Memorizing the gender of nouns referring to things is one of the most difficult parts of learning French, as assigning gender to an object or concept is unfamiliar to native English speakers. Is there any logic to this process? In many cases, it seems arbitrary, and there’s no way of guessing. Fortunately, some categories of nouns do follow logical rules.
For example, it is indeed possible to identify the gender of a country based on its ending. La France is a feminine noun because it ends in e. (Note that we say la France even though it’s a proper noun. Unlike in English, all names of countries are preceded by an article in French.)
Le nom de la France vient du mot "Franc"
The name of France comes from the word "Franc" [Frank]Play Caption
That said, there are always exceptions. Even though it also ends in an e, le Mexique (Mexico) is masculine:
Maintenant avec leur aide, partons sur-le-champ conquérir le Mexique!
Now with their aid, let's leave at once to conquer Mexico!Play Caption
But as for countries that don’t end in an e, it’s easy! They are automatically masculine: le Canada, le Japon, le Luxembourg (Canada, Japan, Luxembourg).
Pierre Trudeau, Premier Ministre du Canada, a dit que c'était une loi de fou.
Pierre Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, said it was a crazy law.
Caption 28, Le Québec parle aux Français - Part 3Play Caption
What about cities? Do they follow the same rule as countries? Not exactly. The Académie Française (the official French language watchdog, if you will) doesn’t give a definite answer, noting that people tend to prefer masculine although feminine is often used in literary contexts.
In the video below, we can tell that Paris is masculine because of the masculine past participle traversé (intersected):
Car Paris était traversé à l'époque par un aqueduc
For Paris was intersected at the time by an aqueductPlay Caption
French speakers often get around the gender ambiguity by using the expression c’est (it’s), which always requires a masculine agreement. Instead of saying Paris est belle or Paris est beau (Paris is beautiful), Sophie uses the phrase c’est + masculine to describe Paris:
C'est beau Paris comme ça.
Paris is beautiful like this.
Caption 1, Sophie et Patrice Paris, c'est grisPlay Caption
The gender of languages is much more clear-cut. All languages are masculine, from le français (French) to le thaï (Thai):
Je crois que le français est une langue géniale.
I believe that French is a great language.
Caption 11, Allons en France Pourquoi apprendre le français?Play Caption
Note, however, that if you say "the French language" or "the Thai language" instead of just "French" or "Thai," you have to use the feminine, because the word langue (language) is feminine: la langue française, la langue thaïe.
Most foreign words are also masculine, in particular sports names and terms borrowed from English. It’s a simple matter of putting a masculine article like le (the) in front of the loanword:
Il aime le football.
He likes soccer.
Caption 33, Lionel L Les liaisons et le h aspiréPlay Caption
On the other hand, native French sports terms are either masculine or feminine. For example, we have two words for “bicycle”: le vélo, which is masculine, and la bicyclette, which is feminine.
Tu peux faire du vélo
You can ride a bike
Caption 31, Amal et Caroline Le Parc de la VillettePlay Caption
Most inanimate nouns follow no predictable pattern when it comes to gender. When we talk about feelings, for example, we say le bonheur (happiness) but la joie (joy):
Y a de la joie. On est avec les petits.
There's good cheer. We are with the little ones.
Caption 45, Actu Vingtième Fête du quartier Python-DuvernoisPlay Caption
C'est quand le bonheur?
When is happiness?
Caption 9, Cali C'est quand le bonheurPlay Caption
To complicate things further, some words take both genders, and their meaning changes depending on whether they're masculine or feminine (we discuss this at length in our lesson One Word, Two Genders). For example, un livre is "a book," but une livre is "a pound":
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.
And there is a small group of noun pairs that have slightly different meanings in the masculine and feminine that aren't conveyed in English. For example, the words an and année both mean "year," but the masculine an emphasizes a point in time or a unit of time, while the feminine année stresses duration:
Un manuscrit de mille deux cents ans
A one thousand two hundred year old manuscriptPlay Caption
Ça fait des années et des années qu'ils cherchent à être logés.
For years and years they've sought housing.
Captions 35-36, Actus Quartier Devant la SNCFPlay Caption
Whether you’ve been studying French pendant des années (for years) or you’ve only just begun, with practice, remembering the gender of nouns will become easier. Thank you for reading the final lesson of this series!
Like many other types of nouns, nouns referring to animals often have both male and female versions, and sometimes even separate names for each gender. Many of them, however, are exclusively masculine or feminine, as we'll see in this lesson.
Nouns referring to animals work in a comparable way to those referring to people. The most common way to feminize a noun is to add an -e at the end, and, in many cases, double the final consonant, as in un chien/une chienne (a male dog/a female dog). Note that whenever you double a final consonant, the normally silent consonant (like the -n in chien) becomes pronounced, as you can hear in the example below:
Certains noms masculins vont doubler leur consonne finale. Un chien donne... -une chienne, deux "n", "e". Et un chat donne une chatte, deux "t", "e".
Some masculine nouns will double their final consonant. "Un chien" [dog] gives... -"une chienne," two "n's," "e." And "un chat" [a cat] gives "une chatte," two "t's," "e."
Captions 25-27, Manon et Simon - Le masculin et le fémininPlay Caption
On a side note, you may want to exercise caution when using the words chatte and chienne, as they can both be offensive terms referring to women.
Here is another example of a noun that changes spelling and pronunciation in the feminine form. The word for "lion" follows the same pattern as chien/chienne:
Tu as vu? Le papa lion et la maman lionne se suivent partout.
Did you see? The dad lion and the mom lioness follow each other everywhere.
Caption 23, Les zooriginaux - Léa jacta est - Part 1Play Caption
On the other hand, some animal nouns ending in -n don’t double their final consonant in the feminine, as in un lapin/une lapine (male/female rabbit), but the change in pronunciation still applies. Pay attention to the nasal -in sound in this fairy tale video:
Il y attrapa un beau lapin gras et le mit dans sa bourse.
He caught a nice fat rabbit there and put it in his purse.
Caption 25, Contes de fées - Le chat botté - Part 1Play Caption
Likewise, un renard (a fox), with a silent d, doesn’t have a double consonant in the feminine, but the d will be pronounced: une renarde.
Le renard femelle adulte s’appelle la renarde.
An adult female fox is called a vixen.
Sometimes, in addition to the -e ending, there are some unexpected spelling changes in the feminine, as in un loup/une louve (male/female wolf):
Par exemple, un loup donne... -une louve.
For example, "un loup" [a male wolf] gives... -"une louve" [a female wolf].
Caption 53, Manon et Simon - Le masculin et le fémininPlay Caption
As in un prince (a prince) and une princesse (a princess), some animal nouns take the suffix -esse in the feminine:
Un âne? -Une ânesse. -Bien!
"Un âne" [a donkey]? -"Une ânesse" [a jenny]. -Good!
