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 HugoPlay Caption
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 HugoPlay Caption
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 HugoPlay Caption
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 SénégalPlay Caption
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-caloriesPlay Caption
Et la différence, cela ne coûte quasiment rien à Martine.
And the difference costs Martine practically nothing.Play Caption
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)
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 ExcluPlay Caption
Mais au moins tu essayes...
But at least you try...
Caption 77, Watt’s In - Zaz : On Ira Interview ExcluPlay Caption
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 utilisésPlay Caption
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.
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.
Captions 41-42, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négations - Part 2Play Caption
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.
Captions 53, 57-58, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négations - Part 2Play Caption
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.
Captions 71-72, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négations - Part 2Play Caption
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.
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 -ir. In 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?
Caption 21, Actus Quartier - Manif anti-nucléaire à BastillePlay Caption
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?Play Caption
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...Play Caption
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.Play Caption
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?Play Caption
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.
Caption 42, Actus Quartier - Repair CaféPlay Caption
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?Play Caption
On passe une super après-midi.
You spend a great afternoon.Play Caption
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.Play Caption
Le temps présent fait partie du mode indicatif.
The present tense is part of the indicative mood.
Caption 10, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode indicatif, c'est quoi?Play Caption
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
Caption 3, Gaëlle - Librairie "Livres in Room"Play Caption
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.Play Caption
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.
Caption 4, Manon et Clémentine - Vocabulaire du livrePlay Caption
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, euh, voir que les yeux.
So a niqab is a full-length veil that only, uh, shows the eyes.Play Caption
Il a une seule voile.
It has a single sail.
Caption 11, Fred et Miami Catamarans - Les BateauxPlay Caption
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.
Caption 20, Paris Tour - Visite guidée de ParisPlay Caption
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.
In our previous lessons on the French conditional, we briefly mentioned si (if) clauses, which express the possibility or likelihood of an event. These are comparable to "if/then" constructions in English, as in "if you didn't want to go, then you should have said something" or "if I rest now, I'll have more energy later." French si clauses are made up of two parts: a condition (e.g. "if I rest now") and a result ("I'll have more energy later"). They come in three different forms, each expressing different likelihoods and employing different verb tenses and moods. Let's break them down one by one.
1. Si + present-tense verb
The first type of si clause describes a possible or likely event. It expresses what could or will probably happen if a present condition is met. When the "condition" part (si + verb) of the clause is in the present tense, the "result" part can be in the present, imperative, or future:
Si on surveille pas, elle les prend et puis elle les fait tomber un par un.
If we don't watch, she takes them and then makes them fall one by one.
Cap. 23, Angers 7 - Un lama en plein appartement
Donc si vous pouvez éviter de sortir, évitez.
So if you can avoid going out, avoid it.
Cap. 7, Alsace 20 - Météo des Maquilleurs
Même aujourd'hui, si on me fait chanter, je chanterai.
Even today, if you make me sing, I'll sing.
Cap. 55, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciens
2. Si + imperfect verb
The second type describes something that's contrary to the present situation or unlikely to happen. Here the si is followed by an imperfect verb and the "result" part of the clause requires the conditional:
Si on avait pas tant de bénévoles... cela serait pas possible.
If we didn't have so many volunteers... it wouldn't be possible.
Cap. 34-35, Farmer François - Le stand de légumes
Je pourrais aller au cinéma avec toi si je n'étais pas malade.
I could go to the movies with you if I weren't sick.
As you can see from the above example, the "result" doesn't always have to follow the "condition"—it can just as easily be placed before it. So we could rewrite the "Farmer François" sentence as: Cela serait pas possible si on avait pas tant de bénévoles (it wouldn't be possible if we didn't have so many volunteers). As long as both parts of a si clause are in the right tense/mood, it doesn't matter which comes first.
3. Si + pluperfect verb
The final type of si clause is a lot like the second type, but a bit more complex. It describes something that's contrary to a past event—for instance, something you wish had happened or regret not having done. In other words, it expresses an impossibility. The pluperfect is paired with the past conditional here:
Si j'avais su, je serais venu avec deux chevaux.
If I had known, I would have come with two horses.
Cap. 50, Il était une fois - Les découvreurs - 13. Stephenson - Part 6
Hier j'aurais levé le bras pour appeler le taxi si j'avais d'abord soigné mon épaule.
