, Le Journal - Yann Arthus Bertrand

 

Another way of saying "to please" is faire plaisir (literally, "to make pleasure"):

 

Je sais que ça va pas te faire plaisir
I know this isn't going to please you
Cap. 18, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon père s'oppose à ma passion - Part 7

 

If something pleases you, that means you like it. Indeed, plaire can also mean "to like" or "enjoy":

 

Une autre œuvre qui me plaît beaucoup
Another work that I like a lot
Cap. 35, Patrice Zana - L'artiste et ses inspirations - Part 2

 

OK, je te plais pas.
OK, you don't like me.
Cap. 52, Le Jour où tout a basculé - À la recherche de mon père - Part 4

 

Ce livre plaît à tout le monde.
Everyone enjoys that book.

 

We could certainly translate the above examples as "another work that pleases/appeals to me a lot," "OK, I'm not pleasing/appealing to you," and "that book is pleasing/appealing to everyone." But plaire is used a bit more generally than "to please," so you'll usually see it translated as "to like" or "enjoy" with the subject and object inverted (ce livre plaît à tout le monde = everyone enjoys that book). Note that plaire always takes an indirect object (plaire à quelqu'un, "to please/be pleasing to someone"). 

 

When plaire is reflexive (se plaire, literally "to please oneself"), it means "to be happy" or "to enjoy being somewhere":

 

Est-ce que tu t'plais?
Are you enjoying yourself here?
Cap. 4, Yabla à Nancy - Université Nancy 2

 

Elles se plaisent à Lindre
They like Lindre
Cap. 21, Lionel - à Lindre-Basse - Part 6

 

Or, in the plural, it can mean "to like one another," "to enjoy each other's company":

 

Ils se sont plu immédiatement.
They liked each other instantly.

 

And for life's unpleasant moments, there's the verb déplaire (to dislike, displease, irritate, upset):

 

Ses plaisanteries déplaisent à ma mère.
My mother doesn't like his jokes. (His jokes irritate my mother.)

 

There's also the expression n'en déplaise à (with all due respect to, with apologies to, no offense to):

 

Pas de fiole de cyanure, n'en déplaise à Shakespeare
No vial of cyanide, no offense to Shakespeare
Cap. 47, Grand Corps Malade - Roméo kiffe Juliette

 

We hope you're pleased with this lesson on plaire!

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Trees, Groves, and Orchards

In our latest Le saviez-vous? video, we visit La Maison de l'Olive, a store in Nice specializing in—you guessed it—olives. Like most of the Mediterranean region, the south of France is filled with olive trees, or oliviers:

 

Toute la cuisine méditerranéenne se fait avec l'huile d'olive. C'est la civilisation de l'olivier.
All Mediterranean cuisine is made with olive oil. It's the olive tree civilization.
Cap. 27-28, Le saviez-vous? - La Maison de l'Olive à Nice - Part 1

 

You might be familiar with the word olivier as a proper noun, Olivier, the French equivalent of "Oliver." But its basic meaning is "olive tree." In fact, like olivier, the names of most fruit and nut trees end in -ier in French. So, for example, an apple tree is un pommier (from une pomme), a cherry tree is un cerisier (from une cerise), a pear tree is un poirier (from une poire), and so on: 

 

Je parle surtout du cacaoyer, du bananier
I am talking especially about the cacao tree, the banana tree
Cap. 8, Grand Lille TV - Visite des serres de Tourcoing

 

Ils connaissent le mot café, mais ils ne connaissent [sic: savent] pas ce que c'est que le caféier...
They know the word "coffee," but they don't know what the coffee tree is...
Cap. 12, Grand Lille TV - Visite des serres de Tourcoing

 

Of course, there are some exceptions. A few of these tree names end in -yer, not -ier, such as cacaoyer above and noyer (walnut tree, from une noix). And a few just end in -er, namely oranger (orange tree) and pêcher (peach tree). Like most -er words, these trees are always masculine, even if the fruit or nut that grows on them is feminine. So you have un pêcher (a peach tree) but une pêche (a peach); un cerisier (a cherry tree) but une cerise (a cherry).

