Okay, you’ve been working hard at Duolingo, and have gotten a number of the modules completed. You’ve learned a lot, but every now and then a problem arises.
French has concepts that you need to know, and here is a list of the ones that challenged me, with some explanations and links to help you figure them out. This is the order in which I encountered them:
Nasal sounds : As an English speaker, I would hear someone say a sound or word is “nasal” but what does that really mean? Watch this short video, and it starts to make sense.
Accent Marks (diacritical marks)- You’ll probably wonder about these first.
The accent aigu ´ (acute accent) can only be on an E. At the beginning of a word, it often indicates that an S used to follow that vowel, e.g., étudiant (student). This is not always the case though. The acute accent makes the sound change to “ay” (more open sounding).
The grave accent ` (accent grave) points to the left and upward. It can appear over any vowel, but it only alters pronunciation when over the letter e. While, depending on context, unaccented e‘s may be pronounced several different ways, e‘s with grave accents are always pronounced ehh, like the e in the English word set.
The accent circonflexe ˆ (circumflex) can be found sitting on top of an A, E, I, O, or U. The circumflex usually indicates that an S used to follow that vowel, e.g., forêt (forest). It also serves to distinguish between homographs; e.g., du (contraction of de + le) vs dû (past participle of devoir). The circumflex, or the hat (î, â, ê) has absolutely no effect on pronunciation.
The accent tréma ¨ (dieresis or umlaut) can be on an E, I, or U. It is used when two vowels are next to each other and both must be pronounced, e.g., naïve, Saül. With the dieresis over the i, it becomes [ai].
The cédille ¸ (cedilla) is found only under the letter C. It changes a hard C sound (like K) into a soft C sound (like S), e.g., garçon. The cedilla is never placed in front of E or I, because C always sounds like an S in front of these vowels.
Definite Articles – Like the English ‘the’, they are used when the noun is specific. Le is masculine, la is feminine, and les is plural of both genders. The problem you may have is that “le” sounds like “lo” or “luh”, and “les” sound like “lay”. Oh and you’ll see l’ before a word beginning in a vowel or the silent “h” which is treated like the “h” doesn’t exist. The word may be feminine or masculine, like l’elephant, you just won’t know from the definite article (elephant is masculine by the way).
While I’m discussing tricky pronunciations, I want to toss in this pronunciation chart that I created:
Indefinite Articles – They introduce nouns that are not specific. They are translated as ‘a’ or ‘an’ in English. They are simply un (masc), une (fem), and des (plural). The pronunciation of “un” is like getting hit in the gut unexpectantly, and “une” is the sound you make when it actually hurts. This instructor teaches you “un”, and you may like watching her pronunciation videos, and here is a quick one:
Partitive Articles – They are used to introduce “mass nouns”, which are nouns that are conceived of as a mass of indeterminate quantity. They are usually translated as ‘some’ in English. You’ve seen them with food and drinks. They are du (masc), de la (fem), and del (plural). Of course there is also de l’ before a vowel or “h” starting word.
If you’re eating food, you better put a “de”, “de + le = du”, “de + les = des” (where applicable) or you will be wrong. You are not drinking wine, you’re drinking of the wine, and eating of the cheese/bread, etc. Of course, when you’re translating back into English, you use “some” or drop the modifier completely. Vous buvez du vin ->You drink some wine or You drink wine. If you put “You drink the wine”….you get dinked by Duolingo (and lose a heart). Eventually this will drive you crazy. By the way, when you see “de” say “du” or “dur”, or the same as “du”. Don’t believe me? Click both on the link below:
Some will say that “some” is “de, du, des, de la” while “all” is “le, l’, la”.
I drink wine -> je bois du vin (some)
I like wine -> j’aime le vin (all)
Demonstrative Determiners – Are used to point out something, typically something within sight. They may be translated in English as ‘this’, ‘that’,’these’, ‘those’ depending on the number (singular or plural) and proximity (near or far). They are ce (masc), cet (masc before a vowel word), cette (fem), and ces (plural). Oh, you used “cettes” a few times? Welcome to the club of “not knowing there is no such word in French”. Their pronunciation will trip you up at first. Ce – pronounced “se”, cet – pronounced “seht”, cette – pronounced “seht”, and ces – pronounced “say”.
Capitalizations – French and English capitalization are quite different, as it is much less common in French. Many words that must be capitalized in English cannot be in French, so read through this lesson to make sure that you’re not over-capitalizing your French.
What’s “that”? – Using the words celui, celle, ci, ceci, cela, and là for the various times you need “that” will drive you crazy. What I’ve learned is that celui is masculine, and its plural is ceux. Celle is feminine, and its plural is celles. Ceci is the contraction of ce + ici (this + here). Cela is the contraction of ce + là (this + there). Ci indicates a “close” reference, and is short for the already short “ici”, which makes sense that “ci” referes to…this (something close)….while Là indicates a more “remote” reference, i.e. that. Comparisons like to use celui-ci and celle-ci depending on masc/fem. i.e. [This masculine one] is bigger than [that masculine one] ->[Celui-ci] est plus grand que [celui- là]. If feminine, use celle-ci vice celui-ci or celle – là vice celui- là. Compris?