Yesterday I would have raised my arm to hail the taxi if I had treated my shoulder first.
Cap. 39-41, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode du conditionnel
To learn about some other meanings of si besides "if," check out this lesson. And if you have any suggestions for future lesson topics, feel free to tweet us @yabla or email us at email@example.com.
As Patricia mentions in her recent video, the French conditional mood only comes in two tenses: present and past. While the present conditional expresses something you would do, the past conditional expresses something you would have done. We discussed the present conditional in our previous lesson, so now we'll focus on the past.
The past conditional is a compound tense, which means it's made up of multiple parts. Two parts, to be exact: an auxiliary verb (avoir or être) in the conditional, plus the past participle of the main verb. Here's an example of the verb pouvoir (to be able to) in the past conditional:
On aurait pu les cuire individuellement, mais là ça va le faire.
We could have cooked them individually, but here, this'll do it.
Cap. 49, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano: Médaillon de Homard - Part 2
Like most verbs, pouvoir combines with the auxiliary verb avoir (to have) in compound past tenses. But as Patricia explains in another video, some verbs combine with être (to be) in those instances, such as the verbs aller (to go) and naître (to be born):
Je serais allé à la plage mais il faisait trop froid.
I would have gone to the beach, but it was too cold.
L'histoire officielle dit que ce drapeau serait né sous la Révolution française de dix-sept cent quatre-vingt-neuf.
Official history says that this flag was supposedly born under the French Revolution of seventeen eighty-nine.
Cap. 6-7, Le saviez-vous? - Histoire du drapeau français
The important thing to remember is that in the past tense, you only need to conjugate the auxiliary verb in the conditional, not the main verb (so you wouldn't say on aurait pourrait or je serais irais, for instance).
It's easy to confuse the past conditional with the pluperfect (or plus-que-parfait) tense, which is used to describe things that happened in the remote past. Both constructions contain an auxiliary verb followed by a past participle (in the pluperfect, the auxiliary verb is in the imperfect tense, not the conditional), and you'll often find both of them in sentences containing si (if) clauses:
Hier, j'aurais levé le bras pour appeler le taxi si j'avais d'abord soigné mon épaule.
Yesterday, I would have raised my arm to hail the taxi if I had treated my shoulder first.
Cap. 39-41, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode du conditionnel
We'll talk about si clauses in further detail in a future lesson. In the meantime, you might want to check out the song Si by Zaz, which contains a good number of si clauses and verbs in the conditional.
In her latest lesson, Patricia introduces the conditional mood, used to describe hypothetical situations. Unlike the indicative mood, which refers to definite, certain actions or events, the conditional refers to anything indefinite or uncertain. The French conditional generally corresponds to "would" in English—"would go," "would say," "would run," etc.
Conjugating the conditional is fairly straightforward. You just take the infinitive form of the verb and add the ending -ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, or -aient (though there are some exceptions to this rule). Let's take the verb parler (to talk) as an example:
je parlerais (I would talk) nous parlerions (we would talk)
tu parlerais (you [sing.] would talk) vous parleriez (you [pl.] would talk)
il/elle parlerait (he/she would talk) ils/elles parleraient (they would talk)
You may have noticed that these endings are the same as those used in the imperfect tense. In fact, you'll often see the conditional paired with the imperfect in si (if) clauses:
Que ferais-tu si tu gagnais à la loterie?
What would you do if you won the lottery?
Si j'avais soigné mon épaule, je lèverais mon bras.
If I had taken care of my shoulder, I would raise my arm.
Cap. 14-15, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode du conditionnel
(J'avais soigné is actually a pluperfect construction, which Patricia reviews in another video.)
The conditional isn't only found in si clauses. You can also use it to express a request or a wish:
Pardon, excusez-moi, est-ce que vous pourriez m'aider à traverser la rue?
Sorry, excuse me, could you help me cross the street?
Cap. 22, Cap 24: Alessandro Di Sarno se met à nu !
Je voudrais juste une rose.
I would just like a rose.
Cap. 11, Bande-annonce - La Belle et La Bête
As we discussed in a previous lesson, the conditional can also be used to express uncertainty or to report something you heard from someone else. In this case it's often translated with words like "apparently," "supposedly," "reportedly," etc.:
Le rire serait aussi bénéfique que le sport.
