When you think vineyards, you probably conjure up images of rolling hills and sprawling fields, lush with grapevines planted in neat rows. So it may surprise you to learn that vineyards aren't just for la campagne. In fact, that most urban of French locales, la grande ville de Paris, has a few grapevines of its own!
Our favorite Parisian tour guide, Daniel Benchimol, takes us around the neighborhood known as La Butte Bergeyre, which, believe it or not, is home to a couple of vineyards. It's surprising such a tiny neighborhood could fit a vineyard—after all, there are only ten or so streets:
Il y a en tout une dizaine de rues avec des très, très jolies villas.
There are a total of about ten streets with very, very pretty villas.
Caption 11, Voyage dans Paris: Butte Bergeyre
Take a look at the word dizaine. On first glance, an English speaker might be tempted to translate this as its phonological cousin, "dozen." But dizaine actually means "about ten." Why the similarity? "Dozen" comes from the Old French dozaine, and its modern French equivalent is douzaine.
As you can probably guess by now, -aine as a suffix added to numbers indicates an approximation of quantity. So, une dizaine is "about ten," une douzaine is "about twelve" (a dozen), une trentaine is "about thirty," and so on. "Dozen" is the only similar word of this type in English, but who's to say we couldn't one day have a "tenzen" or a "thirtyzen" too?
A Yabla French subscriber recently asked an interesting question about a caption in one of our videos
L'éco-musée du pays de Rennes ... s'en est occupé...
The eco-museum of the county of Rennes ... took it upon itself...
Captions 16–17, Le Journal: Gourmet en Bretagne
Shouldn't, the subscriber asked, the participle actually be occupée—with an extra e—to match the subject eco-musée? After all, the word-ending -ée most often denotes a feminine word in French—so wouldn't the verb need to agree in gender here? As it turns out, even though musée ends in -ée, it is actually a masculine noun. So occupé is correct. Musée is not the only word that's masculine despite ending in -ée.
Moi, je me souviens à l'époque, même que j'étais dans un lycée d'filles...
I remember in those days, even though I was in an all-girls high school...
Caption 21, Le Journal: Baisers interdits dans les couloirs!
Like musée, the noun lycée—even a lycée filled with girls and only girls—is masculine, which we can tell here because it's preceded by the masculine article un. Un ("a," masc.) or le ("the," masc.) are the right determiners to use with lycée or musée, and not une ("a," fem.) or la ("the," fem.), as one may have expected with such an ending.
What other nouns end with -ée but are nevertheless masculine words? The most commonly used are:
un athée (an atheist)
à l'apogée (at the peak)
un camée (a cameo)
un mausolée (a mausoleum)
un trophée (a trophy)
un macchabée (a stiff, also a Maccabee)
un pygmée (a pygmy)
un scarabée (a beetle)
C'est dans sa loge qu'on a retrouvé Buridane
It's in her dressing room that we caught up with Buridane
Caption 1, Télé Lyon Métropole: Buridane
Did you catch the interview with the lovely chanteuse Buridane? It took place backstage, in her loge, what we would call her "dressing room." However, on the other side of the curtain, loge can also refer to box seating, usually private, elevated, and not cheap—a nice place from which to watch the show. Sport and theater fans will recognize that we have the same word in English: "loge" seating areas offer a bird's-eye view in a luxurious setting. It's from this meaning that we get the common French expression être aux premières loges, which means "to have a great view," or "front row seats."
Where else will you find une loge? Out in the country! A rustic cabin (or "lodge") of the kind used by skiers, hunters, or park rangers is also called a loge.
Finally, if you enter a French building, bourgeois or not, beware of the loge du concierge or "caretaker's apartment." You won’t sneak past unnoticed, even if you tiptoe... so be sure to have a good reason to be there!
And just as loge can be "lodge," logement can mean "lodging," as in housing or a place to stay. Take this example, where retirement-age protesters point out that Sarkozy doesn't quite share their concerns:
Et lui, il a pas de souci de voiture, il a pas de souci de logement...
And him, he has no car worries, he has no housing worries...