Placement of Adjectives – In French, you take your noun and modify it with an adjective that comes after the noun.
une table ronde – round table
un livre noir – black book
du thé sucré – sweet tea
une femme américaine – American woman
une église catholique – Catholic church
une famille bourgeoise – middle-class family
But you’ve probably already found out that there are exceptions. Some adjectives precede the noun. They are remembered by the mnemonic “Bangs”. Beauty, Age, Number, Good/Bad, and Size.
une jolie fille – pretty girl
un jeune homme – young man
une nouvelle maison – new house
un bon enfant – good child
un petit problème – small problem
les sincères condoléances – sincere condolences
les vagues promesses – vague promises
Noun Genders – This subject is far too difficult to cover here. Why are some nouns masculine and others feminine? God only knows. If it ends in “e”, and you had to guess, go with feminine.
Negation – “Non” is a one-word negative answer to a yes or no question; while “pas”, by itself, negates part of a sentence. Rien (nothing), personne (no one), and jamais (never) may also be used in one-word answers:. Often a verb will be turned negative by constructing a sentence as follows:
ne … jamais (never, not ever)
ne … pas encore (not yet)
ne … rien (nothing, not anything)
ne … personne (nobody, no one, not anybody)
ne … plus (no more, not any longer)
ne … pas du tout (not at all)
The dots are where the verb goes, and if the verb starts with a vowel, ne becomes n’. Personne and rien are also negative pronouns, that may be used at the beginning of a sentence, as pronoun subjects, or followed by ne/n’.
Ne / n’ … aucun(e) + noun (conveys the idea of ‘absolutely no, not a single’ + noun).
Ne … ni … ni (is commonly translated as ‘neither … nor’).
Ne … que (is used to express a restriction. It is usually translated as ‘only’).
Oui is a ‘yes’ answer to an affirmative question, while si is a ‘yes’ to a negative question, and that’s tricky because when “si” in French means “if”, except in that one circumstance.
Nothing Left – you wrap the expression “ne….plus de” around the verb “avoir”, to say you have nothing left of something.
i.e. Je n’ai plus d’encre dans mon stylo (I have no ink left in my pen)
When “plus” has a negative meaning (no more), you never pronounce the final ‘s’.
Uses of “En” :
1 – En replaces a QUANTITY: This quantity is likely to be introduce by a partitive article “De, du, de la, de l’, des”, or a number such as “un, une, trois, vingt-huit”… or a fraction “un quart”… or an adverb of quantity “beaucoup de, un peu de”… or an expression of quantity “un kilo de, un litre de, une boîte de…”. Examples:
Je veux 6 pommes = j’en veux 6. (I want six of them)
Je bois de l’eau = j’en bois. (I drink of it)
Je mange du gâteau = j’en mange. (I eat of it)
J’achète des pommes = j’en achète (plusieures – you don’t have to say the “plusieur(e)s” part, but you can). (I buy of it)
Note that you will always repeat the quantity and also the adverb of quantity:
Je voudrais beaucoup de sucre = j’en voudrais beaucoup. (I want a lot of it)
J’achète un litre de vin = j’en achète un litre. (I buy a liter of it)
Je mange un paquet de petits-gateaux = j’en mange un paquet. (I eat a packet of it)
Remember that PAS is also a quantity: Je ne veux pas de lait = je n’en veux pas. (I don’t want of it)
And “un, une” are also numbers, so they need to be repeated in the answer: Tu as un chien ? Oui, j’en ai un. (Yes, I have one of it)
2 – En replaces a THING introduced by “de, du, de la, de l’, des”:
Je rêve de mes vacances = j’en rêve (I dream of it)
Je parle de mon voyage = j’en parle (I speak of it)
The “de, du , des…” often comes from the verb meaning that this particular verb is going to be followed by “de”, and that is why you’d be using a “de” there. This is the case for my examples “rêver de” and “parler de”. So, in order to master EN, you should really learn the most common verbs followed by de in French and train on making sentences using EN with these verbs. When the “de, du, des…” introduce a person, then you must use a stress pronoun (moi, toi, lui, elle, nous, vous, eux, elles), Je rêve de Jean = je rêve de lui
3 – En = strong liaison and glidings: Now with “en”, it’s important to note that it’s followed by a strong liaison, and usually part of expressions that glide a lot in spoken French: Il y en a = yan na, Il n’y en a pas = yan na pa
So the negative form is pronounced almost the same way – only the pas (or plus, aucun..) will tell you it’s negative. A lot of French people would do a mistake and write “j’en n’ai pas” when it is actually “Je n’en ai pas”, just because the liaison with “en” in N is so strong that is sounds like the negative, and because we are so accustom to writing “n’ai pas”… It actually calls for a big effort to write “je n’en ai pas”, because the spoken glided French sounds like “jan nay pa”…
4 – En = preposition or adverb? Watch out that “en” can also be a PREPOSITION or an ADVERB, having different meanings:
Il va en France – he goes to france
l’avion fait Paris-Boston en 6 heures – it takes the plane 6 hrs to cover Paris-Boston
Je vais à Paris en voiture – I go to Paris by car
Nous sommes en novembre, en 2012 – we’re in November, in 2012.
5 – “En” is part of many idioms: J’en ai marre = I’m fed up of it, Je m’en vais = I’m leaving of it, Ne t’en fais pas = Don’t worry of it.
Uses of “Y”:
1 – Y replaces a PLACE. A place is introduced by a preposition of place which can be “à” but also “sur, sous, en, au, aux…”:
Je vais à Paris = j’y vais (I go there)
Je vais en France = j’y vais
Je vais au Japon = j’y vais
2 – Y also replaces A THING (never a person) introduced by “à, au, aux, à l’, à la”, Je pense à mon travail = j’y pense.