 

Incidentally, when someone asks if you know how to faire le poirier, they're not wondering whether you can "make the pear tree," but whether you can do a headstand! The origin of this expression probably has to do with the rough resemblance between a headstand and a pear tree. But why not un pommier or un citronnier (a lemon tree)? Who knows! 

 

A group of fruit or nut trees is a grove (un bosquet) or an orchard (un verger). But the French word for "olive grove" is not un bosquet d'oliviers. It's une oliveraie:

 

En tout cas, en ce qui concerne les oliveraies qui sont sur les Alpes-Maritimes, elles ont été plantées par les Grecs.
In any case, with regard to the olive groves that are in the Alpes-Maritimes, they were planted by the Greeks. 
Cap. 32-34, Le saviez-vous? - La Maison de l'Olive à Nice - Part 1

 

Here we have another pattern: the words for fruit/nut groves or orchards generally end in -eraie or -aie. These words are always feminine. For instance:

 

une pomme - un pommier - une pommeraie
une cerise - un cerisier - une cerisaie 
une orange - un oranger - une orangeraie 
une châtaigne (a chestnut) - un châtaignier - une châtaigneraie 
une amande (an almond) - un amandier une amandaie 

 

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

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Declining Décliner

The word "decline" can mean "decrease," "deteriorate," "move downward," or "politely refuse." Its source, the French verb décliner, can have all of these meanings and more.

 

Most of these other meanings stem from a more specialized grammatical one. To "decline" a noun, pronoun, or adjective is to list all of its forms according to case, number, and gender. You don't have to worry about doing this in French—it only applies to certain languages, such as Latin and Ancient Greek. But décliner can refer to a similar activity of enumerating, presenting something in various forms, offering a range of something, laying out all its different facets.

 

Because décliner has such a wide variety of meanings, its translation is highly context-specific. For example, you can use it to talk about a fashion designer "presenting" all the styles of his latest collection on the runway:

 

Du blanc, du noir, presque exclusivement, tous les codes déclinés inlassablement
Almost exclusively white and black, all the styles presented tirelessly
Cap. 5, Le Journal - Défilé de mode - Part 2

 

Or you can use it in the sense of "depicting" several aspects of something:

 

...des travaux de couture d'une jeune femme qui décline un petit peu l'Alsace sur du tissu
...some sewing projects from a young woman who kind of depicts the various faces of Alsace on fabric
Cap. 18-19, Alsace 20 - Mangez bien, mangez alsacien!

 

Businesses often use décliner to advertise a product available in various forms. When Lionel visited a madeleine shop in Liverdun, the owner used it to refer to the different flavors she sells:

 

Nous l'avons déclinée à la mirabelle et à la bergamote.
We've adapted it with mirabelle plum and with bergamote orange.
Cap. 32-33, Lionel - La boutique de madeleines de Liverdun - Part 2

 

This restaurant owner in Nice uses décliner in a somewhat particular sense. He's not talking about the different forms of socca he offers, but rather all the times of day people order it:

 

Ça se décline comme ça, et on peut en manger vraiment à n'importe quelle heure.
It's available like that, and you can really eat it at any time.
Cap. 34-35, Le saviez-vous? - La socca, spécialité niçoise

 

If you see décliner on a form you're filling out, or hear it from an administrative official, you're being asked to provide information about yourself:

 

Déclinez votre nom et adresse.
State your name and address.

 

Don't forget that décliner also has all the senses of the English "decline": "decrease," "deteriorate," "move downward," "politely refuse."

 

We've now "declined" all the meanings of décliner!

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Surprise, Surprise!

In the latest segment of Le Jour où tout a basculé - J'ai piégé mon fan, Alex uses a phrase whose meaning may surprise you:

 

Mais bon, c'était pour la bonne cause. -Tu m'étonnes. Regarde.
But OK, it was for a good cause. -You're not kidding. Look.
Cap. 7-8, Le Jour où tout a basculé - J'ai piégé mon fan - Part 7

 

The literal translation of tu m'étonnes is "you surprise me," but it's often used as a set phrase meaning "you're not kidding," "no kidding," or "tell me something I don't know." Used in this way, it has the opposite meaning of its literal translation—the person is not surprised by what they just heard. Tu m'étonnes is very similar to the English expression "surprise, surprise," which is also used ironically to convey a lack of surprise. 

