This is another in a series of essays to myself, where I summarize a stage in my French learning process, with an emphasis on detailing what I wish I had known. Duolingo tells me that I learned 1854 words in French, but it is actually many more than that, because Duolingo does not count plurals, or verb conjugations. The true list is here:
Adverb Placement – Adverbs are placed directly before the adjective or adverb that they modify. Adverbs are usually placed immediately after the conjugated verb. If the verb is negative, the adverb is placed after the negation.
Comparative/Superlative Adverbs – Comparative use of adverbs indicates more, less, or equality: plus + adverb + que conveys the idea of ‘more … than’, moins + adverb + que the idea of ‘less … than‘, aussi + adverb + que conveys the idea of ‘as … as.’
Superlative use of adverbs indicates “the most”, and “the least” . In French as in English, the superlative is a way to express a maximum or minimum quality or capacity, like ‘the fastest’, ‘the least fast’. To form the superlative of an adverb, the masculine singular form of the definite article is always used: le, followed by plus (more) or moins (less) before the adverb. The superlative of an adverb has only one form. Le mieux (the best) and le moins bien (the least well) are the superlative forms of the adverb bien (well).
Il y a vs. Voici/Violà – Il y a and voilà are two ways of introducing nouns. They are translated into English as ‘there is / there are’ or ‘here is / here are.’ Il y a + noun usually indicates the existence of a person or a thing in the context of a particular setting. It is commonly translated as ‘there is’ or ‘there are.’ Voilà + noun and voici + noun are commonly translated as ‘here is / here are’. They are used to indicate the sudden appearance of something or someone, to introduce people or ideas. Alternating between voici and voilà is common when referring to more than one item.
Pronomial Verbs – A pronominal verb is one that is accompanied by a reflexive pronoun. Pronominal verbs fall into three major classes based on their meaning: reflexive, idiomatic, and reciprocal. You have probably already seen the pronominal verb s’appeler (Comment t’appelles-tu? What is your name?). To conjugate pronominal verbs in the present tense, you need to pay attention to both the pronoun and the verb form.
To negate pronominal verbs, place the “ne” before the reflexive pronoun and the “pas” after the verb. When used with an auxiliary verb such as aimer (to like), the infinitive of a pronominal verb agrees with its subject. When pronominal verbs are used with parts of the body, they take the definite article (le, la, les) rather than the possessive article like in English. Example: “Pierre se lave les mains”, or “Non, je ne me rase pas”.
A third category of pronominal verbs expresses a reciprocal action between more than one person, s’aimer or se parler, for example. The English equivalent often uses the phrase ‘each other’ to represent this reciprocal action.
To form the imperative of pronominal verbs, drop the subject pronoun and then attach the reflexive pronoun with a hyphen to the right side of the verb. The reflexive pronoun te becomes toi when used in the imperative.
Modal Verbs – Vouloir (to want), pouvoir (to be able to) and devoir (must/shall) are called modal verbs. When used with infinitives, they act as auxiliary verbs or semi-auxiliaries. All three verbs are often found in the conditional in order to be more polite in requests and commands.
Just Leave! – The verbs partir, sortir, quitter and laisser all mean ‘to leave’ in English, but they have distinguishing nuances and uses in French. An important distinction among these verbs is the idea of transitivity. Partir and sortir are intransitive in this context; they do not take a direct object (but may be followed by a prepositional phrase). On the other hand, quitter and laisser are transitive; they take a direct object in a sentence.
Use It, Don’t Use It – The impersonal pronoun il (‘it’) is used in French when an action has no agent, that is, when there is no person or animate being responsible for the action. The conjugated verb is always in the third person singular, no matter what tense the impersonal verb takes. The action of the verb (pleut, ‘is raining’) is an impersonal, natural force. The impersonal pronoun il is often referred to as a ‘dummy subject’ because it fills the syntactic position of subject but doesn’t have any real meaning. Weather expression makes more sense now don’t they.
Verb Conjugations – A world of their own, so I always have a card near-by to refer to. It covers the I, he/she/it/one, you (fam), you (pl, unfam), we, and they forms of these tenses:
Past Conditional (would have spoken), Pluperfect (had spoken), Passé Composé (has spoken), Imperfect (spoke), Present (speak[s]), Future (will speak), Conditional (would speak), and Future Perfect (will have spoken).
Irregular Past Participle Verbs – I see them everywhere, and so do you. They are the verb stubs that look odd.
|Devoir||To have to, must||dû|
|Dire||To say, to tell||dit|
|Faire||To do, to make||fait|
|Pouvoir||To be able to, can||pu|
There are more, but I these are the most common.
Why there a “t” in “Comment va-t-elle?” – Many sentences use a –t– to avoid the clash of two vowels, allowing the sounds to be easier to understand and pronounce. “Comment va-t-elle?” (How is she?) uses a combination of inversion (switching the order of subject and verb) and the phonetic “-t-” in between.
Uses for à – à : to / at / in – is a preposition, which is a word which precedes a noun (or a pronoun) to show the noun’s (or the pronoun’s) relationship to another word in the sentence). There is no equivalent English word. You may see it used when there is location, destination, distance, a point in time, manner or style, possession, purpose or use, or in the passive infinitive, like: À louer – for rent, Je n’ai rien à lire – I have nothing to read.
Y and En – Y and en are both pronouns that go before the verb. Y (ee) means “it” or “there”. En (awn) means some or “some of them”, or “of it”. They replace prepositional phrases. As for the other uses of “en”, it’s complicated.
Lequel vs. Quel – Lequel is a pronoun that replaces the adjective quel and the noun it modifies. It expresses “Which one?” as a question. In a statement (usually preceded by a preposition) it means “but which?”
All these advanced concepts become clearer when you take the mighty step from concentrating on vocabulary and grammar, to listening and speaking with native speakers. Find one you like. Find one that’s free. Let me help you.
Her spoken word is written out on the website page for each of the 124 and counting, podcasts she has made. She has a very clear voice, she’s interesting, and she mixes up her verb tenses, telling you stories about what happened, what’s happening now, and what she plans on talking about in the next podcast. Translate the text with:
I don’t bother with sites that have the average person speaking because there’s just too much slang, and they are sloppy speakers. I work with several people that are sloppy with their English, and if you learned to speak from them, you would simply not sound right. In fact, I think regional speaking doesn’t fit anyone who was born and raised outside of that region, especially a foreign-born person.
Be sure to read the newspaper article or two everyday:
and remember that there are a ton more radio, television, newspaper, magazine, audio books, novels, and such, listed on the the Duolingo Wiki:
Keep track of new words and phrases in your Anki Decks.
I spent a lot of time listening to and translating songs, both pop songs and children’s songs, and I can’t say they helped me very much for the time I put into them. Most of them are here on my blog.
The blog itself was beneficial in that it forced me to check in every day, and to present something, anything. There are so many times when I simply wanted to disengage myself from this project, which is why I think Duolingo is important in the way it is formatted. Like a game, you don’t want to quit, and the discussion forum has shown me websites and ideas that I never would have discovered on my own. I’ve walked away from a lot of language websites, but have yet to give up on my blog or Duolingo.