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A Comprehensive French Grammar Blackwell Reference Grammars General Editor: Glanville Price The Blackwell Reference Gram...


A Comprehensive French Grammar

Blackwell Reference Grammars General Editor: Glanville Price

The Blackwell Reference Grammars are essential companions for students of modern languages at senior secondary school and undergraduate level. The volumes provide a comprehensive survey of the grammar of each language and include plentiful examples. The series will cover the major European languages, including French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian. Already published A Comprehensive French Grammar, Sixth Edition Glanville Price A Comprehensive Russian Grammar, Second Edition Terence Wade Advisory Editor: Michael J. de K. Holman A Comprehensive Spanish Grammar Jacques de Bruyne Adapted, with additional material, by Christopher J. Pountain A Comprehensive Welsh Grammar David A. Thorne Colloquial French Grammar: A Practical Guide Rodney Ball An Introduction to French Pronunciation, Revised Edition Glanville Price Grammar Workbooks A Russian Grammar Workbook Terence Wade A French Grammar Workbook Dulcie Engel, George Evans, and Valerie Howells A Spanish Grammar Workbook Esther Santamaría Iglesias

A Comprehensive French Grammar Sixth Edition

GLANVILLE PRICE Emeritus Professor of French University of Wales Aberystwyth

© 2008 by Glanville Price blackwell publishing 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148-5020, USA 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK 550 Swanston Street, Carlton, Victoria 3053, Australia The right of Glanville Price to be identified as the Author of this Work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, except as permitted by the UK Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988, without the prior permission of the publisher. Designations used by companies to distinguish their products are often claimed as trademarks. All brand names and product names used in this book are trade names, service marks, trademarks, or registered trademarks of their respective owners. The publisher is not associated with any product or vendor mentioned in this book. This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold on the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering professional services. If professional advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. First published 1950; second edition 1956; third edition 1986; fourth edition 1993; fifth edition 2003 This sixth edition published 2008 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd 1


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Price, Glanville. A comprehensive French grammar / Glanville Price. — 6th ed. p. cm. — (Blackwell reference grammars) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-4051-5384-3 (hardcover : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-1-4051-5385-0 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. French language—Grammar. I. Title. PC2112.P75 2007 448.2′421—dc22


A catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library. For further information on Blackwell Publishing, visit our website: www.blackwellpublishing.com


Preface Selective bibliography Technical terms and abbreviations

page xi xiii–xv xvii–xix


Alphabet Phonetic transcriptions The two varieties of ‘H’ in French Capitals Punctuation Division into syllables Hyphens Accents and the cedilla Diaeresis Elision Medium and register

paragraph 1 2 3 4 5 6–7 8 9–10 11 12 13

The Noun Phrase

Introduction Determiners Articles Introduction Definite article Indefinite article Partitive articie

14–22 23 24 25–34 35–39 40–46



Gender Introduction Gender according to meaning Gender and sex Other categories The gender of place-names Gender shown by ending Introduction Masculine endings Feminine endings Problematic endings The gender of compound nouns Words that are identical in form but different in gender Some anomalies of gender Gender of other parts of speech used as nouns The feminine of nouns and adjectives Introduction Spoken French Written French The plural of nouns Spoken French Written French Compound nouns Miscellaneous The plural of adjectives Agreement of adjectives The position of adjectives The comparison of adjectives and adverbs Adjectives used as nouns Numerals Fractions Pronouns and pronominal determiners Personal pronouns Introduction Conjunctive personal pronouns Disjunctive personal pronouns Adverb replacing preposition + pronoun Possessive determiners and pronouns Introduction Possessive determiners

47 48–49 50–51 52 53 54 55 56 57–63 64 65–73 74 75–76 77–81 82–96 97–100 101–108 109–116 117–121 122–126 127–138 139–154 155–174 175–177 178–187 188–192

193–197 198–214 215–220 221 222 223–230

Contents Possessive pronouns Demonstrative determiners and pronouns Introduction Demonstrative determiners Demonstrative pronouns The neuter demonstrative pronouns The simple demonstrative pronouns C’est and il est Relative pronouns Interrogative determiners and pronouns Introduction Interrogative determiners Interrogative pronouns Indefinite adjectives, adverbs, determiners and pronouns Quantifiers


231–233 234 235–237 238 239–244 245–247 248–261 262–277 278 279 280–290 291–319 320–337


Introduction A The conjugations B Names of moods and tenses C The persons of the verb D Defective verbs E The morphology (forms) of the verb The endings The stems A note on the subjunctive The verbs avoir and être Avoir Être First Conjugation – verbs in -er Second Conjugation – verbs in -ir Third Conjugation – verbs in -re Verbs in -oir Irregular verbs F Reflexive verbs G The passive H Negative and interrogative conjugations

338 339 340–341 342–343 344 345 346 347 348 349 350 351–358 359–366 367–374 375 376–378 379–381 382–385 386–389



I Person and number Introduction Coordinate subjects Collective nouns J Tenses Introduction The ‘historic present’ The imperfect, the preterite, and the perfect The pluperfect and the past anterior The ‘double-compound’ tenses Tenses with depuis (que), il y a (voici, voilà) . . . que The future, aller faire, etc. The conditional Tenses in conditional sentences with si ‘if’ K The infinitive L The present participle M The past participle Introduction Compound tenses with avoir Compound tenses with être Verbs compounded with avoir or être The absolute use of the past participle The agreement of the past participle N The moods O The subjunctive Introduction Fixed expressions Constructions allowing a minimum of variation Constructions allowing a greater degree of variation The subjunctive introduced by que (introduction) The subjunctive in independent clauses The subjunctive in dependent que-clauses The subjunctive after conjunctions formed on the basis of que The subjunctive in relative clauses The tenses of the subjunctive P ‘May, might, must, ought, should, would’ Q The imperative R The complement of verbs S Idioms with avoir, être, faire

390 391–393 394–397 398–403 404 405–410 411 412 413 414 415–417 418–424 425–438 439–446 447–448 449 450–451 452–456 457–458 459–471 472 473–475 476 477 478 479 480 481–485 486–491 492–495 496–506 507–513 514–517 518–538 539–541



The Structure of the Sentence Negation Introduction A Negation with a verb Introduction Ne and another element Negation without ne Ne alone De, du, etc., un(e) and the direct object of negative verbs B The negative conjunction ni ‘neither, nor’ C Negation of an element other than a verb Interrogative sentences (questions) Introduction A Direct questions – total interrogation B Direct questions – partial interrogation C Indirect questions Inversion Dislocation and fronting

542 543 544–556 557–558 559–567 568–570 571 572–580 581–582 583–587 588–593 594–595 596–601 602

Adverbs, Prepositions and Conjunctions Adverbs Introduction A Adverbs of manner B Adverbs of time C Adverbs of place D Adverbs of quantity E Adverbs of affirmation or doubt F Adverbs of negation G Interrogative adverbs The comparison of adverbs The position of adverbs Prepositions Introduction Simple prepositions Complex prepositions Government of verbs by prepositions

603 604–613 614–623 624–625 626 627–628 629 630–631 632 633–643 644 645–646 647–648 649



Repetition of prepositions The meaning and use of individual prepositions Prepositions used with adjectives or past participles Conjunctions Introduction Compound conjunctions not requiring the subjunctive Compound conjunctions requiring the subjunctive Que as a subordinating conjunction

650–651 652–685 686–688 689–692 693–696 697–698 699–704


The expression of age, time, price, dimensions, speed, fuel consumption Age Time Price Dimensions Speed Fuel consumption

705 706–711 712 713 714 715


page 559


This new edition of A Comprehensive French Grammar corresponds in most respects to the previous edition (2003). The principal change consists in the addition of a section on ‘Register and medium’ (13) and of references to these topics here and there throughout the text. Elsewhere in the ‘Introduction’, the sections on ‘Capitals’ (4), ‘Punctuation’ (5) and ‘Hyphens’ (8) have been substantially modified and expanded. I have also taken advantage of this new edition to update the bibliography and to make a few other modifications to the text. However, apart from the addition of the new section (13) and the consequential combining of the previous sections (13) and (14) as (14), the paragraph numbering and the pagination of the last edition have been retained. I am grateful to all those colleagues and others from whose comments and advice I have benefited, not least to my wife who has read successive editions in typescript and made helpful observations based on her experience of teaching advanced students of French. Professor Maria Manoliu of the University of California at Davis made a number of suggestions for improving my discussion of points of grammar in the last edition. This new edition has benefited greatly from advice offered by Dr Mari C. Jones of the University of Cambridge. None of these, of course, are in any way responsible for any errors or omissions that may remain. G.P.

Selective Bibliography

This list of works likely to be of interest to the advanced student of French includes only titles of which the most recent edition is dated 1993 or later.


Ball, R. 2000. Colloquial French Grammar. A Practical Guide. Oxford: Blackwell. Baylon, C. and Fabre, P. 2003. Grammaire systématique de la langue française, 3rd edn. Paris: Nathan. Grevisse, M. 1993. Le Bon Usage. Grammaire française, 13th edn, recast by A. Goosse. Paris and Louvain-la-Neuve: Duculot. Hawkins, R. and Towell, R. 2001. French Grammar and Usage, 2nd edn. London: Arnold. Hollerbach, W. 1994. The Syntax of Contemporary French: A Pedagogical Handbook and Reference Grammar. Lanham, MD, New York and London: University Press of America. Le Goffic, P. 1994. Grammaire de la phrase française. Paris: Hachette. Le Querler, N. 1994. Précis de syntaxe française. Caen: Presses universitaires de Caen. L’Huillier, M. 1999. Advanced French Grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lang, M. and Perez, I. 2004. Modern French Grammar: A Practical Guide. London: Routledge.


Selective bibliography

Pougoise, M. 1998. Dictionnaire de grammaire et des difficultés grammaticales. Paris: Armand Colin.


Atkins, Beryl C. et al. (eds) 1998. Collins Robert French-English English-French Dictionary. London: HarperCollins, Paris: Le Robert. Baumgartner, E. and Ménard, P. 1996. Dictionnaire étymologique et historique de la langue française. Paris: LGF. Carney, F. (ed.) 1993. Grand dictionnaire français-anglais / anglaisfrançais; French-English / English-French Dictionary, 1, Françaisanglais / French-English, 2, Anglais-français / English-French. Paris: Larousse. Catach, N. 1994. Dictionnaire historique de l’orthographe française. Paris: Larousse. Corréard, M.-H. and Grundy, V. (eds) 2003. The Oxford-Hachette French Dictionary, 3rd edn, ed. J.-B. Ormal-Grenon and N. Pomier. Paris: Hachette, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Rey-Debove, J. and Rey, A. 2006. Le Nouveau Petit Robert, rev. edn. Paris: Le Robert. Van Roey, J. Granger, S. and Swallow, H. 1998. Dictionnaire des / Dictionary of faux amis, français-anglais, English-French, 3rd edn. Paris and Brussels: Duculot.


Ayres-Bennett, W. 1996. A History of the French Language through Texts. London: Routledge. Ayres-Bennett, W. and Carruthers, J., with Temple, R. 2001. Problems and Perspectives. Studies in the Modern French Language. London: Longman. Batchelor, R. E. and Offord, M. A. 2007. Using French: A Guide to Contemporary French Usage, 3rd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Batchelor, R. E. and Offord, M. A. 1993. Using French Synonyms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Selective bibliography


Battye, A., Hintze, M.-A. and Rowlett, P. 2000. The French Language Today, 2nd edn. London: Routledge. Catach, N. 1994. La Ponctuation (histoire et système). Paris: PUF. Chaurand, J. (ed.) 1999. Nouvelle histoire de la langue française. Paris: Seuil. Lamy, M.-N. and Towell, R. 1998. The Cambridge French-English Thesaurus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lodge, R. A. 1993. French: From Dialect to Standard. London: Routledge. Lodge, R. A. et al. 1997. Exploring the French Language. London: Arnold. L’Huillier, M., Martin, B. and Udris, R. 2000. French Discourse Analysis. Dublin: Philomel. Offord, Malcolm. 2001. French Words, Past, Present and Future. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. Péchoin, D. and Dauphin, B. 2006. Dictionnaire des difficultés du français. Paris: Larousse. Posner, R. 1997. Linguistic Change in French. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Picoche, J. and Marchello-Nizia, C. 1998. Histoire de la langue française, 3rd edn. Paris: Nathan. Price, G. 1998. The French Language, Present and Past, rev. edn. London: Grant & Cutler. Price, G. 2005. An Introduction to French Pronunciation, rev. edn. Oxford: Blackwell. Rossillon, P. et al. (eds) 1995. Atlas de la langue française. Paris: Bordas. Sanders, C. (ed.) 1993. French Today: Language in its Social Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Warnant, L. 1997. Orthographe et prononciation en français. Louvain-la-Neuve: Duculot. Wise, H. 1997. The Vocabulary of Modern French: Origins, Structure and Function. London: Routledge.

Technical Terms and Abbreviations

It is assumed that most users of this grammar will be familiar with the basic traditional terminology for the parts of speech (noun, adjective, verb, etc.) and a few other concepts such as ‘clause’, ‘subject’, ‘gender’, ‘tense’, ‘active’, ‘passive’, etc. Among the terms (some of which, though now in general use, are not traditional) defined in particular sections of the book are the following (the list is not complete): accusative (case) complement of a preposition complement of the subject complement of the verb ‘to be’ complement of verbs compound tense conjugation conjunctive pronoun dative (case) defective verb determiner direct object disjunctive pronoun double-compound tenses equative finite verb genitive (case) gerund

17 20 16 248, 518 519 340, 448 339 193 18 344 23 17 193 412 156, 157 341 19 445


Technical terms and abbreviations

impersonal verb indirect object intransitive verb inversion linking verb medium mood mute h nominative (case) noun phrase partial interrogation persons of the verb quantifier referent register simple tense total interrogation transitive verb

343 18, 21 17 596 518 13 472 3 15 13 581 342 320 248 13 340 581 17

The following abbreviations have been used: adj. adv. art. compl. condit. conjug. constr. def. demonst. disjunct. Eng. fem. Fr. fut. imper. imperf. indef. indic. infin. masc.

adjective adverb article complement conditional conjugation construction definite demonstrative disjunctive English feminine French future imperative imperfect indefinite indicative infinitive masculine

Technical terms and abbreviations obj. part. past ant. perf. pers. pluperf. plur. poss. pres. pret. pron. q. ch. q. un ref. refl. rel. sing. subjunct. transl.

object participle past anterior perfect person pluperfect plural possessive present preterite pronoun quelque chose quelqu’un reference reflexive relative singular subjunctive translated





French has the same alphabet as English: A [a] I [i] Q [ky] Y *

B [be] J [i] R [er] Z [zed]

C [se] K [ka] S [es]

D [de] L [el] T [te]

E [R,ø] M [em] U [y]

F [ef] N [en] V [ve]

G [e] O [o] W *

H [aʃ] P [pe] X [iks]

*The letters w and y are known as double v and i grec (‘Greek i’). For the values of the phonetic symbols used above to transcribe the names of the other letters, see 2. (Note that w is pronounced [v] in le wagon ‘(railway-)carriage’ and in a few other, relatively uncommon, words but [w] in other borrowings from English, e.g. le week-end, le whisky, and in wallon ‘Walloon’.) The names of all the letters are now usually considered to be masculine, e.g. un a bref ‘a short a’, « Londres » s’écrit avec un s ‘Londres is written with an s’, Le d de « pied » ne se prononce pas ‘The d in pied is not pronounced’.


Introduction 2

Phonetic transcriptions

2 To indicate pronunciation, we use symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet’s follows: Vowels [i] [e] [e] [a] [ɑ] [O] [o] [u] [y] [ø] [œ] [R] [e˜ ] [œ˜] [O˜ ] [ɑ˜]

as in lit as in été, j’ai as in bête, faites as in date as in pas, pâte as in botte as in dos, beau as in tout as in tu as in feu as in peur as in je, premier as in vin, main as in un as in bon as in blanc, dent

Semi-vowels [j] [ɥ] [w]

as in yeux, pied as in huile as in oui

Consonants [t] [d] [p] [b] [k] [g] [f] [v] [s] [z]

as in tout as in dent as in pomme as in beau as in camp, qui, kilo as in goutte as in fou as in vie as in sou, face as in zéro, maison

2–3 The two varieties of ‘H’ in French [ʃ] [] [l] [r] [m] [n] [] [ŋ]


as in chapeau as in je, rouge as in lune as in rouge as in madame as in nez as in signe as in parking

A colon, [], after a vowel indicates that the vowel is long, e.g.: [myr] mur, [pɑt] pâte, [pœr] peur, [mO˜ d] monde.

The two varieties of ‘H’ in French

3 The French h is not pronounced. However, some words beginning with h (which is always followed by a vowel) function as if they began with a vowel, while others function as if they began with a consonant. These two varieties of h are known respectively as ‘mute h’ and ‘aspirate h’ (in French, h muet and h aspiré). (i) Mute h. Words (most of them of Latin or Greek origin) beginning with mute h function as if it were not there, i.e. as if they began with a vowel. (Indeed, in many such words it used not to be there but has been introduced under the influence of Latin spelling, e.g. medieval French erbe ‘grass’, abiter ‘to dwell’, ier ‘yesterday’, which have since had an h added to them, i.e. herbe, habiter, hier, because it was realized that they came from Latin herba, habitare, heri.) Like other words beginning with a vowel, these words give rise to the processes of elision (see 12) (e.g. l’herbe, j’habite) and liaison (see 7,c) (e.g. les hommes [lez Om] ‘the men’), they take the masculine demonstrative cet not ce (e.g. cet homme ‘this man’ – see 235) and the feminine possessives mon, ton, son not ma, ta, sa (e.g. mon habitude ‘my custom’ – see 223). (ii) Aspirate h. On the other hand, a number of words beginning with h function as if they began with a consonant. (In fact, though


Introduction 3–4

the h is now silent, it was pronounced until perhaps the sixteenth century, and still remains in some provinces.) These are mainly words borrowed from languages other than Latin or Greek and, in particular, words borrowed in the early medieval period from the Germanic speech of the Franks, or, much more recently, from English. Such words do not give rise to elision (e.g. le hêtre ‘beechtree’, la hache ‘axe’, je hais ‘I hate’, je le hais ‘I hate him’) or liaison (les hiboux [le ibu] ‘the owls’), and they take the masculine demonstrative ce (e.g. ce hachoir ‘this chopper’) and the feminine possessives ma, ta, sa (e.g. ma honte ‘my shame’).


4 Capitals (in French, majuscules) are used at the beginning of a sentence and with proper names (Jean, Paris), but elsewhere are much less widely used than in English. In particular, small letters (minuscules) are used: (i) for months and days of the week, e.g. septembre ‘September’, samedi ‘Saturday’ (ii) for adjectives corresponding to proper names, e.g. la côte méditerranéenne ‘the Mediterranean coast’, un printemps parisien ‘a Parisian spring’, l’ère napoléonienne ‘the Napoleonic era’. This includes adjectives of nationality and also applies when they are used as nouns denoting a language, e.g.: le gouvernement français la langue italienne Il comprend l’anglais Le russe est une langue difficile

the French government the Italian language He understands English Russian is a difficult language

but, when used as nouns with reference to people, they take a capital, e.g.: C’est un Espagnol Les Allemands sont partis

He’s a Spaniard The Germans have left

In English, utterances consisting of a part of the verb ‘to be’ and an expression of nationality, or other local or ethnic origin, can take

4 Capitals


either an adjective, as in ‘I am American’, ‘He is Norman’, ‘Are you Norwegian?’, ‘They are not Spanish’, or a noun, as in ‘I am an American’, ‘He is a Norman’, ‘Are you Norwegians?’, ‘They are not Spaniards’. The French equivalents of the expressions quoted above are Je suis américain(e), Il est normand, Êtes-vous norvégien(ne)s ?, Ils ne sont pas espagnols/Elles ne sont pas espagnoles. Note that the forms in question are adjectives and so take a small (i.e. not a capital) initial. (The convention of taking the words in question as adjectives is, however, sometimes breached and they are treated as if they were nouns, with a capital initial.) Likewise, with expressions characterizing religion, which in English (especially in the singular) are usually treated as nouns, e.g. ‘I am a Buddhist’, ‘They were Christian(s)’, but Je suis bouddhiste, Ils étaient chrétiens. After C’est, Ce sont, C’était, etc., however, when the indefinite article is used, the words in question are nouns and take a capital initial, e.g. C’est un Français ‘He is a Frenchman’, C’était un Allemand ‘He was/It was a German’, Ce sont/C’est des Japonais (see 251). (iii) for titles, e.g. le colonel Blanc, le docteur Dupont, le duc de Bourgogne ‘the Duke of Burgundy’, le président Sarkozy ‘President Sarkozy’, le professeur Mornet ‘Professor Mornet’, la reine Élisabeth ‘Queen Elizabeth’, saint Paul. Note too monsieur, madame, mademoiselle Dupont, without capitals except (a) when addressing someone, e.g. in a letter (Mon cher Monsieur Dupont), (b) when abbreviated to M., Mme, Mlle. For capitalization of titles in names of streets, etc., see 8,iii. In other contexts, usage fluctuates. Note in particular: (iv) Titles, including preceding adjectives, applied to God, any of the persons of the Trinity or the Virgin Mary, the names of religious festivals, sacred writings, etc., are usually capitalized, though following adjectives are not, e.g.: Dieu ‘God’, le Rédempteur ‘the Redeemer’, le Tout-Puissant ‘the Almighty’, le Saint-Esprit, ‘the Holy Spirit’, Notre-Dame ‘Our Lady’, Noël ‘Christmas’, la Pentecôte ‘Whitsun’, le Nouveau Testament ‘the New Testament’, le Coran, ‘the Qur’an’, le Pentateuque ‘the Pentateuch’, le Rigveda ‘the RigVeda’, la Torah ‘the Torah’, l’Écriture sainte ‘Holy Scripture’, Mardi gras ‘Shrove Tuesday’

Introduction 4–5


(v) In names of institutions, organizations, unique events, etc., head nouns and adjectives preceding the noun are usually capitalized (e.g. la Grande Guerre ‘the First World War’, le Nouvel An ‘New Year’), but following adjectives or nouns linked to the head noun by de are usually not capitalized, e.g.: le Sénat ‘the Senate’, la Bourse ‘the Stock Exchange’, la Réforme ‘the Reformation’, la Révolution française ‘the French Revolution’, l’Académie française ‘the French Academy’, la Sécurité sociale ‘Social Security’, la Légion étrangère ‘the Foreign Legion’, l’Institut géographique national ‘the National Geographical Institute’, l’Église catholique ‘the Catholic Church’,la Légion d’honneur‘the Legion of Honour’, la Cour d’appel ‘the Appeal Court’, le Conseil de sécurité ‘the Security Council’ (but notice la Comédie-Française [a theatre] and the names of government departments, e.g. le ministère des Finances ‘the Ministry of Finance’, le ministère des Affaires étrangères ‘the Foreign Ministry’, etc.). (vi) Note the lack of capitals in words for street, road, square, etc., in names, e.g.: la rue de la Paix, le boulevard Saint-Michel, l’avenue des Champs-Élysées, la place de la Concorde, le carrefour de l’Odéon. (In the Channel Islands, capitals are used as in English, e.g. la Rue des Fontaines, la Grève de St Clément in Jersey, la Route de la Lague, la Pointe de Pleinmont in Guernsey.)



Most French and English punctuation marks are the same: . , ; : ? !

point virgule point-virgule deux points point d’interrogation point d’exclamation

full stop comma semi-colon colon question mark exclamation mark

5 Punctuation – ... () []

tiret trait d’union points de suspension parenthèses crochets


dash hyphen three dots round brackets square brackets

However, French makes considerable use in addition of guillemets, i.e. « . . . » (see below). One notable difference between the two languages relates to the use of quotation marks: (i) The beginning of a passage in dialogue may be indicated either by guillemets or by a dash. In either case, each change of speaker is indicated by a dash and not by guillemets, which, when used, mark only the beginning and end of the complete exchange. Note, too, that there is no formal indication (i.e. neither a dash nor guillemets) that phrases such as dit-il ‘he said’, répondis-je ‘I answered’, do not form part of the quotation. (ii) Passages in direct speech are often broken up, within sentences and even at the end of sentences (including questions), by points de suspension. (iii) Brief quotations incorporated in the text and other items that in English would be enclosed in inverted commas are usually placed between guillemets in French (though single or double inverted commas are sometimes used): These points are illustrated by the following extracts: (a) Elle balbutia. Mais lui, comprenant, s’abandonna à une colère épouvantable. — Quelle honte ! cria-t-il. Vous voilà voleuse, maintenant ! Et qu’arriverait-il, si l’on vous surprenait ? Je serais la fable de la ville. — C’est pour toi, Ovide, murmurait-elle. — Voleuse, ma mère est voleuse ! Vous croyez peut-être que je vole aussi, moi, que je suis venu ici pour voler, que ma seule ambition est d’allonger les mains et de voler ! Mon Dieu ! quelle idée avez-vous donc de moi ? (Zola, La Conquête de Plassans) (b) La réponse vint, catégorique: « Non !


Introduction 5–6

— Alors, qui est-ce ? On ne l’a jamais vu dans le pays ! II ne vient pas d’étrangers ici . . . — Je ne sais pas . . . » Elle s’obstinait, avec une subtilité instinctive de femme. « Le maire t’a toujours détesté . . . C’est vrai que tu as dîné chez lui ce soir ? . . . — C’est vrai . . . » Elle trépigna d’impatience. « Mais alors, dis-moi quelque chose ! Il le faut ! Ou je te jure que je vais croire que . . . » Elle n’allait pas plus loin. (Simenon, Le Port des brumes) (c) Au bout d’un moment, il m’a regardé et il m’a demandé : « Pourquoi ? » mais sans reproche, comme s’il s’informait. J’ai dit : « Je ne sais pas. » Alors, tortillant sa moustache blanche, il a déclaré sans me regarder : « Je comprends. » (Camus, L’Étranger) (d) A la lumière du théâtre afghan, quel doit être le rôle de l’alliance atlantique ? A la conception française s’oppose la vision américaine d’une organisation appelée à devenir une alliance « globale », qui se transforme peu à peu en une « communauté des démocraties ». (Le Monde, 28 November 2006)

Division into syllables


(i) The following rules apply to the written language:

(a) A single consonant between vowels goes with the following syllable, e.g. au-to-mo-bi-le, ra-pi-di-té; note that, for this purpose, the groups ch [ʃ], ph [f], th [t], gn [], which each represent one sound, count as single consonants and are never split, e.g. ma-chi-nal, té-lé-pho-ner, ma-thé-ma-ti-que, si-gner. (b) Except for the groups mentioned under a and c, two consonants occurring together are divided, the first going with the preceding syllable, the second with the following, e.g. ar-gent, por-ter, ap-par-te-ment, al-ti-tu-de, oc-cu-per.

6–7 Division into syllables


(c) Pairs of consonants, of which the second is l or r (except the groups -rl-, -nl-, -nr-) are not divided and go with the following syllable, e.g. pa-trie, li-brai-rie, ou-vrir, pu-blic, rè-gle-ment (but par-ler, Sen-lis, Hen-ri). (d) Where three or more consonants come together, the first two usually go with the preceding syllable, except that the groups referred to in a and c above are not of course divided, e.g. obs-ti-né, pers-pec-ti-ve, promp-ti-tu-de, sculp-teur, ron-fle-ment, ins-truc-tion, con-trai-re. (e) Occasionally, the rules set out in c and d are not observed, a division according to etymology being preferred, e.g. hé-mi-sphère (cf. sphère), con-stant, in-stant (both from a prefix and the root of the Latin verb stare, to stand). (f) Adjacent vowels that fall into separate syllables in pronunciation are also theoretically in separate syllables in the written language, but see ii,c, below. (ii) When words are divided at the end of a line, the division is indicated as in English by a hyphen. Note that: (a) The division should always coincide with a division between syllables, e.g. cha-ritable or chari-table, not char-itable. (b) A syllable consisting only of one or more consonants and -e should never be carried over on its own, so, pu-blique, impos-sible, not publi-que, impossi-ble. (c) Adjacent vowels should never be divided even when theoretically they fall into separate syllables, so che-vrier not chevri-er; this means that, since both po-ète, thé-âtre and (in accordance with b above) poè-te, théâ-tre are unacceptable, words such as these should not be divided. 7 In the spoken language, similar rules apply. In particular: (a) A single consonant between vowels goes with the following syllable, e.g. [a-re-te] arrêter, [te-le-fO-ne] téléphoner, [vi-la] villa. (b) Pairs of consonants are split except those ending in [l] or [r] (but the group [rl] is an exception to the exception), e.g. [par-ti] parti, [ar-me] armée, [ar-ʃi-tek-ty-ral] architectural, [al-ter-ne] alterner, [plas-tik] plastique, [ap-ti-tyd] aptitude, [py-blik] public,


Introduction 7–8

[a-pli-ke] appliquer, [a-gra-ve] aggraver, [a-bri] abri, [pa-tri] patrie, [par-le] parler, [Or-li] Orly. (c) A final consonant that is normally silent is pronounced in certain circumstances before a word beginning with a vowel, and then counts as part of the following syllable, e.g. [le-za-ni-mo] les animaux, [œ˜-le-e-re˜-si-dã] un léger incident, [œ ˜ -na-mi] un ami. This running on of a final consonant is known as liaison.


8 (i) Hyphens must be used when a word is divided at the end of a line, in which case the division must be made at a syllable boundary, e.g. télé-phone, par-tir (see 6,i and ii). (ii) Many compound words are hyphenated, e.g. grand-mère ‘grandmother’, semi-conducteur ‘semiconductor’, sourd-muet ‘deaf and dumb’, ci-dessus ‘above (i.e. earlier in the same piece of writing)’, là-bas ‘over there’. There is, however, considerable inconsistency (compare, for example, au-dessous, par-dessous ‘below’, le porte-monnaie ‘purse’ and vis-à-vis ‘opposite, facing’, with en dessous ‘below’, le portefeuille ‘wallet’ and face à face ‘face to face’) and few rules can be given. (Note, however, that all adverbial expressions in au-, ci-, là- and par- have hyphens.) In case of doubt, consult a dictionary. Note the use of hyphens in names of streets, avenues, squares, bridges, stations, etc., even when the elements in question (e.g. first name or title + surname, name of monarch, etc. + number) are not normally hyphenated: avenue Albert-1er-de-Monaco, avenue Général-Leclerc, avenue du Président-Kennedy, avenue George-V, boulevard Vincent-Auriol, gare St-Lazare, place Charles-de-Gaulle, place de la Reine-Astrid, quai Henri-IV, rue de l’Abbé-Grégoire, rue Paul-Valéry, rue du Professeur-Louis-Renault, pont Alexandre-III, square Charles-Dickens Note too that, in street-names, etc., titles are capitalized, contrary to normal practice (see 4,iii).

8 Hyphens


(iii) Names of French towns, departments, etc., consisting of more than one word are hyphenated, e.g. Aix-en-Provence, Colombeyles-deux-Églises, Hautes-Pyrénées, Saint-Denis, Seine-et-Marne; this does not apply to an initial definite article, e.g. Le Havre, La Fertésous-Jouarre, Les Andelys. Foreign place-names in which a noun is preceded by an adjective are hyphenated, e.g. la Grande-Bretagne ‘Great Britain’, la Nouvelle-Écosse ‘Nova Scotia’, as are le Royaume-Uni ‘the United Kingdom’, les États-Unis ‘the United States’, les Pays-Bas ‘the Netherlands’, but most other names involving a following adjective are not, e.g. l’Arabie saoudite ‘Saudi Arabia’, la Colombie britannique ‘British Columbia’, nor are le pays de Galles ‘Wales’, l’Irlande du Nord ‘Northern Ireland’, l’Afrique du Sud ‘South Africa’, etc. Note also the hyphen in such Christian names as Anne-Marie, Jean-Pierre. (iv) For the use of hyphens with cardinal and ordinal numerals, e.g. dix-sept ‘17’, vingt-deux ‘22’, trente-cinquième ‘35th’, see 178 and 180. Note in particular that hyphens are not used before or after the conjunction et (e.g. vingt et un ‘21’) or with cent ‘100’, mille ‘1000’, or centième ‘100th’, millième ‘1000th’ (e.g. deux cent trentesept ‘237’, deux millième ‘2000th’). (v) For the combination of personal pronouns with -même, e.g. moi-même ‘myself’, see 215. (vi) For -ci, -là with demonstratives, e.g. cette maison-ci ‘this house’, celui-là ‘that one’, see 237 and 238. (vii) A hyphen is used with personal pronouns (including y and en), ce and on following the verb; if there are two such personal pronouns they are also linked to one another by a hyphen except when the first is an elided form (i.e. m’, t’ or l’ for me, te, le or la), e.g.: Regardez-la ! ‘Look at her!’, Donnez-le-moi ‘Give it to me’, Allez-vous-en ! ‘Go away!’, Réfléchissez-y ! ‘Think about it’, Voulez-vous ? ‘Will you?’, Puis-je vous aider ? ‘May I help you?’, Oui, dit-il, ‘ “Yes”, he said’, Est-ce vrai? ‘Is it true?’, Que peut-on dire ? ‘What can one say?’, Donne-m’en trois ‘Give me three of them’, Va-t’en ! ‘Go away!’ If one of the pronouns il, elle or on follows a verb ending in a vowel, a -t- preceded and followed by hyphens is inserted, e.g.


Introduction 8–10

Où va-t-il ? ‘Where is he going?’, Peut-être viendra-t-il demain ‘Perhaps he will come tomorrow’, Oui, ajoute-t-elle ‘ “Yes”, she adds’, Chante-t-elle ? ‘Does she sing?’ A-t-on le temps d’y aller ? ‘Have we time to go there?’

Accents and the cedilla

9 (i) The acute accent (accent aigu) (´) is used only on the letter e, e.g. été ‘summer’. (ii) The grave accent (accent grave) (`) is used: (a) over an e, e.g. très ‘very’, j’achète ‘I buy’ (b) over an a in a very few words, the most frequently occurring being à ‘to, at’ and là ‘there’, which also appears in voilà ‘there is’ and (au) delà (de) ‘beyond’; note that there is no accent on cela ‘that’ and its reduced form ça (not to be confused with the adverb çà, as in çà et là ‘here and there’) (c) over u in the one word où ‘where’. (iii) The circumflex accent (accent circonflexe) (ˆ) is used with all vowels except y, e.g. tâche ‘task’, être ‘to be’, dîner ‘to dine’, côte ‘coast’, sûr ‘sure’. (In some words, the circumflex, which serves no useful purpose, was introduced in the seventeenth century, though the French Academy did not adopt it in its dictionary until 1740, in place of an s that had disappeared from pronunciation several centuries before, e.g. pâte, fête, maître, île, hôte, for earlier paste, feste, maistre, isle, hoste. Some of these words had passed into English where the [s] remains either in pronunciation, in paste, feast, master, host, or, in the word isle, in spelling only.) Accents over capitals are sometimes omitted, in particular with a capital A representing the preposition à (though even here the accent, À, is increasingly found). 10 The letter c with a cedilla (cédille), i.e. ç, occurs only before one or other of the vowels a, o or u, where it indicates that the pronunciation is [s] not [k], e.g. je commençais ‘I was beginning’, nous commençâmes ‘we began’, nous plaçons ‘we place’, j’ai reçu ‘I have received’, nous reçûmes ‘we received’, from the verbs commencer, placer and recevoir respectively.

10–12 Elision


Note that c is always pronounced [s] before e or i and so never takes a cedilla before either of these vowels.



The diaeresis (tréma) (¨) has three principal functions:

(a) It indicates that the second of two adjacent vowels belongs to a separate syllable, e.g. je haïs ‘I hated’, pronounced [ai] (contrast je hais ‘I hate’ [e]), Saül [sayl] (contrast Paul [pOl]), Noël ‘Christmas’ [nOel]. (b) In words such as ambiguïté ‘ambiguity’ it indicates that -guï- is pronounced [gɥi]. (c) Over the -e of such words as the feminine adjectives aiguë ‘acute’, ambiguë ‘ambiguous’, contiguë ‘adjacent’, it indicates that the pronunciation is [gy]. (Otherwise, -gue would be pronounced [g] as in figue [fig] ‘fig’.) It also occurs over an e in a few proper names, the best known being Saint-Saëns [se˜ sɑ˜s] and madame de Staël [stal].


12 Elision in French occurs when the final vowel of a word is dropped before another word beginning with a vowel (this term includes words beginning with mute h – see 3).The fact that a vowel has been elided is indicated by an apostrophe. Note that, with the exception of the words la (see a and b below) and si (see f below), the only vowel that can be elided in French is e. Elision occurs in the following circumstances (for exceptions, see the end of this section): (a) The e of the pronouns je, me, te, se, le, ce and the a of la are elided before a verb beginning with a vowel or mute h and, provided the pronouns precede the verb, before the pronouns y and en, e.g. J’ai ‘I have’, Il m’avait vu ‘He had seen me’, Je t’offre


Introduction 12

ce livre ‘I am offering you this book’, Il s’est levé ‘He stood up’, Elle l’adore ‘She adores him’, Je l’aime ‘I love her’, J’y habite ‘I live there’, Je l’y ai vue ‘I have seen her there’, Je t’en donnerai ‘I’ll give you some’. (Note that the forms -m’en and -t’en can occur after a verb in the imperative, e.g. Donnez-m’en ‘Give me some’, Va-t’en ‘Go away’.) These words are not elided in writing in other circumstances, e.g. Puis-je en prendre ? ‘May I take some?’, Dois-je y aller ? ‘Am I to go there?’, Donnez-le à Henri ‘Give it to Henry’. (b) The vowel of the definite articles le and la is elided before a noun or adjective beginning with a vowel or mute h, e.g. le grand homme ‘the great man’ but l’homme ‘the man’, l’autre homme ‘the other man’, la petite île ‘the small island’ but l’île ‘the island’. (c) The e of de, ne, que and jusque ‘up to, until’ is elided before a vowel or mute h, e.g. Il est parti d’Amiens ‘He has set off from Amiens’, N’ouvrez pas la porte ! ‘Don’t open the door!’, Je crois qu’elle viendra ‘I think she’ll come’, Il chante mieux qu’Henri ‘He sings better than Henry’, jusqu’alors ‘up till then’, jusqu’en 1984 ‘up to 1984’, jusqu’où ? ‘how far?’ (d) The e of the conjunctions lorsque ‘when’, puisque ‘since’, quoique ‘although’, is elided before the pronouns il, elle, ils, elles, on, and the indefinite articles un and une, e.g. lorsqu’un enfant naît ‘when a child is born’, puisqu’on ne peut pas partir ‘since one cannot leave’, quoiqu’elle soit malade ‘although she is ill’, but quoique Alfred soit malade ‘although Alfred is ill’, lorsque arrivera le beau temps ‘when the fine weather arrives’, etc. (e) The e of presque ‘almost’ and quelque ‘some’ is elided only in the words la presqu’île ‘peninsula’, quelqu’un ‘someone’, and the infrequently used quelqu’un de . . . , quelqu’une de . . . ‘one or other of . . .’, e.g. quelqu’une de mes publications ‘one or other of my publications’, but presque impossible ‘almost impossible’, presque à la fin ‘almost at the end’, avec quelque impatience ‘with some impatience’. (f) The i of si ‘if’ is elided only before the pronouns il, ils, e.g. s’il peut, s’ils peuvent ‘if he (they) can’, but si elle peut ‘if she can’, si Ibsen vivait toujours ‘if Ibsen were still living’.

12–13 Medium and register


Note that there is no elision before oui ‘yes’ (e.g. Ce oui m’a surpris ‘That yes surprised me’), or before the numerals huit ‘eight’, onze ‘eleven’, and their ordinais, e.g. le huit janvier ‘the eighth of January’, le onze de France ‘the French eleven (= team)’, la onzième fois ‘the eleventh time’. Note too the lack of elision before un and une meaning ‘number one’, e.g. la porte du un ‘the door of (room) number one’, la une ‘page one, the front page (of a newspaper)’. There is usually no elision (though it is possible) before the names of letters, e.g. le a, le i, en forme de S [dR es] ‘S-shaped’. The e of de is sometimes not elided before the title of a book, periodical, etc., e.g. un numéro spécial de « Arts et Modes » ‘a special number of Arts et Modes’, or before a word that is being quoted, e.g. la première syllabe de « autel » ‘the first syllable of autel’.

Medium and register

13 Any description of a language has to take account of the fact that differences, and sometimes far-reaching differences, exist within any language depending on the circumstances in which it is being used. Leaving aside regional differences, which are beyond the scope of this book, we shall need to draw attention to differences depending on medium and register. ‘Medium’ refers to the fact that language may be either spoken or written. In the case of French, the differences between the two media may be considerable. To take a few simple examples, some forms that are clearly distinguished in writing are invariable in speech, including many masculine and feminine adjectives, e.g. masc. cher, vrai, fem. chère, vraie (see 78, 82), singular and plural nouns and adjectives, e.g. (la) grande maison, (les) grandes maisons (see 97–98, 101–104), and various forms of verbs such as (je) finis, (il) finit (see 359) or (je) donnais, (il) donnait, (ils) donnaient (see 351). A striking syntactical difference between the two media is provided by the preterite tense (otherwise known as the ‘past historic’) (see 405, 408, 410), which has almost disappeared from speech in all but the most formal registers (on this term, see below) but still flourishes in some registers in writing.


Introduction 13

‘Register’ is defined differently by different linguists. A broad definition of the term takes it to include what is sometimes termed the ‘field of discourse’ (e.g. scientific or religious fields), but, more generally, ‘register’ refers specifically to the degree of formality characterizing a given situation. On the basis of this narrower definition, we shall have occasion to refer to a number of important features of grammar where it is essential to take account of the level of formality involved. (Register can also relate to vocabulary, for example bouffer as an informal equivalent of manger ‘to eat’, cf. English ‘to chuck’ as an informal equivalent of ‘to throw’. That, however, is outside the scope of this book.) There is not, of course, an absolute distinction between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ language. We are faced, rather, with a cline ranging from ‘highly formal’ to ‘very informal’ or ‘colloquial’ (see some examples below). It is important for non-native speakers of a language to be aware of differences of register, i.e. of what linguistic forms are appropriate to a given social context. To use inadvertently, i.e. not deliberately for purposes of effect, features belonging to an inappropriate register (e.g. to use very colloquial forms on formal occasions or specifically literary forms in familiar conversation) can give rise to highly incongruous (and possibly shocking or amusing) results. It would, for example, be inappropriate to omit the negative ne when one is making a serious speech (see 556) or, on the other hand, to use the imperfect subjunctive in a familiar conversation (e.g. je (ne) voulais pas que tu le fisses ‘I didn’t want you to do it’, see 496–506). On the other hand, one cannot imagine that, in addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2006, the French President, Jacques Chirac, would have said Y a pas de fatalité . . . instead of Il n’y a pas de fatalité à cette situation ‘There is nothing inevitable about this situation’. ‘High register’ and ‘low register’ cannot be totally equated with writing and speech respectively. In other words, the topics of medium and register overlap; one can encounter both ‘high register’ and ‘low register’ in either writing or speech. For example, one would normally adopt a more formal style, i.e. use a higher register, not only in writing a report or an article or an application for a job, but also in, say, a letter of condolence or complaint, than one would in letters to close friends or relations. On the other hand, one would normally find a much higher register being used in speeches, lectures or sermons than in everyday conversation and,

13 Medium and register


in conversation, one would probably use a more informal register when chatting with close friends or relatives than when speaking to strangers. For comment on some of the more salient register features of French grammar, see, for example, 556 (on the omission of ne), 583–595 (on questions), 602 (on dislocation and fronting).

The Noun Phrase



A noun phrase always includes either

(a) a noun (e.g. book, truth, elephants), which may be accompanied by a determiner (see 23) and/or an adjective or adjectives, and/or an adjectival phrase (e.g. ‘a coffee cup’, ‘une tasse à café’) or adjectival clause (e.g. ‘the man who came to dinner’), or (b) a pronoun (e.g. I, him, these, mine, someone, nothing, themselves, who?), some of which may (like nouns, but much less frequently) be accompanied by adjectival expressions, or (c) a noun-clause, i.e. a clause fulfilling similar functions to a noun (e.g. ‘I believe what he says’ = more or less ‘I believe his statement’, ‘that he is angry distresses me’ = more or less ‘his anger (or the fact of his anger) distresses me’). The functions of a noun phrase in a sentence, as far as English and French (but not necessarily other languages) are concerned, can be classified as follows (15 –22). The noun phrase may be:

15–17 The functions of the noun phrase 15


(i) The subject, e.g.: The boy is reading a book My friends work well When his brother was killed Where are the books? These will never please him If she speaks French It is raining Have you finished?

which in French would be: Le garçon lit un livre Mes amis travaillent bien Quand son frère fut tué Où sont les livres ? Ceux-ci ne lui plairont jamais Si elle parle français Il pleut Avez-vous fini ? (In Latin, the subject was expressed by a form known as the nominative case, and the term is retained in some grammars with reference to English or French.) 16 (ii) The complement of the subject, after the verb ‘to be’ or another linking verb (see 518), e.g.: He is a doctor It’s me! He became a soldier 17

Il est médecin C’est moi ! Il est devenu soldat

(iii) The direct object, e.g.: The boy is reading a book Do you know them?

Le garçon lit un livre Les connaissez-vous ?

(In Latin, the direct object was expressed by the accusative case. Since both English and French have a distinct form of the personal pronouns (though not of nouns) to indicate the direct object – ‘I see him, je le vois, he sees me, il me voit’ – the use of the term ‘accusative case’ as it occurs in many grammars of English or French is defensible.) Note that verbs that have a direct object are known as transitive


The noun phrase 17–20

verbs while those that do not have a direct object are known as intransitive verbs. 18

(iv) The indirect object, e.g.: I am sending my brother a book (= ‘to my brother’) He will give you it (= ‘to you’)

or, in French: J’envoie un livre à mon frère Il vous le donnera Note that, except with personal pronouns, the indirect object in French always requires the preposition à ‘to’ (or occasionally pour ‘for’) (see 21). (In Latin, the indirect object was expressed by the dative case. Since, in the case of the third person pronouns, French has distinct forms for the direct object (le, la, les ‘him, her, them’) and the indirect object (lui,‘[to] him’,‘[to] her’, leur ‘[to] them’) (see 198), the use of the term ‘dative case’ is defensible with reference to French.) 19

(v) The genitive, e.g.: the lady’s book (= ‘the book of the lady’) my brother’s children (= ‘the children of my brother’)

Note that in French, there is no genitive – the construction with de ‘of ’ must be used (see 22) – so the equivalents of the above phrases are: le livre de la dame les enfants de mon frère (Latin also had a genitive case. Our reason for retaining this term is that English nouns do have a special genitive form, viz. a form ending in ‘apostrophe s’ (boy’s) or in an apostrophe alone (boys’) (see 22).) 20

(vi) The complement of a preposition, e.g. with his friends under the table without me

avec ses amis sous la table sans moi

21–22 The functions of the noun phrase


The indirect object 21 English in certain circumstances expresses the indirect object (i.e. the person or – occasionally – thing to whom or for whom something is given, sent, lent, shown, told, bought, etc.) merely by using the appropriate noun or pronoun without any preposition, e.g.: (a) He gave John a present = He gave a present to John (b) How many letters have you sent your brother = to your brother? (c) He won’t lend anyone his video-recorder = He won’t lend his video-recorder to anyone (d) You’ll have to show someone your passport = You’ll have to show your passport to someone (e) He has bought his wife a car = He has bought a car for his wife. This is not possible in French – the indirect object is always (except for personal pronouns, see 198) indicated by the preposition à ‘to’ (or, with some verbs, pour ‘for’). So the equivalents of the above sentences are: (a) Il donna un cadeau à Jean (b) Combien de lettres avez-vous envoyées à votre frère ? (c) Il ne veut prêter son magnétoscope à personne (d) Il vous faudra montrer votre passeport à quelqu’un (e) Il a acheté une voiture pour sa femme

The possessive relationship 22 English often expresses a possessive relationship between two nouns by means of the ‘genitive case’ (see 19), i.e. by a form of the noun ending in ‘apostrophe s’ (the boy’s book = ‘the book of the boy’, the children’s toys, Thomas’s business) or, in the case of some nouns (mainly plurals but also some personal names) ending in -s, by the apostrophe alone (the boys’ books = ‘the


The noun phrase 22–23

books of the boys’, Euripides’ plays = ‘the plays of Euripides’). French has no such construction and expresses the possessive relationship by means of the preposition de ‘of ’, e.g.: le père de Jean la maison de mon ami le livre du garçon les jouets des enfants le sommet de la colline

John’s father = ‘the father of John’ my friend’s house = ‘the house of my friend’ the boy’s book the children’s toys the top of the hill

(For du = de + le and des = de + les, see 25,b.) Similarly when the possessor is a pronoun: la maison de quelqu’un que je connais the house of someone I know Je n’aime pas cette robe, je préfère la couleur de la mienne I don’t like this dress, I prefer the colour of mine Moi, je préfère la couleur de celle-ci (de celles-ci) I prefer the colour of this one (of these) Note that English phrases in which a pronoun relating to the object possessed is omitted must be rendered in French by the construction celui de . . . , ceux de, etc. ‘the one(s) of’ (see section 245), e.g.: Ce jardin est plus grand que celui de Jean This garden is bigger than John’s nos enfants et ceux de mon frère our children and my brother’s


23 French has a variety of forms that serve to introduce the noun, and which, in most cases, also indicate the gender and number of the noun. These are known as determiners. They are: (i) the definite, indefinite and partitive articles (24 –46), e.g. le livre ‘the book’, une belle maison ‘a beautiful house’, du pain

23–24 Articles


‘(some) bread’, les enfants ‘the children’, des enfants ‘(some) children’ (ii) the so-called ‘possessive adjectives’ (222–230), e.g. mon chapeau ‘my hat’, leurs crayons ‘their pencils’ (iii) the so-called ‘demonstrative adjectives’ (234–237), e.g. cette maison ‘this/that house’, ces disques ‘these/those records’ (iv) the relative determiner, lequel (as in laquelle somme) (270) (v) the interrogative determiner, quel ? ‘which?’ (279) (vi) the negative determiners, aucun (546) and nul (547) (vii) various indefinites and quantifiers, viz. certains (294), chaque (295), différents and divers (297), maint (324,viii), plusieurs (331), quelque(s) (306), and tout (317) (viii) the cardinal numerals (178).

Articles Introduction 24 Whereas English (like many other languages) has only two articles, viz. the definite article the and the indefinite article a, an, French has three, viz. the definite, the indefinite and the partitive articles. The forms of the partitive article are identical with the construction ‘de + definite article’ (see 25,b,c). In none of the articles is there a distinction between masculine and feminine in the plural. The basic forms are:

Definite article Indefinite article Partitive article

masc. sing.

fem. sing.


le un du

la une de la

les des des

Notes: (a) for l’ and de l’, see 25 and 3 (b) views differ as to whether (i) the indefinite article has no


The noun phrase 24–25 plural, or (ii) the partitive article has no plural, or (iii) the plural form des is both an indefinite and a partitive; in practice, it makes no difference which view we adopt; purely for convenience, we shall deal with it under the heading of the partitive.

Definite article 25

The definite article is: masc. sing. le

fem. sing. la

le livre, les livres la porte, les portes

plur. les the book, the books the door, the doors

Before a vowel or ‘mute h’ (see 3), le and la become l’, e.g.: l’arbre (m.), l’homme (m.) l’autre maison (f.), l’heure (f.)

the tree, the man the other house, the hour

Note, however, that an aspirate h (see 3,ii), though not pronounced, counts as a consonant and so is preceded by the full form of the article, i.e. le or la, e.g.: le hibou, owl

la honte, shame

Note too that: (a) the preposition à combines with the articles le and les to give au and aux respectively, e.g.: au père, au hasard aux professeurs, aux enfants

to the father, at random to the teachers, to the children

(b) the preposition de combines with the articles le and les to give du and des respectively, e.g.: le prix du billet Il vient du port la fin des vacances

the price of the ticket He’s coming from the harbour the end of the holidays

25–27 Articles


(c) à and de do not combine with la and l’, e.g.: à la maison, à l’enfant au sommet de la colline à la fin de l’hiver

at the house, to the child at the top of the hill at the end of (the) winter

Position of the definite article 26 As in English, the definite article usually comes at the beginning of a noun phrase, e.g. le virage dangereux ‘the dangerous bend’, la petite maison ‘the little house’. However, it follows tout ‘all, the whole’ (see 317), e.g.: tout le comité toute la journée tous les enfants

the whole committee all day (long), the whole day all the children

Article in English but not in French 27 Generally speaking, if a definite article is used in English there is likely to be one in the corresponding French construction also. There are, however, some exceptions to this. In particular: (a) The article is regularly omitted in appositions such as the following, in which the apposition provides additional information about the head noun: Alain-Fournier, auteur du « Grand Meaulnes » Alain-Fournier, the author of Le Grand Meaulnes Tolède, ancienne capitale de l’Espagne Toledo, the former capital of Spain If the article is used (Alain-Fournier, l’auteur du « Grand Meaulnes »; Tolède, l’ancienne capitale de l’Espagne), this serves to give greater prominence to the word or phrase in apposition. (b) When read out in full, titles such as François Ier, Élisabeth II, Pie XII become François premier, Élisabeth deux, Pie douze (contrast ‘Francis the First’, ‘Elizabeth the Second’, ‘Pius the Twelfth’).


The noun phrase 28

Article required in French but not in English 28 (i) French uses the definite article with various categories of nouns used in a generic sense, including: (a) abstract nouns, e.g.: La beauté n’est pas tout Aimez-vous la musique ? Elle s’intéresse à l’art moderne

Beauty isn’t everything Do you like music? She’s interested in modern art

(b) names of languages, e.g.: Il apprend l’anglais Comprenez-vous le russe ? Le danois ressemble beaucoup au suédois

He is learning English Do you understand Russian? Danish is very like Swedish

But the article is not usually used with the verb parler, e.g. Parlezvous français ? ‘Do you speak French?’, Il parle très bien anglais ‘He speaks English very well’ (though the article also occurs, e.g. Il parle l’allemand sans accent ‘He speaks German without an accent’), and never after en, e.g. en français ‘in French’, en japonais ‘in Japanese’. (c) nouns denoting substances, e.g.: L’or est un métal précieux J’aime mieux le vin que la bière

Gold is a precious metal I prefer wine to beer

(d) plural nouns referring to a class, e.g.: Les insectes ont six pattes Les magnétoscopes coûtent cher

Insects have six legs Video-recorders are expensive

Note, however, that in literary French the article is sometimes omitted in enumerations such as Vieillards, hommes, femmes, enfants, tous voulaient me voir (Montesquieu) ‘Old people, men, women, children, they all wanted to see me’, or when two nouns linked by et complement one another, e.g. Patrons et ouvriers sont d’accord ‘Bosses and workers are in agreement’. (ii) The article is used with words meaning ‘last’ or ‘next’ in expressions of time, e.g.:

28–29 Articles le mois (l’an) dernier le mois (l’an) passé la semaine prochaine



last month (year) next week

and with the names of religious festivals, fasts, etc., such as la SaintMichel ‘Michaelmas (Day)’, la Saint-Jean ‘St John’s Day, Midsummer Day’, la Toussaint ‘All Saints’ Day’ (in these examples the article is la because the full form is la fête de saint-Michel, etc.), la Pentecôte ‘Whitsun’, le Carême ‘Lent’, la Pâque ‘Passover’, le Ramadan ‘Ramadan’, etc. Note, however, that Pâques ‘Easter’ has no article (see also 72) and that the article is optional with Noël ‘Christmas’ (à Noël, à la Noël ‘at Christmas’). (iii) Most titles followed by a proper name require the article, e.g.: le président Kennedy ‘President Kennedy’, la reine Élisabeth ‘Queen Elizabeth’, le pape Léon XIII ‘Pope Leo XIII’, le capitaine Dreyfus ‘Captain Dreyfus’, le général de Gaulle ‘General de Gaulle’, le docteur Martin ‘Dr Martin’, le professeur Fouché ‘Professor Fouché’, la mère Thérèse ‘Mother Teresa’.This does not apply to the titles saint(e) (e.g. saint Paul, sainte Geneviève), Maître (used with reference to certain members of the legal profession, e.g. Maître Dupont – note the capital M-), or the English title lord (no capital, e.g. lord Salisbury). (iv) The definite article is sometimes used with an exclamatory value, similar to that of quel ‘what (a)’ (see 36, 279), e.g. Oh ! la belle fleur ! ‘Oh! what a beautiful flower!’ (v) The definite article is sometimes used when hailing or addressing people, as in La Fontaine’s Passez votre chemin, la fille ‘Continue on your way, girl’, or in the Communist anthem, L’Internationale (E. Pottier): Debout ! les damnés de la terre ! Debout ! les forçats de la faim ! the equivalent of which in the English translation is ‘Arise, ye starvelings from your slumbers! Arise, ye criminals of want!’ 29 (i) French uses the definite article where English uses the indefinite article: (a) To express measures of quantity in relation to price, e.g. quinze euros le mètre ‘fifteen euros a metre’, deux euros le kilo/la douzaine ‘two euros a kilo/dozen’. (b) After the verb avoir with nouns referring to parts of the body


The noun phrase 29–30

or mental faculties and followed by an adjective, e.g. Il a le nez pointu ‘He has a pointed nose’, Il avait les lèvres gonflées ‘He had swollen lips (His lips were swollen)’, Elle a la mémoire fidèle ‘She has a retentive memory’. But the indefinite article may also be used with reference to permanent or lasting features, e.g. Il a un nez pointu et des yeux bleus ‘He has a pointed nose and blue eyes’, and must be used if the adjective precedes the noun, e.g. Il a un grand nez ‘He has a big nose’, Elle avait une très jolie voix et une excellente mémoire ‘She had a very pretty voice and an excellent memory’. (ii) In contexts in which articles of clothing or other items normally carried on one’s person are mentioned as part of the circumstances accompanying the action, the definite article is frequently used in French where English uses either ‘with’ and a possessive determiner, e.g.: Il est entré dans la cuisine le chapeau sur la tête et la pipe à la bouche He came into the kitchen with his hat on his head and his pipe in his mouth or no determiner at all, e.g.: Il courait le long de la rue la serviette à la main He was running along the street briefcase in hand For the use of the definite article in French where English uses the possessive determiner with reference to parts of the body, see 228–229. 30 The article is repeated with each of a series of nouns regarded as separate entities, e.g.: J’ai mis le beurre et le fromage dans le frigo I’ve put the butter and cheese in the fridge Les Belges, les Hollandais et les Allemands s’y opposent The Belgians, Dutch and Germans are opposed to it but not when they are regarded as forming a single entity, e.g. les ministres et secrétaires d’état ‘the ministers and junior ministers’.

31–32 Articles


Geographical names 31 The definite article is used with most names of continents, countries, regions and rivers, e.g.: (a) (masculine) le Brésil ‘Brazil’, le Portugal, l’Anjou, le Périgord, le Transvaal, le Valais, le Yorkshire, le Danube, le Nil ‘Nile’, le Rhône (b) (feminine) l’Afrique ‘Africa’, l’Europe, l’Égypte, la France, la Grande-Bretagne ‘Great Britain’, l’Andalousie ‘Andalusia’, la Bavière ‘Bavaria’, la Bohême ‘Bohemia’, la Moldavie ‘Moldavia’, la Normandie ‘Normandy’, la Sibérie ‘Siberia’, la Toscane ‘Tuscany’, la Seine, la Tamise ‘Thames’ But it is not used: (a) after the preposition en – see 656,ii,1 (b) with Israël (which was originally a personal name, that of the patriarch Jacob) (c) with the names of the following islands (see 33) that are also countries: Chypre ‘Cyprus’, Cuba, Malte ‘Malta’ (all feminine). 32 There is some fluctuation in the use of the definite article with names of countries and regions after the preposition de ‘of, from’, but in general the following indications apply: (a) with masculine singular names, the article is used, e.g.: Il revient du Portugal la reine du Danemark l’histoire du Japon l’ambassade du Brésil les vins du Languedoc

He’s coming back from Portugal the Queen of Denmark the history of Japan the Brazilian Embassy Languedoc wines

(b) with feminine singular names, the article is not used when de means ‘from’ e.g.: Il revient de Grande-Bretagne Il arrive d’Espagne

He’s coming back from Britain He’s arriving from Spain

and after certain nouns such as roi ‘king’, reine ‘queen’, ambassade ‘embassy’, histoire ‘history’, vin ‘wine’, e.g.:


The noun phrase 32–33 le roi d’Angleterre l’histoire de France les vins d’Italie l’ambassade de Suède

the King of England the history of France Italian wines the Swedish Embassy

But, on the other hand, note for example l’histoire littéraire de la France ‘the literary history of France’, la géographie de la France ‘the geography of France’, le président de l’Italie ‘the President of Italy’, le nord de la France ‘the north of France’, la politique agricole de la Grande-Bretagne ‘Britain’s agricultural policy’. The distinction seems to be that expressions like le roi de . . . , les vins de . . . , etc., in most cases go back to a period when the article was not normally used with names of countries (‘France’ was just France, not la France), while those that involve the use of the article are usually of more recent coinage. (c) with plural names, masculine or feminine, the article is used (as it is in English), e.g.: l’ambassade des États-Unis l’histoire des Pays-Bas Il arrive des Philippines

the United States Embassy the history of the Netherlands He’s arriving from the Philippines

33 As a rule the definite article is not used with the names of towns and islands, e.g. Londres ‘London’, New-York, Paris, Aurigny ‘Alderney’, Bornéo, Corfou ‘Corfu’, Guernesey ‘Guernsey’, Java, Jersey, Madagascar, Madère ‘Madeira’, Majorque ‘Majorca’, Sercq ‘Sark’, Taïwan. The principal exceptions to this rule are: (a) a considerable number of towns in France, e.g. Les Andelys, La Baule, Le Creusot, Le Havre, L’Isle-Adam, Le Mans, Le Puy, La Rochelle (b) a few foreign towns, e.g. Le Caire ‘Cairo’, La Havane ‘Havana’, La Haye ‘the Hague’, La Mecque ‘Mecca’, La Nouvelle-Orléans ‘New Orleans’ (c) certain islands, some of which are also countries, e.g. la Barbade ‘Barbados’, la Grande-Bretagne ‘Great Britain’, la Grenade ‘Grenada’, l’Irlande ‘Ireland’, l’Islande ‘Iceland’, la Jamaïque ‘Jamaica’, la Nouvelle-Zélande ‘New Zealand’, la Trinité ‘Trinidad’, and some of which are not, e.g.: la Corse ‘Corsica’,

33–36 Articles


la Crète, la Guadaloupe, la Martinique, la Réunion, la Sardaigne ‘Sardinia’, la Sicile ‘Sicily’. 34 There is a certain amount of inconsistency in the use of de + definite article on the one hand and of de alone on the other, e.g.: le vent du nord, le vent du sud l’armée de l’air le mal de la route, le mal de l’air l’office du tourisme

the north wind, the south wind the Air Force carsickness, airsickness tourist office (in some towns)

but, on the other hand: le vent d’est, le vent d’ouest l’armée de terre, l’armée de mer le mal de mer l’office de tourisme

the east wind, the west wind the Army, the Navy seasickness tourist office (in other towns)

In general, however, if the prepositional phrase functions more or less as an adjectival phrase, de alone is likely to be used, e.g. un vaisseau de guerre ‘a warship’ (cf. un vaisseau marchand ‘a merchant ship’) but le ministère de la Guerre (= ‘the War Office’). For similar inconsistencies in relation to place-names, see 32.

Indefinite article 35

The forms of the indefinite article in the singular are: masc. un

fem. une

Its use corresponds broadly to that of the English indefinite article, ‘a, an’; see 36 to 39 for exceptions. On the form des as the plural of the indefinite article, see 24, note b, and 40. 36

The indefinite article is not used in French:

(i) In apposition, e.g. Son père, boucher de son état, est mort en 1950 ‘His father, a butcher by trade, died in 1950’.


The noun phrase 36

(ii) After être ‘to be’, devenir ‘to become’, paraître ‘to appear’, sembler ‘to seem’, and verbs such as faire ‘to make’, nommer ‘to appoint’, élire ‘to elect’, croire ‘to believe’


when the noun that follows denotes nationality, profession, rank, family status or some other long-term situation in life,

e.g. Le père était avocat. Son fils est devenu général pendant la guerre. Plus tard, il a été élu sénateur, et finalement de Gaulle l’a nommé ministre ‘The father was a barrister. His son became a general during the war. Later, he was elected a senator, and finally de Gaulle appointed him a minister’. Elle est Française Je vous croyais citoyen américain Il est grand-père

She is a Frenchwoman I thought you were an American citizen He is a grandfather

But the article is inserted if the noun is qualified, e.g. Son père était un avocat distingué ‘His father was a distinguished barrister’. (iii) After quel (m.), quelle (f.) ‘what a . . . !’, e.g. Quel homme intelligent ! ‘What an intelligent man!’, Quelle famille ! ‘What a family!’. (iv) When the direct object of a verb in the negative is introduced by pas de (or, but much less usually, point de) (see 568), e.g.: Je n’ai pas de crayon Il n’a pas acheté de voiture

I haven’t got a pencil He didn’t buy a car

(v) When the subject of the verb is preceded by jamais ‘never’, e.g. Jamais enfant n’a été plus charmant ‘Never was a child more charming’. (vi) In a number of miscellaneous expressions where the English equivalent has an indefinite article, e.g.: nombre de C’est chose facile C’est mauvais signe porter plainte contre à grande/faible allure en lieu sûr

a number of That’s an easy thing (easily done) That’s a bad sign to lodge a complaint against at a great/slow speed in a safe place

37–39 Articles


37 French uses par where English uses the indefinite article in a distributive sense in such contexts as the following: trois fois par semaine gagner trois mille euros par mois dix euros par personne

three times a week to earn three thousand euros a month ten euros a head (per person)

Le son . . . se propage à une vitesse de 340 mètres par seconde (Petit Larousse) Sound travels at 340 metres a second Note, however, the constructions une fois tous les trois mois ‘once every three months’, rouler à cent kilomètres à l’heure ‘to travel at a hundred kilometres an hour’. 38 French makes considerable use of adverbial expressions of the type preposition + noun, e.g. par hasard ‘by chance’, en hâte ‘speedily’, avec soin ‘with care, carefully’, avec patience ‘with patience, patiently’, sans difficulté ‘without difficulty’, sans enthousiasme ‘without enthusiasm, unenthusiastically’. In appropriate contexts, the noun may be modified by the adjective grand, e.g. en grande hâte, avec grand soin, sans grande difficulté. Nouns introduced by sans are also sometimes modified by other adjectives, e.g. sans raison valable ‘without good reason’, sans difficulté excessive ‘without inordinate difficulty’. Otherwise, if the noun is modified by an adjective, the indefinite article is introduced, e.g. par un hasard malheureux ‘by an unfortunate chance’, avec un soin particulier ‘with special care’, avec une patience admirable ‘with admirable patience’. 39 The indefinite article is repeated with each of two nouns linked by et ‘and’ or ou ‘or’, e.g.: Il a cassé une tasse et une soucoupe He broke a cup and saucer Je sais qu’il a un fils ou une fille I know he has a son or daughter Likewise with a series of three or more nouns: Vous trouverez sur la table un stylo, un crayon et une règle You’ll find a pen, pencil and ruler on the table


The noun phrase 40–42

Partitive article 40

The forms of the partitive article are: masc. sing. du, de l’

fem. sing. de la, de l’

plural des

The form de l’ is used instead of du or de la before a vowel or a mute h (cf. 25, notes b and c), e.g. du pain ‘bread’, de la viande ‘meat’, but de l’or (m.) ‘gold’, de l’eau (f.) ‘water’. The form des can also be considered as the plural of the indefinite article (see 24, note b). 41 English has no partitive article and no plural of the indefinite article, and nouns taking either of these forms in French often stand alone in English, e.g.: Il boit de la bière Elle a des cousins au Canada

He’s drinking beer She has cousins in Canada

Not infrequently, however, English uses ‘some’ or ‘any’ where French has a partitive article, e.g.: Il y a du pain sur la table Il a acheté des biscuits Voulez-vous du vin ? S’il y a de l’eau chaude, je vais prendre un bain

There’s (some) bread on the table He bought (some) biscuits Do you want (some/any) wine? If there’s any hot water, I’ll have a bath

42 The distinction between these and the definite article (which can also be used when English has no article, see 28) is that the definite article indicates that the noun is being used in a general sense whereas the partitive article refers to only a part of the whole (and, likewise, the plural indefinite article indicates ‘some’ as opposed to ‘all’ members of a class), e.g.: J’aime le café J’aimerais du café Je bois du café Les moutons ont quatre pattes

I like coffee (in general) I’d like (some) coffee I’m drinking coffee Sheep have four legs

42–45 Articles Il y a des moutons dans le champ


There are (some) sheep in the field

43 After (ne . . . ) pas or point ‘not’, guère ‘scarcely, hardly’, jamais ‘never’, plus ‘no longer, no more’, the partitive article is normally replaced by de alone (see 568 – but see also 569 –570), e.g.: Je ne veux pas de fromage Je n’ai pas acheté de pain Ils n’ont guère d’argent Vous ne buvez jamais de bière ? Nous ne mangeons plus d’œufs

I don’t want (any) cheese I haven’t bought any bread They have hardly any money Don’t you ever drink beer? We don’t eat eggs any more

Note that this does not apply to ne . . . que ‘only’ which is not negative but restrictive in sense, e.g.: Il n’achète que du vin Nous n’avons que des cerises

He only buys wine We only have cherries

44 The plural partitive (or indefinite) article des is replaced by de when an adjective precedes the noun, e.g.: Il nous a dit d’affreux mensonges He told us (some) dreadful lies Vous avez de belles fleurs dans votre jardin You have (some) beautiful flowers in your garden This does not apply when adjective and noun are virtually combined, expressing one idea, e.g. des jeunes gens ‘youths, young men’, des petits pains ‘rolls’, des petits pois ‘peas’. The rule is often ignored elsewhere, especially in speech, e.g. des vieilles chansons ‘old songs’, des petits yeux ‘small eyes’. A similar rule used to apply in the singular (de bon vin ‘good wine’, de belle musique ‘beautiful music’), but nowadays it has virtually ceased to apply, in writing as well as in speech, e.g. du bon vin, de la belle musique. 45 The partitive article is not used after de, in the following circumstances in particular: (a) after expressions of quantity such as:


The noun phrase 45 assez, enough autant, as much, as many beaucoup, much, many, a lot of combien ? how much? how many? moins, less peu, little, few un peu, a little plus, more tant, as much, so much, as many, so many trop, too much, too many

e.g. assez de pain ‘enough bread’, J’ai autant de problèmes que vous ‘I have as many problems as you (have)’, beaucoup de difficulté ‘much (a lot of) difficulty’, beaucoup de gens ‘many (a lot of) people’, combien de fois ? ‘how many times?’, peu de difficulté ‘little difficulty’, un peu de difficulté ‘a little (= some) difficulty’, trop de temps ‘too much time’. Similarly after nouns expressing quantity, e.g.: une bouteille de vin un kilo de viande l’absence de témoins son manque d’intelligence un certain nombre de personnes une tranche de jambon

a bottle of wine a kilo of meat the absence of witnesses his lack of intelligence a certain number of people a slice of ham

(b) when de means ‘with’ or ‘by’ after one of the verbs listed in 526 (which see for further examples), e.g.: Nous étions entourés d’ennemis Il me comble d’amitié couronné de succès couvert de boue rempli de sable (c) after certain adjectives, e.g.: Le verre est plein d’eau The glass is full of water

We were surrounded by enemies He overwhelms me with friendship crowned with success covered with mud filled with sand

45–46 Articles


La place était vide de passants The square was empty of passers-by dépourvu d’intelligence devoid of intelligence But if de is followed by a definite article, then it combines with it in the normal way (see 25,b), e.g.: La boîte est pleine du sable que j’ai rapporté de la plage The box is full of the sand that I brought back from the beach Beaucoup des timbres qu’il a achetés sont sans valeur Many of the stamps he bought are worthless In these examples, pleine du sable = pleine de ‘full of’ + le sable ‘the sand’ (so not ‘full of sand’), and beaucoup des timbres = beaucoup de ‘many of’ + les timbres ‘the stamps’ (so not ‘many stamps’). 46 The partitive article can, however, be used after prepositions other than de, e.g.: Il m’a écrit sur du papier à en-tête He wrote to me on headed paper On le fait avec de la farine You make it with flour Il l’a pris pour de l’or He thought it was gold (lit. He took it for gold) Il réfléchit à des problèmes graves He is thinking about some serious problems Nous allons passer par des chemins dangereux We are going to travel by dangerous roads Note, however, the existence of numerous expressions of the type preposition + noun, including: (a) à indicating either purpose, e.g. une cuiller à café ‘a coffee spoon’, un verre à vin ‘a wineglass’, or a characteristic feature, e.g. un verre à pied ‘a stemmed glass’, une bête à fourrure ‘an animal with fur’, une chemise à rayures vertes ‘a shirt with green stripes’ (b) avec with an abstract noun forming an adverbial expression,


The noun phrase 46–47

e.g. avec difficulté ‘with difficulty’, avec patience ‘with patience, patiently’ (but avec du sucre ‘with sugar’, etc.) (c) en, especially with abstract nouns, e.g. être en colère ‘to be angry’, en guerre ‘at war’, en réparation ‘under repair’, en théorie ‘in theory’, or to indicate the substance that something is made of, e.g. une cuiller en bois ‘a wooden spoon’, une jupe en laine ‘a woollen skirt’, une statue en bronze ‘a bronze statue’ (d) sans, e.g. sans arrêt ‘ceaselessly’, sans difficulté ‘without difficulty’, sans délai ‘without delay’, une robe sans manches ‘a sleeveless dress’, sans sucre ‘without sugar’ (e) a number of fixed expressions involving other prepositions, e.g. par pitié ‘through pity’, sous verre ‘under glass’, fait sur commande ‘made to order’.

Gender Introduction 47 Although the two grammatical genders of French are referred to by the terms ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, in the case of most (though not all) words these terms are utterly meaningless and, were it not for the fact that they are so well established, we might do better to abandon them altogether and use some such terms as ‘class A’ and ‘class B’. It is impossible to give simple – or, indeed, complicated – rules that will enable learners to determine the gender of each and every noun they come across. However, it is possible to draw up certain categories of words that are likely to be of one gender rather than the other. In particular: (1) Words standing for male or female human beings are likely to be masculine or feminine respectively – but not necessarily so (see 48). (For animals, see 49.) (2) Words falling into certain other categories depending on their meaning are likely to be of one gender rather than the other even though, in this case, sex is not a relevant factor (see 50 –52). (3) Words with certain endings are likely to be of one gender rather than the other (see 53 –55); in most cases, not only sex (as in 1 above) but meaning in general (as in 2 above) is irrelevant. (4) Special rules apply to compound nouns (see 57– 63).

