Lezioni Francese

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Lessons for topic Grammar

Present Participles Part 2 - Le Gérondif

In our previous lesson on present participles, we discussed how they can be used as verbs or as adjectives. In this lesson, we’ll focus on present participles used as verbs, known as le gérondif.

 

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Basically, the gérondif is the construction "en + present participle," as in en faisant (while doing). Like all present participles used as verbs, present participles in the gérondif don’t take agreement. 

 

In addition, the gérondif construction "en + present particple" never changes in French, but it will translate differently in English depending on context and function.

 

The gérondif usually indicates simultaneity and causation, and can be translated as "while x-ing," "by x-ing," or "as x."

 

When the gérondif is used to emphasize two actions taking place at about the same time, it usually translates as "while x-ing," as in en attendant (while waiting):

 

Bon... en attendant que notre pâte lève, on s'attaque au bredele?

Good... while waiting for our dough to rise, shall we tackle the bredele?

Caption 35, Alsace 20 - Grain de Sel: le Lycée hôtelier Alexandre Dumas

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En attendant can also be used on its own as an idiomatic expression ("in the meantime/meanwhile"):

 

En attendant, les communes doivent payer des ramassages quotidiens

In the meantime, towns must pay for daily collection

Caption 31, Le Journal - Marée verte en Bretagne

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The construction "en + present participle" can also be equivalent to "as + verb" in English when indicating simultaneity:

 

Mais... en partant, elle m'a donné son numéro de téléphone.

But... as she left, she gave me her phone number.

Captions 35-36, Extr@ - Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 3

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To further emphasize simultaneity between two actions or to indicate opposing actions in French, you can use the construction "tout en + present participle" (all while x-ing), as in tout en parlant (all while speaking). This construction is especially useful when you're talking about multitasking:

 

Je joue sur mon téléphone et parle avec mes amis tout en regardant la télé.

I play on my phone and talk to my friends, all while watching TV.

 

The gérondif can also indicate a means to achieve something, equivalent to the construction "by x-ing" in English:

 

Parents, veuillez surveiller bien vos enfants en leur apprenant à respecter les animaux.

Parents, please supervise your children well by teaching them to respect the animals.

Caption 12, Voyage en France - Chantilly - Part 3

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The gérondif can also describe the way an action is performed:

 

Est-elle rentrée en chantant?

Did she come in singing?

Caption 58, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négations - Part 3

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Here, the translation is straightforward. En chantant simply means "singing."

 

However, when that sentence is put in the negative form, you must use the infinitive and not the present participle. As Patricia explains in her video, en chantant (singing) becomes sans chanter (without singing). The preposition sans (without) must be followed by the infinitive:

 

Non, elle est rentrée sans chanter.

No, she came in without singing [she didn't come in singing].

Caption 59, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négations - Part 3

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The present participle is much more prevalent in English, whereas French favors the infinitive instead. In English you can follow a conjugated verb by an infinitive or a present participle. In French, it’s preferable to use the infinitive. For example, when talking about something you like doing or like to do, you cannot say j’aime faisant (I like doing). You have to say j’aime faire (I like to do):

 

J’aime faire des dessins.

I like drawing./I like to draw. 

 

Similarly, when a person witnesses someone doing something, it’s better to use the infinitive after a conjugated verb:

 

Je les ai vues chanter.

I saw them sing./I saw them singing. 

 

Another word of caution: the present participle is never used to form a progressive tense, simply because there is no such tense in French. You must use the present indicative instead. For example, "I am thinking" (present progressive) and "I think" (present indicative) both translate as je pense.

 

The construction je suis pensantthe literal translation of "I am thinking," simply does not exist! The only option is the present indicative: je pense (I think).

 

If you really want to emphasize an action in progress in French, you can use the expression être en train de (to be in the process/in the middle of):

 

On est en train de réchauffer la pâte en fin de compte.

We are in the process of warming up the dough in the end.

Caption 12, Cap 24 Alessandro di Sarno se met au point de croix

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To sum up, French uses the infinitive in many instances where English uses the present participle, and the gérondif construction "en + present participle" can take various forms in English. 

 

There you have it for present participles! En passant (incidentally), we hope this lesson will be useful to you!

 
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Present Participles

You know all about past participles from our lessons on the passé composé, but are you familiar with present participles?

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Participles are verb forms that come in two tenses, past and present. For example, the past participle of manger (to eat) is mangé (eaten) and its present participle is mangeant (eating). 

 

Present participles introduce a dependent clause indicating an action or state related to a main verb. You can recognize a present participle by its -ant ending (corresponding to -ing in English). For example: penser > pensant (think > thinking). To form a present participle, take the nous (we) form of the present tense—e.g., pensons (we think)—drop the -ons ending and replace it with -antpensant (thinking). 