Caption 22, Le Journal: À la retraite en France
There's also the verb loger, which, as you may now be able to guess, means "to house" or "provide accommodation for."
See if you can spot any other lodging-related words in our videos!
After watching her scour the desert Mad Max–style for clues to track down her amour perdu in the video for "Love Machine," we know that Melissa Mars is a romantic. Her "Army of Love" video also gives us a few clues—on how to speak the language of love, en français.
Petites fées du cœur / Accueillent les âmes sœurs
Little love fairies / Welcome the soulmates
Captions 25–26, Melissa Mars: Army of Love
If you know that the word âme is "soul" and the word sœur means "sister," you might think that Melissa is referring to her many Mini-Me's as "soul sisters." Actually, âme sœur is French for "soulmate," and even though the term is of the female persuasion, it can apply to any member of a happy couple. In French, guys can be soul sisters too!
Our favorite friendly tour guide, Daniel Benchimol, gives us a look in living color at the history-rich, up-and-coming Paris quartier of Belleville.
As sometimes happens with urban areas that were once on the sketchy side, Belleville has recently gentrified. These days, it's home to a thriving diverse community. You'll see people from all walks of life strolling along the Rue de Belleville and the Boulevard de Belleville. (It's easy to know you're in the right neighborhood. Just look at the street signs!)
There's even a Parc de Belleville:
Nous sommes ici dans le Parc de Belleville, qui est vraiment le... le poumon de ce quartier.
We're here in the Parc de Belleville [Belleville Park], which is really the... the lungs of this neighborhood.
Captions 11–12, Voyage dans Paris: Belleville
Notice that Daniel tells us the park is le poumon of the neighborhood—"the lung" of the hood—just as Central Park is sometimes called "the lungs" of New York City, thanks to the fresh air it offers.
Les Bellevillois are known for their distinctive fun and funky accents. Wondering what they sound like? Just listen to France's favorite songbird, Édith Piaf. La Môme hails from the streets—the rues and boulevards—of Belleville!
Give up? Start thinking in French. Do you see it now? They're all French homophones! So what are the tricks to distinguishing between mère, maire, and mer
Let’s start off where life itself does—with our proud moms. In French, your mother is your mère.
Annie Chartrand, from Quebec, recalls the limited English ability of her own mère (as well as her père, her father).
Si je pense à mes parents, à mon père et ma mère, ils parlent anglais, mais c'est un peu plus, comme on dit en bon québécois, "baragouiné".
If I think of my parents, my dad or my mom, they speak English, but it's a bit more like, as we say in good Quebecois French, baragouiné.
Caption 12–13, Annie Chartrand: Grandir bilingue
Charles Baptiste, from Paris, sings of something nobody wants their mother to do (nobody nice anyway) in the song Je sais:
Tandis que ma mère se met à pleurer
Whereas my mother starts crying
Caption 21, Charles Baptiste: Je sais
Let's move away from such sadness (we hope Charles's mère is feeling better) to our second homophone: maire (mayor).
One way to distinguish this word from its homophones: maire (mayor) is a masculine noun and so is preceded by the masculine article le. But la mère (the mother) and la mer (the sea) are both feminine. Note that more people nowadays are using la maire to refer to a female mayor (see our lesson about the feminization of professions in French), although the officially correct term is la mairesse.
The mayor of Groslay, a town north of Paris, is not very popular… He banned chicken in municipal lunchrooms because of fears of avian flu.
L'interdiction du maire a également déclenché la colère des agriculteurs.
The mayor's ban has also triggered the anger of the farmers.
Caption 9, Le Journal: Le poulet dans les cantines
However, some mayors are less cautious than others. The mayor of Lille, for example, not only supported protesters who recklessly (and illegally) switched off street lighting in the city center, she joined their rally, French flag in hand!
Et c'est toujours au nom du service public que la maire de Lille soutient les agents d'EDF en grève.
And it is still in the name of the public service that the mayor of Lille supports the EDF agents on strike.
Caption 18, Le Journal: Grève de l'EDF à Lille – Part 1
Let's move on to our last homophone: la mer (the sea).