48 Gender


Gender according to meaning Gender and sex 48 (i) Humans (a) Generally speaking, nouns referring to male humans are masculine and nouns referring to female humans are feminine, e.g.: masc. un avocat, barrister le boucher, butcher un étudiant, (male) student le musicien, musician le père, father le prêtre, priest le romancier, novelist le voyageur, traveller

fem. la cantatrice, (opera) singer la couturière, seamstress une étudiante, (female) student une ouvreuse, usherette la princesse, princess la reine, queen la tante, aunt la veuve, widow

(b) Some nouns, however, are masculine even when they refer to females, in particular: un architecte un auteur, author(ess) le brise-fer destructive child le brise-tout le contralto le docteur, doctor un écrivain, writer le médecin, doctor le ministre, (government) minister le peintre, painter le professeur, teacher, professor le sculpteur, sculptor, sculptress le témoin, witness


Many of these may be preceded by femme when it is wished to specify that the individual concerned is a woman, e.g. une femme auteur, une femme médecin, une femme sculpteur. La doctoresse also exists as the feminine of docteur. Soprano is usually masculine but occasionally feminine.


The noun phrase 48–49

Un ange ‘angel’, even when referring to a woman or a girl (or a heavenly being in female form), is always masculine. (c) Some nouns are always feminine, even when they refer to males, e.g.: la brute la connaissance, acquaintance la dupe la personne, person la recrue, recruit la sentinelle, sentry la vedette, (film-)star, etc. la victime, victim (d) Some nouns take either gender, depending on the sex of the person concerned, e.g.: un or une aide, assistant le or la camarade, friend le or la collègue, colleague le or la concierge, caretaker un or une élève, pupil un or une enfant, child un or une hypocrite le or la locataire, tenant le or la propriétaire, owner le or la secrétaire, secretary and all words ending in -iste referring to humans: le or la socialiste

le or la touriste

49 (ii) Animals (including birds, fish and insects) The relation between gender and sex is far less close in the case of animals than it is in the case of humans. Note the following categories: (a) Many nouns referring to animals have only a masculine form, used for both males and females, e.g.: le blaireau, badger le chacal, jackal le crapaud, toad le crave, chough

le cygne, swan un écureuil, squirrel un éléphant le gorille, gorilla

49 Gender le hérisson, hedgehog un hippopotame hippopotamus le jaguar le léopard le moineau, sparrow


le papillon, butterfly le rat le renne, reindeer le rhinocéros le saumon, salmon

If it is necessary to specify that the animal is female, one can say un léopard femelle ‘leopardess’, un éléphant femelle, etc. Many nouns referring to the young of animals are of this type, e.g.: l’éléphanteau, elephant calf le levraut, leveret le lionceau, lion-cub le louveteau, wolf-cub

un ourson, bear-cub le poulain, foal le renardeau, fox-cub le veau, calf

(b) Many nouns that are normally used in the masculine as generic terms, i.e. with reference both to males and females, do however have a feminine equivalent for use when one wishes to specify that a particular animal is female. In some cases, the two words are related, e.g.: un agneau, une agnelle, lamb un âne, une ânesse, donkey le canard, la cane, duck le chameau, la chamelle, camel le chien, la chienne, dog, bitch le lapin, la lapine, rabbit, doe le lion, la lionne, lion(ess) le loup, la louve, wolf un ours, une ourse, bear le renard, la renarde, fox, vixen le tigre, la tigresse, tiger, tigress In other cases, quite different words are used, e.g.: le cerf, la biche, stag (or deer), doe le lièvre, la hase, hare, doe le singe, la guenon, monkey (c) With reference to some animals, there is a generic word (which in every case is masculine) referring to individuals of either sex, but also special words for specifying male and female respectively:


The noun phrase 49–50 le chat, cat le cheval, horse le mouton, sheep le porc, le cochon, pig

le matou, tomcat un étalon, stallion le bélier, ram le verrat, boar

la chatte, female cat la jument, mare la brebis, ewe la truie, sow

Note that, corresponding to le taureau ‘bull’, la vache ‘cow’, there is no generic term in the singular, though the collective noun le bétail, and the plural les bestiaux, both meaning ‘cattle’, exist. (d) For certain animals, the generic (and only) word is feminine, e.g.: une autruche, ostrich la baleine, whale la belette, weasel la fourmi, ant la girafe, giraffe la grenouille, frog

une hyène, hyena la loutre, otter la panthère, panther la souris, mouse la taupe, mole la tortue, tortoise

Note that la chèvre ‘goat’ and une oie ‘goose’ are used as generics but that there are also specifically ‘male’ words, le bouc ‘he-goat’, le jars ‘gander’. La bête ‘animal’ is always feminine, even with reference to male animals. Gender according to meaning – other categories 50 (i) Masculine Most nouns falling into the following categories are masculine: (a) Names of trees and shrubs (b) Names of common fruits and vegetables not ending in -e (no exceptions) (c) Names of metals and minerals (d) Names of languages (no exceptions) (e) Names of colours (f) Names of weights and measures of the metric system, cardinal numbers, fractions, letters of the alphabet (g) Names of days of the week, months, seasons, points of the compass. Examples: (a) Names of trees and shrubs, e.g.:

50 Gender le chêne, oak un érable, maple le hêtre, beech le laurier, laurel


le platane, plane-tree le pommier, apple-tree le sapin, fir le chèvrefeuille, honeysuckle

The principal exceptions are: une aubépine, hawthorn la bruyère, heather

la ronce, bramble la vigne, vine

(b) Names of common fruits and vegetables not ending in -e (for those ending in -e, see 51), e.g.: un abricot, apricot le brugnon, nectarine le citron, lemon le melon

un artichaut, artichoke le céleri, celery le chou, cabbage le haricot, bean

(c) Most names of metals and minerals (including precious stones), e.g.: le cuivre, copper le fer, iron le plomb, lead l’anthracite le carbone, carbon le charbon, coal

le sel, salt le silicium, silicon le souffre, sulphur le diamant, diamond le rubis, ruby le saphir, sapphire

Exceptions: la chaux, chalk la pierre, stone la roche, rock

une émeraude, emerald la perle, pearl

and some technical names of minerals in -ite (e.g. la malachite, see 56). (d) Names of languages are all masculine, e.g.: le français, French le grec, Greek

le russe, Russian le swahili

(e) Most names of colours, e.g.: le bleu, blue

le jaune, yellow

le rouge, red

Exceptions: l’écarlate ‘scarlet’ and l’ocre ‘ochre’ are feminine.


The noun phrase 50–52

(f) Names of weights and measures of the metric system, cardinal numbers, most fractions, and the letters of the alphabet, e.g.: le gramme le kilogramme le litre le mètre un sept, a seven

un tiers, one third un quart, a quarter un dixième, a tenth un e un m

Exception: la moitié, ‘half’. Note that numerals in -aine indicating approximate quantities are feminine, e.g. une dizaine ‘about ten’, une trentaine ‘about thirty’ une centaine ‘about a hundred’. (g) The names of days of the week, months, seasons, and points of the compass, e.g.: lundi dernier, last Monday janvier prochain, next January au printemps, in spring en plein été, in the middle of summer le nord, north le sud, south l’est, east l’ouest, west 51 (ii) Feminine The names of most common fruits and vegetables ending in -e (for others, see 50,i,b) are feminine, e.g.: la banane, banana la fraise, strawberry la pomme, apple Exceptions: ‘cucumber’.



la betterave, beetroot la carotte, carrot la fève, broad bean ‘grapefruit’,



The gender of place-names 52 (a) There are no clear rules for determining the gender of names of towns. In many cases there is a good deal of hesitation and fluctuation but there is a marked tendency to treat them as masculine, e.g. Paris est plus grand que Lyon ‘Paris is bigger than

52 Gender


Lyons’, Venise est beau ‘Venice is beautiful’, le grand Londres ‘Greater London’, Grenoble est devenu un centre industriel ‘Grenoble has become an industrial centre’, le musée du vieux Marseille ‘the Museum of Old Marseilles’. However, names in -e and -es and occasionally others can also be treated as feminine, e.g. Londres fut sévèrement bombardée en 1940 ‘London was heavily bombed in 1940’, Bruxelles fut libérée en 1944 ‘Brussels was liberated in 1944’, Nice fut fondée en 350 av. J.-C. ‘Nice was founded in 350 bc’, Marseille contemporaine ‘present-day Marseilles’. (b) As a general rule, names of countries, of French provinces and regions, and of French rivers, are feminine if they end in -e, masculine if they do not: Countries, e.g.: le Canada le Danemark, Denmark le Japon, Japan le Maroc, Morocco le Nigeria le Portugal

la Chine, China la Finlande, Finland la Norvège, Norway la Roumanie, Romania la Suisse, Switzerland la Syrie, Syria

Exceptions:le Bélize,le Cambodge‘Cambodia’,le Mexique‘Mexico’, le Mozambique, le Zaïre, and, with the -e pronounced, le Zimbabwe. French provinces and regions, e.g.: le Languedoc le Limousin le Poitou le Roussillon

l’Aquitaine la Bourgogne, Burgundy la Champagne la Provence

Exceptions: le Maine, la Franche-Comté French rivers: le Doubs le Lot le Rhin, Rhine le Tarn

la Durance la Loire la Maine la Seine

Exceptions: le Rhône, la Lys. Note that the rule does not apply to foreign rivers, many of which are masculine even though they end in -e, e.g. le Danube, le Gange ‘Ganges’, le Tage ‘Tagus’, le Tibre ‘Tiber’, le Tigre ‘Tigris’. (c) The gender of the names of French départements is as follows:


The noun phrase 52–54

Names based on river-names take the gender of the corresponding river or, where there are two, of the first, e.g. le Doubs, le Haut-Rhin, la Somme, la Loire-Atlantique, le Loir-et-Cher, le Lot-et-Garonne, la Meurthe-et-Moselle. Plural names (based on the names of mountains or other geographical features) happen in most cases to be feminine, e.g. les Alpes-Maritimes, les Ardennes, les Bouches-du-Rhône, les Côtes d’Armor, les Deux-Sèvres, les Landes, les Pyrénées-Orientales, les Vosges, les Yvelines. One, les Hauts-de-Seine, is masculine. In practice, however, the need to indicate gender with these names rarely arises. Others are masculine if the name (or, in the case of compounds, the first element) does not end in -e, feminine if it does: le Calvados le Cantal le Jura le Morbihan le Nord le Puy-de-Dôme le Val-de-Marne le Val-d’Oise

la Corse-du-Sud la Haute-Corse la Haute-Savoie la Lozère la Manche

Exceptions: le Finistère, le Vaucluse.

Gender shown by ending 53 We shall discuss successively endings that always or usually indicate that the noun is (i) masculine or (ii) feminine, and (iii) a few problematic endings. 54 (i) Masculine endings -age A few monosyllables: le gage, pledge, guarantee le mage, Magus (les rois Mages, the Three Wise Men) le page, page-boy le sage, wise man le stage, short course, training period

54 Gender


and several hundred polysyllables (many of them corresponding to English words in -ing), e.g.: l’atterrissage, landing (of a plane) le barrage, dam le bavardage, chatter(ing) le chômage, unemployment le cirage, waxing, polishing le courage l’étage, floor, storey le fromage, cheese le garage le gaspillage, waste, wasting le mariage, marriage, wedding le message le nettoyage, cleaning l’orage, (thunder)storm le paysage, scenery le potage, soup le pourcentage, percentage le village le visage, face le voyage, journey Exceptions: five monosyllables: la cage la nage, swimming (in certain expressions only) la page la plage, beach la rage, fury, rabies and four polysyllables (three of them names of plants): l’image la passerage, pepperwort

la solidage, golden rod la saxifrage, saxifrage

-ai, -oi Most nouns in -ai, -oi are masculine, e.g.: le balai, broom le délai, time limit l’essai, attempt le geai, jay

le beffroi, belfry l’emploi, use, job l’envoi, sending le roi, king


The noun phrase 54 le quai, quay, platform

le tournoi, tournament

Exceptions: la foi ‘faith’, la loi ‘law’, la paroi ‘(inside) wall’. -ail, -eil (including -ueil), -euil All masculine, e.g.: l’ail, garlic le chandail, sweater le corail, coral le détail l’émail, enamel l’épouvantail, scarecrow l’éventail, fan le portail, portal le travail, work le vitrail, stained-glass window l’appareil, apparatus le conseil, piece of advice l’orteil, toe le réveil, waking up le soleil, sun le sommeil, sleep l’accueil, welcome le cercueil, coffin l’écueil, reef l’orgueil, pride le recueil, collection (of poems, etc.) le deuil, mourning l’écureuil, squirrel le seuil, threshold -at All masculine, e.g.: le championnat, championship le chocolat, chocolate le climat, climate le combat, fight le consulat, consulate le contrat, contract le débat, debate

l’état, state le forçat, convict le nougat le résultat, result le secrétariat le sénat, senate le syndicat, trade-union

54 Gender


-c, -d, etc. All words ending in -c or -d, and the relatively few words ending in -b, -g, -k, -p, -q or -z, are masculine, whether or not the consonant is pronounced, e.g.: (a) -c: l’aqueduc, aqueduct le bec, beak l’estomac, stomach le franc

le jonc, reed le lac, lake le sac, bag le porc, pig

(b) -d: le bord, edge l’étendard, flag, standard le fond, bottom le gland, acorn le pied, foot le regard, glance, look le retard, delay le standard, (telephone) switchboard (c) others: le club le plomb, lead l’étang, pond le hareng, herring le poing, fist le bifteck, steak le snack, snack-bar

le steak le coup, blow le loup, wolf le coq, cock le gaz, gas le nez, nose le riz, rice

-é Nearly all words ending in -é except those in -té, tié (see below, 55) are masculine, e.g.: le blé, wheat le café, café, coffee le carré, square le clergé, clergy le cuirassé, battleship le dé, dice, thimble le défilé, procession le degré, degree, step

le délégué, delegate le fossé, ditch le gué, ford le marché, market le pavé, paving-stone le péché, sin le pré, meadow le thé, tea


The noun phrase 54

Exceptions: l’acné ‘acne’, la clé ‘key’, la psyché ‘psyche’. -eau Four monosyllables: le beau, that which is beautiful le sceau, seal le seau, bucket le veau, calf, veal and some two hundred polysyllables, e.g.: l’anneau, ring le bateau, boat le bouleau, birch-tree le cadeau, present le cerveau, brain le chapeau, hat le château, castle le couteau, knife le drapeau, flag

le gâteau, cake le marteau, hammer le morceau, piece le niveau, level le râteau, rake le réseau, network le rideau, curtain le tableau, picture le tombeau, tomb

Exceptions: Only two: l’eau ‘water’, la peau ‘skin’. -ède, -ège, -ème l’intermède, interlude le quadrupède, quadruped le remède, remedy le collège, type of secondary school le cortège, procession le liège, cork le manège, merry-go-round le piège, trap le sacrilège le siège, seat, siege le sortilège, magic spell le chrysanthème, chrysanthemum le diadème, diadem l’emblème, emblem le poème, poem le problème, problem le système, system le thème, theme, etc.

54 Gender


and the names of fractions, un dixième ‘a tenth’, un vingtième ‘a twentieth’, un centième ‘a hundredth’, etc. Exceptions: The only common exception is la crème ‘cream’ (but note the use of un crème, short for un café crème ‘coffee with cream or milk’). A few rare or technical terms include la pinède ‘pineforest’, l’allège ‘lighter (boat)’, la drège ‘drag-net’, la trirème ‘trireme’. -er (for -ier see below): (a) (-r pronounced). Nearly all masculine, e.g.: le cancer l’enfer, hell le fer, iron l’hiver, winter le laser le leader le reporter le revolver le starter, choke (of a car) le speaker, (radio, TV) announcer Only two exceptions: la cuiller ‘spoon’, la mer ‘sea’. (b) (-r not pronounced). All masculine, e.g.: le boucher, butcher le boulanger, baker le clocher, church tower le déjeuner, lunch le dîner, dinner

le foyer, hearth le laisser-passer, pass, permit le loyer, rent l’oranger, orange-tree le plancher, floor

-ès All masculine, e.g.: (a) (Final -s pronounced) l’aloès, aloe le cacatoès, cockatoo

le palmarès, list of winners le xérès, sherry

(b) (Final -s not pronounced) l’abscès, abscess l’accès, access le congrès, congress le cyprès, cypress

le grès, sandstone le procès, trial le progrès, progress le succès, success


The noun phrase 54

-et Some three hundred words, all masculine, e.g.: le ballet le banquet le béret le billet, ticket le bonnet le buffet le carnet, notebook le filet, net le fouet, whip le jouet, toy

le perroquet, parrot le poulet, chicken le projet, project le regret le robinet, tap le roitelet, wren le secret le sommet, summit le sujet, subject le ticket

-i (pronounced [i], i.e. excluding -ai, -oi) Most nouns in -i are masculine, e.g.: l’abri, shelter l’appui, support le colibri, humming bird le cri, shout le défi, challenge l’ennui, boredom l’épi, ear (of corn)

le merci, thanks le pari, bet le parti, (political) party le pli, fold le raccourci, short cut le ski, ski, skiing le souci, care, worry

and the days of the week, le lundi, le mardi, etc. Exceptions: la fourmi ‘ant’, la merci ‘mercy’. Note that un après-midi and une après-midi ‘afternoon’ are both used. -ier A couple of hundred words, many of them referring to (a) male humans, or (b) trees, and all masculine: (a) Male humans, e.g.: le banquier, banker le chevalier, knight le conférencier, lecturer l’épicier, grocer le guerrier, warrior

l’héritier, heir l’hôtelier, hotel-keeper l’officier, officer le romancier, novelist le sorcier, sorcerer

(b) Trees, e.g.: le dattier, date-palm

le figuier, fig-tree

54 Gender le laurier, laurel le marronnier, chestnut tree le noisetier, hazel-tree le palmier, palm-tree


le peuplier, poplar le poirier, pear-tree le pommier, apple-tree le rosier, rose-bush

(c) Others, e.g.: l’acier, steel le cahier, note-book le casier, pigeonhole le cendrier, ashtray le chantier, building site le clavier, keyboard le collier, necklace le dossier, file, dossier le gosier, throat le grenier, attic

le guêpier, wasps’ nest le métier, job, profession le palier, landing le panier, basket le papier, paper le pétrolier, (oil) tanker le quartier, district (of a town) le saladier, salad-bowl le sentier, path le tablier, apron

-ing A few words borrowed from English (or thought to be English) are all masculine, e.g.: le brushing, blow-dry le building, office-block, etc. le camping, camp-site le jogging, jogging, track-suit le lifting, face-lift le meeting, rally, (political) meeting le parking, car-park le shopping -isme Some four hundred words, all masculine, e.g.: le catéchisme le christianisme, Christianity le cubisme l’idiotisme, idiom le prisme, prism

le rhumatisme, rheumatism le romantisme, Romanticism le socialisme le tourisme l’urbanisme, town-planning

-ment With one exception, the scores of words in -ment are all masculine, e.g.:


The noun phrase 54–55 l’abonnement, subscription l’avertissement, warning le bâtiment, building le ciment, cement le commencement, beginning le désarmement, disarmament

le gouvernement, government le logement, lodging le moment le monument le mouvement, movement le recensement, census

Exception: la jument ‘mare’. -oir Over a hundred words, all masculine, e.g.: le couloir, corridor le désespoir, despair le dortoir, dormitory l’espoir, hope le miroir, mirror

le mouchoir, handkerchief le rasoir, razor le soir, evening le tiroir, drawer le trottoir, pavement

-ou All masculine, e.g.: le bijou, jewel le caillou, pebble le chou, cabbage le clou, nail le cou, neck le coucou, cuckoo

le genou, knee le hibou, owl le pou, louse le trou, hole le verrou, bolt le voyou, lout

55 (ii) Feminine endings -ace Words in -ace are nearly all feminine, e.g.: l’audace, daring la glace, ice, mirror la menace, threat la place, (public) square

la race, breed, race la surface la trace

Un espace ‘space’ is an exception (but note that with reference to a typographical space the word is feminine, une espace). -ade Some two hundred words (many of them uncommon), the great majority of them feminine, e.g.: l’ambassade, embassy la bourgade, large village

la cascade la façade

55 Gender l’œillade, wink l’orangeade la promenade, walk


la saccade, jerk la salade, salad la tornade, tornado

Exceptions: le or la camarade, friend le or la garde-malade, home nurse le or la malade, sick person le or la nomade, nomad le grade, rank le jade le stade, stadium -aie All nouns in -aie are feminine: (a) Collective nouns for trees, etc.: la châtaigneraie, chestnut grove l’oliveraie, olive grove la palmeraie, palm grove la peupleraie, poplar grove la ronceraie, bramble patch la roseraie, rose garden (b) Others, e.g.: la baie, bay, berry la haie, hedge la monnaie, currency, change

la plaie, wound la raie, furrow, stripe la taie, pillow-case

-aine, -eine, -oine Most nouns with these endings are feminine, e.g.: l’aubaine, windfall la fontaine, fountain la gaine, sheath la graine, grain la haine, hatred la laine, wool la migraine la plaine, plain la porcelaine

la semaine, week la baleine, whale la peine, trouble, difficulty la reine, queen la veine, vein l’avoine, oats la macédoine (de légumes), mixed vegetables la pivoine, peony

Also la douzaine ‘dozen’, la quinzaine ‘about fifteen, a fortnight’,


The noun phrase 55

la vingtaine ‘score’, la centaine ‘about a hundred’, and similar forms derived from other numerals. Exceptions: le capitaine, captain le domaine, domain l’antimoine, antimony

le chanoine, canon le moine, monk le patrimoine, heritage

-aison All feminine, e.g.: la comparaison, comparison la conjugaison, conjugation la crevaison, puncture la liaison la livraison, delivery

la maison, house la raison, reason la saison, season la terminaison, ending (of a word)

-ance, -anse, -ence, -ense With only two exceptions, these words are feminine, e.g.: l’ambulance la confiance, confidence la correspondance, correspondence la croyance, belief la distance l’espérance, hope la lance la naissance, birth la puissance, power la souffrance, suffering l’anse, handle (of cup, etc.) la danse, dance

la panse, paunch la transe, trance l’agence, agency la conscience la différence l’essence, petrol l’influence la patience la présence la violence la défense, defence la dépense, expenditure

Exceptions: le silence, le suspense. -èche, -èque, -èse, -ève The great majority of these are feminine, e.g.: la brèche, breach la crèche, crib, creche la flèche, arrow la mèche, wick la bibliothèque, library la discothèque, disco, record library

la pastèque, watermelon la genèse, genesis l’hypothèse, hypothesis la synthèse, synthesis la thèse, thesis la fève, broad bean

55 Gender la grève, strike


la sève, sap

Exceptions: le chèque ‘cheque’, le or la métèque (derogatory term for a foreigner), le diocèse, un or une élève ‘pupil’. -ée Most nouns in -ée (but with a substantial number of exceptions, mostly technical or otherwise uncommon words) are feminine, e.g.: l’araignée, spider la buée, condensation, steam la cactée, cactus la cuillerée, spoonful la dictée, dictation la durée, duration l’épée, sword l’épopée, epic la fée, fairy

la fusée, rocket la journée, day la marée, tide la mosquée, mosque la pensée, thought la poignée, fistful, handful la rosée, dew la traversée, crossing la vallée, valley

Exceptions include: un or une athée, atheist l’apogée, peak, climax, apogee le camée, cameo le colisée, coliseum le lycée, (French) secondary school

le mausolée, mausoleum le musée, museum le pygmée, pygmy le scarabée, scarab (beetle) le trophée, trophy

-euse All feminine: (a) Female humans, e.g.: la blanchisseuse, laundress la maquilleuse, make-up girl la menteuse, liar

l’ouvreuse, usherette la religieuse, nun la vendeuse, saleswoman

(b) Mechanical objects, e.g.: l’agrafeuse, stapler la cireuse, floor polisher la mitrailleuse, machine-gun la moissonneuse, harvester la perceuse, drill

la tondeuse (de gazon), lawnmower la tricoteuse, knitting-machine la tronçonneuse, chain-saw


The noun phrase 55

(c) Others, e.g.: la berceuse, lullaby la nébuleuse, nebula

la vareuse, kind of tunic la veilleuse, night-light

-ie (including -uie, but excluding -aie and -oie) Several hundred words (including about four hundred in -erie), of which all except a handful are feminine, e.g.: la biologie, biology la boucherie, butcher’s shop la bougie, candle la chimie, chemistry la colonie, colony la compagnie, company la copie, copy la démocratie, democracy la folie, madness la galerie, gallery la prairie, meadow la scie, saw la série, series la suie, soot

la géographie, geography la jalousie, jealousy la librairie, bookshop la magie, magic la maladie, illness la partie, part la pharmacie, pharmacy la pie, magpie la plaisanterie, joke la pluie, rain la symphonie, symphony la tragédie, tragedy la truie, sow la vie, life

Exceptions: l’amphibie, amphibian le coolie le génie, genius; engineering corps

l’incendie, fire le Messie, Messiah le parapluie, umbrella le sosie, double, look-alike

-ière Well over a hundred words, nearly all feminine, e.g.: la bannière, banner la barrière, barrier la bière, beer la cafetière, coffee-pot la chaumière, cottage la croisière, cruise la fermière, farmer’s wife la frontière, frontier

la lumière, light la manière, manner, way la matière, matter la paupière, eyelid la poussière, dust la prière, prayer la rivière, river la thière, tea-pot

Exceptions: le cimetière ‘cemetery’, le derrière ‘backside, rear’.

55 Gender


-ine Over a hundred words, nearly all feminine, e.g.: la colline, hill la cuisine, kitchen la farine, flour la guillotine la machine la marine, navy la médecine la narine, nostril la pénicilline la piscine, swimming-pool la platine, tape-deck, etc.

la poitrine, chest la racine, root la routine la ruine, ruin la saccharine la sardine la scarlatine, scarlet fever la turbine la vitrine, shop window, showcase

Only two exceptions; le magazine, le platine ‘platinum’. -ise About fifty words, nearly all of them feminine, e.g.: la bêtise, folly la brise, breeze la cerise, cherry la chemise, shirt la crise, crisis

une église, church la franchise, frankness la marchandise, goods la surprise la valise, suitcase

Exceptions: le cytise ‘laburnum’, le pare-brise ‘windscreen’. -sion, -tion With one exception, the many nouns in -sion, -tion are all feminine, e.g.: la confusion la décision l’émission, broadcast l’occasion, opportunity la possession la pression, pressure la provision la télévision la tension la vision, eyesight Exception: le bastion.

l’action la civilisation la condition la destination la fiction la nation la position la question la situation la traduction, translation


The noun phrase 55

-lle, -sse, -tte, -ffe, -nne, -ppe Many hundreds of words ending in a double consonant + -e are feminine. This does not apply to words in -mme and -rre (see 56 below), but, otherwise, there are relatively few exceptions, all of which, apart from a few highly technical or very rare words, are listed below. (a) -lle (pronounced [l]), e.g.: la balle, ball la malle, trunk la salle, room, hall la chapelle, chapel la dentelle, lace l’échelle, ladder la ficelle, string

la poubelle, dustbin la selle, saddle la semelle, sole (of shoe) la vaisselle, dishes, crockery la voyelle, vowel la ville, town la bulle, bubble

Note that even la sentinelle ‘sentry’, referring to a male human, is feminine. Exceptions: l’intervalle, interval le libelle, lampoon le polichinelle, Punch, buffoon le or la rebelle, rebel le vermicelle, vermicelli

le violoncelle, cello le bacille, bacillus le mille, thousand le vaudeville le tulle

(b) -ille (pronounced [ j] – see 2), e.g.: la bataille, battle la ferraille, scrap iron la muraille, (high) wall la paille, straw la taille, waist, size la volaille, poultry la bouteille, bottle l’oreille, ear la veille, eve, day before la feuille, leaf

l’aiguille, needle l’anguille, eel la bille, marble la cheville, ankle la famille, family la faucille, sickle la fille, daughter la pupille, pupil (of eye) la grenouille, frog la patrouille, patrol

Exceptions: le chèvrefeuille, honeysuckle le portefeuille, wallet

le gorille, gorilla le or la pupille, ward

55 Gender


(c) -sse All nouns in -esse are feminine; many of them denote either female beings, e.g.: la déesse, goddess la maîtresse, mistress

la princesse, princess la tigresse, tigress

or qualities, e.g.: la faiblesse, weakness la jeunesse, youth la paresse, laziness la politesse, politeness

la tendresse, tenderness la tristesse, sadness la vieillesse, old age la vitesse, speed

Other feminine nouns in -sse include: la chasse, hunting la classe, class la potasse, potassium la tasse, cup la terrasse, terrace la baisse, lowering la caisse, cash-desk la graisse, grease, fat la hausse, rise (in prices, etc.) la caresse, caress

la forteresse, fortress la messe, (religious) mass la presse, press la cuisse, thigh la saucisse, sausage la brosse, brush la fosse, pit l’angoisse, anxiety la paroisse, parish la mousse, moss, mousse

Exceptions: le or la gosse, kid le or la Russe, Russian le carrosse, (horse-drawn) coach le colosse, colossus, giant le molosse (rare), huge dog le mousse, cabin-boy le narcisse, narcissus le pamplemousse, grapefruit le petit-suisse, kind of cream cheese le Suisse, Swiss (d) -tte A large group of nouns in -ette, the vast majority of them feminine, e.g.: l’allumette, match

la camionnette, van


The noun phrase 55 la chaussette, sock la cigarette la côtelette, chop, cutlet la dette, debt la fourchette, fork

l’omelette la recette, recipe la serviette, towel, briefcase la silhouette la trompette, trumpet

Exceptions: le squelette ‘skeleton’, le trompette ‘trumpeter’. Note that la vedette ‘(film-)star’, etc., is feminine even when it refers to a man. Other nouns in -tte, all feminine, include: la datte, date (fruit) la patte, paw la grotte, cave, grotto la goutte, drop

la botte, boot, bunch la carotte, carrot la hutte, hut la lutte, struggle

(e) -ffe, -nne, -ppe Most of these words are feminine, e.g.: l’étoffe, cloth, material la gaffe, blunder la greffe, graft, transplant la griffe, claw la touffe, tuft la truffe, truffle l’antenne, aerial la colonne, column la couronne, crown la panne, (mechanical) breakdown la personne, person la tonne, ton, tonne l’enveloppe, envelope la grappe, bunch (of grapes) la grippe, flu la nappe, tablecloth la trappe, trapdoor Exception: le renne ‘reindeer’. -té, -tié Several hundred nouns in -té and all nouns in -tié (there are only four) are feminine, e.g.: la bonté, goodness

la cécité, blindness

55 Gender la cité, city la cruauté, cruelty la difficulté, difficulty la fierté, pride la lâcheté, cowardice la majorité, majority la qualité, quality


la quantité, quantity la santé, health la vérité, truth l’amitié, friendship l’inimitié, enmity la moitié, half la pitié, pity

Exceptions: l’aparté, (theatrical) aside l’arrêté, order, decree le comité, committee le comté, county le côté, side le décolleté, low neckline le doigté, fingering, tact l’été, summer le pâte, pie, pâté; block of houses; etc. le traité, treaty, treatise -tude All feminine, e.g.: l’attitude la certitude, certainty l’étude, study l’habitude, habit

l’inquiétude, anxiety la multitude la servitude la solitude

-ure Over three hundred words, nearly all of them feminine, e.g.: la ceinture, belt la confiture, jam la couverture, blanket la créature la dictature, dictatorship la doublure, lining la fermeture, closing la figure, face la fourrure, fur une injure, insult Exceptions:

la lecture, reading la nature la nourriture, food la peinture, painting, paint la reliure, binding (of a book) la serrure, lock la signature la température la torture la voiture, car, carriage


The noun phrase 55–56

(i) Chemical substances, e.g.: le bromure, bromide le carbure, carbide le chlorure, chloride le fluorure, fluoride

l’hydrocarbure, hydrocarbon le mercure, mercury le phosphure, phosphide le sulfure, sulphide

(ii) Others: l’augure, soothsayer le murmure, murmur le parjure, perjury

le or la manucure, manicurist le or la pédicure, chiropodist

56 (iii) Problematic endings -a Those who know Latin, Italian or Spanish, in which languages nouns in -a are usually feminine, may well think the same is true of French. This is not so – many, though by no means all, French nouns in -a are masculine. (a) Masculine nouns in -a include: l’agenda, diary le cinéma l’opéra le panda le panorama

le rutabaga, swede le sofa le tapioca le tibia le visa

and a number of names of flowers, e.g. le bégonia, le dahlia, le gardénia, le pétunia. (b) Feminine nouns in -a include: la malaria la marina la paranoïa la pizza la tombola, lottery

la toundra, tundra la vendetta la véranda la villa la vodka

and a number of names of dances, including la mazurka, la polka, la rumba, la samba. -ène (a) Masculine nouns in -ène are mainly technical terms of chemistry, e.g.: l’acétylène


56 Gender le kérosène le méthylène


le molybdène, molybdenum l’oxygène

but also include: un or une aborigène le phénomène, phenomenon

le troène, privet

(b) Feminine nouns in -ène include: l’arène, arena l’ébène, ebony la gangrène, gangrene l’hyène, hyena

l’hygiène la patène, paten la scène, scene, stage la sirène, siren; mermaid

-ère (excluding -ière, see 55) Nouns in -ère referring to humans are male or female according to the sex of the individual concerned. Apart from that, no very helpful rules can be given for determining the gender of nouns in -ère. (a) Masculine nouns include: Referring to males: le confrère, colleague, confrere le frère, brother le père, father le trouvère, trouvère (medieval bard) Others: le caractère, character le conifère, conifer le cratère, crater le critère, criterion le débarcadère, landing stage le gruyère, Gruyère cheese l’hélicoptère, helicopter

l’hémisphère le ministère, ministry le monastère, monastery le mystère, mystery le réverbère, street lamp l’ulcère, ulcer

(b) Feminine nouns include: Referring to females: la bergère, shepherdess la boulangère, baker’s wife Others:

l’étrangère, foreigner la ménagère, housewife

The noun phrase 56


l’artère, artery l’atmosphère la bruyère, heather la colère, anger la cuillère, spoon l’ère, era

la misère, dire poverty la panthère, panther la sphère la stratosphère la vipère, viper

-ète (a) Masculine nouns include: le diabète, diabetes

le prophète, prophet

(b) Feminine nouns include: l’arbalète, crossbow la cacahuète, peanut la comète, comet

la diète, diet (assembly) l’épithète, epithet la planète, planet

(c) Nouns that can be of either gender, in accordance with the sex of the individual referred to, include: un un un un

or or or or

une ascète, ascetic une athlète une esthète, aesthete une interprète, interpreter

-eur Words in -eur fall into four groups: (a) Nouns referring to male humans are masculine, e.g.: le cambrioleur, burglar le facteur, postman le lecteur, reader le menteur, liar

le pêcheur, fisherman le sculpteur, sculptor le voleur, thief le voyageur, traveller

Note that le professeur ‘teacher, professor’, is masculine, even with reference to a woman. (b) Nouns referring to physical (in many cases mechanical) objects are masculine, e.g.: l’accélérateur, accelerator l’aspirateur, vacuum-cleaner le carburateur, carburettor le condenseur, condenser le croiseur, cruiser

le moteur, engine l’ordinateur, computer le démarreur, starter (of car) l’échangeur, interchange (on motorway)

56 Gender le radiateur, radiator le récepteur, receiver le téléviseur, TV set


le tracteur, tractor le vapeur, steamship

(c) Abstract nouns, referring to qualities, feelings, colours, etc., are in most cases feminine, e.g.: la blancheur, whiteness la couleur, colour la douceur, sweetness, softness la douleur, pain, grief la faveur, favour la fraîcheur, coolness la fureur, fury la grandeur, size la hauteur, height

l’humeur, mood la largeur, width la pâleur, paleness la peur, fear la profondeur, depth la rougeur, redness la stupeur, daze la terreur, terror la valeur, value

Exceptions: le bonheur, happiness le déshonneur, dishonour l’honneur, honour

le labeur, toil le malheur, misfortune

(d) Miscellaneous, e.g.: masc. le chœur, choir le cœur, heart le dénominateur, denominator l’équateur, equator l’extérieur, outside le secteur, sector

fem. la fleur, flower la liqueur la lueur, glow la sueur, sweat la vapeur, steam

-ite (a) Words referring to humans are masculine or feminine according to the sex of the person referred to, e.g.: le Jésuite, Jesuit la Carmélite, Carmelite nun un or une antisémite un or une Israélite, Jew le or la Maronite, Maronite (Christian) le or la Moscovite, Muscovite le or la Sunnite, Sunni Muslim


The noun phrase 56

(b) Names of salts of acids are masculine: l’arsénite l’hypochlorite l’hyposulfite

le nitrite le phosphite le sulfite

(c) Some names of minerals in fairly common use are masculine: l’anthracite le granite (also le granit)

le graphite le lignite

but more technical names of minerals in -ite are feminine, e.g.: la bauxite la calcite la ferrite la lazalite la malachite

la magnésite la marcassite la mélanite la néphrite la wolframite

(d) Medical terms in -ite (corresponding to English -itis) referring to various types of inflammation are feminine, e.g.: l’appendicite l’amygdalite, tonsilitis l’arthrite la bronchite la conjonctivite

la gastrite la laryngite la méningite la phlébite la poliomyélite

(e) Other masculine nouns include: le mérite, merit le parasite le plébiscite

le satellite le termite

(f) Other feminine nouns include: la dynamite la faillite, bankruptcy la guérite, sentry-box la marguerite, ox-eye daisy la marmite, cooking-pot la mite, clothes moth

l’orbite, orbit, eye-socket la réussite, success la stalactite la stalagmite la site la visite

-mme, -rre Note that there are more masculine than feminine words in -mme and -rre, e.g.:

56 Gender


(a) Masculine le dilemme, dilemma l’homme, man

le somme, nap

Also masculine are le gramme ‘gram’, other metric units of measurement in -gramme (le centigramme, le kilogramme, etc.), and le cryptogramme, le diagramme, le monogramme, le parallélogramme, le programme, and le télégramme (for two feminine words in -gramme, see below). le beurre, butter le cimeterre, scimitar le leurre, snare, delusion le lierre, ivy le paratonnerre, lightning conductor le parterre, flowerbed, stalls (theatre) le tintamarre, din, racket le tonnerre, thunder le verre, glass (b) Feminine une anagramme, anagram une épigramme, epigram la femme, woman la flamme, flame la gamme, scale, gamut la gemme, gem la gomme, rubber (eraser)

la pomme, apple la somme, sum, amount la barre, bar la guerre, war la pierre, stone la serre, greenhouse la terre, earth

-o A majority of the small group of words in -o are masculine, but there are some important exceptions. (a) Masculine words include: le bistro(t), pub, café le cargo, cargo-boat le casino le duo, duet le credo, creed l’écho le kilo, kilo(gram) le numéro, number, numeral

le piano le porto, port (drink) le radio, radio operator, radiogram le studio, studio flatlet le verso, back (of page) le zéro


The noun phrase 56

(b) Feminine nouns include: une auto, car la dactylo, typist, typing la dynamo la photo

la polio la radio, radio, X-ray photo

-oire (a) Masculine nouns include: l’auditoire, audience l’ivoire, ivory l’observatoire, observatory le pourboire, tip le promontoire, headland

le laboratoire, laboratory le mémoire, memoir le réfectoire, refectory le répertoire le territoire, territory

(b) Feminine nouns include: l’armoire, cupboard la balançoire, swing la baignoire, bathtub la bouilloire, kettle la foire, fair la gloire, glory

l’histoire, history, story la mâchoire, jaw la nageoire, fin la mémoire, memory la poire, pear la victoire, victory

-te (other than -ète, -ite and -tte, see above) (a) Nouns referring to humans are masculine or feminine according to the sex of the individual concerned, e.g.: un or une adulte un or une artiste un or une astronaute le or la démocrate le or la dentiste le or la diplomate un or une enthousiaste, enthusiast un or une hôte, guest le or la linguiste le or la patriote Note le comte ‘count, earl’ (feminine la comtesse), le despote, un hôte ‘host, landlord’ (feminine une hôtesse), le pilote, le pirate. (b) Names of chemicals and minerals in -ate, -lte, -ste are masculine, e.g.:

56 Gender le carbonate le chlorate le nitrate le phosphate le silicate


le sulfate, sulphate l’asphalte le basalte l’asbeste, asbestos le schiste, schist

(c) Most other nouns in -te (but with some important exceptions) are feminine, e.g.: l’arête, fish-bone la bête, animal la chute, fall la côte, coast la crainte, fear la cravate, tie la crête, crest la croûte, crust la date la découverte, discovery la dispute l’émeute, riot la faute, mistake la fente, crack la flûte, flute la honte, shame la minute la note, note, bill la pâte, dough la pente, slope

la boîte, box la carte, map, card la perte, loss la peste, plague la piste, track, runway la plainte, complaint, groan la porte, door la poste, postal service la récolte, crop la route, road la sieste, siesta la sonate, sonata la sorte, sort la tarte, tart la tempête, storm la tente, tent la tomate, tomato la vente, sale la veste, jacket la voûte, vault

Exceptions include: l’acte, act l’antidote l’arbuste, small shrub le buste, bust le compte, count, account le conte, tale le contexte, context le contraste, contrast le doute, doubt

le faîte, top, summit l’insecte, insect le jute le parachute le poste, job, etc. le reste, remainder, rest le texte, text le tumulte, tumult le vote


The noun phrase 57–59

The gender of compound nouns 57 In what follows, only nouns formed of two or more words joined by hyphens are counted as compound nouns. Nouns that were originally compounds but are now written as one word without hyphens (e.g. le chèvrefeuille, honeysuckle) are treated as simple nouns and so are covered by the rules given above. Compound nouns can be divided, for our present purposes, into six classes: 58 (i) Nouns composed of a noun and a preceding or following adjective The gender of the compound is normally that of the simple noun, e.g.: le bas-relief, low relief, bas relief le cerf-volant, kite, stagbeetle la basse-cour, farmyard la belle-fille, daughter-in-law

le bas-côté, aisle le coffre-fort, safe

Exceptions: le Peau-Rouge, Redskin le terre-neuve, Newfoundland dog (short for le chien de Terre-Neuve) and some birds’ names, including le rouge-gorge ‘robin’, le rougequeue ‘redstart’. 59 (ii) Nouns having the construction noun + noun The gender is that of the principal noun, which is normally the first noun, e.g.: le bateau-école, training-ship (i.e. a ship, bateau, serving as a school) le camion-citerne, tanker (-lorry) le chou-fleur, cauliflower (i.e. a ‘flowering’ cabbage) un homme-grenouille, frogman le mot-clé, keyword un oiseau-mouche, humming-bird

59–61 Gender


le timbre-poste, (postage-)stamp le wagon-lit, sleeping-car une année-lumière, light-year la porte-fenêtre, french window (i.e. a door, porte, serving also as a window) la voiture-restaurant, dining-car (i.e. a coach, voiture, serving as a restaurant) 60 (iii) Nouns having the construction noun + preposition + noun The gender is usually that of the first noun, e.g.: masc. un arc-en-ciel, rainbow le chef-d’œuvre, masterpiece le mont-de-piété, pawnshop le pot-de-vin, bribe fem. la bourse-à-pasteur, shepherd’s purse la langue-de-chat, type of biscuit la main-d’œuvre, work-force la tête-de-loup, ceiling brush Exceptions: le face-à-main ‘lorgnette’, le tête-à-queue ‘spin, slew round (in horse-riding)’, le tête-à-tête. 61 (iv) Nouns having the construction adverb or prefix + noun The gender is that of the simple noun, e.g.: masc. l’arrière-plan, background l’ex-roi, ex-king le demi-tarif, half-fare le mini-budget le non-paiement, non-payment le vice-président fem. l’arrière-pensée, mental reservation l’ex-femme, ex-wife la demi-bouteille, half-bottle la mini-jupe, mini-skirt


The noun phrase 61–63 la non-agression la vice-présidence, vice-presidency

62 (v) Nouns having the construction preposition + noun These are usually masculine, e.g.: l’après-guerre, post-war period (even though la guerre, war, is feminine) l’en-tête, heading (e.g. headed writing-paper) le sans-gêne, lack of consideration for others le sous-main, desk blotter Exceptions: words referring to a female person, e.g.: une sans-abri, homeless woman une sans-cœur, heartless woman Many apparent exceptions are accounted for by the fact that the first element is not a preposition but an adverb (so they are, in fact, type iv nouns), e.g. l’avant-scène ‘proscenium, apron-stage’ is feminine because the word is to be analysed not as something that is in front of the stage (scène), but as that part of the stage, scène, which is in front, avant, and so it takes the feminine gender of scène; la contre-attaque ‘counter-attack’ is not something that is against (contre) an attack, but an attack that goes counter to a previous one; la sous-alimentation ‘malnutrition, under-feeding’ is obviously not something that is beneath (sous) nutrition (alimentation), but nutrition that is of an inferior level. Likewise: une avant-garde, vanguard la sous-commission, subcommittee la sous-location, sub-letting la sous-préfecture, sub-prefecture 63 (vi) Words having the construction verb + noun These are nearly all masculine, e.g.: le casse-noisettes, nutcracker le coupe-papier, paperknife le cure-dent, toothpick un essuie-main, hand-towel le fume-cigarette, cigarette-holder le gratte-ciel, skyscraper

63–64 Gender


l’ouvre-boîte, tin-opener le pare-brise, windscreen le porte-avions, aircraft carrier le porte-monnaie, purse le taille-crayon, pencil sharpener le tire-bouchon, corkscrew Exceptions: le or la garde-barrière ‘level-crossing keeper’, le or la garde-malade ‘home nurse’, according to the sex of the individual, la garde-robe ‘wardrobe’. A few uncommon names of fruit and flowers in passe- or perceare feminine, e.g. la passe-crassane (variety of winter pear), la passe-pierre or perce-pierre ‘samphire’, la passe-rose ‘hollyhock’, la perce-feuille ‘hare’s ear’, la perce-muraille ‘wall pellitory’ (but le perce-neige ‘snowdrop’). Note that le brise-fer, le casse-tout ‘a child who breaks everything’, are masculine even with reference to girls.

Words that are identical in form but different in gender 64 As we have seen (in particular in 48,i,d), words such as élève ‘pupil’, secrétaire ‘secretary’, and many others can be of either gender depending on the sex of the person concerned. Quite apart from these, French has a number of pairs or sets of words whose members are identical in spelling and pronunciation but different in gender and meaning. They include:



aide aigle

male assistant eagle

cartouche crêpe critique

scroll crepe critic

help; female assistant female eagle; eagle standard cartridge pancake criticism, review


The noun phrase 64 masc.

fem. (shop-)sign, ensign (flag)

espace faune faux finale

sub-lieutenant, ensign (officer) space (most senses) faun forgery finale

foudre garde

tun keeper, guardsman


matricule mauve

record office (of law court, etc.) (male) guide; guidebook, etc. book handle (e.g. of a broom) labourer martyrdom (a male martyr is un martyr) reference number mauve





thank-you (e.g. un grand merci)



method, way; (grammatical) mood



dead man







moss, froth, lather, mousse, etc.


guide livre manche manœuvre martyre

space (printing) fauna scythe last letter or syllable of a word thunderbolt, lightning guard (duty), guardianship graft(ing), (heart) transplant, etc. (female) guide; les guides ‘reins’ pound sleeve; la Manche ‘English Channel’ manoeuvre female martyr

membership list mallow (plant)

64 Gender masc.


page palme

page(-boy) handsbreadth



resemblance; line of latitude pendulum climax physique, that which is physical spades (cards)

page (of book) palm leaf, (symbolic) palm parallel line




tyre (now abbreviated to pneu)


stove; pall



position, job; (police) station, etc.; (radio, TV) set; (telephone) extension; etc.

post (= postal service)


radiogram; wireless (radio) operator

radio; X-ray (photograph)


pink (colour)



sixth (fraction); sixth floor, etc.

lowest form in a lycée


balance (of account); sale

(soldier’s) pay


sleep, nap

sum, amount


(archaic, poetical) smile



tonic (medical)

keynote, tonic (in music)


turn, walk, lathe, trick, etc.


pendule période physique


clock period physics pike (weapon); cutting remark deck, turntable (of record-player) pneumatics


The noun phrase 64–68

trompette vague vapeur vase voile



trumpeter vagueness steamship vase veil

trumpet wave steam, vapour silt sail

Some anomalies of gender 65 Amour ‘love’ is normally masculine, but in the plural, in the sense of ‘love affairs’, it is sometimes (but not necessarily) feminine. 66 Chose ‘thing’ is feminine (une bonne chose ‘a good thing’), but quelque chose ‘something’ is masculine; un petit quelque chose ‘a little something’, quelque chose s’est produit qui m’a beaucoup étonné ‘something happened which surprised me very much’ in which the masculine agreement of produit (see 461) shows that quelque chose is masculine. (Note too the construction quelque chose d’intéressant ‘something interesting’ – see 667.) 67 Délice ‘delight’ is masculine in the singular but feminine in the plural. 68 Gens ‘people’ was originally the plural of the feminine noun la gent ‘people, race’ which survives only as a (usually humorous or ironic) archaism, e.g. la gent ailée ‘the wingèd race (i.e. birds)’. This is reflected in the fact that, if an adjective that precedes the noun has a distinct feminine form (e.g. bonne ‘good’, meilleure ‘best’, vieille ‘old’, as distinct from masculine bon, meilleur, vieux), then the feminine form is used, e.g. les vieilles gens ‘old people’. In such circumstances, if the noun is introduced by tout ‘all’ or quel ‘what! which?’, these also take the feminine form, e.g. toutes les vieilles gens ‘all old people’, quelles bonnes gens ! ‘what good people!’ Note: (a) that this does not apply when the adjective immediately preceding the noun does not have a distinct feminine form (e.g. honnête ‘honest’, brave ‘fine’), so we have, for example, tous les honnêtes gens ‘all honest people’, quels braves gens ! ‘what fine people!’, ces bons et honnêtes gens ‘these good, honest people’.

68–74 Gender


(b) that adjectives in other positions are always masculine, e.g. les gens heureux ‘happy people’; this applies even when the noun is preceded by an adjective taking the feminine form, e.g. Les vieilles gens peuvent être ennuyeux ‘Old people can be boring’. 69 Œuvre ‘work’ is usually feminine (une œuvre littéraire ‘a literary work’, une œuvre de longue haleine ‘a long-term piece of work’) and is always feminine in the plural (de bonnes œuvres ‘good works’, les dernières œuvres de Balzac ‘Balzac’s last works’). It may, however, be masculine when referring to the complete work of a writer, composer or other artist (l’œuvre entier or l’œuvre entière de Balzac ‘the complete works of Balzac’). 70 Orge ‘barley’ is feminine (cette orge est mûre ‘this barley is ripe’) except in the terms orge mondé ‘husked barley’ and orge perlé ‘pearl barley’. 71 Orgue ‘organ’ is masculine (un orgue électrique ‘an electric organ’, deux orgues excellents ‘two excellent organs’), but note the use of a feminine plural (e.g. les grandes orgues ‘the great organ’) with reference to a singular instrument, especially a church organ. 72 Pâque(s). The Jewish festival of Passover is feminine, la Pâque (célébrer la Pâque ‘to celebrate Passover’). The Christian festival of Easter, Pâques (no article), is feminine plural in a few expressions such as bonnes Pâques ! or joyeuses Pâques ! ‘Happy Easter’, souhaiter de bonnes (or joyeuses) Pâques à quelqu’un ‘to wish someone a happy Easter’, faire de bonnes Pâques ‘to take communion at Easter’ (also Pâques fleuries ‘Palm Sunday’), but elsewhere is usually treated as masculine singular, e.g. quand Pâques sera arrivé ‘when Easter arrives’, à Pâques prochain ‘next Easter’. 73 Personne. The noun personne ‘person’ is feminine, e.g. Une certaine personne est venue ‘A certain person came’, but the negative pronoun personne ‘nobody’ (see 551) is masculine, e.g. Personne n’est venu ‘Nobody came’.

Gender of other parts of speech used as nouns 74 (i) Apart from the exceptions noted in ii–iv below, other parts of speech used as nouns are masculine, e.g.:


The noun phrase 74–75

(a) (adjectives) le beau ‘the beautiful’ (as in le culte du beau ‘the cult of the beautiful, of beauty’), distinguer le vrai d’avec le faux (Descartes) ‘to distinguish the true from the false, what is true from what is false, truth from falsehood’, tenter l’impossible ‘to attempt the impossible’, le blanc ‘white (as a colour), the white (of an egg, of the eye)’, un liquide ‘a liquid’ (b) (verbs) le va-et-vient ‘to-ing and fro-ing’, le rendez-vous ‘appointment’, le sourire ‘smile’, le voyant ‘(luminous) signal, indicator’, le reçu ‘receipt’ (c) (adverbs and prepositions) le mieux ‘best’ (as in faire de son mieux ‘to do one’s best’), le devant ‘front’, le pour et le contre ‘the pros and cons’ (ii) Nouns derived from the feminine forms of past participles are of course feminine, e.g. l’arrivée ‘arrival’, la portée ‘reach’, la vue ‘sight’ (iii) Nouns derived from adjectives and referring to people take the gender corresponding to the sex of the individual concerned, e.g. un or une aveugle ‘a blind person’, un or une malade ‘a patient, sick person’, un blanc, une blanche ‘a white man or woman’ (iv) Adjectival nouns originating in expressions of the type noun + adjective (see 176) take the gender of the noun that is understood, e.g.: (a) (masculine) le rouge ‘red wine’ (for le vin rouge), le complet ‘suit; breakfast’ (for le costume complet or le petit déjeuner complet), le garni ‘furnished accommodation’ (for l’appartement garni) (b) (feminine) la capitale ‘capital (city)’ (for la ville capitale), la majuscule ‘capital (letter)’ (for la lettre majuscule), la liquide ‘liquid (consonant)’ (for la consonne liquide).

The feminine of nouns and adjectives Introduction 75 The question of what words are used for corresponding male and female beings (e.g. le père ‘father’, la mère ‘mother’; le roi

75–80 The feminine of nouns and adjectives


‘king’, la reine ‘queen’; le taureau ‘bull’, la vache ‘cow’; le jars ‘gander’, l’oie ‘goose’) is a matter of lexicon not of grammar and so will not be dealt with here (but see 48 and 49 above). The student should refer to a dictionary. 76 However, in certain cases corresponding masculine and feminine nouns were originally adjectives. In other cases, the feminine is derived from the masculine by change of suffix. These types can be considered as being on the fringes of grammar and so will be dealt with here.

Spoken French 77 In this section we shall deal only with adjectives. There is no constant relationship between the masculine and feminine forms of adjectives in the spoken language. The main types of relationship are the following (for the phonetic symbols, see 2): 78

The feminine is identical with the masculine, e.g.: [ʃer] cher–chère, dear [direkt] direct–directe [ferm] ferme, firm

[naval] naval–navale [ru] rouge, red [vre] vrai–vraie, true

79 The feminine is formed from the masculine by the addition of a consonant, e.g.: [blA˜] blanc – [blA˜ʃ] blanche, white [fo] faux – [fos] fausse, false [A˜ti] gentil – [A˜tij] gentille, nice [grA˜] grand – [grA˜d] grande, big [o] haut – [ot] haute, high [œrø] heureux – [œrøz] heureuse, happy [lO˜] long – [lO˜g] longue [su] soûl – [sul] soûle, drunk [ver] vert – [vert] verte, green 80 The feminine is formed from the masculine by changing the final consonant, e.g.:


The noun phrase 80–83 [sek] sec – [seʃ] sèche, dry [vif] vif – [viv] vive, living, etc.

81 The feminine is formed from the masculine by changing the vowel and adding a consonant, e.g.: [bo] beau – [bel] belle, beautiful [fu] fou – [fOl] folle, mad [lee] léger – [leer] légère, light, slight [so] sot – [sOt] sotte, foolish [vjø] vieux – [vjej] vieille, old [bO˜] bon – [bOn] bonne, good [brœ ˜ ] brun – [bryn] brune, brown [fe˜ ] fin – [fin] fine, fine, delicate [peizA˜] paysan – [peizan] paysanne, peasant [se˜ ] sain – [sen] saine, healthy

Written French 82 The vast majority of adjectives form their feminine by adding -e to the masculine, e.g.: masc. bleu, blue clair, clear différent, different grand, big gris, grey musulman, Muslim royal, royal vrai, true

fem. bleue claire différente grande grise musulmane royale vraie

Nouns falling into this category include many deriving from adjectives of nationality, e.g.: un Américain, American un Espagnol, Spaniard le Français, Frenchman

une Américaine une Espagnole la Française

83 If the masculine already ends in -e the masculine and the feminine are the same, e.g.:

83–85 The feminine of nouns and adjectives faible, weak rouge, red le Russe, Russian


faible rouge la Russe

84 In adjectives and nouns with the following endings, some further change, besides the addition of -e, takes place in the feminine: -c becomes (1) -che in blanc, white franc, frank, candid sec, dry

blanche franche sèche

(2) -que in ammoniac caduc, deciduous, etc. franc, Frankish le Franc, Frank public, public turc, Turkish le Turc, Turk

ammoniaque caduque franque Franque publique turque la Turque

(3) -cque in grec, le Grec, Greek

grecque, la Grecque

-f becomes -ve, e.g.: bref, brief neuf, new (le) veuf, widowed, widower vif, lively

brève neuve (la) veuve, widowed, widow vive

-g becomes -gue in long, long oblong, oblong 85

longue oblongue

Adjectives and nouns in -l are regular except that:

-el becomes -elle, e.g.: cruel, cruel mortel, mortal, deadly

cruelle mortelle


The noun phrase 85–87

-eil becomes -eille, e.g.: pareil, like vermeil, vermilion

pareille vermeille

Note too gentil, nice nul, no, none

gentille nulle

86 Five adjectives have an alternative masculine form in -l when they occur before a noun beginning with a vowel or mute h, and it is from this second form that the feminine is derived: beau, bel, beautiful fou, fol, mad mou, mol, soft nouveau, nouvel, new vieux, vieil, old

belle folle molle nouvelle vieille

The use of the second masculine forms is illustrated in such contexts as un bel arbre ‘a beautiful tree’ (cf. un beau jour ‘a beautiful day’), un fol espoir ‘an insane hope’ (cf. il est fou ‘he’s mad’), un mol oreiller ‘a soft pillow’ (cf. cet oreiller est mou ‘this pillow is soft’), un nouvel élève ‘a new pupil’ (cf. un nouveau professeur ‘a new teacher’), un vieil ami ‘an old friend’ (cf. un vieux film ‘an old film’). The following nouns in -eau form their feminine in the same way as beau and nouveau: le chameau, camel (le) jumeau, twin le Tourangeau, native of Tours or of Touraine

la chamelle (la) jumelle la Tourangelle

87 Words in -n are regular except that: -en becomes -enne, e.g.: ancien, former européen, European italien, Italian

ancienne européenne italienne

-on becomes -onne, e.g.: le baron

la baronne, baroness

87–89 The feminine of nouns and adjectives bon, good breton, Breton le lion


bonne bretonne la lionne, lioness

and -an becomes -anne in: (le) paysan, peasant rouan, roan

(la) paysanne rouanne

(but afghan, musulman ‘Muslim’, persan ‘Persian’, le sultan, etc., are regular – afghane, la sultane, etc.) Notice also: bénin, kindly, benign malin, cunning, malign

bénigne maligne

88 Words in -r, other than those in -er (see below) and -eur (see 89) are regular, e.g.: dur, hard noir, black

dure noire

The ending -er becomes -ère, e.g.: le boulanger, baker cher, dear un écolier, schoolboy (un) étranger, foreign(er) premier, first 89

la boulangère, female baker, baker’s wife chère une écolière, schoolgirl (une) étrangère première

Words in -eur are of various kinds:

(a) Comparatives, including all adjectives in -érieur (which derive from Latin comparatives), are regular: majeur, major mineur, minor (le) meilleur, better, best supérieur, superior ultérieur, later

majeure mineure (la) meilleure supérieure ultérieure

(also antérieur, extérieur, inférieur, intérieur, postérieur). (b) A number of adjectives and nouns in -eur form their feminine in -euse, e.g.:


The noun phrase 89 le chanteur, singer le danseur, dancer (le) flatteur, flattering, flatterer (le) menteur, lying, liar pleureur, weepy trompeur, deceitful, deceptive (le) voleur, thieving, thief le vendeur, shop assistant

la chanteuse la danseuse (la) flatteuse (la) menteuse pleureuse trompeuse (la) voleuse la vendeuse

Note that these all have the same stem as that of the corresponding verb (danseur like danser, menteur like mentir, etc.). (c) Three forms in -eur that correspond to verbs have, however, a feminine in -eresse: (un) enchanteur, enchanting, enchanter (le) pécheur, sinful, sinner (le) vengeur, avenging, avenger

(une) enchanteresse (la) pécheresse (la) vengeresse

Two legal terms also fall into this category: le défendeur, defendant le demandeur, plaintiff

la défenderesse la demanderesse

(Note that ‘defender’ is le défenseur, which has no feminine, and that le demandeur in the more general sense of ‘someone who asks’ has the feminine la demandeuse.) Five others that also share a stem with a corresponding verb form their feminine in -trice (cf. d below): (un) émetteur, transmitting (station etc.), transmitter un exécuteur, executor un inspecteur, inspector un inventeur, inventor (le) persécuteur, persecuting, persecutor

émettrice une executrice une inspectrice une inventrice (la) persécutrice

(d) A large number of nouns and a few adjectives in -teur whose stem is not also that of a corresponding verb (e.g. protecteur ‘protective, protector’ but protéger ‘to protect’, collaborateur but collaborer) form their feminine in -trice, e.g.:

89–91 The feminine of nouns and adjectives (un) accusateur, accusing, accuser un acteur, actor (le) consolateur, comforting, comforter (le) destructeur, destructive, destroyer un instituteur, schoolmaster le lecteur, reader le traducteur, translator


(une) accusatrice une actrice, actress (la) consolatrice (la) destructrice une institutrice, schoolmistress la lectrice la traductrice

(e) Note the following: l’ambassadeur ‘ambassador’, l’empereur ‘emperor’, have the feminine forms l’ambassadrice ‘ambassador’s wife’ (a woman ambassador is either l’ambassadeur or l’ambassadrice), l’impératrice ‘empress’. Le docteur (but only in the sense of a medical doctor) sometimes has the feminine la doctoresse, but la femme docteur or just le docteur (cf. ma femme est docteur ‘my wife is a doctor’) are more usual. (f) Some nouns in -eur have no feminine, including l’amateur, l’auteur ‘author’, le défenseur ‘defender’, l’imprimeur ‘printer’, l’orateur ‘speaker, orator’, le possesseur ‘owner’, le professeur ‘teacher, professor’, le sculpteur ‘sculptor’, le vainqueur ‘winner, victor’. 90

Forms in -s are regular (e.g. gris, grise ‘grey’), except for: bas, low épais, thick exprès, formal, express gras, fat gros, big las, weary frais, fresh, cool tiers, third

basse épaisse expresse grasse grosse lasse fraîche tierce

91 Forms in -t are regular (e.g. plat, plate ‘flat’, idiot, idiote), except that: (a) The feminine of le chat ‘cat’ is la chatte (b) Nine adjectives in -et make their feminine in -ète, viz.: complet, complete incomplet, incomplete

complète incomplète


The noun phrase 91–94 concret, concrete désuet, antiquated, obsolete discret, discreet indiscret, indiscreet inquiet, uneasy replet, stout, podgy secret, secret

concrète désuète discrète indiscrète inquiète replète secrète

The rest make their feminine in -ette, e.g. muet ‘dumb’, muette; net ‘clean’, nette. (c) A few adjectives in -ot make their feminine in -otte, in particular: boulot, tubby maigriot, skinny pâlot, palish sot, foolish vieillot, antiquated, quaint 92

boulotte maigriotte pâlotte sotte vieillotte

Forms in -u are regular except that -gu becomes -guë, e.g.: aigu, sharp ambigu, ambiguous exigu, exiguous, scanty

aiguë ambiguë exiguë

(otherwise the -ue would not be pronounced – e.g. aigue, with no ë, would be pronounced [eg] not [egy].) 93

In most cases, -x becomes -se, e.g.: heureux, happy jaloux, jealous

heureuse jalouse

But note: doux, sweet, soft faux, false roux, reddish-brown vieux, old 94

douce fausse rousse vieille

The following are irregular: andalou, Andalusian favori, favourite

andalouse favorite

94–96 The feminine of nouns and adjectives


Also coi, feminine coite, now used only in the expressions se tenir coi(te) ‘to remain silent’, en rester coi(te) ‘to be rendered speechless’. Note that though both hébreu and hébraïque ‘Hebrew’ exist in the masculine (e.g. le peuple hébreu ‘the Hebrew people’, l’alphabet hébraïque ‘the Hebrew alphabet’), only hébraïque occurs in the feminine (e.g. l’Université hébraïque de Jérusalem ‘the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’). 95 A certain number of adjectives (in addition to those having -e in the mascuime, see 83) have no special feminine form (and no special plural form, see 125 and 126). They are: (i) some words that were originally nouns but are now used as adjectives of colour, e.g. une chaussure marron ‘a brown shoe’, une robe lilas ‘a lilac dress’, une jupe saumon ‘a salmon-pink skirt’; also chamois ‘fawn, buff’, indigo (ii) a very few other adjectives, mainly of foreign origin, e.g.: une femme chic a smartly dressed woman une toile kaki a khaki cloth une pendule rococo a rococo clock une langue standard a standard language une livre sterling a pound sterling 96 The following adjectives occur only in one or other gender and, in the case of those asterisked, only in the contexts quoted: masc. only un nez aquilin*, a hooked nose benêt, simple-minded un vent coulis*, a draught un piano discord, an out-of-tune piano un esprit dispos, an alert mind le feu grégeois*, Greek fire pantois, flabbergasted un hareng saur*, a smoked herring fem. only bouche bée*, open-mouthed une année bissextile*, a leap-year une porte cochère*, a carriage entrance de l’ignorance crasse, crass ignorance


The noun phrase 96–98 la pierre philosophale*, the philosopher’s stone une œuvre pie*, a pious or charitable work

The plural of nouns Spoken French 97 In spoken French, most nouns are invariable in the plural – that is, there is no audible distinction between singular and plural, e.g.: le lit, bed, plur. les lits, both pronounced [li] la ville, town, plur. les villes, both pronounced [vil] The principal exceptions are: (i) Most nouns ending in -al (see 105), e.g. le cheval [ʃRval] ‘horse’, plural les chevaux [ʃRvo] (ii) Some nouns in -ail (see 106), e.g. le travail [travaj] ‘work’, plural les travaux [travo] (iii) l’aïeul [ajœl] ‘grandfather’, plural les aïeux [ajø] ‘ancestors’; le ciel [sjel], ‘sky’, plural les cieux [sjø]; l’œil [œj] ‘eye’, plural les yeux [jø] (see 108) (iv) monsieur [mRsjø], madame [madam], mademoiselle [madmwazel], plurals messieurs [mesjø], mesdames [medam], mesdemoiselles [medmwazel]; un bonhomme [bOnOm] ‘chap, bloke’, plural des bonshommes [bO˜zOm]; un gentilhomme [A˜tijOm] ‘gentleman, squire’, etc., plural des gentilshommes [A˜tizOm] (see 109) (v) l’os [Os] ‘bone’, plural les os [o], le bœuf [bœf] ‘ox’, and l’œuf [œf] ‘egg’, plurals les bœufs [bø], les œufs [ø]. 98 In fact, the main indication as to whether a noun is singular or plural is provided not by the form of the noun itself but by its determiner (article, demonstrative, possessive, etc., see 23), e.g.: le chat [lR ʃa], the cat la femme [la fam], the woman

les chats [le ʃa], the cats les femmes [le fam], the women

98–100 The plural of nouns l’enfant [lA˜fA˜], the child un pied [œ˜ pje], a foot une boîte [yn bwat], a box mon fils [mO˜ fis], my son sa main [sa me˜ ], his/her hand votre jardin [vOtrR arde¯ ], your garden ce livre [sR livr], this book cette pomme [set pOm], this apple


les enfants [lez A˜fA˜], the children des pieds [de pje], feet des boîtes [de bwat], boxes mes fils [me fis], my sons ses mains [se me˜ ], his/her hands vos jardins [vo arde˜ ], your gardens ces livres [se livr], these books ces pommes [se pOm], these apples

But sometimes the system breaks down – there is, for example, no audible distinction between leur chapeau ‘their hat’ and its plural leurs chapeaux, both pronounced [lœr ʃapo], or between quelle porte ? ‘which door?’ and quelles portes ? ‘which doors?’, both pronounced [kel pOrt]. 99 Sometimes the distinction between singular and plural is made clear in pronunciation by the presence of a liaison [z] in the plural, e.g. leur enfant [lœr A˜fA˜] ‘their child’, quel arbre? [kel arbr] ‘which tree?’, plural leurs enfants [lœrz A˜fA˜], quels arbres? [kelz arbr]. (Liaison can of course also occur even when the determiner itself indicates whether the noun is singular or plural, e.g. mon cher ami [mO˜ ʃer ami] ‘my dear friend’, plural mes chers amis [me ʃerz ami].) 100 Occasionally, when all else fails, the form of the verb may be the only way in which one can tell whether the subject of the sentence is singular or plural, e.g. Leur frère va [va] partir demain ‘Their brother is going to leave tomorrow’, plural Leurs frères vont [vO˜] partir demain ‘Their brothers are going to leave tomorrow’. But sometimes all possible devices fail. There is, for example, no way at all of distinguishing in pronunciation between Quel livre voulezvous acheter ? ‘What book do you want to buy?’ and the plural Quels livres voulez-vous acheter ? ‘What books do you want to buy?’ If it is essential to make the distinction, then the sentence must be phrased differently, e.g.: Quel est le livre Quels sont les livres


que vous voulez acheter ?

The noun phrase 101–104


Written French 101 In the written language, the plural is regularly formed by adding -s to the singular, e.g.: le livre, book la femme, woman

les livres les femmes

102 Nouns that end in -s, -x or -z in the singular remain unchanged, e.g.: le mois, month la voix, voice le nez, nose

les mois les voix les nez

103 Nouns ending in -au, -eau or -eu form their plural in -x, e.g.: le noyau, stone (of fruit), nucleus le tuyau, tube, pipe le chapeau, hat le seau, bucket le jeu, game le neveu, nephew le vœu, wish, vow

les noyaux les tuyaux les chapeaux les seaux les jeux les neveux les vœux

Exceptions: le landau ‘pram, landau’, les landaus; le bleu ‘blue, bruise’, l’émeu ‘emu’, le pneu ‘tyre’, les bleus (which also means ‘overalls’), les émeus, les pneus. 104

Seven nouns in -ou also form their plural in -x:

le bijou, jewel le hibou, owl le caillou, pebble le joujou, toy le chou, cabbage le pou, louse le genou, knee – plurals les bijoux, les cailloux, les choux, etc. Other nouns in -ou add -s, e.g. le clou ‘nail’, le voyou ‘lout, yobbo’, les clous, les voyous.

105–108 The plural of nouns 105


Most nouns ending in -al form their plural in -aux, e.g.:

le cheval, horse le général, general le journal, newspaper

les chevaux les généraux les journaux

Exceptions: un aval ‘backing, guarantee’, le bal ‘dance’, le cal ‘callus’, le carnaval ‘carnival’, le chacal ‘jackal’, le choral ‘chorale’, le festival ‘festival’, le narval ‘narwhal’, le récital ‘recital’, le régal ‘treat’, form their plural in -s, e.g. les avals, les bals, les chacals, les récitals, etc. Le val ‘dale’ has the plural vals, but note the expression par monts et par vaux ‘over hill and dale’. L’idéal ‘ideal’ has both idéals (the more usual form) and idéaux. 106 About ten nouns ending in -ail form their plural in -aux. Of these, the only ones in even moderately frequent use are: le bail, lease le corail, coral l’émail, enamel le soupirail, basement window le travail, work le vantail, leaf of door le vitrail, stained-glass window 107

les baux les coraux les émaux les soupiraux les travaux les vantaux les vitraux

Nouns in -ail forming their plural in -ails include:

le chandail, (thick) sweater le détail, detail l’épouvantail, scarecrow l’éventail, fan le gouvernail, helm le portail, portal le rail, rail

les chandails les détails les épouvantails les éventails les gouvemails les portails les rails

L’ail ‘garlic’ has both les ails and les aulx, the latter being somewhat archaic. Le bétail ‘cattle, livestock’ is a collective word and has no plural. 108

The following words have two plurals which differ in sense:

aïeul, grandfather

aïeuls, grandfathers

aïeux, ancestors


The noun phrase 108–109

ciel, sky

œil, eye

ciels, skies in paintings, cieux, skies, canopies of beds, heavens climates œils in compound yeux, eyes nouns with de; e.g. œils-de-bœuf, round or oval windows, œils-deperdrix, corns (on the feet)

Of these, the only ones in everyday use are cieux and yeux.

Compound nouns 109 As in the section on gender (57–63), only nouns formed of two or more words joined by hyphens are here counted as compound nouns. Nouns that were originally compounds but are now fused, i.e. written as one word without hyphens, present little difficulty as far as their plural goes – they are treated like any other noun, e.g.: une entrecôte, (rib) steak le passeport, passport le pourboire, tip

des entrecôtes les passeports les pourboires

Note, however, the following exceptions (for their pronunciation, see 97,iv): (le) monsieur, gentleman, Mr madame, mademoiselle, Mrs, Miss le bonhomme, chap, bloke le gentilhomme, gentleman, squire, etc.

