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Greetings

Speaking good idiomatic French requires not only a sound grasp of grammar and vocabulary, but also a sensitivity to the different registers appropriate to situations. The following lesson is a guideline on courtesy in common situations.

Greetings

Saying Hello

When greeting a stranger or an adult you only slightly know, remember to include the polite title of address: Bonjour, Monsieur/Madame/Mademoiselle.

When a young woman ceases to be addressed as Mademoiselle, and becomes Madame, and her marital status is unknown, looks to be under or over 20-25 years old, err on the side of caution by using Madame.

For informal or closer acquaintances, it is common to say the name after the greeting.

  • Bonjour, Monsieur Gautier.
  • Bonjour, Anne.

Salut is a familiar greeting, equivalent to “Hi” in English, and much used among young people.

  • Salut, Amandine ! | Hi, Amandine!

An initial greeting is usually accompanied by a handshake if you do not know the person well, or between men. For family and closer friends, particularly two women or a woman and a man, it is usual to faire la bise – to kiss on both cheeks. The number of bises given varies from region to region, two being the minimum, four the maximum – just follow local custom!

Note that the French expect to shake hands or faire la bise not just on a first introduction, but on subsequent meetings. For example, if you work in an office, you usually shake hands with your colleagues every morning and possibly again to say goodbye in the evening.


Thank you to those who share my blog. I notice where people are being referred from, and it just makes me so happy that you all are enjoying what I’m giving you all. So thank you again! And by the way, I am so close to having two hundred posts!!!

Have a great week, everyone!

Merci à vous !

Courtney

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Verbs – Partir

This week’s post is all about the verb partir! On a personal note, when I was first learning French (15 years ago), there was a song by an indie French singer called Partir that I loved. For me it was fun to learn the meaning of the word in relation to this song.

Ok, on to the lesson!

Partir – to leave, to go out

  • Partir, c’est mourir un peu. | To leave is to die a little.
  • La navette partira dans dix minutes. | The shuttle will leave in ten minutes.
  • Mathilde est partie faire quelques courses, elle rentrera vers six heures. | Mathilde has gone to do a little shopping; she will be back around 6 o’clock.
  • Colomb était parti chercher la route des Indes. | Columbus had set out to look for the way to India.

Partir à/en/pour quelque chose/de quelque chose– to leave for/from somewhere

  • Nous partons aux Etats-Unis le mois prochain. | We will leave for the United States next month.
  • Il va partir en Argentine construire une maison. | He is leaving for Argentina to build a house.
  • Nos voisins sont partis pour la montagne. | Our neighbours have left for the mountains.
  • Quand est-ce que vous partez pour votre croisière ? | When are you leaving on your cruise?

Partir pour + infinitif – to leave to + infinitive

  • Caroline est partie en Afrique pour combattre le sous-développement. | Caroline left to fight underdevelopment in Africa.
  • Il est bien parti pour gagner le Tour de France. | He has gotten off to a good start in the Tour de France.
  • Je suis parti pour rester tout l’été à travailler. | It looks like I will be working here all summer.

Have a great week, everyone!

Merci à vous !

Courtney

Simple and Complex Sentences

A simple sentence usually consists of a single clause.

  • Le taxi vous attend, Madame.
    • The taxi is waiting for you, Madame.

A more elaborate form of the simple sentence includes several main clauses, joined together by coordinating conjunctions (et, mais, alors, puis, etc.). Although the clauses form a single sentence, the word order and construction of each individual clause is not affected by the coordination.

  • Je voulais vous téléphoner, mais j’ai perdu votre numéro.
    • I wanted to call you, but I lost your number.

Complex sentences consist of one or more main clauses and one or more subordinate clauses. A subordinate clause may be introduced by a subordinating conjunction, or by a relative pronoun.

  • L’acteur qui jouait le rôle d’Hamlet s’est foulé la cheville pendant que nous répétions le dernier acte.
    • The actor who was playing Hamlet sprained his ankle while we were rehearsing the last act.
  • Vous avez vu l’homme qui a volé mon sac ?
    • Did you see the man who stole my bag?

Have a great week, everyone!

A la prochaine…

Courtney

Adverbial Phrases of Manner Used to Replace Adverbs

When an adverb is three or more syllables in length, it can be cumbersome in a sentence. There is a tendency to avoid excessive use of long adverbs, replacing them by adverbial phrases.