 

Sans blague is another phrase meaning "no kidding" or, more literally, "no joke." This one, however, can express surprise:

 

Je suis né le 3 novembre. -Sans blague! Moi aussi!
I was born on November 3. -No kidding! So was I!

 

The verb étonner has the same root as the English verb "to stun." It means "to surprise," "astonish," or "amaze":

 

Sur l'eau, il vit son reflet, totalement étonné
In the water, he saw his reflection, totally surprised
Cap. 29, Contes de fées - Le vilain petit canard - Part 2

 

Les héritiers de Jules Verne n'ont pas fini de nous étonner.
Jules Verne's heirs have never ceased to amaze us.
Cap. 26, Le Journal - Le record du Tour de Monde!

 

And the English "surprise" comes directly from the French surpris(e):

 

Je suis un peu surpris.
I'm a little surprised.
Cap. 38, Lea & Lionel L - Le parc de Bercy - Part 1

 

Unsurprisingly, the verb surprendre means "to surprise":
 
 

Tu vas mener l'attaque pour les surprendre.
You're going to lead the attack to surprise them.
Cap. 28, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 15. Bruce et les sources du Nil - Part 2

 

But it can also have the related meaning "to catch," "come upon," or "discover":

 

Louise surprend René et Edna en pleine conversation.
Louise catches René and Edna deep in conversation.
Cap. 2, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mes grands-parents sont infidèles - Part 8 

 

Just as there are two words for "to surprise" (étonner and surprendre) and two words for "surprised" (étonné[e] and surpris[e]), there are two words for "surprising": 

 

C'est pas étonnant que beaucoup de peintres soient venus s'installer ici sur Arles.
It's not surprising that many painters came to settle here in Arles.
Cap. 12, Arles - Un Petit Tour d'Arles - Part 3

 

C'est un endroit vraiment surprenant en plein cœur de Paris.
It's a really surprising place right in the heart of Paris.
Cap. 14, Voyage dans Paris - Les Secrets de Belleville

 

Can you guess what la surprise and l'étonnement mean? Surprise, surprise! 

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Verbs in -ayer

French singer-songwriter Zaz uses the verb essayer (to try) a few times in her interview on Watt's In, and it's conjugated in two different ways:

 

Enfin j'essaie toujours de faire du mieux possible.
Well, I always try to do the best I can.
Cap. 72, Watt’s In - Zaz : On Ira Interview Exclu

 

Mais au moins tu essayes...
But at least you try...
Cap. 77, Watt’s In - Zaz : On Ira Interview Exclu

 

Why do we have j'essaie (with an i) and tu essayes (with a y)? The answer is that the spelling of many conjugations of essayer is variable. Here's the verb in the present indicative:

 

j'essaie or j'essaye (I try)
tu essaies or tu essayes (you try [singular])
il/elle essaie or il/elle essaye (he/she tries)
nous essayons (we try)
vous essayez (you try [formal/plural])
ils/elles essaient or ils/elles essayent (they try)

 

Whether you spell the variable forms with an i or a y is completely up to you (except for nous essayons and vous essayez, which you must spell with a y). However, there's a bit of a catch: the pronunciation of the verb changes depending on which spelling you use. You can hear the difference in the two captions above: Zaz pronounces the -aie of essaie as a short "e" (as in mai, "May"), and the -ayes of essayes as a longer "e" (as in pareil, "same"). That's how we knew to spell them the way we did.

 

In fact, pretty much all verbs ending in -ayer follow this pattern. Listen to Patricia demonstrate the difference between je paie and je paye (I pay) here:

 

Petite particularité pour le verbe "payer": on peut dire "je paie avec ce billet" ou "je paye avec ce billet".
A small particularity for the verb "to pay": you can say "I pay with this bill" or "I pay with this bill."
Cap. 31-34, Le saviez-vous? - Les verbes du 1er groupe les plus utilisés - Part 1

 

Variable spellings don't only occur in the present indicative form of -ayer verbs. You'll also come across them in the future (e.g. vous paierez/payerez, "you will pay"), in the present subjunctive (qu'ils essaient/essayent, "that they try"), in the present conditional (tu paierais/payerais, "you would pay"), and in the imperative (essaie/essaye, "try!").