Caption 41, Manon et Simon - Le masculin et le fémininPlay Caption
In short, there are diverse ways to feminize an animal noun. However, many animals have separate names for male and female specimens, as in English. For example: une vache/un taureau (a cow/a bull).
Et là on voit déjà si c'est une vache ou des taureaux [sic: un taureau]? -Là, c'est une femelle.
And can we already tell here if it's a cow or a bull? -Here, it's a female.
Caption 43, Lionel à la fermePlay Caption
Male and female animal names can be quite specialized and hard to remember. If you don’t know the special name for a female animal, you can do what Automne does in the video below and refer to her as, for example, la maman cochon (the mommy pig) or le cochon femelle (the female pig) instead of the more technical term la truie (the sow). (The term cochonne actually exists, but usually it means something entirely different! It’s a way of insulting a sloppy human, or "a pig"—une cochonne for females and un cochon for males.)
Y a même le bébé de la maman cochon.
There's even the mommy pig's baby.
Caption 56, Lionel et Automne - PlaymobilPlay Caption
Fortunately, there is no need to be technical in everyday situations. If gender is not important or unknown, we tend to use the generic masculine, like the couple does in the video below:
Premièrement, le chat met des poils partout.
First, the cat sheds fur everywhere.
Caption 8, Marie & Jeremy - Le chatPlay Caption
In fact, most nouns referring to animals don’t have feminine and masculine versions—they only come in one gender, assigned arbitrarily regardless of the sex of the animal. In this case, you will need to memorize the gender of the animal along with its name as there is no logic or way of guessing.
For example, some insects, like une mouche (a fly), are always feminine. Some rodents are feminine, as in une souris (a mouse), while others are masculine, as in un écureuil (a squirrel). Some snakes are masculine, as in un serpent (a snake), or feminine, as in une vipère (a viper). Some birds are feminine, as in une hirondelle (a swallow), and some are masculine, as in un perroquet (a parrot).
In the video below, apart from le lion, all the names of the endangered species—la panthère (panther), la girafe (giraffe), l'autruche (ostrich), and l'hyène (hyena)—are feminine in gender, but don't necessarily refer to individual females:
Certaines espèces ont quasiment disparu, telles que la panthère, autruche, hyène, girafe et lion.
Some species have almost disappeared, such as the panther, ostrich, hyena, giraffe, and lion.
Captions 27-30, Nader Fakhry - À la recherche des derniers éléphants - Part 1Play Caption
As these nouns only have one grammatical gender, you will need to specify the sex of the animal with the term mâle (male) or femelle (female). In the documentary below, the speaker refers to une panthère femelle (a female panther):
Malgré la présence d'une panthère femelle juste à côté...
Despite the presence of a female panther right next door...
Caption 20, Le Journal - Espèces en voie de disparitionPlay Caption
There you have it! We’ve explored some of the grammatical quirks and intricacies of the animal kingdom. Remember that not all animal names have a masculine and feminine counterpart, but only a single grammatical gender just like nouns referring to objects, which will be the topic of our next lesson. So stay tuned!
In our previous lesson on present participles, we discussed how they can be used as verbs or as adjectives. In this lesson, we’ll focus on present participles used as verbs, known as le gérondif.
Basically, the gérondif is the construction "en + present participle," as in en faisant (while doing). Like all present participles used as verbs, present participles in the gérondif don’t take agreement.
In addition, the gérondif construction "en + present particple" never changes in French, but it will translate differently in English depending on context and function.
The gérondif usually indicates simultaneity and causation, and can be translated as "while x-ing," "by x-ing," or "as x."
When the gérondif is used to emphasize two actions taking place at about the same time, it usually translates as "while x-ing," as in en attendant (while waiting):
Bon... en attendant que notre pâte lève, on s'attaque au bredele?
Good... while waiting for our dough to rise, shall we tackle the bredele?Play Caption
En attendant can also be used on its own as an idiomatic expression ("in the meantime/meanwhile"):
En attendant, les communes doivent payer des ramassages quotidiens
In the meantime, towns must pay for daily collection
Caption 31, Le Journal - Marée verte en BretagnePlay Caption
The construction "en + present participle" can also be equivalent to "as + verb" in English when indicating simultaneity:
Mais... en partant, elle m'a donné son numéro de téléphone.
But... as she left, she gave me her phone number.
Captions 35-36, Extr@ - Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 3Play Caption
To further emphasize simultaneity between two actions or to indicate opposing actions in French, you can use the construction "tout en + present participle" (all while x-ing), as in tout en parlant (all while speaking). This construction is especially useful when you're talking about multitasking:
Je joue sur mon téléphone et parle avec mes amis tout en regardant la télé.
I play on my phone and talk to my friends, all while watching TV.
The gérondif can also indicate a means to achieve something, equivalent to the construction "by x-ing" in English:
Parents, veuillez surveiller bien vos enfants en leur apprenant à respecter les animaux.
Parents, please supervise your children well by teaching them to respect the animals.
Caption 12, Voyage en France - Chantilly - Part 3Play Caption
The gérondif can also describe the way an action is performed:
Est-elle rentrée en chantant?
Did she come in singing?Play Caption
Here, the translation is straightforward. En chantant simply means "singing."
However, when that sentence is put in the negative form, you must use the infinitive and not the present participle. As Patricia explains in her video, en chantant (singing) becomes sans chanter (without singing). The preposition sans (without) must be followed by the infinitive:
Non, elle est rentrée sans chanter.
No, she came in without singing [she didn't come in singing].Play Caption
The present participle is much more prevalent in English, whereas French favors the infinitive instead. In English you can follow a conjugated verb by an infinitive or a present participle. In French, it’s preferable to use the infinitive. For example, when talking about something you like doing or like to do, you cannot say j’aime faisant (I like doing). You have to say j’aime faire (I like to do):
J’aime faire des dessins.
I like drawing./I like to draw.
Similarly, when a person witnesses someone doing something, it’s better to use the infinitive after a conjugated verb:
Je les ai vues chanter.
I saw them sing./I saw them singing.
Another word of caution: the present participle is never used to form a progressive tense, simply because there is no such tense in French. You must use the present indicative instead. For example, "I am thinking" (present progressive) and "I think" (present indicative) both translate as je pense.
The construction je suis pensant, the literal translation of "I am thinking," simply does not exist! The only option is the present indicative: je pense (I think).
If you really want to emphasize an action in progress in French, you can use the expression être en train de (to be in the process/in the middle of):
On est en train de réchauffer la pâte en fin de compte.
We are in the process of warming up the dough in the end.Play Caption
To sum up, French uses the infinitive in many instances where English uses the present participle, and the gérondif construction "en + present participle" can take various forms in English.
There you have it for present participles! En passant (incidentally), we hope this lesson will be useful to you!
You know all about past participles from our lessons on the passé composé, but are you familiar with present participles?
Participles are verb forms that come in two tenses, past and present. For example, the past participle of manger (to eat) is mangé (eaten) and its present participle is mangeant (eating).