 

Fortunately, this rule has very few exceptions. There are only three irregular present participles in French: sachant (knowing), ayant (having), and étant (being).

 

Sachant and ayant are not derived from the nous form of the present indicative (savons and avons), but rather from the present subjunctive (sachons and ayons):

 

Sachant que le but c'est de créer de la magie

Knowing that the goal is to create magic

Caption 11, Alsace 20 - Grand sapin de Strasbourg: tout un art pour le décorer!

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Moi-même, quoique ayant un problème de dos

Myself, despite having a problem with my back

Caption 28, Bicloune - Magasin de vélos à Paris

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Interestingly, the word savant does exist in French. Un savant is a scholar or scientist, or a savant, someone with extraordinary mental ability. And of course there's the word avant (before), which isn't related to avoir

 

Étant (being) isn't derived from the present indicative or the present subjunctive, but from the infinitive, être (to be):

 

Mais écoute, Nicolas, mon épouse étant originaire de Dinsheim

Well listen, Nicolas, my wife, being a native of Dinsheim

Caption 6, Alsace 20 - Grain de Sel: à l'Anatable à Dinsheim

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In addition to being two irregular present participles, ayant (having) and étant (being) can also act as auxiliary verbs, combined with a past participle, as in ayant vu (having seen) and étant (being born). In this case, the past participle follows the same agreement rules as in the passé composé. See our lessons on past participle agreement with avoir and with être for more on that. 

 

A present participle is often equivalent to the construction "qui/que (who/that/which) + verb." For example:

 

Le public était habitué à ces jeunes filles en tutu, faisant des pointes.

The public was used to these girls in tutus, dancing on pointe.

Captions 11-12, d'Art d'Art - "La petite danseuse de 14 ans" - Degas

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Instead of faisant des pointes (dancing on pointe), the speaker could have said: 

 

Le public était habitué à ces jeunes filles en tutu qui faisaient des pointes.

The public was used to these girls in tutus who danced on pointe.

 

Here is another example of a present participle that could be replaced with the construction qui + verbe:

 

La nuit, le bâtiment se reflète sur la mer, attirant encore plus de tourisme

At night, the building is reflected on the sea, attracting even more tourism

Captions 38-39, Le saviez-vous? - Le casino ou la guerre

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La nuit, le bâtiment se reflète sur la mer, qui attire encore plus de tourisme

At night, the building is reflected on the sea, which attracts even more tourism

 

Attirant (attracting/appealing) is an example of a present participle that can be used as an adjective, in which case it's subject to adjective agreement rules. Here's an example of attirant used as an adjective:

 

Bémol: En quatre ans les graphismes évoluent. Neutros sera-t-il encore attirant?

A drawback: In four years, graphics will have evolved. Will Neutros still be appealing?

Caption 18, Le Mans TV - Apprendre la sexualité par Neutros!

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Here, attirant agrees with the proper masculine noun Neutros, so it doesn't change. However, if it were used in a sentence with a plural feminine subject, we would have to add -es to it:

 

Les célébrités sont souvent très attirantes.

Celebrities are often very attractive. 

 

If you're not sure whether a word ending in -ant is an adjective or a present participle, sometimes its spelling can give you a clue. For example, the word for "tiring" in French is fatigant when used as an adjective and fatiguant, with a -u, when used as a present participle (Both fatigant and fatiguant sound the same.)

 

Des fois c'est vrai que c'est assez fatigant quoi

Sometimes it's true that it's quite tiring, you know

Caption 104, Miniji Michel

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On doit éviter les activités fatiguant les yeux.

You should avoid activities that tire out your eyes.

 

Besides the u, how do we know that we're dealing with a present participle, not an adjective, in the second example, and therefore don't need to make an agreement? First of all, we could easily replace fatiguant with qui fatiguent les yeux (that tire out/are tiring for the eyes). Second, we can see that les yeux is the direct object of fatiguant. Only verbs take direct objects, not adjectives. 

 

If we were to rewrite the sentence using the adjective, it would be:

 

On doit éviter les activités fatigantes pour les yeux.

You should avoid activities that are tiring for your eyes. 

 

Besides dropping the u, we add -es to the adjective to agree with the feminine plural noun activités. And we add pour (for) before les yeux, which no longer acts as a direct object.

 

We hope this lesson was intéressante (interesting) and not too fatigante (tiring), as we have another passionnante (exciting) lesson in store for you! We’ll be discussing a special kind of present participle known as the gerund. 

 

En attendant (in the meantime), have fun watching some more Yabla videos!

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It's All in the Past! - Part 7 - Reflexive Verbs

A reflexive verb generally refers to an action that reflects back on the subject (something you do to yourself or to each other). You will recognize a reflexive verb in the dictionary by the reflexive pronoun se (oneself) preceding the infinitive, as in se laver (to wash oneself).