Laughter is apparently as good for you as sports.
Caption 14, Le Journal: Les effets bénéfiques du rire!
In our next lesson, we'll show you how to construct the conditional in the past tense. In the meantime, be sure to check out Patricia's video on the future tense, which has a similar conjugation pattern to the conditional. You wouldn't want to get them confused!
C'est and il/elle est are two common expressions used to describe people or things in French. Though they have the same meaning (he/she/it is), they're not interchangeable. So how do you know when to use which? It all depends on what comes after the verb est (is). Let's look at some examples.
Il est (masculine) and elle est (feminine) are primarily used before an adjective alone, or before an adverb and adjective (such as très intelligent):
Il s'appelle André. Il est très intelligent.
His name is André. He's very smart.
They're also used to describe someone's nationality, religion, or profession:
Elle est japonaise. Elle est bouddhiste. Elle est chimiste.
She is Japanese. She is Buddhist. She is a chemist.
Note the difference between the French and the English in that last sentence. You don't need an indefinite article (un, une) after il/elle est when talking about someone's profession. So you don't say elle est une chimiste, but simply elle est chimiste.
C'est is used in pretty much every other circumstance. You'll find it before a modified noun, such as mon ami:
Il s'appelle André. C'est mon ami. [Not: il est mon ami.]
His name is André. He's my friend.
Or before a disjunctive pronoun (moi, toi, lui, etc.):
Ah, oui, c'est moi. -C'est toi mais c'est vrai!
Oh, yes, it's me. -It's you, but it's true!
Cap. 63, Actus de Quartier: Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 3
L'État, c'est moi.
The State, it is I (or "I am the State"; attributed to King Louis XIV of France).
C'est can also come before a standalone adjective (such as c'est vrai in the example above), but only when you're making a general statement about a situation. If you're referring to something specific, then you use il/elle est:
Cette histoire n'est pas inventée. Elle est vraie.
This story isn't made-up. It's true.
If you're describing a group of people or things, then you need to use the plural forms of c'est and il/elle est. These are ce sont and ils/elles sont (they are):
Ah, ce sont les fameuses pommes de terre violettes.
Oh, they are the famous purple potatoes.
Cap. 37, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano: Médaillon de Homard - Part 1
Ne vous approchez pas des ours. Ils sont très dangereux.
Don't go near the bears. They are very dangerous.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for our next lesson and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this lesson, we're going to discuss a somewhat tricky aspect of French color words. Like the vast majority of adjectives, most French color words agree in gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural) with the noun they modify. Let's take the adjective noir (black) as an example:
[Les cheveux] peuvent être noirs.
[Hair] can be black.
Cap. 11, Le saviez-vous? - Le vocabulaire de la tête
Ensuite vous avez mon écharpe noire, une simple étole.
Then you have my black scarf, a simple wrap.
Cap. 9, Fanny parle des saisons: S'habiller en hiver
In the first sentence, noir modifies the masculine plural noun cheveux ("hair" is always plural in French), so it takes the masculine plural ending -s (noirs). In the second sentence, noir modifies the feminine singular noun écharpe, so it takes the feminine singular ending -e (noire).
However, certain color adjectives are invariable—that is, they never change regardless of the gender and number of the noun. All of these adjectives are derived from nouns. Take orange for example. As in English, in French orange refers to both the color and the fruit (une orange). Though you can certainly have de multiples oranges (multiple oranges), the adjective form of the word never changes, even in the plural:
J'ai acheté des chaussures orange.
I bought orange shoes.
On the other hand, rouge (red) isn't invariable (since it's not derived from a noun), so it does change in the plural:
Tu as acheté des chaussures rouges.
You bought red shoes.
Another common color adjective that never changes is marron. Un marron is a chestnut, but when used as an adjective, it just means "brown":
Regardez ces chiens. Ils sont marron?
Look at these dogs. Are they brown?