Present participles introduce a dependent clause indicating an action or state related to a main verb. You can recognize a present participle by its -ant ending (corresponding to -ing in English). For example: penser > pensant (think > thinking). To form a present participle, take the nous (we) form of the present tense—e.g., pensons (we think)—drop the -ons ending and replace it with -ant: pensant (thinking).
Fortunately, this rule has very few exceptions. There are only three irregular present participles in French: sachant (knowing), ayant (having), and étant (being).
Sachant and ayant are not derived from the nous form of the present indicative (savons and avons), but rather from the present subjunctive (sachons and ayons):
Sachant que le but c'est de créer de la magie
Knowing that the goal is to create magicPlay Caption
Moi-même, quoique ayant un problème de dos
Myself, despite having a problem with my back
Caption 28, Bicloune - Magasin de vélos à ParisPlay Caption
Interestingly, the word savant does exist in French. Un savant is a scholar or scientist, or a savant, someone with extraordinary mental ability. And of course there's the word avant (before), which isn't related to avoir.
Étant (being) isn't derived from the present indicative or the present subjunctive, but from the infinitive, être (to be):
Mais écoute, Nicolas, mon épouse étant originaire de Dinsheim
Well listen, Nicolas, my wife, being a native of DinsheimPlay Caption
In addition to being two irregular present participles, ayant (having) and étant (being) can also act as auxiliary verbs, combined with a past participle, as in ayant vu (having seen) and étant né (being born). In this case, the past participle follows the same agreement rules as in the passé composé. See our lessons on past participle agreement with avoir and with être for more on that.
A present participle is often equivalent to the construction "qui/que (who/that/which) + verb." For example:
Le public était habitué à ces jeunes filles en tutu, faisant des pointes.
The public was used to these girls in tutus, dancing on pointe.
Captions 11-12, d'Art d'Art - "La petite danseuse de 14 ans" - DegasPlay Caption
Instead of faisant des pointes (dancing on pointe), the speaker could have said:
Le public était habitué à ces jeunes filles en tutu qui faisaient des pointes.
The public was used to these girls in tutus who danced on pointe.
Here is another example of a present participle that could be replaced with the construction qui + verbe:
La nuit, le bâtiment se reflète sur la mer, attirant encore plus de tourisme
At night, the building is reflected on the sea, attracting even more tourism
Captions 38-39, Le saviez-vous? - Le casino ou la guerrePlay Caption
La nuit, le bâtiment se reflète sur la mer, qui attire encore plus de tourisme
At night, the building is reflected on the sea, which attracts even more tourism
Attirant (attracting/appealing) is an example of a present participle that can be used as an adjective, in which case it's subject to adjective agreement rules. Here's an example of attirant used as an adjective:
Bémol: En quatre ans les graphismes évoluent. Neutros sera-t-il encore attirant?
A drawback: In four years, graphics will have evolved. Will Neutros still be appealing?
Caption 18, Le Mans TV - Apprendre la sexualité par Neutros!Play Caption
Here, attirant agrees with the proper masculine noun Neutros, so it doesn't change. However, if it were used in a sentence with a plural feminine subject, we would have to add -es to it:
Les célébrités sont souvent très attirantes.
Celebrities are often very attractive.
If you're not sure whether a word ending in -ant is an adjective or a present participle, sometimes its spelling can give you a clue. For example, the word for "tiring" in French is fatigant when used as an adjective and fatiguant, with a -u, when used as a present participle (Both fatigant and fatiguant sound the same.)
Des fois c'est vrai que c'est assez fatigant quoi
Sometimes it's true that it's quite tiring, you know
Caption 104, Miniji MichelPlay Caption
On doit éviter les activités fatiguant les yeux.
You should avoid activities that tire out your eyes.
Besides the u, how do we know that we're dealing with a present participle, not an adjective, in the second example, and therefore don't need to make an agreement? First of all, we could easily replace fatiguant with qui fatiguent les yeux (that tire out/are tiring for the eyes). Second, we can see that les yeux is the direct object of fatiguant. Only verbs take direct objects, not adjectives.
If we were to rewrite the sentence using the adjective, it would be:
On doit éviter les activités fatigantes pour les yeux.
You should avoid activities that are tiring for your eyes.
Besides dropping the u, we add -es to the adjective to agree with the feminine plural noun activités. And we add pour (for) before les yeux, which no longer acts as a direct object.
We hope this lesson was intéressante (interesting) and not too fatigante (tiring), as we have another passionnante (exciting) lesson in store for you! We’ll be discussing a special kind of present participle known as the gerund.
En attendant (in the meantime), have fun watching some more Yabla videos!
A reflexive verb generally refers to an action that reflects back on the subject (something you do to yourself or to each other). You will recognize a reflexive verb in the dictionary by the reflexive pronoun se (oneself) preceding the infinitive, as in se laver (to wash oneself).
Reflexive verbs usually agree… with themselves! That is, the past participle agrees in gender and number with both the subject (such as je) and the object (such as me) at the same time. For example:
Ce matin, je me suis réveillée avec le coq.
This morning, I woke up with the rooster.Play Caption
In the example above, we assume that the subject pronoun je and the reflexive pronoun me are referring to Patricia, the speaker, so the past participle réveillé (woke up) takes an -e at the end to become feminine.
On the other hand, in the example below, the husband wakes up his wife. In this case, the verb réveiller (to wake [someone] up) is no longer reflexive.
Il a même réveillé sa femme qui dormait.
He even woke up his wife, who was sleeping.
Caption 52, Dao Evolution - Noël pour les sans-abrisPlay Caption
In this case, you use the auxiliary avoir (to have) because he isn't waking up himself—he's waking up his wife.
Many reflexive verbs like se réveiller can also be non-reflexive (without the se). The verb dire (to say, to tell), for instance, can be used both ways:
C'est ce que je me suis dit.
That's what I told myself.
Caption 52, Claire et Philippe Je suis en retardPlay Caption
C'est ce que j'ai dit à ma sœur.
That's what I said to my sister.
The verb se dire also belongs to a category of reflexive verbs whose past participles never require agreement. We call these verbs intransitive, because their reflexive pronouns act as indirect objects, not direct objects. You can tell that a reflexive verb is intransitive because its non-reflexive form is usually followed by the preposition à (to). For example: se parler (to speak to each other, to speak to oneself), parler à quelqu’un (to speak to someone). For a complete list of these verbs, click here.
When a reflexive verb is intransitive, the se acts as an indirect object pronoun and thus indicates that the verb doesn’t require agreement:
Ils se sont parlé tous les jours.
They spoke to each other every day.
When a reflexive verb, whether transitive or intransitive, is followed by a direct object, the past participle also doesn't agree:
Ils se sont lavé les mains.
They washed their hands.