 

Reflexive verbs usually agree… with themselves! That is, the past participle agrees in gender and number with both the subject (such as jeand the object (such as me) at the same time. For example:

 

Ce matin, je me suis réveillée avec le coq.

This morning, I woke up with the rooster.

Caption 6, Le saviez-vous? - Les expressions du poulailler

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In the example above, we assume that the subject pronoun je and the reflexive pronoun me are referring to Patricia, the speaker, so the past participle réveillé (woke up) takes an -e at the end to become feminine. 

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On the other hand, in the example below, the husband wakes up his wife. In this case, the verb réveiller (to wake [someone] up) is no longer reflexive. 

 

Il a même réveillé sa femme qui dormait.

He even woke up his wife, who was sleeping.

Caption 52, Dao Evolution - Noël pour les sans-abris

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In this case, you use the auxiliary avoir (to have) because he isn't waking up himself—he's waking up his wife. 

 

Many reflexive verbs like se réveiller can also be non-reflexive (without the se). The verb dire (to say, to tell), for instance, can be used both ways:

 

C'est ce que je me suis dit.

That's what I told myself.

Caption 52, Claire et Philippe Je suis en retard

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C'est ce que j'ai dit à ma sœur. 

That's what I said to my sister.

 

The verb se dire also belongs to a category of reflexive verbs whose past participles never require agreement. We call these verbs intransitive, because their reflexive pronouns act as indirect objects, not direct objects. You can tell that a reflexive verb is intransitive because its non-reflexive form is usually followed by the preposition à (to). For example: se parler (to speak to each other, to speak to oneself), parler à quelqu’un (to speak to someone). For a complete list of these verbs, click here

 

When a reflexive verb is intransitive, the se acts as an indirect object pronoun and thus indicates that the verb doesn’t require agreement:

 

Ils se sont parlé tous les jours.

They spoke to each other every day.

 

When a reflexive verb, whether transitive or intransitive, is followed by a direct object, the past participle also doesn't agree:

 

Ils se sont lavé les mains.

They washed their hands.

 

Because there's already a direct object in this sentence (les mains), the reflexive pronoun se is “demoted” from its direct object status and acts as an indirect object. And since the direct object is placed after the verb, no agreement is necessary.

 

However, if the verb is not followed by a direct object, the past participle agrees with the subject and the reflexive pronoun, as we discussed earlier:

 

Ils se sont lavés.

They washed (themselves).

 

On the other hand, if a reflexive verb is followed by an indirect object, agreement does occur:

 

Mes grand-parents, ils se sont beaucoup occupés de moi.

My grandparents, they looked after me a lot.

Caption 28, Le Jour où tout a basculé Mon père n'est pas mort - Part 2

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You add an -s at the end of occupé (looked after) to agree with ils (they, masculine plural). The indirect object de moi (after me) doesn’t affect anything.

 

That about does it for our suite of lessons on the passé composé! It’s a lot to take in, so in case you’re not quite "in agreement" with all these rules yet, here is a summary:

 

• Verbs conjugated with the auxiliary avoir (to have) don't agree in gender and number with the subject, unless a direct object appears before the verb.

• Non-reflexive verbs conjugated with the auxiliary être (to be) always agree with the subject.

• Reflexive verbs are conjugated with être and usually agree with the subject, unless the verb is intransitive or a direct object appears after the verb.

 
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It's All in the Past! - Part 6 - Verbs with Être

Before we embark on agreement rules, let’s find out which verbs are conjugated with être (to be) rather than avoir (to have) in the passé composé. Strictly speaking, only a limited number of verbs use the auxiliary être in the passé composé. These verbs are encapsulated in the popular mnemonic device known as DR. & MRS. VANDERTRAMP

 

Devenir, Revenir, Monter, Rester, Sortir, Venir, Aller, Naître, Descendre, Entrer, Rentrer, Tomber, Retourner, Arriver, Mourir, Partir (to become, to come back, to go up, to remain, to go out, to come, to go, to be born, to go down, to enter, to go back in, to fall, to retrun, to arrive, to die, to leave)

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The basic agreement rule for these verbs conjugated with être is that they must agree in gender and number with the subject. Patricia conjugated a few of these verbs and explained how they work in her video, Le saviez-vous? - Exception dans les verbes du 1er groupe au passé composé:

 

Et lorsque l'on dit: "elles sont tombées", on mettra "es" à la fin de "tombé" car "elles" sont des sujets féminins et pluriels.

And when we say, "they fell," we'll put "es" at the end of "tombé" because "elles" [they] are feminine and plural subjects.

Captions 55-57, Le saviez-vous? - Exception dans les verbes du 1er groupe au passé composé

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Knowing that the pronoun elles (they) is feminine plural makes the agreement with the past participle tombé quite straightforward, but when faced with non-gender-specific pronouns such as tu (singular you) or je (I), you need to know from context who the subject pronoun stands for. 