 

Some other common verbs that follow this pattern are balayer (to sweep), bégayer (to stutter), délayer (to mix, dilute), effrayer (to frighten), égayer (to cheer up), and rayer (to scratch, cross out).

 

See this WordReference page for a full conjugation of essayer and other verbs like it. 
 

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Logement pour tous!

In early 2018, a group of protesters gathered in front of the headquarters of the SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français [French National Railway Company]) to demand that the company convert its empty buildings into public housing:

 

Logement! -Pour qui? -Pour tous!
Housing! -For whom? -For everyone! 
Cap. 18-20, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

 

Logement is the word for "housing" or "lodging" in general, but it can also refer more specifically to an apartment, house, or home: 

 

j'aurais pas pu avoir mon logement
I wouldn't have been able to get my apartment
Cap. 57, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

 

lorsque j'avais pas mon logement
when I didn't have my home
Cap. 110, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

 

The verbal form of logementloger, means "to house" or "to accommodate." It's synonymous with héberger:

 

ces beaux immeubles vides pour héberger, pour loger les personnes qui sont à la rue
these beautiful empty buildings to house, to provide housing for people who are on the street
Cap. 16-17, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

 

On the flip side, loger can also mean "to be housed," "to stay," or "to live":

 

Je loge chez mon amie
I'm staying at my friend's place.

 

If someone is mal logé, they're living in poor housing conditions:
 

La honte, la honte à ce pouvoir qui fait la guerre aux mal-logés.
Shame, shame on this authority that's waging war on the poorly housed.
Cap. 27-28, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

 

And if someone is homeless, they're SDF—an acronym for sans domicile fixe (without a fixed abode):

 

Moi, je suis là parce que je suis SDF. Je suis sans domicile fixe.
Me, I'm here because I'm homeless. I'm without a fixed abode.
Cap. 98-99, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

 

Another word for "homeless" is sans-abri (without shelter).

 

Many people lucky enough to have a fixed abode pay un loyer (rent) to un/une propriétaire (a landlord/landlady):

 

j'ai de quoi payer un loyer
I have enough to pay rent
Cap. 120, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

 

La propriétaire a vendu son appartement
The landlady sold her apartment
Cap. 103, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

 

Propriétaire is also the word for "owner." Un propriétaire foncier is a property owner, such as the SNCF:

 

Faut quand même savoir que la SNCF, c'est le deuxième propriétaire foncier du pays après l'État.
You should know, however, that the SNCF is the second largest property owner in the country after the State.
Cap. 42-44, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

 

You'll find two words for "building" in this video—immeuble and bâtiment:

 

Vous avez vu dimanche le bel immeuble vide
On Sunday you saw the beautiful empty building
Cap. 9, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

 

Parce qu'ils ont des bâtiments vides, complètement vides
Because they have empty buildings, completely empty
Cap. 29, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

 

While both are general terms for "building," un immeuble can also be an "apartment building" or "apartment block," which is what the protesters are hoping the SNCF will provide for those in need.

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The Pronoun En

In Part 2 of her lesson on negation, Patricia explains three common negative constructions: rien ne... (nothing), ne... aucun(e) (not any), and ne... nulle part (nowhere). In a few of her examples, she uses the pronoun en, which some beginners might not be familiar with: 

 

Veux-tu quelques pommes? -Non, je n'en veux aucune.
Do you want some apples? -No, I don't want any.
Cap. 41-42, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négations - Part 2

 

As-tu quelques stylos à me passer? -Non, je n'ai aucun stylo. Je n'en ai aucun.
Do you have some pens to give me? -No, I don't have any pens. I don't have any.
Cap. 53, 57-58, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négations - Part 2

 

In English, we know that the "any" of "I don't want any" and "I don't have any" refers back to "apples" and "pens," respectively. But in French, we can't just say je ne veux aucune and je n'ai aucun. We need to add en to refer back to the objects in question—quelques pommes and quelques stylos.