(les) messieurs mesdames, mesdemoiselles les bonshommes les gentilshommes

Locutions like la pomme de terre ‘potato’, in which the various elements are neither fused nor joined by hyphens, present even less difficulty: the first noun, and the first noun only, is made plural, les pommes de terre, cf.:

109–111 The plural of nouns le coup d’œil, glance l’hôtel de ville, town hall le ver à soie, silk-worm le verre à vin, wine-glass


les coups d’œil les hôtels de ville les vers à soie les verres à vin

110 Compound nouns are constantly coming and going, in the sense that new ones are being created, and others that still figure in many grammars have largely or entirely gone out of use. What is more, in many cases opinions differ as to the recommended plural. In these circumstances, the following indications do not aim to be exhaustive but only to cover most cases that the student is likely to come across. They must be supplemented by reference to a good dictionary. The following classes are the same as those adopted with reference to gender (sections 58–63). 111 (i) Nouns composed of a noun and a preceding or following adjective Both elements become plural: la basse-cour, farmyard la belle-mère, mother-in-law le grand-père, grandfather le haut-relief, high relief le rouge-gorge, robin le cerf-volant, kite, stagbeetle le coffre-fort, safe

les basses-cours les belles-mères les grands-pères les hauts-reliefs les rouges-gorges les cerfs-volants les coffres-forts

Note the following: (a) Feminine nouns in grand- (which represents an early form of the feminine adjective – it is not a shortened form of grande): generally speaking, grand remains invariable – la grand-mère ‘grandmother’, la grand-route ‘main road’, plural les grand-mères, les grand-routes – but grands-mères, grands-routes, etc. are also acceptable. (b) In le haut-parleur ‘loudspeaker’, le nouveau-né ‘newly born child’, le sauf-conduit ‘safe conduct’, the first element is not an adjective but an adverb (haut = ‘aloud’, nouveau = ‘newly’, sauf = ‘safely’) and so does not change: les haut-parleurs, les nouveau-nés, les sauf-conduits. (But, inconsistently, le premier-né ‘firstborn’, le dernier-né ‘lastborn’, le nouveau-marié ‘newly-wed’,

The noun phrase 111–114


and le nouveau-venu ‘newcomer’ have the plurals les premiers-nés, les derniers-nés, les nouveaux-mariés, les nouveaux-venus.) 112 (ii) Nouns composed of noun + noun In most cases, both nouns become plural, e.g.: le bateau-phare, lightship le camion-citerne, tanker (lorry) le chef-lieu, county town l’homme-grenouille, frogman l’oiseau-mouche, hummingbird le wagon-lit, sleeper

les bateaux-phares les camions-citernes les chefs-lieux les hommes-grenouilles les oiseaux-mouches les wagons-lits

Exceptions include: l’année-lumière, light-year le soutien-gorge, bra le timbre-poste (for timbre de poste), postage-stamp

les années-lumière les soutiens-gorge les timbres-poste

113 (iii) Nouns having the construction noun + preposition + noun In most cases the first noun (only) becomes plural, e.g.: l’arc-en-ciel, rainbow les arcs-en-ciel le chef-d’œuvre, masterpiece les chefs-d’œuvre le face-à-main, lorgnette les faces-à-main la langue-de-chat (type of les langues-de-chat biscuit) Some nouns, however, remain invariable, e.g.: le pied-à-terre le pot-au-feu, stew le tête-à-tête le vol-au-vent 114

les pied-à-terre les pot-au-feu les tête-à-tête les vol-au-vent

(iv) Nouns having the construction adverb or prefix + noun

The second element, i.e. the noun, becomes plural, e.g.: l’arrière-pensée, mental les arrière-pensées reservation l’avant-projet, pilot study les avant-projets la demi-heure, half-hour les demi-heures

114–116 The plural of nouns l’ex-roi, ex-king le haut-parleur, loudspeaker la mini-jupe, mini-skirt le sous-titre, subtitle le vice-président


les ex-rois les haut-parleurs les mini-jupes les sous-titres les vice-présidents

115 (v) Nouns having the construction preposition + noun Here, there is considerable fluctuation. Some, including le, la sans-cœur ‘heartless person’, le sous-main ‘desk blotter’, are invariable, les sans-cœur, les sous-main. L’à-côté ‘side issue’, l’en-tête ‘heading’, usually have the plurals les à-côtés, les en-têtes, while l’après-midi ‘afternoon’ has either les après-midi or les après-midis. 116 (vi) Words having the construction verb + noun To say that chaos reigns would be an unfair comment on the rules for the formation of the plural of nouns of this type. But that there are numerous uncertainties and inconsistencies is indisputable. We shall, however, try and give as much reliable guidance as possible, based on two general principles, and advise readers, in cases not covered here, to consult a good dictionary (while warning them that, if they consult two dictionaries, they may well find two different answers). The first general principle is that the first element, being a verb, never varies. The apparent exception found in the case of a few compounds in garde-, all of them referring to people, is accounted for by the fact that garde-, though originally it was a verb, is here treated as a noun – e.g. le garde-chasse ‘gamekeeper’, les gardeschasse (chasse remains invariable – cf. c below), le/la garde-malade ‘home-nurse’, les gardes-malade(s) (malade may or may not take the plural -s, cf. a and b below). The second principle, by no means always observed in practice as we shall see, is that the second element takes an -s when, and only when, it stands for a noun that can itself be plural in the particular sense in question. On this basis, the nouns in question fall into three groups: (a) Those that have an -s even in the singular, e.g. le compte-tours ‘rev counter’, i.e. an instrument serving to count revolutions, compter les tours (in the plural), or le brise-lames ‘breakwater’, a construction serving to break the force of the waves, briser les


The noun phrase 116

lames. Such words are, of course, invariable in the plural – les compte-tours, les brise-lames. Other examples are: le chauffe-plats, dish-warmer le coupe-tomates, tomato-slicer le gobe-mouches, flycatcher (bird) le pare-balles, bullet-shield le pare-chocs, bumper (of a car) le porte-avions, aircraft carrier le porte-cigarettes, cigarette-case le porte-clefs, keyring le presse-papiers, paperweight le protège-dents, gumshield (b) Those that add a plural marker to the noun; the justification for this is presumably that, to take an obvious example, un tirebouchon ‘a corkscrew’, can only be used for drawing one cork at a time, whereas several corkscrews can draw several corks, hence the plural des tire-bouchons. Cf.: un accroche-cœur, kiss-curl le bouche-trou, stop-gap, stand-in le couvre-lit, bedspread le cure-pipe, pipecleaner un ouvre-boîte, tin-opener le pèse-lettre, letter-scales le perce-oreille, earwig le vide-pomme, apple-corer

des accroche-cœurs les bouche-trous les couvre-lits les cure-pipes des ouvre-boîtes les pèse-lettres les perce-oreilles les vide-pommes

At least one category b noun, le cure-dent ‘toothpick’, which can be defined as something one uses pour se curer les dents (in the plural), and one which hesitates between categories a and b, viz. le porte-cartes or le porte-carte ‘card-holder, map-case’, i.e. something for containing cards or maps (in the plural), might have been expected to fall clearly into category a. Others that hesitate, e.g. le coupe-cigare or le coupe-cigares ‘cigar cutter’, le taille-crayon or le taille-crayons ‘pencil sharpener’, are very similar to ouvre-boîte, vide-pomme, and so ought to fall clearly into category b. The inconsistencies in fact relate mainly to those nouns that do, or ought to but do not, fall into this category. They are

116 The plural of nouns


well illustrated by the absurdity of the fact that le coupe-tomates ‘tomato-slicer’ falls into category a, le vide-pomme ‘apple-corer’ into category b, and le presse-citron ‘lemon-squeezer’ into category c. (c) Where the sense of the second element clearly remains singular (i.e. where we have to do with mass-nouns), the compound as a whole is invariable in the plural – e.g. several ice-breakers break ice (in the singular), so le brise-glace, les brise-glace, several waterheaters heat water (in the singular), so le chauffe-eau, les chauffeeau. Cf.: un abat-jour, lampshade un aide-mémoire, memorandum le coupe-feu, firebreak le garde-boue, mudguard le garde-manger, larder, pantry le gratte-ciel, skyscraper le pare-brise, windscreen le porte-bonheur, lucky charm le porte-monnaie, purse le rabat-joie, killjoy, spoilsport

des abat-jour des aide-mémoire les coupe-feu les garde-boue les garde-manger les gratte-ciel les pare-brise les porte-bonheur les porte-monnaie les rabat-joie

Unfortunately, and inexplicably, a few nouns whose second element is not a mass-noun, i.e. it could have taken the plural marker, follow the same pattern as category c instead of falling, as might have been expected, into b, e.g.: le fume-cigarette ‘cigaretteholder’, les fume-cigarette, le porte-plume ‘pen-holder’, les porteplume, le presse-citron ‘lemon-squeezer’, les presse-citron. Others fluctuate between the two forms, e.g. un attrape-nigaud ‘con(fidence) trick’, des attrape-nigaud or attrape-nigauds, le portecouteau ‘knife-rest’, les porte-couteau or porte-couteaux. Likewise les essuie-main(s) ‘hand-towels’, les essuie-glace(s) ‘windscreenwipers’, les grippe-sou(s) ‘skinflints’, les porte-drapeau(x) ‘standardbearers’, les porte-savon(s) ‘soap-dishes’.


The noun phrase 117–118

Miscellaneous 117 The letters of the alphabet, phrases used as nouns, numerals, and various other parts of speech such as adverbs or prepositions when used as nouns, do not vary in the plural, e.g.: ‘Cannes’ s’écrit avec deux n ‘Cannes’ is spelt with two n’s mettre les points sur les i to dot the i’s Ce ne sont que des on-dit It’s only hearsay des meurt-de-faim paupers des va-et-vient comings and goings les oui et les non the ayes (yeses) and the noes des laissez-passer passes, permits écrire deux quatre to write two fours les ci-devant pre-Revolutionary aristocrats 118 (i) Generally speaking, words of foreign origin, even when they keep their original form, are treated as French words and form their plural in -s, e.g. (from Latin) les albums, les ultimatums, les référendums, les sanatoriums, les tumulus; (from English) les bestsellers, les meetings, les snack-bars, les week-ends; (from Italian) les adagios, les concertos, les solos, les pizzas; (from Spanish) les matadors. (ii) Latin phrases used as nouns (cf. 117) and a few Latin words (many though not all of them to do with the Church) are invariable, e.g. des ex-voto, des Te Deum, des confiteor ‘general confessions’, des credo ‘creeds’, des post-scriptum ‘postscripts’. Le maximum and le minimum have the Latin plurals les maxima, minima, in addition to the more usual les maximums, minimums.

118–119 The plural of nouns


(iii) English words in -man (including such false Anglicisms as le rugbyman ‘rugby player’) normally form their plural in -men, e.g. les gentlemen, les rugbymen, but le barman has both les barmen and les barmans, and (obsolete) le wattman ‘tram-driver’ has only les wattmans. English words in -y have either -ies or -ys (depending perhaps on how well the writer knows English), e.g. les dandies or dandys, les ladies or ladys, les whiskies or whiskys. Le match, le sandwich have les matches or matchs, les sandwichs or sandwiches, but le flash has only les flashes. (iv) Among words of Italian origin, le dilettante and le, la soprano have les dilettanti, les soprani beside the more usual les dilettantes, les sopranos. 119 Personal names Considerable uncertainty remains as to when personal names take a plural. The following indications cover most cases that occur with any frequency: (i) Names of dynasties and certain eminent families, etc., usually take a plural form, e.g. les Ptolémées, les Césars, les Bourbons, les Tudors (but note les Romanov, les Habsbourg). (ii) Otherwise, a name referring to a number of people of the same name is usually invariable, e.g. les deux Corneille (i.e. Pierre and Thomas Corneille), le ‘Journal’ des Goncourt (i.e. of the Goncourt brothers), les Dupont (i.e. the members of the Dupont family), les Borgia (the Borgias). (iii) Personal names taken as representing a type of person are usually plural, e.g. Combien de Mozarts naissent chaque jour en des îles sauvages! (J. Rostand) (i.e. potential Mozarts), il n’y a pas beaucoup de Pasteurs (i.e. people like Pasteur); but some writers leave such names invariable, e.g. les Boileau de l’avenir (A. Hermant), il y a peut-être eu des Shakespeare dans la lune (Duhamel). (iv) Names referring to makes of car, aeroplane, etc., are usually invariable, e.g. des Ford et des Chevrolet, plusieurs Boeing, deux Leica (cameras). (v) Usage varies considerably in respect of personal names denoting the works (e.g. editions of literary texts, paintings) of the individual concerned. These sometimes take a plural form and are sometimes invariable, des Rembrandts or des Rembrandt


The noun phrase 119–121

‘Rembrandts’ (i.e. paintings by Rembrandt), trois Picassos or Picasso, il possède plusieurs Racines or Racine (i.e. editions of Racine). The conclusion seems to be that, except in cases such as those included under (i) above, it is never wrong to leave a personal name invariable even if, in some circumstances, it is more usual to add an -s in the plural. 120 Though this is not strictly a grammatical point, it is worth pointing out that some words in the plural have a different meaning or an additional meaning to that which they have in the singular. In particular: l’affaire, matter le ciseau, chisel le gage, pledge la lettre, letter l’ouïe, (sense of) hearing la vacance, vacancy (i.e. time during which a post is vacant)

les affaires, affairs, business les ciseaux, chisels, scissors les gages, pledges, wages les lettres, letters, arts (subjects), literature les ouïes, gills les vacances, vacation, holiday(s)

121 Some words are singular in French but correspond to a plural in English, in particular various words denoting items consisting of two symmetrical parts such as un soufflet ‘(a pair of) bellows’, and a number of words for items of leg-wear that may or may not be preceded by ‘a pair of’ in English, e.g. un caleçon ‘(a pair of) (men’s) (under)pants’, un collant ‘tights’, une culotte ‘knickers’, un maillot (de bain) ‘swimming trunks’, un pantalon ‘trousers’, un short ‘shorts’, un slip ‘panties’. Note too a number of words in -ique (many of them referring to academic disciplines), such as la gymnastique ‘gymnastics’, la linguistique ‘linguistics’, la phonétique ‘phonetics’, la physique ‘physics’, la politique ‘politics’. Conversely, some words that are plural in form in French correspond to an English singular noun, e.g. les alentours (masc.) ‘surrounding area’, les échecs (masc.) ‘chess’, les fiançailles (fem.) ‘engagement (to be married)’, les fonts (baptismaux) (masc.) ‘font’, les obsèques (fem.) ‘funeral’, les ténèbres (fem.) ‘darkness’.

122–125 The plural of adjectives


The plural of adjectives

122 Adjectives form their plural in much the same ways as nouns. Note in particular: (a) that, apart from the exceptions dealt with below (123–126), masculine adjectives form their plural in -s, e.g.: le grand chien, the big dog un livre difficile, a difficult book

les grands chiens des livres difficiles

(b) that all feminine adjectives apart from a few that are invariable for gender or number (see 126) form their plural by adding -s to the singular, e.g.: la grande maison, the big house une fleur blanche, a white flower

les grandes maisons des fleurs blanches

123 Adjectives in -eau, like nouns in -eau (see 103), form their plural in -x, viz. beau ‘fine, beautiful’, nouveau ‘new’, tourangeau (the adjective corresponding to Tours and Touraine), plural beaux, nouveaux, tourangeaux. Hébreu ‘Hebrew’ has the plural hébreux, but bleu ‘blue’ has bleus. 124 Most adjectives in -al, like nouns in -al (see 105), form their plural in -aux, e.g. égal ‘equal’, plural égaux, social, plural sociaux, normal, plural normaux, spécial, plural spéciaux. But banal, bancal ‘rickety, wobbly’ (of a piece of furniture), fatal, final, natal and naval take -s, e.g. des incidents banals, des enfants bancals, des chantiers navals ‘naval dockyards’, fatals, finals, natals. Idéal usually has idéaux, though idéals also occurs. Much uncertainty surrounds the plural of some adjectives in -al, e.g. estival ‘(to do with) summer’, frugal, glacial, pascal ‘(to do with) Easter’, and in consequence there is a tendancy to avoid using them in the masculine plural. 125 Masculine adjectives (like nouns, see 102) ending in -s or -x (there are no adjectives ending in -z) do not change in the


The noun phrase 125–127

plural, e.g. un gros livre ‘a big book’, trois gros livres ‘three big books’, il est heureux ‘he is happy’, ils sont heureux ‘they are happy’. 126 Adjectives that are invariable for gender (see 95) are also invariable for number, i.e. they have no special plural form: (i) Words that were originally nouns but are now used as adjectives of colour: des gants marron ‘brown gloves’, des rubans cerise ‘cherry-coloured ribbons’, des rideaux orange ‘orange curtains’, crème ‘cream’, olive ‘olive(-green)’, paille ‘straw-coloured’, puce, etc. But note that the adjectives écarlate ‘scarlet’, mauve, pourpre ‘crimson’, rose ‘pink’, that were also originally nouns, are now treated as ordinary adjectives and so agree in number, e.g. des rubans écarlates et mauves ‘scarlet and mauve ribbons’, des nuages roses ‘pink clouds’. (ii) Miscellaneous, e.g. des vêtements chic ‘smart clothes’, des uniformes kaki ‘khaki uniforms’, des églises rococo ‘rococo churches’, cinq livres sterling ‘five pounds sterling’.

Agreement of adjectives

127 (i) Adjectives are used either attributively (e.g. une belle maison ‘a beautiful house’, des livres intéressants ‘interesting books’) or predicatively (e.g. Ce livre est intéressant ‘This book is interesting’, elle paraît heureuse ‘she seems (to be) happy’, je les croyais intelligents ‘I thought them (I thought they were) intelligent’). (ii) Whether used attributively or predicatively, adjectives take the gender and number of (i.e. they ‘agree with’) the noun or pronoun they qualify, e.g.: masc. sing. fem. sing. masc. plur. fem. plur,

un livre intéressant ‘an interesting book’ cette leçon intéressante ‘this interesting lesson’ ils sont intéressants ‘they are interesting’ je trouve ses idées intéressantes ‘I find his ideas interesting’

(iii) When an adjective qualifies two or more nouns or pronouns, each of which is in the singular, the adjective is put in the

127–129 Agreement of adjectives


plural, e.g. le gouvernement et le parlement italiens ‘the Italian government and parliament’, la marine et I’aviation françaises ‘the French navy and air force’. If the nouns or pronouns are of different genders, the adjective takes the masculine plural form, e.g. Lui et sa femme sont très intelligents ‘He and his wife are very intelligent’. However, though it is not impossible to find constructions such as un père et une mère excellents ‘a fine father and mother’, in which a feminine noun is followed immediately by a masculine adjective, they are much better avoided except in contexts in which the masculine and feminine forms sound the same, e.g. un dictionnaire et une grammaire espagnols ‘a Spanish dictionary and grammar’. The problem can usually be avoided by putting the feminine noun first, e.g. une grammaire et un dictionnaire allemands ‘a German grammar and dictionary’, la politesse et le charme français ‘French politeness and charm’. (Some such constructions might well be theoretically ambiguous, e.g. the last example could mean ‘politeness and French charm’, but in practice it will usually be clear from the context that the adjective refers to both nouns.) (iv) Two or more adjectives, each in the singular, can modify the same plural noun when each refers to one instance of the plurality expressed by the noun, e.g. les dix-neuvième et vingtième siècles ‘the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’, les religions chrétienne, musulmane et juive ‘the Christian, Muslim and Jewish religions’, les gouvernements espagnol et italien ‘the Spanish and Italian governments’. (v) Past participles used adjectivally agree in the same way as other adjectives, e.g. une occasion perdue ‘a missed opportunity’, une école et une église détruites pendant la guerre ‘a school and a church destroyed during the war’. 128 Where the adjective refers to two nouns linked by ou ‘or’, the adjective is usually plural if the idea is ‘either [of the nouns mentioned] – it does not much matter which’, e.g. Je cherche un livre ou un journal allemands ‘I’m looking for a German book or [a German) newspaper’, Il mange chaque jour une pomme ou une poire mûres ‘He eats a ripe apple or pear every day’. 129 Note that an adjective qualifying two nouns is singular when the nouns are joined by ainsi que, aussi bien que, autant que, comme, de même que (‘as, as well as, as much as, in the same way as, like’, etc.), plus que (‘more than’), and the like; e.g. Sa


The noun phrase 129–132

main, ainsi que (aussi bien que, pas moins que) son pied, a été échaudée ‘His hand, as well as his foot, was scalded’. The reason is that the basic structure of the sentence is sa main a été échaudée (note that the verb is singular) and the sentence as a whole could be translated as ‘his hand was scalded, and so was his foot’. This is therefore not in fact an exception to the general rule. (See also 393.) 130 In certain contexts, the agreement of the adjective is illogical and inconsistent. In particular: (i) Logically, we would expect an adjective used with the expression avoir l’air to agree with air, i.e. one would expect to find not only Il a l’air heureux ‘He looks happy’ (literally ‘He has a happy air’), but also Elle a l’air heureux. In practice, however, avoir l’air is often treated as the equivalent of sembler, paraître, etc., and the adjective usually (though not always) agrees with the subject, e.g. Elle a l’air heureuse ‘She looks happy’, Ils ont l’air tristes ‘They look sad’, etc. (ii) On ‘one’ (see 302) is normally masculine singular (in conformity with its origin – it comes from the Latin homo ‘man’). However, there is a growing tendency in familiar speech to use it as the equivalent of any personal pronoun, i.e. to mean ‘I, we, you, he, she or they’ (especially ‘we’). In such cases, adjectives relating to it agree according to the sense, i.e. they may be feminine and/or plural (even though the verb is always singular), e.g. On est malades ? ‘Are you [plural] ill?’, On a été contentes de les voir ‘We [feminine] were glad to see them’. (iii) For the agreement of adjectives with gens ‘people’ (e.g. Certaines [feminine] gens ne sont jamais heureux [masculine] ‘Some people are never happy’), see 68. 131

For the agreement or otherwise of demi ‘half’, see 188.

132 Note that nu- ‘bare’ before a noun referring to a part of the body is treated as an invariable prefix, e.g.: travailler nu-tête marcher nu-pieds nu-jambes

to work bareheaded to walk barefoot barelegged

In other circumstances it agrees in the normal way, travailler (la) tête nue ‘to work bareheaded’, un enfant aux jambes nues ‘a

132–134 Agreement of adjectives


barelegged child’, boxer à main nue ‘to box with bare hands’, ils étaient nus ‘they were naked’. 133

Possible, after a superlative and a plural noun, is invariable:

les plus grands malheurs possible the greatest possible misfortunes les robes les plus élégantes possible the smartest dresses possible J’ai fait le moins d’erreurs possible I made the fewest possible mistakes (= as few mistakes as possible) The reason is that possible is taken as agreeing with an unexpressed impersonal pronoun subject il (e.g. the first example above is the equivalent of something like les plus grands malheurs qu’il est possible d’imaginer ‘the greatest misfortunes that it is possible to imagine’). Elsewhere, it agrees quite normally with its noun, e.g. tous les malheurs possibles ‘all possible misfortunes’. 134 When placed before a noun, certain past participles and in particular attendu, compris (especially in the expression y compris ‘including’, non compris ‘not including’), excepté, passé, and vu are treated as prepositions and so remain invariable; some of them can also follow the noun, in which case they agree with it in gender and number: vu les conditions considering the conditions tous mes parents, y compris ma tante (or ma tante (y) comprise) all my relations including my aunt Personne n’est venu, excepté sa mère (or sa mère exceptée) Nobody came except his mother Passé dix heures, je ne travaille plus After ten o’clock, I don’t work any more Passé ces maisons, on est en pleine campagne Beyond these houses you are right out in the country The expression étant donné ‘given, in view of’, is also usually invariable when it precedes, but may agree, e.g. étant donné or étant données les difficultés ‘given the difficulties’.


The noun phrase 134–136

The expressions ci-joint, ci-inclus ‘enclosed (herewith)’, agree when they follow the noun immediately (la lettre ci-jointe ‘the enclosed letter’), but elsewhere may either agree or (more usually) remain invariable, e.g.: Vous trouverez ci-joint (or ci-jointe) une copie de ma lettre du 10 juin You will find enclosed a copy of my letter of 10 June Je me permets de vous envoyer ci-joint(es) les lettres dont je vous ai parlé I take the liberty of enclosing the letters I told you about Ci-joint(s) les documents que vous avez demandés Herewith the documents you asked for 135 Note the following special cases: Plein ‘full’ is invariable when it precedes both the noun and its article in such expressions as avoir de l’argent plein les poches ‘to have plenty of money’ (literally ‘to have one’s pockets full of money’), J’ai de l’encre plein les mains ‘I’ve got ink all over my hands’, en avoir plein la bouche de (quelque chose) ‘to be always on about (something)’ (literally ‘to have one’s mouth full of it’). The little-used adjective feu ‘late, deceased’ (which virtually never occurs in the plural) agrees with a feminine noun when preceded by a determiner (which can only be either the definite article or a possessive); it may, however, come before the determiner, in which case it is invariable, e.g.: la feue reine feu la reine ma feue mère feu ma mère


the late queen


my late mother

Note that feu is now obsolescent and indeed, in everyday usage, obsolete – use some such expression as ma pauvre mère ‘my late mother’, le regretté Charles Dupont ‘the late Charles Dupont’. 136

Compound adjectives

(i) The rule for compound adjectives formed from two simple adjectives, e.g. aigre-doux ‘bitter-sweet’, is that both parts agree, e.g.:

136–137 Agreement of adjectives


une jeune fille sourde-muette a deaf and dumb girl les partis sociaux-démocrates the Social Democrat parties des chansons aigres-douces bitter-sweet songs (ii) Tout-puissant ‘almighty, omnipotent’, agrees as follows: masc. fem. sing. tout-puissant toute-puissante plur. tout-puissants toutes-puissantes (iii) Soi-disant ‘so-called’ does not agree, e.g. ces soi-disant professeurs ‘these so-called teachers’, une soi-disant preuve ‘a so-called proof’. (It is treated as though it were still a present participle, ‘calling oneself’ – cf. the non-agreement of the participle in Voyant cela, elle est partie ‘seeing that, she left’.) (iv) Note that in compounds such as haut-placé ‘highly placed’, court-vêtu ‘short-skirted’, nouveau-né ‘newborn’ (in all of which the second element is a past participle), the first element is an adverb, not an adjective, and so does not agree, e.g.: une femme court-vêtue a short-skirted woman des gens haut-placés highly placed people des fillettes nouveau-nées newborn baby girls There are, however, some inconsistencies: (a) mort-né ‘stillborn (i.e. born dead)’, whose first element is not an adverb, behaves like nouveau-né, e.g. une idée mort-née ‘a stillborn idea’, des enfants mort-nés ‘stillborn children’ (b) On the agreement of frais, grand and large when they are used adverbially in contexts comparable to the above, see 610,i. (v) The first element (ending in -i or -o) of compound adjectives such as the following is a prefix (and not itself an adjective) and so does not agree: des pierres semi-précieuses ‘semi-precious stones’, une scène tragi-comique ‘a tragi-comic scene’, les invasions anglo-saxonnes ‘the Anglo-Saxon invasions’, une théorie pseudo-scientifique ‘a pseudo-scientific theory’. 137 Adjectives of colour that are themselves modified by another adjective (or a noun used as an adjective) do not agree in either gender or number, e.g. une robe vert foncé ‘a dark-green dress’, la mer gris perle ‘the pearl-grey sea’, des chaussures vert pomme ‘apple-green shoes’, des yeux bleu clair ‘pale blue eyes’, des cheveux brun foncé ‘dark brown hair’, des uniformes bleu marine ‘navy-blue uniforms’, gris ardoise ‘slate grey’, jaune citron ‘lemon yellow’, rouge sang ‘blood-red’, etc.


The noun phrase 138–140

138 For adjectives that are invariable for gender and number (une robe marron, des vêtements chic, etc.), see 95 and 126.

The position of adjectives

139 Adjectives in French tend to follow the noun (e.g. un livre difficile ‘a difficult book’). However, some adjectives must and others may precede the noun (e.g. un petit garçon ‘a little boy’), and there is indeed an increasing tendency on the part of journalists and others to put in front of the noun adjectives that would more usually be found after it (e.g. une importante décision for une décision importante ‘an important decision’) (see 148). A safe principle to follow is that the adjective should be placed after the noun unless there is some reason for doing otherwise. The main rules and tendencies relating to contexts in which the adjective must or may come before the noun are set out in sections 140–151. 140

The following adjectives usually precede the noun:

beau, beautiful, fine bon, good bref, brief grand, big, great gros, big haut, high jeune, young joli, pretty

mauvais, bad meilleur, better, best moindre, less, least petit, little, small sot, foolish vaste, immense vieux, old vilain, ugly, nasty

This remains true even when these adjectives are preceded by one or other of the short adverbs assez ‘rather, quite’, aussi ‘as’, bien ‘very’, fort ‘very’, moins ‘less’, plus ‘more’, si ‘so’, très ‘very’, e.g. un assez bon rapport ‘quite a good report’, une plus jolie robe ‘a prettier dress’, un très grand plaisir ‘a very great pleasure’. Note, however: (i) d’un ton bref ‘curtly’, une voyelle brève ‘a short vowel’; (ii) la marée haute ‘high tide’, à voix haute (or à haute voix) ‘aloud’; (iii) un sourire mauvais ‘a nasty smile’ (and also with various other nouns – consult a good dictionary). If modified by a longer adverb or adverbial phrase these

140–144 The position of adjectives


adjectives normally follow the noun, e.g. une femme exceptionnellement jolie ‘an exceptionally pretty woman’, un homme encore jeune ‘a man still young’, des différences tout à fait petites ‘quite slight differences’. 141 Court ‘short’ and long ‘long’ tend to precede the noun (e.g. un court intervalle ‘a short interval’, une courte lettre ‘a short letter’, un long voyage ‘a long journey’, une longue liste ‘a long list’) except when (as frequently happens) there is a contrast or an implied contrast, i.e. ‘short as opposed to long’ or vice versa, e.g. une robe courte, une robe longue ‘a short/long dress’, des cheveux courts/longs ‘short/long hair’, une voyelle courte/longue ‘a short/long vowel’. 142 Dernier ‘last’ (see also 183) and prochain ‘next’ meaning ‘last or next as from now’ follow words designating specific moments or periods of time such as semaine ‘week’, mois ‘month’, an, année ‘year’, siècle ‘century’, names of the days of the week or of the seasons, and (in the case of dernier only) nuit ‘night’, e.g. la semaine dernière ‘last week’, le mois prochain ‘next month’, l’an dernier/prochain, l’année dernière/prochaine ‘last/next year’, le siècle dernier ‘last century’, lundi prochain ‘next Monday’, l’été dernier ‘last summer’, la nuit dernière ‘last night’. Otherwise they precede the noun, e.g. la dernière/prochaine fois ‘last time, next time’, la dernière semaine des vacances ‘the last week of the holidays’, la prochaine réunion ‘the next meeting’, le dernier mardi de juin ‘the last Tuesday in June’, le prochain village ‘the next village’. 143 Nouveau ‘new’ follows the noun when it means ‘newly created’ or ‘having just appeared for the first time’, e.g. du vin nouveau ‘new wine’, des pommes (de terre) nouvelles ‘new potatoes’, un mot nouveau ‘a new (i.e. newly coined) word’, une mode nouvelle ‘a new fashion’; otherwise – and most frequently – it precedes the noun, e.g. le nouveau gouvernement ‘the new government’, j’ai acheté une nouvelle voiture ‘I’ve bought a new (i.e. different) car’. 144 Faux ‘false’ usually precedes the noun, e.g. un faux problème ‘a false problem’, une fausse alerte ‘a false alarm’, une fausse fenêtre ‘a false window’, un faux prophète ‘a false prophet’, de faux papiers ‘false papers’, but follows it in certain expressions such as des diamants faux ‘false diamonds’, des perles fausses ‘false


The noun phrase 144–146

pearls’, un raisonnement faux ‘false reasoning’, des idées fausses ‘false ideas’. 145 Seul before the noun means ‘single, sole, (one and) only’, e.g. c’est mon seul ami ‘he is my only friend’, la seule langue qu’il comprenne ‘the only language he understands’. After the noun it means ‘alone, on one’s own’, e.g. une femme seule ‘a woman on her own’. Note too the use of the adjective seul in contexts where English uses ‘only’ as an adverb, e.g. Seuls les parents peuvent comprendre ‘Only parents can understand’, Seule compte la décision de l’arbitre ‘Only the referee’s decision (the referee’s decision alone) counts’. 146 Some other adjectives have one meaning when they precede the noun and a different one when they follow the noun. In some cases the two meanings are very clearly distinguishable. In other cases, the distinction is less sharp but there is a tendency for the adjective to have a literal meaning or to be used objectively when it follows the noun and to have a more figurative meaning or to be used more subjectively when it precedes the noun. It is not possible to give a full list of all such adjectives, nor is a grammar the place to attempt to cover the full range of meanings of each adjective that is listed – a dictionary should be consulted. The following list includes only the more common of the adjectives in question and some of their more usual meanings (others whose usage should be looked up in a dictionary include chic, digne, fameux, franc, maudit, plaisant, sacré, véritable): Meaning before the noun ancien former, exbrave nice, good, decent certain certain, some cher dear, beloved différent (plural) various divers (plural) various, several méchant poor, second-rate, nasty même (see 300) same pauvre poor (pitiable, of poor quality) propre own sale nasty simple mere triste wretched, sad vrai real, genuine


Meaning after the noun old, ancient brave sure, certain dear, expensive (sing. and plural) different (sing. and plural) differing malicious very, actual poor, needy clean, suitable dirty simple, single sad, sorrowful true

146–148 The position of adjectives un ancien cinéma a former cinema au bout d’un certain temps after a certain time certains Français certain French people différentes personnes various people un méchant petit livre a wretched little book les mêmes paroles the same words pauvre jeune homme ! poor young man! ma propre maison my own house

un sale tour a dirty trick une simple formalité a mere formality


la ville ancienne the old city une preuve certaine definite proof des indications certaines sure indications des avis différents different opinions des propos méchants malicious remarks ses paroles mêmes his very (actual) words un jeune homme pauvre a penniless young man une maison propre a clean house le mot propre the right word des mains sales dirty hands une explication simple a simple explanation un aller simple a single ticket

147 A preceding adjective refers only to the noun that immediately follows; where there is, in English, an implication that an adjective refers to more than one following noun, it must be repeated in French, e.g.: un beau printemps et un bel été a fine spring and summer les mêmes mots et les mêmes expressions the same words and expressions (On following adjectives qualifying more than one noun, see 127, iii.) 148 The following normally go after the noun: (a) Adjectives denoting nationality or derived from proper names,


The noun phrase 148

or relating to political, philosophical, religious, artistic movements, etc., e.g.: la langue française the French language une actrice américaine an American actress les provinces danubiennes the Danubian provinces la politique gaulliste Gaullist policy (i.e. that of General de Gaulle) un personnage cornélien one of Corneille’s characters les théories marxistes Marxist theories la religion chrétienne the Christian religion la peinture surréaliste surrealist painting (b) Adjectives denoting colour, shape or physical qualities (other than those, many of which relate to size, listed in 140), e.g.: une robe blanche une fenêtre ronde un toit plat une rue étroite un oreiller mou une voix aiguë de l’or pur un goût amer

a white dress a round window a flat roof a narrow street a soft pillow a shrill voice pure gold a bitter taste

Some of these, however, may occur in front of the noun, particularly when they are used figuratively, e.g. le noir désespoir ‘black despair’, une étroite obligation ‘a strict obligation’, une molle résistance ‘feeble resistance’, la pure vérité ‘the plain truth’. But they by no means invariably precede the noun even when used figuratively (e.g. l’humour noir ‘sick humour’, une amitié étroite ‘a close friendship’). (c) Present and past participles used as adjectives, e.g.: un livre amusant

an amusing book

148–151 The position of adjectives du verre cassé la semaine passée


broken glass last week

Note, however, that prétendu ‘so-called, alleged’ and the invariable adjective soi-disant ‘so-called’ (see 136, iii) precede the noun, e.g. mon prétendu ami ‘my so-called friend’, la prétendue injustice ‘the alleged injustice’, la soi-disant actrice ‘the so-called actress’. 149 In general, polysyllabic adjectives tend to follow rather than precede the noun. However, there seems to be an increasing tendency for such adjectives to be placed before the noun when they express a value judgement or, even more so, a subjective or emotional reaction. Such adjectives include adorable, affreux ‘dreadful’, délicieux ‘delightful’, effrayant ‘frightful’, effroyable ‘appalling’, énorme ‘enormous’, épouvantable ‘terrible’, excellent, extraordinaire ‘extraordinary’, important, inoubliable ‘unforgettable’, magnifique ‘magnificent’, superbe, terrible, and many others, e.g. un adorable petit village ‘a delightful little village’, une épouvantable catastrophe ‘a terrible catastrophe’, un magnifique coucher de soleil ‘a magnificent sunset’. 150 It is perfectly possible for a noun to take adjectives both before and after it, as in une belle robe bleue ‘a beautiful blue dress’, un jeune homme habile ‘a capable young man’. 151 A noun may be preceded and/or followed by two or more adjectives; except in the type of construction dealt with in 152 below, two adjectives preceding or following the noun are linked by et ‘and’ (or by ou ‘or’ if two following adjectives are presented as alternatives), e.g.: une belle et vieille cathédrale a beautiful old cathedral un étudiant intelligent et travailleur an intelligent, hard-working student des journaux anglais ou français English or French newspapers Where more than two adjectives are associated in a similar way with the same noun, the last two are linked by et or ou, e.g. des étudiants intelligents, travailleurs et agréables ‘intelligent, hardworking, pleasant students’.


The noun phrase 152–153

152 In the examples given in 151, each adjective modifies the noun so to speak independently and equally. Sometimes, however, one adjective modifies not just the noun but the group adjective + noun or noun + adjective, in which case there is no linking et, e.g. in un gentil petit garçon ‘a nice little boy’ the adjective gentil modifies the whole phrase petit garçon, and in la poésie française contemporaine ‘contemporary French poetry’ (in which the reference is not to poetry which happens to be both French and contemporary but to French poetry of the present time) contemporaine modifies the whole of the phrase la poésie française. 153 (i) When an adverb precedes the verb and governs a predicative adjective, English places the adjective immediately after the adverb it is linked to by grammar and sense, while French keeps the adjective in the usual position for predicative adjectives, viz. after the verb. This affects adjectives used with: (a) the adverbs of comparison plus ‘more’ and moins ‘less’, e.g.: Plus le problème devenait complexe, moins il paraissait inquiet The more complex the problem got, the less worried he seemed (b) with adverbs meaning ‘how’, viz. combien, comme and que, e.g.: Je comprends combien vous devez être inquiet I understand how worried you must be Comme il est facile de se tromper ! How easy it is to be wrong! Qu’il est bête ! How stupid he is! (ii) French uses a parallel construction with tant, tellement ‘so’ where English tends to put the group ‘so’ + adjective after the verb, e.g.: On aurait cru l’été, tant le soleil était beau (Loti) You would have thought it was summer, the sun was so beautiful (This could also be translated ‘so beautiful was the sun’ or, more

153–156 The comparison of adjectives and adverbs


idiomatically, ‘The sun was so beautiful that you would have thought it was summer’.) Il n’y arrivera jamais, tellement il est nerveux He’ll never manage to do it, he’s so nervous (He’s so nervous he’ll never manage) 154 In English, adjectives precede the adverb ‘enough’ but in French they follow the adverbs assez ‘enough’, suffisamment ‘enough, sufficiently’, e.g.: Elle n’est pas assez intelligente pour comprendre She isn’t intelligent enough to understand Il est suffisamment grand pour voyager seul He’s old enough to travel on his own

The comparison of adjectives and adverbs

155 As adjectives and adverbs have the same degrees of comparison and as the constructions involved are the same in each case we shall discuss them together. 156 There are four degrees of comparison, but one, the comparative of equality or inequality, sometimes known as the equative, has no special forms in either English or French (see 157). They are: (i) the absolute – e.g. (in English) good, hard, difficult, easily (ii) the equative – e.g. (not) as good as, (not) as easily as (iii) the comparative, which can be subdivided into: (a) the comparative of superiority, e.g. better, harder, more difficult, more easily (b) the comparative of inferiority, e.g. less good, less easily (iv) the superlative – e.g. the best, the hardest, the most difficult, (the) most easily.


The noun phrase 157–159

The comparative of equality or inequality (the equative) 157 In affirmative sentences the comparative of equality (English ‘as . . . as . . .’) is expressed by aussi . . . que . . . , e.g.: Il est aussi grand que vous He is as big as you (are) Elle est aussi intelligente que belle She is as intelligent as she is beautiful Il comprend aussi facilement que vous He understands as easily as you (do) Ils sont aussi charmants que vous le dites They are as charming as you say In negative sentences, aussi is usually replaced by si, e.g.: Il n’est pas si grand que vous He is not as big as you (are) Ils ne sont pas si charmants que vous le dites They are not as charming as you say though aussi is possible (Il n’est pas aussi grand que vous). On constructions of the type Il est aussi grand que vous ‘He is as big as you (are)’, Vous travaillez aussi énergiquement que nous ‘You work as energetically as we (do)’, i.e. where English has the option of using after a comparative a verb that repeats or stands for that of the previous clause, see 173. 158 As in English, the second half of the comparison may be omitted, e.g.: Je n’ai jamais vu un si (or aussi) beau spectacle I never saw so fine a sight

The comparative and superlative of superiority or inferiority 159 The comparative of superiority or of inferiority is formed (apart from the cases noted in 161) by means of the adverbs plus ‘more’ or moins ‘less’, e.g.:

159–160 The comparison of adjectives and adverbs absolute intelligent intelligent facilement easily souvent often

comparative of superiority plus intelligent more intelligent plus facilement more easily plus souvent more often


comparative of inferiority moins intelligent less intelligent moins facilement less easily moins souvent less often

The adjective agrees in the normal way, e.g. Elle est plus grande que moi ‘She is taller than me’, dans des circonstances moins heureuses ‘in less happy circumstances’. 160 (i) The superlative of adjectives of superiority or of inferiority is formed (apart from the cases noted in 161) by placing the definite article, in the appropriate gender and number, before the comparative, e.g.: absolute intelligent intelligent

superlative of superiority le plus intelligent the most intelligent

superlative of inferiority le moins intelligent the least intelligent

Adjectives that normally precede the noun (see 140) also do so in the superlative, e.g.: le plus jeune garçon la moins belle vue les plus grandes difficultés

the youngest boy the least beautiful view the greatest difficulties

With adjectives that follow the noun, the superlative is constructed as follows: l’homme le plus intelligent la femme la plus intelligente les hommes les moins intelligents les femmes les moins intelligentes

the most intelligent man the most intelligent woman the least intelligent men the least intelligent women

Note that, with either a preceding or a following adjective, a possessive determiner (see 223) may be substituted for the definite article according to the following models:


The noun phrase 160–161

(a) with a preceding adjective: mon plus grand plaisir sa moins belle sœur nos plus vieux amis

my greatest pleasure his least beautiful sister our oldest friends

(b) with a following adjective: son livre le plus célèbre ma cousine la moins intelligente nos montagnes les plus élevées

his most famous book my least intelligent cousin our highest mountains

(ii) The superlative of adverbs is formed by placing le before the comparative, e.g.: le plus agréablement le moins souvent

the most pleasantly the least often

Note that, since adverbs cannot agree (like adjectives) with nouns or pronouns, these forms are invariable, i.e. the article is always le, e.g.: C’est elle qui travaille le plus intelligemment She is the one who works the most intelligently (For the superlative adverb modifying an adjective, see 170.) 161 The comparative and superlative of the adjectives bon ‘good’, mauvais ‘bad’, petit ‘small’ and of the corresponding adverbs have the following irregular forms (but see also 163 and 164): absolute bon, good mauvais, bad petit, small bien, well mal, badly peu, little

comparative meilleur, better pire, worse moindre, less(er) mieux, better pis, worse moins, less

superlative le meilleur, best le pire, worst le moindre, least le mieux, best le pis, worst le moins, least

The adjectives agree in gender and number with their nouns as follows:

161–163 The comparison of adjectives and adverbs masc. sing. (le) meilleur (le) pire (le) moindre

fem. sing. (la) meilleure (la) pire (la) moindre


masc. plur. fem. plur. (les) meilleurs (les) meilleures (les) pires (les) moindres

The adverbs are of course invariable. Note that some, but not all, of these forms are subject to certain restrictions and that, for some of them, ‘regular’ comparatives and superlatives such as (le) plus mauvais occur – see 163–164. 162 The comparative and superlative of bon and bien are always (le) meilleur and (le) mieux respectively, e.g.: Ce pain est meilleur que l’autre This bread is better than the other Leurs meilleurs amis Their best friends Il chante mieux que vous He sings better than you (do) C’est le matin que je travaille le mieux It’s in the morning that I work (the) best The rule applies even to expressions such as bon marché ‘cheap’ (meilleur marché ‘cheaper’, le meilleur marché ‘cheapest’) and de bonne heure ‘early’ (de meilleure heure ‘earlier’ – though a more usual rendering for ‘earlier’ is plus tôt). 163 The comparative and superlative of mauvais are either (le) pire or (le) plus mauvais. The two are often interchangeable, but in so far as there is any distinction it is (a) that (le) pire occurs more widely in literary than in spoken usage, and (b) that (le) pire in any case tends to be restricted to contexts in which it refers to abstract nouns, e.g.: Votre attitude est pire que la sienne Your attitude is worse than his le pire danger the worst danger but: Ce vin est plus mauvais que l’autre This wine is worse than the other


The noun phrase 163–164

le plus mauvais restaurant de la ville the worst restaurant in town (Note, however, that French often says moins bon ‘less good’ where English says ‘worse’, e.g. Cette route est moins bonne que l’autre ‘This road is worse than (or not as good as) the other’.) The adverb (le) pis ‘worse, worst’ is even less used than pire and, for practical purposes, it can be assumed that the normal comparative and superlative of mal ‘badly’ are plus mal and le plus mal. Pis can never be used as an alternative to plus mal in, for example, a context such as Il chante plus mal que vous ‘He sings worse than you’. Apart from the one expression tant pis (pour vous, pour lui, etc.) ‘so much the worse (for you, for him, etc.)’, it is rarely heard in conversational usage and even in literary usage it is confined to a few expressions like aller de mal en pis ‘to go from bad to worse’, qui pis est ‘what is worse’, rien de pis ‘nothing worse’, le pis ‘the worst thing’, mettre les choses au pis ‘to put things at their worst, to assume the worst’, and even in some of these it can be replaced by pire, e.g. ce qui est pire ‘what is worse’, rien de pire, le pire, mettre les choses au pire. (Note too the use of moins bien ‘less well’ as a frequent alternative to plus mal.) 164 As the comparative and superlative of petit, the form (le) plus petit must always be used when reference is to physical size, e.g.: Il est plus petit que je ne croyais He is smaller than I thought le plus petit verre the smallest glass The form moindre occasionally occurs as the equivalent of ‘less’, e.g. des choses de moindre importance ‘things of less importance’, but is more common as a superlative, particularly as the equivalent of English ‘least, slightest’, e.g.: son moindre défaut les moindres détails sans la moindre difficulté Je n’ai pas la moindre idée la loi du moindre effort

his slightest failing the smallest details without the slightest difficulty I haven’t the slightest idea the law of least effort

On the other hand, the comparative and superlative of the adverb peu are invariably moins and le moins ‘less, (the) least’, e.g.:

164–166 The comparison of adjectives and adverbs


moins difficile less difficult J’ai moins de temps que vous I have less time than you C’est lui que j’aime le moins He is the one I like (the) least Note that where English uses ‘the least’ with a noun, meaning ‘the least amount of’, French uses le moins de (with the optional addition, as in English, of the adjective possible), e.g.: C’est comme ça qu’on le fait avec le moins de difficulté That’s the way to do it with the least difficulty Do not confuse this with constructions involving a negative or sans ‘without’, e.g.: De cette façon vous n’aurez pas la moindre difficulté De cette façon vous le ferez sans la moindre difficulté

In this way you will not have the slightest difficulty In this way you will do it without the slightest difficulty

in which the meaning is not ‘the least amount of difficulty’ but ‘the smallest difficulty’. 165 The adverb beaucoup ‘much, many, a lot’ has as its comparative and superlative plus and le plus, e.g.: J’ai plus de temps que vous I have more time than you (have) C’est le soir que je travaille le plus It’s in the evening that I work most 166 ‘Than’ (except when followed by a numeral, see 167) is translated by que. In an affirmative sentence ne is often put before the following verb (see 563), e.g.: Il est plus fort que son frère He is stronger than his brother Il travaille mieux que je (ne) croyais He works better than I thought


The noun phrase 167–169

167 Except in the type of sentence referred to in 168 below, ‘than’ followed by a numeral (including fractions) is translated by de instead of que, e.g.: J’en ai plus de trente I have more than thirty of them Cela coûte plus de dix mille euros That costs more than ten thousand euros Il en a mangé plus de la moitié He has eaten more than half of it Il a vécu moins de dix ans He lived less than ten years 168 In the type of sentence discussed in 167, ‘more than’ means ‘in excess of’ and ‘less than’ means ‘a quantity less than’. There is, however, a totally different construction in which ‘than’ is followed by a numeral and in which it is translated not by de but, as in most other contexts, by que, e.g.: Un seul œuf d’autruche pèse plus que vingt œufs de poule A single ostrich egg weighs more than twenty hen’s eggs The reason is that this does not, of course, mean ‘more than twenty’ in the sense of ‘at least twenty-one’. What is being compared is the weight of an ostrich egg and the weight of hen’s eggs; vingt œufs de poule is in fact the subject of a clause whose verb is understood but which could have been expressed, in either French or English: Un seul œuf d’autruche pèse plus que vingt œufs de poule ne pèsent A single ostrich egg weighs more than twenty hen’s eggs weigh The sentence in question is therefore an exact parallel with a sentence such as the following which does not involve a numeral: Cet œuf pèse plus que celui-là This egg weighs more than that one 169 When a comparative or superlative relates to two or more adjectives or adverbs, (le) plus or (le) moins is repeated with each, even if the corresponding adverb is not repeated in English e.g.:

169–171 The comparison of adjectives and adverbs


Il est plus intelligent et plus travailleur que son frère He is more intelligent and hard-working than his brother Elle parle moins couramment et moins correctement que vous She speaks less fluently and correctly than you le problème le plus compliqué et le plus difficile the most complicated and difficult problem 170 (i) When le plus ‘the most’, le moins ‘the least’, le mieux ‘the best’ followed by an adjective or a participle have the value of ‘to the highest (lowest, best) extent’, i.e. when the comparison is not between different persons or things but between different conditions relating to the same person(s) or thing(s), the article is invariable (i.e. always le), e.g.: C’est en été qu’elle est le plus heureuse She is happiest in summer (It is in summer that she is happiest) (i.e. in summer ‘she’ is happier than the same ‘she’ in other conditions) C’est quand ils sont fatigués qu’ils sont le moins tolérants It’s when they are tired that they are (at their) least tolerant C’est ici qu’elles seront le mieux placées pour voir This is where they’ll be best placed (i.e. in the best position) to see (ii) When other adverbs in the superlative (i.e. adverbs themselves qualified by le plus or le moins) qualify an adjective or participle, either construction is sometimes possible, with a slight (almost negligible) difference in meaning, e.g. les soldats les plus gravement blessés ‘the most seriously wounded soldiers’ interpreted as a parallel construction to les soldats les plus malades (i.e. the construction is les plus + gravement blessés), or les soldats le plus gravement blessés, interpreted as ‘the soldiers who are wounded to the most serious extent’ (i.e. le plus gravement + blessés). However, it seems that in practice, and regardless of logic, the former construction, with a definite article agreeing with the noun, is the usual one. 171 Note the following uses of de in comparative or superlative constructions:


The noun phrase 171–173

(i) to express the ‘measure of difference’ (i.e. the extent to which the items compared differ), e.g.: Il est plus grand que vous de trois centimètres He is three centimetres taller than you Ce dictionnaire est de beaucoup le plus cher This dictionary is by far the most expensive (this is not restricted to comparative and superlative constructions – cf. dépasser quelqu’un d’une tête ‘to be a head taller than someone’, gagner de trois longueurs ‘to win by three lengths’) (ii) as the equivalent of English ‘in’ in such contexts as: l’élève le plus paresseux de la classe the laziest boy in the class le meilleur restaurant de Paris the best restaurant in Paris 172 Le plus and le moins are always superlatives in French, never comparatives. Consequently, plus and moins alone, with no article, are used in such contexts as the following where English uses the definite article ‘the’ with a comparative: Plus il gagne, moins il est content The more he earns, the less contented he is Plus tôt vous arriverez, plus tôt vous pourrez partir The earlier you arrive the earlier you’ll be able to get away In literary usage, the second term of the comparison is sometimes introduced by et, e.g.: Plus je vieillis, et moins je pleure (Sully Prudhomme) The older I grow, the less I weep 173 After a comparative of equality (see the end of section 157), superiority or inferiority, French normally does not use a second verb that merely repeats or stands for (like ‘did’ in the third example below) the verb of the previous clause, e.g.: Il est aussi grand que moi He is as tall as I (am) J’ai plus de temps que vous I have more time than you (have)

173–174 The comparison of adjectives and adverbs


Il a chanté mieux que son frère He sang better than his brother (did)

Absolute superlative 174 (i) There is an important distinction to be made between the type of superlative adjective discussed in 160 (i.e. the type l’enfant le plus intelligent ‘the most intelligent child’) and a not dissimilar construction in which English uses not the definite article ‘the’ but the indefinite article (e.g. ‘a most intelligent child’) or, in the plural, no article (e.g. ‘those are most dangeous ideas’). The former, which characterizes a noun in relation to others of the same kind, is known as the ‘relative superlative’. The latter, which expresses the idea that the person or thing denoted by the noun is characterized by a high degree of the quality denoted by the adjective, is known as the ‘absolute superlative’. The absolute superlative in French is constructed as follows: un enfant des plus exaspérants a most exasperating child une situation des plus difficiles a most difficult situation Ces idées-là sont des plus dangereuses Those ideas are most dangerous The use of a plural adjective even when the noun is in the singular will be understood if it is appreciated that un enfant des plus exaspérants, for example, means something like ‘a child from among the most exasperating ones of his kind’. Alternatively (and very frequently), an intensifying adverb may be used, e.g. un enfant tout à fait exaspérant, Ces idées-là sont extrêmement dangereuses. Ambiguity may arise in English from the fact that ‘most’ can express either a relative or an absolute superlative. For example, the sentence ‘The situation is most difficult in Paris’ may mean either (a) ‘It is in Paris that the situation is (the) most difficult’, i.e. we


The noun phrase 174–176

have a relative superlative, C’est à Paris que la situation est le plus difficile (see 170), or (b) ‘The situation in Paris is extremely difficult’, i.e. we have an absolute superlative, La situation à Paris est des plus difficiles. In such contexts, care must be taken to select the appropriate French equivalent. (ii) Unlike English ‘most’, plus is not used in French to express the absolute superlative with adverbs; various other equivalents exist, however, e.g.: Il conduit avec beaucoup de prudence He drives most carefully Elle s’exprime d’une manière extrêmement intelligente She expresses herself most intelligently

Adjectives used as nouns

175 (i) Many adjectives of colour and some others are used as nouns with a variety of meanings for which a dictionary must be consulted, e.g.: le beau le blanc un bleu le noir

the beautiful, that which is beautiful the white (of an egg, of the eye) a bruise darkness

176 (ii) Some adjectival nouns originate in expressions of the type noun + adjective; as a result of ellipsis of the noun, the adjective has taken on the function of a noun carrying the meaning of the whole expression, e.g.: du bleu un (petit) noir du rouge un complet la capitale la majuscule

for for for for for for

du fromage bleu, ‘blue cheese’ un café noir, ‘a black coffee’ du vin rouge, ‘red wine’ un costume complet, ‘a suit’ la ville capitale, ‘capital (city)’ la lettre majuscule, ‘capital (letter)’

177–178 Numerals


177 (iii) Adjectives can be used as nouns with reference to humans more freely in French than in English. Note in particular that, whereas in English a nominalized adjective with reference to humans is normally plural (e.g.‘the poor’ = ‘poor people’,‘the blind’ = ‘blind people’), the fact that French has distinct masculine singular, feminine singular, and plural articles and other determiners (see 23) means that one can have, e.g., un pauvre ‘a poor man’, une pauvre ‘a poor woman’, des pauvres ‘poor people’, le muet ‘the dumb man’, la muette ‘the dumb woman’, cet aveugle ‘this blind man’, cette aveugle ‘this blind woman’, les aveugles ‘blind people’, and, in cases where there are distinct forms for the masculine and feminine adjectives, a distinction in the plural between, for example, les sourds ‘the deaf men’ or ‘the deaf (in general)’ and les sourdes ‘the deaf women’.


178 Cardinal numbers express numerical quantity, i.e. ‘one, two, three, etc.’, while ordinal numbers express numerical sequence, i.e. ‘first, second, third, etc.’. The French cardinals and ordinals are: Cardinal 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

zéro un (m.), une (f.) deux trois quatre cinq six sept huit neuf dix onze douze treize quatorze quinze seize

Ordinal 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th 12th 13th 14th 15th 16th

premier (m.), première (f.) deuxième, second (m.), seconde (f.) troisième quatrième cinquième sixième septième huitième neuvième dixième onzième douzième treizième quatorzième quinzième seizième


The noun phrase 178

17 18 19 20 21

dix-sept dix-huit dix-neuf vingt vingt et un (or une)

17th 18th 19th 20th 21st

22 etc. 30 31

vingt-deux, etc.

22nd etc. 30th 31st

32 etc. 40 41

trente-deux, etc.

42 etc. 50 51 52 etc. 60 61 62 etc. 70 71 72 etc. 80 81 82 etc. 90 91 92 etc. 100 101 102 etc. 200 etc. 257

trente trente et un (or une)

quarante quarante et un (or une) quarante-deux, etc. cinquante cinquante et un (or une) cinquante-deux, etc. soixante soixante et un (or une) soixante-deux, etc. soixante-dix soixante et onze soixante-douze, etc. quatre-vingts quatre-vingt-un (or une) quatre-vingt-deux, etc. quatre-vingt-dix quatre-vingt-onze quatre-vingt-douze, etc. cent cent un (or une) cent deux, etc. deux cents, etc. deux cent cinquante-sept

32nd etc. 40th 41st 42nd etc. 50th 51st 52nd etc. 60th 61st 62nd etc. 70th 71st 72nd etc. 80th 81st 82nd etc. 90th 91st 92nd etc. 100th 101st 102nd etc. 200th etc. 257th

dix-septième dix-huitième dix-neuvième vingtième vingt et unième (not premier) vingt-deuxième, etc. trentième trente et unième (not premier) trente-deuxième, etc. quarantième quarante et unième (not premier) quarante-deuxième, etc. cinquantième cinquante et unième (not premier) cinquante-deuxième, etc. soixantième soixante et unième (not premier) soixante-deuxième, etc. soixante-dixième soixante et onzième soixante-douzième, etc. quatre-vingtième quatre-vingt-unième (not premier) quatre-vingt-deuxième, etc. quatre-vingt-dixième quatre-vingt-onzième quatre-vingt-douzième, etc. centième cent unième (not premier) cent deuxième, etc. deux centième, etc. deux cent cinquanteseptième

178–180 Numerals 1000 1001 1500

mille mille un (or une) mille cinq cents or quinze cents 10 000 dix mille, etc. etc.



1000th 1001st 1500th

millième mille unième (not premier) mille cinq centième or quinze centième 10,000th dx millième, etc. etc.

Notes on pronunciation (for phonetic symbols, see 2):

(a) Cinq is pronounced [se˜ k] when final (e.g. j’en ai cinq ‘I have five of them’) and [se˜ k] in liaison (e.g. cinq enfants ‘five children’) but [se˜ ] before a consonant (see note c) (e.g. cinq jours ‘five days’, though there is an increasing tendency in conversational speech to pronounce [se˜ k] even there). (b) Six and dix are pronounced [sis] and [dis] when final (e.g. j’en ai six ‘I have six of them’), [siz] and [diz] in liaison (e.g. dix ans ‘ten years’), and [si] and [di] before a consonant (see note c), (e.g. six jours ‘six days’, dix jours ‘ten days’). (c) ‘Before a consonant’ in notes a and b relates only to contexts in which the numeral directly governs a following noun (as in cinq jours) or adjective (as in dix beaux livres ‘ten beautiful books’); in contexts such as dix pour cent ‘ten per cent’ this does not apply and the numerals are pronounced [se˜ k, sis, dis]. (d) Neuf is pronounced [nœf] except in the two phrases neuf ans [nœvA˜] ‘nine years’ and neuf heures [nœvœr] ‘nine o’clock’, so neuf jours [nœf ur] ‘nine days’, neuf arbres [nœf arbr] ‘nine trees’, etc. (e) Vingt on its own is pronounced [ve˜ ] but it is pronounced [ve˜ t] not only in liaison (i.e. vingt et un [ve˜ t e œ ˜ ]) but also before a consonant in the numbers ‘22’ to ‘29’ (e.g. vingt-quatre [ve˜ tkatr]); but note that the -t of quatre-vingt(s) is never pronounced, not even in quatre-vingt-un. (f) In Belgium and Switzerland, ‘70’ and ‘90’ are septante (pronounced [sεptA˜t] – contrast sept [sεt] and septième [sεtjεm]) and nonante respectively, and hence septante et un ‘71’, nonantetrois ‘93’, etc. However, ‘80’ is usually quatre-vingts though huitante does exist in some parts of Switzerland (but not in Belgium). 180


(a) Hyphens are used in compound numbers except before or after et, cent (or centième), mille (or millième), e.g.: vingt-deux, twenty-two

vingt et un, twenty-one


The noun phrase 180–181

(b) Et is used in vingt et un ‘21’ and likewise in ‘31’, ‘41’, ‘51’ and ‘61’ and also in soixante et onze ‘71’ (and in ‘121’, ‘237’, ‘371’, etc.), but not in other numerals ending in ‘1’, quatre-vingt-un ‘81’, quatre-vingt-onze ‘91’, cent un ‘101’, deux cent un ‘201’, etc. (c) Quatre-vingts ‘80’ loses its -s before another numeral, e.g. quatre-vingt-trois ‘83’. (d) Cent ‘100’ takes a plural -s in round hundreds, e.g. deux cents ‘200’, but not before another numeral, e.g. deux cent trois ‘203’, while mille ‘1000’ never takes an -s, e.g. deux mille ‘two thousand’. (e) Un is not used with cent ‘100’ or mille ‘1000’, e.g. Il vécut cent ans ‘He lived for a hundred years’, Il possède mille hectares de vignes ‘He owns a thousand hectares of vines’. (f) The normal form for ‘1100’ is onze cents ‘eleven hundred’ (mille cent is virtually unused); from ‘1200’ to ‘1900’ (and particularly from ‘1200’ to ‘1600’), the forms douze cents ‘twelve hundred’, etc., are preferred to mille deux cents, etc. The same is true of dates of the Christian era, but note in addition that in this case, if the form in ‘one thousand’ is used, then the spelling is mil, e.g. en l’an mil huit cent (no -s – see 182) ‘in the year 1800’ (but ‘the year one thousand’ is l’an mille). (g) When ‘a thousand and one’ means a large indefinite number (‘umpteen’), it is mille et un(e), e.g. J’ai mille et une choses à faire ‘I have a thousand and one things to do’; note too as an exception, Les Mille et une nuits ‘The Thousand and One Nights (i.e. The Arabian Nights)’. (h) For the translation of ‘than’ before a numeral, see 167. (i) Apart from a few fixed expressions, such as (apprendre quelque chose) de seconde main ‘(to learn something) at second hand’, en second lieu ‘secondly’, second and deuxième are interchangeable; the ‘rule’ that second is preferred with reference to the second of two (only) and deuxième when there are more than two can safely be ignored. Note that second is pronounced [sRgO˜ ]. 181 Note that de is used after un millier ‘(about) a thousand’, un million ‘a million’ and multiples thereof and un milliard ‘a thousand million’ (or a ‘billion’ in American and now generally in British usage – the older sense of ‘a billion’ in British usage is ‘a million million’, which is also now the official definition of un billion in French, though it used to be the equivalent of un milliard), e.g.:

181–182 Numerals


des milliers de dollars thousands of dollars cinquante millions de Français fifty million Frenchmen deux milliards de dollars two billion dollars 182

Cardinal numbers (not ordinals as in English) are used:

(a) in dates, e.g.: le trois janvier le vingt et un juin

the third of January the twenty-first of June

(b) with names of monarchs, popes, etc., e.g.: Louis XV (= ‘quinze’) Élisabeth II (= ‘deux’) le pape Jean XXIII (= ‘vingt-trois’)

Louis XV (= ‘the Fifteenth’) Elizabeth II (= ‘the Second’) Pope John XXIII (= ‘the Twenty-third’)

In both such contexts, however, the ordinal premier is used, e.g.: le premier mai François premier

the first of May Francis the First

The ordinal is invariably used with reference to the arrondissements (districts) of Paris, e.g. habiter dans le seizième (arrondissement) ‘to live in the sixteenth arrondissement’, and usually with reference to floors, e.g. habiter au troisième (étage) ‘to live on the third floor’. It may also be used, as in English, with reference to chapters, etc., e.g. au dixième chapitre ‘in the tenth chapter’. However, as in English the cardinal is normally used in contexts such as the following: la page vingt-cinq le chapitre dix habiter au (numéro) trente Je suis au vingt-quatre

page twenty-five chapter ten to live in (house) number thirty I’m in (room) number twenty-four

Note that in such contexts, i.e. when they serve as the equivalent of ordinals, quatre-vingt ‘80’ and cent ‘100’ (in the plural) do not take a final -s (contrast 178, and 180 c and d), e.g.:


The noun phrase 182–186

à la page quatre-vingt habiter au numéro trois cent l’an sept cent

on page eighty to live in number three hundred the year seven hundred

(For ‘every other, every third’, etc., see 317,ii,b.) 183 Conversely to what happens in English, cardinals precede premier ‘first’ and dernier ‘last’, e.g.: les dix premières pages les trois derniers mois 184

the first ten pages the last three months

For ‘both’, ‘all three’, etc., see 317,ii,f.

185 The following ten nouns ending in -aine express an approximate number: une huitaine, about eight une dizaine, about ten une douzaine, a dozen une quinzaine, about fifteen une vingtaine, a score, about twenty une trentaine, about thirty une quarantaine, about forty une cinquantaine, about fifty une soixantaine, about sixty une centaine, about a hundred e.g. J’ai écrit une vingtaine de lettres I’ve written about twenty letters Une huitaine is used particularly in the expression une huitaine de jours (i.e. ‘a week’) and une quinzaine whether or not followed by de jours frequently means ‘a fortnight’. As in English, une douzaine ‘a dozen’ can mean ‘precisely twelve’ in such expressions as une douzaine d’œufs ‘a dozen eggs’. The terms trentaine, quarantaine, cinquantaine and soixantaine can refer to age in such expressions as atteindre la quarantaine ‘to reach the age of forty’, Elle a dépassé la cinquantaine ‘She is over fifty’. Note that similar forms based on other numerals either do not exist or are no longer in use (apart from une neuvaine which is used only in the sense of ‘novena’). 186 French has no adverbs to express numerical frequency (corresponding to English ‘once, twice, thrice’). The word fois

186–188 Fractions


‘time’ is used, e.g. une fois ‘once’, deux fois ‘twice’, trente-six fois ‘thirty-six times’. Note the construction dix fois sur vingt ‘ten times out of twenty’. 187 The multiplicatives double ‘double, twofold’, triple ‘triple, treble, threefold’, quadruple ‘quadruple, fourfold’, centuple ‘hundredfold’ are used both as adjectives (in which case they often precede the noun), e.g. une consonne double ‘a double consonant’, un triple menton ‘a treble chin’, and (preceded by the definite article) as nouns, e.g. le double de ce que j’ai payé ‘double what I paid’, le quadruple de la récolte de l’an dernier ‘four times (as much as) last year’s harvest’. Apart from the forms quoted above, only the following exist, and some of these are not much used: quintuple ‘fivefold’, sextuple ‘sixfold’, septuple ‘sevenfold’, octuple ‘eightfold’, nonuple (very rarely used) ‘ninefold’, décuple ‘tenfold’.


188 A ‘half’ is either (un) demi or la moitié, but the two are by no means interchangeable (and see also 189). We can distinguish three types of function, viz. (i) as nouns, (ii) as adjectives, (iii) as adverbs: (i) Apart from a few contexts in which it is a nominalized adjective (see ii,c, below), un demi exists as a noun only as a mathematical term, e.g. Deux demis font un entier ‘Two halves make a whole’. Otherwise, la moitié must be used (and note that, when it is the subject of the verb, the verb may be either singular or plural, depending on the sense – the same is also true of other fractions), e.g.: Il n’a écrit que la moitié de son roman He has only written half his novel couper une orange en deux moitiés to cut an orange into two halves La moitié de la ville a été inondée Half the town was flooded


The noun phrase 188

La moitié de mes amis habitent à Paris Half my friends live in Paris la première (seconde) moitié the first (second) half (ii) Demi occurs in the following circumstances: (a) before a noun in the sense of ‘half (a) . . .’; it is then invariable and is linked to the noun by a hyphen, e.g. un demi-pain ‘half a loaf’, un demi-frère ‘a half-brother’, une demi-heure ‘half an hour’, une demi-bouteille ‘half a bottle’, des demi-mesures ‘halfmeasures’; (b) after the noun and preceded by et, meaning ‘. . . and a half’; it is then written as a separate word and takes an -e if the noun is feminine, e.g. un kilo et demi ‘a kilo and a half, one and a half kilos’, une heure et demie ‘an hour and a half, one and a half hours, half past one’, trois heures et demie ‘three and a half hours, half past three’; (c) with an implied noun (as in a above), in contrast to a noun expressing a whole object, e.g. Vous voulez un pain ? Non, un demi ‘Do you want a loaf? No, a half (half a loaf)’; note (in contrast to une demi-bouteille, etc., see a above) that demi takes -e in agreement with a feminine noun when the noun itself is omitted, e.g. Nous allons commander une bouteille de vin ? – Une demie suffira ‘Shall we order a bottle of wine?’ ‘A half (bottle) will be enough’. Note too the following instances in which the noun has been completely dropped and the adjective has therefore become fully nominalized (see 176): un demi ‘glass of beer’ (originally un demi-litre, but now contains less) un demi ‘half-back’ (in football – for un demi-arrière) (iii) As adverbs, à demi and à moitié are in most cases interchangeable (but see below), in particular: (a) before an adjective or participle, e.g.: à demi plein/vide, à moitié plein/vide half full/empty à demi ouvert/pourri, à moitié ouvert/pourri half open/rotten

188–190 Fractions


(b) after a verb, e.g.: ouvrir la porte à demi/à moitié to half-open the door Vous avez fait le travail à demi/à moitié You have (only) half done the work remplir un verre à demi/à moitié to half-fill a glass Note, however, the use of à moitié (but not of à demi) in a small number of expressions with nouns, in particular à moitié prix ‘(at) half-price’ and à moitié chemin ‘half-way’ (but à mi-chemin, see below, is more usual). Moitié (without à) also occurs in various other expressions such as moitié moitié ‘half-and-half, fifty-fifty’, (diviser quelque chose) par moitié ‘(to divide something) in half, in two’, être pour moitié dans quelque chose ‘to be half responsible for something’ (for other such expressions, consult a good dictionary). 189 The old noun mi ‘a half’ is still used adverbially in such constructions as mi pleurant et mi souriant ‘half weeping and half smiling’, mi-fil et mi-coton ‘half linen and half cotton’; in the expression mi-clos ‘half-shut’, and in a number of expressions with à mi including the following (for others, consult a dictionary): à mi-chemin, half-way à mi-distance, half-way, midway à mi-hauteur, half-way up à mi-pente, half-way up or down the slope (travailler) à mi-temps, (to work) half-time à mi-voix, in an undertone 190 ‘A third’ and ‘a quarter’ are un tiers and un quart respectively, e.g.: un tiers des votants one third of those voting un quart d’heure a quarter of an hour La bouteille est aux trois quarts vide The bottle is three-quarters empty Other fractions have (as in English) the same form as the ordinals, e.g. un cinquième ‘a fifth’, sept huitièmes ‘seven eighths’, un centième ‘a hundredth’, etc.


The noun phrase 191–194

191 When a fraction refers to part of a specific whole (i.e. to one introduced by the definite article or by a demonstrative or possessive determiner), French uses the definite article where English uses the indefinite article or (especially in the plural) no article, e.g.: Il a perdu le quart de ses biens He lost a quarter of his possessions la moitié de la classe half (of) the class les sept huitièmes de la population seven eighths of the population 192 The decimal system as used in France is based not on the point but on the comma, and the figures coming after the comma are often expressed as if they were whole numbers, e.g. 2.35 ‘two point three five’ becomes 2,35 deux virgule trente-cinq.