 

In the example below, we need to know who je (I) represents to establish the gender of the subject. In this case, we know from the video that the speaker is male, so the past participle doesn’t change. (A past participle is considered masculine singular by default.)

 

Je suis allé en Grèce pour la première fois.

I went [masculine singular] to Greece for the first time.

Caption 10, Alex Terrier "Roundtrip" et ses inspirations

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If the speaker had been female, it would have been:

 

Je suis allée en Grèce pour la première fois.  

I went [feminine singular] to Greece for the first time. 

 

And if the speaker had been a woman talking about herself and her girlfriends, it would have been:

 

Nous sommes allées en Grèce pour la première fois. 

We went [feminine plural] to Greece for the first time. 

 

When a plural subject involves individuals of all genders, you can be faced with a dilemma. What should you do in this case? The convention is that the masculine supersedes the feminine—even though it refers to a mixture of genders, the past participle becomes masculine plural: 

 

Les enfants sont partis en même temps.

The kids left at the same time. 

 

Nowadays, however, that convention often comes across as sexist. So you'll often see past participles stylized like parti(e)s or parti·e·s to be more inclusive:

 

Les enfants sont parti(e)s en même temps. / Les enfants sont parti·e·s en même temps. 

The kids left at the same time. 

 

There's another category of être verbs that also agree in gender and number with the subject, but in a slightly different way. These verbs are called reflexive or pronominal verbs, which we will discuss in the next lesson. 

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It's All in the Past! - Part 5 - Past Participle Agreement

 

In our first four lessons on the passé composé, we focused on the conjugation of all three major verb groups:

 

First-group or -er verbs: past participle -é

Second-group or -ir verbs: past participle -i

Third-group or -re, -oir, and irregular -ir verbs: past participle -u

 

In addition to having different endings, past participles have one more trick up their sleeves… agreement! Verbs from all three groups can take masculine, feminine, and plural endings. All verbs in the past tense have past participles that follow two sets of agreement rules depending on which auxiliary they take. Verbs conjugated with the auxiliary avoir (to have) will follow one set of rules, and those that go with être (to be) will follow another. In this lesson, we'll focus on verbs conjugated with avoir

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If a direct object comes before the verb, the past participle agrees in gender and number with the direct objectIf the direct object comes after the verb, no agreement is necessary. 

 

In the example below, the direct object mes clés (my keys) comes after the past participle vu (seen), so no agreement is necessary. 

 

As-tu vu mes clés quelque part?

Have you seen my keys somewhere?

Caption 68, Le saviez-vous? Les différentes négations - Part 2

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A direct object answers the question “what”: Have you seen what? Mes clés (my keys).

 

But in the answer to that question, the direct object pronoun comes before the verb and thus has to agree with the past participle. 

 

Non, je ne les ai vues nulle part.

No, I haven't seen them anywhere.

Caption 69, Le saviez-vous? Les différentes négations - Part 2

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Les (them), standing for les clés (the keys), comes before the past participle vu (seen). So, agreement is necessary, and vu becomes vues to agree with the feminine plural noun clés. You just add -es to make vu feminine and plural, as you would do with an adjective agreement.

 

Note that, unlike in English, direct (and indirect) object pronouns are always placed before the verb in French. So be on the lookout for pronouns in compound tenses!

 

In the passé composé, only direct object pronouns such as la (her, it) agree with the past participle, whereas indirect ones such as lui (to him, to her) do not. So make sure you know the difference between a direct and indirect object pronoun!

 

When a verb is normally followed by the preposition à (to) as in téléphoner à (to call/telephone), it takes an indirect object, which you can replace with an indirect object pronoun such as lui (to him, to her).

 

Et ta sœur, tu lui as téléphoné pour son anniversaire? 

And your sister, did you call her for her birthday?

 

No agreement is necessary because lui (to her) is an indirect object pronoun, so you don’t need to add an -e to téléphoné even though the pronoun is feminine.

 

You might be tempted to say tu l'as téléphonée, but in French we say "to call/telephone to someone." It goes to show you can’t always rely on English to decide whether a verb takes an indirect object or not.                        

 

Recognizing and knowing when to use a direct and indirect object will come in handy when you use a combination of direct and indirect object pronouns before a past participle. You will be able to tell which pronoun agrees with the verb. In the example below, the direct object pronoun la (it) is followed by the indirect pronoun lui (to her) in the phrase la lui a donnée (gave it to her). (The direct object pronoun always comes first.)

 

Et la bague pour sa petite amie? Il la lui a donnée hier. 

And the ring for his girlfriend? He gave it to her yesterday.

 

The past participle becomes donnée (gave) with an -e at the end to agree with the direct object pronoun la (it), which stands for the feminine singular noun la bague (the ring). 

