Francese Lezioni

Tutti gli argomenti

Saying Grâce

While preparing a gâteau aux pommes with Marie, Jeremy uses the phrase grâce à several times when noting the utensils they use to add the ingredients:


On ajoute cent grammes de sucre mesurés avec précision grâce à un mesureur.

We add one hundred grams of sugar measured precisely thanks to a measuring cup.

Captions 10-11, Marie & Jeremy Le gâteau aux pommes

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Ensuite on mélange grâce à un fouet avec vivacité et énergie.

Then we mix using a whisk with speed and energy.

Captions 14-15, Marie & Jeremy Le gâteau aux pommes

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Ensuite, grâce à une petite balance de cuisine

Then, with the help of a small kitchen scale

Caption 16, Marie & Jeremy Le gâteau aux pommes

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"Thanks to" is the closest equivalent to grâce à in English. Though Jeremy uses it to talk about inanimate objects, you can just as well use it to refer to a person, someone you're literally thanking:


Merci beaucoup. Grâce à vous, ce mariage, c'était formidable.

Thank you very much. Thanks to you this wedding was great.

Caption 59, Grand Corps Malade Inch'Allah, en duo avec Reda Taliani

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Grâce has the same Latin root as the Spanish gracias and the Italian grazie, which both mean "thanks." It's also the source of the English word "grace." Like "grace," la grâce (don't forget the circumflex) can mean "elegance," "pardon," and "mercy":


Par lui, tout est grâce et lumière et beauté

Through it, all is grace and light and beauty

Caption 5, Il était une fois - Notre Terre 9. Les écosystèmes - Part 1

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La grâce des membres de l'Arche de Zoé pourrait intervenir la semaine prochaine

The pardoning of the members of Zoe's Ark could occur next week

Caption 22, Le Journal L'Arche de Zoé

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Les vénérables vieillards, plusieurs fois centenaires, n'ont pas connu grâce.

The venerable old men, centenarians several times over, did not get any mercy.

Caption 53, Il était une fois... L’Espace 3. La planète verte - Part 6

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As you might have guessed, "mercy" is the literal meaning of merci. So when you say "thank you" in French, you're really saying "mercy." And when you say "thanks to" something or someone, you're really saying "grace"!

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Say When!

There are a few different ways of saying "when" in French, the most basic of which is quand. Like "when," quand can either be an adverb or a conjunction. As an adverb, it's generally used to form questions:


Quand seras-tu libre?
When will you be free?


Tu l'as inventé quand ce morceau?

When did you compose this piece?

Caption 24, Claire et Philippe: Mon morceau de piano

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À quelle heure is an adverbial expression that's more or less synonymous with quand, albeit a bit more specific. It's the equivalent of "at what time" in English:


Enfin, tu commences à quelle heure le travail?

Anyway, what time [when] do you start work?

Caption 70, Elisa et Mashal: Petit-déjeuner

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As a conjunction, quand is synonymous with lorsque:


À Paris quand vous sortez le soir, le métro se termine à minuit trente.

In Paris when you go out at night, the metro stops [running] at half past midnight.

Captions 15-16, Amal: Vélib

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Lorsque je vous vois, je tressaille

When I see you, I quiver

Caption 19, Bertrand Pierre: Si vous n'avez rien à me dire

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We could easily switch quand and lorsque in those examples:


À Paris lorsque vous sortez le soir, le métro se termine à minuit trente.
Quand je vous vois, je tressaille


However, you can't use lorsque as an adverb, that is, as a question word. So you would never ask someone, Lorsque seras-tu libre?


You'll also see the phrase au moment où ("at the moment when") instead of quand or lorsque:


Au moment où le chat sortit en courant, la calèche royale atteignait le château.

When the cat ran out, the royal carriage reached the castle.

Captions 33-34, Contes de fées: Le chat botté - Part 2

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 usually means "where," but sometimes, as in au moment où, it means "when":


Les lignes de métro vont s'ouvrir jusqu'à mille neuf cent quatre-vingt-dix, dans les années mille neuf cent quatre-vingt-dix, la ligne quatorze fut ouverte.

The subway lines will open [continued to open] until nineteen ninety, in the nineteen nineties, when line fourteen was opened.

Captions 17-20, Adrien: Le métro parisien

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Le dimanche, les gens ne travaillent pas, on va prendre le croissant, on va prendre le pain au chocolat

Sunday, when people don't work, we'll have a croissant, we'll have a chocolate croissant

Captions 29-30, Arles: Le petit déjeuner

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If you're ever in doubt when to use which word for "when," just go with quand. It has the broadest scope, so you can use it pretty much n'importe quand (whenever).