The “à, au, aux, à la à l’” often comes from the verb meaning that this particular verb is going to be followed by “à”, and that is why you’d be using a “à” there. This is the case for my examples “penser à” and “réfléchir à”. So, in order to master Y, you should really learn the most common verbs followed by à in French. And train on making sentences using Y with these verbs.
Note than when a verb is followed by à + PERSON, you need to use an indirect object pronoun (me, te, lui, nous, vous, leur): Je parle à Pierre = je lui parle or a stress spronoun: “moi, toi, lui, elle, nous, vous, eux, elles” Je pense à lui – I think of him
You cannot guess, you have to know which verb’s construction asks for which pronoun – indirect object or stress… another difficulty of French…
3 – Il y a states the existence of something – there is, there are:
Il y a des livres sur la table – there are some books on the table.
Il n’y a pas de vin – there is no wine
Il n’y a plus de bon vin blanc – there is no more good white wine
4 – “Il y a” to talk about the weather. We also use “Il y a” a lot for expressions of weather:
Il y a + partitive article + noun
Il y a du soleil – (there is some sun) = it’s sunny out
Il y a de la neige – (there is some snow) – it’s snowy out
5 – The glidings with the expression “il y a”
The “a” is the verb “avoir” and can be conjugated: “il y avait, il n’y aura pas…”
The pronunciation in glided spoken French is quite different from the written form:
Il y a = ya,
Il n’y a pas de = yapad
Il n’y aura pas de = yorapad.
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.
Examples of use:
Location or destination: J’habite à Paris : I live in Paris, Je vais à Rome : I’m going to Rome, Je suis à la banque : I’m at the bank
Distance in time or space: J’habite à 10 mètres de lui : I live 10 meters from him, Il est à 5 minutes de moi : He is 5 minutes from me
Point in time: Nous arrivons à 7h00 : We arrive at 7:00, Il est mort à 100 ans : He died at the age of 100
Manner, style, or characteristic: Il habite à la française : He lives in the French style, un enfant aux yeux bleus : blue-eyed child / child with blue eyes, fait à la main : made by hand, aller à pied : to go on / by foot
Possession: un ami à moi : a friend of mine, Ce livre est à Jean : This is Jean’s book
Measurement: acheter au kilo : to buy by the kilogram, payer à la semaine : to pay by the week
Purpose or use: une tasse à thé : teacup / cup for tea, un sac à dos : backpack / pack for the back
In the passive infinitive: À louer : for rent, Je n’ai rien à lire : I have nothing to read.
Why is 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.
Other Examples: Mange-t-il la viande? Does he eat meat?
Leur, Les & Lui – Lui means him or her and leur means them, regardless of group gender. We use these indirect objects when the verb goes before an “à” :
i.e. Je parle à Jean –> Je lui parle.
i.e. Je demande à mes amis –> Je leur demande.
The à is dropped, and the indirect object (lui, leur) is moved before the verb. If the indirect objects are pronouns, you do not use lui or leur.
i.e. Il va contacter ses parents –> Il va les contacter.
Instead of « leur », we use « les » for “them”. If we try to substitute direct objects (direct objects replace the people or things that receive the action of the verb in a sentence), we use object pronouns to replace nouns.
French has seven direct object pronouns (DOPs) — and three more when you count the forms with an apostrophe. Here are the direct object pronouns and their English equivalents.
me (m’ in front of a vowel or mute -h) (me)
te (t’ in front of a vowel or mute -h) (you [singular informal])
le (l’ in front of a vowel or mute -h) (him/it [masculine])
la (l’ in front of a vowel or mute -h) (her/it [feminine])
vous (you [singular formal or plural informal and formal])
If the noun to be replaced is masculine (such as le père, which means the father), the pronoun must be masculine (le). If the noun to be replaced is feminine (such as la voiture, which means the car), the pronoun must be feminine (la). If the noun to be replaced is plural masculine or feminine (such as ses enfants, which means his/her children), the pronoun must be plural (les).
Conjunctions – These are 7 coordinating conjunctions in French: “mais”, “ou”, “et”, “donc”, “or”, “ni”, “car”. Those are invariable words that are used to join words or clauses that have equal value. There are also Subordinating conjunctions, are used to join a subordinating clause (dependent clause) to main clauses. To read more, go here:
Jusqu’à vs. Jusque – It’s all about which preposition you use after the “until”, and if it starts with a vowel or not. Because the French do not link a vowel to another vowel. That’s why there are: jusqu’à, jusqu’au, jusqu’où, jusqu’en, jusqu’ici, etc…If the preposition starts with a consonant then you have to use “jusque”.
“Y” vs. “En” – We covered both individually, but often on tests you will have to choose to use one or the other. How do they differ? 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.
In French, the phrases will begin with à (or any contraction of it), en, sur, sous, chez, devant, derrière, dans, etc. for y; and de (or any contraction of it) or a number for en.
They cannot replace people unless the person is introduced with an indefinite article, partitive, number or quantity. Sometimes y and en have no direct translation in English. Remember that they go before the verb, except in a command, in which they follow the verb and are connected with a hyphen. The -er verbs also add the -s they lost when forming the you (familiar) command.
Do you want some apples? Voulez-vous des pommes?
Do you want some (of it)? En voulez-vous?
I have three sisters. J’ai trois sœurs.
I have three (of them). J’en ai trois.
It is in the drawer – Il est dans le tiroir.
It is there. Il y est.
I am going to Detroit. Je vais à Détroit.
I am going there. J’y vais.
I am going to go to Atlanta. Je vais aller à Atlanta.
