Pouvoir is an elementary French verb meaning "to be able to." It's an irregular verb, which means it's not conjugated like most other verbs ending in -ir. In this lesson, we'll be focusing on the first-person present indicative form of pouvoir, which has two variants: je peux and je puis (I can). How do we know which one to use?
Je peux is by far the more common of the two:
Qu'est-ce que je peux faire différemment?
What can I do differently?
Caption 21, Actus Quartier - Manif anti-nucléaire à BastillePlay Caption
Puis is actually an archaic conjugation of pouvoir that nowadays is only used in specific, mostly formal contexts. One of them is inversion, when the pronoun and verb switch places:
Que puis-je faire? Puis-je voir ces hommes?
What can I do? May I see these men?Play Caption
You would never say que peux-je faire or peux-je voir ces hommes. If you're inverting the first-person present indicative form of pouvoir, you need to use puis. But you could easily rephrase these questions with peux using the constructions est-ce que or qu'est-ce que:
Qu'est-ce que je peux faire? Est-ce que je peux voir ces hommes?
You're more likely to hear qu'est-ce que je peux or est-ce que je peux than puis-je in everyday speech. Je puis isn't used very often, though it can be found in a few set formal expressions, usually beginning with si:
Si je puis me permettre, essayez ces lunettes
If I may, try these glasses...Play Caption
C'est un petit peu notre... notre crédo si je puis dire.
It's a little bit like our... our credo, if I may say so.Play Caption
As a less formal alternative to puis-je (and slightly more formal than je peux), use the conditional form je pourrais:
Alors je pourrais essayer la nuit, Monsieur Watt?
Then I could try at night, Mister Watt?Play Caption
And don't forget that puis is also an adverb meaning "then":
Puis y en a qui donnent beaucoup moins.
Then there are some who give a lot less.
Caption 42, Actus Quartier - Repair CaféPlay Caption
In the latest installment of Le Jour où tout a basculé, we find two very different uses of the verb passer. The first is a direct cognate of the English verb "to pass," referring to time passing:
Quatre mois ont passé.
Four months have passed.Play Caption
The second, referring to taking an exam, is a false cognate. You might assume that passer son bac means "to pass one's baccalaureate exam." But that's wrong! Passer in this context actually means "to take":
J'ai passé mon bac.
I took my baccalaureate.Play Caption
If you want to talk about passing an exam, use the verb réussir (to succeed):
Demain il réussira son examen.
Tomorrow he will pass his exam.Play Caption
Passer's other meanings are more predictable. You can use it transitively (i.e., with an object) to to talk about passing something to someone:
Passe le micro.
Pass the mic.
Caption 54, Arles - Le marché d'ArlesPlay Caption
Or you can use it intransitively (without an object) to describe someone passing by or passing from one place to another:
Tous les ans, effectivement, nous demandons à Saint-Nicolas de passer.
Every year, in fact, we ask Saint Nicholas to pass by.Play Caption
Et maintenant on va passer en cuisine avec le chef.
And now we'll go into the kitchen with the chef.
Caption 33, Parigot - Le bistrotPlay Caption
Just as you can "pass time" (or "spend time") in English, you can passer du temps in French:
Et puis ça permet de passer un bon petit moment ensemble.
And then it allows us to spend a good bit of time together.Play Caption
The expression passer pour means "to pass for," as in "to be taken for" or "seem like":
La maîtrise des synonymes vous permettra donc d'élargir votre vocabulaire, mais aussi, de ne pas passer pour un psychopathe.
Mastering synonyms will therefore allow you to broaden your vocabulary, but also to not be taken for a psychopath.
Captions 23-24, Le saviez-vous? - Les synonymesPlay Caption
As passer is such a versatile verb, it's no surprise that it's used in many, many common expressions. We'll pass along a handful of them to you:
passer à autre chose - to move on to something else
passer à l'acte - to take action
passer à la caisse - to pay/checkout
passer à la télévision - to be on TV
passer à table - to sit down for a meal (also has the figurative meaning "to snitch" or "spill the beans")
passer un coup de fil - to make a phone call
passer de la musique - to put on some music
passer au bloc - to go under the knife/have surgery
passer au peigne fin - to go over with a fine-tooth comb
passer à côté de - to miss/miss out on
laisser passer sa chance - to miss one's chance
You can find even more expressions on this WordReference page.
And to learn about the reflexive form of passer, se passer, check out our lesson Se Passer: To Bypass and Pass By.
You may know that all French nouns are either masculine or feminine, but did you know that some nouns can be both? A word like après-midi (afternoon), for example, can be either masculine or feminine depending on the speaker's preference:
Vous deux, là, qu'est-ce que vous allez faire de beau cet après-midi?
You two, here, what are you going to do that's exciting this afternoon?Play Caption
On passe une super après-midi.
You spend a great afternoon.Play Caption
Un après-midi (masculine) and une après-midi (feminine) both mean "an afternoon." But usually, when a word's gender changes, its meaning changes too. Take the word mode, for example. La mode (feminine) means "fashion," but le mode (masculine) means "mode" or "(grammatical) mood":
Le milieu de la mode est aussi touché hein, forcément.