Because there's already a direct object in this sentence (les mains), the reflexive pronoun se is “demoted” from its direct object status and acts as an indirect object. And since the direct object is placed after the verb, no agreement is necessary.
However, if the verb is not followed by a direct object, the past participle agrees with the subject and the reflexive pronoun, as we discussed earlier:
Ils se sont lavés.
They washed (themselves).
On the other hand, if a reflexive verb is followed by an indirect object, agreement does occur:
Mes grand-parents, ils se sont beaucoup occupés de moi.
My grandparents, they looked after me a lot.Play Caption
You add an -s at the end of occupé (looked after) to agree with ils (they, masculine plural). The indirect object de moi (after me) doesn’t affect anything.
That about does it for our suite of lessons on the passé composé! It’s a lot to take in, so in case you’re not quite "in agreement" with all these rules yet, here is a summary:
• Verbs conjugated with the auxiliary avoir (to have) don't agree in gender and number with the subject, unless a direct object appears before the verb.
• Non-reflexive verbs conjugated with the auxiliary être (to be) always agree with the subject.
• Reflexive verbs are conjugated with être and usually agree with the subject, unless the verb is intransitive or a direct object appears after the verb.
Before we embark on agreement rules, let’s find out which verbs are conjugated with être (to be) rather than avoir (to have) in the passé composé. Strictly speaking, only a limited number of verbs use the auxiliary être in the passé composé. These verbs are encapsulated in the popular mnemonic device known as DR. & MRS. VANDERTRAMP:
Devenir, Revenir, Monter, Rester, Sortir, Venir, Aller, Naître, Descendre, Entrer, Rentrer, Tomber, Retourner, Arriver, Mourir, Partir (to become, to come back, to go up, to remain, to go out, to come, to go, to be born, to go down, to enter, to go back in, to fall, to retrun, to arrive, to die, to leave)
The basic agreement rule for these verbs conjugated with être is that they must agree in gender and number with the subject. Patricia conjugated a few of these verbs and explained how they work in her video, Le saviez-vous? - Exception dans les verbes du 1er groupe au passé composé:
Et lorsque l'on dit: "elles sont tombées",
And when we say, "they fell,"
on mettra "es" à la fin de "tombé"
we'll put "es" at the end of "tombé"
car "elles" sont des sujets féminins et pluriels.
because "elles" [they] are feminine and plural subjects.Play Caption
Knowing that the pronoun elles (they) is feminine plural makes the agreement with the past participle tombé quite straightforward, but when faced with non-gender-specific pronouns such as tu (singular you) or je (I), you need to know from context who the subject pronoun stands for.
In the example below, we need to know who je (I) represents to establish the gender of the subject. In this case, we know from the video that the speaker is male, so the past participle doesn’t change. (A past participle is considered masculine singular by default.)
Je suis allé en Grèce pour la première fois.
I went [masculine singular] to Greece for the first time.
Caption 10, Alex Terrier - "Roundtrip" et ses inspirationsPlay Caption
If the speaker had been female, it would have been:
Je suis allée en Grèce pour la première fois.
I went [feminine singular] to Greece for the first time.
And if the speaker had been a woman talking about herself and her girlfriends, it would have been:
Nous sommes allées en Grèce pour la première fois.
We went [feminine plural] to Greece for the first time.
When a plural subject involves individuals of all genders, you can be faced with a dilemma. What should you do in this case? The convention is that the masculine supersedes the feminine—even though it refers to a mixture of genders, the past participle becomes masculine plural:
Les enfants sont partis en même temps.
The kids left at the same time.
Nowadays, however, that convention often comes across as sexist. So you'll often see past participles stylized like parti(e)s or parti·e·s to be more inclusive:
Les enfants sont parti(e)s en même temps. / Les enfants sont parti·e·s en même temps.
The kids left at the same time.
There's another category of être verbs that also agree in gender and number with the subject, but in a slightly different way. These verbs are called reflexive or pronominal verbs, which we will discuss in the next lesson.
In our first four lessons on the passé composé, we focused on the conjugation of all three major verb groups:
In addition to having different endings, past participles have one more trick up their sleeves… agreement! Verbs from all three groups can take masculine, feminine, and plural endings. All verbs in the past tense have past participles that follow two sets of agreement rules depending on which auxiliary they take. Verbs conjugated with the auxiliary avoir (to have) will follow one set of rules, and those that go with être (to be) will follow another. In this lesson, we'll focus on verbs conjugated with avoir.
If a direct object comes before the verb, the past participle agrees in gender and number with the direct object. If the direct object comes after the verb, no agreement is necessary.
In the example below, the direct object mes clés (my keys) comes after the past participle vu (seen), so no agreement is necessary.
As-tu vu mes clés quelque part?
Have you seen my keys somewhere?
Caption 68, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négationsPlay Caption
A direct object answers the question “what”: Have you seen what? Mes clés (my keys).
But in the answer to that question, the direct object pronoun comes before the verb and thus has to agree with the past participle.
Non, je ne les ai vues nulle part.
No, I haven't seen them anywhere.
Caption 69, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négationsPlay Caption
Les (them), standing for les clés (the keys), comes before the past participle vu (seen). So, agreement is necessary, and vu becomes vues to agree with the feminine plural noun clés. You just add -es to make vu feminine and plural, as you would do with an adjective agreement.
Note that, unlike in English, direct (and indirect) object pronouns are always placed before the verb in French. So be on the lookout for pronouns in compound tenses!
In the passé composé, only direct object pronouns such as la (her, it) agree with the past participle, whereas indirect ones such as lui (to him, to her) do not. So make sure you know the difference between a direct and indirect object pronoun!
When a verb is normally followed by the preposition à (to) as in téléphoner à (to call/telephone), it takes an indirect object, which you can replace with an indirect object pronoun such as lui (to him, to her).
Et ta sœur, tu lui as téléphoné pour son anniversaire?
And your sister, did you call her for her birthday?
No agreement is necessary because lui (to her) is an indirect object pronoun, so you don’t need to add an -e to téléphoné even though the pronoun is feminine.
You might be tempted to say tu l'as téléphonée, but in French we say "to call/telephone to someone." It goes to show you can’t always rely on English to decide whether a verb takes an indirect object or not.
Recognizing and knowing when to use a direct and indirect object will come in handy when you use a combination of direct and indirect object pronouns before a past participle. You will be able to tell which pronoun agrees with the verb. In the example below, the direct object pronoun la (it) is followed by the indirect pronoun lui (to her) in the phrase la lui a donnée (gave it to her). (The direct object pronoun always comes first.)
Et la bague pour sa petite amie? Il la lui a donnée hier.
And the ring for his girlfriend? He gave it to her yesterday.
The past participle becomes donnée (gave) with an -e at the end to agree with the direct object pronoun la (it), which stands for the feminine singular noun la bague (the ring).
The same agreement rules apply when we use the relative pronoun que (that) instead of a direct object pronoun:
La bague qu’il lui a offerte est très jolie.