Cap. 52, Leçons avec Lionel: Couleurs
The other word for brown, brun, is variable. In this example, it modifies the feminine plural noun feuilles (leaves):
De tas de feuilles à moitié mortes... un jour vertes, un jour brunes
Lots of half-dead leaves... one day green, one day brown
Cap. 9-11, Stromae: Bienvenue chez moi
There's another word for "chestnut" too! It's une châtaigne. The related adjective châtain is variable and is often used to describe hair color:
[Les cheveux] peuvent être châtains. "Châtain", c'est marron.
[Hair] can be chestnut-colored. "Chestnut" is brown.
Cap. 12-13, Le saviez-vous? - Le vocabulaire de la tête
Some other invariable color adjectives are: abricot (apricot), ardoise (slate), argent (silver), azur (azure), brique (brick), bronze (bronze), café (coffee), caramel (caramel), champagne (champagne), chocolat (chocolate).
There's one more instance of invariability you should be aware of when dealing with color words. When you use more than one adjective to designate a single color (like "light blue," "dark green," etc.), neither of the adjectives changes according to the noun it modifies. For example:
Il a les yeux bleu clair et les cheveux brun foncé.
He has light blue eyes and dark brown hair.
Il a les yeux bleus et les cheveux bruns.
He has blue eyes and brown hair.
As you may have noticed, like many other adjectives, color adjectives always follow the noun in French. See our previous lesson for more information on that. And for a good introduction to colors in French, check out Lionel's video on the subject.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to email@example.com.
In our last lesson on the difference between the verbs habiter and vivre, we mentioned that habiteris often followed by a preposition such as à or dans, but it doesn't always require one. So if you live in Paris, you could either say j'habite à Paris (I live in Paris) or simply j'habite Paris (I live in Paris). But in this lesson, we'll focus on instances in which the choice of preposition is very important. Take a look at this example:
Je suis né à Paris en France et j'ai commencé à faire du piano vers l'âge de huit ans
I was born in Paris, in France, and I started to play the piano at around eight years of age
Cap. 3, Alex Terrier - Le musicien et son jazz
You'll notice that Alex uses two different prepositions here (à and en) that both translate as "in." So why does he say à Paris but en France? It all has to do with the types of places he's describing. When you're talking about being in a city, you use à:
Je suis né à Paris mais j'habite à Lyon.
I was born in Paris but I live in Lyon.
When you're talking about being in a feminine country (usually ending in e, such as la France), you use en (je suis né en France). But when you're talking about being in a masculine country, you useau, unless the name of the country begins with a vowel, in which case you use en:
Ma famille habite au Botswana et en Angola.
My family lives in Botswana and in Angola.
And for a plural country of either gender, you use aux:
Donc, treize, quatorze jours de vacances aux États-Unis.
So, thirteen, fourteen days of vacation in the United States.
Cap. 5, Interviews à Central Park: Différences culturelles
These prepositions are translated as "in" in the above examples, but they can all mean "to" as well:
Aujourd'hui nous sommes à Londres et demain nous irons à Dublin.
We're in London today and we're going to Dublin tomorrow.
When you're talking about coming from a place, the rules are a bit more straightforward. For cities, feminine countries, and masculine countries beginning with a vowel, you use de/d'. For masculine countries beginning with a consonant, you use du. And for plural countries, you use des:
Je viens (I come)... de New York (from New York).
d'Athènes (from Athens).
de Chine (from China).
d'Iran (from Iran).
du Canada (from Canada).
des Pays-Bas (from the Netherlands).
Knowing these prepositions will make it easier to describe where you're from, where you are, and where you're going in French!
Tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we mentioned in our last lesson, a direct object is a noun that receives the action of a verb (such as "the ball" in "I throw the ball"). On the other hand, an indirect object indicates to whom or for whom the action is done (such as "my friend" in "I throw the ball to my friend"). Just as direct object pronouns replace direct objects (e.g. "I throw it to my friend"), indirect object pronouns replace indirect objects ("I throw the ball to him/her"). There are six indirect object pronouns in French:
me (to me) nous (to us)
te (to you) vous (to you)
lui (to him/her) leur (to them)
In French, an indirect object pronoun usually replaces "à (to) + a person." Unlike direct object pronouns, which can refer to either people or things, indirect object pronouns only refer to people.
Je jette le ballon à mon amie. / Je lui jette le ballon.
I throw the ball to my friend. / I throw her the ball [or "I throw the ball to her"].