The world of fashion is also affected, you know, necessarily.Play Caption
Le temps présent fait partie du mode indicatif.
The present tense is part of the indicative mood.
Caption 10, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode indicatif, c'est quoi?Play Caption
Like mode, a lot of dual-gender words end in -e. Another common one is poste. When masculine, it means "post" as in "position" or "job" (among other things), and when feminine, it means "post" as in "post office" or "mail":
J'ai trouvé mon premier poste de libraire
I found my first bookseller position
Caption 3, Gaëlle - Librairie "Livres in Room"Play Caption
Si je venais à gagner, vous m'enverrez mon chèque par la poste.
If I were to win, you'll send me my check in the mail.Play Caption
You'll most often find the word livre in its masculine form, meaning "book." When feminine, it means "pound," as in the unit of weight and currency:
L'extérieur d'un livre s'appelle la couverture.
The outside of a book is called the cover.
Caption 4, Manon et Clémentine - Vocabulaire du livrePlay Caption
Une livre équivaut à environ quatre cent cinquante-quatre grammes.
One pound is equal to around four hundred fifty-four grams.
Voile has related meanings in both its masculine and feminine forms. Both refer to things made of fabric—a veil (un voile) and a sail (une voile):
Un niqab, c'est donc un voile intégral qui ne laisse, euh, voir que les yeux.
So a niqab is a full-length veil that only, uh, shows the eyes.Play Caption
Il a une seule voile.
It has a single sail.
Caption 11, Fred et Miami Catamarans - Les BateauxPlay Caption
This video takes you on a tour (un tour) of Paris, making a requisite stop at the Eiffel Tower (la Tour Eiffel):
La Tour Eiffel, qui est le symbole de la France.
The Eiffel Tower, which is the symbol of France.
Caption 20, Paris Tour - Visite guidée de ParisPlay Caption
Gender can be tricky in French, doubly so when you're dealing with words that can be both masculine and feminine. Remembering them is just a matter of practice. You can find a comprehensive list of dual-gender words on this page.
If you have any worries, concerns, or problems in a French-speaking country, souci is the word to use to express your predicament. In the first two senses ("worry" and "concern"), it's synonymous with inquiétude:
Ne te fais pas de souci. Fais-moi confiance!
Don't worry. Trust me!Play Caption
Alors, le souci, quand elles en font deux, c'est que si elles sont pas très bonnes productrices de lait...
So the concern, when they have two, is that if they are not very good producers of milk...
Caption 4, Ferme de la Croix de Pierre - Les chèvresPlay Caption
Pas d'inquiétude. De nos jours, le pont est protégé d'un grillage.
Not to worry. Nowadays, the bridge is protected by a wire fence.Play Caption
Souci and inquiétude both have verbal forms (se soucier, s'inquiéter) and adjectival forms (soucieux/soucieuse, inquiet/inquiète):
Sans se soucier [or: s'inquiéter] de dévoiler ses sentiments.
Without worrying about revealing her feelings.
Caption 7, Vous avez du talent Paulin - "Elle"Play Caption
Donc si vous êtes un petit peu soucieux [or: inquiet] de votre santé...
So if you're a little bit concerned about your health...
Caption 16, Voyage dans Paris - Cité FloralePlay Caption
Un souci is also "a problem" or "an issue" you might have with something—for instance, if there's something wrong with a bike you've rented:
...si y a aucun souci avec les pédales.
...if there's any problem with the pedals.
Caption 34, Amal - VélibPlay Caption
Et si y a le moindre souci avec un vélo...
And if there's the slightest issue with a bike...
Caption 57, Amal - VélibPlay Caption
But un souci doesn't always involve a sense of frustration or anxiety. It can also mean "a concern," as in something you really care about and pay a lot of attention to.
Le souci du détail est un dogme.
Concern over detail [or: Attention to detail] is a dogma.
Caption 27, Le Journal ChocolatsPlay Caption
Nous avons un grand souci de l'environnement.
We have a great concern for [or: We really care about] the environment.
There are also the expressions par souci de and dans un souci de, both meaning "in the interest of" or "for the sake of":
Si une partie de Lyon a été retenue, c'est d'abord par souci de [or: dans un souci de] cohérence.
If a portion of Lyon has been contained, it is primarily for the sake of coherence.
Caption 11, Le Journal - La grippe aviaire - Part 2Play Caption
Finally, souci is also the word for "marigold." So while the informal expression pas de souci most often means "no worries," it can also mean "no marigolds"!
Did you know that in French, "a person" is always feminine, regardless of their gender? That is, the word personne is always feminine, even when it refers to a male person. Our friend Farmer François refers to himself as une personne (not un personne) when talking to us about his vegetable stand:
Moi, je suis une personne qui est né dans la banlieue.
Me, I'm someone who was born in the suburbs.
Caption 48, Farmer François - Le stand de légumesPlay Caption
And in another video, a woman describes a male friend of hers as la seule personne (not le seul personne):
C'était un Français, bien sûr. C'est la seule personne que je connais à West Berlin.
It was a Frenchman, of course. He's the only person I knew in West Berlin.