The ring that he gave her is very pretty.
Que (that) is the relative pronoun that stands for la bague (the ring), which agrees with offerte (gave, offered). Don’t forget to pronounce the “t” in offerte! And note that the relative pronoun que is not optional in French, unlike "that" in English.
Now let's see what happens when you add another complication to the scenario… an infinitive! This rule is what the French might call un casse-tête (a brainteaser or a headache), so buckle up!
When a past participle is followed by an infinitive verb, as in entendu chanter (heard singing), the past participle agrees with the direct object if the direct object performs the action expressed by the infinitive. Or looking at it from an English speaker’s perspective, a past participle followed by an infinitive in French is the equivalent of “to see/hear somebody do/doing something." French uses an infinitive for the second verb.
C’est la chanteuse que j’ai entendue chanter hier.
She’s the singer whom I heard sing/singing yesterday.
What I heard was la chanteuse (the singer) chanter (singing). La chanteuse performs the action of the infinitive chanter. So the past participle entendue has to agree with chanteuse.
On the other hand, when you see or hear something being done, the past participle doesn’t change. In this type of sentence construction, the infinitive in French is the equivalent of a passive verb in English:
C'est la chanson que j'ai entendu chanter.
It's the song that I heard being sung.
A song can’t do its own singing, so the direct object la chanson (the song) is clearly not performing the action of the infinitive chanter, which is then translated in the passive voice (sung) in English. In this case, no agreement rule applies.
Stay tuned for our next lesson, which will focus on agreement in verbs conjugated with être in the passé composé.
In Part 3, we explored the passé composé of third-group verbs whose infinitives end in -ir with a present participle ending in -ant. In this lesson, we will discuss the remaining third-group verbs, whose infinitives end in -oir, like vouloir (to want), and verbs ending in -re, like comprendre (to understand).
Like irregular -ir verbs mentioned in our previous lesson, most -oir and -re verbs also have a past participle ending in -u, but, of course, there are a few exceptions which we’ll discuss further on.
First, let’s take a look at third-group verbs with an infinitive ending in -oir, which have a regular past participle ending in -u, as in voulu (wanted):
Hier, j'ai voulu me rendre au travail.
Yesterday, I wanted to get to work.
Caption 16, Amal et Caroline - JuronsPlay Caption
The past participle voulu (wanted) is built on the regular infinitive stem voul- to which you add the ending -u.
The verb falloir (to have to) works in much the same way, with a regular past participle fallu (had to):
Il a fallu que je fouille pour apprendre la vérité!
I had to search to find out the truth!Play Caption
It’s worth noting that falloir (to have to) is an impersonal verb that only exists in the third person. It simply expresses a need or necessity.
So far so good, but as always, there are exceptions. Verbs like savoir (to know) have an irregular past participle that is not built on a regular stem. Its past participle is su (known):
Non mais j'ai toujours su que j'avais du goût.
No, but I always knew that I had taste.
Caption 52, Elisa et Mashal - Les fringuesPlay Caption
Other verbs also have very short past participles of just one syllable. Pouvoir (to be able to) becomes pu (was able to) in the past tense:
Et elle a pu rentrer
And she was able to get in
Caption 45, Amal et Caroline - Quartier du LouvrePlay Caption
The same thing happens with devoir (to have to), which becomes dû (had to):
Et en fait, ils ont dû tout simplement arrêter
And in fact, they simply had to stop
Caption 34, Lionel L - Le "Canard" a 100 ansPlay Caption
Did you notice the circumflex accent in ils ont dû (they had to)? This tiny accent is the only thing that differentiates dû from the indefinite article du (some). Accents sometimes make a big difference!
So, to sum up, the past participles of savoir, pouvoir, and devoir are su, pu, and dû (don’t forget the circumflex!).
Now let’s look at some -re verbs with a regular past participle, more specifically verbs that end in -endre, like vendre (to sell), which becomes vendu (sold):
Et donc, euh... la propriétaire a vendu son appartement.
And so, uh... the landlady sold her apartment.
Caption 103, Actus Quartier - Devant la SNCFPlay Caption
Verbs like descendre (to go down) and défendre (to defend) have past participles that rhyme with vendu (sold): descendu (went down), défendu (defended).
dont le niveau était descendu de cent mètres.
the level of which had dropped one hundred meters.Play Caption
But this isn't the case for all verbs ending in -endre. Some of these have an irregular past participle that ends in -is instead of -u. For example, prendre (to take) becomes pris (take) in the past tense:
Pourquoi est-ce que tu n'as pas pris le bon train vers, euh... Versailles
Why didn't you take the right train toward, uh... Versailles
Caption 37, Claire et Philippe - Je suis en retardPlay Caption
Incidentally, all the derivatives of prendre, like apprendre (to learn), surprendre (to surprise), reprendre (to take back) follow the same pattern. Just take out the ending -prendre and tack on -pris to form the past participles appris (learned), surpris (surprised), repris (took back), etc.
Similarly, the past participle of mettre (to put) is mis (put), and its derivatives follow the sampe pattern: promettre (to promise) > promis (promised), admettre (to admit) > admis (admitted). The past participle of promettre is easy to remember, since promis is close to “promise” in English.
Les syndicats ont promis d'intensifier la mobilisation jusqu'à mardi prochain
The unions have promised to intensify their mobilization until next Tuesday
Caption 23, Le Journal - Grève de l'EDF à LillePlay Caption
Finally, another subgroup of verbs whose infinitives end in -ire, like dire (to say, tell), tend to have a past participle ending in -it or -is, like dit (said, told):
Comme je vous l'ai dit...
As I've told you...
Caption 41, Adrien - Rue des MartyrsPlay Caption
Comme nous l'avons dit, irregular verbs are legion in the passé composé. The world of verbs is filled with surprises and peculiarities. To help you master these verbs, click here for a list of common irregular third-group verbs.
In Part 2, we explored the passé composé of second-group verbs, or verbs whose infinitives end in -ir. In this lesson, we’ll discuss irregular -ir verbs, which belong to the third group.
As mentioned in our previous lesson, -ir verbs are classified, in addition to their infinitive endings, according to their present participles (equivalent to the -ing ending of a verb in English). So, all -ir verbs with a present participle ending in -issant (such as finir > finissant [finishing]) belong to the second group and have a past participle ending in -i.
On the other hand, most irregular -ir verbs have a present participle ending in -ant and a past participle ending in -u.
For example, tenir (to keep, hold) becomes tenant (keeping, holding) and tenu (kept, held):
en tenant la poêle de la main droite
while holding the pan with the right hand
Caption 33, Le saviez-vous? - La tradition de la ChandeleurPlay Caption
Mais elle a également tenu sa promesse.
But she has also kept her promise.Play Caption
It’s a good idea to learn the derivatives of a verb, as they usually share the same conjugation rules. All verbs ending in -tenir will work the same way. So, obtenir (to obtain) and retenir (to retain) also have a past participle ending in -u: obtenu, retenu.