 

The same agreement rules apply when we use the relative pronoun que (that) instead of a direct object pronoun:

 

La bague qu’il lui a offerte est très jolie.

The ring that he gave her is very pretty.

 

Que (that) is the relative pronoun that stands for la bague (the ring), which agrees with offerte (gave, offered). Don’t forget to pronounce the “t” in offerte! And note that the relative pronoun que is not optional in French, unlike "that" in English.

 

Now let's see what happens when you add another complication to the scenario… an infinitive! This rule is what the French might call un casse-tête (a brainteaser or a headache), so buckle up!

 

When a past participle is followed by an infinitive verb, as in entendu chanter (heard singing), the past participle agrees with the direct object if the direct object performs the action expressed by the infinitive. Or looking at it from an English speaker’s perspective, a past participle followed by an infinitive in French is the equivalent of “to see/hear somebody do/doing something." French uses an infinitive for the second verb.

 

C’est la chanteuse que j’ai entendue chanter hier.

She’s the singer whom I heard sing/singing yesterday.

 

What I heard was la chanteuse (the singer) chanter (singing). La chanteuse performs the action of the infinitive chanter. So the past participle entendue has to agree with chanteuse.

 

On the other hand, when you see or hear something being done, the past participle doesn’t change. In this type of sentence construction, the infinitive in French is the equivalent of a passive verb in English:

 

C'est la chanson que j'ai entendu chanter.
It's the song that I heard being sung.

 

A song can’t do its own singing, so the direct object la chanson (the song) is clearly not performing the action of the infinitive chanter, which is then translated in the passive voice (sung) in English. In this case, no agreement rule applies.

 

Stay tuned for our next lesson, which will focus on agreement in verbs conjugated with être in the passé composé

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It's All in the Past! - Part 4 - Third-Group Verbs

In Part 3, we explored the passé composé of third-group verbs whose infinitives end in -ir with a present participle ending in -antIn this lesson, we will discuss the remaining third-group verbs, whose infinitives end in -oir, like vouloir (to want), and verbs ending in -re, like comprendre (to understand). 

 

Like irregular -ir verbs mentioned in our previous lesson, most -oir and -re verbs also have a past participle ending in -u, but, of course, there are a few exceptions which we’ll discuss further on.

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First, let’s take a look at third-group verbs with an infinitive ending in -oir, which have a regular past participle ending in -u, as in voulu (wanted):  

 

Hier, j'ai voulu me rendre au travail.

Yesterday, I wanted to get to work.

Caption 16, Amal et Caroline - Jurons

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The past participle voulu (wanted) is built on the regular infinitive stem voul- to which you add the ending -u.  

 

The verb falloir (to have to) works in much the same way, with a regular past participle fallu (had to):

 

Il a fallu que je fouille pour apprendre la vérité!

I had to search to find out the truth!

Caption 18, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Nos bébés ont été échangés... - Part 1

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It’s worth noting that falloir (to have to) is an impersonal verb that only exists in the third person. It simply expresses a need or necessity.  

 

So far so good, but as always, there are exceptions. Verbs like savoir (to know) have an irregular past participle that is not built on a regular stem. Its past participle is su (known):

 

Non mais j'ai toujours su que j'avais du goût.

No, but I always knew that I had taste.

Caption 52, Elisa et Mashal - Les fringues

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Other verbs also have very short past participles of just one syllable. Pouvoir (to be able to) becomes pu (was able to) in the past tense: 

 

Et elle a pu rentrer

And she was able to get in

Caption 45, Amal et Caroline - Quartier du Louvre

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The same thing happens with devoir (to have to), which becomes (had to):

 

Et en fait, ils ont tout simplement arrêter

And in fact, they simply had to stop

Caption 34, Lionel L - Le "Canard" a 100 ans

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Did you notice the circumflex accent in ils ont dû (they had to)? This tiny accent is the only thing that differentiates  from the indefinite article du (some). Accents sometimes make a big difference!

 

So, to sum up, the past participles of savoir, pouvoir, and devoir are su, pu, and dû (don’t forget the circumflex!).

 

Now let’s look at some -re verbs with a regular past participle, more specifically verbs that end in -endre, like vendre (to sell), which becomes vendu (sold):

 

Et donc, euh... la propriétaire a vendu son appartement.

And so, uh... the landlady sold her apartment.

Caption 103, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCF

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Verbs like descendre (to go down) and défendre (to defend) have past participles that rhyme with vendu (sold)descendu (went down), défendu (defended).

 

dont le niveau était descendu de cent mètres.

the level of which had dropped one hundred meters.