The following example contains a mixture of direct and indirect pronouns. How did the speaker know when to use which?
Il m'a dit: "Je le garde". Ben, je lui ai dit: "Écoutez, expliquez aux quatre cents personnes...”
He told me, "I'm keeping it." Well, I told him, "Listen, explain to the four hundred people...”
Cap. 24, Actu Vingtième: Vendanges parisiennes
It all depends on whether the verb in question would normally be followed by the preposition à. Garder isn't followed by à: you would say garder quelque chose (to keep something), but never garder à quelque chose. If you watch the video, you'll know from context that the speaker is referring to le fromage (cheese). So instead of saying je garde le fromage, he uses the direct object pronoun le (je le garde). On the other hand, you would say dire à quelqu'un (to tell someone), but never dire quelqu'un. Because of that à, the speaker knows to use the indirect objects me and lui.
Here are some other examples of indirect object pronouns in action:
Si la nuit me parle de souvenirs passés
If the night speaks to me about past memories
Cap. 3-4, Boulbar: New York, 6 heures du matin
Mais je te donne plus que des mots
But I give you more than words
Cap. 12, Corneille: Comme un fils
Et là, je leur ai envoyé une petite nouvelle…
And here, I sent them a little short story…
Cap. 86, Claudine Thibout Pivert: 2ème Salon du livre et des vieux papiers Mazamet
We know these are indirect object pronouns because they all replace "à + person" in the verbal expressions parler à quelqu'un (to speak to someone), donner à quelqu'un (to give to someone), and envoyer à quelqu'un (to send to someone).
As you learned in our last lesson, when a direct object pronoun is followed by a verb in the past tense (passé composé), the past participle needs to agree in number and gender with the direct object pronoun. On the other hand, you don't have to worry about agreement in the passé composé with indirect object pronouns. That's why you have je leur ai envoyé in the example above and not je leur ai envoyés or je leur ai envoyées.
A direct object is a noun that receives the action of a verb, such as the word "cookie" in the sentence, "I'm eating the cookie." It generally answers the question "what?" or "whom?" ("What am I eating? The cookie.") A direct object pronoun replaces the direct object when the latter is already implied. So instead of "I'm eating the cookie," you could just say, "I'm eating it."
The French direct object pronouns are:
me (me) nous (us)
te (you) vous (you)
le (him, it) les (them, masculine and feminine)
la (her, it)
Direct object pronouns have the same function in French as they do in English, with a few important distinctions. The most notable of these is that whereas in English the direct object always comes after the verb, in French it always comes before (except in the imperative, as we discussed in a previous lesson):
Ce livre me fascine.
This book fascinates me.
Quand un copain t'appelle pour son déménagement
When a friend calls you to help him with his move
Cap. 4, Oldelaf: La Tristitude
The third-person singular direct object pronouns (le and la) have the same gender as the noun they refer to:
Le silence tue la souffrance, l'émoi
Silence kills suffering, the struggle
L'entends-tu, est-ce que tu le vois?
Do you hear it, do you see it?
Cap. 21-22, Indila: S.O.S.
La tarte à l'oignon! -Ouais, comment vous la faites? -Je la fais pas, je l'achète.
Onion tart! -Yeah, how do you make it? -I don't make it, I buy it.
Cap. 17, Actu Vingtième: Foire aux oignons
In the first example, the le of le vois refers to le silence. In the second, the la of la faites/la fais refers to la tarte à l'oignon. Both examples demonstrate another rule that applies to all singular direct object pronouns (me, te, le, and la): when the verb that comes after the pronoun begins with a vowel or silent h, the e or a of the pronoun is dropped and is replaced with an apostrophe (this is known as elision). That's why you have l'achète instead of la achète, l'entends instead of le entends, and t'appelle instead of te appelle.
Again, this only applies to singular direct object pronouns. With the plural pronouns, all you have to think about is number agreement. In the following examples, les refers to both the masculine plural ils and the feminine plural les pommes, and it doesn't change before a verb beginning with a vowel:
À l'assemblée, ils ont reçu un prix qui les touche mais les concerne peu…
At the assembly, they received a prize that touches them but concerns them little…
Cap. 25, Le Journal: Nouveaux artistes pluriculturels
Est-ce que tu aimes les pommes? -Non, je ne les aime pas.