Captions 18-19, Le Journal - Le mur de Berlin s'écroulePlay Caption
On the flip side, "an individual" is always masculine:
Ce n'est pas Bérangère qui la regarde mais un individu pour le moins étrange.
It's not Bérangère who is watching her but a rather strange individual.Play Caption
Elle est un individu sain.
She is a healthy individual.
There's an interesting combination of personne and individu in this article about the recent evacuation of Mont-Saint-Michel. The subject of the article is a man who made threats against police at the popular French tourist destination. He's designated as both il (referring to individu) and elle (referring to personne):
Selon Ouest-France, l'individu aurait affirmé vouloir «tuer des policiers». Descendu de la navette, il se serait ensuite volatilisé avant l'arrivée des gendarmes.... Plusieurs témoins ont signalé cette personne alors qu'elle rentrait sur le site touristique, a annoncé la gendarmerie.
According to Ouest-France, the individual expressed a desire to "kill police officers." After getting off the shuttle, he reportedly disappeared before the officers arrived.... Several witnesses identified this person when he returned to the tourist site, the police reported.
Don't forget that personne can also be used as a pronoun in combination with ne, meaning "no one":
Maintenant on dit: "Il n'y a pas un chat", pour parler d'un endroit où il n'y a personne.
Now one says, "There's not one cat" [not a soul] to talk about a place where there isn't anyone.
Caption 13, Manon et Clémentine - Mots et animauxPlay Caption
Personne ne peut vivre là-dedans!
No one could live in there!Play Caption
Stay tuned for Patricia's upcoming video on ne... personne and similar expressions, part of her series on negation.
Thanks to Michael H. for bringing this topic to our attention!
The latest episode of Le Jour où tout a basculé begins with a homeless man asking pedestrians for une petite pièce, which is not "a little piece," but rather "a small coin" or "some small change":
Monsieur, s'il vous plaît, une petite pièce, un petit ticket restaurant.
Sir, please, a small coin, a small restaurant voucher.Play Caption
Vous n'auriez pas une petite pièce?
You wouldn't have some small change?Play Caption
Une pièce is short for une pièce de monnaie, "a piece of change." Monnaie is where we get the English word "money" (l'argent in French), but it actually means "change" or "currency":
Nous allons récupérer de la monnaie.
We're going to retrieve some change.
Caption 50, Lionel - Voyage en train - Part 1Play Caption
Une pièce can also be short for une pièce de théâtre ("a theater piece"), that is, "a play":
En général, on prenait la pièce d'un auteur connu.
We usually picked a play from a well-known author.
Caption 33, Flora - et le théâtrePlay Caption
And its meanings don't stop there. Une pièce is also "a room," which you might think of as a "piece" of a building:
Mais venez avec moi, dans l'autre pièce.
But come with me into the other room.Play Caption
Sometimes, une pièce is just a plain old "piece," whether referring to a piece or part of something else:
Ce puzzle a cinq cents pièces.
This puzzle has five hundred pieces.
J'ai besoin d'une pièce détachée pour mon vélo.
I need a spare part for my bike.
Or referring to an item or object, such as a piece of art or an article of clothing:
Ici, chaque pièce "d'art de la table" est unique.
Here, every piece of "table art" is unique.Play Caption
Alors que c'est un ciré de création en pièce unique, quoi.
Although it's a unique piece, a designer raincoat, you know.
Caption 27, Lyon - La Croix-Rousse - Part 2Play Caption
You might also see pièce used as an adverb, generally when referencing the price of something. In this case it means "each" or, in a more direct translation, "apiece":
Les livres d'occasion coûtent un euro pièce.
The used books cost one euro each [or: apiece].
For even more pieces of information about the word pièce, see this extensive Larousse entry.
While discussing pigeons in Paris with his friend Lea, Lionel brings up an amusing French idiom referencing those ubiquitous city birds:
Alors se faire pigeonner en français, c'est vraiment se faire arnaquer, se faire avoir par une personne qui vous a soutiré de l'argent.
So "se faire pigeonner" [to be taken for a ride] in French is really to get ripped off, to be had by a person who has extracted money from you.
Captions 54-59, Lea & Lionel L - Le parc de Bercy - Part 1Play Caption
Se faire pigeonner literally means "to be taken for a pigeon." In English too, "a pigeon" can refer to someone who's gullible or easily swindled. Pigeons get a bad rap in both languages!
Let's take a look at some more animal expressions and idioms used in Yabla videos. Here's another bird-related one:
Oui. J'avoue être un peu poule mouillée.
Yes. I admit to being a bit of a wet hen [a wimp].Play Caption
Calling someone poule mouillée is equivalent to calling them "chicken." A slightly less pejorative poultry-inspired moniker is un canard:
Qu'ils me disent que je m'affiche, qu'ils me traitent de canard
That they'll say that I am showing off, that they'll call me a duck [a slave to love]
Captions 6-7, Grand Corps Malade - Comme une évidencePlay Caption
Un canard is a person who's so lovestruck they'll do whatever their partner desires. Believe it or not, it's also a slang term for "newspaper." There's even a famous French newspaper called Le Canard enchaîné (The Chained Duck), which Lionel discusses in a few other videos.