Caption 32, Il était une fois - Les Amériques 1. Les premiers Américains - Part 1

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But this isn't the case for all verbs ending in -endre. Some of these have an irregular past participle that ends in -is instead of -uFor example, prendre (to take) becomes pris (take) in the past tense:

 

Pourquoi est-ce que tu n'as pas pris le bon train vers, euh... Versailles

Why didn't you take the right train toward, uh... Versailles

Caption 37, Claire et Philippe - Je suis en retard

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Incidentally, all the derivatives of prendre, like apprendre (to learn), surprendre (to surprise), reprendre (to take back) follow the same pattern. Just take out the ending -prendre and tack on -pris to form the past participles appris (learned), surpris (surprised), repris (took back), etc.

 

Similarly, the past participle of mettre (to put) is mis (put), and its derivatives follow the sampe pattern: promettre (to promise) > promis (promised), admettre (to admit) > admis (admitted). The past participle of promettre is easy to remember, since promis is close to “promise” in English.

 

Les syndicats ont promis d'intensifier la mobilisation jusqu'à mardi prochain

The unions have promised to intensify their mobilization until next Tuesday

Caption 23, Le Journal - Grève de l'EDF à Lille - Part 2

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Finally, another subgroup of verbs whose infinitives end in -ire, like dire (to say, tell), tend to have a past participle ending in -it or -is, like dit (said, told):

 

Comme je vous l'ai dit...

As I've told you...

Caption 41, Adrien - Rue des Martyrs

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Comme nous l'avons dit, irregular verbs are legion in the passé composé. The world of verbs is filled with surprises and peculiarities. To help you master these verbs, click here for a list of common irregular third-group verbs.

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It's All in the Past! - Part 3 - Irregular -Ir Verbs

In Part 2, we explored the passé composé of second-group verbs, or verbs whose infinitives end in -ir. In this lesson, we’ll discuss irregular -ir verbs, which belong to the third group.

 

As mentioned in our previous lesson, -ir verbs are classified, in addition to their infinitive endings, according to their present participles (equivalent to the -ing ending of a verb in English). So, all -ir verbs with a present participle ending in -issant (such as finirfinissant [finishing]) belong to the second group and have a past participle ending in -i.

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

On the other hand, most irregular -ir verbs have a present participle ending in -ant and a past participle ending in -u.

 

For example, tenir (to keep, hold) becomes tenant (keeping, holding) and tenu (kept, held): 

 

en tenant la poêle de la main droite

while holding the pan with the right hand

Caption 33, Le saviez-vous? - La tradition de la Chandeleur - Part 2

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Mais elle a également tenu sa promesse.

But she has also kept her promise.

Caption 33, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon père s'oppose à ma passion - Part 6

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It’s a good idea to learn the derivatives of a verb, as they usually share the same conjugation rules. All verbs ending in -tenir will work the same way. So, obtenir (to obtain) and retenir (to retain) also have a past participle ending in -uobtenu, retenu

 

The same applies to all the derivatives of venir (to come), such as devenir (to become) and prévenir (to warn):

 

Et il a prévenu les flics.

And he called the cops.

Caption 32, Le Jour où tout a basculé - À la recherche de mon père - Part 8

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Having said that… there’s an oddball bunch of -ir verbs that have a present participle ending in -ant and a past participle ending in -i, not -u

 

For example, partir (to leave) becomes partant and parti

 

Mais... en partant, elle m'a donné son numéro de téléphone.

But... as she left, she gave me her phone number.

Captions 35-36, Extr@ Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 3

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Leurs parents sont partis vivre en Australie il y a une dizaine d'années

Their parents went to live in Australia around ten years ago

Caption 10, Le Jour où tout a basculé - À la recherche de mon passé - Part 3

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And sortir (to go out) becomes sortant and sorti:

 

Drôles d'étudiants que ceux-là, habitant l'hôtel et sortant en robe longue et nœud papillon.

Strange students they are, living in a hotel and going out in long dresses and bow ties.

Caption 12, Le Journal - L'Institut du goût

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Le mec, il est sorti

The guy went out

Caption 3, Sophie et Patrice - La révolution est-elle en cours?

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Note that partir and sortir are also part of a small group of verbs that require the auxiliary être (to be) in the passé composé, which we will discuss in a future lesson.

 

Finally, there is a minority of -ir verbs that are quite irregular and unpredictable, with a past participle ending in -ert

 

For example, the past participle of ouvrir (to open) is actually ouvert, not ouvri as its stem would suggest!

 

...qui a ouvert ses portes récemment à Mittelhausbergen

that recently opened its doors in Mittelhausbergen

Caption 3, Alsace 20 - Mangez bien, mangez alsacien!

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Again, to make it easier for yourself, learn how to conjugate ouvrir along with its derivatives, like découvrir (to discover), recouvrir (to cover up), couvrir (to cover), whose past participles all end in -ouvertThat will save you a lot of trouble. Speaking of trouble, the group of Canadians in the example below suffered a lot because of English…

 

Moi j'ai souffert beaucoup dans mon enfance de l'anglais ici.

