Tag Archive | French Registers

French Registers

I can sometimes see what guests to my blog have searched for, and I was surprised that I didn’t have this topic covered yet.

There are five language registers, or styles, for all languages. Each level has an appropriate use that is determined by differing situations. It would be inappropriate to use language and vocabulary informally when speaking in a formal setting. Thus the appropriate language register depends upon the audience, who, the topic, what, purpose, why, and location, where.

Literary/Refined – Littéraire/Soutenu

Literary French is extremely formal and is nearly always written. When spoken, it tends to be for effect and can come off as sounding snobbish or old fashioned.

Formal – Formel

Formal French is polite, both in written and in spoken language. It is used to show respect, or used when the speaker isn’t familiar with a person. This register can sometimes be used to demonstrate coldness towards another person. For example, using vous instead of tu to a close friend.

Normal – Normal

This register is the most common of every day language. The normal French register has no particular distinction of formal or informal, and is the language used between everyone.

Informal – Familier

Informal register expresses closeness and is used between friends and family.

Familiar – Populaire

Familiar French is used between friends, and can range from normal register to slang.

Slang – Argot

Slang is vulgar, offensive, and usually insulting language. It may be used between friends or enemies. This register is considered to be non-standard French.

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

A la prochaine…



Degrees of Certainty – Impossibility, Doubt

This is the third and last in this 3 part series of French in Action. (Part 1; Part 2) Today we wrap this series up with the negative : Impossibility and Doubt.


The expressions used to denote possibility can be used in the negative to suggest impossibility.

La date nous est impossible.|The date’s impossible for us./We can’t make the date.

Mon fils a toujours tenté l’impossible.|My son’s always tried to do the impossible.

J’aimerais faire le tour du monde, mais c’est un rêve irréalisable.|I’d like to travel around the world, but it’s an impossible dream.

L’accord était voué à l’échec.|The agreement was impossible/bound to fail.

Il est impossible qu‘elle soit exclue de l’équipe.|She can’t possibly be excluded from the team.

Votre démarche a rendu impossible tout compromis.|Your action has made any compromise impossible.

Il est hors de question que vous le fassiez à sa place.|It’s out of the question for you to do it instead of him/her.


French possesses the verb douter, the cognate of the English verb “to doubt”. The constructions in which it is used can confuse English speakers. Note that se douter de quelque chose means “to suspect that something is the case” (as in the opposite of doubt).

On peut douter de l’authenticité de la signature.|There is reason to doubt whether the signature is authentic.

Je doute qu‘il ait eu le temps de tout faire.|I doubt if/that he had time to do everything.

Il est parti ? Je m’en doutais.|Has he left? I thought as much.

Je me doutais de ses intentions.|I suspected those were his intentions.

J’ai hésité à vous réveiller.|I wasn’t sure whether I should wake you up.

Je me suis méfié de ce qu’il a dit.|I wasn’t sure whether to trust what he said.

On peut avoir des doutes sur ses capacités.|There’s reason to doubt his abilities.

Rien n’indique qu‘il ait décidé de revenir.|There’s nothing to suggest he’s decided to come back.

Here are some adverbial and adjectival constructions to express doubt:

Il ne sera pas forcément d’accord.|He won’t necessarily be in agreement.

Je serais difficilement convaincu.|It would be difficult to persuade me.

Ile est fort peu probable que le magasin soit ouvert dimanche.|It’s very unlikely that the shop is open on Sunday.

Il est douteux qu‘elle se représente aux prochaines élections.|It is doubtful whether/unlikely that she will stand again at the next election.

L’issue est incertaine.|The outcome is undecided/unsure.

Le verdict était contestable.|The verdict was debatable/open to question.

C’est une procédure tout à fait aléatoire.|It’s a completely random procedure./The procedure leaves everything to chance.

Have a great week, everyone!

A bientôt !


Degrees of Certainty – Probability, Possibility

Continuing on from last week’s part 1 post, we’ll continue with probability and possibility.


The chance that something will happen. To convey that something is probable in a word or short phrase:

Tu assisteras au concert ? – Sans doute.|You’ll go to the concert? _ Most likely./Probably.

C’est Christine qui a téléphoné ? – Probablement.|Was it Christine who called? – Probably.