I am going to go there. Je vais y aller.
Answer the telephone! Répondez au téléphone !
Answer it! (formal) Répondez-y !
Stay there! (familiar) Restes-y !
Don’t stay there! (familiar) N’y reste pas.
Lequel vs. Quel – Lequel is a pronoun that replaces the adjective quel and the noun it modifies. It expresses “Which one?” as a question, but “which” is a statement (usually preceded by a preposition).
Chaque vs. Chacun – Chaque functions as an adjective, chacun is a pronoun. Examples: “chaque jour” means “each/every day”, whereas “chacun” means “each one”, usually in the sense of referring to a group of individuals rather than a group as a singular unit.
Manquer – The French verb manquer (to miss) is a word order nightmare, because “I miss you” translates not as je te manque but rather tu me manques (literally, “you are missing to me.”) Once you understand the proper French word order, you’ll never miss this one again.
Que, Qui, Où, Dont, Lequel – These are relative pronouns, and their use is dependent on the grammar that comes before them.
Qui replaces the subject (person or thing) in the dependent clause, replaces an indirect object referring to a person after a preposition.
Que replaces the direct object in the dependent clause.
Lequel replaces a n indirect object refering to a thing after a preposition.
Dont replaces any person or thing after “de”, and may indicate possession.
Où is used to indicate a place or time.
When you first start learning how to join clauses, it is common to think of que as “that” or “which”, and qui as “who” or “whom”, but the use is not based on English meaning but rather grammar usage.
“à” & “de” – Prepositions are words which link two related parts of a sentence. In this module, you may get frustrated with the variety of uses for the French prepositions “à” and “de”. Generally speaking, “à” means to, at, or in, while “de” means of or from.
Savoir vs. Connaître – French has two verbs which can be translated by the English verb “to know”: savoir and connaître. This can be confusing to English speakers, but in fact there are distinct differences in meaning and usage for the two verbs.
Savoir is used when you know a fact, know something by heart or when you know how to do something.
Connaître has two meanings, and they are related to knowing a person, or being familiar with a person/thing.
Que vs. Qui – You will see “que” for the word “that” and “qui” for the word “who/whom” when you have subordinate clauses (two sentences with one introducing the other). To join the clauses there must be a “que”, i.e. Je sais que tu es intelligent. In English “that” is optional, so “He thinks I like dogs” prompts the English speaker to write, “Il pense j’aime les chiens” instead of the correct, “Il pense que j’aime les chiens”. If you are translating, “I want him to do it”, the sentence is actually the French, “je veux qu’il le fasse (I want that he does it). The requirement of using “que” and “qui” and “qu’il” and on and on, is an English speaker mystery until you realize this fact. Behind the question “Est-ce que John est ici?” lurks that strange “que”, because the sentence really is…. “Is it that John is here?” not ”Is John here?”. DuoLingo will even ask you to translate the English version and you have to remember to subordinate clauses and join them together with “que”.
Qui and que are the most often confused relative pronouns, probably because one of the first things French students learn is that qui means “who” and que means “that” or “what.”
In fact, this is not always the case. The choice between qui and que as a relative pronoun has nothing to do with the meaning in English, and everything to do with how the word is used; that is, what part of the sentence it is replacing.
Que replaces the direct object
Qui replaces the subject and indirect object
Qu’est-ce que / Qu’est-ce qui / Qui est-ce que / Qui est-ce qui – “Qu’est-ce qui” stands for “what is it that…..” “Qui est-ce qui” stands for “who is it that…”
Qu’est-ce qui = what (“what” is the subject i.e. doing something) Ex. Qu’est-ce qui vous derange? What is bothering you?
Qu’est-ce que = what (“what” is the direct object-thing) Ex. Qu’est-ce que tu fais? What are you doing?
Qui est ce qui = who (“who” is the subject) Ex. Qui-est-ce qui est à la porte? Who is it that is at the door?
Qui est ce que = who (“who” is the direct object-person) Ex. Qui-est-ce que vous avez-vu? Who is it that you have seen?
Weather (Faire) – References to the weather, using “faire” i.e. faire beau (nice weather) do not make sense to an English speaker, but it certainly does to romantic language speakers. Il fait soleil (It’s sunny). Il faisait froid (It was cold). It’s uncomfortable to English speakers, but you eventually start using “faire” and life gets easier.
Other Faire Uses – Faire is a powerful and often used verb because it means to do or to make. Along with to have (avoir) and to be (etre), it is a verb you will see in many conjugations. Faire is not used as “to make” when it is followed by an adjective. Ex. Ça me rend heureux. – That makes me happy (here we use rendre). It is also not used in making a decision, Ex. J’ai pris une décision (here we used prendre).
When using the verb faire in the present tense, it is conjugated as follows:
je fais, tu fais, il fait, nous faisons, vous faites, ils font
Using faire in the imperfect is used to describe the past tense as an ongoing state or implies incomplete or repetitive action. Many French expressions use this form of faire. When using faire in imperfect, conjugate it as follows:
je faisais, tu faisais, ils faisait, nous fasions, vous faisiez, ils faisaient
You may also need to use faire to refer to things you will do or may have to do. Conjugate faire in the future tense as follows:
je ferai, tu feras, il fera, nous ferons, vous ferez, ils feront
Time Warp – Not to be outdone…time has a lot of quirks…like “It is [insert day, i.e. Monday] suddenly becomes “Nous sommes lundi”….we are Monday…..