Do you like apples? -No, I don't like them.
The only other tricky aspect of French direct object pronouns occurs in the past tense (passé composé). If you have a feminine singular, feminine plural, or masculine plural direct object pronoun before a verb in the passé composé, you need to make sure that the past participle agrees in number and gender with the noun you're referring to:
Je n'ai pas les jouets. Je les ai oubliés.
I don't have the toys. I forgot them.
Mais si toutes ces technologies existent depuis si longtemps, pourquoi est-ce qu'on ne les a pas utilisées?
But if all these technologies have existed for so long, why haven't we used them?
Cap. 3-4, Il était une fois - Notre Terre: 25. Technologies - Part 6
The root (masculine singular) forms of the above past participles are oublié and utilisé. But since jouets is masculine plural, we need to add an s to oublié to make it plural (oubliés). And since technologies is feminine plural, we need to add an e to utilisé to make it feminine and an s to make it plural (utilisées).
Stay tuned for part two of this series, which will focus on indirect object pronouns. À bientôt!
In our last lesson, we introduced the French imperative mood, which is used to express a command or a request. We concluded the lesson with a discussion of reflexive verbs, which become hyphenated in the imperative: for example, se souvenir (to remember) becomes souviens-toi! (remember!). In fact, any imperative verb followed by an object pronoun requires a hyphen:
Ouais, donne-moi l'info.
Yeah, give me the info.
Cap. 45, Plus belle la vie: Episode 2771 - Part 7
An imperative verb can even precede two object pronouns (and therefore two hyphens). For example, we could shorten the above sentence to:
Yeah, give it to me.
Let's break that down: donne is the imperative verb (give), la is the direct object pronoun ("it," referring to "the info"), and moi is the indirect object pronoun (to me). Note that in imperative expressions like this, the direct object pronoun always comes before the indirect object pronoun. You can learn more about French object pronouns here.
On the other hand, when you negate an imperative verb with object pronouns, the hyphens disappear and the pronouns move before the verb:
Ne te souviens pas.
Ne me la donne pas.
Don't give it to me.
Though we mentioned in our previous lesson that the imperative is nearly identical to the present indicative form of a verb, there are four very common verbs for which this is not the case: avoir (to have), être (to be), savoir (to know), and vouloir (to want). For these verbs, the imperative is nearly identical to their present subjunctive forms:
Mon ami, n’aie pas peur
My friend, don’t be afraid
Cap. 18, Arthur H et M: Est-ce que tu m’aimes?
Mais soyons prudents!
But let's be careful!
Cap. 17, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs: 10. Amerigo Vespucci - Part 4
Sachez qu'il y a de nombreux trains directs de Paris vers Trouville, Deauville.
Know that there are numerous trains direct from Paris toward Trouville, Deauville.
Cap. 35, Voyage en France: La Normandie - Cabourg
The imperative form of vouloir is mostly used in the second-person plural (veuillez) as a formal way of saying "please":
Veuillez ne pas quitter. Vous allez être mise en relation avec notre secrétariat.
Please stay on the line. You will be connected to our secretary's office.
Cap. 5, Manon et Clémentine: Rendez-vous chez le médecin
That about covers it for the imperative! Don't forget (n'oubliez pas) to check out our new videos this week and don't hesitate (n'hésitez pas) to tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to email@example.com.
In our last lesson, we introduced the general rule for conjugating French verbs in the present subjunctive: take the third-person plural (ils/elles) present indicative form of the verb, remove the -ent, and add the subjunctive endings: -e, -es, -e, -ions, -iez, and -ent.While this rule applies to the vast majority of verbs, some of the most common French verbs have irregular subjunctive conjugations.
In this video about a tile factory in Courboissy, we find two irregular subjunctive verbs in the same caption, both introduced by the phrase pour que (in order that, so that):
Alors soit pour que ça soit respirant, pour que vous ayez une maison respirante…
So either in order for it to be breathable, so that you have a breathable house…
Cap. 36, Salon Eco Habitat: Terres cuites de Courboissy
The first verb is être (to be), which is conjugated as follows in the subjunctive: je sois, tu sois, il/elle/on soit, nous soyons, vous soyez, ils/elles soient. Note that the first soit in the above caption is not the same as the third-person subjunctive form of être—it's a separate word meaning "either." See our lesson Either/Or for more information on that.