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Again and Again and Again

De nouveau and à nouveau both mean "again" (or more literally, "anew"), and you'll often find them used interchangeably in everyday speech. But technically there's a subtle difference between them. De nouveau implies a repetition of something that already happened:

Le lendemain il se retrouva de nouveau sur le bord d'un immense lac.

The next day, he found himself again on the edge of an immense lake.

Caption 13, Contes de fées - Le vilain petit canard - Part 2

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Je ne vous ai pas entendu. Pourriez-vous m'expliquer de nouveau?
I didn't hear you. Could you explain it to me again [repeat what you just said]?


On the other hand, à nouveau implies something happening in a different way than before—that is, in a new way: 


On retravaille à nouveau l'orthographe français [sic: française].

French spelling has once again been reworked.

Caption 46, Le saviez-vous? - L'histoire de la dictée - Part 1

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Je ne comprends pas. Pourriez-vous m'expliquer à nouveau?
I don't understand. Could you explain it to me again [in a different way]?


Do you see the difference between the second sentences in the examples above? If you don't hear something someone said, you want them to repeat it. So you use de nouveau. But if you don't understand what they said, you want them to rephrase it, say it in a new way. So you use à nouveau.


Note that both these expressions only use nouveau, not the other forms of the adjective (nouvelnouveaux, nouvelle, nouvelles). If you see any of these after de, you're dealing with "new," not "again":  


et de la mémorisation de nouveaux mots ou de nouvelles phrases.

and the memorization of new words or new phrases.

Caption 49, Le saviez-vous? - Les bénéfices de la dictée

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If you forget when to use à nouveau versus de nouveau, you can always just use encore, the most basic equivalent of "again":

On espère te... te voir encore sur d'autres scènes en Alsace?

We hope to... to see you again on other stages in Alsace?

Caption 62, Alsace 20 - Femmes d'exception: Christine Ott

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Just keep in mind that encore can also mean "still," as we discussed in a previous lesson.

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The preposition à : "to," "at," or "from"?

In her video on the famous French writer Victor Hugo, Patricia recites an excerpt from Hugo's poem "À l'Arc de Triomphe," a tribute to the city of Paris. The title of the poem means "At the Arc de Triomphe," but in another context à l'Arc de Triomphe could also mean "to the Arc de Triomphe." "At" and "to" are the most common meanings of the preposition à. But as we see several times in this video, à can also mean "from" when paired with certain verbs:


Cette science universelle Qu'il emprunte à tous les humains;

This universal science That it borrows from all humans;

Captions 46-47, Le saviez-vous? - La poésie de Victor Hugo

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Puis il rejette aux peuples blêmes Leurs sceptres et leurs diadèmes,

Then it rejects from pallid people Their scepters and their diadems,

Captions 48-49, Le saviez-vous? - La poésie de Victor Hugo

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À tout peuple, heureux, brave ou sage, Il prend ses lois, ses dieux, ses mœurs.

From all people, happy, brave, or wise, It takes their laws, their gods, their customs.

Captions 42-43, Le saviez-vous? - La poésie de Victor Hugo

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The verbal phrases here are emprunter quelque chose à quelqu'un (to borrow something from someone), prendre quelque chose à quelqu'un (to take something from someone), and rejeter quelque chose à quelqu'un (to reject something from someone). Though de is the more general equivalent of "from," you can't use de in verbal phrases like these–you have to use à.


The indirect object of these phrases (that is, what follows the à) is usually a person: "to x something from (à) someone."


Cacher (to hide) and voler (to steal) are two other common verbs that take à instead of de:


Je vais cacher les cadeaux de Noël à mes enfants.
I'm going to hide the Christmas gifts from my kids.


Marc a volé de l'argent à Sophie.
Marc stole money from Sophie.


Another very common verb with à is acheter (to buy). Be careful with this one though: acheter quelque chose à quelqu'un can either mean "to buy something from somebody" or "to buy something for somebody." You'll need to figure out the meaning from context:


Marc a acheté une bague au bijoutier.
Marc bought a ring from the jeweler. 


Marc a acheté une bague à Sophie.
Marc bought a ring for Sophie.


But with other verbs—such as permettre à (to enable/allow), rappeler à (to remind), and coûter à (to cost)—the à doesn't translate to anything at all:


De permettre à quarante mille femmes et jeunes filles au Sénégal, euh... d'être alphabétisées,

To enable forty thousand women and young girls in Senegal, uh... to become literate,

Captions 3-4, Alphabétisation - des filles au Sénégal

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Rappeler effectivement aux gens que ça reste des produits de confiserie, c'est pas une mauvaise mesure,

Indeed, to remind people that these are still sweets, it's not a bad idea,

Caption 14, Le Journal - Publicité anti-calories

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Et la différence, cela ne coûte quasiment rien à Martine.

And the difference costs Martine practically nothing.