Bon, Bien, Meilleur, Mieux – Bon (good) is an adjective. Although it has an irregular feminine form, bonne, the plural is formed regularly by adding an -s to the masculine or feminine adjective. Bien (well, really, very) is an adverb. The adjective bon modifies a noun, whereas the adverb bien modifies verbs, adjectives or other adverbs.
Comparisons with bon and bien are not formed regularly using ‘plus … que’ (more … than). Instead the French use meilleur(e)(s) que as the adverb (like bon), and mieux que as the adjective (like bien).
1. Il chante mieux que son frère. (comparison of verb)
2. Jean est meilleur en physique qu’en français. (comparison of noun)
3. Ils connaissent bien les paroles de cette chanson. (modifies verb)
4. Les enfants mangent bien à la cantine. (modifies verb)
5. Sophie travaille mieux que Tina. (comparison of verb)
6. Le dessert est meilleur à la maison qu’à la cantine. (comparison of noun)
7. Ton gâteau au chocolat est très bon, (modifies noun)
8. mais il serait meilleur avec un peu de noix de coco. (comparison of noun)
9. Vous parlez mieux le français que l’anglais. (comparison of verb)
10. Ce médicament est-il bon pour la gorge ? (modifies noun)
Est-ce que vs. Est-ce – These words show up everywhere, and they mean “is it that”. Why do you see “que” sometimes and then you don’t? “Est-ce que” is followed by a verb.
Ex. “Est-ce que tu travailles ? Is it that you work?
“Est-ce” is followed by a noun, or a pronoun.
Ex. “Est-ce un oiseau ? Is it a bird?
Possessive Pronouns – Possessive Pronouns refer to an object or person by identifying its possessor….mine, ours, yours, his/hers, or theirs. They have a masculine form or feminine form, as well as a singular and plural form. No big deal right? The problem comes when you notice that this is not always true.
The ones that make sense are:
Mine has le mien (sing. masc.) and la mienne (sing. fem.), as well as plurals les miens and les miennes.
Yours (familiar) has le tien (sing. masc.) la tienne (sing. fem.), as well as plurals les tiens and les tiennes.
His/Hers has le sien (sing. masc.) la sienne (sing. fem.), as well as plurals les siens and les siennes.
The ones that will trick you:
Yours has the same masculine and feminine singular le vôtre and la vôtre, and the plural becomes les vôtres.
Theirs is similar, the same masculine and feminine singular le leur and la leur, and the plural becomes les leurs.
Ours, likewise, has the same masculine and feminine singular le nôtre and la nôtre, and the plural becomes les môtres.
Possessive Adjectives – Making things even worse is the confusion between the possessive pronouns we just reviewed and possessive adjectives, like my, your, his/her/its, our, and their. These are words that take the place of articles to indicate to whom or to what something belongs. They also have seemingly random applications.
My has the masculine mon, feminine ma, and plural mes.
Your (familiar) has the masculine ton, feminine ta, and plural tes.
His/Her/Its has masculine son, feminine sa, and plural ses.
Your has votre for both masculine and feminine and the plural is vos.
Our is similar, and has notre for both singulars, and nos for plural.
Their has leur for both singulars and leurs for plural.
Liasions – This is where the French speaker does not normally say the silent consonant at the end of a word, but then does when they encounter word that begins with a vowel. They’ll use the last letter as the first letter for that vowel starting word. It seems strange, but it helps their word fluency, and you’ll eventually get used to it.
Elision – In English, the words “I’m”, “aren’t” and “don’t” are examples of elision. Sounds (and letters in the written form) have been removed to make the words shorter.
Ex. C’est, j’aime, s’il vous plait, l’horloge
Usually, only one-syllable words ending in E can be elided, but elle, si, and words ending in que also elide. However, si only elides before il and ils, so you must write s’il, but cannot write s’elle.
Enchaînement – similar to liaisons, it is when the ending consonant sounds are pushed onto the next word if it begins in a vowel. For instance: elle est is pronounced like “eh-lay”. Mange une pomme is pronounced like “mahn-jun-pom”.
Just Because – There are many words for because, “à cause de”, “grâce à”, car, and “parce que”. According to comments: “Parce que” can be used at the beginning of a sentence or in the middle of the sentence whereas “car” can only be used in the middle of a sentence. “Car” cannot be used to start the phrase, i.e. “Parce qu’il pleut je ne sors pas”, “Je ne sors pas parce qu’il pleut”,”Je ne sors pas car il pleut”. All three mean the same. You cannot say, “Car il pleut je soirs”.
False Friends, False Cognates – These are French words that look like an English word…but are not what you think they are. Most common false cognates: Travailler (to work) ≠ travel (voyager), Assister (to attend) ≠ to assist (aider), Attendre (to wait) ≠ to attend (assister), Rester (to stay) ≠ to rest/relax (se reposer), Collège (middle school) ≠ college (l’université), Formidable (excellent) ≠ formidable (redoutable), une librarie (bookstore) ≠ library (bibliotéchque), pleurer (to cry) ≠ to rain (pleuvoir), les bras (arms) ≠ bras (un soutien-gorge), rendre (to give back/surrender) ≠ render (se render), remettre (to put back/postpone) ≠ to remit (à remettre), entendre (to hear) ≠ to intend (l’intention), prétendre (to claim) ≠ to pretend (faire semblant), abus (excess/overindulgence) ≠ to abuse (d’abuser), disposer (arrange/have available) ≠ to dispose of (de disposer de), une injure (an insult) ≠ an injury (une blessure), actuellement (currently) ≠ actually (en fait), avertissement (warning) ≠ advertisement (publicité), une recette (recipe) ≠ receipt (réception), fournitures (supplies) ≠ furniture (muebles), original (new/innovative) ≠ original (originel), humeur (mood) ≠ humor (humour), formel (strict) ≠ formal (formelle). The list goes on forever. Why? A lot of French was taken by the English and over time things change.