The second verb, avoir (to have), looks like this in the subjunctive: j'aie, tu aies, il/elle/on ait, nous ayons, vous ayez, ils/elles aient.
Like the first-person subjunctive forms of avoir, those of aller (to go) also begin withai-: j'aille, tu ailles, il/elle/on aille.
Si vous voulez que je m'en aille
If you want me to go away
Cap. 17, Bertrand Pierre: Si vous n’avez rien à me dire
But in the nous and vous forms, the i changes position: nous allions, vous alliez. Then it goes back to where it was for the third-person plural: ils/elles aillent.
Most forms of vouloir (to want) contain the letters euille: je veuille, tu veuilles, il/elle/on veuille, ils/elles veuillent.
…il n'y a rien d'autre à faire qu'à attendre que le vent veuille bien se lever.
…there's nothing else to do but wait until the wind finally decides to pick up.
Cap. 15-16, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs: 10. Amerigo Vespucci - Part 1
But its nous and vous forms look a little different: nous voulions, vous vouliez.
Faire (to make or to do) and pouvoir (to be able to) both have a double s in the subjunctive:
Maintenant qu'on est en numéro trois, il faut qu'on fasse quatre, cinq, six.
Now that we are on step three, we have to do four, five, six.
Cap. 34, B-Girl Frak: Le “6-Step”
Et maintenant pose ton assiette en or devant moi pour que je puisse manger son contenu.
And now set your gold plate before me so that I can eat its contents.
Cap. 4-5, Contes de fées: Le roi grenouille - Part 2
The full subjunctive conjugations of these verbs are:
je fasse, tu fasses, il/elle/on fasse, nous fassions, vous fassiez, ils/elles fassent
je puisse, tu puisses, il/elle/on puisse, nous puissions, vous puissiez, ils/elles puissent
Finally, there's savoir (to know), which has a ch in the subjunctive: je sache, tu saches, il/elle/on sache, nous sachions, vous sachiez, ils/elles sachent.
Comment tu veux que je le sache moi?
How do you want [expect] me to know?
Cap. 26, Plus belle la vie: Episode 2771 - Part 2
Congrats! You're now fully capable of conjugating any French verb in the present subjunctive. Feel free to send us any suggestions for future lesson topics by tweeting us @yabla or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this lesson, we'll be tackling the subjunctive, a verbal mood that expresses a wide range of situations, such as a wish, an obligation, a possibility, a doubt, or an emotion. Whereas the indicative mood simply describes something that happens, the subjunctive mood describes something that may happen, something you want to happen, something you're afraid will happen, and other hypothetical situations. It's the difference between the phrases "you are here" and "I wish you were here."
The general rule for forming the subjunctive in French is to take the third-person plural (ils/elles) present indicative form of the verb, remove the -ent, and add the subjunctive endings: -e, -es, -e, -ions, -iez, and -ent. Take a look at this handy chart for a concise summary of the conjugation of regular subjunctive verbs. We'll go over irregular subjunctive conjugations in another lesson.
Let's take the verbs dire (to say) and réfléchir (to think about) as examples. To conjugate them in the first-person singular subjunctive, we would go to the third-person present plural indicative (disent and réfléchissent), drop the -ent, and add the first-person singular subjunctive ending -e. The results are dise and réfléchisse:
Qu’est-ce que tu veux que je te dise?
What do you want me to tell you?
Cap. 32, Plus belle la vie: Episode 2771 - Part 2
Avec tout ce choix, il faut que je réfléchisse.
With all these choices, I have to think about it.
Cap. 10, Il était une fois… L’Espace: 3. La planète verte - Part 3
Besides the conjugation, the most important aspect of the French subjunctive is that it almost always follows the word que (that), as in the expressions tu veux que and il faut que above. Vouloir que (to want) and il faut que (it is necessary that) are among the large number of French expressions that require the subjunctive. You can find a detailed list of these expressions here.
The subjunctive is used to express some of the most basic emotions, such as happiness and sadness:
On est vraiment très heureux que nos huit jeunes puissent partir.
We are truly very happy that our eight young people are able to go.