Caption 57, Alsace 20 - Alsace: les plus belles déco de Noël!

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There are a good number of other verb phrases with à where the à means "from" or just isn't translated. Here are some of the more common ones:


arracher à (to remove from)
commander à (to order)
défendre à (to forbid/ban)
demander à (to ask)
enlever à (to take away from) 
épargner à (to spare)
éviter à (to save/spare)
garantir à (to guarantee)
pardonner à (to forgive)
refuser à (to refuse/deny)
souhaiter à (to wish)

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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.

Captions 11-12, Le saviez-vous? - Les bénéfices de la dictée

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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!

Caption 16, Il était une fois... l’Homme - 6. Le siècle de Périclès - Part 3

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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.

Caption 30, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon père s'oppose à ma passion - Part 4

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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.

Caption 7, Leçons de guitare - Leçon 3

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(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.

Caption 71, Alsace 20 - 100 recettes pour 100 vins

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Alors c'est quoi le bon accord mets et vins?

So what is the good pairing of food and wine?

Caption 8, Alsace 20 - 100 recettes pour 100 vins

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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

Caption 51, Grand Corps Malade - Les Voyages en train

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Certaines personnes sont pas d'accord avec l'enfermement des animaux.

Some people don't agree with the confinement of animals.

Caption 21, Actus Quartier - Bêtes de scène ?

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

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Une leçon sur "rien que", rien que ça!

When you put the words rien (nothing) and que (that) together, you get the expression rien que, which does not mean "nothing that," but "nothing but":


Je jure de dire la vérité, toute la vérité et rien que la vérité.
I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.


ll utilise rien que pour cela dix-huit kilos de beurre.

For that, he uses nothing but [no less than] eighteen kilos of butter.

Captions 4-5, France 3 - Les conséquences de la crise du beurre

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Like "nothing but," rien que is a more emphatic way of saying "only" (seulement or ne... que) or "just" (juste):


C'est rien que des cochonneries, non? [C'est seulement des conneries, non? / Ce n'est que des conneries, non?]

It's nothing but trash, isn't it? [It's only trash, isn't it?]

Caption 36, Il était une fois - Notre Terre - 9. Les écosystèmes - Part 3

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Aujourd'hui rien que pour vous j'ai décidé d'enquêter sur le titre "Maître Restaurateur".

Today, just for you, I decided to investigate the title "Maître Restaurateur" [Master Restaurant Owner].

Captions 2-3, Alsace 20 - Grain de Sel: le titre de Maître Restaurateur, c'est quoi?

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Voici la ferme verticale, un gratte-ciel rien que pour cultiver des fruits et des légumes.

Here is the vertical farm, a skyscraper solely for growing fruits and vegetables.

Caption 27, Il était une fois - Notre Terre - 25. Technologies - Part 7

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It can also mean "alone," again in an emphatic sense:


Je trouve que rien que le titre du recueil, il est vraiment sublime.

I think that the title of the collection alone is really sublime.

Captions 76-77, Le saviez-vous? - Karine Rougier présente son art - Part 4

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Ça me rend malade rien que d'y penser.
The thought of it alone/The very thought of it/Just thinking about it makes me sick.


Rien que pour ça je devrais quitter mon emploi.
For that reason alone I should quit my job.


Don't confuse rien que pour ça with rien que ça, which means "that's all" or "no less," often used ironically to emphasize something enormous or extravagant:


C'est un grand cinéma avec une énorme salle qui peut comporter deux mille sept cents spectateurs. Rien que ça!

It's a big movie theater with a huge auditorium that can accommodate two thousand seven hundred viewers. That's all!

Captions 3-5, Paris Tour - Visite guidée de Paris

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Il n'a plus d'argent mais il veut quand même acheter une nouvelle voiture. Une Porsche, rien que ça!
He has no money left but he still wants to buy a new car. A Porsche, no less!


But sometimes a rien next to a que does indeed mean "nothing that":


Et c'est pas pour rien que les derniers polars français par exemple...

And it's not for nothing that the latest French thrillers, for example...

Caption 21, Télé Lyon Métropole - Un café librairie spécialisé dans le polar

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The rien in this example is part of the expression ce n'est pas pour rien (it's not for nothing). "Nothing but" wouldn't make sense here. 


Rien que ça pour "rien que"!

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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!

almost licked the plate, you know!

Caption 64, Sophie et Patrice - Les endives au jambon - Part 1

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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?

Captions 106-107, Sophie et Patrice - Les endives au jambon - Part 1

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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

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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?

Caption 25, Sophie et Patrice - Chiffres et nombres - Part 2

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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.

Caption 79, Sophie et Patrice - Chiffres et nombres - Part 2

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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.