La mer is often a romantic image in popular songs. (Who doesn't love a little Charles Trenet?) Lyon-based ska band Babylon Circus sings about the sea in a song about dreams and lost hopes:
Les rames étaient trop courtes pour atteindre le niveau de la mer
The oars were too short to reach sea level
Caption 12, Babylon Circus: J'aurais bien voulu
So now, no more confusion between la mère (the mother), le maire (the mayor), and la mer (the sea)!
An accent, or the lack of one, can sometimes determine the meaning of a French word.
For example, let's take ou, the common conjunction that means "or." After his extensive travel abroad, Chef Rachel Gesbert likes to use exotic ingredients when he returns to France "or" to Europe:
Et quand on revient en France ou en Europe... on a envie de mélanger certains produits.
And when you return to France or to Europe... you feel like mixing certain products.
Caption 25, Le Journal: Gourmet en Bretagne
Ou bien also means "or," plain and simple. Anglophones, seeing the extra word bien, might be tempted to translate ou bien as "or even," or to add some other nuance. But in fact, ou bien is used pretty much interchangeably with ou, as we find in the report on the recent discovery of Saint-Exupéry's lost plane, near Marseilles.
Mais personne ne sait s'il s'agit d'un accident, d'un suicide ou bien d'un tir ennemi.
But nobody knows whether it's a question of an accident, of a suicide, or of enemy fire.
Captions 24–25, Le Journal: Saint-Exupéry – Part 1
However, when we draw a simple accent grave over the u in ou, we get the adverb où, which is used to indicate "where." Anne Liardet, mother of three, racing solo around the world on the "Vendée Globe," tells us:
J'suis bien, là où je suis...
I'm all right where I am...
In their worldwide hit "Senegal Fast Food," Amadou and Mariam, the singing-songwriting duo from Mali, ask:
Dakar, Bamako, Rio de Janeiro: où est le problème, où est la frontière?
Dakar, Bamako, Rio de Janeiro: where is the problem, where is the border?
Captions 25–26: Amadou et Mariam: Sénégal Fast Food
Another meaning of où is "when," indicating time. Notice the way French movie star Agnès Jaoui uses it when talking about dreams and fame:
C'est bien... de rêver, mais y a un moment où il faut juste se récupérer soi-même.
It's good... to dream, but there comes a time when you have to go back to who you are.
Captions 29–30, Le Journal: Le Rôle de sa Vie
So, there you have it: the short story of ou!
FYI: Keep in mind there are at least two other words that sound exactly the same as ou and où, but have their own unique spellings: une houe is "a hoe," like we use in the garden, and du houx is "holly," the stuff the halls are decked out with come Christmas!
In her song "Diesel" (extremely popular with Yabla viewers!), Elea Lumé declares:
Et si il y a eu maldonne, je me fais mon propre prud'homme
And if there was a mistake, I'll take responsibility for it
Captions 33–34, Elea Lumé: Diesel
When we are playing cards, la donne is "the deal." It comes from the verb donner, that very common French verb that means "to give." It also means "to deal," which is not hard to see since cards are "given out" to the players. Sometimes the dealer (le donneur—literally, "the giver") screws up, and hands too many or too few cards to one or more of the players. In the poker rooms of Paris this is known as a fausse donne (false deal), mauvaise donne (bad deal), or maldonne—which we get when we preface donne (deal) with mal ("bad" or "wrong"): a "wrong deal." In English the common term for all of these is "misdeal."
Cards are ripe metaphors for life, as anyone who's ever been "dealt a bad hand" or suffered "the luck of the draw" knows. In French, the phrase il y a maldonne has drifted from the cards-specific "there is a misdeal" to the more general "there is a mistake."
A quick aside about another of Elea's lyrical selections here: if you look up prud'homme in the dictionary, you find that it is a member of a labor court, one which decides disputes between management and workers. So when Elea says je me fais mon propre prud'homme (literally something like, "I'll be my own jury"), she is saying that she'll assume full responsibility; she's not going to take it to a third party for help—she'll stand on her own.