The same applies to all the derivatives of venir (to come), such as devenir (to become) and prévenir (to warn):
Et il a prévenu les flics.
And he called the cops.Play Caption
Having said that… there’s an oddball bunch of -ir verbs that have a present participle ending in -ant and a past participle ending in -i, not -u.
For example, partir (to leave) becomes partant and parti:
Mais... en partant,
But... as she left,
elle m'a donné son numéro de téléphone.
she gave me her phone number.
Captions 35-36, Extr@ - Ep. 6 - Le jour du lotoPlay Caption
Leurs parents sont partis vivre en Australie il y a une dizaine d'années
Their parents went to live in Australia around ten years agoPlay Caption
And sortir (to go out) becomes sortant and sorti:
Drôles d'étudiants que ceux-là,
Strange students they are,
habitant l'hôtel et sortant en robe longue et nœud papillon.
living in a hotel and going out in long dresses and bow ties.
Caption 12, Le Journal - L'Institut du goûtPlay Caption
Le mec, il est sorti
The guy went outPlay Caption
Note that partir and sortir are also part of a small group of verbs that require the auxiliary être (to be) in the passé composé, which we will discuss in a future lesson.
Finally, there is a minority of -ir verbs that are quite irregular and unpredictable, with a past participle ending in -ert.
For example, the past participle of ouvrir (to open) is actually ouvert, not ouvri as its stem would suggest!
...qui a ouvert ses portes récemment à Mittelhausbergen
that recently opened its doors in Mittelhausbergen
Caption 3, Alsace 20 - Mangez bien, mangez alsacien!Play Caption
Again, to make it easier for yourself, learn how to conjugate ouvrir along with its derivatives, like découvrir (to discover), recouvrir (to cover up), couvrir (to cover), whose past participles all end in -ouvert. That will save you a lot of trouble. Speaking of trouble, the group of Canadians in the example below suffered a lot because of English…
Moi j'ai souffert beaucoup dans mon enfance de l'anglais ici.
I suffered a lot in my childhood with English here.
Caption 19, Le Québec parle - aux FrançaisPlay Caption
We hope that vous n’avez pas trop souffert (you didn’t suffer too much) learning about irregular -ir verbs in the passé composé, because we have another round of third-group verbs waiting to be discovered (découvert) in our next lesson!
In our previous lesson, we covered the passé composé of first-group verbs, or -er verbs. In this lesson, we’ll explore second-group verbs, or verbs whose infinitives end in -ir.
To make it easier to conjugate verbs, French grammarians divided them into three groups according to their infinitive endings. This broad classification also helps you determine their past participles, so it is worth noting which group a verb belongs to.
First-group or -er verbs: past participle -é
Second-group or -ir verbs: past participle -i
Third-group or -re, -oir, and irregular -ir verbs: past participle -u
Regular -ir verbs belong to the second-largest group of verbs in French. Regular verbs follow a predictable pattern, making them easier to conjugate than irregular verbs, which have their quirks.
Second-group -ir verbs follow the same basic rules as -er verbs in the passé composé, combining the auxiliaries avoir or être with the past participle.
The main difference is that the past participle of regular -ir verbs ends in -i instead of -é.
For example, to form the past participle of finir (to finish), take out the r in finir and voilà! You have the past participle fini!
Après la mort de papa,
After dad's death,
elle a fini ses études
she finished her studies
Captions 7-8, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon père n'est pas mortPlay Caption
Interestingly, the expression finir par in the passé composé doesn’t mean to finish something. Instead, it describes an outcome, something that eventually happened or ended up happening:
Elle a gagné et j'ai fini par être chanteuse
It won and I ended up being a singerPlay Caption
In any case, finir is a typical second-group verb that is handy to know, as you will be able to use it as a model to conjugate other similar verbs, like choisir (to choose):
Nous avons choisi de passer une semaine sur place à Aulnay.
We chose to spend a week on-site in Aulnay.Play Caption
When describing where you grew up, you'll use the passé composé of the verb grandir:
J'ai grandi là.
I grew up here.Play Caption
As you can see, conjugating second-group verbs in the passé composé is quite straightforward since they are regular verbs.
Another thing worth noting is that in addition to being recognizable by their past participles, second-group verbs can also be classified by their present participles, which end in -issant: finissant (finishing), choisissant (choosing), grandissant (growing up), etc. This information will prove useful when you learn about irregular -ir verbs belonging to the third group.
So, nous n'avons pas encore fini (we haven't finished yet), as there are more -ir verbs in store for you to explore in another lesson! For now, have a look at some of Patricia's videos on second-group verbs: , Les verbes du 2ème groupe les plus utilisés. And for a list of common second-group verbs, click here.
When talking about things that happened in the past in French, you will most likely use the compound tense known as the passé composé.
It’s called a compound tense because it’s made of two parts, an auxiliary and a past participle.
In the example below, ai (have) is the auxiliary and pensé (thought) is the past participle. Together, they make up the passé composé.
J'ai pensé à vous hier.
I thought of you yesterday.Play Caption
In this lesson we will focus on conjugating verbs ending in -er (also known as first-group verbs) in the infinitive form or dictionary form, since they are the most common verbs.
To make up the passé composé, you conjugate the auxiliaries avoir (to have) or être (to be) in the present tense and add the past participle of the main verb. Most verbs take the auxiliary avoir and only a few take the auxiliary être, which we'll explore in a future lesson.
Les auxiliaires "être" et "avoir" sont utilisés pour conjuguer les formes composées.
The auxiliaries "être" and "avoir" are used to conjugate compound forms.Play Caption
Par exemple, le verbe "manger" avec "avoir". J'ai mangé une pomme.
For example, the verb "manger" [to eat] with "avoir." I ate an apple.
Caption 10, Manon et Clémentine - Conjugaison du verbe êtrePlay Caption
The passé composé is the equivalent of the simple past (I did) and the present perfect (I have done).
So, for example, j’ai pensé can be translated as "I thought" or "I have thought" depending on the context. In any case, the auxiliary avoir cannot be dropped in French, as we do with "have" in English.
In her lesson on the passé composé, Patricia explains how to form a past participle:
Et le participe passé, c'est très simple.
And the past participle is very simple.
Il suffit de remplacer "er" par "é".
You just have to replace "er" with "é".Play Caption
The -er ending that Patricia mentions is the ending of an infinitive verb, which will become a past participle ending in -é (don't forget the accent mark!). For example, take out the -er ending of préparer (to prepare) and replace it with -é to make up the past participle préparé (prepared). Note that préparer and préparé sound the same, as the -r ending of the infinitive form is always silent.
Et donc j'ai préparé une leçon très utile pour vous.
And so I prepared a very useful lesson for you.Play Caption
Here's a final example of the passé composé:
Ils ont cuisiné hier, tous ensemble.