 

To make this clearer, let's simplify these sentences by making them affirmative:

 

Veux-tu quelques pommes? -Oui, j'en veux.
Do you want some apples? -Yes, I want some.

 

As-tu quelques stylos à me passer? -Oui, j'en ai.
Do you have some pens to give me? -Yes, I have some.

 

Just as it would be incorrect to respond to the English questions with "yes, I want" and "yes, I have," in French you wouldn't say oui, je veux or oui, j'ai. You need to specify what you're referring to. So you add "some"/en. As you can see, while "some" is placed right after the verb, en is placed right before.

 

Though the examples above use quelques (some), the general rule for en is that it replaces de + a noun. In fact, we can rewrite these sentences using des instead of quelques without changing their meaning: 

 

Veux-tu des pommes? -Non, je n'en veux aucune. 
Do you want some apples? -No, I don't want any.

 

As-tu des stylos à me passer? -Non, je n'en ai aucun.
Do you have some pens to give me? -No, I don't have any.

 

There's also an example of en replacing de + a noun later on in the video:

 

Y a-t-il de la neige partout? -Non, il n'y en a nulle part.
Is there snow everywhere? -No, there's not any anywhere.
Cap. 71-72, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négations - Part 2

 

If you want to avoid using en for now, you can simply include the object you're referring to in the sentence:

 

Y a-t-il de la neige partout? -Non, il n'y a pas de neige nulle part.
Is there snow everywhere? -No, there's no snow anywhere.

 

Veux-tu quelques/des pommes? -Non, je ne veux pas de pomme.
Do you want some apples? -No, I don't want any apples.

 

As-tu quelques/des stylos à me passer? -Non, je n'ai aucun stylo [or: je n'ai pas de stylo].
Do you have some pens to give me? -No, I don't have any pens.

 

For an in-depth look at negation in French, be sure to check out the rest of Patricia's videos on the subject.

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Un Truc: A (Not So) Tricky Thing

In this lesson, we're going to discuss a very common word that isn't very specific. It's un truc, an informal word for "thing" (une chose has the same meaning). You can use it when you're not quite sure what an object is called:

 

J'attends que le truc passe parce que ça fait un petit bruit...
I'm waiting for the thing to pass because it's making a little noise...
Cap. 82, Lea - Cour Saint-Émilion

 

Or when you're talking about something abstract:

 

On n'a plus de souvenirs. C'est ça, le truc aussi.
We don't have any more memories. That's the thing too.
Cap. 25-26, Elisa et sa maman

 

When someone says "it's not my thing," they're saying they don't really like it (it's not their cup of tea) or they're not really good at it (it's not their forte). There's an exact cognate of this expression in French—ce n'est pas mon truc:

 

La baignade, c'est pas mon truc. -Oh, moi non plus!
Swimming isn't my thing. -Oh, me neither!
Cap. 26, Il était une fois - Notre Terre - 25. Technologies - Part 5

 

Un truc means "a thing," but it often translates as "something." It's a more informal way of saying quelque chose (something):

 

Tu sais je vais te dire un truc. Tu sais ce que c'est qu'une utopie?
You know, I'll tell you something. Do you know what a utopia is?
Cap. 70, Actus Quartier - Manif anti-nucléaire à Bastille

 

Manon, à toi de commencer. Dis-moi un petit truc en français.
Manon, your turn to start. Tell me a little something in French.
Cap. 3, Manon et Clémentine - Virelangues

 

Sometimes, un truc (or des trucs) is just "stuff" in general:

 

Je sais pas encore mais en tout cas je sais que je veux créer un truc.
I don't know yet, but in any case I know that I want to create stuff.
Cap. 58, Watt’s In - Louane : Avenir Interview Exclu

 

But there is one instance in which truc does have a specific meaning. It's also the word for "trick," as in a magic trick or a clever way of doing something:

 

Moi, j'ai un truc miraculeux
Me, I have a miraculous trick
Cap. 2, Le Mans TV - Benjamin Perrot: "La rébellion du combiné"

 

You'll find a synonym for truc in the next caption:

 

Une astuce qui ne coûte rien
trick that costs nothing
Cap. 3, Le Mans TV - Benjamin Perrot: "La rébellion du combiné"

 

Besides ce n'est pas mon truc, there are two expressions with truc with close English cognates. The first is avoir le truc:

 

Je n'ai pas le truc pour ça.
don't have the knack for it. 