I suffered a lot in my childhood with English here.

Caption 19, Le Québec parle aux Français - Part 3

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We hope that vous n’avez pas trop souffert (you didn’t suffer too much) learning about irregular -ir verbs in the passé composé, because we have another round of third-group verbs waiting to be discovered (découvert) in our next lesson!

 
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It's All in the Past! - Part 2 - Second-Group Verbs

In our previous lesson, we covered the passé composé of first-group verbs, or -er verbs. In this lesson, we’ll explore second-group verbs, or verbs whose infinitives end in -ir

 

To make it easier to conjugate verbs, French grammarians divided them into three groups according to their infinitive endings. This broad classification also helps you determine their past participles, so it is worth noting which group a verb belongs to.

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

First-group or -er verbs: past participle -é

Second-group or -ir verbs: past participle -i

Third-group or -re, -oir, and irregular -ir verbs: past participle -u

 

Regular -ir verbs belong to the second-largest group of verbs in French. Regular verbs follow a predictable pattern, making them easier to conjugate than irregular verbs, which have their quirks.

 

Second-group -ir verbs follow the same basic rules as -er verbs in the passé composé, combining the auxiliaries avoir or être with the past participle.  

 

The main difference is that the past participle of regular -ir verbs ends in -i instead of .

 

For example, to form the past participle of finir (to finish), take out the r in finir and voilà! You have the past participle fini!

 

Après la mort de papa, elle a fini ses études

After dad's death, she finished her studies

Captions 7-8, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon père n'est pas mort - Part 9

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Interestingly, the expression finir par in the passé composé doesn’t mean to finish something. Instead, it describes an outcome, something that eventually happened or ended up happening:

 

Elle a gagné et j'ai fini par être chanteuse

It won and I ended up being a singer

Caption 13, Watt’s In - Indila : Dernière Danse Interview Exlu

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In any case, finir is a typical second-group verb that is handy to know, as you will be able to use it as a model to conjugate other similar verbs, like choisir (to choose):

 

Nous avons choisi de passer une semaine sur place à Aulnay.

We chose to spend a week on-site in Aulnay.

Caption 9, Banlieues françaises - jeunes et policiers, l'impossible réconciliation? - Part 1

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When describing where you grew up, you'll use the passé composé of the verb grandir:

 

J'ai grandi là.

I grew up here.

Caption 34, Actu Vingtième - Fête du quartier Python-Duvernois

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As you can see, conjugating second-group verbs in the passé composé is quite straightforward since they are regular verbs. 

 

Another thing worth noting is that in addition to being recognizable by their past participles, second-group verbs can also be classified by their present participles, which end in -issant: finissant (finishing), choisissant (choosing), grandissant (growing up), etc. This information will prove useful when you learn about irregular -ir verbs belonging to the third group. 

 

So, nous n'avons pas encore fini (we haven't finished yet), as there are more -ir verbs in store for you to explore in another lesson! For now, have a look at some of Patricia's videos on second-group verbs: Les verbes du 2ème groupeLes verbes du 2ème groupe les plus utilisés. And for a list of common second-group verbs, click here

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It's All in the Past! - Introducing the Passé Composé

When talking about things that happened in the past in French, you will most likely use the compound tense known as the passé composé.

 

It’s called a compound tense because it’s made of two parts, an auxiliary and a past participle.

 

In the example below, ai (have) is the auxiliary and pensé (thought) is the past participle. Together, they make up the passé composé.

 

J'ai pensé à vous hier.

I thought of you yesterday.

Caption 5, Le saviez-vous? - Conjugaison des verbes du 1er groupe au passé composé de l’indicatif

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In this lesson we will focus on conjugating verbs ending in -er (also known as first-group verbs) in the infinitive form or dictionary form, since they are the most common verbs.

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To make up the passé composé, you conjugate the auxiliaries avoir (to have) or être (to be) in the present tense and add the past participle of the main verb. Most verbs take the auxiliary avoir and only a few take the auxiliary être, which we'll explore in a future lesson.

 

Les auxiliaires "être" et "avoir" sont utilisés pour conjuguer les formes composées.

The auxiliaries "être" and "avoir" are used to conjugate compound forms.

Caption 9, Manon et Clémentine - Conjugaison du verbe être

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Par exemple, le verbe "manger" avec "avoir". J'ai mangé une pomme.

For example, the verb "manger" [to eat] with "avoir." I ate an apple.

Caption 10, Manon et Clémentine Conjugaison du verbe être

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The passé composé is the equivalent of the simple past (I did) and the present perfect (I have done).   

 

So, for example, j’ai pensé can be translated as "I thought" or "I have thought" depending on the context. In any case, the auxiliary avoir cannot be dropped in French, as we do with "have" in English.