To express the manner in which an action is performed, for example, you can use d’une façon + adjective or d’une manière + adjective.

  • Elle réussit d’une façon inévitable. | She inevitably succeeded.
  • Il le refusa d’une manière peu polie. | He rudely refused.

With verbs of speech, adverbs may be replaced by d’un ton + adjective or d’une voix + adjective.

  • Le capitaine lui parla d’un ton irrité. | The captain spoke to him irritably.
  • D’une voix douce, elle lui expliqua la vérité. | She gently explained the truth to him.

With reference to people’s facial expressions, adverbs may be replaced by d’un air + adjective.

  • Ils le regardèrent d’un air furieux. | They looked at him furiously.

Have a great week, everyone!

A bientôt !

Courtney

Sentence Building – Indirect Objects

The idea or action expressed by the verb may affect or be directed at a person or thing – the object of the verb. If the object follows the verb directly without a preposition, it is called a direct object. In French, direct objects may be either persons or things.

In the following sentences, the direct object is highlighted in bold.

  • Je vois mon amie Aurélie. | I see my friend Aurélie.
  • Tu connais notre collègue ? | Do you know our coworker?
  • Où achetez-vous vos vêtements ? | Where do you buy your clothing?
  • Elle finit le compte-rendu. | She finishes the report.

Indirect objects in French are usually animate nouns – nouns referring to living beings. Indirect objects are joined to the verb by the preposition à. In the following sentences, the indirect object is highlighted in bold. Note that the meaning in English often includes the notion of the English word to.

  • Il téléphone à sa petite amie. | He phones his girlfriend.
  • Vous écrivez à vos cousins. | You write to your cousins.
  • Le vendeur répond au client. | The clerk answers the customer.

Indirect objects most often occur with an inanimate direct object. In the following sentences, the direct object is highlighted in bold, and the indirect object is underlined and bold.

  • Il donne un cadeau à son frère. | He gives his brother a gift.
  • Je montre les photos à mes amis. | I show my friends the pictures.

Enjoy your week, everyone!

Merci à vous !

Courtney

Sentence Building – Questions

There are many ways to form questions in French. The different patterns convey differences in registers – formal language, everyday language, informal language, slang. Thus the type of question pattern that speakers select depends on the situation they are in and the relationship they have with the person to whom they are asking the question.

There are two types of questions: yes/no questions and information questions. Yes/No questions expect the answer yes or no. They do not begin with an interrogative word.

In colloquial French, statements are turned into yes/no questions most frequently by changing the intonation of the sentence from falling to rising, with no change in the word order of the original statement.

  • Claire sait programmer ? | Does Claire know how to program?
  • Cet enfant suit bien à l’école ? | Is this child a good student?
  • Tu connais ce type-là ? | Do you know that guy?

The addition of est-ce que at the beginning of each of the questions above makes them appropriate in all registers.

  • Est-ce que Claire sait programmer ? | Does Claire know how to program?
  • Est-ce que cet enfant suit bien à l’école ? | Is this child a good student?
  • Est-ce que tu connais ce type-là ? | Do you know that guy?

In formal French, a yes/no question may be formed by inverting the subject and verb if the subject is a subject pronoun. In this type of question, the subject pronoun is connected to the verb by a hyphen.

  • Vous êtes en retard. | You’re late.
    • Êtes-vous en retard ? | Are you late?
  • Elle connaît Paris. | She knows Paris.
    • Connaît-elle Paris ? | Does she know Paris?
  • Nous pouvons entrer. | We can enter.
    • Pouvons-nous entrer ? | Can we enter?
  • Ils font une promenade. | They’re taking a walk.
    • Font-ils une promenade ? | Are they taking a walk?

Inversion also requires a hyphen for third-person singular forms of -er verbs, including aller, where a -t- is added between the verb and the inverted pronoun. The -t- is also added between the third-person singular of avoir and the inverted pronoun.

  • Arrive-t-il en voiture ? | Is he arriving by car?
  • Parle-t-elle au téléphone mobile ? | Is she speaking on the mobile phone?
  • Trouve-t-on une solution ? | Are people finding a solution?
  • Va-t-il en avion ? | Is he going by plane?
  • A-t-elle soif ? | Is she thirsty?
  • A-t-on des difficultés ? | Are people having trouble?

There are some restrictions on inversion, however. In French, only a pronoun can be inverted.