Idiomatic Verbs – You’ve seen them, they are the s’ or m’ before a verb. You thought you knew what that verb meant, but now things have changed. The verb is “reflexive”, meaning that the action is done to oneself, themself, myself.. . i.e. “s’en aller” means “to go away”, but “aller” means “to go”…sure that kind of makes sense…but how about “se demander” meaning “to wonder” while “demander” means “to ask/order”? You need to find the list of reflexive verbs and sort them out…yourself.
Avant vs. Devant – They both mean “before” but avant has to do with time and devant has to do with position. i.e. Before you go to lunch, get in front of me -> Avant d’aller déjeuner, aller au-devant de moi.
Devoir vs. Falloir – Devoir can be used with all personal pronouns: je, tu, il/elle/on, nous, vous, ils/elles:
- Je dois partir – I have to leave
- Nous devons attendre – We have to wait
Devoir when followed by an infinitive, expresses an obligation, probability, or supposition.
Falloir can only be used with one pronoun: il (impersonal ‘it’):
- Il faut partir – It must go
- Il faut que je te parle – I have to talk to you (literally: It has to that I speak to you)
Falloir is stronger and somewhat more formal than devoir ; it expresses necessity. Falloir can be used with an infinitive or the subjunctive. Because it’s an impersonal verb, falloir does not conjugate for different subjects. In order to specify the person who needs to do something, you can either use the subjunctive or an indirect object pronoun with the infinitive.
“Il y a” – What is going on there? Il y a is made up of three words: il – the subject “it”, y – the adverbial pronoun “there”, a – the third person singular present tense of avoir (to have). The whole thing adds up to a meaning of “there is/there are” in English.
Depuis vs. Il y a – Depuis and il y a are both used to describe time in the past, but depuis means “since” or “for” while il y a means “ago.” If you had studied this lesson one year ago ( il y a un an ), you would have already known how to use these expressions correctly for a year (depuis un an).
Depuis vs. Pendant (Time) – In French the present tense is used with ‘depuis’ whereas in English we use a past tense. ‘Depuis’ can mean ‘for’ and ‘since’, and is used in a sentence involving a time element, like:
J’habite à Paris depuis quatre ans (I have lived in Paris for four years).
We also never use “pour” to indicate a duration, unlike the “for” in English.
Encore vs. Toujours – The French adverbs encore and toujours both have several meanings which partially overlap.
C’est vs. Il est – There is a difference in their usages.
c’est – used to describe a situation, modified adverb, modified noun, proper name and stressed pronoun.
il est – used to describe a person, unmodified adverb, unmodified noun and prepositional phrase.
When describing people and things with être in French, you usually can’t use a personal subject pronoun like “elle”. Instead, you must use the impersonal pronoun “ce”, which can also mean “this” or “that”. Note that “ce” is invariable, so it can never be “ces sont”. You’re going to miss this one in Duolingo a few times before you finally accept this fact.
C’est un homme. — He’s a man. / This is a man. / That is a man.
Ce sont des chats. — They’re cats. / These are cats. / Those are cats.
C’est mon chien. — It’s my dog. / This is my dog. / That’s my dog.
If an adjective, adverb, or both appear after être, then use the personal pronoun.
Elle est belle. — She is beautiful. (Or “It is beautiful.”)
Il est très fort. — He is very strong. (Or “It is very strong.”)
As you know, nouns generally need determiners, but one important exception is that professions, nationalities, and religions can act as adjectives after être. This is optional; you can also choose to treat them as nouns.
He is a doctor. — Il est médecin. / C’est un médecin.
However, c’est should be used when using an adjective to make a general comment about (but not describe) a thing or situation. In this case, use the masculine singular form of the adjective.
C’est normal ? — Is this normal?
Non, c’est étrange. — No, this is strange.
The link below takes you to a 20 question test to see if you have the concepts of C’est and Il est:
Verbs and Their Prepositions – They will drive you crazy as an English speaker. Learn the verbs with their prepositions, instead of just the verb, because there’s no getting around it.
Pronomial Verbs – found where the subject and the object are the same. These require a reflexive pronoun to complete their meaning.
Je me lève = I get up (I raise up myself)
Nous nous promenons = We walk (We walk ourselves)
Tu te reposes = You are resting (You rest yourself)
This grammatical structure is called the pronominal voice, and it’s common in French but rare in English. That’s because we usually omit the direct object and use the active voice. The main things to know about pronominal verbs:
#1: The reflexive pronoun always matches the subject. The reflexive pronouns are: me/te/se/nous/vous/se. This is why you see a lot of nous nous and vous vous.
Se is used for all third-persons: him, her, them, Billy-Bob, etc. Se becomes s’ when followed by a vowel or mute H.
#2: There are three kinds of pronominal verbs.
Reflexive verbs, like those first three examples.
Reciprocal verbs, where there are multiple subjects acting together. For example, Ils s’adorent = They adore each other.
Use of the pronoun “se” – The third person pronoun “se” in French has several different functions: reflexives (il se voit dans le miroir “he sees himself in the mirror”), reciprocals (ils se battent “they fight each other”), subjectives or expletives (elle se moque de lui “she makes fun of him”), and passives or middles (le fromage se mange “cheese is eaten”).