Christophe fait du théâtre maintenant ? – Paraît-il.|Christophe is doing some acting now? – So it seems.

Vous allez poser le tapis vous-même ? – En principe.|Are you going to lay the carpet yourself? – That’s the idea.

The combination of the verb pouvoir with the verb bien provides the basis for a number of expressions of probability:

Je peux bien prendre le train.|I may well take the train.

Ils pourraient bien téléphoner ce soir.|They’re likely to call this evening.

Other ways to form probability expressions:

Il est très/fort probable qu‘elle jouera le rôle de la reine.|It’s very/highly likely that she’ll play the role of the queen.

Il y a de fortes chances que j’obtiendrai une bourse.|There’s a very good chance that I’ll get/obtain a grant.

Ils sont censés arriver par le train de six heures.|They’re meant to arrive on the six o’clock train.

Ils devraient vous rembourser tout de suite.|They should reimburse you immediately.


Most constructions expressing “the possibility that…” or “doubt that…” are followed by the subjunctive.

Brief responses to indicate that something is possible include:

Il est malade ? C’est possible.|Is he sick? – Possibly./Maybe.

Tu as besoin de la voiture ? – Ça se peut.|Will you need the car? – Possibly./I might.

Tu pourrais le remplacer ? – Oui, éventuellement.|Could you replace him? – Possibly.

More elaborate expressions often use the verb pouvoir:

Ils ont pu perdre leur chemin.|They may have lost their way.

Il se peut que la voiture soit tombée en panne.|It’s possible the car’s broken down.

A la limite, on pourrait croire qu‘il l’a fait exprès.|You might almost think he did it deliberately.

Possibility can also be expressed by idiomatic phrases:

Il est possible que je sois en mesure de vous aider.|It may be that I’m in a position to help you.

Nous vous soutiendrons dans la mesure du possible.|We shall support you as far as we can.

Ce que vous proposez, c’est très faisable.|What you’re suggesting is quite possible/do-able.

Tu crois que c’est un projet réalisable ?|Do you think the plan could work/is feasible?

Come back next week for the final installment of this three part topic. Have a great week, everyone!

A la prochaine…


Degrees of Certainty


Affirmative expressions of certainty and probability take the indicative – the indicative is used to express most statements and questions.

To convey certainty by a single word or a short phrase:

Il viendra demain ? – Certainement. | Will he come tomorrow? – Definitely.

On les invitera ? – Ah, oui, sûrement. | Will they be invited? – Yes, of course.

Ce candidat sera élu, c’est sûr. | This candidate is sure to be elected.

Fuller expressions of certainty rely mainly on adjectives or verbs. The most useful expressions based on adjectives are those with a personal subject:

Je suis sûr que vous réussirez. | I’m sure you’ll succeed.

Elle est convaincue que c’est la meilleure solution. | She’s convinced it’s the best solution.

Ils sont persuadés qu‘il y a eu une erreur. | They’re convinced there’s been a mistake.

Impersonal subjects ce and il also convey certainty:

Il n’y aura pas de session d’été. C’est formel. | There won’t be a summer session. That’s final.

Il est sûr maintenant que le président va démissionner. | It’s now certain that the president is going to resign.

The word doute can be used in expressions to make an affirmation, but take note that sans doute means “probably”.

Il n’y aucun doute qu‘elle l’emportera la prochaine fois. | Of course she’ll win next time.

Sans aucun doute ils le payeront plus cher en Angleterre. | No doubt they’ll pay more for it in England.

Similarly to doutecertitude conveys a similar degree of affirmation:

J’ai la certitude qu‘il m’a déjà posé la même question. | I’m absolutely sure he’s already asked me the same question.

Elle sait avec certitude qu‘elle sera envoyée aux Etats-Unis. | She knows that she’ll definitely be sent to the United States.

Next week there will be a part 2 to this post, and it will be on the degrees of probability and possibility. This is the first in a little series of French “in action” posts that I’ll be doing, where there will be somewhat real life situations and how to use it in speech. Not like those generic “The mouse is under the chair” type of non-useful phrases.

I am also working on a requested post one of my followers asked for, and I think I will make it a page at the top of my blog.

Have a great week, everyone!

A bientôt !