Pronouns and pronominal determiners Personal pronouns Introduction 193 Personal pronouns in French are either ‘conjunctive’ or ‘disjunctive’. Conjunctive pronouns (see 198–213) are used only in direct association with a verb. They include (a) subject pronouns, e.g. Je vois ‘I see’, (b) direct and indirect object pronouns, e.g. (Pierre) la connaît ‘(Peter) knows her’, (Marie) leur écrit ‘(Mary) writes to them’, and (c) the adverbial pronouns y (see 200) and en (see 201). Disjunctive pronouns (see 215–220) usually stand independently of the verb, e.g. Moi (je sais) or (Je sais) moi ‘I know’, avec eux ‘with them’, though they are directly associated with the verb in imperative constructions such as Pardonnez-moi ‘Forgive me’ (see 207). 194 Je ‘I’ and nous ‘we’ are known as the first person singular and the first person plural respectively; tu ‘you’ and vous ‘you’

194–197 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


(see 196) are the second person singular and the second person plural respectively; il ‘he, it’ and elle ‘she, it’ are the third persons singular, masculine and feminine, and ils and elles ‘they’ are the third persons plural, masculine and feminine. 195 Je can be either masculine or feminine, depending on the sex of the speaker, e.g. Je suis heureux (masc.), Je suis heureuse (fem.) ‘I am happy’. Likewise, nous can be either masculine or feminine, e.g. Nous sommes heureux/heureuses ‘We are happy’ (when nous includes persons of both sexes, the masculine agreement is used). Similarly with the direct object forms, e.g. Il me croit intelligent(e) ‘He considers me (masc., fem.) intelligent’, Il nous croit intelligent(e)s ‘He considers us (masc., fem.) intelligent’. 196 Tu refers to one person only and is normally used only when addressing a friend, a relative, a child, God, or an animal; used in other contexts it can (and can be intended to be) offensive. Note that, whereas the corresponding English form thou has long since gone out of use (except in some dialects and sometimes in poetic or religious style), the use of tu is on the increase, particularly among young people. It may take either masculine or feminine agreement, depending on the sex of the person addressed, e.g. Tu es heureux (masc.)/heureuse (fem.) ‘You are happy’; likewise with the direct object pronoun te, e.g. Il te croit intelligent(e) ‘He considers you (masc., fem.) intelligent’. Those to whom one does not say tu are addressed as vous, which is therefore either singular or plural depending on whether one is addressing one person or more than one; whether it is singular or plural makes no difference to the verb, but adjectives and participles vary both for gender and for number, e.g. Vous êtes fou (masculine singular)/folle (feminine singular)/fous (masculine plural)/folles (feminine plural) ‘You’re crazy’. Likewise with the direct object pronoun, e.g. Il vous croit fou (masc. sing.)/folle (fem. sing.)/fous (masc. plur.)/folles (fem. plur.) ‘He thinks you crazy’. (As with nous, when vous includes persons of both sexes, the masculine agreement is used.) 197 Masculine nouns, whether relating to humans, animals, abstractions or inanimate objects, are referred to as il and feminine nouns as elle; il and elle therefore both mean ‘it’ as well as ‘he’ and ‘she’ respectively, e.g. Où est ma cuiller ? Elle est sur la


The noun phrase 197–198

table ‘Where is my spoon? It’s on the table’. When ‘they’ refers to persons of both sexes or to nouns of both genders, ils is used. ‘Impersonal’ il is the equivalent of the English impersonal ‘it’ or, in some contexts, of English ‘there’ in such expressions as il pleut ‘it is raining’, il fait chaud ‘it’s hot’, il est trois heures ‘it is three o’clock’, il faut ‘it is necessary’, il semble que ‘it seems that’, il y a ‘there is, there are’, il soufflait un vent du nord ‘there was a north wind blowing’ (see 343). For the distinction between il est and c’est, see 253–261. Conjunctive personal pronouns 198

(i) The forms of the conjunctive personal pronouns are:

subject je, I tu, you il, he, it elle, she, it nous, we vous, you ils, they (masc.) elles, they (fem.)

direct object me, me te, you le, him, it la, her, it nous, us vous, you les, them les, them

indirect object me, to me te, to you lui, to him sometimes lui, to her ‘to it’, see 200,iii nous, to us vous, to you leur, to them leur, to them

(For the terms ‘direct object’ and ‘indirect object’, see 17, 18 and 21.) Je, me, te, le and la become j’, m’, t’ and l’ before a verb beginning with a vowel or mute h and before y or en, e.g. J’arrive ‘I arrive’, J’y habite ‘I live there’, M’aimes-tu ? ‘Do you love me?’, Il t’en envoie ‘He’s sending you some’, Il l’achète ‘He buys it’. (ii) The indirect object pronouns are used: (a) with such verbs as dire ‘to say’, donner ‘to give’, and other verbs of comparable meaning, e.g. avouer ‘to admit’, confier ‘to entrust’, envoyer ‘to send’, offrir ‘to offer’, parler ‘to speak’, recommander ‘to recommend’, rendre ‘to give back’: Il me dit que c’est vrai Donnez-lui cette lettre Il va nous l’envoyer Je vous recommande ce restaurant

He tells me it’s true Give him this letter He is going to send it to us I recommend this restaurant to you

(b) with a number of other verbs, among the most common being appartenir ‘to belong’, écrire ‘to write’, falloir ‘to be necessary’,

198–200 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


paraître ‘to seem’, pardonner ‘to forgive’, plaire ‘to please’, sembler ‘to seem’, e.g.: Ce livre m’appartient Cela me paraît difficile Il lui faut un bureau Je leur pardonne tout Cette robe vous plaît ?

This book belongs to me That seems difficult to me He needs an office I forgive them everything Do you like this dress?

For verbs taking à + the disjunctive pronoun (e.g. Je pense à vous ‘I am thinking of you’), see 220. (iii) With reference to things, the indirect object is often expressed by y rather than by lui or leur – see 200. 199 As a reflexive pronoun (for reflexive verbs see 379–381), se replaces all the third person pronouns, singular and plural (i.e. le, la, les, lui, leur), e.g.: elle se lave ils s’écrivent

she washes (herself) they write to one another

In the first and second persons, the forms me, te, nous and vous also function as reflexive pronouns, e.g.: je me lave tu te laves nous nous écrivons vous vous fatiguez

I wash (myself) you wash (yourself) we write to each other you are tiring yourselves

For the reciprocal use of reflexive pronouns see 292. For the full conjugation of a reflexive verb see 381. For the use of soi see 219. 200 (i) The adverbial conjunctive pronoun y corresponds to the preposition à + noun, when the noun refers to an animal, a thing, a place or an abstract idea (or any of these in the plural), e.g. Je réponds à la lettre ‘I reply to the letter’ and J’y réponds ‘I reply to it’, Il travaille à Paris ‘He works in Paris’ and Il y travaille ‘He works there’. (On y with reference to people, see ii below.) (a) It frequently has the meaning ‘there’, e.g.: Connaissez-vous Dijon ? – Oui, j’y suis né Do you know Dijon? – Yes, I was born there However, it can be so used only to refer back to a place mentioned or implied in what has gone before. It does not have a


The noun phrase 200

demonstrative value, i.e. it does not, so to speak, ‘point’ to the place indicated by ‘there’ (or, to put it differently, it does not express the idea of ‘there’ as opposed to ‘here’); in such circumstances, là is used, e.g. Ton parapluie est là ‘Your umbrella is there’. (b) With many verbs, y has the meaning ‘to it, to them’, e.g.: Il s’y accrochait He was hanging on to it (or them) Je suis flatté de cet honneur, d’autant plus que je n’y avais jamais aspiré I am flattered by this honour, the more so since I had never aspired to it Ses observations ne me dérangent pas : je n’y fais pas attention His remarks don’t bother me: I pay no attention to them In such instances as the following, the French verb takes à where the corresponding English verb either has a direct object (e.g. renoncer à quelque chose ‘to give something up’, succéder à ‘to succeed, follow’) or takes a preposition other than ‘to’ (e.g. viser à ‘to aim at’, penser à, songer à, réflèchir à ‘to think about’): Vous ne fumez plus ? – Non, j’y ai renoncé Don’t you smoke any more? – No, I’ve given it up la IIIe République et tous les régimes qui y ont succédé the Third Republic and all the regimes that succeeded it Il y réfléchit He is thinking about it (considering it) Note that, with reference to people, these verbs take à and the disjunctive pronouns, lui, elle, eux, elles, not the conjunctive indirect object pronouns, lui and leur, e.g. Elle a renoncé à lui ‘She has given him up’, Je pensais à eux ‘I was thinking of them’. (c) Y is sometimes the equivalent of sur and a noun, e.g. écrire sur une feuille de papier ‘to write on a sheet of paper’ and Il y écrit une lettre d’amour ‘He’s writing a love-letter on it’, Je compte sur sa discrétion ‘I am counting on his discretion’ and Vous pouvez y compter ‘You can count on it’. (d) Y sometimes corresponds to à + a verb, as in obliger quelqu’un à faire quelque chose, hence: Ne partez pas. Rien ne vous y oblige Don’t go. Nothing obliges you to (do so)

200–201 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


(ii) Y sometimes refers to people, particularly in substandard French, e.g. J’y pense souvent ‘I often think of him (her, them)’, for Je pense souvent à lui (à elle, à eux, à elles). This construction occasionally occurs in literary French, especially in that of a somewhat archaic kind, but it should not be imitated. (iii) Lui and leur are sometimes used instead of y with reference to animals, things or abstract ideas, particularly: (a) when it is necessary to make it clear that the meaning is ‘to it’ or ‘to them’ and not ‘there’, e.g.: Les dames de la ville lui donnaient leur clientèle (Theuriet) The ladies of the town gave it [= a shop] their custom or (b) when the noun is to some extent personified, e.g.: Je suis heureux de

maladie lui , puisque je   ma mes malheurs  leur 

dois votre amitié I am glad of

illness it since I owe to   my my misfortunes  them 

your friendship 201 (i) The conjunctive pronoun en (not to be confused with the preposition en which is a totally different word, see 654–658) corresponds to the preposition de + a noun, especially with reference to animals, things, places and abstract ideas, e.g. Nous parlons souvent de votre visite ‘We often talk about your visit’ and Nous en parlons souvent ‘We often talk about it’, Il est arrivé hier de Paris ‘He arrived yesterday from Paris’ and Il en est arrivé hier ‘He arrived from there yesterday’. (On en with reference to people, see ii below.) (ii) In partitive constructions, it serves as a pronominal equivalent of de + a noun, with the value of ‘some of it (or of them)’, or ‘any of it (or of them)’; and note that, though ‘of it, of them’ is frequently omitted in English, en must be inserted in French, e.g.: Avez-vous du pain ? – Oui, j’en ai acheté Have you any bread? – Yes, I’ve bought some


The noun phrase 201

Voulez-vous de la bière ? – Oui, s’il y en a Do you want some beer? – Yes, if there is any Si vous voulez des billets, je peux vous en donner If you want tickets, I can give you some Il n’y en a pas There isn’t (or aren’t) any Il a plus d’argent qu’il n’en veut He has more money than he wants This construction frequently occurs with numerals and expressions of quantity, e.g.: Combien de timbres pouvez-vous me prêter ? – Je vais vous en prêter dix How many stamps can you lend me? – I’ll lend you ten Voulez-vous du fromage ? – J’en prends cent grammes Do you want (any) cheese? – I’ll take a hundred grammes Note that, in this construction, en is used (and must be used) with reference to people just as with reference to animals, things, etc. (cf. i above and iv below), e.g.: Combien d’enfants avez-vous ? – J’en ai quatre How many children have you? – I have four (iii) In contexts such as the following, where in English one often (but not always) has the option of using either ‘of it, of them’ or the possessive determiner ‘its, theirs’, en is used in French, e.g.: Je n’en aime pas la forme I don’t like the shape of it (or its shape) Regarde ces fleurs ! La couleur en est si jolie Look at those flowers! The colour of them (their colour) is so pretty (iv) Except in partitive constructions (see ii above), de lui, d’elle, d’eux and d’elles rather than en are normally used with reference to people, e.g.: Il rêve d’elle chaque nuit He dreams of her every night J’ai reçu de lui une très longue lettre I have had a very long letter from him

201–203 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


However, en is used much more widely than y (see 200,ii) with reference to people, not only in colloquial French (e.g. Il en rêve chaque nuit ‘He dreams of her every night’) but also in the literary language, e.g.: Il s’efforçait de lier conversation avec lui, comptant bien en tirer quelques paroles substantielles (A. France) He tried to engage him in conversation, fully expecting to extract from him a few words of substance Je le vois rarement, mais j’en reçois de très longues lettres I rarely see him, but I get very long letters from him On n’a d’ouverture sur un être que si on en est aimé (Chardonne) One can have no real understanding of another person unless one is loved by him (or by her) 202 Conjunctive pronouns are used in French in such contexts as the following, where their equivalents may be merely implied in English: Qui vous l’a dit ? Who told you? Quand allez-vous à Paris ? – J’y vais demain When are you going to Paris? – I’m going (there) tomorrow (For examples with en, see 201,ii.) The position of conjunctive personal pronouns Subject 203 The subject pronoun normally comes before the verb; however, it follows the verb (i) in certain types of questions (see 583–584, 589–592) (ii) in certain non-interrogative constructions (see 476–478, 596, 599–600). As a rule the subject pronoun is best repeated with each verb; but, provided both verbs are in the same tense, it may be omitted with et, mais and ou (see examples in 210), and generally is with ni ‘nor’ (see 571). No subject is expressed with verbs in the imperative (see 514).


The noun phrase 204–206

Pronouns other than subject pronouns 204 Except with the affirmative imperative (see 207), the pronouns stand immediately before the verb of which they are the object, e.g.: Je t’aime La connaissez-vous ? Mon frère leur écrit souvent J’en prends six Nous n’y allons pas Ne les perdez pas Nous voulons les vendre

I love you Do you know her? My brother often writes to them I’ll take six of them We are not going there Don’t lose them We want to sell them

(In the last of the above examples, ‘them’ is the object of ‘sell’ not of ‘wish’ and so, in accordance with the rule, comes immediately before the infinitive vendre ‘to sell’.) In the case of compound tenses (see 448–456) the pronouns come before the auxiliary and are never placed immediately before the past participle, e.g.: Je vous ai écrit Ne les avez-vous pas trouvés ? Mon père y est allé

I have written to you Haven’t you found them? My father has gone there

205 In a negative sentence, the ne stands immediately before the object pronouns, e.g. Je ne les aime pas ‘I don’t like them’. 206 When there is more than one object pronoun, they stand in the following order: 1 me, te, se, nous, vous 2 le, la, les 3 lui, leur 4 y 5 en Examples: Il me les donne

He gives me them (them to me)

206–207 Pronouns and pronominal determiners Je le lui ai donné Les y avez-vous vus ? Vous en a-t-il offert ? Ne me l’envoyez pas Ne les lui donnez pas


I gave it to him (to her) Did you see them there? Did he offer you any? Don’t send it to me Don’t give them to him

Note: (a) that is not possible for more than one member of any one of groups 1 to 3 above to occur with the same verb (see 208) (b) that, though it is possible for up to three of the above pronouns to occur together provided they are from different groups (e.g. Je m’y en achète ‘I buy some for myself there’), in practice this very rarely happens. 207

With the affirmative imperative (see 514):

(a) all pronouns follow the verb (b) moi and toi are used instead of me and te except with en and y (see below) (c) direct object precedes indirect object (d) y and en come last (e) except for elided forms (m’, t’, l’), pronouns are linked to the verb and to one another by hyphens. Examples: Croyez-moi Prends-en Donnez-le-moi Menez-nous-y Offrez-lui-en Donnez-m’en Menez-l’y Va-t’en !

Believe me Take some (of it, of them) Give it to me Take us there Offer him some Give me some Take him (or her) there Go away!

Note, however, that the theoretically possible forms m’y and t’y are avoided in practice after an imperative, as are, in the literary language and in careful speech, the alternatives y-moi and y-toi that occur in colloquial speech (e.g. Menez-y-moi ‘Take me there’). The solution is to use a different construction, e.g. Voulez-vous m’y mener ? ‘Will you take me there?’ or Pourriez-vous m’y mener ? ‘Could you take me there?’

148 208

The noun phrase 208–210 It is not possible to combine:

(i) any two of me, te, se, nous, vous (see 206, note a), or (ii) any of me, te, se, nous, vous as direct object with lui or leur as indirect object. In circumstances that might seem to require one of these impossible constructions, the direct object pronoun follows the ordinary rule but the indirect object is expressed by à ‘to’ and a disjunctive pronoun (see 215–220), e.g.: Il vous présentera à moi He will introduce you to me Voulez-vous me présenter à elles ? Will you introduce me to them? Ils se sont rendus à moi They surrendered to me Nous ne nous rendrons pas à eux We shall not surrender to them Présentez-moi à lui Introduce me to him (to her) 209 When an infinitive is governed by a modal verb (e.g. devoir, pouvoir, vouloir) or some other verb such as aller, compter, oser, préférer (see 529), any conjunctive pronouns precede the infinitive, e.g.: Je veux lui écrire Il doit y aller demain Vous allez le regretter Il ose me contredire Je compte vous les envoyer demain

I want to write to him He is to go there tomorrow You are going to regret it He dares to contradict me I expect to send them to you tomorrow

(In a somewhat archaic style, which should not be imitated, the pronoun sometimes precedes the modal verb, e.g. Ils la peuvent apercevoir (H. Bordeaux) ‘They can see her’.) For the constructions used when faire, laisser, envoyer, verbs of the senses, and certain other verbs, are followed by an infinitive, see 430–438. 210 In English, the same pronoun may serve as the direct or indirect object of more than one verb, e.g. ‘He loves and understands

210–211 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


her’. In such circumstances, conjunctive pronouns in French are repeated with each verb, e.g.: Il l’aime et la comprend

He loves and understands her

(In compound tenses, in which the pronoun always precedes the auxiliary verb, see 204, the pronoun cannot be repeated if the auxiliary is not repeated, e.g. Il l’a toujours aimée et respectée ‘He has always loved and respected her’.) 211 French makes much greater use than English of conjunctive pronouns referring either back or forward to nouns occurring in the same clause. (i) This is normal (i.e. the conjunctive pronoun should be used) when attention is drawn to any element in the sentence by bringing it forward from its more usual position after the verb, e.g.: Ce poème je le connais par cœur I know this poem by heart A mon cousin je ne lui écris jamais I never write to my cousin A Paris j’y vais souvent I often go to Paris De ces romans-là j’en ai plusieurs I have several of those novels (In examples such as these last three, the introductory preposition is sometimes omitted.) (ii) In spoken French, anticipation of a direct or indirect object or of a prepositional phrase (introduced by à or de) by a conjunctive pronoun is very frequent, e.g.: Je la connais ta soeur I know your sister Je lui écris souvent à mon frère I often write to my brother Il n’y va jamais à Paris He never goes to Paris J’en ai plusieurs de ces romans-là I have several of those novels See also 602, ‘Dislocation and fronting’.


The noun phrase 212–213

212 Le frequently refers not to a specific noun but to a concept. This may be: (i) a quality or status expressed by an adjective, participle or noun (but see also 213), e.g.: En sont-ils contents ? – Je suis sûr qu’ils le sont Are they pleased with it? – I am sure they are Ce livre qui vient d’être publié n’aurait pas dû l’être This book which has just been published ought not to have been Est-elle étudiante ? – Elle le sera l’année prochaine Is she a student? – She will be next year Cet édifice était autrefois une église mais il ne l’est plus This building used to be a church but it is not (one) any more (ii) the idea expressed in a previous clause, e.g.: Est-ce qu’il arrive aujourd’hui ? – Je l’espère Is he arrive today – I hope so Si vous comptez réserver des places, je vous conseille de le faire sans tarder If you want to book seats, I advise you to do so without delay Je viendrai dès qu’on me le permettra I shall come as soon as I am allowed to Son explication n’est pas très lucide, je l’avoue His explanation is not very clear, I admit Note that after comme and after comparatives the use of le is optional, e.g.: Je suis essoufflé comme vous (le) voyez I am out of breath, as you see Il est plus intelligent que je ne (le) croyais He is more intelligent than I thought 213 The literary language sometimes uses the pronouns le, la, les, with the verb être (or occasionally with other verbs such as rester ‘to remain’) to refer back to a noun used with the definite article or another ‘definite’ determiner (such as a demonstrative,

213–215 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


interrogative or possessive). The pronoun agrees with this noun in gender and number, e.g. Tu devrais être ma femme, n’est-ce pas fatal que tu la sois un jour ? (Zola) ‘You ought to be my wife, is it not inevitable that one day you will be?’ (la agrees with ma femme). This, however, is an exclusively literary construction. In speech, one would be likely either to use the invariable le (see 212,i), e.g.: Elle n’est pas sa femme et elle ne le sera jamais She is not his wife and never will be or to use some other construction, such as repeating the noun, e.g.: Vous êtes son fils ? – Oui, je suis son fils Are you his son? – Yes, I am 214 Note, on the other hand, that in contexts such as the following where English uses an anticipatory ‘it’ with reference to a following clause or infinitive serving as the direct object of the preceding verb, there is no equivalent pronoun in French: J’estime essentiel que tu lui écrives I consider it essential that you write to him J’ai entendu dire qu’il va démissionner I have heard it said that he is going to resign Je crois préférable de ne pas y aller I think it best not to go there Il a jugé bon de partir tout de suite He thought it advisable to leave at once Il s’est mis dans la tête d’aller à Paris He got it into his head to go to Paris This is particularly common after a verb of thinking + an adjective, as in some of the above examples.

Disjunctive personal pronouns 215

The disjunctive pronouns are:

moi, I, me toi, you

lui, he, him elle, she, her


The noun phrase 215–216

nous, we, us vous, you

eux, they, them (masc.) elles, they, them (fem.)

They can be combined with -même(s) as follows: moi-même, myself toi-même, yourself lui-même, himself elle-même, herself

nous-mêmes, ourselves vous-même, yourself vous-mêmes, yourselves eux-mêmes, themselves (masc.) elles-mêmes, themselves (fem.)

as in Je le ferai moi-même ‘I’ll do it myself’. In addition to these there is the reflexive disjunctive pronoun soi (see 219). The disjunctive pronouns can be used either as a subject of a verb (e.g. Mon frère et moi partons demain ‘My brother and I are leaving tomorrow’), or as the object (e.g. Je la connais, elle ‘I know her’), or after prepositions (e.g. avec eux ‘with them’) (see succeeding paragraphs). 216 The disjunctive pronouns (other than soi, see 219) are used in the following circumstances: (i) whenever the personal pronoun is to be emphasized (see also 602, ‘Dislocation’) or is contrasted with another pronoun or noun; in such circumstances, the disjunctive pronouns are used in addition to the conjunctive pronouns (this applies even when the two forms are the same, i.e. to nous and vous) (but see also 217), e.g.: Toi, tu ne peux pas venir or Tu ne peux pas venir, toi You can’t come Mon frère part demain mais moi je reste ici My brother is leaving tomorrow but I’m staying here Vous, vous ne pouvez pas comprendre You can’t understand Il ose m’accuser, moi ! He dares to accuse me! Lui, je l’aime beaucoup I like him very much

216 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


If the conjunctive pronoun expresses an indirect object, the disjunctive is preceded by à, e.g.: Il te l’a donné à toi He gave it to you Je leur obéirai à eux mais pas à mon oncle I will obey them but not my uncle Note too the use of disjunctive nous, vous + autres as emphatic forms, particularly when there is an expressed implied distinction between ‘us’ or ‘you’ on the one hand and some other group (or other people in general) on the other, e.g.: Nous autres Français, nous mangeons beaucoup de pain We French eat a lot of bread Vous n’êtes jamais contents, vous autres fermiers You farmers are never content Nous n’aimons pas ça, nous autres We do not like that (ii) when there are two or more coordinate subjects (i.e. the type ‘X and Y’ or ‘X, Y and Z’), e.g.: Mon frère et moi nous partons demain My brother and I are leaving tomorrow Lui et moi nous savons que ce n’est pas vrai He and I know it isn’t true Je croyais que ton frère et toi vous n’arriveriez jamais I thought your brother and you would never arrive Son père et lui ne s’entendent pas très bien His father and he don’t get on very well together In this construction, the conjunctive pronouns nous and vous are usually inserted (as in the first three examples above), particularly in speech, though Mon frère et moi partons demain, etc., are also possible, especially in writing. This insertion of the conjunctive pronoun is less usual, especially in writing, with the third person pronouns ils and elles (cf. the fourth example above where no conjunctive pronoun is used). When the word-order is inverted (i.e. the subject follows the verb) in questions or after one of the adverbs or adverbial expressions that cause inversion (see 600), the conjunctive pronoun must be used, e.g.:


The noun phrase 216–217

Ton frère et toi comptez-vous partir demain ? Do you and your brother expect to leave tomorrow Sans doute Anne et lui en seront-ils contents Anne and he will doubtless be pleased (iii) as the complement of c’est, c’était, etc., e.g. C’est moi ‘It’s me’ (see also 255 and 258) (iv) after prepositions, e.g. pour moi ‘for me’, sans lui ‘without him’, avec vous ‘with you’ (v) after ne . . . que ‘only’, e.g.: Je ne connais que lui I only know him (i.e. him only) Je ne le dis qu’à toi I’m only telling you (you only) (vi) as the subject or object of an unexpressed verb: (a) subject (note that in the corresponding English utterances a verb, which may be just the verb ‘to do’ standing in for another verb, often is expressed), e.g.: Qui a dit ça ? – Moi Who said that? – I did (or Me) Qui le fera ? – Lui Who will do it? – He will Je suis plus grand que toi I am taller than you (are) Jean va peut-être rester, mais moi non (or moi pas) John may be staying, but I’m not (b) object, e.g.: Qui a-t-il vu ? – Toi Whom did he see? – You (vii) as the subject of an infinitive in exclamations (see 429), e.g.: Lui, nous trahir !

He betray us!

217 The third person disjunctive pronouns are sometimes used as the direct subjects of a verb (i.e. in the absence of the corresponding conjunctive pronoun), e.g.:

217–219 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


Les autres l’ignoraient, mais lui le savait The others were unaware of it, but he knew Nous, nous étions trop loin, mais eux l’ont vu We were too far away, but they saw it This is not possible in the case of the other disjunctive pronouns, with which the corresponding conjunctive pronoun must be inserted as grammatical subject (see examples in 216,i, above). 218 The functions of the reflexive disjunctive pronoun soi are much more restricted than those of the corresponding conjunctive pronoun se. Except in the circumstances referred to below (see 219), the third person disjunctives, lui, elle, eux, elles, are used instead. So, whereas, corresponding to Je me lave ‘I wash (myself)’, Tu t’habilles ‘You dress (yourself), you get dressed’, we have Je ne suis pas fier de moi ‘I am not proud of myself’, Tu ne penses qu’à toi(-même) ‘You only think of yourself’, Vous l’avez acheté pour vous(-même) ‘You bought it for yourself’, the forms that correspond to Il /Elle se lave ‘He/she washes (himself/herself)’, Ils/Elles s’habillent ‘They get dressed’ are, for example, Il n’est pas fier de lui ‘He is not proud of himself’, Elle ne pense qu’à elle(-même) ‘She only thinks of herself’, Ils/Elles l’ont acheté pour eux-mêmes/ellesmêmes ‘They bought it for themselves’. If there is any possibility of ambiguity, i.e. if it might otherwise not be clear whether the pronoun is being used reflexively (with reference to the subject) or not (i.e. with reference to someone else), the form with -même(s) should be used. 219

(i) In normal usage, soi and soi-même are used only:

(a) with reference to an indefinite pronoun such as chacun ‘each (one)’, personne ‘no one’, on ‘one’, quiconque ‘whoever’, or to a noun introduced by one of the indefinite determiners chaque ‘each’ or aucun ‘no’, e.g.: On le ferait pour soi(-même) Chacun pour soi

One would do it for oneself Every man for himself

or (b) when no antecedent is expressed, e.g.: Il faut tout faire soi-même aimer son prochain comme soi-même

One has to do everything oneself to love one’s neighbour as oneself


The noun phrase 219–220

Pourquoi toujours penser à soi-même ?

Why always think of oneself?

and likewise in a number of noun phrases such as respect de soi ‘self-respect’, contentement de soi ‘self-satisfaction’, confiance en soi ‘self-confidence’. (ii) Lui, etc., are usually used, however, when chacun, chaque refer to ‘each (of a specific set)’, e.g.: Après la réunion, chacun (chaque membre du comité) rentra chez lui After the meeting, everyone (each member of the committee) went home (iii) Some modern authors affect the faintly archaic use of soi with reference to a definite subject, e.g. Elle pense toujours à soi ‘She is always thinking of herself’, but this usage should not be imitated. 220 ‘To me, to him, etc.’ are frequently expressed by the conjunctive pronouns me, lui, etc., e.g. Je lui écris ‘I write to him’ (see 198). However, with certain verbs, à and the disjunctive pronoun are used instead. This construction is found in particular: (a) with être ‘to belong’, e.g. Ce livre est à moi ‘This book belongs to me (This book is mine)’ (but note that appartenir ‘to belong’ takes a conjunctive pronoun, Ce livre m’appartient) (b) with verbs of motion, e.g. Il courut à moi ‘He ran to me’, Il viendra à nous ‘He will come to us’ – but L’idée me vient que . . . ‘The idea comes to me that . . .’, etc., when no physical motion is implied. (c) with penser, songer ‘to think’ and rêver ‘to dream’, e.g. Je pensais à toi ‘I was thinking of you’ (d) with a few miscellaneous verbs including en appeler ‘to appeal’, recourir ‘to have recourse’, renoncer ‘to give up’, e.g. J’en appelle à vous ‘I appeal to you (i.e. to your judgement)’, Elle recourt toujours à lui ‘She always turns to him (i.e. for help)’, J’ai renoncé à elle ‘I have given her up’; note too such expressions as Il aura affaire à moi ‘He will have me to deal with’, Prends garde à toi ! ‘Watch out!’

221–222 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


Adverb replacing preposition + pronoun 221 In English, an adverb of place is often used instead of a preposition + ‘it’ (or, less frequently, ‘them’, with reference to things), e.g. ‘Here’s the table but there’s nothing underneath (or under(neath) it)’.A similar possibility exists in French and it should be noted that in some contexts French uses the adverb where the prepositional construction is more likely in English. The following adverbs are particularly common in this construction (the forms in là have a slightly stronger demonstrative value than those without and can sometimes, but not always, be translated ‘in there, under there, on there’): dedans, là-dedans dessous, là-dessous dessus, là-dessus

inside, in it underneath, under it on top, on it

Examples: Il n’y a personne là-dedans There is no one in there J’ai ouvert la boîte mais il n’y avait rien dedans I opened the box but there was nothing inside (in it) Voici l’enveloppe: son adresse est dessus Here’s the envelope: his address is on it In spoken French, avec ‘with’ (and, to a lesser extent, pour ‘for’ and sans ‘without’) are similarly used, e.g. Il a emprunté mon parapluie et il est parti avec ‘He borrowed my umbrella and went off with it’.

Possessive determiners and pronouns Introduction 222 French, like English, has two sets of possessives, each having different functions, viz.: (i) possessive determiners (see 23) (more frequently but less satisfactorily known as ‘possessive adjectives’), corresponding to English my, your, etc. (see 223–226)


The noun phrase 222–224

(ii) possessive pronouns, corresponding to English mine, yours, etc. (see 231–233).

Possessive determiners 223

The possessive determiners in French are:

masc. sing.

fem. sing.

mon ton son notre votre leur

ma ta sa notre votre leur

masc. and fem. plur. mes my tes your ses his, her, its nos our vos your leurs their

These forms function in a similar way to the definite article, agreeing in gender and number with the noun they introduce (e.g. mon livre ‘my book’, ma maison ‘my house’, mes crayons ‘my pencils’) and preceding not only the noun but any accompanying adjectives (e.g. ma nouvelle voiture ‘my new car’). The only member of a noun phrase that can normally precede the possessive (but see also feu, 135) is the predeterminer tout ‘all, whole’ (see 317), e.g. toute ma vie ‘my whole life’, tous vos amis ‘all your friends’. Before a noun or adjective beginning with a vowel or mute h, mon, ton, son, are used in the feminine instead of ma, ta, sa, e.g. mon idée ‘my idea’, son habileté ‘his skill’. The distinction between ton, etc., and votre, etc., corresponds to that between tu and vous (see 196). 224 Like the definite article (see 30) the possessive determiner is repeated with each of a series of nouns referring to different entities, e.g. mon frère et ma sœur ‘my brother and sister’, but not with nouns referring to the same item or individual, e.g. mon collègue et ami Jean Dubois ‘my colleague and friend Jean Dubois’, leur appartement ou studio à Paris ‘their flat or flatlet in Paris’. In a few fixed expressions, a single determiner refers to two or more nouns, e.g. (with any possessive determiner) mes allées et

224–227 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


venues ‘my comings and goings’, vos nom, prénom(s) et qualité ‘your full name and occupation’, à ses risques et périls ‘at his own risk’. 225 The possessive determiners cannot be stressed. When any degree of emphasis is required, the appropriate disjunctive pronoun preceded by à is used, in addition to the determiner, e.g. mon frère à moi ‘my brother’, leur maison à eux (à elles) ‘their house’. The same procedure may be used to distinguish between ‘his’ and ‘her’ where the determiner alone could be unclear or ambiguous, e.g.: Sa mère à lui est plus jeune que sa mère à elle His mother is younger than her mother Il conduisait sa voiture à elle He was driving her car 226 The first person singular possessives mon, etc., are used in certain circumstances when addressing someone; in particular: (i) as a sign of familiarity or affection; e.g. a parent speaking to his or her son or daughter may well use the forms mon fils and ma fille (where English would probably just use their names), or, speaking to one’s children in general, mes enfants (which could also be used by a teacher addressing a class); likewise mon amour ‘darling’, etc. (ii) as a sign of respect or deference, e.g. mon père ‘father’ (i.e. when one of his children is speaking), or ‘Father’ (i.e. with reference to a Catholic priest), mon oncle ‘uncle’, ma tante ‘aunt’, etc., and, in the army, when addressing those of higher rank (i.e. where ‘Sir!’ would be used in English), e.g. a captain and a colonel would be addressed as mon capitaine and mon colonel respectively by their inferiors, but as capitaine and colonel by their superiors and by civilians. This practice is at the origin of the forms monsieur (originally = ‘my lord’), madame, mademoiselle (whose plurals are still formed in mes, viz. messieurs, mesdames, mesdemoiselles) and the ecclesiastical title monseigneur, plur. messeigneurs. 227 Just as ‘of it, of them’ may sometimes be substituted in English for ‘its’ or ‘their’ (with reference to things), so, in French, the conjunctive pronoun en ‘of it, of them’ (see 201) may be


The noun phrase 227–228

substituted for the possessive determiners in the following circumstances (but the possessive is also fully acceptable and, in speech at least, more usual): (a) with reference to the subject of être or another ‘linking verb’ (e.g. devenir, paraître, see 518), e.g.: Vous devriez visiter le château. Les jardins en sont superbes You ought to visit the château. Its gardens (the gardens of it) are superb Cette robe est jolie mais les manches en paraissent trop courtes That dress is pretty but its sleeves seem too short (b) with a direct object, e.g.: J’ai reçu sa lettre mais je n’en comprends pas le premier paragraphe I have had his letter but I don’t understand the first paragraph of it (its first paragraph) Le proviseur du lycée en connaît tous les élèves The headmaster of the school knows all its pupils Il achetait des livres afin d’en dévorer le contenu plutôt que d’en admirer la reliure He bought books in order to master their contents rather than to admire their bindings (but not when the possessive refers back to the subject of the same clause, e.g. en could not be substituted for the possessive determiner in Le château domine ses jardins ‘The castle towers above its gardens’). 228 With reference to parts of the body, French commonly uses the definite article where English uses the possessive determiner. Two different constructions have to be noted: (i) When the reference is to something the subject does with a part of his or her body, the definite article alone is used, e.g.: J’ai ouvert les yeux I opened my eyes Elle hausse les épaules She shrugs her shoulders Ils étendirent les bras They stretched out their arms

228–229 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


and likewise with fermer la bouche (les yeux) ‘to close one’s mouth (eyes)’, lever le doigt ‘to put one’s hand up’, secouer la tête ‘to shake one’s head’, etc. Cf. too expressions such as avoir mal aux dents, . . . à la gorge, . . . à la tête, . . . aux reins ‘to have toothache, a sore throat, a headache, backache’, etc. However, when the part of the body is in any way qualified, the possessive is used, e.g. Elle ouvrit ses grands yeux bleus ‘She opened her big blue eyes’. (ii) When the reference is to something one does to a part of one’s body, the reflexive pronoun (functioning as an indirect object) is used, as in Elle se lave les cheveux ‘She washes her hair (lit. She washes the hair to herself)’; cf.: Vous vous êtes cassé le bras Je me suis coupé le doigt Elle s’est tordu le bras

You have broken your arm I have cut my finger She wrenched her arm

A similar construction, using the indirect object pronoun referring to the person affected, occurs when the action is something one does to a part of someone else’s body, e.g.: Il m’a tordu le bras Elle lui lave les cheveux Il lui a craché à la figure

He twisted my arm She washes his hair He spat in his face

229 With some verbs two different constructions are possible, e.g.: Elle s’est She has

au genou  blessée brûlée 

her knee  hurt burnt 

(lit. ‘she has hurt/burnt herself in the knee’ – se is a direct object and so the past participle agrees with it, see 461), or alternatively: Elle s’est

blessé  brûlé  le genou

(lit. ‘She has hurt/burnt the knee to herself’ – se is an indirect object and so the past participle does not agree.)


The noun phrase 230–233

230 For the use of the definite article in expressions of the type le chapeau sur la tête ‘with his hat on his head’, see 29, ii.

Possessive pronouns 231

The French possessive pronouns are

masc. sing. le mien le tien le sien le nôtre le vôtre le leur

fem. sing. la mienne la tienne la sienne la nôtre la vôtre la leur

masc. plur. les miens les tiens les siens les nôtres les vôtres les leurs

fem. plur. les miennes les tiennes les siennes les nôtres les vôtres les leurs

mine yours his, hers ours yours theirs

232 (i) The possessive pronouns take the gender and number of the noun they stand for, e.g.: tes enfants et les miens your children and mine Notre maison est en face de la leur Our house is opposite theirs (ii) After the verb être, ‘mine, yours’, etc. are usually rendered by à moi, à vous, etc. (i.e. ‘it belongs to me’ rather than ‘it is mine’), e.g.: Ces livres-ci sont à moi These books are mine Laquelle de ces clefs est à vous ? Which of these keys is yours? However, when a contrast is being drawn not so much between two possessors (as in, for example, Ces livres-ci sont à lui, les autres sont à nous ‘These books are his, the others are ours’) as between two sets of things possessed, le mien, etc., are used, e.g.: Ces livres-ci sont les vôtres; les miens sont en bas These books are yours; mine are downstairs 233 The forms listed in 231 also occur very occasionally without the definite article as adjectives, in particular:

233–235 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


(i) in such expressions as faire sien ‘to adopt as one’s own’, regarder comme sien ‘to consider as one’s own’, e.g. Je fais mienne votre réponse ‘I adopt your answer as my own’, Il regardait comme siens tous les revenus de sa femme ‘He considered all his wife’s income as his own’; (ii) in the archaic construction that one still sometimes comes across, un or ce + demonstrative + noun, e.g. un mien ami ‘a friend of mine’, ce mien ami ‘this friend of mine’; the normal equivalents of these are un ami à moi (or, with a slightly different meaning, un de mes amis ‘one of my friends’) and cet ami à moi.

Demonstrative determiners and pronouns Introduction 234 Unlike English, which uses this and that, these and those, both as determiners (see 23) and as pronouns, French (as in the case of the possessives, see 222, 223, 231) has two sets of demonstratives, each having different functions, viz.: (i) demonstrative determiners (more usually but less satisfactorily known as demonstrative adjectives) (see 235–237) (ii) demonstrative pronouns (see 238). Demonstrative determiners 235 The demonstrative determiners in French, meaning both ‘this/these’ and ‘that/those’ (see 237) are: masc. sing. ce, cet

fem. sing. cette

plur. ces

In the masculine singular, ce is used except before a vowel or mute h when cet is used, e.g. ce livre ‘this/that book’, cet arbre ‘this/that tree’, ce soldat ‘this soldier’, cet ancien soldat ‘this former soldier’, cet homme ‘this man’. Note that, as in the case of the other principal determiners, viz. the articles les and des (24) and the possessives, mes, nos, etc. (223), there is no distinction of gender in the plural.


The noun phrase 236–237

236 The demonstrative determiners agree in gender and number with the noun they introduce, e.g. cette maison ‘this house’, ces idées ‘those ideas’. Like other determiners (cf. the definite article, 30, and the possessive, 224), the demonstrative is repeated with each of two or more nouns referring to separate entities, e.g. ce pain, ce jambon et cette bière ‘this bread, ham and beer’, ces femmes et ces enfants ‘these women and children’. Also like the definite article and the possessive determiner, the demonstrative determiner may be preceded by the predeterminer tout ‘all (of), whole’ (see 317,ii,b), e.g. tous ces enfants ‘all these/those children’, toute cette foule ‘this whole crowd’. 237 The French determiners mean both ‘this/these’ and ‘that/those’. It is possible to make a distinction comparable to the English one by adding after the noun either -ci (an archaic form of ici ‘here’) for ‘this/these’ or -là (= ‘there’) for ‘that/those’, e.g. ces jours-ci ‘these days’, ce jour-là ‘that day’, but this is usually not necessary. Indeed, it is frequently not only unnecessary but incorrect to add -ci or -là to the noun. They should be used only in the following circumstances: (i) to express emphasis (ii) to mark a contrast between ‘this’ and ‘that’, or ‘these’ and ‘those’ (iii) when an object is, literally, pointed out. Examples: Je déteste cette couleur-là I hate that colour Prenez ce livre-ci plutôt que l’autre Take this book rather than the other (one) C’est bien ce train-ci pour Paris, n’est-ce pas ? It is this train for Paris, isn’t it? Qui est ce monsieur-là ? Who is that gentleman (there)? Note that, in familiar speech, the forms in -là are frequently used instead of the forms in -ci when the context makes it clear what particular item is being referred to, e.g.: Ce train-là va à Paris ?

Does this train go to Paris?

237–238 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


If necessary, là-bas ‘over there’ can be used to make it clear that the meaning is ‘that’ not ‘this’, e.g. ce train là-bas ‘that train (over there)’.

Demonstrative pronouns 238 Whereas, in the case of the demonstrative determiners, French often does not distinguish between ‘this/these’ and ‘that/ those’ (see 237), in the case of the demonstrative pronouns strictly so called (see 245–246 for other pronouns that are sometimes also considered to be demonstratives) the distinction is compulsory and is expressed, as in the case of the determiners (see 237), by adding -ci or -là to the pronoun itself. The forms of the demonstrative pronouns are: this, these that, those

masc. sing. celui-ci celui-là

fem. sing. celle-ci celle-là

masc. plur. ceux-ci ceux-là

fem. plur. celles-ci celles-là

Note that, in the singular, English frequently uses ‘this one, that one’ instead of ‘this, that’; in French, celui-ci, celle-là, etc., are all that is required – do not attempt to translate the English ‘one’. The gender of the pronoun is determined by that of the noun it refers to – ‘this one’ with reference to a book (le livre), for example, is celui-ci but with reference to a bottle (la bouteille) the feminine, celle-ci, is required. Celui-ci, etc., also mean ‘the latter’ (i.e. the one just mentioned, so, in that sense, the nearer, ‘this one’), while celuilà, etc., mean ‘the former’. Examples: J’ai acheté deux journaux. Celui-ci est pour vous et celui-là est pour votre père I have bought two newspapers. This one is for you and that one is for your father A qui sont ces disques ? – Ceux-ci sont à moi mais ceux-là sont à mon frère Whose are these records? – These are mine but those are my brother’s Laquelle de ces chemises préférez-vous ? – Je préfère de beaucoup celle-ci Which of these shirts do you prefer? – I much prefer this one


The noun phrase 238–241

Marlborough et Eugène étaient presque comme deux frères; celui-ci avait plus d’audace, celui-là l’esprit plus froid et calculateur Marlborough and Eugene were almost like two brothers; the latter was more impetuous, the former more coldly calculating Celui-là, etc., are frequently used in familiar speech instead of celui-ci, etc., when the meaning is clear from the context (cf. 237), e.g.: Quelle robe as-tu choisie ? – Je prends celle-là Which dress have you chosen? – I’ll take this one The neuter demonstrative pronouns 239 French has three so-called ‘neuter’ demonstrative pronouns, viz. ce, ceci and cela (note that the -a of cela does not have an accent). 240 Ce. Although ce is very widely used (i) when followed by a relative clause and meaning ‘what, that which’ (see 274), and (ii) as the subject of être and meaning ‘it’ (see 248–261), it has almost entirely gone out of use as a real demonstrative. It survives as such only in a few phrases (all of them characteristic of literary rather than of spoken usage) such as: sur ce thereupon, whereupon pour ce, pour ce faire to this end, for this purpose ce disant saying this, so saying, with these words ce faisant doing this, doing which and et ce ‘and that’ (in the sense of ‘for the reason that’, or ‘and I did so’, etc.) as in, for example, J’ai promis de l’aider, et ce pour le convaincre de mon amitié ‘I promised to help him, and that (or and I did so) in order to convince him of my friendship’. 241 Whereas celui-ci, celui-là, etc. refer to specific nouns and can usually be translated as ‘this one, that one’ (see 238), ceci

241–243 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


and cela (or its reduced form ça, see 242,i) do not. These so-called ‘neuter’ pronouns refer: (i) to the general content of a statement, in which case ceci generally refers forward to something that still has to be stated, whereas cela refers back to something already stated, e.g.: Écoutez ceci Listen to this (i.e. to what I have to say) Si vous croyez cela, vous êtes fou If you believe that, you’re crazy On dit qu’il est parti mais cela me paraît bizarre They say he’s left but that seems odd to me Note, however, that ceci refers back in the expression ceci dit ‘that said’, as in Ceci dit, parlons d’autre chose ‘That said, let us talk about something else’. Note too the construction ceci/cela + de + adjective + a nounclause, e.g.: Le problème a ceci (cela) d’intéressant que personne ne sait ce qu’elle fera demain The problem is interesting in this respect that (or What is interesting about the problem is that) no one knows what she will do tomorrow (ii) to some unspecified object, i.e. meaning ‘this, that’ not ‘this one, that one’ (which must be celui-ci, etc.), e.g.: Je prends ceci I’ll take this Ceci est son chef d’œuvre This is his masterpiece Jetez cela ! Throw that away! 242 Note: (i) that frequently in speech and sometimes, in an informal style, in writing, cela is reduced to ça, e.g. Ça suffit ! ‘That’s enough!’ (ii) that ceci is characteristic particularly of literary usage and is not very much used in conversational French in which it tends to be replaced by cela (ça). On the widespread use of ça in colloquial French instead of the personal pronoun(s) il(s), (elle)s, see R. Ball, Colloquial French Grammar (Oxford, Blackwell, 2000), pp. 70–77. 243 Cela (ça) is widely used as a strengthening particle in what would otherwise be one-word questions, e.g.:


The noun phrase 243–245

Je l’ai vu ce matin. – Où cela ? I saw him this morning. – Where? Quelqu’un me l’a dit. – Qui ça ? Someone told me. – Who (did)? and likewise Comment ça ? ‘How?’, Pourquoi ça ? ‘Why (so)?’, Quand ça ? ‘When?’ (but it is not used with quoi ? ‘what?’). 244 With the verb être and a following noun phrase, the two parts of which cela originally consisted are still frequently separated, with ce serving as the subject of the verb and là coming between the verb and the noun phrase (without a hyphen); the meaning, however, is still ‘that’ (with sometimes a slight degree of emphasis), e.g.: C’est là le problème That’s (just) the problem C’était là ce qu’il voulait dire That was what he meant Est-ce là la maison dont vous parlez ? Is that the house you are talking about? Note that this construction can also occur with a plural verb (cf. 255), e.g.: Ce sont là les messieurs qui sont arrivés hier Those are the gentlemen who arrived yesterday (but the form sont-ce should be avoided.) The simple demonstrative pronouns 245 The simple demonstrative pronouns, i.e. celui, celle, ceux, celles without -ci or -là, can no longer be used as demonstratives in the strict sense of the word, i.e. meaning ‘this one, that one, these’, etc. They are used as the equivalent of English ‘the one(s)’ (or, in the literary language, ‘that, those’) when standing for some previously expressed noun and followed by a defining clause or phrase. The pronoun agrees in gender and number with the noun it stands for, e.g. ‘these letters and the ones I wrote yesterday’ is ces lettres et celles que j’ai écrites hier (celles because it stands for lettres which is feminine plural).

245 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


The defining element may be: (i) a prepositional phrase introduced by de, corresponding to an English phrase of the type ‘that of my brother’ (or, more frequently, ‘my brother’s’ with no expressed pronoun), e.g.: sa décision et celle du président his decision and that of the President Son jardin est plus grand que celui de Jean Her garden is bigger than John’s J’aime mieux les romans de Balzac que ceux de Zola I prefer the novels of Balzac to those of Zola Nous mangeons ces pommes-ci ou celles de mon frère ? Shall we eat these apples or my brother’s? (ii) a relative clause (see also 246), e.g.: Votre maison est plus grande que celle que je viens d’acheter Your house is bigger than the one I have just bought ces messieurs et ceux qui arrivent demain these gentlemen and those (the ones) who are arriving tomorrow Ce parc n’est pas celui dont je vous ai parlé This park isn’t the one I told you about Quelle dame cherchez-vous ? Celle à qui j’ai parlé hier Which lady are you looking for? The one I spoke to yesterday (iii) a phrase introduced by a preposition other than de or by a past participle, e.g.: ces livres-ci et ceux sur la table these books and the ones on the table les nouvelles mesures et celles adoptées l’an dernier the new measures and those adopted last year However, such constructions are often considered stylistically inelegant and, for that reason, it is as well to avoid them, at least in writing. This can be done by means of a relative clause (e.g. ceux qui sont sur la table, celles qui furent adoptées). It is even more advisable to avoid the use of other defining elements even though these occur (but only rarely) in the French of good writers,


The noun phrase 245–248

e.g. Elle le dégoûta . . . des tomates, même de celles comestibles (Proust) ‘She put him off tomatoes, even edible ones’. 246 Celui qui (que, etc.) and ceux qui (que, etc.) can also be used in a general sense, i.e. ‘he who(m) . . .’, e.g.: Heureux celui qui craint le Seigneur ! Blessed is he who fears the Lord! Ceux qui voyagent beaucoup ont de la chance Those who travel a lot are lucky ceux que les dieux aiment those whom the gods love 247 In a similar construction to the use of celui qui, etc., in a general sense (245), the ‘neuter’ pronoun ce, which now rarely serves as a strict demonstrative (see 240), frequently occurs as the antecedent of a relative clause with the meaning ‘what, that which’, e.g. ce que je veux ‘what I want’ (for fuller details see 274).

C’est and il est 248 It is a curious fact that such a basic problem as how to translate the expression ‘it is’ into French is the source of considerable uncertainty and difficulty. No French grammar deals with it entirely adequately. Fortunately, for at least part of the problem, namely the use of c’est or il est + adjective, we have an illuminating study in Professor Samuel N. Rosenberg’s book, Modern French Ce (Paris and The Hague: Mouton, 1970), to which section 250 below in particular owes a lot. The basic problem, i.e. that of distinguishing between c’est and il est as equivalents of ‘it is’, is complicated by two others. One is the fact that il (est) in French may be the equivalent either of the English impersonal ‘it is’, as in ‘It is easy to understand him’, or of ‘he is’, or of ‘it is’ with reference to a specific object, as in ‘If you want my dictionary, it is on the desk’. The other is the fact that in some contexts French uses c’est where English uses ‘he is’ or ‘she is’ (see 251). We cannot hope in a few pages to deal with all facets of the problem but what follows will cover the majority of cases in which it arises.

248–249 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


In what follows, ‘complement’ refers to what comes after the verb ‘to be’ and ‘referent’ to whatever the pronoun (ce, il, elle, etc.) stands for; for example, in Jean ne vient pas, il est malade ‘John isn’t coming, he’s ill’ and C’est beau, la neige ‘Snow is beautiful’, malade and beau respectively are the complements and Jean and la neige the referents. Finally note that (as in, for example, C’est beau, la neige, above), an adjectival complement after c’est always agrees with ce, i.e. it is masculine, even if the referent is a feminine noun or a plural noun (e.g. C’est important, les traditions ‘Traditions are important’). 249 As the subject is a complicated one and a number of different rules and sub-rules are involved, it may help to simplify matters if we give a summary of the contents of sections 250–261: I. C’est or personal il est, elle est, etc.? 250

(i) The complement is an adjective:

(a) The referent is a person (b) The referent is a thing (c) The referent is an unspecified object, a neuter pronoun, an adverbial expression of place, or a phrase including a numeral 251

(ii) The complement is a noun or pronoun:

(a) C’est (b) Il est, elle est, etc. (c) The difference between a and b (d) Some exceptions 252 (iii) The complement is neither an adjective nor a noun or pronoun: (a) The referent is a person or thing (b) The referent is ceci or cela, a noun phrase introduced by ce qui, etc., or the name of a place II. C’est or impersonal il est? 253

(i) The complement is an adjective


(ii) With reference to the time of day


(iii) The complement is a noun or pronoun

256 (iv) The complement is an indirect object, adverb, adverbial phrase, prepositional phrase, or verb phrase

The noun phrase 249–250

172 257

Ce doit être, ce peut être, etc.

III. C’est or est? 258

C’est is compulsory


C’est is preferred to est


Free choice between c’est and est


C’est + que de + infinitive


C’est or personal il est, elle est, etc.?


(i) The complement is an adjective

(a) The referent is a person: Use il est, elle est, etc., e.g.: 1 Je connais sa fille. Elle est très jolie I know his daughter. She is very pretty 2 Si mon frère arrive, il sera content de vous voir If my brother arrives, he will be pleased to see you 3 Jean ne vient pas. Il est malade John isn’t coming. He’s ill (b) The referent is a thing – either c’est or il est, elle est, etc., is possible, but with a difference in meaning. Generally speaking, if il est, elle est, etc., are used, then the adjective relates strictly to the referent, whereas, if c’est is used, the adjective has a somewhat wider application, referring for example, as the following examples will show, to the context of the referent as well as to the referent itself, or to the referent in a general rather than in a specific sense, or to what is implied by the referent: 4 Est-ce que cette robe vous plaît ? – Oui, elle est très jolie 5 Est-ce que cette robe vous plaît ? – Oui, c’est très joli Both of these could be translated ‘Do you like this dress? – Yes, it is very pretty’, but whereas, in 4, elle est très jolie refers only to the dress itself, there is an implication in 5, c’est très joli, that the general effect is pretty (the meaning borders on something like ‘It looks very pretty on you’). 6 Regardez cette table ! Elle est affreuse ! 7 Regardez cette table ! C’est affreux !

250 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


Both 6 and 7 mean ‘Look at that table! It’s awful!’, but 6 refers rather to the table itself as a piece of furniture and 7 to the table and whatever is on it, the way it is laid or decorated, etc. 8 Voulez-vous du cognac ? Il est très bon Would you like some cognac? It’s very good 9 Voulez-vous du cognac ? C’est très bon pour la digestion Would you like some cognac? It’s very good for the digestion In 8, the reference is to the quality of the particular cognac that is being offered; in 9, to a quality attributed to cognac in general. 10 Elle est belle, la neige ! The snow is beautiful! 11 C’est beau, la neige ! Snow is beautiful! In 10, the speaker is commenting on the snow that is on the ground, or falling, as he speaks and that he can see; in 11, to snow in general (and note the use of the English definite article ‘the’ in 10 but not in 11). 12 Je comprends votre idée. Elle est très simple I understand your idea. It is very simple 13 J’ai une idée. C’est très simple I have an idea. It is very simple 12 means specifically that the idea itself is simple; 13 has rather the meaning of ‘what I have in mind is simple’. 14 J’aime ce livre. Il est très beau I like this book. It’s very handsome 15 Je n’aime pas ce livre. C’est trop triste I don’t like this book. It’s too sad Whereas 14 refers to the physical appearance of the book, 15 refers to its contents. 16 C’est important, les traditions Traditions are important refers by implication to all that traditions represent. (c) The referent is an unspecified object (as in sentence 17 below),


The noun phrase 250–251

or a ‘neuter’ pronoun such as cela (ça), ce (qui, que, dont), or le, or a clause introduced by comme, or an adverbial expression of place or the name of a locality (in which case the explanation of the use of ce is similar to that given for sentence 15 above), or a phrase including a numeral (including un) (and this list is not necessarily complete), e.g.: 17 Attention ! C’est lourd !

Careful! It’s heavy!

In 17, the speaker and his hearer(s) know of course what it is that is heavy (e.g. a rock, a box, a piece of furniture) but the speaker has not specifically mentioned it, hence the use of ce. 18 Ne buvez pas ça ! C’est trop fort Don’t drink that! It’s too strong 19 C’est vrai, ça ! That’s true 20 C’est inquiétant ce que vous dites What you say is worrying 21 Elle le croit mais ce n’est pas vrai She believes it but it isn’t true 22 C’est incroyable comme on oublie It’s unbelievable how one forgets 23 C’est charmant ici It’s delightful here 24 C’est beau, la Provence Provence is beautiful In 24, the reference is to all that is conjured up by the name of Provence. 25 C’est long, une heure ! It’s a long time, an hour! 26 Vingt euros, c’est très cher Twenty euros is very expensive In 26, note that English uses a singular not a plural verb after ‘twenty euros’ – a further indication that the adjective refers not so much to the nominal referent as to what is implied by it. 251

(ii) The complement is a noun or pronoun

(a) The general rule is that one uses c’est when the complement

251 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


is introduced by a determiner (article, possessive or demonstrative) or when it is a pronoun such as un, celui, quelqu’un, e.g.: C’est un médecin He is a doctor C’est l’ami dont je vous parlais He is the friend I was telling you about Je connais cette étudiante; c’est ma cousine I know that student; she’s my cousin Qui est ce monsieur ? – C’est celui qui vous a écrit Who is that gentleman? – He’s the man who wrote to you C’était quelqu’un d’important He was someone important (b) With nouns indicating a long-term state in life, such as profession or family status, it is possible to use il est, elle est, etc., with no article before the complement, e.g.: Il est médecin Elle est étudiante Il est grand-père

He is a doctor She is a student He is a grandfather

(c) The distinction between types a and b above is basically that in type b (Il est médecin) the noun has a primarily adjectival function, it serves only to characterize the person, e.g.: Puis-je présenter mon mari ? Il est médecin May I introduce my husband? He is a doctor whereas, once any other idea is introduced, type a (C’est un médecin) is likely to be used, e.g.: Mon mari n’aime pas qu’on fume. C’est un médecin My husband doesn’t like people to smoke. He’s a doctor Elle fait beaucoup de gestes lorsqu’elle parle. Après tout, c’est une Italienne She makes a lot of gestures when she speaks. After all, she’s an Italian Consequently, type a must be used whenever the noun is qualified, e.g.:


The noun phrase 251–252

C’est un excellent médecin He is an excellent doctor C’est un étudiant qui travaille bien He is a student who works well (d) In spite of a and b above, the construction il est, elle est + complement introduced by a determiner sometimes occurs, e.g. when the subject pronoun is strengthened by a disjunctive pronoun, e.g.: Elle, elle était une petite veuve de trente-trois ans (Courteline) She was a little thirty-three-year-old widow or when the uniqueness of the complement is stressed, e.g.: Elle est la reine Après tout, il est mon père

She is the Queen After all, he is my father

But such nuances are delicate and difficult to define and, in general, it is advisable to follow the rules set out in a and b above. 252 (iii) The complement is neither an adjective nor a noun or pronoun (a) The referent is a person or a thing expressed by a noun or pronoun – use il est, elle est, etc., e.g.: Où est votre frère ? – Il est en France Where is your brother? – He is in France Où est mon dictionnaire ? – Il est sur la table Where is my dictionary? – It is on the table A qui est cette voiture ? – Elle est à moi Whose is this car? – It’s mine Si vous cherchez le chat, il est dans le jardin If you are looking for the cat, he (it) is in the garden Je ne comprends pas cette lettre. Elle est en allemand I don’t understand this letter. It’s in German (b) The referent is ceci or cela (ça), or a noun phrase introduced by ce qui, etc., or the name of a place, or the idea contained in a preceding clause – use c’est, e.g.: Ça, c’est à voir That remains to be seen

252–253 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


Je ne comprends pas ce qu’il a écrit. C’est en allemand I don’t understand what he has written. It’s in German Où est Neuchâtel ? C’est en Suisse Where is Neuchâtel? It is in Switzerland J’aime jouer aux échecs. C’est très intéressant I like playing chess. It’s very interesting II. C’est or impersonal il est? 253 (i) The complement is an adjective (see also the end of this section) When the referent has already been expressed, i.e. when the adjective refers back to it, c’est must be used, but when the referent follows, i.e. when the adjective refers forward to it, il est is used (but see below), e.g.: 1 Pourquoi est-il parti ? – Je ne sais pas; c’est difficile à comprendre Why has he left? – I don’t know; it’s difficult to understand 2 Il est difficile de comprendre pourquoi il est parti It is difficult to understand why he has left 3 C’est lui qui l’a cassé – Oui, c’est évident It is he who broke it. – Yes, it’s obvious 4 Il est évident que c’est lui qui l’a cassé It is obvious that it was he who broke it In 1 and 3, the adjectives difficile and évident refer back to what is difficult to understand (viz. his departure) or obvious (the fact that he broke the window) and so c’est is used, but in 2 and 4 the adjectives refer forward to the same events and so il est is used. However, in speech c’est is widely used instead of il est with reference forward (e.g. C’est difficile de comprendre pourquoi il est parti) and this is usual even in literary usage when the adjective expresses a subjective reaction or carries any kind of emphasis, e.g. C’est curieux qu’il ne soit pas venu ‘It is strange that he has not come’. Other adjectives with which both constructions occur include agréable ‘pleasant’, certain, essentiel ‘essential’, étonnant


The noun phrase 253–255

‘surprising’, facile ‘easy’, impossible, juste ‘fair’, nécessaire ‘necessary’, possible, probable, rare, regrettable, surprenant ‘surprising’, triste ‘sad’, vrai ‘true’, etc. Though these constructions occur mainly with adjectival complements, they also apply when the complement is an infinitive governed by the preposition à, e.g.: Est-il sain et sauf ? C’est à espérer Is he safe and sound? It is to be hoped so Il est à espérer qu’il est sain et sauf It is to be hoped that he is safe and sound 254

(ii) With reference to the time of day, il est is used, e.g.:

Quelle heure est-il ? Il est trois heures et demie

What time is it? It is half past three

255 (iii) The complement is a noun or pronoun, which may or may not be qualified by a relative clause – c’est must be used, e.g.: 1 Qui est-ce ? – C’est moi Who is it? – It’s me 2 C’est lui qui l’a fait (It’s) he (who) did it 3 C’est vous que je cherche It’s you I’m looking for 4 C’est Jean qui travaille le mieux (It’s) John (who) works best 5 Avez-vous trouvé votre livre ? – Oui, c’est celui-ci Have you found your book? – Yes, it’s this one If the complement is a plural noun or pronoun, then, in the literary language, ce sont is used, e.g.: 6 Ce sont mes frères qui le feront (It is) my brothers (who) will do it 7 Ce sont eux qui le feront (It is) they (who) will do it In speech, however, c’est is normally used, e.g. C’est mes frères qui le feront, and, even in the literary language, c’est is always

255–256 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


used with nous and vous even with reference to more than one person, e.g. (C’est) nous (qui) le ferons ‘(It is) we (who) will do it’. (Note that the verb of the relative clause agrees in person with the complement of the preceding clause, as in the example just given or as in C’est moi qui l’ai dit ‘It is I who said so’.) This construction must be used when, in English, the subject is emphasized with the value ‘it is . . . who’, as in ‘John is coming’ (= ‘It is John who is coming’) and sentences 2, 4, 6 and 7 above. Likewise with the direct object, except that in English the wordorder is different and the form of the personal pronoun may change, e.g.: 8 C’est Paul qu’elle aime It is Paul she loves, or She loves Paul 9 C’est lui que je cherchais It is he I was looking for, or I was looking for him Note that c’est generally remains in the present tense even though the tense of the relative clause may be different, as in sentences 2, 6 and 9 above. The present tense would still be used in French even if one were translating ‘It was he who did it’, ‘It will be my brothers who will do it’, and ‘It was he I was looking for’. However, sentences like C’était lui qui chantait ‘It was he who was singing’, Ce sera Jean qui le fera ‘It will be John who will do it’, are not impossible. 256 (iv) The complement is an indirect object, an adverb or adverbial phrase, a prepositional phrase, or a verb phrase (either a subordinate clause or a phrase based on an infinitive other than one governed by à – see 253, end – or on a present participle) – c’est . . . que . . . must be used, e.g.: 1 C’est à Pierre que je l’ai donné It was Peter I gave it to, or I gave it to Peter 2 C’est là qu’il habite It’s there (that) he lives, or He lives there 3 C’est à Paris que nous l’avons rencontré It was in Paris (that) we met him, or We met him in Paris 4 C’est aujourd’hui qu’il va venir It is today that he is coming, or He is coming today


The noun phrase 256–257

5 Ce n’est pas assez (que) de vous excuser: il faut vous expliquer It is not enough to apologize: you must explain yourself 6 C’est avec le plus grand plaisir que je vous accompagnerai It is with the greatest of pleasure that I will go with you 7 C’est parce qu’il est bête qu’il a fait ça It is because he is a fool that he did that 8 C’est pour vous protéger que je l’ai dit It was to protect you that I said it, or I said it to protect you 9 C’est après vous avoir vu que votre frère est parti It was after seeing you that your brother left 10 C’est en travaillant dur que vous y arriverez It’s by working hard that you’ll get there As in the construction discussed in 255, c’est . . . que . . . serves to emphasize the complement (see all the above examples) and the tense of c’est generally remains unchanged (see sentences 1, 3, 7, 8, 9 and 10). The following idioms are exceptions to what has been said above: Il en est ainsi It is so, that is how things are il en est de même pour . . . the same is true of . . . 257 (i) In all the examples given in 248–256, the verb is être. Note, however, that ce can still be used when the modal verbs devoir and pouvoir (and occasionally aller and, in the conditional tense only, savoir) are followed by être, e.g.: Ce doit être un gros problème It must be a big problem Ce ne peut être que lui It can only be he Ce pourrait être vrai It could be true Ç’allait être difficile It was going to be difficult Ce ne saurait être que lui It could only be he

257–258 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


(Note the cedilla on ç’ before the a- of allait; the same is true before the a- of avoir in compound tenses of être, e.g. ç’avait été ‘it had been’.) (ii) Note that c’est can be combined with other tenses in a following clause introduced by qui or que, e.g.: c’est Si vous faites ça, tout ce qui arrivera que vous or ce sera offenserez tout le monde If you do that, all that will happen is or that you will will be offend everybody





C’est moi (or C’était moi) qu’elle attendait It is me (or It was me) she was waiting for C’est (or Ce fut) Zola qui prit la défense de Dreyfus It was Zola who defended Dreyfus But if c’est is not used, then the tense of the two verbs must be the same; in particular, avoid the trap that foreigners often fall into of beginning with C’était . . . and then continuing with a preterite or a perfect in the following clause. III. C’est or est? 258 Note that c’est rather than est alone must be used (i) when the complement is a personal pronoun, e.g.: Mon meilleur ami c’est vous My best friend is you (ii) when the referent is singular and the complement plural (in which case ce sont would be preferred in literary usage, see 255), e.g.: Ce que je crains, c’est (or ce sont) mes prétendus amis What I fear is (the reaction of) my so-called friends (iii) when both referent and complement are positive infinitives, e.g.: Voir c’est croire

Seeing is believing

Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner To understand all is to forgive all


The noun phrase 258–259

(but, if the second infinitive is negative, either c’est or est may be used, e.g. Consentir (ce) n’est pas approuver ‘To consent is not to approve’). 259

C’est, though not absolutely compulsory, is generally used:

(i) when the referent is a clause introduced by celui, etc., or ce and a relative pronoun, or by a nominalized adjective conveying the same sense as a clause with ce qui (e.g. l’essentiel = ce qui est essentiel); this is particularly true whenever a superlative is involved, in which case c’est rather than est should always be used, e.g.: Celui qui travaille le mieux, c’est Paul The one who works best is Paul (it’s Paul who works best) Ce qui m’agace le plus, c’est la paresse Ce que je déteste What infuriates me most is idleness What I hate



and, without a superlative: Celui qui travaille bien c’est Paul The one who works well is Paul Ce qui m’agace, c’est (or est) sa paresse What infuriates me is his idleness However, when the complement is an element (usually an adjective) that could not function as the subject, est not c’est is used, e.g.: Ce qu’il propose est tout à fait raisonnable What he suggests is perfectly reasonable (it would be impossible to turn this round and make tout à fait raisonnable the subject – contrast Ce qui m’agace, c’est sa paresse ‘What infuriates me is his idleness’ and Sa paresse est ce qui m’agace ‘His idleness is what infuriates me’). (ii) when the complement is an infinitive or a clause introduced by que, e.g.: Le problème (c’)est de le persuader que tout ira bien The problem is to persuade him that all will be well La difficulté (c’)est qu’il ne comprend rien The difficulty is that he understands nothing

260–262 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


260 In various circumstances, there is virtually a free choice between c’est and est, e.g.: Se moquer de lui (c’)est très facile To make fun of him is very easy This is particularly so when the two halves of the sentence are virtually interchangeable, e.g.: Son grand défaut (c’)est la paresse His great defect is laziness La paresse (c’)est son grand défaut Laziness is his great defect In such cases, the insertion of ce gives slightly more emphasis. But when such a sentence is negative, it is more usual not to insert ce, e.g.: Son grand défaut n’est pas la paresse, mais l’obstination His great defect is not laziness, but obstinacy 261 In the construction c’est + complement + infinitive, when the infinitive is the ‘logical subject’ of the verb (as in ‘It would be a mistake to leave’ which is the equivalent of ‘To leave would be a mistake’), the infinitive is introduced by de or que de, e.g.: C’est une erreur (que) de répondre à cette lettre It is a mistake to reply to that letter Ce serait manquer de tact (que) de partir maintenant It would be tactless (lacking in tact) to leave now C’est agaçant (que) d’être mécompris It is infuriating to be misunderstood

Relative pronouns 262 English has, on the one hand, the invariable relative pronoun ‘that’, and, on the other, the following which vary according to their function in the sentence and according to whether they refer on the one hand to people or, on the other, to things (including animals):


The noun phrase 262–263 referring to people who whom whose, of whom whom

Subject Direct object Genitive (see 19) After prepositions

referring to things which which of which, whose which

In French, the distinction between people and things is found only after prepositions and, sometimes, in the genitive; after prepositions there is yet another form used with reference to various ‘neuter’ pronouns. The distinctions between the various forms are discussed in some detail below (263–275), but in summary form they are:

Subject Direct object Genitive

After prepositions

referring to people qui que dont duquel, etc. de qui qui lequel, etc.

referring to things qui que dont duquel, etc.

referring to neuter pronouns qui que dont

lequel, etc.


Note in particular (i) that que can never be used after a preposition (see 263, 270, 271) (ii) that dont always comes first in its clause (see 268). 263

After prepositions, the forms are:

after de after à after other prepositions

referring to people (see 268–269) à qui avec qui, par qui, etc. referring to things

after de after à after other prepositions

masc. sing. duquel auquel lequel

fem. sing. de laquelle à laquelle laquelle

masc. plur. desquels auxquels lesquels

fem. plur. desquelles auxquelles lesquelles

Note that lequel, etc. may also be used as alternatives to qui with reference to people (e.g. auxquels = à qui, masc. plur., sans laquelle = sans qui, fem. sing.) but qui is the more usual (except after parmi, see 270).

264–267 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


264 With three important exceptions, the use of the relatives in French is much the same as in English. The exceptions are: (i) the direct object pronoun, which is often omitted in English, must always be inserted in French (265) (ii) clauses of the type ‘the man I gave it to, the table you left it on’ always take in French the form ‘the man to whom I gave it, the table on which you left it’ (266) (iii) there is no French form corresponding exactly in function to the English ‘whose’; forms meaning ‘of whom’ or ‘of which’ must be used (267–268). Note that in popular French, constructions with que are found in place of some of the constructions discussed in 265–269, e.g. l’homme que je connais son frère for l’homme dont je connais le frère ‘the man whose brother I know’, l’homme que je lui envoie un message for l’homme à qui j’envoie un message ‘the man I’m sending a message to’. For more on this, see R. Ball, Colloquial French Grammar (Oxford, Blackwell, 2000), pp. 42–55. 265 In English, the direct object relative pronoun is very frequently omitted; in French, que must never be omitted, e.g.: Voici les livres que j’ai achetés Here are the books (that) bought 266 In English one can omit not only the direct object relative pronoun (see 265) but also a relative pronoun serving as the complement of a preposition, in which case the preposition is moved to the end of the clause, e.g. ‘the children for whom he bought these presents’ becomes ‘the children he bought these presents for’. In French, the full form ‘for whom he bought . . .’, must be used, e.g.: Où est l’homme à qui j’ai donné les billets ? Where is the man I gave the tickets to? Je connais les enfants pour qui il achète ces cadeaux I know the children he is buying those presents for Quelle est la table sur laquelle vous avez laissé mes livres ? Which is the table you left my books on? 267 As French has no word whose functions correspond closely to those of English ‘whose’, the choice of the correct equivalent can present some problems (see 268 and 269).


The noun phrase 268

268 Clauses introduced by ‘whose’ + noun (subject or direct object) (i) In these clauses, dont is the relative to use and the word-order is always subject + verb + direct object, i.e. the normal French wordorder. The English practice of placing the direct object immediately after the relative ‘whose’ as in the second of the following examples must not be followed in French. Examples: Voici mon ami dont le fils vous a écrit Here is my friend whose son wrote to you Voici mon ami dont vous avez rencontré le fils Here is my friend whose son you met Note that dont always precedes the noun, even when the English equivalent is ‘of whom’ or ‘of which’ following the noun, e.g.: Cette histoire, dont l’origine est inconnue, a eu de graves conséquences This story, the origin of which is unknown, had serious consequences Likewise with an indefinite pronoun or a numeral, e.g. les enfants, dont plusieurs (trois) étaient malades ‘the children, several (three) of whom were ill’. (ii) Note too the following construction (dont . . . que) which combines a relative clause and a noun-clause (see 13) in a way that provides an equivalent to a very different construction in English: un oncle, dont on dit qu’il serait actuellement détenu au Mexique (Le Monde) an uncle who they claim is at the moment under arrest in Mexico (literally about whom they claim that . . .) Elle étouffait sous un poids énorme dont elle découvrait soudain qu’elle le traînait depuis vingt ans (Camus) She was weighed down by an immense burden that she suddenly discovered she had been carrying around for twenty years (about which she discovered that . . .)

268–270 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


This is a literary construction. In speech, or in a simpler literary style, it is more usual to treat the verb or expression of saying, thinking, etc., as a parenthesis, e.g.: Il a écrit une pièce qui, je crois, vous surprendra (rather than . . . dont je crois qu’elle vous surprendra) He has written a play that I think will surprise you C’est un livre que vous allez vouloir acheter, j’en suis convaincu (rather than . . . dont je suis convaincu que vous allez vouloir l’acheter) It is a book that I am sure you will want to buy Sometimes, however, this seems barely possible, e.g.: une force dont on se demande si elle existe (L’Express) a force that one wonders if it exists une fièvre pernicieuse, dont on ne pouvait encore dire si elle était contagieuse (Camus) a pernicious fever of which it was not yet possible to say whether it was contagious 269 Preposition + ‘whose’ + noun When the noun determined by ‘whose’ is governed by a preposition (or prepositional phrase), dont cannot be used; de qui or duquel, etc., must be used instead, e.g.: les amis avec le fils de qui je voyageais the friends with whose son I was travelling la tour du haut de laquelle on voit la mer the tower from whose top (from the top of which) one can see the sea Lequel 270 (i) The appropriate form of lequel, not qui, is used after prepositions when the antecedent is an animal, a thing or an abstract idea, e.g. la feuille sur laquelle j’écris ‘the sheet of paper I am writing on’, les chiens avec lesquels il jouait ‘the dogs he was playing with’. (ii) With reference to people, either qui or lequel, etc., may be used after prepositions, e.g. les amis pour qui (or pour lesquels) j’ai acheté ces cadeaux ‘the friends for whom I bought these presents’; qui is the commoner of the two except after parmi


The noun phrase 270–273

‘among’ when lesquel(le)s is used, e.g. les Belges parmi lesquels nous travaillions ‘the Belgians among whom we were working’. (iii) Lequel rather than qui should be used if any ambiguity would otherwise occur, e.g.: Le fils de ma cousine, lequel vient d’arriver, est gravement malade My cousin’s son who has just arrived is seriously ill (qui vient d’arriver could well be interpreted as meaning that it is the cousin who has just arrived). 271 Lequel is usually a pronoun, but it is sometimes used as a determiner, e.g.: Voici cent euros, laquelle somme vous est due depuis longtemps Here are a hundred euros, which sum has long been due to you 272 When two successive relative clauses have the same antecedent, they are linked by et even though ‘and’ is not necessary (but can be used) in English if the meaning is clear, e.g.: Cet étudiant qui a été absent et dont l’ami vous a téléphoné vient vous voir aujourd’hui That student who has been absent whose friend rang you is coming to see you today 273

Quoi is used as a relative pronoun after a preposition

(i) when the antecedent is one or other of the ‘neuter’ pronouns ce (see 274) or rien ‘nothing’, e.g.: Ce avec quoi j’écris, c’est une plume d’oie What I am writing with is a goose quill Il n’a rien de quoi se plaindre He has nothing to complain of (ii) when the antecedent is not a noun or pronoun but the content of a previous clause, e.g.: Il va bientôt démissionner, après quoi tout sera changé He is going to resign soon, after which everything will be different

273–274 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


Il a toujours été compréhensif, sans quoi je n’aurais pas pu continuer He has always been understanding, without which I could not have gone on (iii) when there is no antecedent expressed, e.g.: Voilà en quoi je suis sûr d’avoir raison That is a matter in which I know I am right and particularly with avoir and a few other verbs + de quoi + infinitive, meaning ‘to have (etc.) the means, the wherewithal, enough, etc., to do something’, e.g.: Il a de quoi vivre He has enough to live on Pourriez-vous me donner de quoi écrire ? Could you give me something to write with? Il n’y a pas de quoi être fier There is nothing to be proud of Note that some writers sometimes use quoi instead of lequel when the antecedent is a noun (singular or plural) referring to a thing, e.g.: Cette case, vers quoi convergeaient les regards de presque tous les joueurs . . . (Malraux) This square (i.e. in a board-game) on which the gaze of nearly all the players converged . . . Les manuscrits anciens par quoi nous connaissons la Grèce . . . (Gide) The ancient manuscripts from which we know Greece This usage should not be imitated. 274 When English ‘what’ is the equivalent of ‘that which, that of which’, etc., that is how it must be expressed in French. The forms are: Subject Direct object ‘that of which’ With other prepositions Examples:

ce qui ce que ce dont ce à quoi, ce avec quoi, etc.