 

In her lesson on the passé composé, Patricia explains how to form a past participle:

 

Et le participe passé, c'est très simple. Il suffit de remplacer "er" par "é".

And the past participle is very simple. You just have to replace "er" with "é".

Captions 30-31, Le saviez-vous? Conjugaison des verbes du 1er groupe au passé composé de l’indicatif

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The -er ending that Patricia mentions is the ending of an infinitive verb, which will become a past participle ending in -é (don't forget the accent mark!). For example, take out the -er ending of préparer (to prepare) and replace it with -é to make up the past participle préparé (prepared). Note that préparer and préparé sound the same, as the -r ending of the infinitive form is always silent.

 

Et donc j'ai préparé une leçon très utile pour vous.

And so I prepared a very useful lesson for you.

Caption 7, Le saviez-vous? Conjugaison des verbes du 1er groupe au passé composé de l’indicatif

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Here's a final example of the passé composé:

 

Ils ont cuisiné hier, tous ensemble.

They cooked yesterday, all together.

Caption 51, Le saviez-vous? Conjugaison des verbes du 1er groupe au passé composé de l’indicatif

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Remember that you will need to be familiar with the present tense of avoir in order to form the passé composé.

 

For a complete conjugation of cuisiner (to cook) in the passé composé, check out Patricia’s lesson.

 

So far, we’ve focused on conjugating first-group, -er verbs, but there are many more to explore! We'll see you for another round of verbs in a future 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:

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

 

Cette science universelle

This universal science

Qu'il emprunte à tous les humains;

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

Then it rejects from pallid people

Leurs sceptres et leurs diadèmes,

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,

From all people, happy, brave, or wise,

Il prend ses lois, ses dieux, ses mœurs.

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,

To enable forty thousand women and young girls in Senegal,

euh... d'être alphabétisées.

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:

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

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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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:

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

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).

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

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

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The Pronoun En

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

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

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 2

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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 2

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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 2

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`

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.

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

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

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Je Peux or Je Puis?

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

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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 Bastille

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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?

Caption 8, Il était une fois... L’Espace - 3. La planète verte - Part 6

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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...

Caption 19, Cap 24 - Paris : Alessandro fait les Puces! - Part 2

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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.

Caption 18, Télé Lyon Métropole - L'opéra Carmen dans un... boulodrome!

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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?

Caption 2, Il était une fois - Les découvreurs - 13. Stephenson - Part 3

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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 Café

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One Word, Two Genders

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

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

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?

Caption 57, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 1

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On passe une super après-midi.

You spend a great afternoon.

Caption 90, LCM - Rétine argentique, le paradis des photographes

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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.

Caption 36, Cap 24 Paris - Alessandro fait les Puces! - Part 1

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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?

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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"

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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.

Caption 27, Patricia - Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones - Part 2

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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 livre

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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.

Caption 10, Cap Caen Normandie TV - Danse - Héla Fattoumi se dévoile

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Il a une seule voile.

It has a single sail.

Caption 11, Fred et Miami Catamarans - Les Bateaux

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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 Paris

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

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French Si Clauses

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. 

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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 presentimperative, 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.

Caption 23, Angers 7 - Un lama en plein appartement

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Donc si vous pouvez éviter de sortir, évitez.

So if you can avoid going out, avoid it.

Caption 7, Alsace 20 - Météo des Maquilleurs

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Même aujourd'hui, si on me fait chanter, je chanterai.

Even today, if you make me sing, I'll sing.

Caption 55, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciens

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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.

Captions 34-35, Farmer François - Le stand de légumes

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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.

Caption 50, Il était une fois - Les découvreurs - 13. Stephenson - Part 6

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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.

Captions 39-41, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode du conditionnel

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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 newsletter@yabla.com.

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The French Conditional - Part 2

The French Conditional - Part 1

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. 

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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 euh, là ça va le faire.

We could've cooked them individually, but uh, here, this'll do it.

Caption 49, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano - Médaillon de Homard - Part 2

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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.

Captions 6-7, Le saviez-vous? - Histoire du drapeau français

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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.

Captions 39-41, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode du conditionnel

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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.

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The French Conditional - Part 1

The French Conditional - Part 2

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)

 

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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.

Captions 14-15, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode du conditionnel

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(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?

Caption 22, Cap 24 - Alessandro Di Sarno se met à nu !

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Je voudrais juste une rose.

I would just like a rose.

Caption 11, Bande-annonce - La Belle et La Bête

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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 16, Le Journal - Les effets bénéfiques du rire!

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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!
 

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C'est or il/elle est?

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. 

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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!

Caption 63, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 3

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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, euh... violettes.

Oh, these are the famous, uh... purple potatoes.

Caption 37, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano - Médaillon de Homard - Part 1

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Ne vous approchez pas des ours. Ils sont très dangereux. 
Don't go near the bears. They are very dangerous. 

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

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