Don't confuse canard with cafard, the word for "cockroach." When used metaphorically, cafard means "depression" or "the blues":
Mon cafard me lâche moins souvent qu'autrefois...
My blues don't let me go as much as before...
Caption 8, Debout Sur Le Zinc - Les mots d'amourPlay Caption
The expression avoir le cafard means "to be depressed," or literally, "to have the cockroach." And there's the adjective cafardeux/cafardeuse, which can mean either "depressing" or "depressed." Encountering a cockroach in your home can certainly be depressing, to say the least!
Though dogs are as beloved in France as they are in other countries, the word chien (dog) typically means "bad" or "nasty" when used as an adjective:
Fais demain quand le présent est chien
Make tomorrow when the present is bad
Caption 3, Corneille - Comme un filsPlay Caption
You'll find chien in a couple of idioms involving bad weather, such as un temps de chien (nasty weather) and un coup de chien (a storm):
On va avoir un coup de chien, regarde!
We're going to have a dog's blow [stormy weather], look!Play Caption
You can also say un temps de cochon (pig weather) instead of un temps de chien:
Et aujourd'hui on a pas un temps de cochon par contre.
And today we don't have pig weather [rotten weather] however.
Caption 22, Lionel - La Cathédrale de Toul - Part 2Play Caption
In American English, "pigs" is a slang term for "cops." But the French call them vaches (cows):
Mort aux vaches, mort aux cons!
Death to the cows ["pigs," i.e., cops], death to the jerks!
Caption 5, Patrice Maktav - La RuePlay Caption
Finally, they don't celebrate April Fools' Day in France, but rather "April Fish":
En tout cas j'espère que ce n'est pas un poisson d'avril.
In any event, I hope that it's not an April fish [April fool].
Caption 21, Lionel à Lindre-Basse - Part 5Play Caption
The phrase pas mal literally means "not bad," and like its English counterpart, it's often used to express an assessment of something:
La nourriture à ce restaurant n'est pas mal.
The food at that restaurant isn't bad.
C'est pas mal déjà!
That's not bad at all! [or: That's pretty good!]Play Caption
But just as often, pas mal is used not as a qualitative assessment, but a quantitative one. Take a look at this example from our video on Paris's Rue des Martyrs:
Y a pas mal de bars dans la rue.
There are quite a few bars on the street.
Caption 42, Adrien - Rue des MartyrsPlay Caption
Adrien isn't saying that the bars on the street "aren't bad." If he were, he might have said something like, Les bars dans la rue ne sont pas mal. Instead, he uses pas mal to indicate that there are "quite a few" bars on the street. When followed by de (of) plus a noun, pas mal can mean anything along the lines of "quite a few," "quite a bit," or "quite a lot":
C'est quelque chose qui est très important pour nous depuis pas mal de temps.
This is something that has been very important to us for quite a bit of time.Play Caption
When pas mal comes before an adjective, it means "a lot" or "pretty":
Ben c'est sûr que... c'est pas mal plus naturel.
Well, for sure... that's a lot more natural.
Caption 46, Bateau sport 100% électrique - Le Nautique 196 EPlay Caption
Ce livre est pas mal intéressant.
This book is pretty interesting.
And when referring to a verb, it means "really" or, again, "quite a bit/a lot":
J'essaie de rechercher pas mal le son.
I'm trying to really research the sound [or: I'm trying to research the sound quite a bit].
Caption 12, Phil Cambron - Ses révélationsPlay Caption
Here's an example sentence that contains both senses of pas mal:
Pas mal de nuages mais quand même des éclaircies, et au niveau des températures, c'est pas mal non plus.
Quite a few clouds but still some sunny spells, and as far as temperatures go, that's not bad either.
Captions 9-10, Alsace 20 - Météo des MaquilleursPlay Caption
But be careful: just because you see the words pas and mal next to each other doesn't necessarily mean you're dealing with the expression pas mal. Namely, when a verb phrase with mal (such as faire mal [to hurt] or le prendre mal [to take it the wrong way]) is negated, the pas mal portion doesn't mean "not bad" or "quite a bit"—it's just part of the negation:
Ça fait pas mal? -Non, non.
It doesn't hurt? -No, no.Play Caption
Ne le prends pas mal.
Don't take it the wrong way.
Thanks for reading! Tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the latest episode of Le Jour où tout a basculé, Sarah receives some troubling news from her son Nino that could put her job in jeopardy:
Sarah ne se doute pas un instant de la tournure des évènements.
Sarah doesn't suspect for a moment the turn of events.Play Caption
The verb douter looks a lot like the English verb "to doubt," and indeed, the two are exact cognates:
Et puis, je commençais aussi à douter.
And then, I also began to doubt.Play Caption
But se douter, the reflexive form of douter, doesn't mean "to doubt oneself," as you might expect. Instead, it means "to suspect" or "to guess":
Mais il ne se doute pas qu'à sa place va se présenter Edna, la complice de Louise.
But little does he know [he doesn't suspect] that in her place will be Edna, Louise's accomplice.Play Caption
If you're really certain about something, you can use the phrase se douter bien:
Avec un regard comme celui-là, on se doute bien qu'il a dû en voir.