If the sentence has a noun subject and inversion is selected to convey formal register, then the pronoun corresponding to the noun subject is added after the verb and connected to it by a hyphen or -t-.

  • Cette fille parle français. | That girl speaks French.
    • Cette fille parle-t-elle français ? | Does that girl speak French?
  • Cette ville a des industries. | That city has industry.
    • Cette ville a-t-elle des industries ? | Does that city have industry?
  • Maurice va en Italie. | Maurice is going to Italy.
    • Maurice va-t-il en Italie ? | Is Maurice going to Italy?

The pronoun je is rarely inverted in modern French. Est-ce que can be used to make a question with the subject je suis for formal speech or writing. However, inversion of je with monosyllabic verb forms je suisj’aije puis (literary variant of je peux) is still occasionally found in very formal speech and formal writing.

  • Suis-je l’homme que vous cherchez ? | Am I the man you are looking for?
  • Ai-je le droit de dire cela ? | Do I have the right to say that?
  • Puis-je vous demander un service ? | May I ask a favour of you?

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

A bientôt !

Courtney

Simple Prepositions – Literal & Idiomatic Uses Part 8

Part 8 in this series.

sans – without

“Il est parti sans parapluie.” | “He left without his umbrella.”

Note that when “without” is followed by “a/any” in English, no article is required after sans in French.

  • “Vous ne pouvez pas voir le médecin sans rendez-vous.” | “You cannot see the doctor without an appointment.”
  • “C’est une ville sans divertissements.” | “It’s a town without any leisure activities.”

Sans can also be used to translate “but for”.

  • “Je me serais perdu sans la carte.” | “I would have got lost but for the map.”

sauf – except

“Tout le monde est présent sauf Sophie.” | “Everyone is here except Sophie.”

Sauf is used in a few formal phrases to mean “save”.

  • “Les comptes sont bons, sauf erreur de ma part.” | “The accounts are in order, save for any error on my part.”

selon – according to

Selon le porte-parole du gouvernement, la décision sera annoncée demain.” | “According to the government spokesperson, the decision will be announced tomorrow.”

“C’est un produit bien adapté au marché européen selon lui.” | “It’s a product which is well suited to the European market according to him/in his opinion.”


sous – under

“Les enfants se sont arrêtés sous mon balcon.” | “The children stopped under my balcony.”

Sous is used in formal French to express “within” + time.

  • “Nous espérons obtenir son accord sous peu.” | “We hope to obtain his/her agreement within a short time.”

Sous is used to translate “in/from” with reference to perspective or viewpoint.

  • “Il faut envisager le problème sous un autre angle.” | “We need to look at the problem from another angle.”
  • “L’avocat a représenté leur demande sous un jour favorable.” | “The lawyer presented their request in a favorable light.”

Sous is also used in the following common idioms where English uses a different preposition.

  • sous forme de | in the form/shape of
  • sous main | at hand
  • sous prétexte de | under the pretext of
  • sous le règne de | in the reign of

sur – on/upon

“Les clés sont sur la table.” | “The keys are on the table.”

“Votre jugement est basé sur quels critères ?” | “What criteria is your judgement based upon?”

Sur is used to translate “in/out of” for fractions or statistics.

  • “Un mariage sur trois va aboutir au divorce.” | “One marriage in three will end in divorce.”
  • “Le professeur lui a donné treize sur vingt pour sa dissertation.” | “The professor gave him/her thirteen out of twenty for his/her essay.”

Sur is used in the construction noun + sur + same noun, to mean “after/upon”.

  • “Ce pays a reçu coup sur coup.” | “This country has received blow after/upon blow.”

Sur is used in the following common idioms where English uses a different preposition.

  • sur le champ | at the time/on the spot
  • sur les (deux) heures | towards (two) o’clock
  • sur le moment | at the time
  • sur un ton (+ adjective) | in a (adjective) voice

vers – towards

“L’agent se dirigea vers les Champs Elysées.” | “The policeman headed towards the Champs Elysées.”

Vers la fin de sa vie, il se rapprocha de l’église.” | “Towards the end of his life, he grew close to the church again.”

Vers is used to translate “at about” with references to times.

  • “Le concert va commencer vers huit heures.” | “The concert will start at about eight o’clock.”

The last post in this really long series! Have a great week, everyone, and I’ll get back to posting normal things next week!

A la prochaine…

Courtney