The noun phrase 274–275

Ce qui m’intéresse, c’est la peinture moderne What interests me is modern painting Ce que vous craignez est absurde What you fear is absurd Ce dont ils parlent m’intéresse beaucoup What they are talking about interests me a lot Ce à quoi je pense ne vous regarde pas What I am thinking about does not concern you This construction is sometimes used in French in contexts such as the following where English uses ‘what’ as a determiner meaning ‘that amount of . . . which’: Il ramassa ce qu’il lui restait de forces He summoned up what strength he had left Avec ce que j’ai d’argent je vais me débrouiller With what money I have I shall manage 275 Note the following archaic constructions that survive only in the circumstances stated and must not be used otherwise: (i) Qui with the value of celui qui in a general sense, ‘he who’, remains in a number of proverbs and sayings, e.g.: Qui dort dîne A sleep is as good as a meal (lit. Who sleeps dines) Qui vivra verra Time will tell (lit. Who lives will see) Qui va lentement va sûrement Slowly but surely Qui s’excuse, s’accuse To excuse oneself is to accuse oneself (ii) Qui as the equivalent of ce qui ‘what, that which’ (see 274) survives only in the three expressions: qui mieux est qui pis est qui plus est and after voici and voilà, e.g.: Voilà qui est intéressant That is (something) interesting

what is better what is worse what is more

275–277 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


Voici qui distingue profondément le pessimisme de Tourgueniev et celui de Flaubert (P. Bourget) This is what profoundly distinguishes Turgenev’s pessimism and that of Flaubert (iii) An even more archaic construction than those discussed in i and ii above is the use of que with the value of ce qui or ce que in the following fixed expressions: Faites ce que bon vous semblera Do as you think fit (lit. what seems good to you) Advienne que pourra Come what may Coûte que coûte At all costs (lit. Let it cost what it may cost) Vaille que vaille For what it is worth 276 Où ‘where’ is frequently used as the equivalent of a preposition like à ‘to, at’, dans ‘in’ or sur ‘on’ + lequel, with reference either to place, e.g.: l’endroit où je l’ai laissé

the place where (in which) I left it

or to time (and note that in examples such as the following, in which ‘when’ may be omitted, où is essential in French): le jour où il est parti

the day (when, on which) he left

Où may be preceded by a preposition, in particular de ‘from, out of’ and par ‘by, through’ (or occasionally by others such as jusque ‘up to, as far as’, vers ‘towards’), e.g.: la maison d’où il sortait la ville par où vous êtes passé

the house he was coming out of the town you came through

277 With reference to time, où or que, not quand (see below), must be used in relative clauses (e.g. in phrases of the type ‘the day when . . .’, ‘one day when . . .’, ‘at the time when . . .’). No absolute distinction can be made between où and que but the following comments will cover most cases:


The noun phrase 277

(i) if the noun is preceded by an indefinite article, use que, e.g.: un jour qu’il pleuvait one day when it was raining (ii) when nouns like jour ‘day’, moment, instant, temps ‘time’, époque ‘time’, are preceded by a definite article, où is preferred, particularly with le jour où ‘the day when’ and au moment où ‘at the time when’; with other nouns, it is usually possible to use either où or que, but note that où is by far the more usual in speech. Examples: le jour où vous êtes arrivé the day (when) you arrived au moment où je partais at the moment I was leaving les jours où il (or qu’il) pleuvait the days (when) it rained du (or au) temps où (or que) nous étions étudiants at the time (when) we were students dès le moment où (or que) je l’ai vu from the moment I saw him (Note that du moment que means ‘since’ in the sense of ‘seeing that’, e.g.: Du moment que vous n’y allez pas, moi je n’y vais pas non plus Since you are not going, I am not going either.) When the clause introduced by ‘when’ is not a relative (and the conjunction therefore cannot be omitted in English as in the examples above), the appropriate French conjunction is quand or lorsque, e.g.: A cette époque-là, quand elle était étudiante, elle était souvent malade At that time, when she was a student, she was often ill

278–279 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


Interrogative determiners and pronouns Introduction 278 The interrogative determiners (often termed interrogative adjectives) in English are ‘what?’ and ‘which?’ used before a noun, e.g. ‘what day, which book?’. The interrogative pronouns are ‘who(m)?, what? which?’. The situation in French, as we shall see, is considerably more complicated. Interrogative determiners 279 French has no distinction comparable to the English distinction between ‘which?’ and ‘what?’ as determiners. The forms are: masc. fem.

sing. quel quelle

plur. quels quelles

These are used both in direct questions, e.g.: Quel garçon a répondu ? Which boy replied? Quelle réponse allez-vous donner ? What reply are you going to give? and in indirect questions, e.g.: Il veut savoir quelle réponse vous allez donner He wants to know what rely you are going to give Quel can also have an exclamatory value, i.e. ‘What (a) . . . !’, e.g.: Quelle réponse ! Quelle merveilleuse idée ! Quel temps superbe ! Quelles jolies fleurs !

What an answer! What a marvellous idea! What superb weather! What pretty flowers!

For quel as an interrogative pronoun, see 280.


The noun phrase 280–281

Interrogative pronouns 280 All the forms of the interrogative determiner quel (see 279) are also used as interrogative pronouns meaning ‘which?’ or ‘what?’, in both direct and indirect questions, but only as the subject of the verb être (or one of the modal verbs devoir and pouvoir followed by être), e.g.: Quel est le chemin le plus court ? Which is the shortest way? Quelles sont vos impressions ? What are your impressions? Quelle peut être son idée ? What can his idea be? Dites-moi quelles sont vos impressions Tell me what your impressions are Note that in sentences of this type, which could be rephrased in such a way as to treat ‘which’ or ‘what’ as a determiner (e.g. ‘Which way is the shortest?’, ‘What idea can he have?’), quel (and not que, qu’est-ce qui, quoi etc. – see 283) must be used. 281 ‘Who?’ and ‘whom?’ (both as direct object and as the complement of a preposition) are both rendered by qui ?, while ‘whose?’ is de qui ? except in the construction ‘Whose is X?’, meaning ‘To whom does X belong?’, which is A qui est X ? Examples: Direct questions Subject Direct object ‘whose?’ (with de) ‘whose?’ (with à) After other prepositions

Qui a dit ça ? Who said that? Qui avez-vous vu ? Who(m) did you see? De qui a-t-il épousé la fille ? Whose daughter did he marry? A qui est cette valise ? Whose is this suitcase? Avec qui voyage-t-il ? Who(m) is he travelling with?

281–282 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


Pour qui achetez-vous ce livre ? Who are you buying that book for? Indirect questions Subject

Direct object After prepositions

Je ne sais pas qui a cassé la fenêtre I do not know who has broken the window Dites-moi qui vous avez vu Tell me who(m) you saw Je ne sais pas à qui est cette valise I don’t know whose this suitcase is Dites-moi avec qui il voyage Tell me who(m) he is travelling with

Note that French uses qui where English uses ‘which (one)’ with reference to specific individuals., e.g.: De votre père ou de votre mère qui serait le plus compréhensif ? Which would be the more sympathetic, your father or your mother? Qui de vous ou de moi partira le premier ? Which of us, you or I, will leave first? Qui des deux ? Which of the two? Je me demande qui d’entre elles arrivera la première I wonder which of them will arrive first 282 The following exist, in direct questions only, as alternatives to the forms given for ‘who(m)’ in 281 (there are no comparable alternatives for ‘whose’): Subject Direct object After preposition

qui est-ce qui qui est-ce que avec qui est-ce que, etc.

These are specific instances of the general question form in


The noun phrase 282–283

est-ce que that is discussed in 585 and 589. Some of the questions given as examples in 281 could also have been expressed as follows: Qui est-ce qui a dit ça ? Who said that? Qui est-ce que vous avez vu ? Who(m) did you see? Avec qui est-ce qu’il voyage ? Who(m) is he travelling with? 283

In direct questions, the forms for ‘what?’ are:

Subject Direct object After any preposition

qu’est-ce qui que or qu’est-ce que quoi

Examples: Subject Direct object

After prepositions

Qu’est-ce qui fait ce bruit ? What is making that noise? Qu’est-ce que vous faites ? Que faites-vous ? What are you doing? De quoi parlez-vous ? What are you talking about? A quoi pensez-vous ? What are you thinking about? Avec quoi écrit-il ? What is he writing with?

Note the construction used in the last three examples, which, in English, begin with ‘what’ and end with a preposition. In French, a construction corresponding to the alternative but less usual English construction, ‘About what are you talking?’, etc., must be used. Que and qu’est-ce que also serve as the complement of être and devenir, e.g.: Que sera-t-il ? What will he be?

283–284 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


Qu’est-ce que c’était ? What was it? Qu’est-ce qu’il est devenu ensuite ? What did he become next? Que deviendrai-je ? What will become of me? (lit. What shall I become?) Qu’est-il devenu ? What has become of him? (lit. What has he become?) Qu’est-ce que . . . ? and (particularly in speech) Qu’est-ce que c’est que . . . ? are used without a following verb in contexts such as the following to mean ‘What is . . . ?’ or ‘What are . . . ?’: Qu’est-ce que la vérité ? What is truth? Qu’est-ce que c’est qu’une alêne ? What is an awl? Qu’est-ce que c’est que ces petits trous ? What are these little holes? The latter form often has an exclamatory value, e.g.: Qu’est-ce que c’est que ce chapeau-là ! What on earth is that hat you’re wearing! 284 Quoi occurs as the direct object of a verb in the following circumstances: (i) for emphasis, when asking for confirmation of what has been said, e.g.: J’ai perdu ma montre. – Tu as perdu quoi ? I’ve lost my watch. – You’ve lost what? Il va devenir prêtre. – Il va devenir quoi ? He’s going to become a priest. – He’s going to become what? (In conversational usage, this has become a normal, unemphatic, way of asking a question, so Tu as perdu quoi ? = Qu’as-tu perdu ? or Qu’est-ce que tu as perdu ? ‘What have you lost?’) (ii) with the infinitive of certain common verbs such as dire, faire, répondre, particularly to express hesitation or uncertainty, e.g.: Quoi dire ?

What can one say?


The noun phrase 284–286

(Note that ‘what?’ as the object of an infinitive is usually que, e.g. Que dire ?) (iii) in the expression pour quoi faire ? ‘what for?’, e.g.: Je vais à Londres demain. – Pour quoi faire ? I’m going to London tomorrow. – What for? 285

Quoi is used without a verb:

(i) with de and an adjective, e.g.: Quoi de neuf ? Quoi de nouveau ? What news? Quoi de plus simple ? What could be easier? (ii) on its own or with an adverb, particularly as an exclamation or other expression of surprise, e.g.: Quoi ! Il est déjà parti ?! What! He’s gone already?! J’ai fait quelque chose de stupide. – Quoi donc ? I’ve done something stupid. – What? Quoi encore ! What next! Il est fou ou quoi ? Is he crazy or what? Quoi ? (but Comment ? is a more polite form) What (did you say)? 286 Two different constructions are possible with the verbs arriver and se passer ‘to happen’, viz.: (i) ‘What?’ may be treated as the subject, so: Qu’est-ce qui arrive ? Qu’est-ce qui se passe ?

} What is happening?

(ii) the verbs may be treated as impersonal, with impersonal il as subject (as in Il est arrivé un accident ‘There has been an accident’), in which case ‘What?’ is treated as the complement, viz.: Qu’arrive-t-il ? Que se passe-t-il ?

} What is happening?

287–288 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


287 The forms most generally used for ‘who(m)?’ and ‘what?’, i.e. excluding forms for ‘whose?’ (see 281) and various restricted uses of quoi (see 284 and 285) are: (i) ‘Who? Whom?’ Subject Direct object After prepositions

short forms qui qui avec qui

long forms qui est-ce qui qui est-ce que avec qui est-ce que

short forms

long forms

— que avec quoi

qu’est-ce qui qu’est-ce que avec quoi est-ce que

(ii) ‘What?’ Subject Direct object After prepositions

Note: (a) that, in normal usage, there is no short form for ‘what?’ as subject (but see below) (b) that the long forms for ‘who(m)’ all begin with qui and those for ‘what?’ with que (c) that the long forms for the subject end in the subject relative pronoun qui and that those for the direct object end in the direct object relative pronoun que. (In literary usage,qui ? meaning ‘what?’ is occasionally found in contexts such as Qui vous prouve qu’il n’a pas été victime d’un accident ? ‘What is there to prove (literally,What proves to you?) that he hasn’t had an accident?)’, where it does not refer to a specific object.) 288

The forms for ‘what’ in indirect questions are:

Subject Direct object After prepositions

ce qui ce que quoi (à quoi, de quoi, avec quoi, etc.)

Examples: Subject Direct object

Dites-moi ce qui vous inquiète Tell me what is worrying you Je me demande ce qu’il va faire I wonder what he is going to do


The noun phrase 288–290

After prepositions

Dites-moi de quoi vous parliez Tell me what you were talking about On ne sait jamais à quoi il pense One never knows what he is thinking about Savez-vous avec quoi il a ouvert la boîte ? Do you know what he opened the box with?

Ce que is also the complement of the verbs être and devenir (cf. the use of que with these verbs in direct questions, 283), e.g.: Je me demande ce qu’elle est maintenant I wonder what she is now Savez-vous ce qu’il est devenu ? Do you know what he became (or what became of him)? 289 As the object of an infinitive in indirect questions, ‘what’ is not ce que but que or sometimes (especially in speech) quoi (cf. the use of quoi in direct questions, 284, ii), e.g.: Si j’avais su que (or quoi) répondre If I had known what to reply Il ne sait plus que (or quoi) dire He no longer knows what to say Note that je ne sais, etc. (i.e. without pas – see 561, b), being characteristic of literary usage, takes que, whereas the more colloquial form je ne sais pas tends to take quoi, e.g.: Je ne sais que faire/dire Je ne sais pas quoi faire/dire

} I don’t know what to do/to say

290 The forms for ‘which?’ as a pronoun (and note that, as pronouns, there is a distinction between ‘what?’ and ‘which?’ – contrast 279), both in direct and in indirect questions, are: Subject Direct object With de With à


masc. sing.

fem. sing.

masc. plur.

fem. plur.





duquel auquel

de laquelle à laquelle

desquels auxquels

desquelles auxquelles

Note that, though these forms are made up of the definite article

290–292 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


and quel, etc., the two parts cannot be separated, even when combined with à or de (as in auxquels, duquel, etc.). Examples: Laquelle de ces maisons préférez-vous ? Which of these houses do you prefer? Je viens de rencontrer ton cousin. – Lequel ? I have just met your cousin. – Which one? Je ne sais plus dans laquelle de ces boîtes je l’ai caché I can’t remember in which of these boxes I hid it Savez-vous auquel de ses frères il a écrit ? Do you know which of his brothers he has written to? Note that in English ‘which?’ can be either singular or plural and so, unless accompanied by ‘one’ or ‘ones’, could sometimes be ambiguous. There is no such ambiguity in French, e.g.: Lequel de ces livres avez-vous lu ? Which (singular) of these books have you read? Lesquels de ces livres avez-vous lus ? Which (plural) of these books have you read?

Indefinite adjectives, adverbs, determiners and pronouns 291 The various so-called ‘indefinites’ are grouped together here primarily for convenience. As will be seen below, they function in many different ways. Consequently, many of them could have been, and in some cases are, discussed under other headings (see crossreferences). In particular, quantifiers and negatives are discussed separately (see 320–337 and 542–558 respectively). 292


(i) Autre ‘other’, plural autres, is used both as an adjective and as a pronoun: (a) As an adjective, it is normally preceded by a determiner, e.g. l’autre jour ‘the other day’, une autre difficulté ‘another difficulty’, cet autre problème ‘this other problem’, nos autres amis ‘our other friends’, toute autre solution ‘any other solution’.


The noun phrase 292

Relics of an earlier state of affairs when a determiner was not essential are found in autre chose ‘something else, anything else’, autre part ‘elsewhere’, and in the proverb autres temps autres mœurs ‘other times other manners (or customs) (i.e. times change and manners with them)’. (b) As a pronoun, autre is usually preceded by a determiner or a quantifier, e.g.: J’ai perdu ma clef; en avez-vous une autre ? I have lost my key; have you another? Les autres arrivent demain The others are arriving tomorrow J’en ai beaucoup d’autres I have plenty of others Note that ‘others’ (meaning ‘some others’) is d’autres, e.g.: Certains sont déjà arrivés; d’autres arriveront demain Some have already arrived; others will arrive tomorrow This is in accordance with the rule that de replaces des when a plural noun is preceded by an adjective, e.g. de jolies fleurs ‘pretty flowers’ (see 44), d’autres being here the equivalent of d’autres personnes (cf. d’autres préoccupations ‘other anxieties’); this applies even after bien meaning ‘many’ (see 325), e.g. Bien d’autres seront d’ accord ‘Many others will agree’. Relics of autre without a preceding determiner or quantifier exist in such fixed expressions as de temps à autre ‘from time to time’ and entre autres ‘among others, inter alia’. (ii) The expressions l’un(e) l’autre (with reference to two individuals only) and les un(e)s les autres (when more than two individuals are involved) correspond to ‘each other, one another’. The gender and number of each component are determined by the nouns they stand for, and both parts must be of the same number, i.e. both singular or plural, e.g.: (a) Ils se regardent l’un l’autre avec hostilité (b) Ils se regardent les uns les autres avec hostilité They look at one another in a hostile manner (the difference is that in (a) there is only one individual on each side whereas in (b) there are several); similarly in the feminine,

292 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


Elles se regardent l’une l’autre and Elles se regardent les unes les autres. Note that the reflexive pronoun (see 199) on its own is often fully adequate to convey the meaning ‘one another’ provided there is no ambiguity, e.g. Ils se détestent ‘They hate one another’ (provided it is quite clear that the meaning is not ‘They hate themselves’). When the meaning is ‘to one another’ the construction is: Elles se racontent des histoires l’une à l’autre Elles se racontent des histoires les unes aux autres They tell one another stories – here too the reflexive pronoun alone would be sufficient (Elles se racontent des histoires) provided no ambiguity would arise. When the meaning is ‘of, about one another’ the construction is: Ils disaient toujours du mal l’un de l’autre Ils disaient toujours du mal les uns des autres They always spoke ill of one another – note that, in this case, a reflexive pronoun cannot be used and the expression l’un(e) de l’autre (or its plural equivalent) is therefore essential. Other prepositions may also be introduced into the expression, e.g. Ils sont faits l’un pour l’autre ‘They are made for one another’, l’un après l’autre or les uns après les autres ‘one after another’. (iii) Note the construction les uns . . . les autres ‘some . . . others’ which, though superficially similar to that discussed in ii above, is in reality quite different, e.g.: Les uns sont arrivés hier, les autres arriveront demain Some arrived yesterday, the others (the rest) will arrive tomorrow The difference between les autres and d’autres (see i above), both meaning ‘others’, is that les autres means ‘(all) (the) others’ whereas d’autres means ‘(some) others’. (iv) Another superficially similar construction is found in l’un(e) et l’autre ‘either, both’, l’un(e) ou l’autre ‘either’, ni l’un(e) ni l’autre ‘neither’, with or without a following noun, e.g.: Je les connais l’un(e) et l’autre I know them both (both of them)


The noun phrase 292–293

l’un ou l’autre parti either party Quelle robe as-tu achetée ? – Ni l’une ni l’autre Which dress did you buy? – Neither Je n’accepte ni l’une ni l’autre solution I do not accept either solution When these are the subject of the verb, the verb may in most circumstances be either singular (which implies that each entity is considered separately from the other) or plural (which implies that the two entities are being considered together, as a group). The plural is more usual, especially with l’un et l’autre, e.g.: L’une et (or ou) l’autre solution sont acceptables (or est acceptable) Either solution is acceptable (or Both solutions are acceptable) Ni l’un ni l’autre ne viendront (or ne viendra) Neither will come [but they could both have come] but the singular should be used when the two alternatives are mutually exclusive, e.g.: L’un ou l’autre viendra One or other of them will come [but not both] Ni l’un ni l’autre ne remportera le premier prix Neither of them will win first prize [and only one of them could have done so] (v) For nous autres, vous autres, see 216,i. 293 Autrui ‘others, other people’ Although autrui can be used as the subject or the direct object of a verb, this is uncommon and it is most frequently found as the complement of a preposition, e.g.: Ne fais pas à autrui ce que tu ne voudrais pas qu’on te fasse Do not do to others what you would not wish one to do to you chercher le bien d’autrui to seek the happiness of others Autrui is found in literary usage only – elsewhere, use les autres.

293–295 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


‘Someone else’ can occasionally be translated by autrui when it is used in a general sense, e.g. agir au nom d’autrui ‘to act on someone else’s behalf ’, but note that, whenever the reference is to a specific person, autrui cannot be used – use quelqu’un d’autre, e.g.: Je le fais pour quelqu’un d’autre I’m doing it for somebody else 294 Certains ‘some (people)’ Certains is a plural pronoun meaning ‘some people, certain people, some (of)’, e.g.: Certains disent que . . . Some people say that . . . Certains de ces mots sont incompréhensibles Some of these words are incomprehensible Certains d’entre vous vont pouvoir partir demain Some of you are going to be able to leave tomorrow As an adjective preceding the noun (see 146), un certain, une certaine, plural certains, certaines (with no article), mean ‘a certain (one), certain (ones)’, or, in the plural, ‘some’, e.g.: Un certain écrivain français a dit que . . . A certain French writer has said that . . . Certains jours, je ne me sens vraiment pas bien Some days I don’t feel at all well 295 Chaque, chacun ‘each’ Chaque is a determiner, e.g. chaque jour ‘each day’, chaque enfant ‘each child’. Chacun, feminine chacune, is a pronoun, e.g.: Chacun fera ce qu’il veut Each (one) will do as he pleases J’ai acheté un cadeau pour chacune de mes sœurs I have bought a present for each of my sisters Problems may arise when it comes to deciding which possessive determiner to use with reference to chaque or chacun. The following indications cover the vast majority of cases:


The noun phrase 295–297

(a) When chaque + a noun or chacun(e) is the subject of the verb, the possessive is son, etc., e.g.: Chaque membre du groupe a son billet et ses papiers Each member of the group has his or her ticket and documents This applies even when chacun is followed by de nous, de vous, d’eux, d’elles, or by d’entre nous, etc., or by de and a plural noun or pronoun (e.g. chacun de mes amis, chacun de ceux-ci), e.g.: Chacun de nous a son billet Each of us has his or her ticket (b) When chaque + a noun or chacun is not itself the subject of the verb but refers to either nous or vous which is in fact the grammatical subject, the possessive is notre or votre, etc., e.g.: Nous avons chacun notre billet We each have our ticket Vous pouvez exprimer chacun vos idées You may each of you express your own ideas and likewise with the imperative: Montrez-moi chacun votre passeport Each of you show me your passport (c) When the subject is ils or elles or a plural noun (or, occasionally, pronoun, e.g. ceux-ci ‘these’), the possessive may be either son, etc., or leur(s), e.g.: Ils ont chacun leur (or son) billet They each have their ticket (or Each of them has his/her ticket) For chacun with a reflexive pronoun, see 219. See also tout, 317. 296

De quoi ‘the wherewithal’, etc.

For the use of de quoi with an infinitive, meaning ‘the wherewithal, the means, etc.’ to do something, see 273,iii. 297

Différents, divers ‘various’

In the plural only, and when placed before the noun (see 146) and with no article, the adjectives différents and divers (which in

297–299 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


this construction are more or less interchangeable) mean ‘various’, etc., e.g.: en différents endroits in various places pour différentes raisons for a variety of reasons divers amis various friends en diverses occasions on several occasions Différentes (or Diverses) personnes m’en ont parlé A number of people have spoken to me about it 298

D’aucuns ‘some (people)’

D’aucuns, which now occurs mainly in the literary language, is an invariable pronoun (and only a pronoun) serving as an equivalent of certains (see 294) or quelques-uns (see 306), e.g.: D’aucuns estiment que cela est faux Some consider that that is untrue 299

Je ne sais qui, quel, quand, etc.

There is a whole series of indefinites formed with je ne sais and a determiner (quel), pronoun (qui, quoi), or adverb (combien, comment, où, pourquoi, quand) and all expressing uncertainty as to the person, object, time, place, etc., involved, e.g.: Ils distribuaient je ne sais quel tract politique They were distributing some political tract or other Il a demandé à je ne sais qui ce qu’il fallait faire He asked somebody or other what had to be done Mon départ a été remis à je ne sais quand My departure has been postponed till Heaven knows when Il y a eu je ne sais combien de tués There were I don’t know how many people killed Also je ne sais quoi (see 289), je ne sais comment, je ne sais où, je ne sais pourquoi. Parallel constructions with on or another personal pronoun instead of je and with Dieu sait also occur, but much less frequently than those formed with je ne sais, e.g.:


The noun phrase 299–300

Il a réussi on ne sait comment à s’évader Somehow he managed to escape Il est allé s’enterrer Dieu sait où He has gone and hidden himself away somewhere 300


Même can be either an adjective (see i and ii below) or an adverb (see iii, iv and v below): (i) As an adjective preceding the noun and itself preceded by a determiner, même means ‘same’; the most frequent determiner is the definite article but others, in particular the indefinite article and the demonstrative, also occur – un(e) même is usually best translated by ‘one and the same’; note that ‘as’ in ‘the same as’ is rendered by que. Examples: Ils habitent la même ville They live in the same town Je ne lis pas les mêmes journaux que vous I do not read the same newspapers as you Ce même individu est revenu un quart d’heure plus tard That same individual came back a quarter of an hour later Un même mot peut avoir plusieurs sens différents One and the same word can have several different meanings Note the expression en même temps ‘at the same time’ (e.g. ils sont arrivés en même temps ‘they arrived at the same time’, en même temps que moi ‘at the same time as me’), and the possibility of omitting the definite article with a small number of nouns after de, e.g. de même couleur ‘of the same colour’, de même espèce ‘of the same kind’, de même nationalité ‘of the same nationality’, de même origine ‘of the same origin’, de même taille ‘of the same size’, de même type ‘of the same type’, but also de la même couleur, etc., and always du même âge ‘of the same age’. (ii) When it follows the noun, the adjective même means ‘itself’ (cf. the pronouns moi-même ‘myself’, etc., see 215) or ‘very, actual’, e.g.: le jour même du mariage the very day of the wedding

300 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


Je vous cite ses paroles mêmes I am quoting his very words Vous êtes la générosité même You are generosity itself and likewise with the pronouns celui-là, etc. (see 238) and with cela, e.g.: Ceux-là mêmes qui me contredisent demandent mon avis The very people who contradict me ask my opinion Cela même est important That (in) itself is important (iii) As a preceding adverb, même means ‘even’, e.g.: même maintenant even now même à Londres even in London Même moi je ne le sais pas Even I don’t know Même mes cousins sont venus Even my cousins came As the lack of a plural -s shows, adverbial même is (like all adverbs) invariable. Note that, with comparatives, ‘even’ must be translated by encore and not by même, e.g.: Elle est encore plus intelligente que son père She is even more intelligent than her father (iv) As a following adverb, même has an intensifying value (similar to that of adjectival même following a noun or pronoun – see ii above), e.g.: Il arrive aujourd’hui même He is arriving today (this very day) Je l’ai rencontrée ici même It was here I met her (I met her in this very place) (v) Adverbial même occurs in a number of idiomatic expressions: (a) à même


The noun phrase 300–301

As a prepositional phrase, à même means ‘level with, flush with, right up against’, etc., e.g. à même la peau ‘next to one’s skin’, coucher à même le sol ‘to lie on the bare ground’, boire à même la bouteille ‘to drink straight out of the bottle’ (for other examples, consult a good dictionary). Être à même de + infinitive means ‘to be able to (to be in a position to) do something’, e.g. Je suis à même de vous aider ‘I am in a position to help you’; likewise, with être understood, Je vous crois à même de me comprendre (Simenon) ‘I think you capable of understanding me’, and the expression mettre quelqu’un à même de faire quelque chose ‘to enable someone (put someone in a position to be able) to do something’. (b) de même (que) This occurs in a variety of contexts, with the meaning ‘likewise, like, in the same way (as)’, etc., e.g.: Il en est (or va) de même pour vous It’s the same for you (The same applies to you) De même que vous, j’ai répondu tout de suite Like you, I replied immediately For further examples, consult a good dictionary. Note that tout de même means ‘nevertheless’. (c) The compound conjunction quand même is used with the conditional (or the past conditional) to mean ‘even if’, e.g. Quand même il m’inviterait, je refuserais d’y aller ‘Even if he invited me, I should refuse to go’ (and likewise quand même il m’aurait invité ‘even if he had invited me’). However, the most widespread use of quand même is to mean ‘all the same, nevertheless’, e.g.: Il ne m’a pas invité mais j’y vais quand même He hasn’t invited me but I’m going all the same (This results from a reduction of clauses introduced by the conjunction quand même, e.g. Je le ferais quand même [il s’y opposerait] ‘I would do it even if [he opposed it]’, i.e. ‘I would do it nevertheless’.) 301

N’importe qui, etc.

Another set of indefinites (cf. 299) is introduced by n’importe which means ‘it doesn’t matter (which, etc.)’ and so gives the members of this set the value of ‘any (one, etc.) at all’, as in

301–302 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


n’importe qui ‘anyone (at all) (lit. it doesn’t matter who)’, n’importe quand ‘at any time (at all) (lit. it doesn’t matter when)’, e.g.: N’importe qui vous dira où il habite Anyone will tell you where he lives Vous pouvez lui donner n’importe quoi You can give him anything (you like) n’importe lequel d’entre vous any one of you à n’importe quelle heure de la soirée (at) any time in the evening Vous pouvez les laisser n’importe où You can leave them anywhere Also n’importe combien ‘any number’, n’importe comment ‘in any way at all’. Do not expand the above by means of a relative clause, i.e. do not use them as equivalents for qui que ce soit qui ‘whoever’, quoi que ‘whatever’, où que ‘wherever, no matter where’, etc. (see 315). 302

On ‘one’

On, meaning ‘one’ (as in ‘One can understand the problem’ – i.e. not as the equivalent of the numeral ‘one’) or ‘you’ or ‘they’ in a general sense (i.e. not referring to a specific person or persons), is used only as the subject of the verb, e.g.: On peut s’amuser même quand on est seul One can enjoy oneself even when one is alone You can enjoy yourself even when you are alone On dit qu’on mange mieux à Dijon They say you can eat better in Dijon (Vous should not be used in this general sense – but see the end of this section for its use as the object of the verb.) On is, however, used much more extensively than English ‘one’ and, in particular, is frequently found where the passive is used in English, e.g.: On parle allemand en Suisse aussi German is spoken in Switzerland too


The noun phrase 302

On m’en a parlé hier I was told about it yesterday On croit qu’il va démissionner It is believed that he is going to resign On dit qu’il est gravement malade He is said to be seriously ill On is frequently used, especially in speech, as the equivalent of any personal pronoun (particularly nous ‘we’); in such cases, the verb is always in the third person singular, but adjectives and participles agree in gender and number with the person(s) concerned, e.g.: On est bourgeois de Gand (Hugo) = Je suis bourgeois de Gand I am a burgess of Ghent On est fatiguée ? = Tu es fatiguée ? Are you (fem. sing.) tired? On a été contents de vous voir We (masc.) were pleased to see you On était heureuses à cette époque We (fem.) were happy then In the literary language l’on is frequently used for on after a word ending in a vowel, especially monosyllables such as et, ou, où, qui, que, si, and occasionally at the beginning of a sentence, e.g.: et l’on y avait construit un monument and a monument had been built there C’est un endroit où l’on s’ennuie It is a place where one gets bored ceux à qui l’on doit tant those to whom one owes so much Si l’on avait su ! If we had known! L’on is not used, however, after dont or before a word beginning with l- (to avoid the alliteration l- . . . l-), so could not be substituted for on in such contexts as the following: un roman dont on parle

a novel that is talked about

302–303 Pronouns and pronominal determiners si on lit son roman quand on l’avait vu


if one reads his novel when we had seen him

As has been said, on can be used only as the subject of a verb. As reflexive pronouns relating to on, se and soi are used, e.g.: On se couche tard On le ferait pour soi(-même)

One goes to bed late One would do it for oneself

but this is not possible when ‘one’ is the object pronoun in English. In such cases, the object pronoun corresponding to ‘one’ is nous or, more frequently, vous, e.g.: La musique vous calme quand on est agité Music calms one when one is upset Il est bon de parler de ce qui vous (or nous) inquiète It is good to talk about what worries one But sometimes there is nothing corresponding to English ‘one’, e.g.: Cela donne à penser 303

That makes one think

Pareil and tel ‘such’

Pareil and tel can both mean ‘such’ but, though there is some overlap between the two, there are also significant differences both in the way they are used and, to some extent, in meaning. It will be helpful to bear in mind that, basically, pareil means ‘similar’ and tel means ‘of such a kind’. (i) When it means ‘such’, pareil may either precede or follow the noun, e.g. une pareille chose or une chose pareille ‘such a thing’. Before the noun it is not infrequently used without a determiner, especially after a verb in the negative, e.g. Je n’ai jamais vu pareille chose ‘I have never seen such a thing’, and in certain prepositional phrases, e.g. en pareil cas ‘in such circumstances’, en pareille occasion ‘on such an occasion’, (hier) à pareille heure ‘(yesterday) at the same hour’. After pareil, ‘as’ cannot be translated by que (contrast the use of que with tel, see ii,b below): use the preposition à (i.e. ‘similar to’), e.g. une joie pareille à la vôtre ‘joy such as yours’. Le pareil, la pareille can be used as nouns meaning ‘the like (of someone, of something), etc.’, e.g. Il n’a pas son pareil ‘There is no one like him (to equal him)’, Cette soie me plaît beaucoup;


The noun phrase 303

où pourrais-je en trouver la pareille ? ‘I like this silk very much; where could I find some like it?’ (The use of the feminine, however, is a little old-fashioned in speech – one would be more likely to say something like Où pourrais-je trouver la même ?) (ii) The following comments on tel do not aim to cover all its uses, some of which are now rare and characteristic only of a somewhat archaic literary style; for these, one of the major dictionaries referred to in the bibliography (p. xiv) should be consulted. (a) Tel is most frequently found as an adjectve, though it occasionally functions as a pronoun (see h below). Its primary meaning, like that of its English counterpart ‘such’, is a neutral one, viz. ‘of such a kind’, e.g. de telles circonstances ‘such circumstances’. However, again like ‘such’, it very frequently has an exclamatory value which can be either positive or negative (cf. English ‘I have never had such a meal before’, which could suggest either that the meal was an especially good one or that it was a remarkably bad one). When it accompanies a noun, tel precedes the noun and, in most circumstances (but see d below), is itself preceded by the indefinite article un(e) (note the difference in word-order between French un(e) tel(le) and English ‘such a’) or, in the plural, by de (see 44), e.g.: un tel bruit une telle chose de tels problèmes

such a noise such a thing such problems

(b) ‘Such as (= like)’ followed by a noun or pronoun is tel que (in speech one would be more likely to use comme), e.g.: un savant tel que vous (= un savant comme vous) a scholar like you des poètes romantiques tels que Lamartine et Hugo Romantic poets like Lamartine and Hugo The same construction serves as the equivalent of English ‘(just) as’ introducing a clause (and, in this case, is more usual than comme even in speech), e.g.: Laissez-les tels qu’ils sont ! Leave them as they are! le problème tel que je l’envisage the problem as I see it

303 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


Vous ne verrez jamais cette église telle qu’elle était avant la guerre You will never see this church as it was before the war A different use of tel . . . que is that in which it expresses not a comparison (‘such as’) but a consequence (‘such that’), e.g.: Vous faites un tel bruit que vous allez réveiller les voisins You are making such a noise that you will wake the neighours Son insolence est telle qu’il me met en colère His insolence is such that he makes me angry (c) Like English ‘such’, tel may precede the verb être ‘to be’, e.g.: Amuser sans offenser, tel est le but de ce roman To amuse without offending, such is the aim of this novel Telle est son impatience qu’il refuse d’attendre plus longtemps Such is his impatience that he refuses to wait any longer (d) Tel (without a determiner) means ‘such-and-such’ (i.e. it refers to some unspecified example of a particular category), e.g.: Il fut convenu que je prendrai le train tel jour, à telle heure, pour telle gare (O. Mirbeau) It was agreed that I shall catch such-and-such a train, at suchand-such a time, for such-and-such a station Similarly, tel ou tel (or, less frequently, tel et tel) means ‘some . . . or other’ or sometimes ‘such-and-such’, e.g.: telle ou telle chose something or other J’ai dû le lire dans tel ou tel journal I must have read it in some newspaper or other Il se plaint toujours de l’attitude de tel ou tel collègue He is always complaining about the attitude of some colleague or other (e) In literary French, tel is also an alternative to comme in such contexts as the following: Il se tenait là tel (or telle) une statue de bronze He stood there like a bronze statue


The noun phrase 303

Note that in such contexts tel may agree with either term of the comparison (i.e., in this example, either with il, masculine, or with statue, feminine). In a few proverbial expressions, this use of tel is repeated, e.g. Tel père, tel fils ‘Like father, like son’. (f) Comme tel and, after certain verbs, pour tel, mean ‘as such’, e.g.: Elle n’est pas sa femme même si elle se considère comme telle She is not his wife even if she considers herself as such Est-ce qu’il est médecin ? Il se fait passer pour tel Is he a doctor? He purports to be one Likewise en tant que tel ‘as such’ in the more restricted sense of ‘in that capacity’, e.g.: C’est lui le ministre et en tant que tel il devrait prendre la décision He is the minister and, as such, he ought to take the decision (g) Note the expression tel quel . . . ‘as it is (was), as they are (were), etc.’, in which both tel and quel agree with the noun or pronoun they refer to, e.g.: Il a acheté la maison telle quelle He bought the house as it was Je vais le prendre tel quel I shall take it as it is Il faut laisser les choses telles quelles Things must be left as they are (h) The use of tel as a pronoun is largely confined to the literary language; note in particular such usages as the following (the last of which occurs only in proverbial expressions): Si tel ou tel vous promet cela, faites attention (cf. d above) If someone or other promises you that, take care Tel consent à être trompé pourvu qu’on le lui dise, tel autre pourvu qu’on le lui cache (Proust) Some agree to be deceived provided they are told, others provided it is concealed from them Tel qui rit vendredi, dimanche pleurera He who laughs on Friday will weep on Sunday

303–304 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


(iii) When ‘such (a)’ means no more than ‘of this kind’, it is often best translated by de ce genre, de cette sorte, e.g.: J’ai chez moi un instrument de cette sorte I have such an instrument at home Il a écrit beaucoup de livres de ce genre He has written many such books (iv) ‘Such (a)’ with reference to adjectives is si or (particularly in speech) tellement, e.g.: une si belle vue such a beautiful view une ville tellement historique such an historic town des problèmes si (or tellement) difficiles such difficult problems (v) When ‘such’ refers to quantity (= ‘so much’), it is often best translated by tant de or tellement de, e.g.: Nous avons eu tant (or tellement) de difficulté We have had such difficulty Il faisait tant de bruit He was making such a noise (but the difference in meaning between these sentences and . . . une telle difficulté, . . . un tel bruit, which characterize the difficulty and the noise in terms of quality – i.e. their intensity - rather than in terms of quantity, is only slight). 304

Quelconque ‘some or other, any (one) at all’

Quelconque normally follows a noun introduced by an indefinite article, e.g.: sous un prétexte quelconque on some pretext or other Soient deux droites quelconques Let there be any two straight lines (Note that quelconque has acquired the meaning of ‘mediocre, poor’ in such contexts as C’est un vin quelconque ‘It’s a pretty ordinary sort of wine’, Ce film est tout à fait quelconque ‘This film isn’t up to much’.)


The noun phrase 305–306

305 The following indefinites (which will be discussed in the order given here) must be clearly distinguished as they are not in any way interchangeable: (i) quelque, quelques (determiner) ‘some’ (see 306) (ii) quelque (invariable adverb) + numeral ‘some, approximately’ (see 307) (iii) quel que (variable) + être + noun or pronoun ‘whatever (= of whatever kind)’ (see 308) (iv) quelque(s) + noun + relative clause ‘whatever (+ noun)’ (see 309) (v) quelque (invariable adverb) + adjective + que ‘however (+ adjective)’ (see 310). 306

Quelque, quelques ‘some, a few’

Quelque(s) is an indefinite determiner whose meaning in the plural does not differ much from that of the indefinite or partitive article des, e.g.: Nous avons eu quelque difficulté We had some difficulty Quelque imbécile m’a cassé les lunettes Some idiot has broken my glasses for me Je lui ai acheté quelques fleurs I bought her some (a few) flowers In questions or after si ‘if ’, quelque(s) is sometimes translatable by ‘any’, e.g. Avez-vous eu quelque difficulté ? ‘Did you have any difficulty?’, Si vous avez quelque difficulté . . . ‘If you have any difficulty . . .’ Note quelques-uns (fem. unes) as a plural pronoun ‘some, a few’, e.g.: Quelques-uns de mes amis sont venus Some of my friends came Vous avez perdu toutes vos photos ? – Non, mais j’en ai perdu quelques-unes Have you lost all your photos? – No, but I’ve lost some (a few) of them See also quelque chose ‘something’ (311) and quelqu’un ‘someone’ (312).

307–309 Pronouns and pronominal determiners 307


Quelque (adverb) ‘some, approximately, about’

Note that quelque before a numeral and meaning ‘some, approximately, about, roughly’ is an adverb and therefore invariable (i.e. it does not take a plural -s), e.g.: J’ai acheté quelque deux cent cinquante timbres I bought about 250 stamps Il est mort il y a quelque cinquante ans He died some fifty years ago 308

Quel que (variable) ‘whatever (= of whatever kind)’

The equivalent of English ‘whatever’ + ‘to be’ + a noun or pronoun is not the pronoun quoi que (see 315,ii) but quel que (in which quel agrees in gender and number with the noun or pronoun); the reason for the use of quel que rather than quoi que is that, in an expression such as ‘whatever the difficulty may be’, we are not really dealing with ‘what’ it is (a difficulty is a difficulty) but with ‘what kind of’ difficulty it is. Note too that the verb ‘to be’, which is regularly omitted in this construction in English (‘whatever the difficulty’ means the same thing as ‘whatever the difficulty may be’), must be inserted (in the subjunctive) in French, e.g.: quelle que soit la difficulté whatever the difficulty quelles que soient vos inquiétudes whatever your worries (may be) tous vos problèmes, quels qu’ils soient all your problems, whatever they may be Être in this construction may be preceded by devoir or pouvoir, e.g.: quel que doive être le prix de cette noble liberté (Montesquieu) whatever the cost of this noble freedom may be quel qu’il puisse être whatever he may be 309 Quelque(s) (determiner) + noun + relative clause ‘whatever’


The noun phrase 309–310

‘Whatever’ (in the sense of ‘whichever’) before a noun qualified by a relative clause is quelque (sing.), quelques (plur.) (note that queldoes not vary for gender or number); the relative clause is almost always introduced by que, but a qui-clause is not impossible, e.g.: quelques fautes que vous ayez commises whatever mistakes you may have made de quelque manière que l’on aborde ce problème in whatever (whichever) way one approaches this problem quelque lien qui pût nous unir (Musset) whatever bond united us 310

Quelque (adverb) + adjective ‘however’

(i) Quelque ‘however’, modifying an adjective + que and the subjunctive, is an adverb and is therefore invariable, e.g.: quelque riches qu’ils soient however rich they are quelque grands que soient vos défauts however great your faults (may be) Note: (a) that if the subject is a noun it follows the verb, as in the example just quoted (b) that, though the verb is sometimes omitted in English when the subject is a noun (see the translation of the last example above), this is not possible in French (cf. 308) (c) that the verb is in most cases être but that the construction is also possible with such verbs as sembler ‘to seem’ and paraître ‘to appear’, and that any of these verbs may be preceded by a modal verb such as devoir or pouvoir, e.g.: quelque difficile que cela puisse paraître however difficult that may appear This is primarily a literary construction. In speech, one of the following alternatives should be used: si riche que soit mon père tout riche que soit mon père pour riche que soit mon père aussi riche que soit mon père


however rich my father may be

310–311 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


(The construction with aussi is sometimes frowned on, but it has been used by good modern writers.) Tout may also be followed by the indicative, but with a slight difference in meaning in that the construction in question presents the situation as a fact, e.g. tout riche qu’est mon père ‘rich though my father is’. When the subject is a personal pronoun, an even greater range of constructions is available since, with si and aussi, the que may be omitted, in which case the pronoun subject follows the verb; we therefore have, for ‘however rich he is’ (and not including tout riche qu’il est ‘rich though he is’), at least seven possibilities, viz.: quelque riche qu’il soit si riche qu’il soit tout riche qu’il soit pour riche qu’il soit aussi riche qu’il soit

si riche soit-il

aussi riche soit-il

(What is more, the constructions quelque riche soit-il, tout riche soit-il and pour riche soit-il do occur, but only infrequently and should therefore be avoided.) (ii) A similar but much less frequent construction is that in which quelque modifies another adverb, e.g. quelque profondément que vous l’aimiez ‘however deeply you love her’. The most usual alternative in speech is si, e.g. si profondément que vous l’aimiez. However, pour is firmly established in the expression pour peu que ‘however little, if in the slightest, etc.’, e.g. Pour peu que tu y réfléchisses, tu comprendras ce que cela veut dire ‘If you just think about it, you’ll understand what it means’. 311

Quelque chose ‘something’

Note that, though la chose ‘things’ is feminine, quelque chose is masculine. Note too that, with adjectives, we have the construction quelque chose d’intéressant ‘something interesting’ (see 667,i) (but autre chose ‘something else’). In questions or after si ‘if’, quelque chose may correspond to English ‘anything’ (see also 319), e.g.: Avez-vous quelque chose à déclarer ? Have you anything to declare?


The noun phrase 311–314

s’il arrive quelque chose if anything happens 312

Quelqu’un ‘someone, somebody’

Quelqu’un is used in much the same way as its English counterparts ‘someone, somebody’, e.g.: Quelqu’un vous demande Someone is asking for you Je connais quelqu’un qui peut le faire I know someone who can do it Note with adjectives the construction with de (see 667,i), e.g. quelqu’un d’important ‘someone important’, quelqu’un d’autre ‘someone else’. In questions or after si ‘if’, quelqu’un may correspond to English ‘anyone’ (see also 319), e.g.: Avez-vous vu quelqu’un ? Il y a quelqu’un ? si quelqu’un vient 313

Did you see anybody? Anybody there? if anyone comes

Quiconque ‘whoever, anyone (who)’

Quiconque may be used as an indefinite relative pronoun meaning ‘whoever, anyone who’, in which case it can function at the same time as the direct or indirect object of one verb and the subject of another (see the second and third examples below), e.g.: Quiconque a dit cela doit être fou Whoever said that must be mad La loi punit quiconque est coupable The law punishes anyone who is guilty Ils vont vendre leurs services à quiconque veut les employer (Voltaire) They will go and sell their services to anyone who will employ them 314

Qui . . . qui . . . ‘some . . . some . . .’

Qui, repeated and with no verb, has a distributive value meaning ‘some (did this), some (did that)’ e.g.: Les clients de l’hôtel prenaient, qui du thé, qui du porto, qui un cocktail, qui un whisky au soda (P. Bourget)

314–315 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


Some of the hotel’s guests took tea, some took port, some a cocktail, some a whisky and soda Note that, though we have translated qui . . . qui . . . as ‘some . . . some . . .’, in fact, since qui does not vary for number, this construction does not specify whether each qui refers to only one or to more than one individual. 315 Qui que (ce soit) ‘whoever’, quoi que (ce soit) ‘whatever’, où que ‘wherever’, etc. (i) ‘Whoever’ (a) The form qui que remains only as the complement of être, e.g.: qui que vous soyez qui que ce soit

whoever you are whoever it is

(b) As subject of the verb, the form qui que ce soit qui must be used, e.g. qui que ce soit qui ait dit cela ‘whoever said that’ (see also d below) (c) As direct object, though the form qui que is still given in some grammars (e.g. qui que vous cherchiez ‘whoever you are looking for’), in practice only qui que ce soit que is now in current use, e.g. qui que ce soit que vous cherchiez (see also d below). (d) The constructions given in b and c above, i.e. qui que ce soit + a relative clause introduced by qui or que, themselves function as the subject or object of another verb, e.g.: Qui que ce soit qui vienne sera obligé de repartir tout de suite Whoever comes will have to leave again at once Qui que ce soit que vous rencontriez pourra vous diriger Anyone whom (whoever) you meet will be able to direct you Si par hasard vous rencontriez qui que ce soit qui m’ait envoyé ce livre, vous pourriez peut-être le remercier de ma part If you happened to meet whoever it was that sent me this book, you might perhaps thank him for me (e) After prepositions, only qui que ce soit que is found, e.g.: à qui que ce soit que vous ayez écrit whoever (it is) you wrote to


The noun phrase 315

avec qui que ce soit qu’il voyage whoever he is travelling with (f) When not followed by a subordinate clause, qui que ce soit means ‘anyone at all’, e.g.: si vous voyez qui que ce soit if you see anyone at all Ne le dites pas à qui que ce soit Don’t tell anyone Pour le reste du chemin vous n’avez qu’à demander à qui que ce soit For the rest of the way you have only to ask anyone (ii) ‘Whatever’ (a) Quoi que serves as the complement of être, e.g.: quoi que ce soit

whatever it is

(Note the difference between quoi que ce soit and quoi qu’il en soit ‘however that may be, be that as it may, at all events’.) (b) As subject of the verb, only quoi que ce soit qui is in current use (quoi qui occurs, but only very rarely and should not be copied), e.g.: quoi que ce soit qui vous inquiète whatever is worrying you (c) As direct object, the most common form is quoi que, e.g. quoi que vous fassiez ‘whatever you do’, but quoi que ce soit que may also be used, e.g.: quoi que ce soit que vous fassiez whatever you do Quoi que ce soit qu’on lui ait dit l’inquiète beaucoup Whatever (it is that) he was told worries him a lot (d) After prepositions, quoi que ce soit que must be used, e.g.: sur quoi que ce soit que vous l’écriviez whatever you write it on (e) When not followed by a subordinate clause, quoi que ce soit means ‘anything at all’, e.g.:

315 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


Vous pouvez dire quoi que ce soit You can say anything (at all) si vous le soupçonnez de quoi que ce soit if you suspect him of anything at all (iii) ‘Wherever’ (a) ‘Wherever’ in its strictly indefinite sense is où que, e.g.: Où qu’il aille, il n’est jamais content Wherever he goes, he is never satisfied (b) Note, however, that, in English, ‘wherever’ followed by a relative clause is the equivalent of ‘anywhere’ or ‘everywhere’, and this must be expressed in French by partout où (literally ‘everywhere where’), e.g.: Partout où vous allez, moi je peux y aller aussi Wherever (anywhere) you go I can go too Vous pouvez me conduire partout où vous voudrez You may take me wherever (anywhere) you like (c) Note that ‘somewhere’ and, in questions or ‘if’ clauses, ‘anywhere’, are quelque part, e.g.: Je l’ai vu quelque part I saw him somewhere L’avez-vous vu quelque part ? Have you seen him anywhere? si vous le voyez quelque part if you see him anywhere (somewhere) Note too n’importe où ‘anywhere at all’ (see 301). (iv) ‘Whenever’ (a) Note that there is no form based on quand corresponding to où que ‘wherever’. When ‘whenever’ has a strictly indefinite value, i.e. that of ‘at whatever time’, it can be expressed by some such turn of phrase as à quelque moment (qu’il arrive) ‘whenever (= at whatever time) (he arrives)’, but in practice quand ‘when’ alone is usually adequate, e.g.: Quand il arrivera, dites-lui de me téléphoner Whenever he arrives, tell him to ring me


The noun phrase 315–317

(b) Frequently, however, ‘whenever’ means ‘each time that’, in which case the French equivalent is chaque fois que or toutes les fois que, e.g.: Chaque fois qu’elle va à Paris, elle achète beaucoup de vetêments Whenever she goes to Paris, she buys a lot of clothes (v) ‘However’ (a) ‘However’ in the sense of ‘in whatever way’ is de quelque façon que or de quelque manière que, e.g.: De quelque façon que vous vous y preniez, vous n’allez pas réussir However you go about it, you won’t succeed (b) For ‘however’ with an adjective or an adverb (e.g. ‘however difficult’), see 310. (‘However’ meaning ‘nevertheless’ is cependant, pourtant or toutefois.) 316 Tel ‘such’ See 303, ‘Pareil and tel’. 317 Tout ‘all, every, etc.’ (i) Tout may be a determiner (as in tout enfant ‘every child’) or a predeterminer (i.e. an element that comes before the determiner, as in tous les enfants ‘all the children’) (see ii below), a pronoun (see iii), a noun (see iv), or an adverb (see v). As a determiner, predeterminer or pronoun, it has these forms: masc. fem.

singular tout toute

plural tous toutes

Note that the masculine plural form, tous, is pronounced: as a determiner or predeterminer as a pronoun

[tu] [tus] (except before ceux, see iii,b)

(ii) As a determiner or predeterminer (a) In the singular only, tout ‘every, any’ has a meaning close to

317 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


that of chaque ‘each’ (see 295), with the slight but nevertheless real distinction that tout refers to ‘each and every member of a group’ whereas chaque refers to ‘each member of a group considered separately’, e.g.: Tout Français serait d’accord Every (or Any) Frenchman would agree Toute ville a son histoire Every town has its history Entrée interdite à toute personne étrangère à l’établissement Entry forbidden to any person (i.e. all persons) unconnected with the establishment (or Staff only) (b) With the definite article or with a possessive or demonstrative determiner, tout means ‘all (of), the whole (of)’ in the singular and ‘all (of) (the)’ in the plural, e.g.: tout le temps toute la classe tous les membres du parti tout mon temps toute cette forêt tous nos amis

all (of) the time, the whole time all the class, the whole class all (of the) members of the party all (of) my time all this forest, the whole of this forest all (of) our friends

If tout (singular or plural) refers to nouns of different gender, it must be repeated with each; otherwise, it need not be; e.g.: toute son intelligence et tout son courage all his intelligence and courage toute son intelligence et sa détermination all his intelligence and determination (note the repetition of the possessive: see 224). Note that tous les, toutes les with reference to units of time or distance is used like English ‘every’ to mean ‘X times per so many units’, e.g.: tous les deux jours (une fois) tous les trois jours (deux fois) tous les six mois

every other day, every two days (once) every three days, every third day (twice) every six months


The noun phrase 317

toutes les vingt minutes tous les cent mètres

every twenty minutes every hundred metres

Note also the expression Tous les combien ? ‘How often?’ (c) With names of towns, which do not normally take an article, tout alone means ‘all, the whole of, e.g. tout Paris ‘all Paris’ with reference either to the city itself (J’ai visité tout Paris ‘I visited the whole of Paris’) or to its inhabitants (Tout Paris fêtait la Libération ‘The whole of Paris was celebrating the Liberation’). Note that, even if the name of the town is feminine (see 52), tout is invariable in the latter sense, i.e. with reference to the inhabitants (Tout Rome était dans les rues ‘All Rome was in the streets’), but usually (though not always) agrees in gender when the reference is to the city itself (J’ai visité toute Rome ‘I visited the whole of Rome’). (d) In the singular only, tout(e) un(e) means ‘a whole’, e.g.: J’ai passé toute une journée à le chercher I spent a whole day looking for it Il y a tout un débat là-dessus There’s a whole debate going on about it But note that entier ‘whole, entire’ is more usual with reference to concrete nouns and that, in the plural, entier and not tout (which would mean ‘all’) must be used, e.g.: Une ville entière fut détruite A whole (entire) town was destroyed Des villes entières furent détruites Whole (entire) towns were destroyed (e) Tout can be used without any determiner as follows: 1. Tout autre ‘any other’; autre may be either an adjective, e.g. Toute autre réponse serait inacceptable ‘Any other reply would be unacceptable’, or a pronoun, e.g. tout autre que lui ‘anyone but he’. 2. In various fixed expressions, singular or plural, meaning ‘every, all’, e.g. tout compte fait ‘all things considered’, tous feux éteints ‘with all lights extinguished, with no lights on’, toutes proportions gardées ‘provided one keeps things in proportion’, and a considerable number of prepositional expressions, e.g. à toute allure or à toute vitesse ‘at full speed’, à tous égards ‘in all respects’, à toute

317 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


heure ‘at any hour’, à tout moment ‘at any moment’, à tout prix ‘at all costs’, contre toute attente ‘contrary to all expectations’, de tout cœur ‘with all one’s heart’, en toutes lettres ‘(written out) in full’. Many such expressions may be written either in the singular or in the plural (the pronunciation would be the same in either case), e.g. toute(s) sorte(s) de ‘all kinds of’, à tout venant or à tous venants ‘to all comers’, de tout côté or de tous côtés ‘on all sides’, de toute(s) façon(s) ‘anyway, at all events’. 3. After pour, the meaning of tout approximates to that of seul ‘only’ in contexts such as: Pour toute réponse il me lança un regard furieux His only reply was to glare at me (cf. ‘All I had was an apple’ = ‘I only had an apple’). (f) With the numerals up to quatre ‘four’ functioning as pronouns (i.e. not followed by a noun), tous may be used either with or without the definite article les (the omission of the article is a feature of literary rather than of spoken usage), e.g.: Je les connais tous les deux (or tous deux) I know them both (or both of them) Elles sont parties toutes (les) quatre They ( fem.) have all left (All four of them have left) With numerals above ‘four’, and with all numerals (including ‘two’, ‘three’ and ‘four’) followed by a noun, the article must be used, e.g.: Je les connais tous les dix I know all ten of them Tous les trois enfants sont allés se coucher All three children have gone to bed (iii) As a pronoun: (a) The singular pronoun tout means ‘all, everything’, e.g.: Tout est prêt Il a tout perdu Il a pensé à tout

Everything is ready He has lost everything He has thought of everything

When tout is followed by a relative clause (see 262–269), the


The noun phrase 317

pronoun ce must be inserted even though there is usually no equivalent (such as ‘that (which)’) in English, e.g.: tout ce qui est dans la boîte everything (that is) in the box Il vous donnera tout ce que vous voulez He will give you all (everything) you want tout ce dont j’ai besoin everything I need (lit. of which I have need) (b) The plural pronouns tous (masc.) (pronounced [tus] except before ceux, see below), toutes (fem.), mean ‘all’, e.g.: Tous étaient d’accord Ils sont tous partis Je les connais toutes

All were in agreement They have all left I know them ( fem.) all

(note that in examples such as the last, the personal pronoun, i.e. les, is required, as in English, with reference to the direct object). Note also nous tous ‘all of us’, vous tous ‘all of you’ – the two pronouns may be separated, e.g. Nous le connaissons tous ‘We all know him’. When tous, toutes are followed by a relative clause (see 262–269), the appropriate demonstrative pronoun must be inserted whether or not there is any corresponding pronoun (‘those’ or ‘the ones’) in English, i.e. tous ceux (qui, etc.) (and note that, in this case, tous is pronounced ([tu]), toutes celles (qui, etc.), e.g.: tous ceux qui y étaient all (those) who were there Cette maison est mieux construite que toutes celles que nous avons vues hier This house is better built than all the ones we saw yesterday (iv) As a noun, le or un tout means ‘the, or a, whole’, e.g.: Le tout est plus grand que la somme de ses parties The whole is greater than the sum of its parts Trois tiers font un tout Three thirds make one whole or, occasionally, ‘the whole (lot) (of something)’, e.g.: Je vends le tout

I’m selling the whole lot

317 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


Note the idiomatic use of le tout in such expressions as Le tout est de réussir ‘The thing that matters is to succeed (success is everything)’. ‘The whole (of)’ + determiner + noun is translated either by the predeterminer tout or by the adjective entier (see ii,b and d above), e.g. Il passe tout son temps à lire ‘he spends the whole of his time (= all his time) reading’. (v) As an adverb, tout has a variety of functions; as an adverb, it would normally be expected to be (like other adverbs) invariable, i.e. not to take any agreement in gender or number, and, generally speaking, this is so – but see b below. (a) Before another adverb, tout means ‘quite’ (except in the sense of ‘fairly, rather’ when assez should be used, e.g. assez vite ‘quite quickly’), e.g.: Il habite tout près He lives quite near Je vous dis tout simplement que ce n’est pas vrai I am telling you quite simply that it is not true (b) Tout also means ‘quite, wholly, etc.’ when used with an adjective or participle. Here, too, it is invariable except, curiously, in the feminine singular or plural before a consonant – i.e. it does not agree in the masculine plural or, before a vowel (or mute h), in the feminine singular or plural, e.g.: Elle est tout heureuse Elles sont tout heureuses Ils sont tout nus

She is extremely happy They (fem.) are extremely happy They (masc.) are quite naked

but Elle est toute pâle Elles étaient toutes nues

She is completely pale They (fem.) were quite naked

Consequently, tout autre does not agree when it means ‘quite another, quite different’, e.g. C’est une tout autre question ‘That is quite a different matter’ but, in accordance with ii,a above, it agrees when it means ‘every other’ or ‘any other’, e.g. Il répondra à toute autre question mais pas à celle-là ‘He will answer any other question but not that one’. For the construction tout riche qu’il soit ‘however rich he is’, see 310,i.


The noun phrase 317–319

(c) Adverbial tout occurs in a number of idiomatic expressions, e.g. tout à coup, tout d’un coup ‘all at once’, tout à fait ‘quite, completely’, tout à l’heure ‘just now, a little while ago, in a little while’, tout au début ‘right at the beginning’, tout d’abord ‘first of all’, tout de même ‘all the same, nevertheless’, tout de suite ‘at once’. 318

The translation of ‘one’ as a pronoun

(i) ‘One’ is translated by un, une when it is used in the strictly numerical sense, e.g.: J’en prends un (or une) un de mes amis une des plus belles villes de France

I’ll take one (of them) one of my friends one of the most beautiful cities in France

Note that, particularly when the numeral is used on its own, un(e) seul(e) is often used, e.g.: Combien de bouteilles voulez-vous ? – Une seule How many bottles do you want? – (Just) one In the literary language, but not in everyday speech, l’un, l’une may be used for un, une before de (only rarely elsewhere), e.g. l’un de vous ‘one of you’, l’un de ses prédécesseurs ‘one of his predecessors’, l’une des plus grandes victoires de Napoléon ‘one of Napoleon’s greatest victories’. (ii) As an indefinite pronoun, the usual equivalent of ‘one’ is on (see 302). (iii) When ‘one’ is followed by a relative clause, as in ‘the one(s) I bought yesterday’, the French equivalent is the demonstrative pronoun celui, etc. (see 245,ii). (iv) For l’un . . . l’autre, les uns . . . les autres, see 292,iii; for chacun, see 295; for quelqu’un, see 312. 319

The translation of ‘anyone’, ‘anything’

The problems encountered by English speakers in selecting the appropriate French equivalents for ‘anyone’ and ‘anything’ arise mainly from the fact that these pronouns have a number of different values in English. The first step in solving the problem in a given context is to decide on the value of the pronoun in that context.

319 Pronouns and pronominal determiners


(i) In many cases, there is no distinction in French comparable to those between ‘anyone’ and ‘someone’ (see quelqu’un, 312) and between ‘anything’ and ‘something’ (see quelque chose, 311). Note in particular that quelqu’un and quelque chose are normally the most appropriate equivalents for ‘anyone’ and ‘anything’ in direct or indirect questions and in hypothetical clauses introduced by ‘if’, e.g.: Y a-t-il quelqu’un à la maison ? Is anyone in? Avez-vous quelque chose à déclarer ? Have you anything to declare? Savez-vous si quelqu’un est déjà parti ? Do you know if anyone has already left? Si vous voyez quelqu’un, dites-le-moi If you see anybody, tell me Si j’avais quelque chose à lire, je resterais ici If I had anything to read, I should stay here (ii) If ‘anyone’ or ‘anything’ can be replaced in English by ‘everyone’ or ‘everything’ without significantly altering the meaning, the French equivalent is often tout le monde ‘everyone’ or tout ‘everything’ or, before a relative clause, (tous) ceux (qui, que) ‘(all) those (who(m))’ or tout ce (qui, que) ‘all (that)’, e.g.: Tout le monde peut faire ça Anyone can do that Tout est préférable au déshonneur Anything is better than disgrace Tous ceux qui ont visité Paris savent que c’est une très belle ville Anyone who has been to Paris knows that it is a very beautiful city Je vous donnerai tout ce que vous voulez I’ll give you anything you want (iii) When used in a very general sense, ‘anyone’ may be rendered by on ‘one’ (see 302), e.g.: Si on me demande, dites que je suis parti If anyone asks for me, say I’ve left


The noun phrase 319–321

(iv) For ‘anyone, anything’ in negative sentences (i.e. when ‘not anyone’ = ‘no one’ and ‘not anything’ = ‘nothing’), see 551. (v) For other possible values of ‘anyone’ and ‘anything’ see je ne sais qui, quoi, 299; n’importe qui, quoi, 301; quelconque, 304; qui que ce soit, quoi que ce soit, 315,i,f and ii,e.


320 Quantifiers, as the name suggests, define various elements in the sentence in terms of quantity (e.g. how little or how much thereof, how few or how many thereof). Some items that could have been included here (such as ‘some’ and ‘all’) have already been dealt with under ‘Indefinites’, and others could equally well have been included under that heading. For reasons of convenience, we shall consider together both pronominal and adverbial quantifiers. 321 (i) Note that in English such quantifiers as ‘enough, (as, so, too, how) much, (as, so too, how) many, more, less, few, fewer’ can, and usually do, qualify directly the noun that they govern, e.g. ‘enough bread, many books, less time’. In French, de must be used in comparable contexts, e.g.: assez de pain trop de voitures autant de difficulté tant de problèmes beaucoup de livres combien d’enfants ? plus de temps moins de danger peu d’amis

enough bread too many cars as much difficulty so many problems many books how many children? more time less danger few friends

(ii) In comparable expressions with a personal pronoun, English either uses ‘of’ or omits the pronoun altogether, leaving it to be implied from the context; in French, the pronoun en ‘of it, of them’ (see 201) must not be omitted, e.g.: Il en vend autant que vous He sells as many (of them) as you

321–322 Quantifiers


Et le pain ? – Nous en avons déjà assez What about the bread? – We have enough already Combien en avez-vous acheté ? How much (how many) did you buy? When ‘of it, of them’ are not implied, then there is no en in French, e.g.: Beaucoup ont disparu Combien a-t-il perdu ?

Many have disappeared How much did he lose?

(iii) Note that when the quantifiers are followed by a definite article in English, the same is true of French; so, we have, without an article, beaucoup d’étudiants ‘many students’, trop de bière ‘too much beer’, combien de papier ? ‘how much paper?’, but: Beaucoup des étudiants de cette université sont Africains Many of the students at this university are Africans Il a bu trop de la bière que vous avez achetée He has drunk too much of the beer that you bought Combien du papier a été brûlé ? How much of the paper was burnt? 322

Assez ‘enough’ and trop ‘too (much, many)’

(i) Modifying a noun or pronoun, e.g.: Ils achètent assez de bonbons pour tous les enfants They are buying enough sweets for all the children A-t-il assez d’argent ? Has he enough money? Nous n’en vendons pas assez We don’t sell enough (of it, of them) Notre pays importe trop de voitures Our country imports too many cars Vous en prenez trop You are taking too much (too many) Note that, after a phrase introduced by assez or trop, a following infinitive is preceded by pour, e.g.: Nous avons assez de temps pour le faire We have enough time to do it


The noun phrase 322

Il a perdu trop d’argent pour être content He has lost too much money to be satisfied (ii) When assez and trop are the complement of être, en is not required, e.g. C’est assez ‘It’s enough’, Ça c’est trop ‘that’s too much’; but note the idioms C’en est assez ! ‘Enough is enough!’ and C’en est trop ! ‘That’s going too far!’ (iii) Assez and trop modifying an adjective or an adverb mean ‘enough, quite, rather’ and ‘too’ respectively; as with assez (trop) de (see i above), a following infinitive is preceded by pour, e.g.: C’est assez difficile It’s rather difficult Il est assez intelligent pour comprendre He is intelligent enough to understand Il marche assez lentement He walks rather slowly Il vient assez souvent nous voir He comes to see us quite often Il est trop malade pour pouvoir sortir He is too ill to be able to go out Nous sommes restés trop longtemps We stayed too long (iv) Note that, whereas in English ‘enough’ follows adjectives (‘easy enough’) and occasionally follows nouns (‘time enough’ for ‘enough time’), assez always precedes both adjectives and nouns (assez facile, assez de temps). (v) When modifying verbs, assez means ‘enough’ and trop means ‘too much’, and are often enough in themselves where English uses some expanded phrase such as ‘long enough’ or ‘too hard’, e.g.: Nous avons assez travaillé pour une journée We have worked enough for one day Ils se disputent trop They argue too much Avez-vous assez dormi ? Have you slept long enough? Il travaille trop He works too hard

322–323 Quantifiers


As in i and iii above, a following infinitive is preceded by pour, e.g.: Il parle trop pour être pris au sérieux He talks too much to be taken seriously 323 Autant ‘as much, as many’ and tant ‘so (as) much, so (as) many’ (i) Autant expresses a comparison of equality between nouns or pronouns or between verbs, as aussi does between adjectives or between adverbs (see 157), e.g.: Il mange autant de pain (autant de pommes) que vous He eats as much bread (as many apples) as you (do) Mon frère en vend autant que mon père My brother sells as much (as many) as my father (does) Je lis autant que mon frère I read as much as my brother (does) Je vous aiderai autant que je pourrai I shall help you as much as I can Occasionally, as an alternative to the usual construction Il est aussi agréable qu’intelligent ‘He is as pleasant as (he is) intelligent’ (see 157), one finds the construction Il est agréable autant qu’intelligent, in which autant qualifies the verb être that is understood (= Il est agréable autant qu’il est intelligent). (ii) In negative and interrogative clauses, both autant and tant are possible, e.g. Il n’a pas autant (or tant) de patience que vous He hasn’t as much patience as you (have) Je ne mange pas autant (or tant) (de viande) que vous I do not eat as much (meat) as you (do) Vous y tenez autant (or tant) que ça ? Are you that keen on it? (iii) On the optional insertion in English of a verb such as ‘to be, to have, to do’ after a comparative, where French normally has no such verb, see 157 and 173, and various examples in i and ii above. (iv) Although tant is not usually used to express the comparative


The noun phrase 323

of equality in affirmative clauses, it is sometimes so used with the verbs pouvoir and vouloir, e.g.: Il pleut tant qu’il peut It is raining as hard as it can Je vous en donnerai tant que vous voudrez I will give you as much as you want (v) Tant que (but not autant que) also means ‘(for) as long as’ in contexts such as the following: Je vous aiderai tant que je pourrai I shall help you (for) as long as I can Tant que la grève durera, elle restera à Paris (For) as long as the strike lasts, she will stay in Paris (Note that tant que is not the equivalent of aussi longtemps que, which must be used when ‘as long as’ expresses a comparison, e.g. J’y suis resté aussi longtemps que vous ‘I stayed there as long as you (did)’.) (vi) Tant . . . que is also the equivalent of ‘so much, so many’ when the following clause expresses a result, e.g.: Je le plains tant que je vais tout faire pour l’aider I am so sorry for him that I am going to do all I can to help him J’ai tant de travail que je ne sais où commencer I have so much work that I don’t know where to begin Tant de gens sont partis que les hôtels sont presque vides So many people have left that the hotels are almost empty In this type of sentence, in which tant means ‘so much, so many’ and que means ‘that’ (not ‘as’), tant can be replaced by tellement (e.g. Je le plains tellement que . . . , J’ai tellement de travail que . . .). (vii) In what is, in reality, in both French and English, a truncated version of the construction dealt with in vi above, tant, like ‘so much, so many’, can have an exclamatory value, e.g.: Je le plains tant ! I am so sorry for him! Il a tant de problèmes ! He has so many problems!