 

Tu commences à avoir le truc.
You're getting the hang of it.

 

The second is chacun son truc (literally, "each his/her thing"), synonymous with chacun ses goûts (there's no accounting for taste; literally, "each his/her tastes"):

 

J'aime les chats. Tu aimes les chiens. Chacun son truc! / Chacun ses goûts!
I like cats. You like dogs. To each his own!

 

Vous commencez à avoir le truc pour "truc"!  Stay tuned for our next lesson and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

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A Rendezvous with Rendez-Vous

The word rendez-vous is the second-person plural imperative form of the verb se rendre ("to go" or "to present oneself"). It literally means "go!" or "present yourself!" But rather than a command, you'll hear it most often used as a noun—un rendez-vous. In English, "a rendezvous" is another word for "a meeting." Un rendez-vous means that and much more, as you'll see in this lesson.

 

If you're a regular Yabla French user, you'll recognize this word from the final caption of nearly every video in our Voyage en France series:

 

Je vous donne rendez-vous très bientôt pour de nouvelles découvertes. 
I will meet you very soon for some new discoveries.
Cap. 50, Voyage en France - Mont-Valérien

 

Donner rendez-vous à (literally, "to give meeting to") is to arrange to meet someone, to set up a date or an appointment with someone. Indeed, besides "a meeting," un rendez-vous can also be "a date" or "an appointment": 

 

C'est au premier rendez-vous qu'ils franchissent le pas
It's on the first date that they take that step
Cap. 5, Grand Corps Malade - Roméo kiffe Juliette

 

J'ai rendez-vous chez le dentiste et je suis en retard!
I have an appointment at the dentist and I'm late!
Cap. 10, Micro-Trottoirs - Art ou science?

 

Note the discrepancy between the French and the English in that last example: when talking about having an appointment with someone, you don't have to say j'ai un rendez-vousJ'ai rendez-vous will suffice.

 

In French, you don't "make" an appointment with someone—you "take" (prendre) one:

 

Aujourd'hui, on va apprendre à prendre rendez-vous chez le médecin.
Today we're going to learn how to make an appointment at the doctor's.
Cap. 1, Manon et Clémentine - Rendez-vous chez le médecin

 

And if something is by appointment only, it's sur rendez-vous ("on appointment"):

 

au trente-neuf rue Saint-Pavin des Champs sur rendez-vous
at thirty-nine Saint-Pavin des Champs Street by appointment
Cap. 38, Le Mans TV - Le Mans: Ouverture d'un nouvel atelier d'artistes

 

Un rendez-vous can refer both to a meeting and a meeting place:

 

Ce château était un rendez-vous de chasse.
This castle was a rendezvous point for hunting.
Cap. 26, Le Mans TV - Mon Village - Malicorne - Part 5

 

Here's an interesting example that uses rendez-vous in more of a metaphoric sense: 

 

Le soleil est au rendez-vous pour ce nouveau numéro de la découverte de la ville de Provins.
The sun is present for this new episode of the discovery of the city of Provins.
Cap. 2, Voyage en France - La ville de Provins - Part 3

 

The sun is "at the meeting" for this new episode—in other words, the sun is out. Être au rendez-vous means "to be present." The expression is used in the negative in Part 1 of Le Jour où tout a basculé - J'ai piégé mon fan to describe an actress's lack of success in recent years:

 

Sophie est une comédienne célèbre, mais depuis quelques années le succès n'est plus au rendez-vous.
Sophie is a famous actress, but success has been hard to come by for several years.
Cap. 1-2, Le Jour où tout a basculé - J'ai piégé mon fan - Part 1

 

Mais depuis deux ans, le succès n'est plus vraiment au rendez-vous.
But for the last two years, success has been somewhat elusive.
Cap. 41, Le Jour où tout a basculé - J'ai piégé mon fan - Part 1

 

That about does it for this lesson. Nous vous donnons rendez-vous très bientôt pour une nouvelle leçon (We'll meet you very soon for a new lesson)!

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Je Peux or Je Puis?