With a look like this, one might well guess that he must have seen a lot.
Caption 1, Le Journal - Le photographe Cartier-BressonPlay Caption
Je me doute bien qu'il sait comment cuisiner.
I'm sure he knows how to cook.
Both douter and se douter can be followed by de or que. (Se) douter de always comes before a noun (as in Sarah ne se doute pas un instant de la tournure des évènements), while (se) douter que always comes before an independent clause (as in je me doute bien qu'il sait comment cuisiner).
But douter and se douter differ in another important way besides their meaning. While se douter que always takes the indicative mood (since it expresses a certainty or near certainty), douter que can take the indicative or the subjunctive depending on context. In general, douter que takes the subjunctive in the affirmative and the indicative in the negative:
Je doute qu'il sache comment cuisiner.
I doubt he knows how to cook.
Je ne doute pas qu'elle sait la meilleure façon d'y arriver.
I don't doubt she knows the best way to get there.
As you may recall, the subjunctive is used to express a wish, uncertainty, or doubt. So if you're saying you don't doubt something, it makes sense that you would use the indicative rather than the subjunctive in that case.
We'll be back with a new lesson soon, sans aucun doute (without a doubt)!
The adjectives sensé(e) and censé(e) are easy to confuse, since they have the same pronunciation and almost the same spelling (in other words, they're homophones). Sensé(e) is related to the English word "sense," and means "sensible," "reasonable," or "sane":
J'étais face à trois personnes que je considérais comme étant parfaitement sensées.
I was facing three people whom I considered to be perfectly sane.
Captions 80-81, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Notre appartement est hanté - Part 5Play Caption
Censé(e) might remind you of the words "census," "censor," or "censure," but it means something quite different. It's the word for "supposed," as in "supposed to do something." Just like "supposed to," it's nearly always preceded by the verb "to be" (être) and followed by an infinitive:
On est censé... faire réparer des objets qui ont quelques problèmes.
We're supposed to... bring items that have some problems for repair.
Caption 2, Actus Quartier - Repair CaféPlay Caption
On était censé n'avoir aucun souci, avoir des centrales complètement fiables.
They were supposed to have no concerns, to have totally reliable power plants.
Caption 25, Manif du Mois - Fukushima plus jamais çaPlay Caption
Alors que la police, elle est censée être là pour nous protéger.
While the police are supposed to be there to protect us.Play Caption
You can always say supposé(e) instead of censé(e), which might be a little easier to remember:
...son fameux pont qui était supposé être un lieu où [on] profitait de beaux panoramas.
...its famous bridge, which was supposed to be a place where you enjoy beautiful panoramas.Play Caption
Or you can use the verb devoir, especially in the past tense:
...bien qu'elle se demanda en quoi cela devait l'aider à se rendre au bal.
...although she wondered in what way that was supposed to help her get to the ball.
Captions 47-48, Contes de fées - Cendrillon - Part 1Play Caption
Whichever version of "supposed to" you use is perfectly sensé!
At the end of our last lesson, we introduced the question ça te dit (or ça vous dit), which literally means "does it say/speak to you," but is mostly used as an informal way of proposing something to someone. It's more or less equivalent to the English phrase "what do you say":
Du coup, je propose un apéro ce soir chez moi, dix-neuf heures. Ça vous dit?
So I propose an aperitif tonight at my place, seven p.m. What do you say?Play Caption
But ça te dit can be translated a number of other ways too, depending on its position in the sentence:
Alors, ça te dit?
So, are you interested?Play Caption
Ça te dit qu'on aille boire un thé?
How would you like to go have some tea?Play Caption
At the beginning of a sentence, ça te dit can precede either que or de. But be careful: the phrase ça te dit que requires the subjunctive, as you can see in the example above (qu'on aille). Ça te dit de, on the other hand, simply takes the infinitive:
Ça te dit d'aller boire un thé?
How would you like to go have some tea?
Ça te dit has another meaning too. If you're not sure whether someone is familiar with what you're referring to, you can use the expression to double-check:
Non. Je connais pas Saguenay. -Bien, voyons, le fleuve, tout ça... non, ça te dit rien?
No. I don't know Saguenay. -Come on, the river, all that... no, that doesn't mean anything to you?
Caption 53, Le Québec parle - aux Français - Part 1Play Caption
C'est situé dans le huitième arrondissement; je ne sais pas si ça vous dit quelque chose, mais voilà.
It's located in the eighth district; I don't know if that means anything to you, but there you go.
Caption 18, Paris Tour - Visite guidée de ParisPlay Caption
Ça vous dit de regarder de nouvelles vidéos sur Yabla?
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for our next lesson and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to email@example.com.
In Part 2 of "Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an," Danièle Gerkens, a journalist at Elle magazine, talks about the health benefits she experienced after cutting sugar from her diet for one year. When the year was almost up, she was expecting to break her sugar fast with mountains of whipped cream, but it was actually a single piece of dark chocolate that did her in:
Je me disais que j'allais me rouler dans la chantilly, et cetera. Et puis en fait, plus ça arrivait, plus je me disais, mais... qu'est-ce que je vais faire?
I told myself that I was going to wallow in whipped cream, et cetera. And then in fact, the closer it came [to the end], the more I was wondering, but... what am I going to do?