Idiomatic pronominal verbs, which are standard transitive verbs that take on a special meaning when you use them reflexively.
#3: Some reflexive verbs can be used non-reflexively.
Elle se promène. = She’s taking a walk.
Elle promène le chien. = She’s taking the dog for a walk.
#4: Most reflexive verbs have to do with parts of the body, clothing, personal circumstance, or location…
Imperfect and Passé Composé – Did you know that Avoir, Devoir, Pouvoir, Savoir, and Vouloir change meanings, according to whether they are used in the imperfect or the passé composé? Would have been nice to know, oui?
Imparfait is what was happening all around you (including you), background. Also ongoing events, habits, what used to be.
Passé composé is what took place at that very moment: a specific event or a succession of specific events, the main storyline.
Did Someone Mention “Passé Composé” – The Passé Composé uses “avoir” for every verb except 17 verbs that use “être”. There is a memory tool…DR MRS P. VANDERTRAMP (Devenir Revenir Monter Rester Sortir PasserVenir Aller Naître Descendre Entrer Retourner Tomber Rentrer Arriver Mourir Partir), and it’s easier to memorize these verbs than to make sense of anything else. In addition to these, at least one other verb is conjugated with être:
Décéder – to decease – décédé
Je puis vs. Je peux – Puis is an older form but it’s ok and can be used though mainly in questions cause it makes it easy to prononce “puis-je vous aider?”. Would have been good to know. Oui?
Those are the common concepts that will trip you up during the first month. We’ll cover more advanced confusions at a later time.
an, ans is used after a cardinal number:
- Mon frère a cinq ans – My brother is five years old
année, années is used after ordinal numbers and adjectives:
jour is a calendar day, 24h day. It also means daylight:
- Pendant de longues années – During long years
- Ma troisième année d’études – My third year of studies
journée is the time between sunrise and sunset:
- Les jours de la semaine – The days of the week
- Voir le jour – To see the light of day
Matin / Soir vs. Matinée / Soirée –
Matin and soir indicate the divison of time, the general sense:
- Belle journée d’automne – A beautiful autumn day
Matinée and soirée indicate the duration:
- Il est six heures du matin – It’s six in the morning
- Je sors tous les soirs – I go out every evening
- J’ai travaillé toute la matinée – I worked all morning
- Elle passe ses soirées à lire – She spends her evenings reading
Devoir vs. Falloir – Devoir can be used with all personal pronouns: je, tu, il/elle/on, nous, vous, ils/elles:
- Je dois partir – I have to leave
- Nous devons attendre – We have to wait
Falloir can only be used with one pronoun: il (impersonal ‘it’):
- Il faut partir – Must go
- Il faut que je te parle – I have to talk to you (literally: It has to that I speak to you)
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 – In English, modal verbs are non-conjugated verbs like: can, could, may, might, must, ought to, shall, should, will, would. English speakers use them a great deal, but this type of word structure does not exist in French. Instead, you can express ideas using modals verb in French, that are conjugated.
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.
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.
|To have to, must
|To say, to tell
|To do, to make
|To be able to, can
There are more, but I think these are the most common.
Aller, Venir, Retourner, Revenir, Rentrer – Used as “to return” or “to come” or “to come back”.
English speakers use “retourner”, because it sounds like “to return.” But most of the time, it is wrong. “To return” is more likely to be “revenir” or “rentrer.” “Retourner” means to go back for a limited time (often because you forgot something there).
1- Venir (To Come HERE) And Revenir (To Come Back, To Return HERE): This is a movement towards you, and where you are now.
Example: Maintenant, je suis chez Paul. Pierre va venir (ici) dans une heure. (Now, I’m at Paul’s. Pierre is coming (here, towards me) in an hour).
Example: Je pars faire des courses, mais je reviens dans 20 minutes: (I’m leaving to run errands, but I’m coming back (here, where I am now) in 20 minutes).
2 – Aller – To Go: This is a movement towards a place you are NOT now.
Example: Je vais chez Pierre. I am going to Pierre’s.
“Aller” is very much used in French. We use it where English would often use “to visit” (use the link to see my blog post about this), or “to attend” and in many expressions. It’s a very irregular verb – use my audio verb drills to memorize it.
3 – Retourner (To Go Back, To Return For A Limited Time, To Run By A Place)
This means to return, or to go back, but only for a limited time, either because you have forgotten something there, or you are returning for a certain time, but leaving again.
Example: Ce matin, je suis allée chez Pierre. J’ai oublié mon parapluie chez lui. Je vais y retourner ce soir pour prendre mon parapluie (et puis rentrer chez moi). (This morning I went to Pierre’s. I forgot my umbrella there. I am going to go back tonight to get my umbrella – I’m going to pop by tonight to get my umbrella (and then I’ll go home)).
Example 2 : Maintenant je suis à Paris. Demain, je pars en Angleterre. Je vais y rester une semaine (et puis je reviendrai en France). Mais je retournerai à Londres dans 2 mois. Now, I’m in Paris. Tomorrow, I’m leaving for England. I’ll stay a week there (then I’ll return to France). But I’ll go back to London in 2 months.
BTW: to say to return something, we use “rendre”(give something borrowed back to someone) or “rapporter”(to return something in a shop).
Example: Je dois rendre ce livre à Pierre. (I have to return this book to Pierre).
4 – Rentrer (To Return, Go/Come Back HOME)
This means to return, to go/come back HOME or to the place where you are staying. “Rentrer” usually implies that you are not going out again.