Pouvoir is an elementary French verb meaning "to be able to." It's an irregular verb, which means it's not conjugated like most other verbs ending in -irIn this lesson, we'll be focusing on the first-person present indicative form of pouvoir, which has two variants: je peux and je puis (I can). How do we know which one to use?

 

Je peux is by far the more common of the two:

 

Qu'est-ce que je peux faire différemment?
What can I do differently?
Cap. 21, Actus Quartier - Manif anti-nucléaire à Bastille

 

Puis is actually an archaic conjugation of pouvoir that nowadays is only used in specific, mostly formal contexts. One of them is inversion, when the pronoun and verb switch places:

 

Que puis-je faire? Puis-je voir ces hommes?
What can I do? May I see these men? 
Cap. 8, Il était une fois... L’Espace - 3. La planète verte - Part 6

 

You would never say que peux-je faire or peux-je voir ces hommes. If you're inverting the first-person present indicative form of pouvoir, you need to use puis. But you could easily rephrase these questions with peux using the constructions est-ce que or qu'est-ce que:

 

Qu'est-ce que je peux faire? Est-ce que je peux voir ces hommes? 

 

You're more likely to hear qu'est-ce que je peux or est-ce que je peux than puis-je in everyday speech. Je puis isn't used very often, though it can be found in a few set formal expressions, usually beginning with si:

 

Si je puis me permettre, essayez ces lunettes...
If I may, try these glasses...
Cap. 19, Cap 24 - Paris : Alessandro fait les Puces! - Part 2

 

C'est un petit peu notre... notre crédo si je puis dire.
It's a little bit like our... our credo, if I may say so.
Cap. 18, Télé Lyon Métropole - L'opéra Carmen dans un... boulodrome!

 

As a less formal alternative to puis-je (and slightly more formal than je peux), use the conditional form je pourrais:

 

Alors je pourrais essayer la nuit, Monsieur Watt?
Then I could try at night, Mister Watt?
Cap. 2, Il était une fois - Les découvreurs - 13. Stephenson - Part 3

 

And don't forget that puis is also an adverb meaning "then":

 

Puis y en a qui donnent beaucoup moins.
Then there are some who give a lot less. 
Cap. 42, Actus Quartier - Repair Café

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Passing Time with Passer

In the latest installment of Le Jour où tout a basculé, we find two very different uses of the verb passer. The first is a direct cognate of the English verb "to pass," referring to time passing:

 

Quatre mois ont passé.
Four months have passed.
Cap. 30, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Mon père s'oppose à ma passion - Part 6

 

The second, referring to taking an exam, is a false cognate. You might assume that passer son bac means "to pass one's baccalaureate exam." But that's wrong! Passer in this context actually means "to take":  

 

J'ai passé mon bac.
took my baccalaureate.
Cap. 41, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Mon père s'oppose à ma passion - Part 6

 

If you want to talk about passing an exam, use the verb réussir (to succeed):

 

Demain il réussira son examen.
Tomorrow he will pass his exam.
Cap. 27, Le saviez-vous? - Conjugaison des verbes du 2ème groupe au futur simple

 

Passer's other meanings are more predictable. You can use it transitively (i.e., with an object) to to talk about passing something to someone:

 

Passe le micro. 
Pass the mic. 
Cap. 54, Arles: Le marché d'Arles

 

Or you can use it intransitively (without an object) to describe someone passing by or passing from one place to another:

 

Tous les ans, effectivement, nous demandons à Saint-Nicolas de passer.
Every year, in fact, we ask Saint Nicholas to pass by.
Cap. 44, Grand Lille TV: Focus - la tradition de Saint-Nicolas

 

Et maintenant on va passer en cuisine avec le chef.
And now we'll go into the kitchen with the chef.
Cap. 33, Parigot: Le bistrot

 

Just as you can "pass time" (or "spend time") in English, you can passer du temps in French: 

 

Et puis ça permet de passer un bon petit moment ensemble.
And then it allows us to spend a good bit of time together.
Cap. 47, Actus Quartier: Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 2

 

The expression passer pour means "to pass for," as in "to be taken for" or "seem like":

 