Captions 102-104, Le Figaro - Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 2Play Caption
Note the two different translations of je me disais here: "I told myself" and "I was wondering." The reflexive verb se dire can mean a number of things depending on context, namely "to tell/say to oneself" and "to wonder/think." In a sense, these both mean the same thing: when you wonder or think about something, you're telling yourself about it.
When multiple people se disent, they could be thinking about something or telling themselves something, but they could also just be talking to each other:
Christine et Alice sont de meilleures amies. Elles se disent tout.
Christine and Alice are best friends. They tell each other everything.
Se dire can also mean "to say of oneself," or in other words, "to claim to be":
Le Charles de Gaulle, où la direction se dit d'abord victime de son image.
Charles de Gaulle, where the management claims first to be a victim of its image.Play Caption
Or se dire can simply mean "to be said," which has a few different connotations. Here Danièle is (somewhat cheekily) talking about something she thinks is taboo and can't be mentioned in public. Believe it or not, she's referring to her love of milk chocolate!
Je sais, ça se dit pas, mais j'adorais ça.
I know you're not supposed to say it, but that's what I loved.Play Caption
In its most general sense, se dire refers to anything that "is said" in everyday language:
Par contre, "faire le beau" se dit d'un chien qui se tient sur les pattes arrière pour réclamer un sucre.
On the other hand, "faire le beau" is said of a dog that stands on its hind legs to beg for a lump of sugar.
Captions 24-25, Margaux et Manon - Emplois du verbe fairePlay Caption
"Je n'ai pas des biscuits": ça se dit en français? -Non. Il faut dire: "je n'ai pas de biscuits".
Can you say je n'ai pas des biscuits in French? -No. You have to say je n'ai pas de biscuits [I don't have any cookies].
Don't confuse ça se dit with ça te dit (or ça vous dit in the plural), which means "how does that sound" or "how would you like..." (literally, "does it speak to you"):
Ça te dit de réviser les multiples sens de l'expression "se dire"?
How would you like to review the multiple meanings of the expression se dire?
At the end of the second installment of Le Jour où tout a basculé - J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils, Sarah uses an interesting construction to express remorse about something she did at work:
Et j'avais beau me dire que je l'avais fait pour Nino, j'avais vraiment honte.
And even though I told myself that I'd done it for Nino, I was really ashamed.Play Caption
Beau means "beautiful" or "handsome," but the expression "avoir beau + infinitive" doesn't have anything to do with beauty. It can mean a variety of things depending on context, but it generally describes a failed effort or something done in vain. Sometimes it's just a synonym of bien que, malgré, or quoique ("even though" or "although"), as in the example above:
T'as beau le travailler, ça ne vient pas.
Even though you work at it, it doesn't come.Play Caption
Ça a beau être une pizzeria, nos prix sont assez élevés pour le commun des mortels.
Although it's a pizzeria, our prices are pretty high for the everyday mortal.
Caption 5, F&F Pizza - Chez F&F - Part 1Play Caption
Or it can correspond to the English expressions "no matter what" or "no matter how hard":
Elle a beau faire, son copain la critique toujours.
No matter what she does, her boyfriend always criticizes her.
J'ai beau trimer, sans toi ma vie n'est qu'un décor qui brille, vide de sens.
No matter how hard I slave away, without you my life is just decor that shines, empty of meaning.
Caption 19, Indila - Dernière dansePlay Caption
When used with the verb essayer (to try), it means "try as one might":
Et j'ai eu beau essayer de le convaincre d'arrêter ses enfantillages, rien à faire.
And try as I might to convince him to stop his childish games, it was useless.Play Caption
And when used with être (to be), the expression is often translated as "may be" or "may well be":
Yseult a beau être jeune, elle sait bien où elle veut aller.
Yseult may be young, [but] she knows exactly where she wants to goPlay Caption
Tu as beau être désolé, tu m'as blessé profondément.
You may well be sorry, but you hurt me deeply.
Note that, while the English requires a "but" in both of these sentences, there's no need for a mais in the French. So you wouldn't say: Yseult a beau être jeune, mais elle sait bien où elle veut aller.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for our next lesson and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are two new videos dealing with food on Yabla this week. The first is the latest episode of Le Jour où tout a basculé, which focuses on a struggling frozen-food worker and her difficult son. The second is an interview with Christian Le Squer, the head chef at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Cinq. Both videos contain a good number of interesting food-related words, which we'll go over in this lesson.
1. Des pâtes
Y a quoi pour le dîner? -Des pâtes.
What's for dinner? -Pasta.Play Caption
"Pasta" is a singular noun, but when you say you're having pasta for dinner, you don't mean you're just having one piece of pasta, right? That's why you say des pâtes (plural) in French when talking about a pasta meal. Une pâte (singular) refers to one piece of pasta, and it's also the word for "paste," "pastry," and "dough." Don't confuse it with le pâté, which means—you guessed it—"pâté."
Pourtant, ça empêche pas mes potes de bouffer de la viande.
Even so, that doesn't stop my buddies from eating meat.Play Caption
This is a very common slang word meaning "to eat." You can use it instead of the standard verb manger when speaking informally. And instead of la nourriture (food), you can say la bouffe.
