Archive | August 2018

Simple Prepositions – Literal & Idiomatic Uses Part 2

Part 2 in this series.

chez – at (the house of)/to (the house of)

Chez may be used before a noun or pronoun referring to a person or group of people.

  • “J’achèterai le sucre chez l’épicier.” | “I’ll buy the sugar at the grocer’s.”
  • “Ce soir nous sommes invités chez Anne et Thierry.” | “This evening we’re going to Anne and Thierry’s.”

Chez means “in the case of/with” when it refers to a person’s or group of people’s characteristics.

  • Chez Jean, l’énervement est un signe d’anxiété.” | “With Jean, being irritable is a sign of anxiety.”
  • “Il y a un certain optimisme chez les médecins.” | There is a mood of some optimism among/in the case of doctors.”

The use of chez meaning “in the case of” extends to geographical groups.

  • Chez nous on boit beaucoup de thé.” | In our country, we drink a lot of tea.

Chez is used to translate “in (the work of)” with reference to writings or artistic work.

  • Chez Sartre, la notion de la liberté est remise en question.” | “In Sartre’s work/writings, the concept of freedom is called into question.”

contre – against

“L’équipe hollandaise a remporté une victoire contre les Américains.” | “The Dutch team scored a win against the Americans.”

Contre is used to translate the English “with” in “to be angry with”.

  • “J’espère que vous n’êtes pas fâché contre moi ?” | “I hope you’re not angry with me?”

Contre is used to translate the English “for” in “to exchange one thing for another”.

  • “J’ai échangé ma moto contre un vélo de course.” | “I exchanged my motorcycle for a bicycle.”

Contre is used to translate the English “to” in records of scores, votes, etc.

  • “Le projet a été retenu, dix voix contre deux.” | “The proposal has been accepted by ten votes to two.”

dans – in/into

  • Dans le nord de l’Italie, on mange plus de riz.” | “In northern Italy, people eat more rice.”
  • “Je vais travailler dans le jardin.” | “I’m going to work in the garden.”
  • “Il est entré dans la boulangerie.” | “He’s gone into the bakery.”
  • Dans le cas des jeunes chômeurs, il faut une solution plus radicale.” | “In the case of young people who are unemployed, we need a more radical solution.”

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

Merci à vous !


Simple Prepositions – Literal & Idiomatic Uses

I will be going through the alphabet for this, so I’ll be breaking this up into about 4 or 5 posts.

Main Literal & Idiomatic Uses of Simple Prepositions Before Nouns

à – at/to

Je t’attendrai à l’arrêt de bus. | I’ll wait for you at the bus stop.

Tu veux venir à la réception ? | Do you want to come to the reception?

  • à denotes position in phrases.
    • à la campagne | in the country
    • à droite/à gauche | on the right/left
    • au deuxième étage | on the second floor
    • à l’extérieur/à l’intérieur | on the outside/inside
    • au lit – in bed
    • au mur/au plafond | on the wall/ceiling
  • à denotes position with reference to parts of the body.
    • avoir mal à tête | to have a headache
    • avoir mal à la jambe | to have leg pain
    • se blesser au pied | to hurt/injure one’s foot
    • “Ça te fait mal au genou ?” | “Does that hurt your knee?”
    • “Ce produit fait du bien aux yeux.” | “This product is good for your eyes.”
  • à introduces a distinguishing physical feature.
    • un immeuble à six étages | a six-story/storey building
    • un trèfle à quatre feuilles | a four-leaved clover
    • la maison à la grille rouge | the house with the red gate
    • l’homme aux cheveux noirs | the man with black hair
  • à indicates the purpose an object serves.
    • une boîte à lettres | a letterbox
    • une tasse à café | a coffee cup
  • à can be used either after a noun or in the structure être à quelqu’un to denote ownership.
    • “Voici les documents à Jean.” | “Here are Jean’s documents.”
    • “Le sac est à Philippe.” | “The bag is Philippe’s.”
    • “Il cherche une maison à lui.” | “He’s looking for a house of his own.”
  • à denotes the manner in which an action is preferred, especially with verbs of speech and movement.
    • crier à tue-tête | to shout at the top of one’s voice
    • lire à haute voix | to read out loud
    • marcher à grandes enjambées | to stride along
    • rentrer à pas de loup | to return on tiptoe/stealthily
    • s’habiller à la mode française | to dress in a French style
  • à denotes the means by which an action is performed, including references to non-mechanized forms of transport.
    • aller à pied | to walk
    • fait à la main | handmade
    • enforcer la porte à coups de pied | to kick the door down

après – after

“Il s’est installé à Paris après la guerre.” | “He moved to Paris after the war.”

“Je suis arrivé(e) après les autres.” | “I arrived after the others.”

  • après conveys the idea “next to/second to” in terms of a preference.
    • Après Lyon, je préférerais habiter Toulouse.” | “Next to/Second to Lyon, I’d rather live in Toulouse.”

avant – before (of time)

“Téléphone-moi si tu arrives avant neuf heures.”  | “Call me if you arrive before nine o’clock.”