La maîtrise des synonymes vous permettra donc d'élargir votre vocabulaire, 

mais aussi, de ne pas passer pour un psychopathe.
Mastering synonyms will therefore allow you to broaden your vocabulary, but also to not be taken for a psychopath.
Cap. 23-24, Le saviez-vous? - Les synonymes

 

As passer is such a versatile verb, it's no surprise that it's used in many, many common expressions. We'll pass along a handful of them to you:

 

passer à autre chose - to move on to something else
passer à l'acte - to take action
passer à la caisse - to pay/checkout
passer à la télévision - to be on TV
passer à table - to sit down for a meal (also has the figurative meaning "to snitch" or "spill the beans")
passer un coup de fil - to make a phone call
passer de la musique - to put on some music
passer au bloc - to go under the knife/have surgery
passer au peigne fin - to go over with a fine-tooth comb
passer à côté de - to miss/miss out on
laisser passer sa chance - to miss one's chance

 

You can find even more expressions on this WordReference page.

 

And to learn about the reflexive form of passerse passer, check out our lesson Se Passer: To Bypass and Pass By.

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One Word, Two Genders

You may know that all French nouns are either masculine or feminine, but did you know that some nouns can be both? A word like après-midi (afternoon), for example, can be either masculine or feminine depending on the speaker's preference:

 

Vous deux, là, qu'est-ce que vous allez faire de beau cet après-midi?
You two, here, what are you going to do that's exciting this afternoon?
Cap. 57, Actus Quartier: Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 1

 

On passe une super après-midi.
You spend a great afternoon.
Cap. 90, LCM: Rétine argentique, le paradis des photographes

 

Un après-midi (masculine) and une après-midi (feminine) both mean "an afternoon." But usually, when a word's gender changes, its meaning changes too. Take the word mode, for example. La mode (feminine) means "fashion," but le mode (masculine) means "mode" or "(grammatical) mood":

 

Le milieu de la mode est aussi touché hein, forcément.
The world of fashion is also affected, you know, necessarily.
Cap. 36, Cap 24: Paris - Alessandro fait les Puces! - Part 1

 

Le temps présent fait partie du mode indicatif.
The present tense is part of the indicative mood.
Cap. 10, Le saviez-vous?: Le mode indicatif, c'est quoi?

 

Like mode, a lot of dual-gender words end in -e. Another common one is poste. When masculine, it means "post" as in "position" or "job" (among other things), and when feminine, it means "post" as in "post office" or "mail":

 

J'ai trouvé mon premier poste de libraire
I found my first bookseller position
Cap. 3, Gaëlle: Librairie "Livres in Room"

 

Si je venais à gagner, vous m'enverrez mon chèque par la poste.
If I were to win, you'll send me my check in the mail.
Cap. 27, Patricia: Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones - Part 2

 

You'll most often find the word livre in its masculine form, meaning "book." When feminine, it means "pound," as in the unit of weight and currency:

 

L'extérieur d'un livre s'appelle la couverture.
The outside of a book is called the cover.
Cap. 4, Manon et Clémentine: Vocabulaire du livre

 

Une livre équivaut à environ quatre cent cinquante-quatre grammes. 
One pound is equal to around four hundred fifty-four grams. 

 

Voile has related meanings in both its masculine and feminine forms. Both refer to things made of fabric—a veil (un voile) and a sail (une voile): 

 

Un niqab, c'est donc un voile intégral qui ne laisse voir que les yeux.
So a niqab is a full-length veil that only shows the eyes.
Cap. 10, Cap Caen Normandie TV: Danse - Héla Fattoumi se dévoile

 

Il a une seule voile
It has a single sail.
Cap. 11, Fred et Miami Catamarans: Les Bateaux

 

This video takes you on a tour (un tour) of Paris, making a requisite stop at the Eiffel Tower (la Tour Eiffel):

 

La Tour Eiffel, qui est le symbole de la France.
The Eiffel Tower, which is the symbol of France. 
Cap. 20, Paris Tour: Visite guidée de Paris


Gender can be tricky in French, doubly so when you're dealing with words that can be both masculine and feminine. Remembering them is just a matter of practice. You can find a comprehensive list of dual-gender words on this page.

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