3. Des plats surgelés
Sarah, quarante-cinq ans, est secrétaire dans une société de fabrication de plats surgelés.
Sarah, forty-five years old, is a secretary at a frozen-food manufacturing company.Play Caption
Des plats surgelés are frozen foods, but the term literally means "frozen dishes." Surgelé(e) is mostly used in food contexts and is often interchangeable with the related adjective congelé(e). The more general word for "frozen" is simply gelé(e).
4. Le couvert
Une quarantaine de couverts...
About forty place settings...
Caption 9, Christian Le Squer - Je ne fais que goûter!Play Caption
Couvert is the past participle of the verb couvrir (to cover), but when used as a noun (le couvert) it means "place setting" or "cutlery." This makes sense if you think about it, since when you set a table, you cover it with plates, glasses, and silverware. In fact, the phrase mettre le couvert means "to set the table," or literally, "to put down the place setting."
Faut la faire torréfier.
It's got to be roasted.
Caption 23, Christian Le Squer - Je ne fais que goûter!Play Caption
Christian Le Squer is referring to a hazelnut (une noisette) that he thinks needs to be roasted. Torréfier is mainly used when talking about roasting nuts or coffee beans. When you're roasting meat or vegetables, you use the verb rôtir or faire rôtir.
6. Une entrée
...viande, poisson, entrée, et sucrée.
...meat, fish, starters, and sweets.
Caption 34, Christian Le Squer - Je ne fais que goûter!Play Caption
In American English, "entrée" is another word for "main course." But une entrée actually means an "appetizer" or "starter" in French. It also means "an entrance." To remember this difference in meaning, just think of an appetizer as the "entrance" to a meal. If you'd like to learn the history of the word "entrée" in English, check out this interesting blog post.
And for more food-related words, see this Yabla lesson.
Lionel is back with his cousin Jean-Pierre, who, in addition to being a wildlife expert, is also a dog expert. With the help of his trusty border collie, Chic, Jean-Pierre gives Lionel some helpful pointers on training dogs.
In part two of the series, Jean-Pierre gives Chic a number of basic dog commands, which Chic performs perfectly. We'll go over some of those commands in this lesson. You may want to revisit our lessons on the imperative mood before reading on, since most of the commands are in that mood.
We'll start with the most basic ones—"come," "look," and "sit":
Viens! Regarde. Viens. Assis!
Come! Look. Come. Sit!
Captions 31-33, Lionel - au club canin - Part 2Play Caption
Of the above commands, can you spot the one that isn't in the imperative? If you guessed assis, you're correct! Assis is in fact the past participle of the verb s'asseoir (to sit) and literally means "seated." Jean-Pierre could also have said assieds-toi (sit), which is the true imperative of the verb s'asseoir, but assis is more commonly used as a command for dogs.
Jean-Pierre uses another past participle as a command a few captions later:
Go on, lie down.
Caption 39, Lionel - au club canin - Part 2Play Caption
Couché is the past participle of coucher (to go to bed), but to a well-trained dog, it's a command to "lie down."
After Jean-Pierre throws a ball, he says:
Prends! Voilà. Apporte.
Catch! That's it. Fetch.
Captions 50-52, Lionel - au club canin - Part 2Play Caption
Prends and apporte are imperative forms of the verbs prendre (to take) and apporter (to bring). So it makes sense that they also mean "catch" and "fetch."
Jean-Pierre uses another word for "catch" at another point in the video:
Tu sais attraper, là?
Can you catch, there?
Caption 35, Lionel - au club canin - Part 2Play Caption
Finally, he tells Chic to heel, or, literally, to "come to foot":
Viens au pied, là.
Come to foot [heel], there.
Caption 45, Lionel - au club canin - Part 2Play Caption
You'll also find a fair number of races de chiens (dog breeds) mentioned in this video:
un teckel - a dachshund
un dalmatien - a Dalmatian
un chien de chasse - a hunting dog
un berger allemand - a German shepherd
un chien terrier - a terrier (un terrier also means "a burrow")
un bâtard - a mutt
And of course, there's un border collie, like Chic!
Daniel Benchimol concludes his latest video, on the town of Montmorency, a little differently than he usually does. He introduces us to Philippe, the man behind the scenes of Daniel's numerous travel videos. Philippe does it all: he films, he directs, he edits. Daniel uses some basic film terminology in his description of Philippe:
Laissez-moi vous présenter mon compagnon de tournage, Philippe, qui réalise, qui monte et qui fait l'ensemble de ce que vous ne voyez pas.
Let me present to you my filming companion, Philippe, who directs, who edits, and who does everything that you don't see.
Captions 47-48, Voyage en France - Montmorency - Part 4Play Caption
Tournage comes from the verb tourner, which, as you might have guessed, means "to turn." But in movie parlance, tourner means "to film" (and le tournage means "filming" or "film shoot"). To remember this, just think of film reels turning on an old movie camera.
We discussed the verb réaliser in a previous lesson. Among its many meanings is "to direct" a film or stage production. The related word réalisateur (masculine) or réalisatrice (feminine) means "director" or "filmmaker"—in other words, the person who "realizes" the film.