Besides signaling a mistake, il y a maldonne takes on another metaphorical meaning: "there is a misunderstanding." The exuberant chanteuse Cassandre expresses a negated variation of the phrase when she sings:
Mais non, y a pas maldonne / C'est super romantique!
But no, there's no misunderstanding / It's super romantic!
Caption 33, Vous avez du talent: Cassandre – Je te saoule
So make no mistake! As in English, French words or phrases often evolve from literal to metaphorical meanings, and their meaning can change based on their context. Getting to know these subtleties is not a bad deal at all!
In Le Journal's video on chalets, we're treated to a fascinating description of a modern cabin entirely built of ancient wood. And speaking of modernity, the speaker's story includes quite a few instances of neuf and nouveau. Both adjectives mean "new," but each corresponds to a different meaning of the word "new."
Before we talk about the trick to distinguishing between neuf and nouveau, we should point out the feminine forms, which are irregular, of each adjective: the feminine of neuf is neuve, and the feminine of nouveau is nouvelle (though nouvel is used as the masculine form before words beginning with vowels or the silent letter h. For example: un nouvel album).
We see an instance of nouvelle right at the beginning of the chalet video.
Ce tronc d'arbre a été coupé il y a plus de deux cents ans. Aujourd'hui Michel Ferrari lui redonne une nouvelle vie.
This log was cut more than two hundred years ago. Today, MichelFerrari gives it back a new life.
Captions 1-2, Le Journal: Le chalet
Here, nouvelle vie denotes a life different from before. Notice that the qualifying adjective nouvelle precedes the noun vie.
A little further, we see nouveaux (the plural form of nouveau):
La Pologne fait par exemple partie des nouveaux fournisseurs.
Poland, for example, is among the new suppliers.
Caption 14, Le Journal: Le chalet
Again, the adjective here indicates a change; the list of suppliers is now different from the previous one. And, once again, the adjective nouveaux is placed before the substantive fournisseurs.
Now, the following captions give us some examples of an entirely different meaning of "new."
Le vieux bois, un matériau très recherché pour les constructions de montagne, même s'il coûte deux fois plus cher que le bois neuf.
Old timber, a much sought-after material for building in the mountains, even if it costs twice as much as new wood.
Captions 3-4, Le Journal: Le chalet
Here, bois neuf means wood that was recently produced. Notice that neuf is placed after the substantive bois.
We see the same primary meaning for neuf below:
Aujourd'hui pour construire, comme ici, du neuf avec du vieux
Nowadays, to build, like here, the new with the old
Caption 12, Le Journal: Le chalet
The speaker is talking about the recent construction of these houses. (And note that neuf is a substantive here: "the new.")
Want some more examples of objects with which you could use neuf? You could have un manteau neuf (a new coat) or un livre neuf (a new book). And don't forget about the ironically named Pont-Neuf, which is actually the oldest bridge in Paris!
And what other types of changes would you describe with the word nouveau? You could use it to talk about une nouvelle amie (a new friend) or un nouveau numéro de téléphone (a new phone number).
If you look at all the examples above, you'll see that neuf is used for recent creations: objects, like wood, constructions, etc., that were recently manufactured and are thus "new to the world." Nouveau, however, is used to indicate a change: either something different or the most recent example of something (a change from before).
Now that we've explored the linguistic subtleties of these two adjectives, let’s look at a few more ways to use the words neuf and nouveau.
La Nouvelle Vague is the name of the post-WWII cinematic trend in France of shooting movies in a different, more realistic way and using modern, spontaneous young actors rather than handsome, classical movie stars. In English, we call this type of cinema "French New Wave." Nouvelle vague also became a cultural term, applying to the youth of the time, who aspired to change their lives, to have freedom without convention.
There is also the term nouvelle cuisine, which refers to a French cooking approach that uses light ingredients and emphasizes presentation—a change from the previous heavy classical cuisine.
So what about other ways to use neuf?
You probably know that neuf also means the number nine.
Neuf is also used in some common expressions, like peau neuve, which we can also see in the chalet video.
Nous voici dans une ancienne ferme proche de Megève. C'est l'heure pour elle de faire peau neuve.