Cap. 8, Télé Lyon Métropole: Sport dans la ville & Afrique du Sud
Je suis triste que mon ami ne vienne pas au concert avec nous.
I'm sad that my friend isn't coming to the concert with us.
It's also used in a number of conjunctive phrases such as pourvu que (as long as), bien que (even though), and avant que (before):
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
J'aime le karaoké bien que je ne chante pas très bien.
I love karaoke even though I don't sing very well.
...avant que leurs enseignements ne soient exploités par l'industrie.
...before their lessons are exploited by industry.
Cap. 21, Le Journal: 2000 mètres sous les mers
As the above example demonstrates, some subjunctive constructions (like avant que) require a ne without a pas (known as a ne explétif) before the verb. See our previous lesson for an in-depth look at this special use of ne.
Some phrases, such as penser que (to think that), only take the subjunctive in the negative:
Je ne pense pas que ça serve à grand-chose, ce que tu comptes faire.
I don't think it's going to help much, what you're planning to do.
Cap. 29, Plus belle la vie: 2772 - Part 3
If we make that sentence affirmative, we'll need to change servir from the subjunctive to the indicative:
Je pense que ça sert à beaucoup de choses, ce que tu comptes faire.
I think it's going to help a lot, what you're planning to do.
To sum up, the subjunctive is used after a vast number of expressions that convey a wide variety of subjective and hypothetical states. This multitude of usages makes learning the subjunctive no easy feat, but the fact that the subjunctive almost always follows the word que makes it a little less daunting. So if there's one thing you should take away from this lesson, it's that whenever you see a verb after the word que, there's a good chance it should be in the subjunctive!
Il y a is probably one of the most common French expressions, and appears countless times in Yabla videos, which makes it a perfect lesson topic! Though it literally means "it has there," il y a is the equivalent of "there is" or "there are." You'll find it very useful when describing a location or a situation:
Donc, en effet, il y a des vagues, il y a du courant. Le courant est fort.
So, indeed, there are waves, there is a current. The current is strong.
Cap. 2, À la plage avec Lionel: La plage
As the above example demonstrates, il y a remains unchanged regardless of whether its object is singular (du courant) or plural (des vagues). It does change, however, according to the tense of the sentence. Here it is in the imperfect, passé composé, and future tenses:
Il y avait un lièvre mais, tu vois, il courait trop vite.
There was a hare, but you see, it was running too fast.
Cap. 14, Il était une fois - Les Amériques: 1. Les premiers Américains - Part 7
Quand il est mort, il y a eu un million de Parisiens qui ont suivi le cortège.
When he died, there were a million Parisians following the procession.
Cap. 15, Bertrand Pierre: Victor Hugo
Il y aura beaucoup de tableaux à voir au musée.
There will be many paintings to see at the museum.
Il y a can also be used to indicate the passage of time, in which case it usually means "ago":
On a commencé il y a dix minutes.
We started ten minutes ago.
Cap. 47, Actus de quartier: Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 3
You can also use the phrase il y a... que to express the same thing, though in this case it usually means "for" or "since":
Il y a trois mois que j'habite à Paris.
I've lived in Paris for three months.
Incidentally, you could rewrite the above sentence three different ways, all with the same meaning:
Ça fait trois mois que j'habite à Paris.
Voilà trois mois que j'habite à Paris.
J'habite à Paris depuis trois mois.
Another more informal way of using il y a is when you notice someone looking sad or upset and you ask them: Qu'est-ce qu'il y a? (What's wrong?) Even more informally, you can shorten that question to: Qu'y a-t-il? If you're wondering why there's suddenly a "t" and two hyphens there, check out our lesson on inversion for a full explanation.
It's very common for il y a to be shortened to y a in casual speech:
C'est festif, euh... Y a de la barbe à papa.
It's festive, uh... There's cotton candy.
Cap. 32, Actus de Quartier: Fête de la rose au caviar rouge
To sum up, let's review all the uses of il y a in a short dialogue:
Qu'est-ce qu'il y a? -Je suis en colère parce qu'il y a trop de tableaux au musée du Louvre. Il y a trois mois que j'habite à Paris et je n'ai pas encore tout vu!
What's wrong? -I'm mad because there are too many paintings in the Louvre. I've lived in Paris for three months and I still haven't seen everything!