323–324 Quantifiers


(the implication being ‘I am so sorry for him [that . . .]’, ‘He has so many problems [that . . .]’, the result being unexpressed). 324

Beaucoup, etc. ‘much, many’

(i) Beaucoup is by far the most widespread French equivalent for ‘much, many, a lot of’, e.g.: Il n’a pas beaucoup de patience He hasn’t much (a lot of) patience Ils vendent beaucoup de fleurs They sell a lot of flowers Avez-vous beaucoup d’amis ? Have you many friends? Je n’en veux pas beaucoup I don’t want much (or many) Il a beaucoup voyagé He has travelled a great deal (ii) (a) ‘Much’ or ‘far’ before a comparative is also rendered by beaucoup, e.g.: Il est beaucoup plus (or moins) intelligent que son frère He is much more (or less) intelligent than his brother Elle y va beaucoup plus (or moins) souvent que l’an dernier She goes there much more (or less) often than last year (Before a comparative adjective, but not before an adverb, ‘much’ or ‘far’ is sometimes, but less commonly, rendered by de beaucoup – cf. b below; so the first of the above examples could have read Il est de beaucoup plus (moins) intelligent que son frère, but, since souvent is an adverb, de beaucoup could not be used in the second example.) Likewise beaucoup trop ‘much (far) too much, far too many’, e.g.: J’ai acheté beaucoup trop de timbres I have bought far too many stamps (b) De beaucoup, not beaucoup alone, must be used as the equivalent of ‘much’ or ‘by far’ when placed after a comparative, e.g.: Il est plus fort de beaucoup que son ami He is much stronger than his friend


The noun phrase 324

or with a superlative, e.g.: Il est de beaucoup le plus intelligent de leurs enfants He is by far the most intelligent of their children or when a comparative or superlative is implied but not expressed in full, e.g.: Il est plus fort que moi, et de beaucoup He is stronger than I am, and by a long way (iii) Beaucoup can never be qualified by très (or any other word for ‘very’), trop ‘too’, aussi ‘as’ or si ‘so’. ‘Very much, very many’ are usually just beaucoup, though beaucoup, beaucoup can be used for emphasis, ‘too much, too many’ are translated by trop alone (see 322), ‘as much, as many’ by autant or (in some circumstances) tant (see 323), and ‘so much, so many’ by tant (see 323). (iv) For (le) plus as the comparative and superlative of beaucoup, see 165–168. (v) A frequent form in conversational French is pas mal (de) ‘quite a lot of ’, e.g.: J’ai eu pas mal de difficulté I had quite a lot of difficulty Il en vend pas mal He sells quite a lot of them Note that the verb is not preceded by ne (contrast pas grand-chose, vii below). (vi) Note that force ‘many’ (and occasionally ‘much’), which sometimes occurs in the literary language, is not followed by de (see also 397, i, c), e.g. avec force compliments ‘with many compliments’. (vii) Note the form grand-chose which occurs widely in speech but only in the expression pas grand-chose ‘not much’ and which cannot be followed by a noun as a complement; the verb, if there is one, is preceded by ne (contrast pas mal, v above); e.g.: Il n’a pas dit grand-chose He didn’t say much Qu’est-ce que vous avez acheté ? – Pas grand-chose What have you bought? – Not much

324–325 Quantifiers


(viii) In the literary language, maint, which has the following forms: masc. fem.

sing. maint mainte

plur. maints maintes

when used in either the singular or the plural expresses a plural number, ‘many a, many’, e.g. maint Anglais ‘many an Englishman’, maints Anglais ‘many Englishmen’. It is used especially in the expressions maintes fois ‘many a time’, à mainte(s) reprise(s) ‘on numerous occasions’. (ix) Nombre de, quantité de (with no article before them) can be used with plural nouns in the sense of ‘a lot of, a number of’, e.g.: Nombre de députés ont voté contre A number of MPs voted against Quantité d’indications laissent supposer qu’il est mort A number of indications lead one to think he is dead 325

Bien du, bien de la, bien de l’ ‘much’, bien des ‘many’

These expressions for ‘much, many’ are somewhat less objective than beaucoup and convey the idea of a measure of surprise, satisfaction, disapproval, or some other subjective reaction, e.g.: Il a bien de l’argent He has plenty of money Elle vous donne bien de l’inquiétude She causes you a lot of worry Bien des gens me l’ont dit Many people have told me so Strictly speaking, des should be replaced by de when an adjective precedes the noun (see 44), e.g. bien de belles églises ‘many fine churches’, but in practice this is rarely the case and the construction bien des belles églises is used to mean ‘many fine churches’ as well as ‘many of the fine churches’ (the context will usually take the meaning clear). Note, however, that the ‘rule’ does apply with d’autres, e.g.: J’ai bien d’autres choses à faire I have many other things to do


The noun phrase 325–328

This also covers the frequently occurring construction in which d’autres has become a pronoun (see 292,i), i.e. bien d’autres ‘many others’, e.g.: Bien d’autres sont d’accord Many others agree 326

Combien ? ‘how much? how many?’

(i) Direct questions, e.g.: Combien de pain ? How much bread? Combien d’Américains sont venus ? How many Americans came? Combien en avez-vous ? How much (or how many) have you? Combien sont partis ? How many have left? Combien est-ce que vous pesez ? How much do you weigh? (ii) Indirect questions, e.g.: Je ne sais pas combien il en a acheté I don’t know how much he bought (iii) Note the following construction in which combien corresponds to English ‘how’ (see also 153,i,b): Je ne m’étais pas rendu compte combien vous étiez inquiet I had not realized how worried you were 327

Davantage ‘more’ and moins ‘less’ – see 330.


Peu ‘little, few’, un peu ‘a little’

(i) When ‘little’ means ‘not much’, it must be translated by peu de and not by petit, e.g.: Nous avons eu peu de difficulté We had little difficulty Note the difference between this, which stresses the negative aspect (‘not much’), and un peu de ‘a little’ (and again petit cannot be used) which stresses the positive aspect (‘there is some’), e.g.:

328–330 Quantifiers


Nous avons eu un peu de difficulté We had some (or a little) difficulty Note the expression peu de chose ‘ little, not much’, as in Cela compte pour peu de chose ‘That doesn’t count for much’. (ii) In the plural, peu means ‘few’, e.g. Il a peu d’amis ‘He has few friends’. There is no plural equivalent of un peu (for ‘a few’ use quelques, e.g. Il a quelques amis ‘He has a few friends’, see 306). (iii) For le peu ‘the little, the few’, see 397,ii. (iv) For (le) moins as the comparative and superlative of peu, see 164. 329

La plupart ‘most, the greater part’

La plupart can be either plural, e.g.: La plupart de mes amis sont étudiants Most of my friends are students La plupart sont déjà partis Most have already left or, occasionally, singular, e.g.: La plupart de ce qu’il dit est faux Most of what he says is untrue In the singular, however, there is a tendency (except in the expression la plupart du temps ‘most of the time’) to substitute for la plupart some other expression such as la plus grande partie. 330

Plus ‘more’, moins ‘less’, etc.

(i) For the use of plus and moins to express the comparative and superlative of adjectives and adverbs, see 160–165 and 169–173. (ii) For (le) plus as the comparative and superlative of beaucoup and (le) moins as the comparative and superlative of peu, see 164–170. (iii) For (ne . . .) plus in negative clauses, see 552. (iv) Davantage ‘more’ (a) Davantage generally qualifies only verbs, e.g.: Vous devriez manger davantage You ought to eat more


The noun phrase 330–332

Rien ne pourrait lui plaire davantage Nothing could please him more Note its use with reference to the pronoun le standing for an adjective (though even here it really qualifies the verb être), e.g.: Il est vrai que ma sœur est inquiète, mais mon frère l’est davantage It is true that my sister is worried, but my brother is more so (b) Davantage que and davantage de are often considered to be incorrect (even though both constructions occurred in Classical French and may still be found in good authors), and are best avoided. However, there is no objection to using davantage with the pronoun en ‘of it, of them’, e.g.: Voulez-vous encore du thé ? – Merci, je n’en veux pas davantage Do you want any more tea? – No, thank you, I don’t want any more Nous n’en dirons pas davantage We shall say no more about it (c) In practice, davantage usually comes at the end of its clause, though not invariably (e.g. J’aimerais pouvoir faire davantage pour vous ‘I should like to be able to do more for you’). (d) Note that davantage can never be used with numbers, in which case ‘more than’ is always plus de (see 167). (v) For the use of encore meaning ‘more’, see 616,iii. 331

Plusieurs ‘several’

The use of plusieurs is much like that of English ‘several’; note that it has the same form for both genders, e.g. plusieurs Anglais ‘several Englishmen’, plusieurs femmes ‘several women’, plusieurs de mes amis ‘several of my friends’, j’en ai vu plusieurs ‘I have seen several’ (with reference to either masculine or feminine nouns). 332

Presque ‘almost, nearly’

(i) Presque can modify adjectives, adverbs, certain indefinite pronouns, and verbs, e.g.: Il est presque aveugle

He is almost blind

332–334 Quantifiers presque tous presque personne (or rien) presque immédiatement Il pleurait presque


almost all (of them) almost nobody (or nothing) almost immediately He was almost crying

In the above uses, the -e of presque is never elided before a vowel. Note the use of ou presque ‘or almost’, expressing a kind of afterthought, e.g.: C’est impossible, ou presque Il pleurait, ou presque

It’s impossible, or almost He was crying, or nearly

(ii) Certain nouns may also be modified by presque; with the exception of the one word une presqu’île ‘peninsula’, the -e is not elided, nor is a hyphen used, e.g.: J’en ai la presque certitude I am practically certain of it la presque totalité des habitants almost all the inhabitants être élu à la presque unanimité to be elected almost unanimously 333

Que de . . . ! ‘what a lot of!’

Que de . . . meaning ‘what a lot of’ or sometimes ‘how much, how many’ is often used as a quantifier in exclamations, e.g.: Que de peine pour rien ! What a lot of trouble for nothing! Que de fois faut-il que je vous le dise ! How many times must I tell you! The two parts can be divided, as in: Que nous avons dû visiter de cathédrales ! What a lot of cathedrals we had to go and see! 334 Si ‘so’, tant ‘so much, so many’, tellement ‘so, so much, so many’ (i) ‘So’ with an adjective or adverb is si or, especially in familiar


The noun phrase 334–335

style, tellement; ‘so . . . that’ is si (or tellement) . . . que . . . ; e.g.: Ce problème est si difficile This problem is so difficult Elle est tellement jolie She is so pretty J’y suis allé si souvent I have been there so often Je me suis levé si tard que j’ai manqué le train I got up so late that I missed the train Il est si distingué que je ne le vois plus He is so grand that I never see him now This construction must not be confused with si . . . que ‘as . . . as’ after a negative (see 157). (ii) ‘So much, so many’ must be rendered by tant or tellement (see 323,vi) and not by si. Note that si qualifies only adjectives and adverbs – it never qualifies a verb. Tellement (not si or tant) also serves as the equivalent of ‘so much, (all) that much’ before a comparative, e.g.: C’est tellement plus difficile que je n’avais pensé It is so much more difficult than I had thought Il n’est pas tellement plus grand que vous He is not all that much taller than you (iii) For the construction si riche qu’il soit ‘however rich he is’, see 310,i. 335

Très, etc. ‘very’

(i) Très is used in much the same way as ‘very’ with reference to adjectives, e.g. Je suis très content ‘I am very pleased’, and to adverbs, e.g. Il mange très lentement ‘He eats very slowly’. It is also used much more widely than ‘very’ with past participles and adverbial expressions, in which case English tends to use some other intensifier, e.g. un ministre très estimé ‘a highly esteemed minister’, un discours très apprécié ‘a much (or greatly) appreciated speech’, un style très à la mode ‘a style that is very much in fashion’. In the spoken language, très may also be used (though less

335–337 Quantifiers


frequently than ‘very’) with reference to a previously expressed adjective or adverb that is understood but not repeated, e.g.: Vous êtes inquiet ? – Oui, très Are you worried? – Yes, very (In such circumstances, French often repeats the adjective or adverb, i.e., in the case in point, Oui, très inquiet.) A construction that is widely used in speech, but that some purists object to in the written language, is the use of très with expressions of the type avoir or faire + noun, such as avoir froid ‘to be cold’, faire attention ‘to be careful’, e.g. J’ai très froid ‘I am very cold’, Il a eu très peur ‘He was very frightened’, Il faut faire très attention ‘One must be very careful’, Cela m’a fait très peur ‘That frightened me a lot’. (The purists do not object to the use of bien – see ii below – instead of très in such contexts.) (ii) Particularly in the literary language, but to some extent in speech also (though rarely in colloquial speech), bien and fort can be used for ‘very’ in much the same way as très, e.g. Il sera bien content de vous voir ‘He will be very pleased to see you’, fort difficile ‘very difficult’, bien souvent ‘very often’, fort lentement ‘very slowly’. Note, however, that they cannot be used on their own (i.e. as the equivalent of très in Oui, très ‘Yes, very’ – see above) and that fort is avoided before another word beginning with f-, so très loin, bien loin, fort loin ‘very far’, but preferably only très facile or bien facile ‘very easy’. (iii) Note that none of these words for ‘very’ can qualify beaucoup – see 324,iii. (For ‘very’ as an adjective, translated by même, see 300,ii.) 336

Trop ‘too (much, many)’ – see 322.

337 Note that when the subject of the verb is a quantifier (or an expression introduced by a quantifier, such as beaucoup de gens) that can be either singular or plural, the number of the verb and the number and gender of any adjectives or participles depend on the sense of the quantifier and its complement if any, e.g.: Beaucoup de ce qu’il dit est faux Much of what he says is untrue Beaucoup estiment que c’est trop tard Many think it is too late


The noun phrase 337

Combien de temps s’est écoulé ? How much time has elapsed? Combien de personnes ont été tuées ? How many people were killed? But note too that there is a tendency to avoid the use of such quantifiers (other than beaucoup) as a subject, especially when there is no de-phrase as a complement. Various procedures exist for rephrasing such sentences, e.g.: Il y en a combien qui sont partis ? How many have left? Il est survenu trop de difficultés Too many difficulties arose which avoid having combien ? or trop de difficultés as the subject.





Verbs will be discussed according to the following plan:

The conjugations (definition) (339) Moods and tenses (names thereof) (340–341) The persons of the verb (definition) (342–343) Defective verbs (definition) (344) The morphology (forms) of the verb (345–378) Reflexive verbs (379–381) The passive (382–385) Negative and interrogative conjugations (386–389) Person and number (390–397) Tenses (398–424) The infinitive (425–438) The present participle (439–446) The past participle (447–471) The moods (definition) (472) The subjunctive (473–506) ‘May, might, must, ought, should, would’ (507–513) The imperative (514–517) The complement of verbs (518–538) Idioms with avoir, être and faire (539–541)


Verbs 339

A The conjugations

339 (i) The term ‘conjugation’ is used in two different but closely connected senses: (a) It denotes the set of forms that a given verb takes to indicate different tenses, moods and persons – see, for example, 351, the conjugation of the verb donner ‘to give’; (b) It refers to a class of verbs having the same forms throughout their conjugation (in the sense given in a above); so, since the endings of such verbs as aimer ‘to love’, chanter ‘to sing’, porter ‘to carry’, and thousands of others, are the same as those of donner, these verbs are all said to belong to the same conjugation (known conventionally as the ‘First Conjugation’, see ii, a below). It is often convenient to extend the use of this term so as to group together verbs whose forms coincide only in certain specific circumstances; in this book, the basis for our classification of verbs into conjugations is the ending of the infinitive (-er, -ir, -re or -oir) (see ii below) though, as we shall see, each of these conjugations includes various subdivisions. In the following paragraphs, ‘conjugation’ is used in both of the above senses, but it will always be clear from the context which sense is intended. (ii) There is no generally accepted basis for classifying French verbs into conjugations. The classification adopted here is based solely on the ending of the infinitive, which may be -er, -ir, -re or -oir. However, within each of these ‘conjugations’ there are various patterns, and it is indeed questionable whether verbs in -oir form a conjugation at all – see d below. (a) Verbs whose infinitive ends in -er (e.g. donner ‘to give’, see 351), are generally known as ‘First Conjugation’ verbs. This conjugation contains over 90% of all verbs in the language (i.e. several thousand) and since, in practice (but see also b below), all new verbs entering the language (e.g. cocoricoter ‘to go cock-a-doodle-do’ and festivaler ‘to attend a festival’, both first recorded in 1985, or enrucher ‘to put (bees) in a hive (ruche)’ and golfer ‘to play golf’, both from 1986) follow this pattern, the First Conjugation is often referred to as a ‘living’ conjugation.

339–340 Names of moods and tenses


Most verbs in this conjugation are ‘regular’, i.e. they follow a set pattern, exemplified by that of donner; for exceptions, see 352–357. (b) Verbs whose infinitive ends in -ir form the ‘Second Conjugation’, which numbers about 300 regular verbs (e.g. finir ‘to finish’, see 359), two small sub-groups (represented by dormir ‘to sleep’, see 363, and cueillir ‘to gather’, see 364), and a number of irregular verbs, i.e. verbs whose conjugation differs even more than that of dormir and cueillir from the basic pattern (see 377). Many grammars consider the finir type as a second ‘living’ conjugation (cf. a above), but there seems very little justification for this. It is true that a very few new verbs in -ir have appeared in the course of the twentieth century, viz. amerrir ‘to alight on the sea’, dating from about 1910, alunir ‘to land on the moon’, about 1930 (and even avénusir ‘to land on Venus’ has been used but seems not to have caught on). However, these are quite clearly exceptions, formed specifically on the model of atterrir ‘to land’, and they are not enough to justify one in considering the Second Conjugation as ‘living’ in the same sense as the First. (c) Verbs whose infinitive ends in -re (e.g. vendre ‘to sell’, see 367) belong to the ‘Third Conjugation’; this contains only about 100 verbs, of which a great number are irregular and, since no new verbs have been created on this pattern for many centuries past, and it is virtually inconceivable that any could now be created, this is known as a ‘dead’ conjugation. (d) About thirty verbs have an infinitive ending in -oir, but since, apart from one small group of seven (see 375), they differ widely in their forms, there is no case for considering them as a ‘conjugation’ in any but the most formal sense (i.e. the fact that they all end in -oir). It would certainly be out of the question to create new verbs in -oir and so this ‘conjugation’ (if it is one at all) is very definitely ‘dead’.

B Names of moods and tenses

340 There is no completely standardized set of names, in either English or French, for the various tenses of the French verb. We


Verbs 340–341

give below, in the first column, the names adopted in this grammar and, in the second column, the names most widely used in French; in two cases, we give in a third column alternative English names used in some other grammars (but note that some grammars adopt their own non-standard names for various tenses – none of these are listed here): Indicative present perfect imperfect pluperfect preterite past anterior double-compound past future future perfect Conditional present past Subjunctive present perfect imperfect pluperfect Imperative

Indicatif présent passé composé imparfait plus-que-parfait passé simple past historic passé antérieur passé surcomposé futur futur antérieur Conditionnel présent (or futur dans le passé) passé (or futur antérieur du passé) Subjonctif présent passé imparfait past plus-que-parfait Impératif

The tenses of the conditional are sometimes considered as tenses of the indicative, and there is a case for this. However, for the sake of convenience, the conditional is here (as in many other grammars) classified as a separate mood. The tenses formed on the basis of a part of the verb avoir or être and the past participle (e.g. j’ai parlé, il était venu) are known as compound tenses (for a full list with examples, see 448). For double-compound tenses, see 412. All other tenses are known as simple tenses. 341 A form of the verb that shows tense and mood (i.e., as far as French is concerned, a form that has an ending corresponding

341–343 The persons of the verb


to one of the six persons of the verb – see 342) is known as a ‘finite verb’. The non-finite forms of the verb are the infinitive (see 425–438), the present participle (see 439–446), and the past participle (see 447–471).

C The persons of the verb

342 The persons of the verb are associated with the following subject pronouns:

first second third (masc.) (fem.)

sing. je ‘I’ tu ‘you’ il ‘he, it’ elle ‘she, it’

plur. nous ‘we’ vous ‘you’ ils ‘they’ elles ‘they’

For further discussion, see 194–197.

Impersonal verbs 343 (i) French has two fully impersonal verbs, i.e. verbs that can never take any subject other than the impersonal pronoun il ‘it’; these are neiger ‘to snow’ (for other verbs referring to the weather, see ii,a, below) and falloir ‘to be necessary’, e.g.: Il a neigé pendant la nuit It has been snowing during the night Il faut le faire One must do it (lit. It is necessary to do it) Il faudra qu’on le lui dise He will have to be told (lit. It will be necessary for someone to tell him) (ii) Certain other verbs are, to varying extents, used either personally, i.e. with a subject other than impersonal il, or impersonally: (a) Verbs having to do with the weather, other than neiger (see i above), fall into this category; some of these, e.g. geler ‘to freeze’


Verbs 343

and dégeler ‘to thaw’, are quite currently used both personally and impersonally: Je gèle Le lac dégèle Il a gelé pendant la nuit Il dégèle

I’m freezing The lake is thawing It froze during the night It is thawing:

while others, such as pleuvoir ‘to rain’ and tonner ‘to thunder’, are normally used impersonally, e.g.: Il va pleuvoir Il tonne

It is going to rain It is thundering

but can be used personally when they have a metaphorical meaning, e.g.: Des coups pleuvaient sur lui Blows were raining down on him Robespierre tonnait contre ceux qui voulaient affamer le peuple (Brunot) Robespierre fulminated against those who wanted to starve the people The verb grêler is impersonal when intransitive (il grêle ‘it is hailing’) but personal when used transitively (e.g. L’orage a grêlé les vignes ‘The hail-storm damaged the vines’). (b) Some verbs are used impersonally only in certain constructions, e.g.: agir aller avoir convenir faire

il s’agit de it is a question of, a matter of, etc. il y va de (sa vie, etc.) (his life, etc.) is at stake il y a there is, there are il convient de it is as well (or advisable) to il fait beau, chaud, froid, etc. it is fine, hot, cold, etc. il fait du soleil, du vent, etc. it is sunny, windy, etc.

343 The persons of the verb


Être is used impersonally in a small number of expressions, in particular il est, which is a literary equivalent of il y a ‘there is, there are’, il est temps de (or que) ‘it is time to (or that)’, and il est question de ‘it is a matter of, there is some question of, etc.’, il est question que ‘there is some question (talk, suggestion) that’, e.g.: Il était une fois une petite princesse Once upon a time there was a little princess Il est temps de commencer It is time to begin Il est temps que cette dispute soit réglée It is time this dispute was settled Il n’en est pas question There is no question of it Il n’est pas question de démissionner There is no question of resigning Il est question que nous partions demain There is some question of our leaving tomorrow (For the distinction between c’est and impersonal il est, see 253–256.) Sembler ‘to seem’ and paraître ‘to appear’ are used impersonally in similar but not identical ways to their English equivalents, e.g.: il semble (paraît) que . . . it seems (appears) that . . . Il me semble l’avoir déjà vu quelque part I have an idea I’ve seen him somewhere before à ce qu’il paraît apparently (for further uses, consult a good dictionary). Note too the impersonal use of arriver ‘to happen’ in such contexts as Il m’ arrive de ne pas le comprendre ‘Sometimes I don’t understand him’ (lit. ‘It happens to me not to understand him’), Il arriva que je le rencontrai (Littré) ‘I happened to meet him’, Il arrive souvent qu’il parte avant moi ‘He often leaves before me’ (lit. ‘It often happens that he leaves before me’) (il arrive que is


Verbs 343–344

followed by the indicative with reference to past events but by the subjunctive with reference to the present or the future). (c) Impersonal il not infrequently serves as a ‘dummy’ subject for a verb that has only a weak semantic value and serves primarily to lead into the ‘real’ subject, which in such circumstances follows the verb. This occurs particularly with verbs such as arriver ‘to arrive, to happen’, se passer ‘to happen, to be going on’, rester ‘to remain’, but is also found with many other verbs (cf. the example with souffler below). The construction can be used to make a stylistic distinction similar to the one that exists in English between ‘Ten soldiers arrived’ (in French Dix soldats sont arrivés) and ‘There arrived ten soldiers’ (see below); note, however, that in such cases (i) there is no equivalent of ‘there’ other than the impersonal il, and (ii) in French, the verb is in the singular even if the following ‘real’ subject is plural; e.g.: Il se passe quelque chose There is something going on Il m’est arrivé une catastrophe A catastrophe has happened to me Le lendemain, il arriva dix soldats The next day, there arrived ten soldiers Il n’en reste que deux There are only two left Il soufflait un vent du nord There was a north wind blowing

D Defective verbs

344 Defective verbs are verbs that exist only in certain tenses or even only in parts of tenses. In general, French defective verbs are not in widespread use and there is even uncertainty in some cases as to which forms actually occur other than as exceptionally rare forms that one author or another happens at some time to have used (and may in fact have invented). Defective verbs are all indicated as such in our tables (377) in which the forms given are those that are generally recognized as existing.

344–345 The morphology (forms) of the verb


Defective verbs must not be confused with impersonal verbs (see 343) which, by virtue of their meaning, exist only in the third person singular, having as their subject the impersonal pronoun il.

E The morphology (forms) of the verb The endings 345 (i) The endings of the future are the same for all verbs without exception, and the endings of the imperfect indicative and the conditional of all verbs are identical; furthermore, apart from the exceptions indicated in a and b below, the endings of the present subjunctive and of the imperfect subjunctive respectively are the same in all verbs: Future Imperf. indic./Condit. Pres. subjunct. Imperf. subjunct.

-ai -ais -e -sse

-as -ais -es -sses

-a -ait -e -ˆt

-ons -ions -ions -ssions

-ez -iez -iez -ssiez

-ont -aient -ent -ssent

(a) Present subjunctive: avoir ‘to have’ and être ‘to be’ do not follow the above pattern – see 349 and 350. (b) Imperfect subjunctive: whereas, in the third person singular, all other verbs have -ât, -ît, or -ût, the verbs tenir ‘to hold’ and venir ‘to come’ and their compounds (e.g. contenir ‘to contain’, devenir ‘to become’) have tînt (contînt, etc.) and vînt (devînt, etc.). (ii) The stem and endings of the imperative are the same as those of the present indicative except: (a) in the second person singular of -er verbs and verbs such as cueillir, couvrir that are conjugated like -er verbs in that tense (see 364); these lose their -s except before y and en, e.g.:


2nd sing. pres. indic.

2nd sing. imper.

tu penses

Pense à moi Think of me Penses-y Think about it


Verbs 345–346


tu donnes

Donne-le-moi Give it to me Donnes-en à Jean Give John some

cf. too, for the verb aller, second person singular indicative tu vas, imperatives va but vas-y; (b) in the verbs avoir, être, savoir and vouloir, see the notes to these verbs in the tables. Note that pouvoir, impersonal verbs, and certain defective verbs have no imperative; this fact is referred to in the notes to the verbs in question in the tables. (iii) (a) Verbs whose past participle ends in -i, -is or -it have a preterite in -is, etc. (see for example finir, 359). (b) Many irregular verbs whose past participle ends in -u have a preterite in -us, etc. (e.g. vouloir ‘to wish’, past participle voulu, preterite je voulus); note that this does not apply to regular Third Conjugation verbs (e.g. vendre ‘to sell’, past participle vendu, preterite je vendis – see 367), or to the almost regular Third Conjugation verbs rompre ‘to break’, battre ‘to beat’, vaincre ‘to conquer’ and their compounds (see 368–370), or to the verbs coudre ‘to sew’ (cousu, je cousis), tenir ‘to hold’ (tenu, je tins), venir ‘to come’ (venu, je vins), vêtir ‘to dress’ (vêtu, je vêtis) and voir ‘to see’ (vu, je vis) and their compounds. The stems 346 (i) Except for aller, avoir, être, faire, pouvoir, savoir, valoir and vouloir, and any impersonal or defective verbs that do not have a form for the third person plural present indicative, the third person plural present indicative provides the key to the stem of the present subjunctive, e.g.:

dire prendre recevoir

3rd plur. pres. indic.

1st sing. pres. subjunct.

ils disent ils prennent ils reçoivent

je dise je prenne je reçoive

Note that aller, valoir and vouloir, like many other irregular

346–347 The morphology (forms) of the verb


verbs, have one stem in the first and second persons plural of the present subjunctive and a different one in the other persons, e.g. j’aille, nous allions. Note too that, apart from avoir, être, faire, pouvoir and savoir, the first and second persons plural of the present subjunctive are the same as those of the imperfect indicative, e.g. from devoir, nous devions, vous deviez. (ii) On the stem of the imperative, see 345,ii. (iii) The stem of the future and conditional in regular -er and -ir verbs is the same as the infinitive (e.g. finir, je finirai), in all regular and irregular -re verbs except être and faire, it is the same as the infinitive without the final -e (e.g. prendre, je prendrai); in all verbs, however irregular the stem of the future may be in other respects, it always ends in -r- (e.g. être, je serai; voir, je verrai). (iv) The stem of the imperfect subjunctive is the same as that of the preterite; the vowel of the ending (-a-, -i- or -u-) is also the same as that of the preterite; so, in regular First Conjugation verbs we have, for example, preterite je chantai, tu chantas, etc., imperfect subjunctive je chantasse, etc.; for other verbs, the first person singular imperfect subjunctive may be formed from the first person preterite by replacing the -s- of the preterite by -sse (e.g. for the verbs être, prendre, vivre and voir we have preterite je fus, je pris, je vécus, je vis, etc., imperfect subjunctive je fusse, prisse, vécusse, visse, etc.). As this is true for all verbs (including tenir and venir – see below), the imperfect subjunctive is not listed in the tables of irregular verbs given in section 377. (Note that, as is stated below, 496–505, the imperfect subjunctive is in any case no longer used in ordinary speech and, even in literary usage, is avoided except with the verbs avoir and être and in the third person of other verbs – see 502.) The verbs tenir ‘to hold’ and venir ‘to come’ and their compounds have an irregular preterite, je vins, je tins, etc., but the principle that the imperfect subjunctive has the same stem as the preterite applies, je tinsse, vinsse, etc. – see 378 (25).

A note on the subjunctive 347 Some grammars of French give the forms of the subjunctive with an introductory que (e.g. que je sois, etc., for the present

Verbs 347–349


subjunctive of être rather than just je sois, etc.). This practice is, however, misleading. It must not be assumed either that que always requires the subjunctive (in fact, que is more often followed by the indicative) or that the subjunctive cannot occur without que (for the subjunctive without que, see 476–478).

The verbs avoir and être 348 The two very common verbs avoir and être are highly irregular. The forms of each of them are, however, the same whether they are used: (i) as full verbs with the meanings ‘to have’ and ‘to be’ respectively, or (ii) as auxiliary verbs; in particular: (a) avoir serves to form the compound tenses of the active voice of most verbs (e.g. j’ai fini ‘I have finished’) (b) être serves to form the compound tenses of the active voice of reflexive verbs and a few others (e.g. je me suis levé ‘I have got up’, je suis arrivé ‘I have arrived’) (see 450, 452–454) and to form the passive (e.g. il est soupçonné ‘he is suspected’) (see 382–385). Note that the active compound tenses both of avoir itself and of être are formed with avoir, e.g. j’ai eu ‘I have had’, j’ai été ‘I have been’. As these two verbs are so important, we list their forms in full (349–350) before those of the regular verbs. 349

Avoir ‘to have’



Infinitive past

avoir eu



Participles past



j’ai tu as il a nous avons vous avez ils ont

Indicative perf.

j’ai eu tu as eu il a eu nous avons eu vous avez eu ils ont eu

349 The morphology (forms) of the verb



j’avais tu avais il avait nous avions vouz aviez ils avaient


j’avais eu tu avais eu il avait eu nous avions eu vous aviez eu ils avaient eu


j’eus tu eus il eut nous eûmes vous eûtes ils eurent

past ant.

j’eus eu tu eus eu il eut eu nous eûmes eu vous eûtes eu ils eurent eu


j’aurai tu auras il aura nous aurons vous aurez ils auront

fut. perf.

j’aurai eu tu auras eu il aura eu nous aurons eu vous aurez eu ils auront eu


j’aurais tu aurais il aurait nous aurions vous auriez ils auraient


j’aie tu aies il ait nous ayons vous ayez ils aient


j’eusse tu eusses il eût nous eussions vous eussiez ils eussent

Conditional past

Subjunctive perf.


j’aurais eu tu aurais eu il aurait eu nous aurions eu vous auriez eu ils auraient eu j’aie eu tu aies eu il ait eu nous ayons eu vous ayez eu ils aient eu j’eusse eu tu eusses eu il eût eu nous eussions eu vous eussiez eu ils eussent eu

Imperative aie



Notes on avoir: 1 The compound ravoir ‘to get back, recover’ is used only in the infinitive.

Verbs 349–350


2 The forms of the imperative are the same as those of the present subjunctive except that the second person singular is aie instead of aies. 3 Some idioms with avoir will be found in 539. 350

Être ‘to be’



Infinitive past

avoir été



Participles past



je suis tu es il est nous sommes vous êtes ils sont


j’étais tu étais il était nous étions vous étiez ils étaient


j’avais été tu avais été il avait été nous avions été vous aviez été ils avaient été


je fus tu fus il fut nous fûmes vous fûtes ils furent

past ant.

j’eus été tu eus été il eut été nous eûmes été vous eûtes été ils eurent été


je serai tu seras il sera nous serons vous serez ils seront

fut. perf.

j’aurai été tu auras été il aura été nous aurons été vous aurez été ils auront été


je serais tu serais il serait nous serions vous seriez ils seraient

Indicative perf.

Conditional past

j’ai été tu as été il a été nous avons été vous avez été ils ont été

j’aurais été tu aurais été il aurait été nous aurions été vous auriez été ils auraient été

350–351 The morphology (forms) of the verb pres.

je sois tu sois il soit nous soyons vous soyez ils soient


je fusse tu fusses il fût nous fussions vous fussiez ils fussent

Subjunctive perf.


j’aie été tu aies été il ait été nous ayons été vous ayez été ils aient été


j’eusse été tu eusses été il eût été nous eussions été vous eussiez été ils eussent été

Imperative sois



Notes on être: 1 The past participle été can never take an agreement in gender or number and its spelling therefore never changes. 2 The forms of the imperative are the same as those of the present subjunctive. 3 Some idioms with être will be found in 540. First Conjugation: verbs in -er 351

Donner ‘to give’



Infinitive past

avoir donné



Participles past



je donne tu donnes il donne nous donnons vous donnez ils donnent


je donnais tu donnais il donnait nous donnions vous donniez ils donnaient

Indicative perf.


j’ai donné tu as donné il a donné nous avons donné vous avez donné ils ont donné j’avais donné tu avais donné il avait donné nous avions donné vous aviez donné ils avaient donné


Verbs 351


je donnai tu donnas il donna nous donnâmes vous donnâtes ils donnèrent

past ant.

j’eus donné tu eus donné il eut donné nous eûmes donné vous eûtes donné ils eurent donné


je donnerai tu donneras il donnera nous donnerons vous donnerez ils donneront

fut. perf.

j’aurai donné tu auras donné il aura donné nous aurons donné vous aurez donné ils auront donné


je donnerais tu donnerais il donnerait nous donnerions vous donneriez ils donneraient


je donne tu donnes il donne nous donnions vous donniez ils donnent


je donnasse tu donnasses il donnât nous donnassions vous donnassiez ils donnassent

Conditional past

Subjunctive perf.


j’aurais donné tu aurais donné il aurait donné nous aurions donné vous auriez donné ils auraient donné j’aie donné tu aies donné il ait donné nous ayons donné vous ayez donné ils aient donné j’eusse donné tu eusses donné il eût donné nous eussions donné vous eussiez donné ils eussent donné

Imperative donne



Note on donner: The second person singular imperative takes an -s before en or y (see 345,ii), e.g. Donnes-en à Jean ‘Give John some’, Parles-en à ta mère ‘Speak to your mother about it’, Penses-y ‘Think about it’.

352–353 The morphology (forms) of the verb


Peculiarities of verbs in -er Verbs in -cer, -ger 352 Since c and g are pronounced [k] and [g] respectively before a vowel other than e or i, verbs whose infinitive ends in -cer [se] or -ger [Ze] take a cedilla under the c or an e after the g when (and only when) the ending begins with a or o, e.g. (from commencer ‘to begin’) nous commençons, je commençais and (from the verb manger ‘to eat’) nous mangeons, je mangeais. Verbs with é or e [R] in the penultimate syllable 353 A minor complication arises in the case of verbs such as céder, espérer, etc., which have -é-, pronounced [e], in the last syllable but one of the infinitive. In those parts of the verb in which there is no ending in pronunciation (final -e, -es and -ent being unpronounced), the corresponding syllable is pronounced [e] and written -è- (i.e. with a grave accent instead of the acute accent of the infinitive). This affects only the following parts of the verb: (a) in the present indicative and subjunctive, the three persons singular (je, tu, il /elle) and the third person plural (ils/elles) (b) in the imperative, the second person singular (corresponding to tu). In the first and second persons plural of these tenses and in all persons of all other tenses, and in the present and past participles, all of which have pronounced endings, the é is kept. The present indicative and subjunctive and the imperative of céder ‘to yield’ are therefore as follows: pres. indic. je cède tu cèdes il cède nous cédons vous cédez ils cèdent

pres. subjunct. je cède tu cèdes il cède nous cédions vous cédiez ils cèdent

imper. cède cédons cédez

But cédant, cédé, future je céderai, etc., conditional je céderais, etc., imperfect indicative je cédais, etc., preterite je cédai, etc., imperfect subjunctive il cédât, etc.


Verbs 353–354

Like céder are altérer ‘to impair’ ( j’altère, etc.), compléter ‘to complete’, espérer ‘to hope’, léguer ‘to bequeath’, protéger ‘to protect’, régner ‘to reign’, refléter ‘to reflect’. Note that, in the case of verbs having é in two successive syllables, it is only the second that is affected, e.g. répéter ‘to repeat’ ( je répète, etc.), pénétrer ‘to penetrate’, persévérer ‘to persevere’, préférer ‘to prefer’, révéler ‘to reveal’. Note too that verbs such as agréer ‘to accept’ and créer ‘to create’, in which there is no consonant between the é and the ending, are not affected by this rule, e.g. j’agrée, ils créent (see 358). 354 A similar, but greater, complication arises in the case of verbs such as mener [mRne], acheter [aSte], that have a so-called mute e [R] (either pronounced as in mener, or unpronounced as in acheter) immediately before the final consonant of the stem (i.e. the consonant preceding the -er of the infinitive). Some verbs in -eler or eter (for those that behave differently, see 355) and all other verbs in this category (e.g. mener ‘to lead’, semer ‘to sow’, lever ‘to raise’, peser ‘to weigh’, and compounds thereof such as amener ‘to bring’, emmener ‘to take away’, enlever ‘to remove’, soupeser ‘to feel the weight of’) have è [e] in the parts of the verb listed in 353 a and b, and also throughout the future and conditional tenses. Elsewhere, the e is kept, e.g. (from geler ‘to freeze’ and acheter ‘to buy’): pres. indic. je gèle tu gèles il gèle nous gelons vous gelez ils gèlent

pres. subjunct. je gèle tu gèles il gèle nous gelions vous geliez ils gèlent

j’achète tu achètes il achète nous achetons vouz achetez ils achètent

j’achète tu achètes il achète nous achetions vous achetiez ils achètent

imper. gèle gelons gelez

achète achetons achetez

Future je gèlerai, tu gèleras, il gèlera, nous gèlerons, vous gèlerez, ils gèleront, j’achèterai, etc.; conditional je gèlerais, j’achèterais, etc.; but imperfect indicative je gelais, j’achetais, etc.; preterite

354–355 The morphology (forms) of the verb


je gelai, j’achetai, etc.; imperfect subjunctive il gelât, il achetât, etc.; present participle, gelant, achetant; past participle gelé, acheté. Similarly je mène, nous menons, je mènerai, etc.; je sème, nous semons, je sèmerai, etc.; je lève, nous levons, je lèverai, etc.; je pèse, nous pesons, je pèserai, etc. Like geler are celer ‘to conceal’, ciseler ‘to chisel’, congeler ‘to (deep-)freeze’, déceler ‘to detect, reveal’, écarteler ‘to tear apart’, modeler ‘to model’, peler ‘to peel’. Like acheter are crocheter ‘to pick (a lock, etc.)’, haleter ‘to pant’, racheter ‘to buy back, redeem’. For other verbs in -eler, -eter, see 355 and 356 below. 355 Most other verbs in -eler, -eter, double the l or the t in those forms where geler, acheter, etc., take a grave accent, e.g. (from appeler ‘to call’, jeter ‘to throw’): pres. indic. j’appelle tu appelles il appelle

je jette tu jettes il jette

nous appelons vous appelez ils appellent

nous jetons vous jetez ils jettent

and similarly in the present subjunctive and the imperative. Future j’appellerai, je jetterai, etc.; conditional j’appellerais, je jetterais, etc.; but imperfect indicative j’appelais, je jetais, etc.; preterite j’appelai, je jetai, etc.; imperfect subjunctive il appelât, il jetât, etc.; present participle appelant, jetant; past participle appelé, jeté. The following verbs (and various other highly uncommon ones) are like appeler and jeter: amonceler, to heap up atteler, to harness chanceler, to totter ensorceler, to bewitch épeler, to spell étinceler, to sparkle ficeler, to tie up grommeler, to mutter niveler, to level rappeler, to recall


Verbs 355–357

renouveler, to renew ruisseler, to stream cacheter, to seal caqueter, to cackle, gossip colleter, to seize by the collar décacheter, to unseal épousseter, to dust étiqueter, to label feuilleter, to leaf through (a book, etc.) moucheter, to speckle, fleck projeter, to project, plan rejeter, to reject 356 The verb harceler ‘to harass’ can be either like geler (e.g. je harcèle) or like appeler (e.g. je harcelle). A few (relatively uncommon) verbs in -eter can be treated either like acheter or like jeter; they include becqueter ‘to peck’ (e.g. il becquète or becquette), breveter ‘to patent’, and fureter ‘to ferret about, pry, rummage’.

Verbs in -yer

357 Verbs whose infinitive ends in -oyer (except (r)envoyer, see below) or -uyer take i instead of y in those parts of the verb listed in 353 a and b and throughout the future and conditional, e.g. employer ‘to use’, j’emploie, j’emploierai, etc.; nettoyer ‘to clean’, il nettoie, il nettoierait, etc.; s’ennuyer ‘to get bored’, ils s’ennuient, vous vous ennuierez, etc. In the same circumstances, verbs in -ayer take either i or y, e.g. payer ‘to pay’, je paie or je paye, je paierai or je payerai. The verb grasseyer ‘speak with a guttural r’ keeps the y throughout, e.g. il grasseye. Envoyer ‘to send’ and its compound renvoyer ‘to send back, to send away’ follow the pattern of employer except that their future and conditional are irregular, j’enverrai, j’enverrais, il renverra, il renverrait, etc. Other verbs in -voyer, such as convoyer ‘to escort’, fourvoyer ‘to lead astray’, follow the same pattern as employer throughout.

358–359 The morphology (forms) of the verb


Verbs in -éer, -ier 358 Verbs in -éer and -ier are entirely regular (i.e. they are conjugated throughout like donner, see 351); note in particular the succession of vowels éée in the feminine past participle of verbs in -éer. Examples (from créer ‘to create’ and crier ‘to shout’): past part.

créé, créée, créés, créées je crée nous créons je créais nous créions je créerai nous créerons

pres. indic. imp. indic. fut. indic.

crié, criée, criés, criées je crie nous crions je criais nous criions je crierai nous crierons

Second Conjugation: verbs in -ir 359

Finir ‘to finish’



Infinitive past

avoir fini



Participles past



je finis tu finis il finit nous finissons vous finissez ils finissent


je finissais tu finissais il finissait nous finissions vous finissiez ils finissaient


j’avais fini tu avais fini il avait fini nous avions fini vous aviez fini ils avaient fini


je finis tu finis il finit nous finîmes vous finîtes ils finirent

past. ant.

j’eus fini tu eus fini il eut fini nous eûmes fini vous eûtes fini ils eurent fini

Indicative perf.

j’ai fini tu as fini il a fini nous avons fini vous avez fini ils ont fini


Verbs 359–361


je finirai tu finiras il finira nous finirons vous finirez ils finiront


je finirais tu finirais il finirait nous finirions vous finiriez ils finiraient


je finisse tu finisses il finisse nous finissions vous finissiez ils finissent


je finisse tu finisses il finît nous finissions vous finissiez ils finissent

fut. perf.

Conditional past

j’aurai fini tu auras fini il aura fini nous aurons fini vous aurez fini ils auront fini j’aurais fini tu aurais fini il aurait fini nous aurions fini vous auriez fini ils auraient fini

Subjunctive perf.

j’aie fini tu aies fini il ait fini nous ayons fini vous ayez fini ils aient fini


j’eusse fini tu eusses fini il eût fini nous eussions fini vous eussiez fini ils eussent fini

Imperative finis



360 The verbs fleurir ‘to blossom, to come into flower’ and bénir ‘to bless’ are completely regular, e.g. fleurissant ‘blossoming’, les arbres fleurissaient ‘The trees were coming into flower’, L’évêque l’a béni ‘The bishop has blessed him’. Note however that: (a) when it means ‘to flourish, to prosper’, fleurir has the present participle florissant and the imperfect indicative je florissais, etc. (but is regular in other tenses) (b) an old form of the past participle of bénir, viz. bénit, survives as an adjective meaning ‘consecrated, holy’, e.g. du pain bénit ‘consecrated bread’, de l’eau bénite ‘holy water’. 361 Haïr ‘to hate’ (note the tréma – ï not i) is irregular in the singular of the present indicative, je hais, tu hais, il hait, and the second singular of the imperative, hais – these forms have no

361–363 The morphology (forms) of the verb


tréma and are pronounced [e]. In all other forms, the verb is regular except for the tréma, which indicates that the group -ai- is pronounced as two syllables, [ai], not as [e], e.g. nous haïssons, je haïssais, il haïra, j’ai haï, etc., and, in the preterite and imperfect subjunctive where the tréma takes the place of the usual circumflex accent (but in fact these tenses of haïr are almost never used even in the literary language), nous haïmes, vous haïtes, qu’il haït. Two sub-classes of -ir verbs 362 Two important sub-classes of -ir verbs, viz. dormir, etc. (see 363) and cueillir, couvrir, etc. (see 364), are regular in certain tenses but irregular in others. The two sub-classes have in common the fact that they have no -iss- (except of course in the imperfect subjunctive, je dormisse, je couvrisse, etc.). 363 The following verbs and most of their compounds (for exceptions see the end of this section) not only have no -iss- but are also irregular in the singular of the present indicative and imperative (they drop the last letter, -m-, -v-, or -t-, of the stem before the endings -s, -s, -t): dormir, to sleep servir, to serve mentir, to lie, tell lies partir, to leave, go away

se repentir, to repent sentir, to feel sortir, to come out, go out

Examples: pres. part.

pres. indic.

imperf. indic.

pres. subjunct.


je dors tu dors il dort nous dormons vous dormez ils dorment

je dormais

je dorme

je sers tu sers il sert nous servons vous servez ils servent

je servais


imper. dors dormons dormez

je serve sers servons servez


Verbs 363–364


je mens tu mens il ment nous mentons vous mentez ils mentent

je mentais

je mente mens mentons mentez

Compounds conjugated in the same way include s’endormir ‘to go to sleep’, desservir ‘(of buses, trains, etc.) to serve (a certain place)’, démentir ‘to deny’, repartir ‘to go away again’, ressentir ‘to feel’, ressortir ‘to go out again’. Note, however, that the following are conjugated like finir: asservir ‘to subjugate’, impartir ‘to assign’, répartir ‘to share out’, assortir ‘to match’, ressortir à ‘to come under the jurisdiction of’, e.g. Vous assortissez toujours la couleur de votre robe à celle de vos yeux ‘You always match the colour of your dress to that of your eyes’, L’affaire ressortit (ressortissait) à la Cour suprême ‘The affair comes (came) under the jurisdiction of the High Court’. 364 The following verbs not only have no -iss- but are irregular in the present indicative and subjunctive and the imperative, where they are conjugated like -er verbs, and, in some cases (see below), in the future and conditional or in the past participle: cueillir, to gather accueillir, to welcome recueillir, to gather assaillir, to assail tressaillir, to shudder couvrir, to cover

découvrir, to discover recouvrir, to re-cover offrir, to offer ouvrir, to open rouvrir, to re-open souffrir, to suffer

Examples: Pres. part. cueillant, assaillant, couvrant, etc. Pres. indic.: je cueille j’assaille je couvre tu cueilles tu assailles tu couvres il cueille il assaille il couvre nous cueillons nous assaillons nous couvrons vous cueillez vous assaillez vous couvrez ils cueillent ils assaillent ils couvrent Imper.: cueille, cueillons, cueillez; ouvre, ouvrons, ouvrez, etc. Pres. subjunct.: je cueille, tu assailles, nous couvrions, etc.

364–367 The morphology (forms) of the verb


Imperf. indic.: je recueillais, tu tressaillais, il offrait, etc. Pret.: je cueillis, etc. Imperf. subjunct.: j’offrisse, etc. Note also the following irregularities: (a) cueillir and its compounds change -ir- to -er- in the future and conditional: je cueillerai, il accueillera, nous recueillerions, etc. (but all the others are regular, e.g. je tressaillirai, il ouvrira) (b) couvrir and its compounds, and offrir, (r)ouvrir and souffrir form their past participles in -ert: couvert, découvert, recouvert, offert, ouvert, rouvert, souffert. 365 The verb défaillir ‘to faint, weaken, etc.’, is defective (see 344). It is conjugated like assaillir but, in practice, occurs only in the plural of the present indicative (nous défaillons, vous défaillez, ils défaillent), the imperfect indicative ( je défaillais, etc.), the preterite ( je défaillis, etc.), the infinitive, and the participles (défaillant, défailli). (Other parts of the verb occur very rarely, and there is much uncertainty as to the correct forms.) Faillir is both irregular and defective (see 377 below). The verb saillir is also defective, occurring in practice only in the third persons singular and plural of various tenses, the infinitive, and the participles. When meaning ‘to jut out, protrude’ (i.e. when indicating state, not movement), it is conjugated like assaillir (il saille, ils saillent, il saillait, etc., saillant, sailli). With the meaning ‘to gush out, spurt’, it is conjugated like finir, but it is now rarely used in this sense. 366 Many other verbs in -ir are irregular in various respects and are listed among the irregular verbs in 377 below.

Third Conjugation: verbs in -re 367

Vendre ‘to sell’



Infinitive past

avoir vendu



Participles past



Verbs 367 Indicative


je vends tu vends il vend nous vendons vous vendez ils vendent


j’ai vendu tu as vendu il a vendu nous avons vendu vous avez vendu ils ont vendu


je vendais tu vendais il vendait nous vendions vous vendiez ils vendaient


j’avais vendu etc.


je vendis tu vendis il vendit nous vendîmes vous vendîtes ils vendirent

past ant.

j’eus vendu etc.


je vendrai tu vendras il vendra nous vendrons vous vendrez ils vendront

fut. perf.

j’aurai vendu etc.

Conditional pres.

je vendrais tu vendrais il vendrait nous vendrions vous vendriez ils vendraient


j’aurais vendu etc.

Subjunctive pres.

je vende tu vendes il vende nous vendions vous vendiez ils vendent


j’aie vendu etc.


je vendisse tu vendisses il vendît nous vendissions vous vendissiez ils vendissent


j’eusse vendu etc.

367–369 The morphology (forms) of the verb


Imperative vends



There are under thirty verbs that conform entirely to the above pattern. They include: attendre ‘to wait (for)’, confondre ‘to confuse’, défendre ‘to defend, forbid’, dépendre ‘to depend’, descendre ‘to come or go down’, détendre ‘to slacken’ (se détendre ‘to relax’), distendre ‘to distend’, entendre ‘to hear’, épandre (literary) ‘to shed’, étendre ‘to spread’, fendre ‘to split’, fondre ‘to melt’, mordre ‘to bite’, pendre ‘to hang’, perdre ‘to lose’, pondre ‘to lay (eggs)’, prétendre ‘to claim’, rendre ‘to give back’, répandre ‘to spread, scatter’, répondre ‘to answer’, tendre ‘to stretch, offer’, tondre ‘to shear’, tordre ‘to twist’, vendre ‘to sell’, and compounds of a few of them in re-, e.g. revendre ‘to resell’. Note: (a) that a few verbs not ending in -dre deviate only slightly from the above pattern; they are battre (see 369), rompre (see 368) and vaincre (see 370) and their compounds. (b) that very many verbs that do end in -dre are irregular, in particular craindre, peindre, joindre, etc. (see 372) and prendre and its compounds apprendre, comprendre, etc. (see 377, under prendre). 368 Rompre ‘to break’ and its compounds corrompre ‘to corrupt’ and interrompre ‘to interrupt’ are similar to vendre but have a -t in the third person singular of the present indicative: je romps tu romps il rompt nous rompons vous rompez ils rompent 369 Battre ‘to beat, hit’ and its compounds abattre ‘to fell’, combattre ‘to fight, oppose’, débattre ‘to debate’, rabattre ‘to pull down (e.g. a lid)’, etc., and rebattre ‘to shuffle (cards)’ are regular apart from the fact that there is only one -t- in the singular of the present indicative and imperative:


Verbs 369–372

je bats tu bats il bat nous battons vous battez ils battent 370 Vaincre ‘to win, conquer’, and its compound convaincre ‘to convince’, are regular apart from one purely orthographical feature, namely the fact that -c- is replaced by -qu- in the plural of the present indicative and imperative and throughout the present subjunctive, imperfect indicative, preterite, imperfect subjunctive, and in the present participle: Pres. part.: vainquant Past part.: vaincu Pres. indic.: je vaincs, tu vaincs, il vainc, nous vainquons, vous vainquez, ils vainquent Imper.: vaincs, vainquons, vainquez Pres. subjunct.: je vainque, etc. Imperf. indic.: je vainquais, etc. Pret.: je vainquis, etc. Imperf. subjunct.: je vainquisse, etc. Put.: je vaincrai, etc. Condit.: je vaincrais, etc. Note the -t- in the interrogative of the third person singular of the present indicative, vainc-t-il ? etc. (see 388, iii). 371 Other verbs in -re are irregular. Most of these are listed in 377, but three groups each contain enough verbs to justify separate treatment here (372–374). 372

Verbs ending in -aindre, -eindre, -oindre

The only verbs in this group that occur at all frequently are atteindre ‘to reach, attain’, contraindre ‘to compel’, craindre ‘to fear’, éteindre ‘to extinguish’, étreindre ‘to hug’, joindre ‘to join’ (and its compounds adjoindre, conjoindre, disjoindre, enjoindre, rejoindre), peindre ‘to paint’, plaindre ‘to pity’, and restreindre ‘to restrain’. Other verbs in this group are astreindre ‘to compel’,

372–373 The morphology (forms) of the verb


ceindre ‘to gird’, dépeindre ‘to depict’, déteindre ‘to run (of colours), to fade’, enceindre ‘to surround’, enfreindre ‘to infringe’, feindre ‘to feign’, geindre ‘to moan’, and teindre ‘to dye’. The little-used verbs oindre ‘to anoint’ and poindre ‘to dawn’ technically form part of this group, but both are defective (see 344). Oindre now occurs in practice only in the infinitive and the past participle (oint) and poindre only in the infinitive and the third person singular of the present indicative (il point) and of the future (il poindra) (its present participle also remains, but only as an adjective, poignant ‘poignant’). The special features of these verbs are (a) that the past participle ends in -t, and (b) that -nd- changes to -gn- when a vowel follows. Examples: Pres. part.: craignant, atteignant, joignant, etc. Past. part.: craint, atteint, joint, etc. Pres. indic.: je crains j’atteins je joins tu crains tu atteins tu joins il craint il atteint il joint nous craignons nous atteignons nous joignons vous craignez vous atteignez vous joignez ils craignent ils atteignent ils joignent Imper.: crains, craignons, craignez, etc. Pres. subjunct.: je craigne, il atteigne, nous joignions, etc. Imperf. indic.: je craignais, il atteignait, nous joignions, etc. Pret.: je craignis, il atteignit, nous joignîmes, etc. Imperf. subjunct.: je craignisse, il atteignît, etc. Fut.: je craindrai, tu atteindras, etc. Condit.: je craindrais, etc. 373

Verbs ending in -aître, -oître

(i) The main verbs in this group are connaître ‘to know’ and its compounds méconnaître ‘to misjudge’ and reconnaître ‘to recognize’, and paraître ‘to appear’ and its compounds apparaître ‘to appear’ and disparaître ‘to disappear’. There are also the verbs accroître ‘to increase’ and décroître ‘to decrease’ (for the simple verb croître see ii below) and the very uncommon verb repaître


Verbs 373

‘to feed’. The verb paître ‘to graze’ also falls within this group but is defective (see 344); it has no preterite or imperfect subjunctive, and its past participle, pu, is not in normal use so, in effect, it has no compound tenses either. Note that the stem of these verbs has -î- (with a circumflex accent) before -t, but -i- (without an accent) elsewhere (e.g. connaît but connais). Examples: Pres. part.: connaissant, paraissant, accroissant, etc. Past part.: connu, paru, accru, décru, etc. Pres. indic.: je connais je parais j’accrois tu connais tu parais tu accrois il connaît il paraît il accroît nous connaissons nous paraissons nous accroissons vous connaissez vous paraissez vous accroissez ils connaissent ils paraissent ils accroissent Imper.: connais, connaissons, connaissez, etc. Pres. subjunct.: je connaisse, il paraisse, nous accroissions, etc. Imperf.indic.:je connaissais,il paraissait,nous accroissions,etc. Pret.: je connus, il parut, nous accrûmes, etc. Imperf. subjunct.: je connusse, il parût, etc. Fut.: je connaîtrai, il accroîtra, etc. Condit.: je paraîtrais, etc. (ii) The verb croître ‘to grow’ is conjugated like accroître and décroître except that it has a circumflex accent in all three forms of the singular of the present indicative, in the second person singular imperative, in all forms of the preterite, and, in the masculine singular only, in the past participle. The circumflex is all that distinguishes these forms from the corresponding forms of the verb croire ‘to believe’ (which, however, also has crûmes, crûtes in the preterite). For purposes of comparison, the forms of both verbs are given below: Croître


Pres. part.



Past part.

crû, crue, crus, crues

cru, crue, crus, crues

373–374 The morphology (forms) of the verb Indicative je croîs tu croîs il croît nous croissons vous croissez ils croissent

je crois tu crois il croit nous croyons vous croyez ils croient


je croissais tu croissais il croissait nous croissions vous croissiez ils croissaient

je croyais tu croyais il croyait nous croyions vous croyiez ils croyaient


je crûs tu crûs il crût nous crûmes vous crûtes ils crûrent

je crus tu crus il crut nous crûmes vous crûtes ils crurent



je croîtrai, etc.

je croirai, etc.


je croîtrais, etc.

je croirais, etc.


je croisse tu croisses il croisse nous croissions vous croissiez ils croissent

je croie tu croies il croie nous croyions vous croyiez ils croient


je crûsse, etc.

je crusse, etc.



Imperative croîs







Verbs ending in -uire

(i) The main verbs in this group are construire ‘to build’, cuire ‘to cook (intransitive)’, détruire ‘to destroy’, instruire ‘to teach’, and a number of compounds of the obsolete verb duire ‘to lead’, viz. conduire ‘to lead’, déduire ‘to deduce’, enduire ‘to coat’, introduire ‘to introduce’, produire ‘to produce’, réduire ‘to reduce’, séduire ‘to charm, seduce’, and traduire ‘to translate’. Examples: Pres. part.: construisant, cuisant, traduisant, etc. Past part.: construit, cuit, traduit, etc.


Verbs 374–375

Pres. indic.: je construis tu construis il construit nous construisons vous construisez ils construisent

je traduis tu traduis il traduit nous traduisons vous traduisez ils traduisent

Imper.: traduis, traduisons, traduisez, etc. Pres. subjunct.: je construise, nous traduisions, etc. Imperf. indic.: je construisais, il traduisait, etc. Pret.: je construisis, nous traduisîmes, etc. Imperf. subjunct.: je conduisisse, il traduisît, etc. Fut.: je construirai, il traduira, etc. Condit.: je construirais, etc. (ii) The verbs luire ‘to shine’, reluire ‘to gleam’, nuire ‘to harm’, are similarly conjugated except that (a) their past participles are lui, relui, nui, and (b) the preterite and the imperfect subjunctive of luire and reluire do not normally occur (and, in practice, these two verbs are more or less restricted to the third persons singular and plural even in other tenses).

Verbs in -oir 375 As already stated (see 339), all verbs in -oir are irregular. However, the fact that one sub-group, namely that of verbs ending in -evoir, contains as many as seven verbs is grounds enough for giving it separate treatment. The verbs in question are devoir ‘to owe, to have to’ and its compound redevoir ‘to owe a balance (when part of a debt has been paid)’, and five verbs in -cevoir, viz. apercevoir ‘to notice’, concevoir ‘to conceive’, décevoir ‘to disappoint’, percevoir ‘to perceive, collect (taxes, etc.)’, recevoir ‘to receive’. (Note (a) that the past participles of devoir and redevoir take a circumflex accent in the masculine singular only, and (b) that, quite regularly, the -c- of verbs in -cevoir takes a cedilla when it is immediately followed by o or u.)

375–376 The morphology (forms) of the verb


Examples: Pres. part.: devant, recevant Past part.: dû, due, dus, dues, reçu Pres. indic.: je dois tu dois il doit nous devons vous devez ils doivent

je reçois tu reçois il reçoit nous recevons vous recevez ils reçoivent

Imper.: dois, devons, devez, reçois, recevons, recevez Pres, subjunct.: je doive tu doives il doive nous devions vous deviez ils doivent

je reçoive tu reçoives il reçoive nous recevions vous receviez ils reçoivent

Imperf. indic.: je devais, il recevait, nous apercevions, etc. Pret.: je dus, il reçut, nous aperçûmes, etc. Imperf. subjunct.: je dusse, il reçût, etc. Fut.: je devrai, il recevra, nous apercevrons, etc. Condit.: je devrais, il recevrait, nous apercevrions, etc.

Irregular verbs 376

The following points should be noted:

(1) The forms given below for a simple verb are also correct, unless otherwise stated, for all verbs formed from it. Note in particular the following: (i) like acquérir are conquérir ‘to conquer’, s’enquérir ‘to enquire’, requérir ‘to require’; the simple verb quérir ‘to look for’ now occurs (and then only rarely) in the infinitive in the expressions aller quérir ‘to go and fetch’, envoyer quérir ‘to send for’, venir quérir ‘to come for’


Verbs 376

(ii) like courir are accourir ‘to rush up’, concourir ‘to compete’, discourir ‘to hold forth’, encourir ‘to incur’, parcourir ‘to travel through’, recourir ‘to have recourse (to)’ (iii) like écrire are décrire ‘to describe’, and verbs in -scrire such as inscrire ‘to inscribe’, prescrire ‘to prescribe’, proscrire ‘to ban, proscribe’, souscrire ‘to subscribe’, transcrire ‘to transcribe’, etc. (iv) like faire are its compounds défaire ‘to undo’, contrefaire ‘to imitate’, satisfaire ‘to satisfy’, etc.; parfaire ‘to perfect’ is defective, having a past participle (parfait) and compound tenses, but no simple tenses (v) like mettre are admettre ‘to admit’, commettre ‘to commit’, compromettre ‘to compromise’, émettre ‘to emit, transmit, etc.’, omettre ‘to omit’, permettre ‘to permit’, promettre ‘to promise’, soumettre ‘to submit, subject’, transmettre ‘to transmit, pass on’, etc. (vi) like prendre are apprendre ‘to learn’, comprendre ‘to understand’, entreprendre ‘to undertake’, surprendre ‘to surprise’, etc. (vii) like tenir are s’abstenir ‘to abstain’, appartenir ‘to belong’, contenir ‘to contain’, maintenir ‘to maintain’, obtenir ‘to obtain’, retenir ‘to hold back, retain’, soutenir ‘to support’, etc. (viii) like traire are abstraire ‘to abstract’, distraire ‘to entertain, distract’, extraire ‘to extract’, soustraire ‘to subtract, remove’ (ix) like venir are convenir ‘to agree, suit’, devenir ‘to become’, intervenir ‘to intervene’, parvenir ‘to manage’, se souvenir (de) ‘to remember’, etc. (2) Not listed here are verbs of the following types that are discussed fully above: (i) -er and -ir verbs having minor irregularities (see 352–358 and 360–362) (ii) dormir, servir, sortir, etc., and their compounds (see 363) (iii) cueillir, assaillir, couvrir, and other verbs similarly conjugated (see 364) (iv) verbs in -aindre, -eindre, -oindre, aître, -oître, -uire (see 372–374) (v) (re)devoir and recevoir and other verbs in -cevoir (see 375). (3) In all verbs, the conditional has the same stem as the future, and the imperfect subjunctive has the same stem as the preterite

376 The morphology (forms) of the verb


(e.g. from savoir and voir, future je saurai, je verrai, so conditional je saurais, je verrais; preterite je sus, je vis, so imperfect subjunctive je susse, je visse); the conditional and the imperfect subjunctive are therefore not listed below. (4) Unless otherwise stated in a note, the imperative is the same as the second person singular and the first and second persons plural of the present indicative (e.g. from dire, present indicative tu dis, nous disons, vous dites, imperative dis, disons, dites). If these forms do not exist, then neither does the imperative. (5) Compound tenses are formed in the same way as in regular verbs. (6) Defective verbs (see 344) are indicated by †. A dash (—) indicates that the forms in question do not exist (or, in some cases, that they are so exceptionally rare as to be virtually non-existent in present-day French).

Irregular Verbs: Principal Forms


Verbs 377

377 Irregular verbs: principal forms A number after the infinitive or other part of a verb refers to the notes in 378 below. infinitive


present indicative

(1) †absoudre1 ‘absolve’

absolvant j’absous absous tu absous (fem. absoute) il absout

nous absolvons vous absolvez ils absolvent

(2) acquérir ‘acquire’

acquérant acquis

j’acquiers tu acquiers il acquiert

nous acquérons vous acquérez ils acquièrent

(3) aller ‘go’

allant allé

je vais tu vas2 il va

nous allons vous allez ils vont

(4) s’asseoir3 ‘sit down’

s’asseyant assis

je m’assieds tu t’assieds il s’assied

nous nous asseyons vous vous asseyez ils s’asseyent

(5) avoir ‘have’ – see 349 (6) boire ‘drink’

buvant bu

je bois tu bois il boit

nous buvons vous buvez ils boivent

(7) bouillir4 ‘boil’

bouillant bouilli

je bous tu bous il bout

nous bouillons vous bouillez ils bouillent

(8) †braire5 ‘bray’

brayant —

il brait

ils braient

(9) †bruire ‘rustle’, etc.

il bruit

ils bruissent

(10) †choir6 ‘fall’

— chu

je chois tu chois il choit

— — ils choient

(11) †clore7 ‘close’

— clos

je clos tu clos il clôt

— — ils closent

(12) conclure8 ‘conclude’

concluant conclu

je conclus tu conclus il conclut

nous concluons vous concluez ils concluent

(13) confire ‘preserve (fruit, etc.)’

confisant confit

je confis tu confis il confit

nous confisons vous confisez ils confisent

377 Irregular verbs


fut. and imperf. indic.


present subjunct.

j’absoudrai j’absolvais

j’absolve tu absolves il absolve

nous absolvions vous absolviez ils absolvent


j’acquerrai j’acquérais

j’acquière tu acquières il acquière

nous acquérions vous acquériez ils acquièrent


j’irai j’allais

j’aille tu ailles il aille

nous allions vous alliez ils aillent

je m’assis

je m’assiérai je m’asseyais

je m’asseye tu t’asseyes il s’asseye

nous nous asseyions vous vous asseyiez ils s’asseyent

je bus

je boirai je buvais

je boive tu boives il boive

nous buvions vous buviez ils boivent

je bouillis

je bouillirai je bouillais il bouille

je bouille tu bouilles il bouille

nous bouillions vous bouilliez ils bouillent

il braira il brayait

il bruira il bruissait

il chut

— —

je clorai —

je close tu closes il close

nous closions vous closiez ils closent

je conclus

je conclurai je concluais

je conclue tu conclues il conclue

nous concluions vous concluiez ils concluent

je confis

je confirai je confisais

je confise tu confises il confise

nous confisions vous confisiez ils confisent


Verbs 377

infinitive participles present indicative (14) contredire ‘contradict’ – see note 11 (on dire) (15) coudre cousant je couds nous cousons ‘sew’ cousu tu couds vouz cousez il coud ils cousent courant je cours nous courons (16) courir9 ‘run’ couru tu cours vous courez il court ils courent (17) croire ‘believe, think’ – see 373, ii — je déchois nous déchoyons (18) †déchoir10 ‘decline’ déchu tu déchois vous déchoyez il déchoit ils déchoient (19) devoir ‘owe, have to’ – see 375 disant je dis nous disons (20) dire11 ‘say’ dit tu dis vous dites il dit ils disent (21) †dissoudre ‘dissolve’ – like absoudre (22) †échoir12 ‘fall due, expire’ (23) †éclore – il éclot ils éclosent ‘to hatch, éclos open out’ (24) écrire écrivant j’écris nous écrivons ‘write’ écrit tu écris vous écrivez il écrit ils écrivent (25) élire ‘elect’ – like lire (26) émouvoir ‘move, upset’ – like mouvoir (but see note 13) (27) †s’ensuivre14 ‘ensue’ (28) entrevoir ‘glimpse’ – like voir (29) envoyer ‘send’ – see 357 (30) être ‘be’ – see 350 (31) exclure ‘exclude’ – like conclure — — — (32) faillir15 ‘almost failli (do)’ (33) faire faisant je fais nous faisons ‘do, make’ fait tu fais vous faites il fait ils font — il faut (34) falloir16 ‘be fallu necessary’ — je fris — (35) †frire17 ‘fry’ frit tu fris — il frit — (36) fuir fuyant je fuis nous fuyons ‘flee’ fui tu fuis vous fuyez il fuit ils fuient

377 Irregular verbs pret.

fut. and imperf. indic.

je cousis

je coudrai je cousais

je courus

je courrai je courais

je déchus

present subjunct. je couse tu couses il couse je coure tu coures il coure

nous cousions vous cousiez ils cousent nous courions vous couriez ils courent

je déchoirai —

je déchoie — il déchoie

nous déchoyions — ils déchoient

je dis

je dirai je disais

je dise tu dises il dise

nous disions vous disiez ils disent

il éclora —

il éclose

ils éclosent


j’écrirai j’écrivais

j’écrive tu écrives il écrive

nous écrivions vous écriviez ils écrivent

je faillis

je faillirai —

je fis

je ferai je faisais

nous fassions vous fassiez ils fassent

il fallut

il faudra il fallait

je fasse tu fasses il fasse il faille

je frirai —

je fuis

je fuirai je fuyais

je fuie tu fuies il fuie

nous fuyions vous fuyiez ils fuient



Verbs 377 infinitive

(37) †gésir ‘lie’


participles gisant —

present indicative je gis tu gis il gît

nous gisons vous gisez ils gisent

(38) inclure ‘include’ – see note 8 (to conclure) (39) interdire ‘forbid’ – see note 11 (no dire) (40) lire ‘read’

lisant lu

je lis tu lis il lit

nous lisons vous lisez ils lisent

(41) maudire ‘curse’

maudissant maudit

je maudis tu maudis il maudit

nous maudissons vous maudissez ils maudissent

(42) médire ‘speak ill of’ – see note 11 (on dire) (43) mettre ‘put’

mettant mis

je mets tu mets il met

nous mettons vous mettez ils mettent

(44) moudre ‘grind’

moulant moulu

je mouds tu mouds il moud

nous moulons vous moulez ils moulent

(45) mourir ‘die’

mourant mort

je meurs tu meurs il meurt

nous mourons vous mourez ils meurent

(46) mouvoir ‘move’

mouvant mû19

je meus tu meus il meut

mous mouvons vous mouvez ils meuvent

(47) naître ‘be born’

naissant né

je nais tu nais il naît

nous naissons vous naissez ils naissent

(48) †ouïr ‘hear’

— ouï

(49) plaire ‘please’

plaisant plu

je plais tu plais il plaît

nous plaisons vous plaisez ils plaisent

(50) pleuvoir 20 ‘rain’

pleuvant plu

il pleut

(51) poursuivre ‘pursue’ – like suivre (52) pourvoir ‘provide’ – see note 28 (on voir) (53) pouvoir 21 ‘can, be able’

pouvant pu

je peux, je puis22 tu peux il peut

nous pouvons vous pouvez ils peuvent

377 Irregular verbs pret.

fut. and imperf. indic.

present subjunct.