They cooked yesterday, all together.Play Caption
Remember that you will need to be familiar with the present tense of avoir in order to form the passé composé.
For a complete conjugation of cuisiner (to cook) in the passé composé, check out Patricia’s lesson.
So far, we’ve focused on conjugating first-group, -er verbs, but there are many more to explore! We'll see you for another round of verbs in a future lesson!
In her video on the famous French writer Victor Hugo, Patricia recites an excerpt from Hugo's poem "À l'Arc de Triomphe," a tribute to the city of Paris. The title of the poem means "At the Arc de Triomphe," but in another context à l'Arc de Triomphe could also mean "to the Arc de Triomphe." "At" and "to" are the most common meanings of the preposition à. But as we see several times in this video, à can also mean "from" when paired with certain verbs:
Cette science universelle
This universal science
Qu'il emprunte à tous les humains;
That it borrows from all humans;
Captions 46-47, Le saviez-vous? - La poésie de Victor HugoPlay Caption
Puis il rejette aux peuples blêmes
Then it rejects from pallid people
Leurs sceptres et leurs diadèmes,
Their scepters and their diadems,
Captions 48-49, Le saviez-vous? - La poésie de Victor HugoPlay Caption
À tout peuple, heureux, brave ou sage,
From all people, happy, brave, or wise,
Il prend ses lois, ses dieux, ses mœurs.
It takes their laws, their gods, their customs.
Captions 42-43, Le saviez-vous? - La poésie de Victor HugoPlay Caption
The verbal phrases here are emprunter quelque chose à quelqu'un (to borrow something from someone), prendre quelque chose à quelqu'un (to take something from someone), and rejeter quelque chose à quelqu'un (to reject something from someone). Though de is the more general equivalent of "from," you can't use de in verbal phrases like these–you have to use à.
The indirect object of these phrases (that is, what follows the à) is usually a person: "to x something from (à) someone."
Cacher (to hide) and voler (to steal) are two other common verbs that take à instead of de:
Je vais cacher les cadeaux de Noël à mes enfants.
I'm going to hide the Christmas gifts from my kids.
Marc a volé de l'argent à Sophie.
Marc stole money from Sophie.
Another very common verb with à is acheter (to buy). Be careful with this one though: acheter quelque chose à quelqu'un can either mean "to buy something from somebody" or "to buy something for somebody." You'll need to figure out the meaning from context:
Marc a acheté une bague au bijoutier.
Marc bought a ring from the jeweler.
Marc a acheté une bague à Sophie.
Marc bought a ring for Sophie.
But with other verbs—such as permettre à (to enable/allow), rappeler à (to remind), and coûter à (to cost)—the à doesn't translate to anything at all:
De permettre à quarante mille femmes et jeunes filles au Sénégal,
To enable forty thousand women and young girls in Senegal,
euh... d'être alphabétisées.
uh... to become literate.
Captions 3-4, Alphabétisation - des filles au SénégalPlay Caption
Rappeler effectivement aux gens que ça reste des produits de confiserie, c'est pas une mauvaise mesure.
Indeed, to remind people that these are still sweets, it's not a bad idea.
Caption 14, Le Journal - Publicité anti-caloriesPlay Caption
Et la différence, cela ne coûte quasiment rien à Martine.
And the difference costs Martine practically nothing.Play Caption
There are a good number of other verb phrases with à where the à means "from" or just isn't translated. Here are some of the more common ones:
arracher à (to remove from)
commander à (to order)
défendre à (to forbid/ban)
demander à (to ask)
enlever à (to take away from)
épargner à (to spare)
éviter à (to save/spare)
garantir à (to guarantee)
pardonner à (to forgive)
refuser à (to refuse/deny)
souhaiter à (to wish)
French singer-songwriter Zaz uses the verb essayer (to try) a few times in her interview on Watt's In, and it's conjugated in two different ways:
Enfin j'essaie toujours de faire du mieux possible.
Well, I always try to do the best I can.
Caption 72, Watt’s In - Zaz : On Ira Interview ExcluPlay Caption
Mais au moins tu essayes...
But at least you try...
Caption 77, Watt’s In - Zaz : On Ira Interview ExcluPlay Caption
Why do we have j'essaie (with an i) and tu essayes (with a y)? The answer is that the spelling of many conjugations of essayer is variable. Here's the verb in the present indicative:
j'essaie or j'essaye (I try)
tu essaies or tu essayes (you try [singular])
il/elle essaie or il/elle essaye (he/she tries)
nous essayons (we try)
vous essayez (you try [formal/plural])
ils/elles essaient or ils/elles essayent (they try)
Whether you spell the variable forms with an i or a y is completely up to you (except for nous essayons and vous essayez, which you must spell with a y). However, there's a bit of a catch: the pronunciation of the verb changes depending on which spelling you use. You can hear the difference in the two captions above: Zaz pronounces the -aie of essaie as a short "e" (as in mai, "May"), and the -ayes of essayes as a longer "e" (as in pareil, "same"). That's how we knew to spell them the way we did.
In fact, pretty much all verbs ending in -ayer follow this pattern. Listen to Patricia demonstrate the difference between je paie and je paye (I pay) here:
Petite particularité pour le verbe "payer": on peut dire "je paie avec ce billet" ou "je paye avec ce billet".
A small particularity for the verb "to pay": you can say "I pay with this bill" or "I pay with this bill."
Captions 31-34, Le saviez-vous? - Les verbes du 1er groupe les plus utilisésPlay Caption
Variable spellings don't only occur in the present indicative form of -ayer verbs. You'll also come across them in the future (e.g. vous paierez/payerez, "you will pay"), in the present subjunctive (qu'ils essaient/essayent, "that they try"), in the present conditional (tu paierais/payerais, "you would pay"), and in the imperative (essaie/essaye, "try!").
Some other common verbs that follow this pattern are balayer (to sweep), bégayer (to stutter), délayer (to mix, dilute), effrayer (to frighten), égayer (to cheer up), and rayer (to scratch, cross out).
See this WordReference page for a full conjugation of essayer and other verbs like it.
In Part 2 of her lesson on negation, Patricia explains three common negative constructions: rien ne... (nothing), ne... aucun(e) (not any), and ne... nulle part (nowhere). In a few of her examples, she uses the pronoun en, which some beginners might not be familiar with:
Veux-tu quelques pommes? Non, je n'en veux aucune.
Do you want some apples? No, I don't want any.
Captions 41-42, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négations - Part 2Play Caption
As-tu quelques stylos à me passer? -Non, je n'ai aucun stylo. Je n'en ai aucun.
Do you have some pens to give me? -No, I don't have any pens. I don't have any.
Captions 53, 57-58, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négations - Part 2Play Caption
In English, we know that the "any" of "I don't want any" and "I don't have any" refers back to "apples" and "pens," respectively. But in French, we can't just say je ne veux aucune and je n'ai aucun. We need to add en to refer back to the objects in question—quelques pommes and quelques stylos.