Here we are in an old farmhouse near Megève. It's time for it to get a face-lift.
Caption 5-6, Le Journal: Le chalet
This old farm is in need of a "new skin" to look better.
And speaking of old, our curious readers may be interested to know that the opposite of neuf/neuve is vieux/vieil/vieille; (vieil, like nouvel, is the masculine adjective for preceding vowel sounds), and the opposite of nouveau/nouvel/nouvelle is ancien/ancienne. Hard to believe there are five different options for such a simple word as "old"!
Stay tuned for a lesson that further discusses the placement of adjectives in French, which will help you solve that pesky "before or after?" dilemma.
You may have noticed the difference a little accent mark can make. Take the words côté, cote, and côte, for example. It’s the same four letters, but depending on the accents, both the meaning and the pronunciation can change.
Côté is a two-syllable word, while côte and cote are one-syllable words, each with its own unique pronunciation (though in some regions of France there may be little distinction in pronunciation).
In its most straightforward definition, côté means “side.”
Que je suis assis en face, et pas à tes côtés
Over the fact that I’m sitting across from you and not by your side
Caption 23, Babylon Circus: J'aurais bien voulu
It may seem a bit odd that "by your side" is à tes côtés (plural) and not à ton côté (singular), but this is just how it's done in French.
When getting directions, you will often hear du côté droit (on the right hand side) or du côté gauche (on the left hand side). “Next to” (which, if you think about it, could be said “on the side of”) is expressed as à côté:
C'est juste à côté de la voiture.
It's right next to the car.
Côté can also be used to describe an aspect, a quality, or a “side” of something:
Je dirais les ingrédients qu'on a dans cette farce va donner ce côté savoureux et moelleux à la volaille.
I would say the ingredients in this stuffing will give the bird a savory and juicy quality.
Captions 29-30, Le Journal: Gourmet en Bretagne
But the word côté is not only used literally. It also appears in expressions like:
D’un côté... D’un autre côté...
On one hand... On the other hand...
Côté can also be used to show someone’s opinion, their “side” on an issue, or their perspective.
De son côté, Nicolas Sarkozy annonce sa volonté de rupture avec la politique africaine de la France.
For his part, Nicolas Sarkozy announces his desire to break away from France's African policies.
Caption 14, Le Journal: Sarkozy en Afrique du Sud - Part 1
And we see the same sort of côté in the video on the marché in Rennes:
Bon, du côté de Cocotte, secret défense.
Okay, as for Cocotte, it's top secret.
Caption 12, Le Journal: Gourmet en Bretagne
But côté is not only used to express the perspective of a person. It can also be translated as “about” or “on the subject of” or “as for.” In the following example, it’s used to distinguish between the main and secondary railway lines:
Côté grandes lignes, la SNCF a depuis longtemps pensé aux voyageurs handicapés.
As for the main lines, the SNCF has long thought of handicapped travelers.
Caption 11, Le Journal: Manifestation de paralysés
Just in case that’s not enough to satisfy your curiosity, keep in mind the word côté’s similarly spelled (and hence easy to confuse) counterparts...
For starters, there's côte, one of the primary meanings of which is very similar-sounding to its English equivalent: “coast” (as in "the Pacific coast"). Actually, en français, the French Riviera is called the “Azure Coast.”
Venu de sa Côte d'Azur natale, il est tombé amoureux de l'île et de ses fonds marins.
Having come from his native French Riviera, he fell in love with the island and its sea depths.
Caption 7, Le Journal: L'île de Pâques
Côte can also mean “rib,” as in côte d’Adam or côte d’agneau (what we call a “lamb chop”).
And last but not least, the second video in the series on Sarkozy’s trip to South Africa gives us an example of an entirely different kind of cote, which means “stock.” This can be in the literal sense (stock market) or refer to the general worth/esteem of something or someone, as below.
Alors que sa cote continue de chuter, Nicolas Sarkozy tente un quitte ou double vis-à-vis de l'opinion
As his stock continues to tumble, Nicolas Sarkozy tries to double down on opinion
Captions 18-19, Le Journal: Sarkozy en Afrique du Sud - Part 2
There’s also a related verb, coter, which means to rate, quote, or list the price of something.