— je gisais

je lus

je lirai je lisais

je lise tu lises il lise

nous lisions vous lisiez ils lisent

je maudis

je maudirai je maudissais

je maudisse tu maudisses il maudisse

nous maudissions vous maudissiez ils maudissent

je mis

je mettrai je mettais

je mette tu mettes il mette

nous mettions vous mettiez ils mettent

je moulus

je moudrai je moulais

je moule tu moules il moule

nous moulions vous mouliez ils moulent

je mourus

je mourrai je mourais

je meure tu meures il meure

nous mourions vous mouriez ils meurent

je mus

je mouvrai je mouvais

je meuve tu meuves il meuve

nous mouvions vous mouviez ils meuvent

je naquis

je naîtrai je naissais

je naisse tu naisses il naisse

nous naissions vous naissiez ils naissent

— —

je plus

je plairai je plaisais

je plaise tu plaises il plaise

nous plaisions vous plaisiez ils plaisent

il plut

il pleuvra il pleuvait

il pleuve

je pus

je pourrai je pouvais

je puisse tu puisses il puisse

nous puissions vous puissiez ils puissent



Verbs 377 infinitive


present indicative

(54) prédire ‘foretell’ – see note 11 (on dire) (55) prendre ‘take’

prenant pris

je prends tu prends il prend

nous prenons vous prenez ils prennent

(56) prévaloir ‘prevail’ – see note 26 (on valoir) (57) prévoir ‘foresee’ – see note 28 (on voir) (58) †promouvoir ‘promote’

promouvant promu

(59) †résoudre ‘resolve’ – see note 1 (on absoudre) (60) rire ‘laugh’

riant ri

je ris tu ris il rit

nous rions vous riez ils rient

(61) savoir 23 ‘know’

sachant su

je sais tu sais il sait

nous savons vous savez ils savent

(62) seoir ‘be situated, suit’ – see note 3 (on s’asseoir) (63) sourire ‘smile’ – like rire (64) suffire ‘suffice’

suffisant suffi

je suffis tu suffis il suffit

nous suffisons vous suffisez ils suffisent

(65) suivre ‘follow’

suivant suivi

je suis tu suis il suit

nous suivons vous suivez ils suivent

(66) surseoir ‘postpone’

sursoyant sursis

je sursois tu sursois il sursoit

nous sursoyons vous sursoyez ils sursoient

(67) survivre ‘survive’ – like vivre (68) taire24 ‘hush up’

taisant tu

je tais tu tais il tait

nous taisons vous taisez ils taisent

(69) tenir25 ‘hold’

tenant tenu

je tiens tu tiens il tient

nous tenons vous tenez ils tiennent

(70) †traire ‘milk’

trayant trait

je trais tu trais il trait

nous trayons vous trayez ils traient

je vaux tu vaux il vaut

nous valons vous valez ils valent

(71) vaincre ‘conquer’ – see 370 (72) valoir26 ‘be worth’

valant valu

377 Irregular verbs pret.

fut. and imperf. indic.

present subjunct.

je pris

je prendrai je prenais

je prenne tu prennes il prenne

nous prenions vous preniez ils prennent

je ris

je rirai je riais

je rie tu ries il rie

nous riions vous riiez ils rient

je sus

je saurai je savais

je sache tu saches il sache

nous sachions vous sachiez ils sachent

je suffis

je suffirai je suffisais

je suffise tu suffises il suffise

nous suffisions vous suffisiez ils suffisent

je suivis

je suivrai je suivais

je suive tu suives il suive

nous suivions vous suiviez ils suivent

je sursis

je surseoirai je sursoyais

je sursoie tu sursoies il sursoie

nous sursoyions vous sursoyiez ils sursoient

je tus

je tairai je taisais

je taise tu taises il taise

nous taisions vous taisiez ils taisent

je tins

je tiendrai je tenais

je tienne tu tiennes il tienne

nous tenions vous teniez ils tiennent

je trairai je trayais

je traie tu traies il traie

nous trayions vous trayiez ils traient

je valus

je vaudrai je valais

je vaille tu vailles il vaille

nous valions vous valiez ils vaillent



Verbs 377 infinitive


present indicative

(73) venir ‘come’

venant venu

je viens tu viens il vient

nous venons vous venez ils viennent

(74) vêtir ‘clothe’

vêtant vêtu

je vêts tu vêts il vêt

nous vêtons vous vêtez ils vêtent

(75) vivre ‘live’

vivant vécu

je vis tu vis il vit

nous vivons vous vivez ils vivent

(76) voir 28 ‘see’

voyant vu

je vois tu vois il voit

nous voyons vous voyez ils voient

(77) vouloir 29 ‘wish’

voulant voulu

je veux tu veux il veut

nous voulons vous voulez ils veulent

377 Irregular verbs fut. and imperf. indic.

pret. 27

present subjunct.

je viendrai je venais

je vienne tu viennes il vienne

nous venions vous veniez ils viennent

je vêtis

je vêtirai je vêtais

je vête tu vêtes il vête

nous vêtions vous vêtiez ils vêtent

je vécus

je vivrai je vivais

je vive tu vives il vive

nous vivions vous viviez ils vivent

je vis

je verrai je voyais

je voie tu voies il voie

nous voyions vous voyiez ils voient

je voulus

je voudrai je voulais

je veuille tu veuilles il veuille

nous voulions vous vouliez ils veuillent

je vins


296 378

Verbs 378 Notes on irregular verbs

(1) Absoudre and dissoudre are not usually classified as defective, but strictly speaking they are since they lack the preterite and the imperfect subjunctive. Résoudre ‘to solve, resolve’ is like absoudre but usually has the past participle résolu. (2) The second person singular imperative is va (but note the special case vas-y). (3) S’asseoir may also be conjugated throughout like surseoir (i.e. present participle s’assoyant, present indicative je m’assois, nous nous assoyons, etc., imperfect indicative je m’assoyais, etc., imperative assois-toi, assoyons-nous, assoyez-vous), but with a difference of spelling in the future and conditional (je m’assoirai, etc., but je surseoirai, etc.) and the present subjunctive (je m’assoie, etc., but je surseoie, etc.). However, the forms listed above (i.e. je m’assieds, etc.) are more usual. Asseoir is occasionally used nonreflexively meaning ‘to put someone (a child, an invalid, etc.) in a chair’. More often it has a technical sense, e.g. ‘to impose (a tax), lay (a foundation), base (an opinion), etc.’ However, it is most frequently used reflexively.It must be remembered that s’asseoir means literally ‘to seat oneself’, and so ‘to sit down’.The past participle assis ‘seated’ is therefore equivalent to the English present participle ‘sitting’. S’asseyant means ‘taking one’s seat’. ‘I was sitting in the garden all the morning’ is j’étais assis toute la matinée au jardin, not je m’asseyais,which could only mean ‘I spent the whole morning taking my seat’.M’étant assis means‘having taken my seat,having sat down’. The simple verb seoir in its original sense of ‘to sit’ remains in legal language in the participles séant (e.g. un tribunal séant à Rouen ‘a tribunal sitting at Rouen’) and sis ‘situated’ (e.g. une maison sise à Versailles ‘a house situated at Versailles’). In the sense of ‘suit, be becoming’ it has present participle seyant, third person singular and third person plural of present indicative, il sied, ils siéent, present subjunctive (rare) il siée, ils siéent, imperfect indicative il seyait, ils seyaient, future il siéra, ils siéront, conditional il siérait, ils siéraient, but the verb in general is somewhat archaic and none of these forms is widely used. (4) Bouillir is intransitive, e.g. l’eau bout ‘the water is boiling’; for the transitive, faire bouillir must be used, e.g. Je ferai bouillir de l’eau ‘I will boil some water’. (5) Although other forms are very occasionally found, in general

378 Irregular verbs


braire occurs only in the third persons singular and plural of the tenses indicated (and some of these are rare). No imperative. (6) Little used, even in literary style, other than in the infinitive (such expressions as faire choir ‘to knock over’, laisser choir ‘to drop’). No imperfect subjunctive or imperative. (7) Little used, even in literary style, other than in the infinitive and past participle. (8) Exclure ‘to exclude’ is like conclure. Inclure ‘to include’ is hardly ever used except in the past participle, inclus(e) (contrast conclu), and then usually in the form ci-inclus, e.g. la lettre ci-incluse ‘the enclosed letter’. (9) An old form courre survives in a few phrases, e.g. courre le cerf ‘to hunt stag’, laisser courre les chiens ‘to lay the hounds on’, la chasse à courre ‘hunting’ when it is wanted to distinguish hunting from la chausse au fusil ‘shooting’. (10) No imperative. (11) In the compounds of dire the second person plural present indicative and second person plural imperative vary: redire ‘to repeat’ has redites; contredire ‘to contradict’, interdire ‘to forbid’, prédire ‘to foretell’, médire ‘to speak ill of, have contredisez, interdisez, prédisez, médisez. Otherwise, these verbs are conjugated exactly like dire. Note, however, that maudire ‘to curse’ is conjugated differently (like finir, in fact) and so is listed separately. (12) Used only in the infinitive, the participles, and in the third persons singular and (even less frequently) plural of the tenses indicated and of the conditional (not imperfect subjunctive). (13) But the past participle, ému, has no accent on the -u. (14) Like suivre but used only in the infinitive and the third persons singular and plural (of simple and compound tensese). (15) No imperfect subjunctive. Faillir is constructed with an infinitive, e.g. J’ai failli tomber ‘I nearly fell’. In the earlier meaning of ‘to fail’, which is still occasionally found but only as an archaism, some forms occur in addition to those we list, e.g. Le cœur me faut ‘My heart fails me’. (16) An impersonal verb and so used with impersonal il as its subject; no present participle or imperative, but not usually considered defective.


Verbs 378

(17) Imperative has second person singular, fris, only; future is little used. The missing tenses are supplied by the locution faire frire, e.g. il faisait frire des pommes de terre ‘he was frying potatoes’. Faire frire is also widely used in those simple and compound tenses for which forms of frire do exist, e.g. J’ai frit or j’ai fait frire des pommes de terre ‘I have fried some potatoes’. But faire frire has no passive – use être and the past part. frit, e.g. Le poisson avait été frit ‘The fish had been fried’. (18) Rarely used other than in the expressions (on tombstones) cigît ‘here lies’, ci-gisent ‘here lie’. (19) The past participle has no accent in the feminine singular (mue) and in the plural (mus, mues). (20) Usually impersonal and so used in third person singular only. However, other persons occasionally occur in metaphorical uses, e.g. Eau, quand donc pleuvras-tu ? (Baudelaire) ‘Water, when will you rain?’, Des coups pleuvent (pleuvaient) sur son dos ‘Blows rain (rained) on his back’. (21) No imperative. (22) Puis is now rarely used except in inversion (questions, etc.), when it must be used (i.e. peux cannot be used), e.g. Que puis-je dire ? ‘What can I say?’, Peut-être puis-je vous aider ‘Perhaps I can help you’. (23) Imperative: sache, sachons, sachez. (24) Most frequently used reflexively, se taire ‘to be silent’. (25) Note that tenir ‘to hold’ and venir ‘to come’ are conjugated in exactly the same way in all simple tenses. The forms of the preterite and the imperfect subjunctive of these two verbs are so unusual that these tenses are given in full below: pret. je tins tu tins il tint nous tînmes vous tîntes ils tinrent

je vins tu vins il vint nous vînmes vous vîntes ils vinrent

imperf. subjunct. je tinsse je vinsse tu tinsses tu vinsses il tînt il vînt nous tinssions nous vinssions vous tinssiez vous vinssiez ils tinssent ils vinssent

(26) Prévaloir ‘to prevail’ is conjugated like valoir except in the present subjunctive, which keeps -val- throughout: je prévale

tu prévales

378–379 Reflexive verbs il prévale nous prévalions


vous prévaliez ils prévalent

(27) For the full preterite and imperfect subjunctive of venir, see note 25, on tenir. (28) Entrevoir ‘to glimpse’, and revoir ‘to see again, revise’ are conjugated like voir throughout. Pourvoir ‘to provide’ and prévoir ‘to foresee’ are conjugated like voir except that (a) both verbs have their future and conditional in -voir-, viz. je pourvoirai, je pourvoirais, je prévoirai, je prévoirais, etc., and (b) pourvoir has the preterite je pourvus and the imperfect subjunctive je pourvusse, etc. (but je prévis, je prévisse, etc.). (29) The usual forms of the imperative are veuille, veuillons, veuillez, but with the expression en vouloir à quelqu’un ‘to have (hold) something against someone’ the more usual forms of the imperative (and, in practice, this is always in the negative) are veux, voulons, voulez, e.g. Ne m’en veux pas, ne m’en voulez pas ‘Don’t hold it against me’, Ne lui en voulons pas ‘Let’s not hold it against him’ (though Ne m’en veuillez pas, etc., also occur).

F Reflexive verbs

379 Strictly speaking, the term reflexive verb ought to refer only to verbs whose direct or indirect object, expressed by one or other of the conjunctive pronouns me, te, se, nous or vous (see 198–199), refers to the subject of the same verb, e.g. Jacques se lave ‘James is washing (himself)’. However, in practice the term also covers reciprocal verbs, i.e. those expressing actions that the various individuals included in the subject do to one another, e.g. nous nous aimons ‘we love one another’, ils s’écrivent souvent ‘they often write to each other’. A number of verbs are used only reflexively, and in some of these the reflexive pronoun is virtually meaningless and untranslatable in English. Among such verbs are: s’abstenir, abstain, refrain s’accouder, lean on one’s elbows2 s’accroupir, crouch2


Verbs 379

s’adonner (à), devote oneself to, etc.2 s’arroger, lay claim to se blottir, huddle (up)2 se démener, fling oneself (about) se désister, stand down s’écrier, cry out s’écrouler, collapse2 s’efforcer, strive, endeavour s’emparer (de), seize s’empresser, hasten, bustle2 s’en aller, go away s’enquérir, inquire s’éprendre (de), fall in love with2 s’evader, escape s’évanouir, faint2 s’évertuer, strive s’extasier, go into ecstasies s’ingénier, contrive se méfier (de), mistrust se méprendre, be mistaken se moquer (de), make fun of1 s’opiniâtrer, persist se raviser, change one’s mind se rebeller, rebel se récrier, cry out se réfugier, take refuge se rengorger, puff oneself up se repentir, repent2 se souvenir (de), remember Notes: 1 Although se moquer de is included in this list, the nonreflexive form moquer ‘to mock’ still sometimes occurs in a somewhat archaic literary usage and more generally in the passive, être moqué ‘to be mocked’. 2 Note the following past participles: (a) adonné à ‘addicted to’, blotti ‘huddled (up)’, écroulé ‘collapsed, tumbledown’, épris de ‘enamoured of, in love with’, évanoui ‘unconscious, in a faint’ (b) corresponding to English present participles: accoudé ‘leaning (on one’s elbows)’, accroupi ‘crouching’

379–381 Reflexive verbs


(c) used in an active sense: empressé ‘attentive, assiduous’, repenti ‘penitent, repentant’. 380 Reflexive verbs form their compound tenses with être. The past participle agrees with the reflexive pronoun if this serves as the direct object, but not if it serves as the indirect object. Take, for example, the verbs se blesser ‘to injure oneself’ in which se is the direct object, and se nuire ‘to do harm to oneself’ in which se is the indirect object: in the perfect tense we have elle s’est blessée (blessée is feminine to agree with se ‘herself’) but elle s’est nui (nui does not agree because se is the indirect object). See further on this, 461. 381

Example of the conjugation of a reflexive verb: se laver ‘to wash (oneself)’ Infinitive


se laver

past s’être lavé/lavée/lavés/lavées Participles


se lavant

past lavé Indicative


je me lave tu te laves il se lave elle se lave nous nous lavons vous vous lavez ils se lavent elles se lavent

imperf. je me lavais, etc. pret.

je me lavai, etc.


je me laverai, etc.

perf. je me suis lavé(e) tu t’es lavé(e) il s’est lavé elle s’est lavée nous nous sommes lavé(e)(s) vous vous êtes lavé(e)(s) ils se sont lavés elles se sont lavées pluperf. je m’étais lavé, etc. past ant. je me fus lavé, etc. fut. perf. je me serai lavé, etc. Conditional


je me laverais, etc.

past je me serais lavé, etc. Subjunctive


je me lave, etc.

pref. je me sois lavé, etc.

imperf. je me lavasse, etc.

pluperf. je me fusse lavé, etc. Imperative





Verbs 382–383

G The passive

382 The French passive is formed in exactly the same way as the English passive, i.e. with the verb être ‘to be’ and the past participle, e.g. Il sera tué ‘He will be killed’. The past participle varies, agreeing in gender and number with the subject, e.g. Elle sera tuée ‘She will be killed’ (but note that, in the compound tenses, été does not change, e.g. Elle a été tuée ‘She has been killed’), Elles ont peur d’être blessées ‘They are afraid of being hurt’. 383 Example of the passive conjugaton: être blessé ‘to be hurt or wounded’ (passive of blesser ‘to hurt, to wound’): Infinitive pres.

être blessé (or -és, -ée, -ées) to be hurt



étant blessé, etc., being hurt


je suis blessé (or -ée) I am hurt tu es blessé (or -ée) il est blessé elle est blessée nous sommes blessés (or ées) vous êtes blessé (or -ée, -és, -ées) ils sont blessés elles sont blessées

avoir été blessé, etc., to have been hurt

Participles past

blessé, etc., hurt, or having been hurt

Indicative perf.

j’ai été blessé, etc., I have been hurt tu as été blessé, etc. il a été blessé elle a été blessée nous avons été blessés, etc. vous avez été blessé, etc. ils ont été blessés elles ont été blessées

Only the masculine form of the past participle is shown in the rest of the conjugation below: imperf. j’étais blessé I was hurt


j’avais été blessé I had been hurt


Je fus blessé I was hurt

past ant.

j’eus été blessé I had been hurt


je serai blessé I shall be hurt

fut. perf.

j’aurai été blessé I shall have been hurt

383–385 The passive


Conditional pres.

je serais blessé I should be hurt



je sois blessé I am (may be) hurt

j’aurais été blessé I should have been hurt


imperf. je fusse blessé that I was (might be) hurt


j’aie été blessé I (may) have been hurt


j’eusse été blessé I had (might have) been hurt

Imperative sois blessé be hurt

soyons blessés let us be hurt

soyez blessé be hurt

384 French frequently uses other constructions where English uses the passive. Note in particular: (1) the fact that on (see 302) is much more extensively used than its English equivalent, ‘one’, e.g. On dit que . . . , literally ‘One says that . . .’, where English would normally say ‘It is said that’, On lui a rendu son argent ‘His money was given back to him’ (2) the widespread use of the reflexive as an equivalent of the English passive, e.g. Cela se comprend ‘That is understood’ (3) the fact that word-for-word equivalents of the English passive with a direct object, e.g. ‘He was given a book’, do not exist in French – but the view one sometimes sees expressed, that French has no equivalent construction, is mistaken (see 385). 385 An English sentence such as ‘The teacher gave the boy a book’ can be turned into a passive by taking as the subject either the original direct object, ‘A book was given to the boy (by the teacher)’, or the original indirect object, ‘The boy was given a book (by the teacher)’. French has a word-for-word equivalent of the first of these, viz. Un livre fut donné au garçon (par le professeur), but not of the second. However, although many grammars fail to mention the fact, a construction in which the original indirect object is the subject, i.e. a passive in which the original direct object remains the direct object, is possible in French and, though less common than its English equivalent, is in widespread use, particularly but by no means exclusively in journalistic usage. It involves the verb voir ‘to see’, as in:


Verbs 385–387

Les mineurs se voient déjà offrir plus de 16% (Le Monde) The miners are already being offered more than 16% Je me suis vu refuser un visa par le consulat américain I have been refused a visa by the American consulate The construction can occur even when the subject is inanimate and so cannot ‘see’ the action that is performed, e.g.: ‘Le Voyage au bout de la nuit’ se vit décerner le prix Théophraste Renaudot par 6 voix sur 10 (J. A. Ducourneau) (The novel) Le Voyage au bout de la nuit was awarded the Théophraste Renaudot prize by 6 votes out of 10 On the other hand, when the main verb is a verb of saying, the passive auxiliary is usually entendre ‘to hear’ rather than voir, e.g.: C’est plutôt rare qu’une femme de ménage s’entende dire ça (Simenon) It’s not often a cleaning lady is told that

H Negative and interrogative conjugations 386 Negation and interrogation (questions) are dealt with more fully below in 542–580 and 581–593 respectively. Here, we are concerned only with the basic forms involved. 387 (i) The following table illustrates, from one simple tense (the present) and one compound tense (the perfect), the difference between verbs conjugated affirmatively and those conjugated negatively, or interrogatively, or both: affirmative (‘I speak’, etc.) je parle tu parles il parle elle parle nous parlons vous parlez

interrogative (‘Do I speak?’, etc.) (See 389) parles-tu ? parle-t-il ? parle-t-elle ? parlons-nous ? parlez-vous ?

387 Negative and interrogative conjugations ils parlent elles parlent j’ai parlé tu as parlé il a parlé elle a parlé nous avons parlé vous avez parlé ils ont parlé elles ont parlé negative (I do not speak’, etc.) je ne parle pas tu ne parles pas il ne parle pas elle ne parle pas nous ne parlons pas vous ne parlez pas ils ne parlent pas elles ne parlent pas je n’ai pas parlé tu n’as pas parlé il n’a pas parlé elle n’a pas parlé nous n’avons pas parlé vous n’avez pas parlé ils n’ont pas parlé elles n’ont pas parlé


parlent-ils ? parlent-elles ? ai-je parlé ? as-tu parlé ? a-t-il parlé ? a-t-elle parlé ? avons-nous parlé ? avez-vous parlé ? ont-ils parlé ? ont-elles parlé ? negative-interrogative (‘Do I not speak?’, etc.) (See 389) ne parles-tu pas ? ne parle-t-il pas ? ne parle-t-elle pas ? ne parlons-nous pas ? ne parlez-vous pas ? ne parlent-ils pas ? ne parlent-elles pas ? n’ai-je pas parlé ? n’as-tu pas parlé ? n’a-t-il pas parlé ? n’a-t-elle pas parlé ? n’avons-nous pas parlé ? n’avez-vous pas parlé ? n’ont-ils pas parlé ? n’ont-elles pas parlé ?

(ii) Note: (a) that in the interrogative form, the subject pronoun stands after the verb, and in a compound tense stands after the auxiliary, to which it is linked by a hyphen; for important exceptions, see 388 and 389 (b) that in the negative form, ne and pas respectively precede and follow the verb or the auxiliary (c) that in the negative-interrogative form, ne precedes the verb and pas follows the pronoun (d) that the only elements that can come between ne and the verb


Verbs 387–389

are the conjunctive pronouns (including y and en) (see 198–201), e.g. il ne me les donne pas ‘he does not give them to me’, nous n’en parlons pas ‘we do not talk about it’, ne lui avez-vous pas parlé ? ‘haven’t you spoken to him?’ (iii) Other verbs and tenses are treated in the same way, e.g.: vous finissez ‘you finish’, finissez-vous ? vous ne finissez pas, ne finissez-vous pas ? tu vends ‘you sell’, vends-tu ? tu ne vends pas, ne vends-tu pas ? il viendra ‘he will come’, viendra-t-il ? il ne viendra pas, ne viendra-t-il pas ? ils sont partis ‘they have left’, sont-ils partis ? ils ne sont pas partis, ne sont-ils pas partis ? nous avions vu ‘we had seen’, avions-nous vu ? nous n’avions pas vu, n’avions-nous pas vu ? 388 (i) Note that, if the verb ends in a vowel, -t- is inserted before il or elle in the interrogative and negative-interrogative forms, e.g. parle-t-il ? n’a-t-elle pas parlé ? viendra-t-il ? viendra-t-elle ? (ii) There is no -t- when the verb ends in a consonant, e.g. est-il ? ‘is he?’, voit-elle ? ‘does she see?’, vend-il ? ‘does he sell?’, avait-il fini ? ‘had he finished?’ In such circumstances, the final -t and the final -d are both pronounced as a [t], e.g. Que répond-il ? [kR repO˜ til] ‘What does he reply?’ (iii) The only exception to (ii) above is the present tense of vaincre and convaincre (see 370), e.g. vainc-t-il ? convainc-t-elle ? (iv) Note that this -t- also occurs with the pronoun on ‘one’, e.g. Où va-t-on ? ‘Where are we going?’ (lit. ‘Where is one going?’), Que cherche-t-on ? ‘What are they looking for?’ (lit. ‘What is one looking for?’). 389 (i) In the present indicative, it is normally only with a few common monosyllabic verbs that je is inverted (placed after the verb), in particular ai-je ? dis-je ? dois-je ? puis-je ? (as the interrogative of je peux), sais-je ? suis-je ? and, with a following infinitive, vais-je?, e.g.: Ai-je bien compris ? Have I understood aright?

389–390 Person and number


Que dois-je répondre ? What am I to reply? Puis-je vous aider ? May I help you? Où vais-je le cacher ? Where am I going to hide it? Je fais and je vois may also be inverted, but even less commonly so than the above, which are themselves characteristic of a slightly formal style rather than of everyday spoken usage. (ii) In the present indicative of first conjugation verbs, many grammars list forms like parlé-je ? (note the acute accent – but the pronunciation is [parle]), etc. These certainly do exist, but nowadays only rarely occur even in the written language. They should never be used in speech and are best avoided even in writing. (Note that, in any case, this form does not occur with verbs whose stem ends in [], like je mange and je voyage.) (iii) Je is never inverted in the present indicative of other verbs (e.g. je finis, je vends, je dors, j’écris). (iv) Normally, the interrogative of the je form of the present indicative (and frequently of other tenses too) is expressed either by intonation (see 586) or by est-ce que ? (see 585), qu’est-ce que ? ‘what?’ (see 283), etc.; so, an alternative form for the sentences quoted in i above would be Est-ce que j’ai bien compris ? Qu’estce que je dois répondre ? Est-ce que je peux vous aider ? Où est-ce que je vais le cacher ?

I Person and number Introduction 390 A verb agrees in person and number with its subject, i.e. a first person singular subject (je) takes a first person singular verb, a second person plural subject (vous) takes a second person plural verb, etc., e.g.: Je sais où vous habitez I know where you live


Verbs 390–391

If the subject is a noun, or a pronoun other than a first or second person pronoun, the verb is in the third person (singular or plural depending on the subject), e.g.: Mon frère arrivera demain My brother will arrive tomorrow Ces livres-ci m’intéressent mais ceux-là ne valent rien These books interest me but those are worthless Où travaillent-elles ? Where do they work? Generally speaking, this agreement should pose no problems. Some cases that may not be quite straightforward are dealt with in the following sections.

Coordinate subjects 391 (i) When a coordinate subject (i.e. a subject consisting of two or more elements, usually linked by et ‘and’) consists solely of nouns and/or pronouns other than first or second person pronouns, the verb is in the third person plural (but see iii below), e.g.: Jean et Pierre habitaient ici John and Peter used to live here Celui-ci et celui-là sont tout à fait pareils This one and that one are exactly alike Son père et lui sont déjà partis His father and he have already left Lui et elle se détestent He and she hate one another (ii) When the elements of a coordinate subject taken together are the equivalent of ‘we’ (in which case one element will necessarily be moi ‘I’ or nous ‘we’), the verb is in the first person plural, e.g.: Mon frère et moi nous partons demain My brother and I are leaving tomorrow

391 Person and number


Vous et moi, nous n’avons jamais dit cela You and I have never said that Similarly, when the elements of a coordinate subject are the equivalent of ‘you’ (in which case one element will necessarily be either toi or vous ‘you’), the verb is in the second person plural, e.g.: Ton frère et toi, vous faites énormément de bruit Your brother and you are making an awful lot of noise Qu’est-ce que vous faites demain, vous et vos amis ? What are you and your friends doing tomorrow? (For the use or non-use of the conjunctive pronoun in such contexts, see 216, ii.) (iii) When coordinate subjects are linked by ou ‘either’ or ni ‘neither’, the verb in French is normally in the plural (whereas in equivalent sentences in English it may well be in the singular), e.g.: Un homme de génie ou un intrigant seuls se disent: ‘J’ai eu tort’ (Balzac) Only a genius or a schemer can say: ‘I was wrong’ Je suis sûr que ni Pierre ni Jean ne le connaissent I am sure that neither Peter nor John knows him However, the singular can occur after ou when ‘either . . . or’ means ‘one or other but not both’, e.g.: Ou M. Dupont ou M. Lambert sera élu président Either M. Dupont or M. Lambert will be elected president The singular can also occur after ni . . . ni ‘neither . . . nor’ when one of the elements refers to a category that includes the other; this is particularly so when French uses personne ‘nobody’ where English uses ‘nor anyone else’, e.g.: Ni lui ni personne ne saura vous le dire Neither he nor anyone else will be able to tell you (the justification for the singular being that, if ‘no one’ can tell you, then ‘he’ is included in the category of those who cannot tell you). (iv) For the agreement of the verb with l’un et l’autre, l’un ou l’autre, ni l’un ni l’autre, see 292,iv.

310 392

Verbs 392–394 Note:

(a) that chacun ‘each’, even when followed by de nous or de vous, takes a third person singular verb, e.g.: Chacun de vous recevra une récompense Each of you will receive a reward (b) that certains d’entre nous (or vous) ‘some of us (or you)’ and plusieurs d’entre nous (or vous) ‘several of us (or you)’ take a third person plural verb, e.g.: Certains d’entre nous le savent déjà Some of us know already Plusieurs d’entre vous seront obligés de partir Several of you will be obliged to leave 393 Note that when two nouns and/or pronouns are linked not by et ‘and’ but by some such expression as ainsi que, aussi bien que, de même que ‘as well as, together with’, the two nouns and/or pronouns are not coordinate and the verb agrees with the first (cf. the agreement of adjectives, 129), e.g.: Son frère, ainsi que ses parents, est furieux His brother, together with his parents, is furious The same is true when two nouns and/or pronouns are linked by a negative adverb such as non or by some expression containing an implied negation, such as plutôt que ‘rather than’, e.g.: Je crois que lui et non (or plutôt que) sa sœur répondra à ta lettre I think he, not (or rather than) his sister, will answer your letter Collective nouns 394 A further problem may arise when the subject is a collective noun, i.e. a noun referring to a group of individuals that collectively form some kind of whole, e.g. ‘committee’, ‘crowd’, ‘government’, ‘team’. In British English (much more so than in American English), such nouns, although grammatically singular, often take a plural verb, e.g.: ‘The committee are (or is) meeting

394–396 Person and number


now’, ‘The crowd were (or was) cheering’, ‘The government do (or does) not agree’,‘The team have (or has) already left’.Theoretically, and to some extent in reality, the distinction between singular and plural depends on whether the noun is interpreted as denoting one collective entity (‘The government has decided’) or as a group of individuals (‘The government have decided’); this distinction, however, seems not to be always observed in practice. In French, there is some degree of comparable flexibility when a collective noun is followed by de and a plural noun (see 396), but not otherwise (see 395). 395 When a collective noun stands on its own, i.e. when it is not accompanied by de + plural noun (see 396), the verb must be in the singular, e.g.: Le comité se réunit aujourd’hui The committee is (or are) meeting today La foule applaudissait The crowd were (or was) applauding Le gouvernment a démissionné The government has (or have) resigned Le parti socialiste n’accepte pas cette proposition The socialist party do (or does) not accept this proposal L’équipe anglaise est déjà partie The English team have (or has) already left – and likewise with such words as l’armée ‘the army’, la classe ‘the class’, la compagnie ‘the company’, la famille ‘the family’, le ministère ‘the ministry’, le peuple (français) ‘the (French) people’, le troupeau ‘the flock’, l’université ‘the university’. Note in particular that tout le monde ‘everybody’ always takes a singular verb, e.g. Tout le monde est parti ‘Everybody has left’. 396 (i) When a collective noun is followed by de + a plural noun, the agreement may be: (a) with the (singular) collective noun, when the idea of the collective entity is dominant, e.g.: Un bataillon de soldats défilait dans les rues A battalion of soldiers was marching through the streets Une troupe d’oies sauvages traversa le ciel (Bazin) A flock of wild geese flew across the sky


Verbs 396–397

or, (b) with the plural noun, when the emphasis is on the individuals making up the collective entity, e.g.: Une foule de gens sont venus nous voir A crowd of people came to see us Une multitude de villes ont été détruites (Bernardin de SaintPierre) A multitude of cities have been destroyed Une nuée d’oiseaux s’élevaient des arbres (Bosco) A cloud of birds rose from the trees (ii) Similar considerations apply to numerals expressing round numbers such as une douzaine ‘a dozen’ (see 185,b) and fractions like la moitié ‘half’, un tiers ‘a third’, un quart ‘a quarter’, e.g.: (a) (verb in the singular) Une douzaine d’œufs suffira A dozen eggs will be enough La moitié des sénateurs a voté pour le projet de loi Half the Senators voted for the bill (b) (verb in the plural) Une douzaine de personnes sont déjà parties A dozen people have already left La moitié de nos étudiants sont âgés de plus de vingt ans Half our students are aged over twenty 397 The agreement of the verb with indefinites and quantifiers generally follows the principle that, if the overall sense of the subject is plural, then the verb is plural. Note in particular the following: (i) A plural verb is used: (a) with beaucoup ‘many’ (not, of course, when it means ‘much’, see 45) and la plupart ‘the majority, most’, whether or not they are followed by de, e.g.: La plupart de mes amis habitent près de Paris Most of my friends live near Paris La plupart (or Beaucoup) sont déjà partis Most (or Many) have already left

397 Person and number


(b) with nombre de, quantité de ‘a number of’, bon nombre de ‘a good number of’, and usually (though not invariably) with other expressions based on nombre or quantité such as un grand (or petit) nombre (de) ‘a large (or small) number (of)’, un certain nombre (de) ‘most (of)’, une (grande) quantité (de) ‘a great quantity (of)’, e.g.: Nombre de personnes me l’ont dit A lot of people have told me so Un certain nombre de difficultés surgissent A certain number of difficulties arise Un grand nombre de nos étudiants sont américains A great number of our students are Americans Le plus grand nombre sont déjà partis Most have already left (c) The archaic quantifier force (no de) ‘many’, takes a plural verb, e.g.: Force gens croient être plaisants, qui ne sont que ridicules Many people think they are amusing when they are merely ridiculous (ii) Le peu (de) followed by a singular noun, i.e. when it means ‘the little (= small amount) (of)’, necessarily takes a singular verb, e.g.: Le peu d’argent qui me reste me suffira The little money I have left will be enough for me whereas, when followed by a plural noun, i.e. when it means ‘the few’, the verb is normally plural if the emphasis is on the number (small though it may be) of individual persons or things denoted by the noun, e.g.: Le peu de troupes qu’il avait rassemblées ont tenu ferme The small number of troops he had gathered together stood firm (It can however happen, though infrequently, that le peu de + a plural noun emphasizes the smallness of the quantity, e.g. Le peu de gens qui nous suit n’y suffira pas ‘The fewness of our followers will not suffice for the purpose’.) (iii) Despite what mathematics might suggest, plus d’un ‘more than one’ usually takes a singular verb, e.g.:


Verbs 397–399

Plus d’un se rappela des matinées pareilles (Flaubert) More than one remembered mornings like that while moins de ‘less than’ + a numeral (even moins de deux ‘less than two’) takes a plural verb, e.g.: Moins de deux mois se sont écoulés Less than two months have elapsed (iv) Note that when ‘the rest’ means ‘the others’ rather than ‘what remains’ (as in le reste de son argent ‘the rest of his money’), it is best translated by les autres which, of course, takes a plural verb, e.g. Cette lettre est pour moi mais les autres sont pour toi ‘This letter is for me but the rest (the others) are for you’.

J Tenses Introduction 398 There are many similarities but also some fundamental differences between the tense systems of English and French. Among the main differences are the following: 399 (i) The English distinction between simple forms and continuous forms (constructed with the verb ‘to be’ and the present participle) is not paralleled in French. When it is desired to stress the fact that the action was in progress, French can certainly do so, by using the expression être en train de ‘to be in the process of’ + the infinitive, e.g.: Il ne faut pas le déranger, il est en train de réfléchir We mustn’t disturb him, he’s thinking Il était en train de téléphoner à sa femme quand je suis arrivé He was telephoning his wife when I arrived but this construction should be used only sparingly and should not be regarded as an all-purpose equivalent of the English continuous forms. The following will illustrate some of the forms that correspond in the two languages: I write I lived I have worked

I am writing I was living I have been working

j’écris j’habitais j’ai travaillé

399–403 Tenses


Nor does French have a special form corresponding to the English ‘habitual past’ expressed by ‘used to’ – e.g. the normal equivalent of ‘I used to work’ is just je travaillais. 400 (ii) The English preterite or simple past (e.g. ‘I wrote, he came’) has a number of different values which in French are expressed by different tenses (see 405–410). The French perfect (as it is generally known, though the alternative term ‘compound past’ is perhaps preferable) (e.g. j’ai chanté) may correspond either to the English perfect (‘I have sung’) or, frequently, to the English preterite (‘I sang’) (see 410). 401 Note (though this is not a matter of tense) that French does not use faire as English uses ‘to do’ as a mere auxiliary verb in the negative and interrogative conjugations (e.g.‘I do not sing’,‘Do you sing?’), or for the purpose of emphasizing the verb (e.g.‘I do find my work hard’ – in such contexts, French uses some such expression as en fait ‘indeed’ or il est vrai que ‘it is true that’). 402 In sections 404–424 we consider tenses of the indicative. For tenses of the subjunctive, see 496–506. 403 English allows the repetition of an auxiliary verb such as ‘be’, ‘have’, ‘do’, ‘shall’, ‘will’, ‘let’, by way of confirmation or contradiction (particularly but not exclusively in answer to a question), e.g.: Are you coming? – Yes, I am / No, I’m not Have you finished? – Yes, I have Do you speak German? – I do I think he’s written to you already – He has / No, he hasn’t Will they be coming? – (Yes,) they will / (No,) they won’t Let’s go now – Yes, let’s Nothing comparable is possible in French. In such contexts, French uses ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and/or repeats the verb and/or introduces some other expression by way of emphasis, so the above examples could be rendered as follows, among many other possibilities: Tu viens ? – Oui, oui, (je viens) / Non, non, (je ne viens pas) Avez-vous fini ? – Oui, (j’ai fini) Vous parlez allemand ? – Oui, (je parle allemand) Je crois qu’il vous a déjà écrit – Ah, oui ! / Pas du tout Ils vont venir ? – Bien sûr / Sûrement pas Partons maintenant. – Oui, partons


Verbs 404–405

The ‘historic present’ 404 The ‘historic present’, i.e. the present tense as a narrative and descriptive tense with reference to the past, is very much more widely used in French than in English, e.g.: Le lendemain matin, un homme muni d’un appareil photo pénètre dans la salle à manger de mon hôtel. Il se plante à quelques mètres de moi et, calmement, déclenche son flash (Sylviane Stein in L’Express) The next morning a man with a camera made his way into the dining-room of my hotel. He planted himself a few yards from me and, calmly, took a flash photo. The imperfect, the preterite, and the perfect 405 The use of past tenses presents serious problems for the English-speaking learner since there is little correlation between the use of the three French tenses and that of the various past tenses or constructions in English. For example, English ‘I wrote’ could be rendered, according to context, by the imperfect, j‘écrivais, the preterite, j’écrivis, or the perfect, j’ai écrit (or even, on occasion, by the pluperfect; see 411). On the other hand, the French imperfect j’écrivais could correspond, again according to context, to ‘I wrote’, ‘I was writing’, or ‘I used to write’. An additional complication is provided by the need to take account of medium (see 13),i.e.of the difference between the written and the spoken language. The preterite is still in widespread use in written French, but has all but disappeared from the spoken language. In discussing past tenses, we therefore need to distinguish between the written language (see 406–408) and the spoken language (see 409–410). For convenience we shall include the imperfect under these headings though, in reality, the distinction between the two media is not significant in the case of this tense (see 406,409). Further, as always, one must take account of register (see 13). In this context, the learner should beware of confusing register and medium, i.e. of equating writing with formal registers and speech with informal registers. On the one hand, the perfect can be found in writing in contexts where it corresponds closely to the English perfect tense (see 408) and, more frequently, in an informal style influenced by the spoken language. On the other hand, the preterite

405–406 Tenses


can occur, though rarely, in speech in highly formal registers in social contexts that the foreign learner is unlikely to be much called upon, if at all, to deal with (such as a very formal lecture, speech or funeral eulogy). (i) The written language 406 The imperfect presents past events without reference to their beginning or their end. It is used: (a) to present a past event as continuous or as being in progress, i.e. it corresponds to the English ‘was (were) + . . . ing’ which can always be translated by the French imperfect; note, however, that English sometimes uses the preterite in such contexts, e.g.: Il pleuvait lorsque Jean partit It was raining when John left Pendant que mon père travaillait, mon frère dormait While my father was working, my brother was sleeping While my father worked, my brother slept (b) for descriptions in the past (including descriptions of states of mind, etc.), e.g.: Sous l’Empire les Romains étaient très civilisés Under the Empire the Romans were very civilized Elle ne voulait pas sortir She did not wish to go out Le sentier descendait vers un pont qui traversait un petit ruisseau The path sloped down towards a bridge that crossed a little stream (c) with reference to habitual actions in the past, i.e. it corresponds to English ‘used to do’ which can always be translated by the French imperfect; note, however, that English very often uses the preterite in such contexts whereas French does not; e.g.: Lorsqu’il voyageait beaucoup, il m’écrivait chaque semaine When he used to travel a lot, he used to write to me every week When he travelled a lot, he wrote to me every week Quand nous étions à Paris, nous allions tous les jours au Bois de Boulogne


Verbs 406–407

When we were in Paris we went (or we used to go) to the Bois de Boulogne every day Note that the important thing is that the action is presented as habitual, not merely as frequent or repeated (in which case the preterite or the perfect is used – see also 407,a), e.g.: Pendant les vacances, il lui téléphonait régulièrement During the holidays, he rang (or used to ring) her regularly Pendant les vacances, il lui téléphona plusieurs fois During the holidays, he rang her several times Il lui a déjà téléphoné dix fois He has already rung her ten times (d) The imperfect can also be used for various stylistic effects; this is particularly true of what has been termed the ‘picturesque imperfect’, i.e. the use of the imperfect where the preterite or the perfect would normally be expected (see 407 and 410) with reference to a completed action in the past, and often with a precise indication of time or date, e.g.: Louis XIV se remariait deux ans après (É. Faguet) Louis XIV remarried two years afterwards Il y a six ans, l’armée française débarquait sur les côtes de Provence (France-Illustration) Six years ago the French army landed on the coast of Provence Since one role of the imperfect is to present the action as in progress (see a above), the effect of using it instead of the preterite or perfect is to present the action as unfolding before our eyes, so to speak, and hence to heighten the effect. But this construction should only be used sparingly and with care and is best avoided by learners. 407 The preterite presents events within a time-span envisaged in its entirety (i.e. with its beginning and its end) (contrast the imperfect, 406), e.g.: L’accord fut signé mardi The agreement was signed on Tuesday Les alliés débarquèrent en Normandie en 1944 The allies landed in Normandy in 1944 It is frequently used as a narrative tense, expressing successive events in the story, e.g.:

407–408 Tenses


Giuseppa embrassa son fils et rentra en pleurant dans sa cabane. Elle se jeta à genoux devant une image de la Vierge, et pria avec ferveur. Cependant Falcone marcha quelque deux cents pas dans le sentier et ne s’arrêta que dans un petit ravin où il descendit. (Mérimée) Giuseppa kissed her son and went back into the hut in tears. She fell upon her knees before an image of the Virgin, and prayed fervently. Meanwhile Falcone walked some two hundred paces along the path, and did not stop till he came to a little gully into which he descended. Note: (a) that while habitual actions are expressed by the imperfect, actions that are merely presented as repeated can be in the preterite (see also 406,c), e.g.: Il visita Paris quatre fois pendant les années 50 He visited Paris four times during the 50s (b) that the length of time taken by the action is irrelevant – an event that lasted years, or centuries, or millions of years, is expressed by the preterite if it is presented as a completed event in the past, e.g.: Voltaire vécut 84 ans Voltaire lived for 84 years L’ère tertiaire dura cinquante millions d’années The tertiary era lasted fifty million years 408 The use of the perfect corresponds closely to that of the English perfect; it presents the past event as ‘open-ended’, i.e. without specifying whether or not it is completed (this can often be determined from the context); consequently, it implies some kind of link between the past event and present time, e.g. that the action has taken place in a period of time (the same day, the same century, someone’s life-time, etc.) that still continues, or that the effects of the action continue into the present, e.g.: Je n’ai jamais visité Versailles I have never visited Versailles (i.e. in the course of my life, which continues) as contrasted with: Je passai trois ans à Paris mais je ne visitai jamais Versailles I spent three years in Paris but I never visited Versailles (i.e. during the three years in question, which are now over)


Verbs 408–410

The difference between the preterite and the perfect is well illustrated by the following example in which they both occur: Nous nous adressâmes la parole quelques jours plus tard, un dimanche matin, en des circonstances dont j’ai bien gardé la mémoire (Lacretelle) We spoke to one another a few days later, one Sunday morning, in circumstances that have remained clearly in my memory (ii) The spoken language 409 The use of the imperfect in speech is the same as in the written language (see 406). 410 The preterite is no longer in normal use in speech, in which its functions as a narrative past tense have been taken over entirely by the perfect, e.g.: J’ai visité Paris pour la première fois en 1948 I visited Paris for the first time in 1948 La guerre a éclaté en 1939 War broke out in 1939 This use of the perfect, as a substitute for the preterite, is increasingly found not only in speech but in writing, especially in journalism and in a narrative style modelled on spoken usage, e.g.: Jeter l’Angleterre à genoux en l’atteignant par les Indes, jamais Napoléon n’a perdu de vue cet objectif. Il l’a poursuivi par toutes les voies To beat England to her knees by striking at her through the Indies – this was the objective that Napoleon never lost sight of. He tried every road that might lead to its attainment Note examples such as the following in which the French corresponds once to the English preterite and once to the English perfect: Je l’ai vu il y a dix ans et je ne l’ai jamais revu I saw him ten years ago and I have never seen him since

411 Tenses


The pluperfect and the past anterior 411

(i) The pluperfect is used as in English, e.g.:

Je croyais qu’il avait terminé son travail I thought he had finished his work Note, however, in sentences such as the following in which English can use a preterite instead of the pluperfect that, strictly speaking, the sense requires, the pluperfect must be used in French: Il prétendait que son frère lui avait écrit la semaine précédente He claimed that his brother wrote (or had written) to him the week before (ii) The past anterior, like the preterite, is practically unknown in conversation. It is a literary form, used principally: (a) with temporal conjunctions, such as quand, lorsque ‘when’, après que ‘after’, dès que, aussitôt que ‘as soon as’, when the main verb is preterite, and similarly after à peine ‘scarcely’ followed by a queclause, to indicate that one thing happened immediately after something else had happened, e.g.: Dès qu’ils eurent mis le nez dehors, l’orage éclata The storm burst the instant they put their noses outside A peine eurent-ils mis le nez dehors que l’orage éclata Hardly had they put their noses outside when the storm burst (b) occasionally, in a main clause, with an expression of time such as bientôt ‘soon’, vite ‘quickly’, en un instant ‘in a moment’, to express the speed with which something happened, e.g.: Cependant il eut bien vite deviné que . . . (Hugo) However, he had very quickly guessed that . . . Ils eurent rejoint la chasse en un instant (Mérimée) In a moment they had caught up with the hunt


Verbs 412–413

The ‘double-compound’ tenses 412 (i) The past anterior is, of course, based on the preterite, e.g. (il) eut (fini), (il) fut (parti). As we have seen (410), the preterite is replaced in speech, and often in writing, by the perfect. If we now substitute the perfect of avoir or être for the preterite in il eut fini, etc., we get the so-called ‘double-compound’ tense known in French as the passé surcomposé, viz. il a eu fini, il a été parti. Although not all grammars refer to them, such forms as these have been in use for many centuries and they are well established as substitutes for the past anterior in those spoken and written styles that avoid the preterite, e.g.: Dès que je l’ai eu vu, il s’est mis à courir The moment I saw him, he started to run Je l’ai démêlé après que Monsieur a été parti (Marivaux) I sorted it out after you had left, sir (ii) Other ‘double-compound’ tenses formed on the basis of compound tenses of the auxiliaries (e.g. j’aurai eu fait, j’aurais eu fait, j’avais eu fait) also exist but in practice rarely occur with the exception (itself by no means common) of the type j’avais eu fait, e.g.: Ils avaient eu vite tourné le câble autour des bittes (R. Vercel) They had quickly got the cable wound round the bollards A peine les avais-je eu quittés qu’ils s’étaient reformés (Proust) Scarcely had I left them than they had formed up again

Tenses with depuis (que), il y a (voici, voilà) . . . que 413 (i) The use of tenses with depuis que and il y a (voici, voilà) . . . que often causes difficulty. (ii) Depuis que has two meanings: (a) It refers to a specific event, i.e. to a specific point in time, in which case it is translated as ‘since’ or sometimes ‘after’ and takes the same tense as in English (allowing that the French perfect is often the equivalent of the English preterite – see 410), e.g.:

413 Tenses


Je ne le vois plus depuis qu’il s’est marié I no longer see him since he got married Depuis qu’il s’est établi à la campagne je le vois presque tous les jours I see him nearly every day since he settled in the country Je le voyais souvent depuis qu’il s’était établi à Paris I used to see him often after he had settled in Paris – but note that, in examples such as this last one in which English has the option of using the preterite as an alternative to the pluperfect (‘. . . after he settled in Paris’), French insists on the pluperfect (see 411,i). (b) It introduces a verb that relates not to a past event but to a continuing state of affairs, i.e. it expresses duration; in this case, the two languages use different constructions (see iv below). (iii) (a) When used with expressions of time, il y a, voici and voilà serve to express the meaning ‘ago’, Je l’ai vu il y a (voici, voilà) dix minutes ‘I saw him ten minutes ago’. When followed by a que-clause, they express the meaning of ‘since’, e.g. Voilà dix ans qu’il est parti ‘It is ten years since he left’. In such sentences as these, then, French uses the same tense as English (cf. ii,a above). (b) However, when il y a etc. . . . que are followed by a verb expressing the duration of a continuing state of affairs, the two languages use different tenses (see iv below). (iv) When depuis que, il y a (voici, voilà) . . . que are followed by a verb that refers not to a past event, i.e. not to a point in time, but to a continuing state of affairs, i.e. to duration, French uses (a) the present tense where English uses the perfect (b) the imperfect tense where English uses the pluperfect. Examples: Il y a Voici dix ans que je le connais Voilà I have known him for ten years (and still know him)



Verbs 413–414

Il y avait Voici dix ans que je le connaissais Voilà I had known him for ten years (and still knew him)


Similarly, French uses the present or the imperfect (corresponding to the perfect or the pluperfect in English) to express duration in a main clause that includes the preposition depuis, or is preceded or followed by a clause introduced by depuis que, and in questions introduced by depuis quand ? or depuis combien de temps ? ‘since when? (for) how long?’, e.g.: Je le connais depuis dix ans I have known him for ten years Je le connaissais depuis dix ans I had known him for ten years Je le connais depuis 1970 I have known him since 1970 Je le connais depuis qu’il est arrivé à Paris I have known him since he arrived in Paris

The future, aller faire, etc. 414 (i) The future tense is used in much the same way in French as in English, e.g.: Je le ferai demain I shall do it tomorrow (ii) The present tense is used even more frequently than in English with reference to future time, especially when the future event is regarded as in some way influenced by past or present events (such as the fact that a decision to do something in the future has been taken), e.g.: Je pars demain I am leaving tomorrow Note also the use of the present tense in such contexts as Je vous aide ? ‘Shall I help you?’ (iii) Whereas English uses the present tense with reference to

414 Tenses


future time after such conjunctions as ‘when’, ‘as soon as’, ‘after’, the future tense must be used in French in corresponding contexts, i.e. after conjunctions such as quand, lorsque ‘when’, dès que, aussitôt que ‘as soon as’, après que ‘after’, e.g.: Je le verrai quand il viendra (not vient) I shall see him when he comes Aussitôt qu’il arrivera, dites-lui ce qui s’est passé As soon as he arrives, tell him what has happened and, likewise, French uses the future perfect where English uses the perfect, e.g.: Quand (or Aussitôt que) vous aurez fini, nous pourrons partir As soon as you have finished, we can leave Je vous écrirai après qu’il sera parti I’ll write to you after he has left Note, however, that the subjunctive is used after avant que ‘before’ and jusqu’à ce que ‘until’ and, increasingly, after après que ‘after’ (see 488). Note that this rule applies only when reference is to future time – French, like English, uses the present tense in such contexts as Quand je vais à Paris, je vais toujours au théâtre ‘When (i.e. whenever) I go to Paris, I always go to the theatre’. Note also that the same does not apply to si ‘if’, after which French uses the present tense where it would be used in English (e.g. s’il arrive demain ‘if he comes tomorrow’) – see 419. (iv) The future of être and (though less frequently) avoir may be used, like that of the corresponding English verbs, to indicate that the state of affairs referred to is assumed to exist (the explanation for the use of the future tense is perhaps that the truth of this assumption will be demonstrated later), e.g.: Il sera déjà à Paris He will be in Paris by now Likewise, the future perfect (which is, of course, formed on the basis of the future of avoir or être), e.g.: Je suis sûr qu’il vient – ma mère lui aura écrit I’m sure he’s coming – my mother will have written to him


Verbs 414–416

(v) Contrary to what some grammars state, the construction aller faire does not (or not necessarily) express a futur proche or immediate future. It indicates that the future event (which may be a long way in the future) is in some way linked to the present, e.g. as being inevitable or as arising out of the present situation or as depending on some decision or intention already known, e.g.: Tôt ou tard, nous allons tous mourir Sooner or later, we are all going to die Dans dix ans, je vais prendre ma retraite In ten years time I am going to retire (vi) For the use of the future as an imperative, see 517.

The conditional 415 As in English, the so-called ‘conditional’ tense in French has two quite distinct values: (i) It expresses a future-in-the-past, e.g.: Il a dit qu’il viendrait He said he would come – at the time of speaking (il a dit), the action of coming was in the future (he presumably said something like Je viendrai ‘I shall come’), hence the term ‘future-in-the-past’; with reference to this use, the term ‘conditional’ is not really appropriate. (ii) It is used in conditional sentences proper, i.e. in sentences containing (or at least implying) a subordinate clause introduced by si and expressing a condition (but note that the conditional is not used in the si-clause itself), e.g.: Il viendrait s’il savait que vous étiez ici He would come if he knew you were here Dans ce cas-là, je vous écrirais In that case (i.e. if that were so), I should write to you For fuller discussion of the use of tenses after si, see 418–422. 416 Note the following constructions where French uses a conditional and English does not:

416–418 Tenses


(i) In relative clauses, temporal clauses and after comme where English uses (or can use) the past tense, but the conditional in the main clause, e.g.: Un homme qui dirait cela serait tout à fait irresponsable A man who said (or would say) that would be quite irresponsible On le surveillerait à partir du moment où il débarquerait He would be watched from the moment he landed Vous feriez comme vous voudriez You would do as you liked (ii) to indicate that one does not vouch for the truth of a statement that one is reporting, e.g.: A en croire le ‘Figaro’ la guerre serait inévitable According to the Figaro war is inevitable Le premier ministre partirait demain pour Washington It is reported (rumoured, believed) that the Prime Minister will be leaving tomorrow for Washington (On the use of the conditional in a main clause or a subordinate clause as the equivalent of an ‘if’-clause, see 422 and 701.) 417 Note on the other hand that when, as is occasionally the case, English ‘would’ is the equivalent of ‘used to’, the imperfect and not the conditional must be used in French, e.g.: When we were children, we would spend our holidays every year at the seaside Quand nous étions enfants, nous passions nos vacances tous les ans au bord de la mer

Tenses in conditional sentences with si ‘if’ 418 The use of tenses in conditional clauses in which the subordinate clause is introduced by si ‘if’ is similar in the two languages. It must, however, be noted that, where English has a past tense in the ‘if’-clause (which may, in the case of the verb ‘to be’, be a subjunctive, as in ‘if he were here’), French uses the imperfect indicative, e.g.:


Verbs 418–419

Il serait très content si vous lui écriviez He would be very happy if you wrote to him S’il était ici, je le saurais If he were here, I should know Note: (a) that it is important to be sure of this use of the imperfect, since experience shows that students have a tendency to use the conditional instead (even though the conditional is not used in English either); the conditional is never used after si in this type of sentence (the conditional after si meaning ‘whether’ is a different matter – see 594). (b) that the preterite is never used in this type of sentence; the only time the preterite can be used after si in conditional sentences (and even then only rarely) is when the si-clause in reality expresses a fact, e.g. S’il quitta la ville en toute hâte, on ne peut pas l’en blâmer ‘If he left the town in a hurry, one cannot blame him for it’ (the implication is that he did leave the town in a hurry). For the use of the imperfect of devoir as an equivalent of ‘should’ or ‘were to’ in ‘if’-clauses, see 512,ii. 419 Whereas French uses the future or future perfect after quand ‘when’, etc., where English uses the present or the perfect (see 414,iii), after si ‘if’ (except when it means ‘whether’ – see 594) the present and perfect are used as in English, e.g.: S’il arrive (not arrivera) demain, vous le verrez If he arrives tomorrow, you will see him Est-ce qu’il viendra si je ne lui écris pas ? Will he come if I don’t write to him? Si vous avez déjà fini au moment où il arrivera, nous pourrons partir ensemble If you have finished by the time he arrives, we can leave together Likewise with the perfect tense, e.g.: S’il a reçu ma lettre, il n’y a pas répondu If he (has) received my letter, he hasn’t answered it S’il a reçu ma lettre, il téléphonera demain If he has received my letter, he will phone tomorrow

420–422 Tenses


420 The pluperfect indicative in the ‘if’-clause and the past conditional in the main clause are used as in English, e.g.: S’il en avait reçu, il vous les aurait montrés If he had received any, he would have shown them to you (The pluperfect subjunctive is sometimes used in either clause, e.g. S’il en eût reçu, il vous les eût montrés, but this is a literary archaism that should not be imitated; see also 478,c.) 421

Miscellaneous points

(i) Si with the imperfect can correspond to English ‘Suppose’ or ‘What about . . . ?’, as in: Si nous partions maintenant ? Suppose we left now? What about leaving now? (ii) ‘If (only)’ is often rendered by si (seulement) and the appropriate tense (imperfect or pluperfect), e.g.: Si seulement nous pouvions y aller ! If only we could go! Si (seulement) j’avais su ! If (only) I had known! (iii) On que for ‘if’ when repeated, see 702. (iv) On si meaning ‘if, whether’ (e.g. Je ne sais pas s’il viendra ‘I don’t know if (whether) he’ll come’), see 594. 422 ‘Even if’ may be rendered quite literally by même si which takes the tenses normally used after si, e.g.: Même s’il le jure, je ne le croirai pas Even if he swears it, I shall not believe it Même s’il le jurait, je ne le croirais pas Even if he swore it, I should not believe it Alternatively, quand même (or sometimes quand alone or quand bien même) is used with the tense normally used after quand, i.e. the present with reference to present time, the future with reference to the future (see 414,iii), the conditional in such contexts as the following: Quand même il le jurerait, je ne le croirais pas Even if he swore it, I should not believe it


Verbs 422–424

See also 423 and 424. 423 Another construction, which can mean either ‘if’ or ‘even if’, is the following, in which what would otherwise be the subordinate clause (the ‘if’-clause) in a conditional sentence becomes the main clause and what would otherwise be the main clause becomes the subordinate clause, introduced by que, with the conditional or past conditional tense in both clauses: Il le jurerait que je ne le croirais pas Even if he swore it, I should not believe it Vous seriez parti que je ne m’en serais pas aperçu If you had left I should not have noticed A similar construction exists and is frequent in speech, in which there is no subordinating conjunction, e.g. (to take the equivalents of the last two examples): Il le jurerait, je ne le croirais pas Vous seriez parti, je ne m’en serais pas aperçu 424 We note, for recognition purposes only, the existence in the literary language (but not in everyday speech) of conditional clauses in which the order of the verb and a pronominal subject (personal pronoun, ce or on) is inverted, as in English ‘had I known’ for ‘if I had known’; the verb is either in the conditional or past conditional or in the imperfect or pluperfect subjunctive; the meaning is either ‘if’ or ‘even if’, e.g.: L’aurait-il essayé, il n’aurait pu choisir (Genevoix) Had he tried, he could not have chosen Dût-il en mourir, il n’y consentirait jamais Even if he were to die for it, he would never agree Eût-elle parlé, elle eût crié (Genevoix) Had she spoken, she would have screamed Il se serait retiré, n’eût-il pas pensé qu’il se ferait remarquer He would have withdrawn had he not thought he would attract attention (On the possible omission of pas in this last example see 561,i.)

425–426 The infinitive


K The Infinitive

425 The infinitive is the form, ending in -er, -ir, -re or -oir, under which verbs are normally listed in dictionaries. Generally speaking, it corresponds to the English infinitive (sometimes referred to as the ‘base form’), with or without ‘to’, e.g.: Il veut partir Pouvez-vous marcher ?

He wants to leave Can you walk?

Sometimes, however, as will be seen in succeeding paragraphs, it is used where English uses the present participle (i.e. the form in -ing). Except after en, the infinitive is the only form of a French verb that can be used after a preposition (see 649). 426 Although part of the verb, the infinitive can also function as a noun to the extent that it can serve as the subject of a verb or as the complement of the verb être ‘to be’, e.g.: Penser à vous sera ma seule consolation Thinking (to think) of you will be my only consolation Voir, c’est croire Seeing is believing Consentir n’est pas approuver To consent is not to approve Mieux vaut les garder Better keep them (i.e. to keep them would be better) For the use of c’est when both subject and complement are positive infinitives, see 258,iii. In Classical French and occasionally still in literary usage, the infinitive subject may be preceded by de, e.g. De penser à toi me soutiendra (Gide) ‘Thinking of you will sustain me’; this de is required when the infinitive follows the verb, e.g.: Ma seule consolation sera de penser à vous My only consolation will be to think of you Ça m’agace de l’écouter It irritates me to listen to him


Verbs 426–428

In such cases, the infinitive may also be introduced by que de, e.g.: C’est une honte que de dire cela It is shameful to say that 427 (i) After verbs of saying and thinking, the infinitive may often be used as an alternative to a que-clause when the subject of both verbs is the same, e.g.: J’ai cru rêver (or J’ai cru que je rêvais) I thought I was dreaming Il reconnaissait avoir écrit (or qu’il avait écrit) la lettre He admitted writing (having written, that he had written) the letter It is not possible to tie this down to strict rules – for example, while Il disait avoir faim seems entirely acceptable as an equivalent of Il disait qu’il avait faim ‘He said he was hungry’, the infinitive construction would be somewhat unlikely as an alternative to the corresponding statement in the present tense, Il dit qu’il a faim ‘He says he is hungry’. In case of doubt, it is safer to use a que-clause. (ii) The infinitive is also used after a verb of saying or thinking introduced by a relative pronoun that is the object of the verb of saying or thinking and whose antecedent is the subject of the infinitive (as in L’homme qu’ils croyaient être malade ‘The man they thought to be ill’, in which que is the object of croyaient and its antecedent, l’homme, is the subject of être, i.e. ‘(They thought that) he was ill’), e.g.: La reine qu’on croyait ne rien savoir The queen who they thought knew nothing Le danger qu’on affirmait être imaginaire The danger which was declared to be imaginary An alternative construction (see 268,ii) would be: La reine dont on croyait qu’elle ne savait rien Le danger dont on affirmait qu’il était imaginaire 428 After verbs such as être, y avoir, rester, when English uses a passive infinitive to express a possible, desirable or necessary course of action, French uses à and the active infinitive, e.g.:

428–430 The infinitive


Toutes ces fenêtres sont à réparer All these windows are to be repaired Il n’y a rien à faire There is nothing to be done Cela reste à décider That remains to be decided In such sentences, the grammatical subject is, according to the sense, the object of the infinitive, i.e. what the above sentences express is that ‘one needs to repair these windows’, ‘one can do nothing’, and ‘one has still to decide that’. The same construction occurs in expressions such as appartement à louer ‘flat to let’ and terrain à vendre ‘plot (of land) for sale’. It also underlies the construction Cela laisse à désirer ‘That leaves something to be desired’. 429 Note the following circumstances in which French uses the infinitive but English does not: (i) in elliptical interrogative clauses, which often (but not necessarily) have an exclamatory value, e.g.: Que dire ? (for something like Que peut-on dire ?) What can one say? What is there to be said? Où aller ? (for something like Où faut-il aller ?) Where are we (was he, etc.) to go? (This is possible in English with ‘why (not)?’, e.g. Pourquoi ne pas le dire? ‘Why not say so?’) (ii) in generalized instructions, e.g.: Tenir au frais Tenir la main courante Ne pas se pencher en dehors Voir chapitre dix

Keep in a cool place Hold on to the handrail Do not lean out See chapter 10

The infinitive with faire, laisser, and verbs of the senses 430 After faire ‘to make’, laisser ‘to let’, and verbs of the senses (écouter ‘to listen to’, entendre ‘to hear’, regarder ‘to look at’,


Verbs 430–431

sentir ‘to feel’, voir ‘to see’), French uses an active infinitive where English may, according to circumstances, use either an active or a passive infinitive, a present participle, or a past participle. There are both close similarities and important differences between the two languages in this respect. Two fundamentally different constructions are involved. In one, a noun or pronoun serves both as the object of faire, etc., and as the subject of the infinitive (or, in English, the present participle) (see 431). In the other, a noun or pronoun is the object (in French) of the infinitive (English uses a very different construction – see 432). The remarks in 431 and 432 apply to nouns and to such pronouns as possessives (e.g. le mien) and demonstratives (e.g. ceuxci), but further problems arise in the case of personal pronouns (see 436 and 437). 431 The noun serves both as the object of faire, laisser, or a verb of the senses and as the subject of the following infinitive: (i) With faire, the noun follows the infinitive whereas it precedes it in English (see also 435,i), e.g.: Vous faites aboyer les chiens You are making the dogs bark (ii) With laisser and verbs of the senses, the noun may (with exceptions – see 435,i) either precede or follow the infinitive, e.g.: Je laisse Pierre venir Je laisse venir Pierre I am letting Peter come J’ai regardé décoller l’avion J’ai regardé l’avion décoller I watched the plane take off (or taking off – see below) Note that French makes no distinction comparable to the difference that exists in English with verbs of the senses (but not with ‘to let’) between the use of the present participle (e.g. ‘I heard the children shouting’ J’ai entendu crier les enfants), which presents the action as something in progress, and the infinitive (e.g. ‘I heard my brother shout’ J’ai entendu crier mon frère), which presents the action as a completed event. (In case of possible ambiguity, the distinction can be made by using a relative clause

431–433 The infinitive


with the appropriate tense, e.g. J’ai entendu mon frère qui criait ‘I heard my brother shouting’.) 432 The noun serves as the direct object of the infinitive, whereas English uses a past participle (sometimes preceded by ‘be’ or ‘being’) (see examples below). The direct object, if a noun (on personal pronouns, see 436 and 437), always follows the infinitive (contrast the construction discussed in 431,ii), e.g.: Il fait construire un garage He is having a garage built Nous ne laisserons pas intimider nos amis We shall not let our friends be intimidated Je regardais abattre les arbres I was watching the trees being cut down Il a vu tuer son ami He saw his friend killed The French construction may perhaps be more easily understood if it is appreciated that what we have here is a type of context in which there is an unspecified direct object of faire, etc., which also serves as the unexpressed subject of the infinitive. If this element is expressed as ‘someone, anyone’, it can be seen that the above examples are, in fact, the equivalent of ‘He is making (someone) build a garage’, ‘We shall not let (anyone) intimidate our friends’, ‘I was watching (someone) cut(ting) down the trees’, ‘He saw (someone) kill his friend’. This is also the construction that occurs in expressions such as envoyer chercher ‘to send for’ (lit. ‘to send (someone) to look for’), as in J’ai envoyé chercher le médecin ‘I’ve sent for the doctor’. 433 A further complication arises when, according to the sense and to English grammar, each verb, i.e. (a) faire, laisser or the verb of the senses and (b) the infinitive, has a direct object as, for example, in ‘I saw the boy catch a fish’ in which ‘the boy’ is the object of ‘saw’ and ‘a fish’ is the object of ‘catch’. In such circumstances: (i) the direct object of faire is treated grammatically as an indirect object, e.g.: Faites descendre les bagages au porteur Get the porter to bring down the luggage


Verbs 433–434

Je lui ferai abandonner cette idée I will make him give up that idea (Contrast these with the examples with faire given in 431,i and 436,i in which the infinitive has no object and so faire takes a direct object.) (ii) the direct object of laisser or a verb of the senses may be treated grammatically as either a direct or an indirect object, e.g.: J’ai laissé mon fils choisir le métier qu’il préfère J’ai laissé choisir le métier qu’il préfère à mon fils I have let my son choose the occupation he prefers Je l’ai (or lui ai) entendu dire beaucoup de bêtises I have heard him say a lot of silly things Nous les (or leur) regardions brûler des documents importants We were watching them burn(ing) important documents (Even with faire, both objects are sometimes treated as direct objects if that of faire is a personal pronoun, e.g. Je le ferai abandonner cette idée, but this is not the usual construction and so is best avoided.) As an alternative to the construction with an indirect object, a construction with par ‘by’ may be used, e.g.: Il a fait exécuter ses ordres à ses hommes (or par ses hommes) He made his men carry out his orders (or had his orders carried out by his men) 434 The situation referred to in 433 also arises when the direct object of the infinitive is not a noun or a pronoun but a subordinate clause, e.g.: ne devait pas agir de la sorte { qu’il en quoi il avait eu tort that he must not behave like that I made Peter understand { in what respect he had been wrong

J’ai fait entendre à Pierre

J’ai entendu dire à quelqu’un que le danger était passé I heard someone say that the danger was over In cases of possible ambiguity, as in the second example above which in certain contexts might just mean ‘I heard someone told that . . . , I heard it said to someone that . . .’, an alternative

434–436 The infinitive


construction should be used, e.g. J’ai entendu quelqu’un dire que . . . 435 (i) A noun serving as the direct object of faire and the subject of the infinitive follows the infinitive, e.g. Il a fait partir mon frère ‘He made my brother leave’ (the implied sentence is ‘my brother leaves’ – ‘my brother’ is the subject). But with laisser and verbs of the senses, such a noun may come either before or after the infinitive; the choice may be determined either by considerations of meaning, e.g.: (a) Je laisse Pierre venir (b) Je laisse venir Pierre


I am letting Peter come

– (a) is a neutral statement with no implications, whereas (b) may suggest that there are others that I am not letting come (in this case, ‘Peter’ would be slightly stressed in English); or by stylistic factors, for example, in the case of a lengthy direct object, e.g.: Je regardais jouer tous les petits enfants du village I was watching all the little children in the village playing or, even more so, when the infinitive is accompanied by a complement and the noun phrase is relatively short, e.g.: J’ai vu votre fils partir de la maison I saw your son leave the house In the kinds of circumstances illustrated by these last two examples it would not normally be acceptable to put the longer element before the shorter one. Elsewhere, however, the two constructions are more or less interchangeable. (ii) When the construction with à or par + a noun is used, the infinitive follows faire, etc., immediately and the direct object follows the infinitive, e.g.: Il fait construire sa maison à (or par) un architecte remarquable He is having his house built by a remarkable architect (for another example, see the end of 433). 436 The following remarks on the position of object pronouns do not apply to reflexive verbs (see 437). (i) When there is only one direct object conjunctive pronoun,


Verbs 436

whether it is, according to the sense, the object of faire, laisser, or of the infinitive, it is treated grammatically as the object of faire, etc., e.g.: (a) (object of faire, laisser, etc.) Je les ferai descendre I’ll get them to come down (object of faire) Je l’ai vu courir I saw him running (object of voir) (b) (object of the infinitive) Je les ferai descendre I will have them brought down (= I will make [someone] bring them down) Je l’ai vu tuer I saw him killed (= I saw [someone] kill him) (ii) When both faire, laisser or a verb of the senses and the following infinitive each have, according to the meaning, a direct object pronoun, a variety of constructions occur. The following observations cover the most usual of them (note that a and b do not refer to the positive imperative (see 207 and 514) which is dealt with in c): (a) The object of faire, etc., may be treated grammatically as an indirect object (cf. 433), in which case both pronouns come before faire, etc., e.g.: Il te le fera répéter He will make you repeat it Ne me les laissez pas oublier Don’t let me forget them Je les lui ai vu écrire I saw him writing them Je les lui regardais brûler I was watching her burn(ing) them Except with faire, this is a literary construction that should be avoided in conversational French. (b) Each pronoun may function grammatically as the direct object of its own verb, e.g.:

436 The infinitive


Elle m’a fait la quitter (Léautaud) She made me leave her Ne me laissez pas les oublier Don’t let me forget them Je la regardais les brûler I was watching her burn(ing) them This is the usual construction in speech, especially with verbs other than faire. This construction must be used: (1) when the object of laisser or a verb of the senses is a third person pronoun (le, la, les) and the object of the other verb is a first or second person pronoun, e.g.: Tu les laisses m’insulter (Mauriac) You are letting them insult me (note that Tu me les laisses insulter can only mean ‘You are letting me insult them’ – cf. a above); or (2) when both objects are first or second person pronouns, e.g.: Cette décision me fait vous respecter This decision makes me respect you (type a is impossible since me and vous cannot function as objects of the same verb – see 206, a) (c) With a positive imperative, the usual construction with faire is that both pronouns are grammatically objects of faire (i.e., as in a above), e.g.: Faites-le-leur répéter Make them repeat it but, with other verbs, each pronoun usually functions grammatically as the object of its own verb (as in b above), e.g.: Laissez-la les jeter ! Let her throw them away! Laisse-les te flatter ! Let them flatter you! Regardez-moi l’écrire Watch me writing it


Verbs 436–437

(iii) With envoyer chercher ‘to send for (lit. to send to look for) [someone]’, two constructions are possible: Nous l’enverrons chercher Nous enverrons le chercher We shall send for him However, with envoyer dire à quelqu’un ‘to send word to (lit. to send to tell) someone’, only one construction is possible: Nous le lui enverrons dire We shall send him (or her) word of it 437 When faire or, though less frequently, laisser, envoyer, mener or emmener, is followed by the infinitive of a reflexive verb, the reflexive pronoun may be omitted, e.g.: Nous les ferons taire or Nous les ferons se taire We shall make them be quiet Ils vous en feront repentir or Ils vous en feront vous repentir They will make you regret it This does not apply to the reflexive infinitive after verbs of the senses, after which the reflexive pronoun must be used, e.g.: Je les entendais se plaindre I could hear them complaining Even with faire, the reflexive pronoun must be used with the infinitive if the sentence could otherwise be ambiguous, e.g.: Ils l’ont fait se tuer They made him kill himself Il nous fera nous arrêter He will make us stop In such contexts, the construction omitting the reflexive pronoun is debarred because Ils l’ont fait tuer and Il nous fera arrêter would be interpreted as ‘They had him killed’ and ‘He will have us arrested’ respectively. Note the following construction in which the reflexive pronoun is grammatically the object of faire but, according to the sense, is the object of the following infinitive:

437–439 The present participle


Il s’est fait arrêter He got himself arrested Vous vous ferez écraser You’ll get run over which, more literally but quite unidiomatically, can be interpreted as ‘He caused [someone] to arrest him’ and ‘You will cause [someone] to run over you’. 438 Out of context, such utterances as the following could be ambiguous: Faites-le expliquer Make him explain or Have it explained Nous lui avons vu jouer un mauvais tour We saw him play a dirty trick or We saw a dirty trick played on him L’homme que j’ai vu peindre The man I saw painting or The man I saw being painted (= ‘having his portrait painted’) The problem, however, is little more than a theoretical one. In practice, such forms are rarely ambiguous, i.e. the context is sufficient to disambiguate them or, if not, some other construction can be used, e.g. Demandez-lui une explication ‘Ask him for an explanation’, Nous l’avons vu jouer un mauvais tour ‘We saw him play a dirty trick’.

L The present participle

439 The present participle corresponds, broadly speaking, to the English present participle in ‘-ing’ (on some differences in the way the participle is used in the two languages, see the following paragraphs). The present participle of all verbs ends in -ant, and in all regular verbs and all but a handful of irregular verbs the stem is the same as that of the first person plural of the present indicative, e.g.