To make this clearer, let's simplify these sentences by making them affirmative:
Veux-tu quelques pommes? -Oui, j'en veux.
Do you want some apples? -Yes, I want some.
As-tu quelques stylos à me passer? -Oui, j'en ai.
Do you have some pens to give me? -Yes, I have some.
Just as it would be incorrect to respond to the English questions with "yes, I want" and "yes, I have," in French you wouldn't say oui, je veux or oui, j'ai. You need to specify what you're referring to. So you add "some"/en. As you can see, while "some" is placed right after the verb, en is placed right before.
Though the examples above use quelques (some), the general rule for en is that it replaces de + a noun. In fact, we can rewrite these sentences using des instead of quelques without changing their meaning:
Veux-tu des pommes? -Non, je n'en veux aucune.
Do you want some apples? -No, I don't want any.
As-tu des stylos à me passer? -Non, je n'en ai aucun.
Do you have some pens to give me? -No, I don't have any.
There's also an example of en replacing de + a noun later on in the video:
Y a-t-il de la neige partout? Non, il n'y en a nulle part.
Is there snow everywhere? No, there's not any anywhere.
Captions 71-72, Le saviez-vous? - Les différentes négations - Part 2Play Caption
If you want to avoid using en for now, you can simply include the object you're referring to in the sentence:
Y a-t-il de la neige partout? -Non, il n'y a pas de neige nulle part.
Is there snow everywhere? -No, there's no snow anywhere.
Veux-tu quelques/des pommes? -Non, je ne veux pas de pomme.
Do you want some apples? -No, I don't want any apples.
As-tu quelques/des stylos à me passer? -Non, je n'ai aucun stylo [or: je n'ai pas de stylo].
Do you have some pens to give me? -No, I don't have any pens.
For an in-depth look at negation in French, be sure to check out the rest of Patricia's videos on the subject.
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
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.
In our previous lessons on the French conditional, we briefly mentioned si (if) clauses, which express the possibility or likelihood of an event. These are comparable to "if/then" constructions in English, as in "if you didn't want to go, then you should have said something" or "if I rest now, I'll have more energy later." French si clauses are made up of two parts: a condition (e.g. "if I rest now") and a result ("I'll have more energy later"). They come in three different forms, each expressing different likelihoods and employing different verb tenses and moods. Let's break them down one by one.
1. Si + present-tense verb
The first type of si clause describes a possible or likely event. It expresses what could or will probably happen if a present condition is met. When the "condition" part (si + verb) of the clause is in the present tense, the "result" part can be in the present, imperative, or future:
Si on surveille pas, elle les prend
If we don't watch, she takes them
et puis elle les fait tomber un par un.
and then makes them fall one by one.
Caption 23, Angers 7 - Un lama en plein appartementPlay Caption
Donc si vous pouvez éviter de sortir, évitez.
So if you can avoid going out, avoid it.
Caption 7, Alsace 20 - Météo des MaquilleursPlay Caption
Même aujourd'hui, si on me fait chanter, je chanterai.
Even today, if you make me sing, I'll sing.
Caption 55, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciensPlay Caption
2. Si + imperfect verb
The second type describes something that's contrary to the present situation or unlikely to happen. Here the si is followed by an imperfect verb and the "result" part of the clause requires the conditional:
Si on avait pas tant de bénévoles... cela serait pas possible.
If we didn't have so many volunteers... it wouldn't be possible.
Captions 34-35, Farmer François - Le stand de légumesPlay Caption
Je pourrais aller au cinéma avec toi si je n'étais pas malade.
I could go to the movies with you if I weren't sick.
As you can see from the above example, the "result" doesn't always have to follow the "condition"—it can just as easily be placed before it. So we could rewrite the "Farmer François" sentence as: Cela serait pas possible si on avait pas tant de bénévoles (it wouldn't be possible if we didn't have so many volunteers). As long as both parts of a si clause are in the right tense/mood, it doesn't matter which comes first.
3. Si + pluperfect verb
The final type of si clause is a lot like the second type, but a bit more complex. It describes something that's contrary to a past event—for instance, something you wish had happened or regret not having done. In other words, it expresses an impossibility. The pluperfect is paired with the past conditional here:
Si j'avais su, je serais venu avec deux chevaux.
If I had known, I would have come with two horses.Play Caption
Hier j'aurais levé le bras
Yesterday I would have raised my arm
pour appeler le taxi si j'avais d'abord soigné mon épaule.
to hail the taxi if I had treated my shoulder first.
Captions 39-41, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode du conditionnelPlay Caption
To learn about some other meanings of si besides "if," check out this lesson. And if you have any suggestions for future lesson topics, feel free to tweet us @yabla or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Patricia mentions in her recent video, the French conditional mood only comes in two tenses: present and past. While the present conditional expresses something you would do, the past conditional expresses something you would have done. We discussed the present conditional in our previous lesson, so now we'll focus on the past.
The past conditional is a compound tense, which means it's made up of multiple parts. Two parts, to be exact: an auxiliary verb (avoir or être) in the conditional, plus the past participle of the main verb. Here's an example of the verb pouvoir (to be able to) in the past conditional:
On aurait pu les cuire individuellement, mais euh, là ça va le faire.
We could've cooked them individually, but uh, here, this'll do it.
Caption 49, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano - Médaillon de HomardPlay Caption
Like most verbs, pouvoir combines with the auxiliary verb avoir (to have) in compound past tenses. But as Patricia explains in another video, some verbs combine with être (to be) in those instances, such as the verbs aller (to go) and naître (to be born):
Je serais allé à la plage mais il faisait trop froid.
I would have gone to the beach, but it was too cold.
L'histoire officielle dit que ce drapeau serait né
Official history says that this flag was supposedly born
sous la Révolution française de dix-sept cent quatre-vingt-neuf.
under the French Revolution of seventeen eighty-nine.
Captions 6-7, Le saviez-vous? - Histoire du drapeau françaisPlay Caption
The important thing to remember is that in the past tense, you only need to conjugate the auxiliary verb in the conditional, not the main verb (so you wouldn't say on aurait pourrait or je serais irais, for instance).
It's easy to confuse the past conditional with the pluperfect (or plus-que-parfait) tense, which is used to describe things that happened in the remote past. Both constructions contain an auxiliary verb followed by a past participle (in the pluperfect, the auxiliary verb is in the imperfect tense, not the conditional), and you'll often find both of them in sentences containing si (if) clauses:
Hier, j'aurais levé le bras
Yesterday, I would have raised my arm
pour appeler le taxi si j'avais d'abord soigné mon épaule.
to hail the taxi if I had treated my shoulder first.
Captions 39-41, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode du conditionnelPlay Caption
We'll talk about si clauses in further detail in a future lesson. In the meantime, you might want to check out the song Si by Zaz, which contains a good number of si clauses and verbs in the conditional.