Captions 43-45, Sophie et Patrice - Chiffres et nombres - Part 2

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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

Captions 9-10, Le saviez-vous? - Karine Rougier présente son art - Part 1

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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.

Caption 31, Salon Eco Habitat - La peinture à l'ocre

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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."

Caption 67, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 10. Amerigo Vespucci - Part 1

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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

Caption 10, Voyage en France - Saint-Mammès

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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.

Captions 4-5, Le saviez-vous? - La tradition de la galette des rois - Part 1

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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.

Captions 6-7, Le saviez-vous? - La tradition de la galette des rois - Part 1

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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.

Captions 19-22, Le saviez-vous? - La tradition de la galette des rois - Part 1

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"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


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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.

Caption 5, French Punk - Frustration

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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.

Captions 3-4, Il était une fois... L’Espace - 6. La révolte des robots - Part 5

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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.

Caption 5, Lionel - Les nombres

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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

Caption 24, Lionel - Le club de foot de Nancy - Part 2

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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

Captions 76-77, Watt’s In - Zaz : On Ira Interview Exclu

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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

Captions 3-5, Nouveaux Talents? - Adonis chante

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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.

Captions 68-69, Patrice Zana - L'artiste et ses inspirations - Part 2

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C'est parti pour quatre heures de réflexion. Du moins en théorie.

Time for four hours of recollection. At least in theory.

Captions 4-5, Le Journal - Le bac

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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

Caption 17, Grand Corps Malade - Dimanche soir

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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.

Caption 60, Il était une fois... L’Espace - 3. La planète verte - Part 6

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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.

Caption 129, Le Figaro - Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 1

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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

I envy the caresses

Caption 18, Oldelaf - interprète "Bérénice"

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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

Caption 12, Yaaz - La place des anges

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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?

Caption 29, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciens

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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

Captions 4-5, Fréro Delavega - Foule Sentimentale

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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.

Caption 18, Le Journal - Yann Arthus Bertrand

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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

Caption 18, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon père s'oppose à ma passion - Part 7

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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

Caption 35, Patrice Zana - L'artiste et ses inspirations - Part 2

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OK, je te plais pas.

OK, you don't like me.

Caption 52, Le Jour où tout a basculé - À la recherche de mon père - Part 4

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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'y plais?

Are you enjoying yourself here?

Caption 24, Yabla à Nancy - Université Nancy 2

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Elles se plaisent à Lindre

They like Lindre

Caption 21, Lionel - à Lindre-Basse - Part 6

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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

Caption 47, Grand Corps Malade - Roméo kiffe Juliette

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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.

Captions 27-28, Le saviez-vous? - La Maison de l'Olive à Nice - Part 1

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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

Caption 8, Grand Lille TV - Visite des serres de Tourcoing

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Ils connaissent le mot café, mais ils ne connaissent [sic] pas ce que c'est que le caféier...

They know the word "coffee," but they don't know what the coffee tree is...

Caption 12, Grand Lille TV - Visite des serres de Tourcoing

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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.

Captions 32-34, Le saviez-vous? - La Maison de l'Olive à Nice - Part 1

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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

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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,

Caption 5, Le Journal - Défilé de mode - Part 2

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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

Captions 18-19, Alsace 20 - Mangez bien, mangez alsacien!

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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... -Oui. et à la bergamote.

We've adapted it with mirabelle plum... -Yes. and with bergamot orange.

Captions 32-33, Lionel - La boutique de madeleines de Liverdun - Part 2

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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.

Captions 34-35, Le saviez-vous? - La socca, spécialité niçoise

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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.

Captions 7-8, Le Jour où tout a basculé - J'ai piégé mon fan - Part 7

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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

Caption 29, Contes de fées - Le vilain petit canard - Part 2

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Les héritiers de Jules Verne n'ont pas fini de nous étonner.

Jules Verne's heirs have never ceased to amaze us.

Caption 26, Le Journal - Le record du Tour de Monde!

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


Je suis un peu surpris.

I'm a little surprised.

Caption 38, Lea & Lionel L - Le parc de Bercy - Part 1

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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.

Caption 28, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 15. Bruce et les sources du Nil - Part 2

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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.

Caption 2, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mes grands-parents sont infidèles - Part 8

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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.

Caption 12, Arles - Un Petit Tour d'Arles - Part 3

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C'est un endroit vraiment surprenant en plein cœur de Paris.

It's a really surprising place right in the heart of Paris.

Caption 14, Voyage dans Paris - Les Secrets de Belleville

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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.

Caption 72, Watt’s In - Zaz : On Ira Interview Exclu

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Mais au moins tu essayes...

But at least you try...

Caption 77, Watt’s In - Zaz : On Ira Interview Exclu

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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."

Captions 31-34, Le saviez-vous? - Les verbes du 1er groupe les plus utilisés

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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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