Cette voiture est cotée à 10.000$ dans le journal.
This car is listed at $10,000 in the newspaper.
Whether you’re talking economics, opinions, proximity, food, or geography, you’ll be better equipped knowing the nuances and differences of these similarly spelled words!
It's easy to get lost in the French language, let alone for things to get lost in translation. So many French words have multiple meanings, and often the meanings are surprisingly disparate. That makes context particularly important in the understanding of French. But what if the context itself seems to support multiple meanings? The solution is to redouble your efforts and discern the logic of the utterance as well as you can. The French appreciate the subtleties of language—and you have to pay close attention to properly parse them
The verb relever is a good example. It's made up of the verb lever (to raise) and the prefix re- (again). As a reflexive verb, se relever means to get back up (e.g., after you've fallen); as a transitive verb, relever means to stand something back up after it's fallen over (e.g., a lamp). It can also mean simply "to raise" something, including prices. (Ils ont relevé leurs prix: "They have raised their prices.") So we might easily be tempted to believe that the following, spoken by a France 2 reporter, is about a strange mission to raise the prices of food at a local supermarket:
Objectif de la matinée: relever les prix dans un magasin Carrefour.
The morning's goal is to note the prices at a Carrefour store.
Captions 5-6, Contrôle des prix alimentaires – Part 3
The news crew, however, is not setting out to jack up the price of butter and baguettes. As you can see from the translation we have chosen, relever has other meanings, one of which is "to note" or "to survey." The morning's goal is to take note of the prices found at a Carrefour (one of the world's largest supermarket chains), not to raise them. How do we know the meaning here is "to note" rather than "to raise"? It's hard to say, but we have to apply logic and common sense—good old French rationality. It simply wouldn't make sense for the French Minister of Finance to march into a store and raise prices.
We find the verb used again in the line that follows:
Yaourt nature par seize, deux cinquante-cinq, relevé à deux quatre-vingt-cinq.
Plain yogurt sixteen-pack, two fifty-five, noted at two eighty-five.
Captions 6-7, Le Journal: Contrôle des prix alimentaires – Part 3
The speaker is using a bit of verbal shorthand. The price for a sixteen pack of plain yogurt is found to be 2.55 euros today, but it had been "noted" (relevé) in the past at a higher rate, 2.85 euros. This story is a little bit complicated: it turns out that prices on supermarket shelves were found to be considerably lower than those reported in a study of online (delivery service) supermarket prices by the French consumer magazine Soixante Millions de Consommateurs (Sixty Million Consumers).
Donc, ça signifie que les prix en grande surface sont moins élevés que ce qui a été relevé par "Soixante Millions de Consommateurs".
So that means prices in big supermarkets are lower than what was recorded by "Soixante Millions de Consommateurs."
Captions 8-9, Le Journal: Contrôle des prix alimentaires – Part 3
Once again, relever is used to indicate that information was "noted" or "recorded." A generic term for things that are recorded, in the context of an investigation such as the one conducted by the consumer magazine, is "findings." The French word for "findings" is relevés (the noun form of relever), and we find it used a few lines later in the same news report:
Et ses relevés, au moment de passer en caisse, sont l'occasion de répéter le même message...
And her findings, as she goes through checkout, provide the occasion to repeat the same message...
Captions 13-14, Le Journal: Contrôle des prix alimentaires – Part 3
If you've ever had a French bank account, you're familiar with a relevé de comptes. Here, relevé means "record." Literally, then, a relevé de comptes is a "record of accounts," better known to English speakers as a "statement."
So what have we noted today? Qu'est-ce qu'on a relevé? Certainly, you should now be familiar with some of the meanings of this intriguing word. (There's another interesting discussion of it here.) Perhaps you've also learned—or been reminded—to fully consider context before jumping to conclusions about the meaning of a word. Context, properly discerned with good common sense, is the trusty guide that can keep you from getting lost in French.
We provided you with a few things to take note of today, n'est-ce pas?