“Il a occupé ce poste avant mon frère.” | “He held that position before my brother.

  • avant conveys the idea “more than” in terms of a preference.
    • “J’aime les randonnées en montagne avant tout.” | “I like mountain hikes more than anything.”

avec – with*

“Me mère viendra avec ma sœur.” | “My mother will come with my sister.”

“Il m’a regardé avec un certain mépris.” | “He looked at me with some scorn.”

Avec ce petit dictionnaire tu risques de ne pas comprendre le texte.” | “With using that little dictionary, you’re not likely to understand the text.”

*There are idiomatic uses of à and chez to translate some uses of “with” in English.

Enjoy your week, everyone!

A bientôt !


Simple Prepositions Before Nouns

Simple prepositions consist of a single word (à, dans, par, etc.), as opposed to compound prepositions, which consist of preposition + noun + preposition (à côté de, en dehors de, etc.).

Prepositions Governing Two or More Nouns

When one preposition governs (stands before) two or more nouns, it should be repeated before each noun in the case of the prepositions à, de, en. Note that this rule is observed in formal written French, but not always in informal speech.

  • J’ai montré les photos à ma mère et à ma sœur.
  • I showed the photos to my mother and sister.

In the case of other prepositions governing two or more nouns, there is no need to repeat the prepositions if the nouns are similar in meaning.

  • Il est parti avec une valise et un sac à dos.
  • He went off with a suitcase and a backpack.

However, if the preposition should be repeated before each noun if the nouns have distinct or opposing meanings.

  • On se marie pour le pire et pour le meilleur.
  • Marriage is for better or worse.

As a general rule, it is more common, and usually good manners to repeat prepositions in formal written French.

Hello, everyone! This topic will be broken up into 5 or 6 parts as I’ll be going into the literal and idiomatic uses of these prepositions, and there are a lot. Just a head’s up. Have a great week!

A la prochaine…


Comparisons of Adjectives and Adverbs

How to Form the Comparative of Adjectives and Adverbs

In English, we have two ways of changing adjectives and adverbs from positive to comparative degree. Many of our most common adjectives and adverbs are changed by adding -er to them; i.e.: rich → richer; soon → sooner. Other adjectives and adverbs are made comparative by placing the words “more” (or “less”) in front of them, i.e.: beautiful → more beautiful; slowly → more/less slowly.

In French, comparatives are formed by placing plus (or moins) in front of the adjective or adverb, i.e.: riche → plus riche; vite → plus/moins vite.

How to Use the Comparative in French

  • Elle est plus jolie que sa sœur. | She is prettier than her sister.
  • Vous parlez plus vite que lui. | You speak faster than he does.
  • Ce village est moins intéressant que celui que nous avons visité la semaine dernière. | This village is less interesting than the one we visited last week.
  • Jean est aussi intelligent que son frère. | Jean is as intelligent as his brother.
  • Parlez aussi lentement que moi. | Speak as slowly as I do.

Observations on the uses of the comparative:

  1. In comparatives, “than” is translated by que
  2. In French, a comparison of equality (as…as) is expressed by aussi… que.

Have a great week, everyone!

Merci à vous !


Use of the Pluperfect and Past Anterior

Both the pluperfect and the past anterior correspond to the English pluperfect, “I had done/I had been doing”. That is to say that they refer to an action which happened at a point in the past earlier than that referred to by the previous or subsequent verb in the past historic or perfect.

  • Il s’était déjà installé quand je suis arrivé. | He had already settled in when I arrived.
  • Aussitôt qu’il fut parti, elle nous téléphona. | As soon as he had left, she telephoned us.

In some cases, English may use the preterite in place of the pluperfect, but French always uses the pluperfect/past anterior to denote the appropriate time sequence.

  • Lundi j’ai retrouvé le dossier que vous aviez préparé l’année dernière. | On Monday I came across the file which you prepared/had prepared last year.

In spoken French, only the pluperfect, not the past anterior, is used. Because the past anterior uses the past historic to form the auxiliary, it is associated with formal written French. It should be used in formal written French in place of the pluperfect if the following circumstances all apply:

  • you would otherwise use the pluperfect, referring to a single completed action in the past (not a repeated habitual action)
  • the main narrative tense of the passage is the past historic (not the perfect)
  • the clause which requires the past anterior is introduced by one of the following time conjunctions: aussitôt que/ dès que (as soon as), après que (after), à peine que (hardly), quand/lorsque (when):
    • Dès qu‘il eut annoncé sa décision de vendre la maison, des agents immobiliers s’empressèrent de le contacter.
      • As soon as he had announced his decision to sell the house, estate agents rushed to make contact with him.
    • A peine se fut-elle couchée que le bruit recommença.
      • Hardly had she gone to bed when the noise started again.

Have a great week, everyone!

A bientôt !