Example 1: Je pars au bureau à 9 h et je rentre à 18h. (I leave for the office at 9 AM and go back (home) at 6 PM).
Example 2 : Normalement, j’habite à Paris. Maintenant je suis à Londres. Je vais aller en Italie, et puis je rentrerai le 3 novembre.
Usually I live in Paris. Now I am in London. I’m going to Italy, and I’ll go back home (to Paris) on November 3rd.
We often also use “rentrer” instead of “entrer” to say to enter a place. It’s probably a mistake, but it’s a very common one.
Contrast “Aller” And “Venir”
a) J’aime ce restaurant et je pense que je vais venir très souvent: You are talking to the owner and saying you’ll come HERE often.
b) J’aime ce restaurant et je pense que je vais y aller souvent: You are talking to your friend about going to this restaurant often.
Contrast “Revenir”, “Rentrer”, “Retourner”
a) Maintenant je suis chez Paul. Pierre va venir dans 1 heure (chez Paul). Moi, je vais faire des courses mais je vais revenir dans une heure (chez Paul).
Now, I’m at Paul’s. Pierre is coming in one hour (to Paul’s). I’m going to run errands, but I’ll come back in one hour (to Paul’s).
b) Maintenant je suis chez Paul. Je vais rentrer dans une heure. Avant, je dois retourner à mon travail parce que j’ai oublié mes clés.
Now I’m at Paul’s. I’ll go back home in one hour. Before that, I have to go back to my work because I forgot my keys there.
Elle vs. La vs. Lui –
Elle is a subject, and can also be used as a stressed pronoun.
La is a direct object.
Lui is an indirect object.
Tous vs. Tout –
Pronunciation – The different forms of adjectives are pronounced as follows:
tout – [tu], tous – [tu], toute – [tut], toutes – [tut]
*“tous” pronoun masc. pl. – the final “s” is pronounced.
Used as a Noun – Examples
à tout âge – at any age
avoir toute liberté – to be completely free
en tout cas – in any case
tout enfant – every child
Used as Definite Articles – Examples
tous les enfants – all the children
tout le temps – all the time
tous les jours – every day
Used as Possessive Adjectives – Examples
prendre tout son temps – to take one’s time
tous mes amis – all my friends
toute ma famille – my whole family
toutes nos affaires – all of our things
Used as Demonstrative Adjectives – Examples
tous ces gens – all these people
toute cette tristesse – all this sadness
tout ce temps – all this time
toutes ces idées – all of these ideas
Used as Adverb – Examples
tout doucement – very quietly
tout droit – straight ahead
tout haut – very loudly
tout loin d’ici – very far from here
tout près – very near
Tout as an adverb is nearly always invariable and can be used with adverbs, adjectives, and the prepositions à and de . Invariable means that with feminine adjectives that begin with h aspiré or a consonant, tout needs agreement: it must be feminine as well as singular or plural, depending on the number of the adjective.
Used as Adjectives- Examples – Note: Normally French adverbs are invariable, but tout is a special case. It sometimes requires agreement, depending on the gender and first letter of the adjective it modifies.
1) With all masculine adjectives, singular and plural, tout is invariable:
Il est tout seul – He’s all alone.
Ils sont tout seuls – They are all alone.
Nous sommes tout étonnés – We are very surprised.
2) With feminine adjectives, singular and plural, that begin with h muet or a vowel, toutis invariable:
J’ai mangé la tarte tout entière – I ate the whole pie.
J’ai mangé les tartes tout entières – I ate the whole pies.
Elle est tout heureuse – She is very happy.
Elles sont tout heureuses – They are very happy.
C’est une tout autre histoire – That’s a whole other story.
3) With feminine adjectives that begin with h apiré or consonant, tout needs agreement: it must be feminine as well as singular or plural, depending on the number of the adjective:
Elle est toute petite – She is very small.
Elles sont toutes petites – They are very small.
Elle est toute honteuse – She is very ashamed.
Elles sont toutes honteuses – They are very ashamed.
Used as a Noun – Examples – Note: Le tout is a noun meaning “whole” or “all,” and is invariable in terms of gender and number, though the definite article le may contract or be replaced as usual.
Les éléments forment un tout – The elements make a whole.
le grand Tout – the Great Whole (the universe)
mon tout – my whole (in the French game charades )
pas du tout – not at all
rien du tout – nothing at all
Used as Pronouns – Examples – Note: Tout can be two different kinds of pronouns.
Neuter pronoun – When it’s a neuter pronoun, tout is invariable and means “all” or “everything”: avant tout – above all, malgré tout – in spite of everything, c’est tout – that’s all, tout va bien – everything is fine, tout est en règle – everything is in order, Tout ce qui brille n’est pas – All that glitters isn’t gold
Plural pronoun – As a plural pronoun, there are two forms, tous and toutes , which mean “everyone” or “all” and usually have an antecedent .
Où sont mes amis ? Tous sont ici. Ils sont tous ici – Where are my friends? Everyone is here. They’re all here.
Je ne vois pas les filles. Elles sont parties toutes ensemble – I don’t see the girls. They all left together.
Used in Prepositions: à and de
tout à coup – all of a sudden
tout à fait – absolutely
tout à l’heure – shortly, right away
tout au contraire – on the contrary
tout de suite – immediately
tout de même – all the same, anyway
tout d’un coup – all at once
Finally, there is the subject of French word order and it can be quite a subject to tackle, so I won’t do it all here. I do have other posts on the matter, so select that category with a strong cup of coffee.