Yabla has a lesson on monter as well! Its basic meanings are "to climb" and "to put up," but monter can also mean "to edit" a film. The English word "montage" refers to a specific technique of combining short clips to form a continuous sequence, but the French le montage refers more generally to the "editing" of a film.
Another Yabla video takes us to Concarneau in Brittany, where a film crew documented the town's rich maritime heritage. You'll find some interesting film-related words at the beginning of the video:
Moteur! Séance de tournage sur le port de Concarneau. En face de l'objectif, le maître du port.
Action! Filming session on the Concarneau harbor. In front of the camera lens, the harbormaster.Play Caption
Moteur usually just means "motor" or "engine," but here it means "Action!" This is actually a shortened version of the phrase silence, moteur, action! (literally, "silence, motor, action!"), the French equivalent of "lights, camera, action!" You can also say moteur, ça tourne, action! ("motor, it's filming, action!").
You might be wondering what a "camera lens" has to do with an "objective." If you consider that un objectif also means "an aim," the relationship might be clearer. A filmmaker or photographer aims their camera lens at their subject, so it makes sense that objectif is the word for "camera lens."
Our friend Lionel is known for his witty puns and excellent comedic timing. He even filmed a standup set for Yabla! Apparently, a good sense of humor runs in his family. In Lionel's latest video, his cousin Jean-Pierre cracks a joke about the Vosges mountain range:
Y a une blague à propos de... justement des Vosges du Nord. Quand on voit pas les Vosges du Nord, c'est qu'il pleut. Et quand on les voit bien, c'est qu'il va pleuvoir.
There's a joke about... precisely about the Northern Vosges. When you don't see the Northern Vosges, it's because it's raining. And when you see them clearly, it means that it's going to rain.
Captions 85-90, Lionel - à Lindre-Basse - Part 7Play Caption
If you didn't laugh at Jean-Pierre's joke, you probably had to be there (near the Northern Vosges, that is).
Une blague doesn't only refer to a verbal joke. It can also be a trick or a prank you play on someone:
On va leur faire une bonne blague!
We're going to play a nice trick on them!Play Caption
Une farce and un tour are the other words for "trick," "prank," or "practical joke":
Une farce joyeuse et de franche gaieté.
A joyous prank with uninhibited gaiety.Play Caption
Ils ont plus d'un tour dans leur sac.
They have more than one trick in their bag [up their sleeves].Play Caption
There's also another word for "joke": une plaisanterie. This example explains what happens in your body when you laugh at a joke:
Vous savez que ce sont les lèvres glottiques qui sous l'effet d'une plaisanterie se mettent à vibrer.
You know that it's the glottic folds that start vibrating when a joke is told.
Captions 8-9, Le Journal - Les effets bénéfiques du rire!Play Caption
So how do you say "to crack a joke" or "to tell a joke" in French? You can either say raconter une plaisanterie or raconter une blague:
Il aime raconter des plaisanteries [or des blagues] grivoises.
He loves to tell dirty jokes.
But if you're talking about "joking" or "joking/messing around," then you use the verbs plaisanter or blaguer:
Ils blaguaient tout le temps pendant leur enfance.
They always used to joke around when they were little.
Tu plaisantes! Je ne crois pas ça. -Non, je ne plaisante pas!
You're kidding! I don't believe that. -No, I'm not kidding!
Thanks for reading! We'll be back soon with a new lesson. Sans blague! (No joke!)
Animals are generally (and perhaps unjustly) considered to be less intelligent than humans, which explains why the French word bête can mean both "beast" and "stupid":
Après tout, c'est bête la guerre.
After all, war is stupid.Play Caption
The related noun bêtise can mean anything along the lines of "stupidity" or "idiocy." You can use it in a general sense to talk about "something stupid":
Après les parents, ils me disent, quand ils font une bêtise...
Later the parents tell me, when they do something stupid...Play Caption
Or you might use it to refer to something more specific, such as a mistake. Une bêtise isn't just any old mistake, but a particularly stupid one:
Vous allez réparer vos bêtises.
You're going to repair your stupid mistakes.Play Caption
Of course, if you tell someone he or she has made a stupid mistake, you could be implying that the person him or herself is stupid. Une erreur is a more neutral word for "mistake" that doesn't connote stupidity:
Elle fait une terrible erreur.
She's making a terrible mistake.Play Caption
The plural bêtises is often used to refer to "nonsense," "mischief," or any kind of naughty behavior:
Arrête tes bêtises.
Stop your nonsense.
Mais si on fait des bêtises, on sait jamais...
But if we get into mischief, you never know...
Caption 90, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciensPlay Caption
If you argue with someone over des bêtises, you're arguing over nothing:
Mes enfants se disputent toujours pour des bêtises.
My kids are always arguing with each other over nothing.
When it comes to learning a language, there's no such thing as a stupid mistake. So don't fret if you forget an accent mark or type in the wrong word in a Yabla game—you've just made a simple erreur, not une bêtise!
For fun, here's an 80s throwback for you: Sabine Paturel's "Les Bêtises," which was a smash hit in France in 1986.