Verbs 439–440

from donner ‘to give’, finir ‘to finish’, vendre ‘to sell’, boire ‘to drink’, connaître ‘to know’, craindre ‘to fear’, dire ‘to say’, prendre ‘to take’, we have donnant ‘giving’, finissant ‘finishing’, vendant ‘selling’, buvant ‘drinking’, connaissant ‘knowing’, craignant ‘fearing’, disant ‘saying’, prenant ‘taking’, corresponding to (nous) donnons, finissons, vendons, buvons, connaissons, craignons, disons, prenons. Apart from a few defective verbs and verbs used impersonally and which have no first person plural forms (for these, see 377), the only exceptions are the present participles of the verbs avoir ‘to have’ (ayant), être ‘to be’ (étant), and savoir ‘to know’ (sachant). 440 (i) Like its English equivalent, the French present participle can be used as an adjective (but see also 446), in which case it agrees in gender and number with its noun just like any other adjective, e.g.: une obscurité terrifiante terrifying darkness des femmes charmantes charming women Leurs cris étaient assourdissants Their cries were deafening (ii) The verb être ‘to be’ + the present participle, as in the last example in i above, can of course be used only when the meaning of the English participle is strictly adjectival. When the English construction ‘to be’ + present participle functions as a progressive form of the verb (as in ‘She is singing’, ‘They were working’), the appropriate tense of the verb (or, occasionally, être en train de + infinitive) must be used in French (see 399,i), e.g.: Il terrifie les enfants He is terrifying the children Leurs cris m’assourdissaient Their cries were deafening me (iii) The adjectival value can still dominate over the verbal value (i.e. the participle can agree) even when the participle is modified by a phrase introduced by de, e.g.:

440–441 The present participle


La petite cour . . . était divisée en deux parties: l’une ruisselante de soleil, l’autre envahie par l’ombre du bâtiment (Simenon) The little courtyard was divided into two parts: one shimmering with sunlight, the other shaded by the building Elle arrive, mourante de soif, à un vieux puits garni de lierre (P. Devoluy) She arrives, dying of thirst, at an old ivy-covered well (iv) On differences in spelling between some present participles and corresponding adjectives or nouns, see 446. 441 When the participle is not an adjective (see 440), it is invariable, i.e. it does not agree in gender or number, e.g.: (a) (referring to the subject of the verb) Réfléchissant à cette question, elle décida de lui écrire Thinking about this question, she decided to write to him Ils se sont approchés de moi, souriant et me tendant les bras They came towards me, smiling and stretching out their arms to me J’ai acheté ce dictionnaire ne sachant pas qu’il était mauvais I bought this dictionary not knowing that it was a poor one Étant satisfaites de notre réponse, elles sont parties Being satisfied with our reply, they left Ayant terminé leurs études, ils rentrent chez eux Having finished their studies, they are going home Not infrequently, as in the last three examples, the participle expresses cause (‘because I did not know . . .’. ‘because they were satisfied . . .’, ‘because they have finished . . .’). (b) (referring to the object of the verb) Il l’a aperçue lisant ma lettre He noticed her reading my letter Vous allez les rencontrer, souriant et vous tendant les bras You will meet them smiling and stretching out their arms to you (c) (with voici ‘here is, are’ and voilà ‘there is, are’) Les voilà, travaillant comme toujours There they are, working as always


Verbs 441–444

Note that soi-disant ‘so-called’ is invariable (see 136,iii), e.g. la soi-disant princesse ‘the so-called princess’, nos soi-disant chefs ‘our so-called leaders’. Note, for recognition purposes, the literary construction aller or s’en aller + present participle to indicate the progressive nature of the action expressed by the verb, e.g. La situation va s’aggravant ‘The situation is steadily getting worse’. 442 Where English uses a present participle with reference to a preceding noun or pronoun, French frequently uses a relative clause, especially after verbs of the senses, e.g.: J’entendais des chiens qui aboyaient toute la nuit I could hear dogs barking all night Je le vois qui tâche d’ouvrir la porte I can see him trying to open the door 443 The present participle can also be used absolutely (cf. the absolute use of the past participle, 457), e.g.: Les choses ne s’arrangeant pas à son gré, il fut forcé de quitter la France Things not going as he wanted, he had to leave France Son chapeau étant perdu, il s’en alla nu-tête His hat being lost, he went away bareheaded 444 There are many circumstances in which the French present participle cannot be used as the equivalent of the English present participle. In particular: (i) It cannot be used with the verb être ‘to be’ to form a ‘progressive’ tense (cf. English ‘He is working’,‘I have been writing a letter’) – see 399. (ii) When English uses the present participle to express an action that precedes (i.e. is not simultaneous with) the action expressed by the verb, French uses the present participle of avoir or être (with verbs that form their compound tenses with être – see 451–456) + the past participle, e.g. ayant répondu ‘having replied’, étant descendu ‘having come down’, or else a subordinate clause, e.g.: Hurriedly paying his bill, he rushed out of the shop Ayant réglé son compte à la hâte, il quitta précipitamment le magasin

444–445 The present participle


Jumping on his horse, he galloped away Il sauta sur son cheval et s’en alla au galop The same is often true of contexts in which English uses ‘on’ or ‘by’ with a participle, e.g.: By leaving home late he missed his train Étant parti trop tard de chez lui, il a raté son train On receiving his letter, I decided to leave at once Ayant reçu sa lettre, j’ai décidé de partir tout de suite Quand j’ai reçu sa lettre, j’ai décidé de partir tout de suite (On the use of the French gerund in similar but nevertheless different circumstances, see 445,ii,b.) (iii) When English uses ‘by’ + participle after a verb of beginning or ending, French uses par + infinitive (see also 649,iii), e.g.: I shall begin by explaining how things stand at present Je vais commencer par expliquer où en sont les choses They ended by agreeing with one another Ils ont fini par se mettre d’accord (iv) Where English uses the present participle to refer to bodily posture, French in most cases uses a past participle; among the most common of such participles are accoudé ‘leaning (on one’s elbow(s))’, adossé ‘leaning (with one’s back against)’, agenouillé ‘kneeling’, appuyé ‘leaning’, assis ‘sitting’ (but see also 378, n. 3), couché ‘lying’, e.g.: Il était adossé contre le mur He was leaning against (with his back against) the wall Elle est couchée sur le sable She is lying on the sand (Note, however, that ‘standing’ is debout, which is an adverb not an adjective, and therefore does not agree, e.g. Elle était debout ‘She was standing’.) 445 (i) When preceded by the preposition en (which is the only preposition that can precede it), e.g. en chantant, the form in -ant is often referred to as the ‘gerund’ (in French, le gérondif). (ii) The primary function of the gerund is to indicate that two actions, i.e. the one expressed by the gerund itself and the one expressed by the verb of its clause, are simultaneous, e.g.:


Verbs 445

Il flânait le long de la rue en regardant dans toutes les vitrines He strolled along the street looking in all the shop windows En l’écoutant chanter, je pense toujours à Maria Callas Listening to her sing, I always think of Maria Callas This covers cases in which the two actions are only partly simultaneous. These include: (a) cases in which the main verb expresses something that takes place at some point during the time when the action expressed by the gerund is going on, e.g.: En sortant de l’église, il glissa et se cassa la jambe Coming out of church, he slipped and broke his leg (b) cases in which the action expressed by the gerund is simultaneous only with the onset of the action expressed by the verb, or even slightly precedes it but gives rise to the action expressed by the verb, e.g.: En entendant sa voix, je me suis précipité dehors On hearing her voice, I rushed outside This must be distinguished from the construction referred to at the end of section 444,ii. (iii) Various secondary functions derive from the function of expressing simultaneity. In particular, the gerund can express such values as the following (which sometimes overlap with that of simultaneity or with one another): (a) means or manner, e.g.: Il a exprimé sa désapprobation en donnant sa démission He expressed his disapproval by resigning (b) cause, e.g.: En glissant, il se cassa la jambe By slipping he broke his leg (i.e. he broke his leg because he slipped) (c) condition, e.g.: En refusant son invitation, vous pourriez le rendre furieux By refusing his invitation (i.e. If you were to refuse his invitation), you could infuriate him

445–446 The present participle


En faisant un très grand effort, vous pourrez toujours réussir By making a great effort, you can still succeed (In this last example, the functions of cause and condition are combined, i.e. it contains the ideas of ‘By reason of making a great effort’ and of ‘If you make a great effort’.) The gerund can also have a concessive value (i.e. ‘although’), but in this case it is usually preceded by tout – see iv,b below. (iv) The gerund is frequently preceded by tout, particularly: (a) to emphasize the simultaneity of the two actions, e.g.: Il travaille tout en souriant He works while smiling all the time (b) with a concessive value, i.e. to express the idea of ‘although’ (cf. the use of ‘while’ in English), e.g.: Tout en se déclarant satisfaite de son explication, elle continue à le critiquer While claiming to be satisfied (i.e. Although she claims to be satisfied) with his explanation, she continues to criticize him (v) As in all the above examples, the gerund normally refers to the subject of its clause. However, where no ambiguity can arise, it is occasionally used more loosely, e.g.: En le voyant, une sorte de choc électrique secoua Sally (Maurois) When she saw him (lit. On seeing him), a kind of electric shock shook Sally This construction should be avoided except in the case of a few fixed expressions such as en attendant ‘meanwhile’, en passant ‘in passing, en passant’. (vi) The modern language retains as fixed expressions a few examples of an earlier stage in its history in which the participle, although functioning as a gerund, was not preceded by en, e.g. ce disant ‘so saying (lit. saying this)’, chemin faisant ‘on the way’ (i.e. ‘while making one’s way’), généralement parlant ‘generally speaking’, payer argent comptant ‘to pay cash’ (i.e. ‘to pay by counting out one’s money’). 446 As the result of a totally unnecessary quirk of French spelling, some present participles in -guant or -quant are not used


Verbs 446–447

as adjectives but are replaced in this function by forms in -gant, -cant; note in particular the following: infinitive communiquer ‘to communicate’ convaincre ‘to convince’ fatiguer ‘to tire’ provoquer ‘to provoke’ suffoquer ‘to suffocate’

participle communiquant convainquant fatiguant provoquant suffoquant

adjective communicant ‘communicating’ convaincant ‘convincing’ fatigant ‘tiring’ provocant ‘provocative’ suffocant ‘suffocating’

e.g. Convainquant son père de sa sincérité, il réussit à le calmer ‘Convincing his father of his sincerity, he succeeded in calming him down’, but des arguments convaincants ‘convincing arguments’; En le provoquant comme ça, vous allez le mettre en colère ‘By provoking him like that you’ll make him angry’, but une manière provocante ‘a provocative manner’; likewise des pièces communicantes ‘communicating rooms’, un voyage fatigant ‘a tiring journey’, une chaleur suffocante ‘a stifling heat’. Note too, corresponding to the verbs intriguer ‘to scheme’, naviguer ‘to sail, navigate’, the forms intrigant ‘scheming’ (as an adjective) or (as a noun) schemer, intriguer and navigant, used especially in the term le personnel navigant ‘seagoing personnel, flying personnel’, and, corresponding to the verb fabriquer ‘to manufacture’, le fabricant ‘manufacturer’ (used as a noun only) – contrast the present participles intriguant, naviguant, fabriquant. This does not apply to other verbs in -quer, e.g., corresponding to attaquer ‘to attack’ and piquer ‘to sting’, un attaquant ‘attacker’, une réplique piquante ‘a stinging rejoinder’.

M The past participle Introduction 447 The past participle is used (i) to form the perfect and other compound tenses (see 448), (ii) to form the passive (see

447–450 The past participle


382–385), (iii) in certain absolute constructions (see 457–458), and (iv) as an adjective, in which case it agrees with its noun in gender and number in the same way as other adjectives (see 127–130), e.g. une expression détendue ‘a relaxed expression’, des verres cassés ‘broken glasses’. 448 As a participle it is used with avoir and être to form the compound tenses, i.e. the perfect (e.g. j’ai fini, je suis parti), the pluperfect (j’avais fini, j’étais parti), the past anterior (j’eus fini, je fus parti), the future perfect (j’aurai fini, je serai parti), the past conditional (j’aurais fini, je serais parti), the perfect subjunctive (j’aie fini, je sois parti), the imperfect subjunctive (j’eusse fini, je fusse parti) and the double-compound tenses (see 412).

Compound tenses with avoir 449 With avoir, the past participle forms the compound tenses of the active voice of all transitive verbs except reflexive verbs (see 379–381), and of all intransitive verbs (including être) except those listed in 451–456, e.g.: J’ai fini I have finished Avez-vous lu ce livre ? Have you read this book? Nous avions marché pendant trois heures We had walked for three hours Jean n’aura pas vendu sa maison John will not have sold his house Qui l’aurait cru ? Who would have believed it?

Compound tenses with être 450

With être, the past participle forms the compound tenses of:

(a) all reflexive verbs (see 380–381), e.g.:


Verbs 450

Il s’est cassé le bras He has broken his arm Ne s’était-elle pas levée ? Hadn’t she got up? Ils se seraient blessés They would have hurt themselves (b) the following verbs when used intransitively (for the transitive use of some of these verbs, see 451): aller, go arriver, arrive, happen décéder, die descendre, come or go down devenir, become entrer, enter, go in monter, come or go up (but see also 455) mourir, die naître, be born partir, go away, leave rentrer, come back, come home rester, remain, stay retourner, go back, return sortir, come or go out tomber, fall venir, come and intransitive compounds of partir, sortir and venir, except convenir à ‘to suit’ which takes avoir. (Prévenir ‘to warn’ is transitive and therefore takes avoir.) Examples: Ils sont devenus tristes They became sad Elle n’était pas descendue She had not come down Il sera parti He will have left Seraient-elles venues ? Would they have come?

450–452 The past participle


For verbs that are sometimes compounded with avoir and sometimes with être, see 452–456. 451 Some of the verbs discussed in 450 may also be used transitively, with a different meaning, in which case, like all other transitive verbs, they form their compound tenses with avoir; the only such verbs that are widely so used are: descendre monter remonter rentrer retourner sortir

(1) descend (ladder, hill, etc.) (2) take (bring) down (1) climb, ascend (2) take up wind up bring in to turn (something) over (etc.) take out

Examples: Elle a descendu l’escalier She came down the stairs J’ai monté les bagages I have brought the luggage up J’ai remonté ma montre I have wound up my watch Il a sorti sa voiture du garage He took his car out of the garage Entrer and tomber are occasionally transitive in such expressions as entrer un meuble dans une pièce ‘to get a piece of furniture into a room’, tomber sa veste ‘to take off one’s jacket’, tomber quelqu’un ‘to throw someone’ (in wrestling), and then they too are compounded with avoir.

Verbs compounded with avoir or être 452 With two verbs only, viz. accourir ‘to run, rush (up)’ and apparaître ‘to appear, come to light’, either avoir or être may be used with no difference in meaning, e.g.: Elle a accouru (or est accourue) vers son fils She ran towards her son


Verbs 452–455

Soudain les étoiles ont apparu (or sont apparues) Suddenly the stars appeared 453 Demeurer takes avoir when it means ‘to dwell, live (at)’, but être when it is the equivalent of rester ‘to remain’, e.g.: Avant mon mariage, j’ai demeuré à Paris Before my marriage I lived in Paris Il est toujours demeuré fidèle He has always remained faithful 454 Passer takes avoir in the expression passer pour ‘to pass as, be taken for’, e.g.: Il avait passé pour un homme intelligent He had passed as (been taken for) an intelligent man but in other intransitive senses now usually takes être, though avoir is also possible, e.g.: Nous sommes passés (or avons passé) sous le pont We passed under the bridge Ils sont passés (or ont passé) à l’ennemi They have gone over to the enemy Le facteur n’est pas (or n’a pas) encore passé The postman hasn’t been yet Elle est passée (or a passé) plusieurs fois à la télé She has been on TV several times 455 Although monter ‘to rise, go up’ as an intransitive verb usually takes être, it often takes avoir when it refers to the fact that the level of something has risen (either literally or figuratively), e.g.: Le fleuve a monté de deux mètres The (level of the) river has gone up by two metres Le baromètre a monté The barometer has risen Tous les prix ont monté All the prices have gone up Il est très malade – la fièvre a encore monté He’s very ill – his temperature has gone up again

455–457 The past participle


(Note that the opposite of monter in this sense is not descendre but baisser, which always takes avoir, e.g. Les prix ont baissé ‘The prices have gone down’.) 456 Note that the compound tenses of verbs such as changer ‘to change’, disparaître ‘to disappear’, grandir ‘to grow (bigger)’, vieillir ‘to age, to grow old(er)’, the past participles of which may well be found with the verb être, are in fact always formed with avoir, e.g.: La ville a beaucoup changé ces dernières années The town has changed a lot these last few years Il a dit que le bateau avait disparu la veille He said that the boat had disappeared the previous day Vos enfants ont grandi depuis l’an dernier Your children have grown since last year Vous n’avez pas vieilli du tout You haven’t aged at all When the past participle of such a verb is found with être, the reason is that it is then being used strictly as an adjective, referring to the state resulting from the process expressed by the verb, e.g.: Elle est complètement changée She is completely changed (different) Ils sont disparus They are missing (nowhere to be seen)

The absolute use of the past participle 457 French makes rather more use than English of absolute participial constructions, i.e. clauses consisting of a noun or pronoun and a present or past participle with no introductory conjunction and no personal form of the verb, e.g. ‘Weather permitting’ = ‘if the weather permits’, ‘that being so’ = ‘if (or) since that is so’, ‘The Christmas cards written, he went to bed’ = ‘When he had written the Christmas cards, . . .’ e.g.: cela dit that said


Verbs 457–459

Réflexion faite, il décida de partir On reflection, he decided to leave Toutes choses considérées, je crois qu’il faut accepter cette proposition All things considered, I think we must accept this proposal Ses dettes payées, il quitta la ville His debts (having been) paid, he left town This construction is also used when it is introduced by une fois ‘once’ in a way that is not possible in English, e.g.: Une fois la décision prise, la réunion prit fin Once the decision had been taken (or The decision once taken), the meeting came to an end 458 On the absolute use of excepté, vu, y compris, and other participles, see 134.

The agreement of the past participle 459 (i) When forming part of a compound tense, the past participle can vary for gender and number, e.g.:. arrivé écrit

arrivée écrite

arrivés écrits

arrivées écrites

according to the following rules (which apply to all compound tenses): (a) the participle compounded with avoir agrees with a preceding direct object (see 460); otherwise it is invariable (b) the participle of a reflexive verb, even though compounded with être, also agrees with a preceding direct object (see 461) (c) the participle of other verbs compounded with être (see 450, b, and 452–456) agrees with the subject (see 462). (ii) In the passive, the participle always agrees with the subject, e.g.: Ma sœur a été retenue par un petit accident My sister has been delayed by a slight accident

459–460 The past participle


Les livres avaient été vendus The books had been sold Elles seront punies They (fem.) will be punished (Note that été never agrees.) 460 The past participle compounded with avoir agrees only with a preceding direct object, i.e. with a direct object coming before the verb; this does not mean that the object must necessarily come immediately before the verb – the two are often separated by a number of other elements. The only words that can come before the verb as its direct object and so cause agreement of the participle are: (a) the interrogatives quel + noun, lequel, and combien de + noun (see also the notes below) (b) the exclamatory que de ‘what a lot of’ + noun (see 333) (c) the relative pronouns que and lequel (d) the conjunctive pronouns me, te, nous vous, le, la, les (for se see 461). Examples: Quelle maison a-t-il achetée ? (agreement with quelle maison) Which house has he bought? Je ne sais pas laquelle il a achetée (agreement with laquelle) I don’t know which one he has bought Combien de lettres avez-vous écrites ? (agreement with combien de lettres) How many letters have you written? Que de problèmes il a rencontrés ! (agreement with que de problèmes) What a lot of problems he encountered! Voilà la maison que j’ai achetée (agreement with que = la maison) There is the house I have bought – Il ne m’a pas vue, dit-elle (agreement with me, feminine) “He didn’t see me,” she said Elle ne les avait pas vendus (agreement with les) She had not sold them


Verbs 460

(iii) Note the following points: (a) combien de and que de take their gender and number from the noun they govern (e.g. combien de glace ? is feminine singular, que de difficultés is feminine plural) (b) grammarians differ as to whether, and if so when, the participle should agree with combien accompanied by the pronoun en ‘of it, of them’, e.g.: Combien en a-t-il vendu (or vendus) ? How many of them has he sold? It is safest never to make the participle agree in this case. The same applies when other quantifiers such as plus or moins + en precede the verb, e.g. Plus il a acheté de livres, plus il en a vendu(s) ‘The more books he bought, the more he sold’. (c) que takes its gender and number from its antecedent, e.g. in les lettres que j’ai écrites ‘the letters that I have written’, que, standing for les lettres (fem. plur.), is itself feminine plural. (d) qui ? ‘whom?’ is always treated as masculine singular, even in contexts in which it might be supposed to relate to a female or to more than one person, so, when functioning as the preceding direct object of a verb in a compound tense, it never leads to any agreement other than the masculine singular, e.g. Qui avez-vous vu ? ‘Whom did you see?’ (e) me, te, nous and les can be masculine or feminine, while vous can be masculine or feminine, singular or plural. (f) In speech, participial agreement is far less extensive than in writing, since the majority of participles end in a vowel, in which case there is no audible distinction between masculine and feminine or between singular and plural, e.g. trouvé, trouvée, trouvés, trouvées, all pronounced [truve], and likewise fini(e)(s) pronounced [fini], battu(e)(s), pronounced [baty]. Audible agreement can only occur with participles ending in -s or -t, where there is agreement for feminine gender (but not for plural number), e.g. (from mettre) mis (masculine singular and plural) pronounced [mi], mise(s) (feminine singular and plural) pronounced [miz], and (from écrire) écrit(s) (masculine singular and plural) pronounced [ekri], écrite(s) (feminine singular and plural), pronounced [ekrit]. The number of verbs where such audible agreement is even theoretically possible is very limited and, in practice, those where it occurs with any frequency amount to only a handful, in particular, dire/participle dit, écrire/écrit, faire/fait, ouvrir/ouvert, mettre/mis,

460–461 The past participle


prendre/pris, produire/produit, and a few of their compounds such as promettre, apprendre, comprendre. Even with these, agreement is frequently not made, especially when the participle is not the last element in the clause, e.g. J’ai conservé toutes les lettres que m’a écrit mon frère ‘I have kept all the letters that my brother wrote to me’, instead of écrites (for the inversion of the subject here, see 598,i). See Rodney Ball, Colloquial French Grammar (Oxford, Blackwell, 2000, pp.94–97),for fuller discussion of this point and numerous examples, including Les concessions que j’ai fait à propos de [. . .] (a television presenter) and C’est une chose que j’ai appris (Jacques Chirac). (g) For some less straightforward cases, see 463–471. 461 The participle of a reflexive verb also agrees with the preceding direct object. If this is the reflexive pronoun, it takes its gender and number from the subject (which it refers back to), e.g.: Elle s’est blessée She has hurt herself Ils se sont blessés They have hurt themselves Je me suis blessé (the speaker is male) Je me suis blessée (the speaker is female) I have hurt myself Vous vous êtes blessé (one male addressee) You have hurt yourself Vous vous êtes blessées (more than one female addressee) You have hurt yourselves Note: (a) that when the reflexive pronoun represents an indirect object, it does not of course bring about agreement, e.g.: Elle s’est nui (nuire à quelqu’un) She has harmed herself (i.e. her interests) Elle s’est blessé le doigt She has hurt her finger (lit. She has hurt the finger to herself) Ils se sont écrit They have written to one another (b) that some other element than the reflexive pronoun may be the direct object, e.g.: J’ai lu les lettres qu’ils se sont écrites I have read the letters they wrote to one another


Verbs 461–466

in which écrites agrees with the preceding direct object que whose antecedent is les lettres and which is therefore feminine plural. 462 The participle of other verbs compounded with être agrees with the subject, e.g.: Votre sœur est-elle arrivée ? Has your sister arrived? Jean et Pierre sont déjà partis John and Peter have already left The past participle with an infinitive 463 When a compound tense of faire, laisser or a verb of the senses such as voir, entendre, etc. is followed by an infinitive (see 430), the following rules apply: 464 faire The past participle of faire remains invariable, e.g.: Quels livres avez-vous fait venir ? What books have you had sent? Voilà la maison que nous avons fait construire There is the house that we have had built 465


The past participle of laisser, like that of faire, may be treated as invariable, but, more usually, it agrees with a preceding direct object whether that object is, according to the sense, the object of laisser (as in Il la laisse entrer ‘He lets her come in’) or the object of the infinitive (as in Ils se laissent prendre ‘They let themselves be caught’, lit. ‘They let [someone] catch them’), e.g.: Il l’a laissée (or laissé) entrer He has let her come in Ils se sont laissés (or laissé) prendre They have let themselves be caught 466 Verbs of the senses In the case of a verb of the senses such as entendre ‘to hear’, voir ‘to see’, etc. (see 430), the participle agrees with a preceding direct object (see 460), provided that, according to the meaning, it is the object of the verb of the senses and not the object of the infinitive (in

466–467 The past participle


which case there is no agreement).A little thought will usually clear up any difficulty there may be in deciding. For example, in Quels acteurs avez-vous vus jouer ? ‘Which actors did you see act(ing)?’, acteurs is the object of voir ‘to see’ and the subject of jouer ‘to act’ (‘One sees the actors’:‘The actors act’) and so the past participle vus agrees, whereas in Quelles pièces avez-vous vu jouer ? ‘Which plays did you see performed?’ (i.e. ‘Which plays did you see [someone] perform?’) pièces is the object of jouer ‘to perform’ (‘One performs plays’) and there is therefore no agreement of the past participle vu. Note that the two constructions are in fact clearly distinguished in English (though in a very different way from in French). If a noun or pronoun (see the examples below with relative or personal pronouns) is the object of the verb of the senses, English uses the infinitive or the present participle of the other verb (and in French the past participle agrees), e.g.: les acteurs que nous avons vus jouer the actors we saw act (or acting) Je l’ai entendue chanter I have heard her sing (or singing) But if, in French, the noun or pronoun is the object of the infinitive (in which case the past participle does not agree), English uses a totally different construction in which the noun or pronoun is still the object of the verb of the senses and the other verb is represented by a past participle, e.g.: les pièces que nous avons vu jouer the plays (which) we saw performed Je connais cette chanson: je l’ai souvent entendu chanter I know that song: I have often heard it sung 467 A similar situation exists with a verb governed by à or de, in which case again the direct object may be the object either of the main verb (and the participle agrees) or of the infinitive (and the participle does not agree). Note, however, that, in this case, English uses the infinitive (and never the present participle or the past participle) of the other verb, e.g.: Les rapports que je leur ai donnés à écrire sont assez longs The reports that I gave them to write out are rather long (donnés, because ‘I gave them the reports’ so, according to the sense, les rapports is the object of donner)


Verbs 467–469

Les raisons que j’ai essayé de leur expliquer The reasons that I tried to explain to them (essayé – no agreement – because ‘I tried to explain the reasons’ so, according to the sense, les raisons is the object of expliquer not of essayer). 468 Similar problems to those presented by faire, laisser and verbs of the senses might seem to be presented by modal verbs (e.g. devoir, pouvoir) and certain other verbs that are followed by an infinitive without à or de. In fact, there is no real problem. The participle of such verbs is invariable whether the infinitive is expressed or merely understood since, if there is a direct object, it is in all cases the object of the infinitive not of the other verb. Among the most widely used of such verbs are: aimer mieux, prefer compter, expect désirer, wish devoir, have to (etc.) espérer, hope oser, dare paraître, appear pouvoir, be able préférer, prefer savoir, know how to, be able sembler, seem souhaiter, wish vouloir, wish Examples: Il y avait tant de choses que nous avions espéré voir There were so many things which we had hoped to see Nous avons fait tous les préparatifs que nous avons pu (faire is understood) We have made all the preparations we could Je vais vous montrer la maison qu’il avait désiré acheter I’ll show you the house that he had wanted to buy Problematic cases not connected with the infinitive 469 courir, coûter, marcher, peser, valoir The participles of these verbs are invariable when they are followed by an expression of amount, time or distance. The reason is that, in

469–470 The past participle


sentences such as Ce paquet pèse trois kilos ‘This parcel weighs three kilos’, J’ai couru huit kilomètres ‘I ran eight kilometres’, J’ai marché deux heures ‘I walked (for) two hours’, the expressions trois kilos, huit kilomètres, deux heures are not really direct objects but adverbial expressions of amount, distance or time; the relative pronoun que standing for them is not a direct object either and so, in a compound tense, does not cause agreement. Note, however, that courir, coûter, peser and valoir do take a direct object (and so the participle takes agreement) when they are used metaphorically, and that peser in the sense of ‘to weigh (an object)’ also has a normal direct object. Examples: Malgré les huit kilomètres qu’il avait couru, il n’était guère essoufflé In spite of the eight kilometres he had run, he was hardly out of breath Malgré les dangers qu’il avait courus, il n’était guère ému In spite of the dangers he had run, he was almost unmoved les vingt euros que ce livre m’a coûté the twenty euros that this book cost me les soucis que sa conduite m’a coûtés the worries that his behaviour has cost me les vingt kilos que le paquet avait pesé the twenty kilos that the parcel had weighed les pommes qu’il avait pesées the apples that he had weighed les cinquante mille euros que le tableau avait valu the fifty thousand euros that the picture had been worth les félicitations que son courage lui a values the congratulations that his courage earned him 470 Expressions denoting duration of time, as in ‘The strike lasted three months’, ‘I have been waiting two hours’, are adverbial expressions and must not be interpreted as direct objects – as is clearly indicated by the alternative English formulation ‘The strike lasted for three months’, I have been waiting for two hours’. Consequently, in such examples as the following que is not a direct object and the past participle is therefore invariable:


Verbs 470–472

J’ai perdu les deux heures que j’ai attendu I have wasted the two hours I have been waiting Combien d’heures avez-vous dormi ? How many hours did you sleep (have you slept)? les trois mois que la grève a duré the three months that the strike lasted 471 Note, however, that passer ‘to spend (time)’ does take a direct object and that there is therefore agreement of the past participle in such examples as the following: Combien d’années a-t-il passées à Paris ? How many years has he spent in Paris? les dix heures que nous avons passées sur le bateau the ten hours we spent on the boat

N The moods

472 There is so little agreement among grammars of French as to just how many ‘moods’ French has that we shall not attempt to define the term ‘mood’ but shall concentrate on discussing the ways in which each so-called mood is used. The moods recognized by some, though, as we have said, not all grammars, are the following (of which the first three are agreed by everyone to be moods): (i) The indicative – for a brief general discussion of the difference between the indicative and the subjunctive, see 473; the tenses of the indicative are discussed above, under ‘J: The tenses’ (ii) The subjunctive – discussed at length below, 474–506 (iii) The imperative – see 514–517 (iv) The conditional – discussed above under ‘Tenses’, see 415–424 (v) The infinitive – see 425–438 (vi) The participles – see 439–471 (vii) The gerund – here included under the present participle (see 445)

473–475 The subjunctive


O The subjunctive Introduction 473 If one thing is certain about the use of the subjunctive in Modern French, it is that it cannot be reduced to a few easy rules. It is true that, in many cases, one can give precise guidance, i.e. one can say that in certain circumstances one must use the subjunctive (and, in others, that one must use the indicative). But there are other circumstances that allow the use of either the indicative or the subjunctive. Often the choice is a meaningful one, each mood having a real and distinctive, if not always easily definable, expressive value. But sometimes the distinction is merely stylistic – the literary language, for example, may still prefer the subjunctive where in speech, even educated speech, the indicative is well established. With these reservations, it is not too much of a simplification to say that, in general, the indicative presents an event as a fact, whereas the subjunctive expresses it as, for example, a possibility or an aim, or calls it into doubt, or denies its reality, or expresses a judgement on it. On the subjunctive in colloquial French, see R. Ball, Colloquial French Grammar (Oxford, Blackwell, 2000), pp. 91–93. 474 Many errors made by students in the use of the subjunctive can be avoided if one remembers that, with the exception of a few fixed expressions and certain constructions in which its use is little more than a relic of an earlier stage of the language (see 476–478), the subjunctive occurs only: (i) in clauses introduced by que or conjunctions ending in que (e.g. quoique ‘although’) (see 486–491) – but most clauses introduced by que have the indicative, and (ii) in certain types of relative clauses (see 492–495) – but, again, most relative clauses have the indicative. 475 We shall discuss first the exceptional cases referred to above. These are of three types: (i) fixed expressions, i.e. expressions that cannot be varied in any way (476)


Verbs 475–477

(ii) constructions allowing a slight amount of variation, but only within very strict limits (477) (iii) constructions allowing a greater degree of variation than those referred to under (ii) (478). (i) Fixed expressions 476 The subjunctive without que occurs in a small number of fixed expressions (many of them having religious associations), e.g.: advienne que pourra grand bien vous fasse ainsi soit-il (after a prayer) soit dit entre nous coûte que coûte n’en déplaise à . . . (ne vous en déplaise, etc.) fasse le ciel que . . . Dieu vous bénisse ! Dieu soit loué ! A Dieu ne plaise !

come what may much good may it do you amen (lit. so be it) between you and me (lit. let it be said between us) at all costs (lit. let it cost what it costs) with all due respect to . . . , if you have no objection Heaven (God) grant that . . . (when someone sneezes) (God) bless you! God be praised! God forbid! (lit. May it not please God)

Note that the English equivalents are in some cases also fixed expressions involving the subjunctive, Come what may, God be praised, God forbid, etc. (ii) Constructions allowing a minimum of variation 477 The subjunctive without que occurs in the following constructions, all of them other than (a) and (b) being characteristic of literary rather than of spoken usage: (a) with vivre ‘to live’: Vive la France ! ‘Long live France!’, Vivent les Belges ! ‘Long live the Belgians!’ – occurs only when the subject is a noun (which may, however, be any noun that makes sense in the context)

477–478 The subjunctive


(b) with venir ‘to come’: vienne la fin du mois ‘come the end of the month’, viennent les beaux jours ‘when the fine weather comes’ – the subject is usually a noun referring to a point in time (c) with pouvoir ‘may’: Puisse-t-il arriver à temps ! ‘May he arrive (= if only he can arrive) in time!’, Puissiez-vous réussir ‘May you succeed’, Puissent vos beaux yeux ne jamais pleurer (Vigny) ‘May your lovely eyes never weep’ – can occur with all persons of the verb (note the form puissé-je) (d) with être ‘to be’: Soit un triangle ABC ‘Let there be a triangle ABC’, and similar expressions used in geometry (e) with savoir ‘to know’: je ne sache pas que . . . ‘I am not aware that . . .’ (with a subjunctive in the following clause) – normally found only with je or on (e.g. On ne sache pas qu’il ait jamais fait de grands efforts ‘It is not known that he has ever made any great effort’); similarly Je ne sache rien de plus agréable ‘I know of nothing more pleasant’, and comparable expressions with ne . . . personne ‘no one’, ne . . . guère ‘scarcely’, etc. (iii) Constructions allowing a greater degree of variation 478 (a) The imperfect subjunctive in conditional clauses, e.g. fûtil du sang des dieux aussi bien que des rois (Corneille) ‘were he of the blood of gods as well as of kings’, dût-il (dussiez-vous, etc.) en mourir ‘had he, were he (you, etc.) to die because of it (i.e. even if . . .)’, dussent mille dangers me menacer ‘were a thousand dangers to threaten me’, voulût-il le faire ‘even if he wanted to do so’ – the subject may be a personal pronoun (note the forms fussé-je, dusséje), or ce, or on, or a noun, but note that, if it is a noun, complex inversion (see 596) is obligatory in the case of être and vouloir, e.g. la situation fût-elle encore plus grave ‘were the situation even more serious’, but not in the case of devoir (b) The pluperfect subjunctive with inversion of the subject in ‘if’clauses, e.g. Pierre Louis m’eût-il encouragé (Gide) ‘had Pierre Louis encouraged me’; this highly literary construction is the equivalent of the usual si Pierre Louis m’avait encouragé (c) The pluperfect subjunctive in both parts of conditional sentences. In constructions of the type S’il avait parlé, j’aurais répondu


Verbs 478–480

‘If he had spoken, I should have replied’, the pluperfect indicative in the si clause and the past conditional in the main clause (or, sometimes, one of the two but not both) may be replaced by the pluperfect subjunctive, S’il eût parlé, j’eusse répondu; similarly, with verbs taking être, one may find si elle fût partie, etc., for si elle était partie ‘if she had left’, etc. Note (1) that this construction occurs only as the equivalent of the pluperfect and the past conditional and that no parallel construction exists as the equivalent of the construction S’il parlait, je répondrais ‘If she spoke, I should reply’, and (2) that it is in any case a highly literary and even somewhat archaic construction and should not be imitated. (d) As an alternative to the construction si (quelque . . . , aussi . . . , tout . . . , pour . . .) riche qu’il soit ‘however rich he may be’ (see 310) one sometimes finds the construction si riche soit-il ‘however rich he is (may be)’, but only when the subject is il, elle, ils or elles. The subjunctive introduced by que 479 We shall divide the clauses introduced by que and taking the subjunctive into three categories, viz.: (i) those in which the que-clause is not dependent on some preceding verb, adjective, noun, or adverb (480) (ii) those in which the que-clause is dependent on a preceding verb, adjective, noun, etc. (481–485) (iii) those in which que is part of a conjunction (the majority of which are in fact what in French are known as locutions conjonctives, i.e. compound conjunctions such as à moins que ‘unless’, en sorte que ‘so that’, pourvu que ‘provided that’) (486–491). (The distinction between (ii) and (iii) is sometimes uncertain – for example, de crainte que ‘for fear that, lest’, could well fit into either category.) The subjunctive in independent clauses 480 The subjunctive occurs in the following types of clauses in which que is not dependent upon a preceding element (verb, noun, etc.):

480 The subjunctive


(i) In clauses expressing an order (a kind of third person imperative) or an exhortation; these can often be rendered in English by ‘Let X do so-and-so’, though in practice some other equivalent usually occurs, e.g. Qu’il vienne me voir demain ‘Let him come and see me (He can come and see me, Tell him to come and see me) tomorrow’, Qu’elles rentrent avant minuit ‘Let them be back (They’d better be back) by midnight’, Qu’ils fassent bien attention ‘Let them (They’d better) take care’, Que tout le monde sorte ‘(Let) everybody leave’. (ii) The subjunctive is usual when que introduces a noun clause (i.e. a clause functioning as a noun in relation to some other clause) placed at the beginning of the sentence; the noun clause may function as the subject of another clause, e.g. Qu’il soit mécontent est certain ‘That he is displeased is certain’ (qu’il soit mécontent is the subject of est), or stand in some other relation to the other clause, e.g. Qu’il puisse partir demain, tout le monde le sait ‘That he may leave tomorrow everybody knows’, Que vous ayez raison, j’en suis certain ‘That you are right I am sure of’. (The indicative can occur when the factual nature of the statement is stressed, e.g. Que Louis XVIII ne l’aimait pas (. . .), cela, il le savait (Aragon) ‘That Louis XVIII did not like him, that he knew’.) (iii) In certain types of hypothetical (conditional) clause, in particular: (a) in a que-clause as the equivalent of a si-clause at the beginning of the sentence, e.g. Qu’il fasse beau demain (= S’il fait beau demain), (et) j’irai à la pêche ‘If (provided) it’s fine tomorrow, I shall go fishing’ (note that the following clause is often introduced by et), Que l’ennemi vienne, le lâche s’enfuit ‘Should the enemy come, the coward runs away’ (b) as the equivalent of si introducing a second hypothetical clause (but see also 702,i), e.g. s’il fait beau et qu’il ne fasse pas trop chaud . . . (= s’il ne fait pas trop chaud) ‘if it’s fine and if it’s not too hot . . .’ (c) after soit que . . . soit que or soit que . . . ou que ‘whether . . . or (whether)’, e.g. Soit qu’il ne comprenne pas, soit qu’il (or ou qu’il) ne veuille pas comprendre, il est de tout façon très entêté ‘Whether he does not understand, or whether he does not wish to understand, he is at all events very stubborn’


Verbs 480–482

(d) in the construction que . . . ou que (or ou non) ‘whether . . . or whether (or not)’, e.g. Qu’il fasse beau ou qu’il pleuve (Qu’il fasse beau ou non), j’irai à la pêche ‘Whether it’s fine or whether it rains (Whether it’s fine or not), I shall go fishing’.

The subjunctive in dependent que-clauses 481 Broadly speaking, que-clauses involving the subjunctive fall into four categories, each expressing – if sometimes rather vaguely – a particular value which is something other than a mere factual statement. The following indications (and in many cases they are indications rather than rules) are not exhaustive, and there are frequent exceptions, i.e. instances where the indicative occurs when the subjunctive might be expected, and vice versa. The four categories in question are the following (in each case, we use the term ‘event’ to indicate the action or idea expressed by the verb): (i) clauses in which the event is presented as something to be accomplished (482) (ii) clauses in which the event is presented as merely possible, or is called into doubt (483) (iii) clauses in which the reality of the event is denied (484) (iv) clauses expressing a judgement on or reaction to the event (485). The que-clause may be dependent on a verb or an adjective or, occasionally, on a noun or an adverb. 482

(i) The event is presented as something to be accomplished

(a) After verbs expressing a wish, a request, an order, an expectation, permission, etc.; these include: vouloir que souhaiter que désirer que demander que exiger que

to wish, want to wish to wish, desire to ask to demand, require ordonner que to order recommander to recommend que

insister pour que tenir à ce que veiller à ce que attendre que s’attendre à ce que

to insist to insist, be keen to take care, see to it to wait (until) to expect

permettre que to allow consentir à ce que to agree, consent

482 The subjunctive


e.g. Je veux qu’il parte ‘I want him to leave’, Il a demandé que toutes les lettres soient brûlées ‘He asked that all the letters be burnt’, Nous insistons pour que vous veniez nous voir ‘We insist that you come and see us’, Mon frère veillera à ce que ce soit fait ‘My brother will see that it is done’, Attendons que le courrier arrive ‘Let’s wait until the mail arrives (for the mail to arrive)’. Note that other verbs, such as dire ‘to say’, crier ‘to shout’, may sometimes express an order and so take a subjunctive, e.g. Diteslui qu’il parte tout de suite ‘Tell him to leave at once’, Ils crient qu’on les serve ‘They are shouting to be served’. With most of the above verbs, the infinitive must be used instead of a que-clause when the subject of both verbs is the same, e.g. Je veux le faire ‘I want to do it’, Il a demandé à descendre ‘He asked to get down’, Mon frère insiste pour vous voir ‘My brother insists on seeing you’,Nous nous attendons à partir demain ‘We expect to leave tomorrow’. On these and other infinitive constructions (e.g. Dites-lui, permettez-lui de partir ‘Tell him, allow him, to leave’) see 529–537. (b) After the following impersonal verbs: il convient que, it is advisable il faut que, it is necessary il importe que, it is important il suffit que, it is enough il vaut mieux que, it is better e.g. Il faut que vous partiez maintenant ‘It is necessary that you leave (You must leave) now’, Il suffit que je le dise ‘It is enough that I say so (for me to say so)’, Il vaut mieux qu’il le sache ‘It is better that he should know (for him to know)’. (c) After such adjectives as: essentiel, essential important indispensable

nécessaire, necessary préférable utile, useful

e.g. Il est nécessaire que vous achetiez ce livre ‘It is necessary for you to buy this book’. (d) After nouns such as besoin ‘need’, e.g. Nous avons besoin que vous nous aidiez ‘We need you to help us’, avoir soin que ‘to take care that’. (e) In the construction assez X pour que, where ‘X’ is an adjective or an adverb, e.g. Ce livre est assez simple pour qu’un enfant le


Verbs 482–483

comprenne ‘This book is easy enough for a child to understand’, Il parle assez lentement pour que tout le monde comprenne ‘He is speaking slowly enough for everyone to understand’. 483

(ii) The event is presented as doubtful or as merely possible

(a) After douter que ‘to doubt that (whether)’, and il se peut que ‘it is possible that’, e.g. Je doute que ce soit vrai ‘I doubt whether it is true’. But the indicative (or the conditional) may be used instead of the subjunctive after douter in the interrogative or negative, when the reality of the event is stressed, e.g.: Il ne faut pas douter qu’il


It cannot be doubted that he

fera ferait



ce qu’il

will would


pourra pourrait

} do all he { can could

(b) After verbs of thinking and saying in the negative or interrogative, in particular: croire que, to think, believe penser que, to think trouver que, to be of the opinion that espérer que, to hope that affirmer que, to assert déclarer que, to declare dire que, to say e.g. Je ne crois pas qu’il l’ait fait ‘I don’t think he did it’, Trouvezvous qu’elle soit jolie ? ‘Do you think she’s pretty?’, Est-ce qu’il espère que j’y aille ? ‘Does he hope that I shall go there?’, Je ne dis pas qu’il m’écrive souvent ‘I don’t say he writes to me often’. Likewise with other verbs when they express a similar idea, e.g. Je ne vois pas qu’il puisse arriver à temps ‘I don’t see that (how) he can arrive in time’. The indicative is used after such verbs when they are neither negative nor interrogative, e.g. Je crois qu’il viendra ‘I think he will come’, Nous espérons qu’il recevra demain notre lettre ‘We hope he will receive our letter tomorrow’. The indicative may also occur even after a negative or interrogative if one is stressing the reality or virtual certainty of the event, e.g. Je ne crois pas qu’il pleuvra ‘I don’t think it will rain’ (i.e. in effect, ‘I think, I feel sure, it won’t rain’).

483 The subjunctive


(c) Verbs like sembler, paraître, are followed by the indicative or the subjunctive depending on the degree of certainty or doubt intended, e.g. Il semble qu’ils sont malades ‘It seems they are ill’ (i.e. the speaker accepts that they are ill), Il semble qu’ils soient malades ‘It seems they are ill’ (the speaker is not vouching for the fact). In practice, the indicative is usually found when it is stated that ‘it seems to someone that . . .’, e.g. Il me semble (Il me paraît) que vous avez raison ‘It seems (appears) to me that you’re right’. When the verbs in question are in the negative or the interrogative, the subjunctive is usual, e.g. Il ne (me) semble pas qu’on puisse partir aujourd’hui ‘It doesn’t seem (to me) that we can leave today’. (d) After adjectives such as douteux ‘doubtful’, possible, rare, e.g. Il est possible que mon père aille à Paris ‘It is possible that my father may go to Paris’, Il est rare qu’un Français comprenne le gallois ‘It is rare for a Frenchman to understand Welsh’. Also after peu probable ‘improbable, unlikely’, and (usually though not invariably) after the adjectives certain, sûr ‘sure’, vrai ‘true’, in negative and interrogative constructions, Il est peu probable que, il n’est pas certain (sûr, vrai) que mon père ait reçu la lettre ‘It is unlikely, not certain (true) that my father has received the letter’, Est-il vrai que vous soyez malade ? ‘Is it true that you are ill?’ – but Il est probable, certain, vrai, que mon père a reçu la lettre ‘It is probable, certain, true, that my father has received the letter’. (e) The subjunctive is frequently (but not invariably) used in miscellaneous constructions (here admittedly grouped somewhat uneasily together) in which the event seems to be envisaged as a possibility rather than as a fact, e.g.: (1) After il arrive que ignorer que l’idée que

it happens that to be unaware that the idea that

e.g. Il arrive que nous nous trompions ‘It (sometimes) happens that we are wrong’, L’idée qu’il revienne m’effraie ‘The idea that he is coming (might come) back frightens me’, J’ignorais qu’il fût arrivé ‘I did not know that he had come’. (2) After verbs such as admettre ‘to admit’, comprendre ‘to understand’, s’expliquer ‘to understand’, supposer ‘to suppose’, which


Verbs 483–484

take the indicative when the event is presented as a fact (or, at least, as a supposed fact), e.g. J’admets que vous avez raison ‘I admit that you are right’, Je comprends que cela vous est difficile ‘I understand that that is difficult for you’, Je suppose que vous avez été à Paris ‘I assume you have been to Paris’, but the subjunctive when the event is merely envisaged as a possibility, e.g. Admettons (supposons) que vous ayez raison ‘Let us admit, suppose (i.e. for the sake of argument) that you are right’, Je comprends que vous en soyez mécontent ‘I understand (how it is) that you are displeased about it’, Je m’explique mal qu’il soit déjà parti ‘I find it difficult to understand that he has already left’. Similarly after some other verbs such as se souvenir ‘to remember’ in the negative or interrogative, e.g. Vous souvenez-vous qu’il a écrit (indicative) à son frère ? ‘Do you remember [the fact] that he has written to his brother?’, but Vous souvenez-vous qu’il ait écrit (subjunctive) à son frère ? ‘Do you recall whether he has written to his brother?’ (3) After si (tellement, tant) . . . que interrogative or imperative clauses, or clauses containing a suggestion of obligation or duty, e.g. Est-ce que vous habitez si (tellement) loin qu’on soit obligé de prendre un taxi ? ‘Do you live so far out that one has to take a taxi?’, A-t-il tant de travail qu’il soit toujours fatigué ? ‘Has he so much work to do that he is always tired?’, Parlez (or Il faut parler) si éloquemment qu’on ne puisse rien vous refuser ‘Speak (or You must speak) so eloquently that no one can refuse you anything’, Faites-vous tant aimer qu’on ne puisse . . . (etc.) ‘Make yourself so much loved that no one can . . . (etc.)’. For the subjunctive after these adverbs in negative clauses, see 484,d. 484

(iii) The reality of the event is denied

(a) After such verbs as: nier que, to deny défendre que, to forbid interdire que, to forbid éviter que, to avoid empêcher que, to prevent s’opposer à ce que, to oppose, object e.g. Je nie que ce soit vrai ‘I deny that it is true’, Évitez (empêchez) qu’il ne vienne (note the ne) ‘Avoid having him come, prevent

484 The subjunctive


him from coming’, Il s’oppose à ce que vous y alliez ‘He is opposed to (is against) your going there’. Nier in the negative is followed either by the subjunctive (Je ne nie pas que vous ayez raison ‘I don’t deny that you are right’) or, if the reality of the event is being stressed, by the indicative (Je ne nie pas qu’il m’a écrit ‘I don’t deny that he wrote to me’). (b) After expressions such as ce n’est pas que . . . , e.g. Ce n’est pas que je me sente malade ‘It is not that I feel ill’, il s’en faut de beaucoup que . . . , e.g. Il s’en faut de beaucoup qu’elle soit belle ‘She’s far from being beautiful’. (c) After adjectival expressions like il est impossible que . . . , il n’est pas possible (vrai) que . . . ‘it is impossible, not possible, not true, that . . .’. (d) After trop X pour que . . . (where X is an adjective or an adverb), e.g. Il est trop jeune pour que vous lui donniez du vin ‘He’s too young for you to give him wine’, Il est trop tard pour qu’elle arrive ce soir ‘It’s too late for her to arrive this evening’, and after si (tellement) . . . que, tant . . . que, in a negative or interrogative clause, e.g. Il n’est pas si riche (or tellement riche) qu’il puisse s’offrir une Rolls-Royce ‘He’s not so rich that he can afford a RollsRoyce’ (for the subjunctive after these adverbs in interrogative clauses, see 483,e,3). Cf. also the subjunctive after bien loin que, e.g. Bien loin qu’il vous pardonne, il est toujours fâché ‘Far from forgiving you, he’s still cross’. (e) After a variety of negative constructions in which que depends on a noun, e.g. ce n’est pas la peine que ‘it is not worth’, il n’y a aucune chance que ‘there is no chance that’, il n’y a pas de danger que ‘there is no fear (risk, danger) that’, e.g. Ce n’est pas la peine que tu lui écrives ‘It’s not worth (while) your writing to him’. (f) In surprised or indignant exclamations, where the que-clause may appear to be an independent clause but is not really so, as the main clause is understood, e.g.: Moi, que je trahisse mon pays ! I betray my country! where some such idea as ‘Do you think that I would . . . ?’ is understood.


Verbs 485

485 (iv) The clause expresses a judgement on or reaction to the event (a) Expressions of acceptance, approval or pleasure, including verbs like accepter que, to accept approuver que, to approve aimer mieux que, to prefer préférer que, to prefer se réjouir que, to be delighted adjectives like content ‘pleased’, heureux ‘happy’, fier ‘proud’, ravi ‘delighted’, satisfait ‘satisfied’; impersonal expressions of the type il est bon ‘it is good’, inévitable, juste ‘fair, right’, logique ‘logical’, naturel ‘natural’, normal ‘normal, natural’, préférable ‘preferable’, e.g. Je préfère que vous restiez ‘I prefer you to stay’, Elle est fière que son fils ait appris à nager ‘She is proud that her son has learned how to swim’, Il est juste qu’il soit puni ‘It is right that he (should) be punished’. (b) Expressions of curiosity or surprise, including s’étonner que ‘to be amazed that’, être étonné, surpris que ‘to be amazed, surprised that’, il est bizarre, curieux, extraordinaire que ‘it is odd, curious, extraordinary that’. (c) Expressions of indifference, annoyance, anger, or sorrow, e.g. verbs like ennuyer que, to bother se fâcher que, to be annoyed

se plaindre que, to complain regretter que, to regret

the impersonal verb peu (m’) importe que ‘it matters little (I don’t mind, etc.)’, adjectives like désolé ‘upset’, fâché ‘annoyed’, furieux ‘angry’, triste ‘sad’, e.g. Cela m’ennuie que tu sois triste ‘It bothers, upsets, me that you are sad’, Peu m’importe qu’il soil déjà parti ‘I don’t care if he has gone already’. (d) Expressions of fear, including avoir peur ‘to be afraid’, craindre ‘to fear’, de crainte que, de peur que ‘for fear, lest’; in the literary language, these are usually followed by a redundant ne (see 564), e.g. Je crains que ce ne soit trop tard ‘I fear it is too late’, de peur qu’il ne nous voie ‘for fear, lest, he (should) see us’.

486–488 The subjunctive


The subjunctive after conjunctions formed on the basis of que 486 As in the case of dependent que-clauses in the subjunctive (481– 485), these clauses usually express something other than a mere factual statement of the event. The commonest conjunctions taking the subjunctive are discussed in sections 487– 491 – others are listed in 697. 487 Conjunctions meaning ‘although’, of which the commonest are quoique (note that this is written as one word) and bien que, e.g.: Il le fera bien que ce soit défendu He will do it although it is forbidden Quoique mon frère ait reçu ma lettre, il ne vient pas Although my brother has received my letter, he is not coming (The reality of the event may well be accepted, but it is discounted – e.g. in the second of these examples it is accepted that the letter has been received, but in spite of that fact, the brother is not coming.) Bien que and quoique occasionally take the indicative or conditional when ‘though’ is almost the same as ‘but’ e.g.: Il nous faut le faire, bien que nous n’y gagnerons rien though we shall gain nothing by it We must do it, but



But, generally speaking, the subjunctive should be used. Other conjunctions meaning ‘although’ and taking the subjunctive are encore que (exclusively literary) and malgré que (familiar, and frowned on by some grammarians – see 698). Note that alors que and tandis que, both meaning ‘whereas’, always take the indicative. 488 The conjunctions avant que ‘before’ and jusqu’à ce que and en attendant que ‘until’, e.g.: Nous le verrons avant qu’il parte We shall see him before he leaves


Verbs 488–489

Restons ici jusqu’à ce qu’il vienne (en attendant qu’il vienne) Let’s wait here until he comes Note that, when ‘not . . . until’ is the equivalent of ‘not . . . before’, avant que must be used, e.g.: Je ne partirai pas avant qu’il vienne I shall not leave until he comes (= before he comes) but Je n’attendrai pas jusqu’à ce qu’il vienne (or qu’il vienne without jusqu’à ce) I shall not wait until he comes (‘before he comes’ does not make sense) Note too that comparable expressions based not on que but on où ‘when’, in particular avant le moment où ‘before (the time when)’, jusqu’au moment où, en attendant le moment où ‘until (the time when)’, always take the indicative. (Even jusqu’à ce que occasionally takes the indicative, but it is safer to stick to the subjunctive which is always correct.) Other conjunctions relating to time, e.g. aussitôt que ‘as soon as’, pendant que ‘while’ (for a full list, see 693–695), take the indicative. But note that, whereas according to strict grammar après que ‘after’ takes the indicative, there is an increasing tendency to use the subjunctive (presumably by analogy with avant que); those whose French is not at a really advanced level are advised to stick to the indicative. 489 Conjunctions meaning ‘in order that, so that’ (i.e. conjunctions expressing purpose, introducing what are often known as ‘final’ clauses – Latin finis and French la fin mean ‘purpose’ as well as ‘end’); these include afin que and pour que, e.g.: J’ai brulé la lettre afin que personne ne la lise I burnt the letter so that no one should read it Je vous le dis pour que vous le sachiez I am telling you so that (in order that) you may know Like English ‘so that’, the following are both final (i.e. expressing purpose) and consecutive (i.e. expressing consequence, result): de (telle) façon que de (telle) manière que de (telle) sorte que en sorte que


so that, in such a way that

489 The subjunctive


They take the subjunctive when any idea of purpose is implied, e.g.: Le professeur expérimenté s’exprime de (telle) sorte que sa classe puisse le comprendre An experienced teacher expresses himself in such a way that his class can understand him Il parle toujours de (telle) façon que tout le monde l’entende He always speaks so that (in such a way that) everyone may hear him or when they express a result that is to be avoided (this too implies purpose), e.g.: Je ne veux pas agir de (telle) sorte (façon, manière) qu’on me déteste I do not want to act in such a way as to get myself disliked But when they express a result that is merely stated as a fact, they take the indicative, e.g.: Il parle toujours de (telle) façon que tout le monde l’entend He always speaks in such a way that everybody hears him Il a agi de telle sorte qu’il s’est fait détester He acted in such a way that he got himself disliked Note that de façon à ce que and de manière à ce que ‘so that’ have only a final value and so always take the subjunctive. This use of the subjunctive is extended to si . . . que and tant que when the main clause (i) is imperative, or suggests a duty or obligation, as with il faut, devoir, e.g.: Agissez si vite qu’on ne sache pas ce que vous faites Il faut agir You must act so quickly that no one can know what you are doing


(ii) contains a negative, or an interrogative suggesting a negative sense, e.g.:


Verbs 489–491

Vous n’êtes pas si essoufflé que vous ne puissiez dire quelques mots You are not so much out of breath that you cannot say a few words Es-tu si stupide que tu veuilles partir tout de suite ? Are you so stupid that you want to leave straight away? 490 Certain conjunctions expressing conditions, hypotheses or suppositions, including: à moins que (usually with ne, see 566) pour peu que pourvu que à supposer que, supposé que si tant est que

unless if only, if ever, etc. provided that supposing so long as, provided that

Examples: A moins que tu ne partes tout de suite Unless you leave at once Pour peu que vous répondiez à sa lettre, il consentira à rester You’ve only got to answer his letter and he’ll agree to stay A supposer qu’il ne vienne pas, qu’allez-vous faire ? Supposing he doesn’t come, what are you going to do? Note that à (la) condition que, sous (la) condition que ‘on condition that’ may take either (a) the subjunctive or (b) the future indicative or the conditional (but not other indicative tenses), e.g. Vous pouvez rester à (la) condition que vous vous taisiez (or tairez) ‘You can stay on condition that you keep quiet’. Autant que and pour autant que ‘as far as’ can take either the indicative or the subjunctive depending on the degree of certainty or uncertainty the clause is intended to express, e.g.: (pour) autant que je peux (or puisse) en juger as far as I can judge 491

Conjunctions that deny the reality of the event, e.g.:

non que, non pas que loin que sans que

not that far from (. . . ing) without (. . . ing)

491–493 The subjunctive


Examples: non (pas) qu’il ait peur not that he’s afraid Loin qu’il puisse m’aider, il ne comprend même pas le problème Far from being able to help me, he doesn’t even understand the problem Il est parti sans que nous le sachions He left without our knowing de peur que, de crainte que (usually with ne, see 564) ‘lest, for fear’, e.g.: Partons tout de suite de peur qu’il (ne) nous voie Let’s leave at once for fear (in case) he sees us The subjunctive in relative clauses 492

The subjunctive can occur in three types of relative clause:

(i) when the relative clause relates not to an actual individual or individuals but to a possible member or members of a class (493) (ii) when the antecedent is qualified by a superlative or equivalent expression (494) (iii) after the so-called ‘indefinite relatives’ (the equivalent of English ‘whoever’, ‘whatever’, ‘wherever’, etc.) (495). 493 The subjunctive in relative clauses relating to a possible member or members of a class. (This is sometimes known as the ‘generic subjunctive’ – generic: ‘relating to a class or group’.) An example will help to make this clear. If I ask someone: ‘Could you show me the road that leads to the station?’, the relative clause ‘that leads . . . etc.’ describes a particular road that I know (or, at any rate, that I assume) actually exists – the French equivalent has the indicative, Pourriez-vous m’indiquer le chemin qui conduit à la gare ? Likewise, if I say: ‘I am looking for a road [i.e. a road that I know exists and that I am describing] that leads to the station’, the French equivalent is: Je cherche un chemin qui conduit à la gare. But if I ask: ‘Could you show me a road that leads to the station?’ (i.e. I am in fact enquiring whether any


Verbs 493

such road exists), or if I say: ‘I am looking for a road that [if such a road exists] leads to the station’, the relative clause rather than describing a particular road indicates the type of road that I want, i.e. it relates to any members of the class (which may or may not exist) of ‘roads leading to the station’. In such cases, French has the subjunctive, viz. Pourriez-vous m’indiquer un chemin qui conduise à la gare ?, or Je cherche un chemin qui conduise à la gare. Likewise, the subjunctive is of course used when the existence of the class in question is represented as hypothetical, as in ‘If you know a road that leads to the station’, Si vous connaissez un chemin qui conduise à la gare, or is denied (cf. 484), as in ‘There is no road that leads to the station’, Il n’y a pas de chemin qui conduise à la gare. For similar reasons, a relative clause depending on peu ‘little, few, not many’ (see 328) requires the subjunctive. Examples: Pouvez-vous me montrer une dame qui soit mieux habillée que moi ? Can you show me a lady who is better dressed than I am? Il lui faut un ami qui lui écrive régulièrement He needs a friend who will write to him regularly J’attends une explication qui soit du moins raisonnable Je désire I am waiting for an explanation which is at least reasonable I want Il n’y a personne qui veuille m’aider There is no one who is willing to help me Il n’y a rien que vous puissiez lui dire There is nothing you can say to him Je voudrais une chambre où l’on n’entende pas ce bruit I should like a room where you can’t hear that noise Donnez-moi une plume avec laquelle je puisse écrire Give me a pen I can write with Il y a ici peu de gens que je connaisse There are not many people I know here



Contrast these with the following, in which the relative clause relates to an actual and not a possible or hypothetical member of a class and so takes the indicative:

493–494 The subjunctive


Pouvez-vous me montrer la dame qui est mieux habillée que moi ? Can you show me the lady who is better dressed than I am? Il a un ami qui lui écrit régulièrement He has a friend who writes to him regularly J’ai une chambre où l’on n’entend pas ce bruit I have a room where you can’t hear that noise Voilà une plume avec laquelle je peux écrire Here is a pen I can write with 494

The subjunctive in relative clauses after a superlative

When the antecedent of the relative pronoun qui or que is qualified by a superlative adjective (le plus beau, etc.), or by one of the adjectives premier ‘first’, dernier ‘last’, seul ‘only’, or unique ‘only’, which are in some respects the equivalent of a superlative, the relative clause frequently takes the subjunctive, e.g.: Elle est la seule personne qui puisse m’aider She is the only person who can help me C’est l’histoire la plus fascinante qu’on puisse imaginer It is the most fascinating story one can imagine Pierre est le meilleur ami que nous ayons Peter is the best friend we have The indicative occurs, however, when the strictly factual nature of the superlative is being emphasized, e.g. C’est le dernier livre que j’écrirai ‘It’s the last book I shall write’, les seules distractions que je prenais alors (Nodier) ‘the only leisure activities I engaged in at that time’. In general, the indicative is more likely to occur in familiar style (e.g. conversational speech or informal letters) than in literary usage. Note that after expressions such as la première (dernière) fois que the indicative must be used, e.g. C’est la première (dernière) fois que ça m’est arrivé ‘It’s the first (last) time that that has happened to me’. (Beware of sentences in which the superlative is followed by a genitive plural, e.g. ‘It is the best of the books I have read’, which do not come under the above rule since the meaning is either ‘The book I have read is the best one’, i.e. C’est le meilleur des livres que j’ai lu, or ‘Of those books that I have read it is the best’, i.e. C’est le meilleur des livres que j’ai lus.)


Verbs 495

495 The subjunctive after indefinite relatives (i) The subjunctive must be used after: (a) qui que ce soit qui ‘whoever’ (subject), quoi que ce soit qui ‘whatever’ (subject), e.g. qui que ce soit qui le dise ‘whoever says so’ (b) qui que ce soit que ‘whoever’ (object), quoi que, quoi que ce soit que ‘whatever’ (object), e.g. qui que ce soit que vous voyiez ‘whoever you see’, quoi (que ce soit) qu’il fasse, . . . qu’il ait fait ‘whatever he does, . . . he has done’ (c) où que ‘wherever’, e.g. où que j’aille ‘wherever I go’ (d) quelque(s) + noun, ‘whatever’, e.g. Quelques fautes que vous ayez commises, vous faites tout de même des progrès ‘Whatever mistakes you (may) have made, you are making progress all the same’. (ii) Note that with the verb être (used alone or preceded by pouvoir or devoir), the construction quel (variable) + que + verb in the subjunctive + noun is used (see 308), e.g. quels que soient les problèmes ‘whatever the problems’, quelle qu’ait pu être sa conduite ‘whatever his behaviour may have been’. A variant on this is the construction Les difficultés, quelles qu’elles soient, ne sont pas insurmontables ‘The difficulties, whatever they are, are not insurmountable’. (iii) Note the use of quelque or si + adjective or adverb, meaning ‘however’ (see 310), e.g. quelque intelligents qu’ils soient, si intelligents qu’ils soient ‘however intelligent they are’ (note that quelque here is an adverb and does not vary for gender or number), quelque heureuse, si heureuse qu’elle puisse paraître ‘however happy she may appear’, Quelque (or Si) lentement que nous parlions, il ne comprend pas ‘However slowly we speak, he doesn’t understand’. Aussi, tout or pour can occur in place of quelque or si, e.g. aussi riche, tout riche, pour riche qu’il soit ‘however rich he is’; tout may also take the indicative when the factual nature of the statement is stressed, e.g. tout riche qu’il est ‘rich though he is’; for the agreement of tout see 317,v. On the alternative construction si riche soitil, etc., see 310,i.

496–498 The subjunctive


The tenses of the subjunctive 496 The French subjunctive has only four tenses, viz. two simple tenses: the present

the imperfect

and two compound tenses: the perfect

the pluperfect

The imperfect and pluperfect subjunctive are virtually never used now in speech and there is an increasing tendency to avoid them even in writing. The rules that we give in 497– 499 should therefore be regarded as characteristic only of a very conservative literary style. In practice, the principles set out in sections 500–506 should be followed. 497 The subjunctive in independent clauses (see 476, 477 and 480) is normally in the present or the perfect tense, as the meaning requires; for constructions taking the imperfect or the pluperfect subjunctive, see 478. 498 (i) In a conservative literary style (see 496), the choice of tense of the subjunctive is determined in most cases (for exceptions see 499) by a ‘rule for the sequence of tenses’ that can be simply stated. (Note that, in what follows, the verb of the clause on which the subjunctive clause depends is referred to as the ‘main verb’ – e.g. in Je ne crois pas qu’il soit malade ‘I don’t think he is ill’, crois is the main verb; strictly, this ‘main verb’ is sometimes itself a subordinate verb, as in Elle dit qu’elle ne croit pas qu’il soit malade ‘She says that she doesn’t think that he is ill’, but this is of little practical consequence for our present purpose and, having now drawn attention to the matter, we shall not refer to it any more.) (ii) The ‘rule for the sequence of tenses’ runs as follows: If the main verb is: present future perfect imperative

the subjunctive is: present or perfect


Verbs 498–499

If the main verb is:

the subjunctive is:

preterite imperfect pluperfect conditional past conditional

imperfect or pluperfect

(iii) The present or imperfect is used when the event expressed by the verb in the subjunctive is considered to take place at the same time as or later than that of the main verb – note therefore that there is normally no distinction between present and future (but see 506). The perfect or pluperfect is used when the event expressed by the verb in the subjunctive is considered to have taken place before that of the main verb. The application of the rule can be illustrated thus: Je ne crois pas Je ne croirai pas Je n’ai jamais cru Ne croyez pas I do not believe I shall not believe I have never believed Do not believe Je ne crus pas Je ne croyais pas Je n’avais pas cru Je ne croirais pas Je n’aurais pas cru I did not believe I did not believe I had not believed I should not believe I should not have believed


(a) qu’il vienne (b) qu’il soit venu (a) that he is coming, that he will come (b) that he has come



(a) qu’il vînt (b) qu’il fût venu


(a) that he was coming, that he would come (b) that he had come

499 The sequence of tenses given in 498 should not be applied too mechanically. Sometimes the sense requires us to depart from it, as when, for example, a main verb in the present is followed by a verb that, in the indicative, would be in the imperfect, e.g. corresponding to il était heureux ‘he was happy’:

499–502 The subjunctive


On ne peut pas croire qu’il fût heureux One cannot believe that he was happy or when a main verb in the past is followed by a verb referring to an event that is present or future at the time of speaking, e.g.: Il n’avait pas voulu croire que mon frère vienne demain He had not wanted to believe that my brother is coming tomorrow 500 Even in literary French, the sequence of tenses is frequently not followed when the main verb is in the conditional, which is treated as a member of the first rather than of the second group of tenses given in 498,ii, e.g. Je ne croirais pas qu’il vienne rather than Je ne croirais pas qu’il vînt ‘I should not believe that he would come’. 501 As mentioned in section 496 above, the imperfect and pluperfect subjunctive are no longer used in ordinary speech and are indeed increasingly avoided in writing. The following principles should therefore be followed as far as possible: 502

In writing, the imperfect subjunctive may still be used:

(i) with the verbs avoir and être (ii) in the third person singular of other verbs (e.g. qu’il chantât). Otherwise, it should be avoided, so, for example, such forms as que je vinsse, que nous chantassions, qu’ils écrivissent should never be used. Two possible ways of avoiding the imperfect subjunctive, both of them widely used, not only when that tense really must be avoided but when its use is still tolerated in a literary style, i.e. in the circumstances stated in (i) and (ii) above, are: (a) to recast the sentence in such a way as to avoid the subjunctive altogether; for example, instead of: Les propriétaires n’avaient jamais permis que nous y entrassions The owners had never allowed us to go in Il ordonna qu’on déposât les armes He ordered them to lay down their arms one could write:


Verbs 502–505

Les propriétaires ne nous avaient jamais permis d’y entrer L’ordre fut donné de déposer les armes (b) to use the present subjunctive instead of the imperfect, as in the following examples from literary texts: Il fallait que Lucienne réponde (A. Orain) It was essential that Lucienne should answer Il n’aurait jamais dû permettre que sa femme s’en aille seule (Maurois) He ought never to have allowed his wife to go away alone Il suffisait que je regarde le banc, la lampe, le tas de poussier, pour que je sente que j’allais mourir (Sartre) I only had to look at the seat, the lamp, the heap of coal-dust, to feel that I was going to die Nous avions passé une semaine angoissée côte à côte avant que je ne reparte pour l’été chez mes parents (Sagan) We had spent an agonized week side by side before I left for my parents’ place for the summer 503 The pluperfect subjunctive, based as it is on the imperfect subjunctive of avoir or être (see 502,i), e.g. qu’il eût fini, qu’ils fussent partis, is still in use in a literary style, but, on the other hand, is frequently replaced by the perfect subjunctive. 504 In speech, the imperfect and pluperfect subjunctive should always be either (i) avoided (cf. 502,a) or (ii) replaced by the present or the perfect subjunctive respectively, e.g.: Ma femme voulait que j’aille voir (Simenon) My wife wanted me to go and see Je craignais qu’il soit déjà parti I was afraid he had already left 505 Where the use of the present subjunctive in place of the imperfect could cause ambiguity, the perfect may be used instead; for example, corresponding to the indicative Il travaillait jeudi ‘He was working on Thursday’, we could have Je ne crois pas qu’il ait travaillé jeudi ‘I don’t think he was working on Thursday’, since Je ne crois pas qu’il travaille jeudi would mean ‘I don’t think he is working (or will be working) on Thursday’.

506–508 ‘May, might, must, ought, should, would’


506 Where the use of the present subjunctive as the equivalent of a future indicative could cause ambiguity, the subjunctive of devoir and the infinitive may be used to form a kind of future subjunctive, e.g. Je ne crois pas qu’il doive le faire ‘I don’t think he will do so’ in contexts in which Je ne crois pas qu’il le fasse would be likely to be interpreted as ‘I don’t think he is doing so’.

P ‘May, might, must, ought, should, would’

507 It is important to be aware that, though English ‘may, might, should, would’ often correspond to a subjunctive in French, very often they do not. These particular modal verbs in English correspond in reality to a number of different constructions in French and great care must be taken in translating these forms, and the closely related modals ‘must’ and ‘ought’. Note in particular the constructions dealt with below. 508


‘May’ (i) corresponds to the French subjunctive expressing purpose, after pour que or afin que or sometimes que alone, e.g.: Pour que vous compreniez, je vais vous expliquer ce que cela veut dire So that you may understand, I am going to explain what that means (ii) corresponds to the French subjunctive, expressing a wish, e.g.: (Que) Dieu vous bénisse !

May God bless you!

(iii) corresponds to the French subjunctive in a variety of other contexts, e.g.: J’y vais de peur qu’il ne soit inquiet I’m going for fear he may be worried quelque riche qu’il soit however rich he may be

Verbs 508–509


(iv) expresses possibility, in which case French uses either the verb pouvoir, e.g.: Cela peut être vrai Il a pu le faire

That may be true He may have done it

(in this last example, note that French uses the perfect of pouvoir and the present infinitive where English uses the present of ‘may’ and the past infinitive – cf. 510,ii); or il est possible que or il se peut que ‘it is possible that’ followed by a subjunctive clause, e.g.: Il est possible que Il se peut que


ce soit vrai

It may be true

or peut-être ‘perhaps’, e.g.: Il viendra peut-être demain

He may come tomorrow

(v) expresses permission, in which case French uses pouvoir and not the subjunctive, e.g.; Vous pouvez vous asseoir si vous voulez You may sit down if you wish Peut-on entrer ? May we come in? 509


‘Might’ (i) is used (somewhat loosely) in English as an alternative to ‘may’ in contexts such as those dealt with in 508,i, iii and iv (ii) in its strict usage is the past tense of ‘may’ and so corresponds to the French imperfect subjunctive in such contexts as the following (corresponding to the use of the present subjunctive as in 508,i, iii and v): Je lui écrivis afin qu’il ne fût plus inquiet I wrote to him so that he might no longer be worried J’y allai de peur qu’il ne fût inquiet I went for fear he might be worried Il était possible que ce fût vrai It was possible that it might be true (For restrictions on the use of the imperfect subjunctive in French, see 500–504.)

509–511 ‘May, might, must, ought, should, would’


(iii) is used much like ‘may’ in 508,ii, but suggests less hope of fulfilment, e.g.: Oh, que ce fût vrai ! Oh, that it might be true! (iv) expresses a possibility (often a slight possibility) (cf. 508,iv): Ça pourrait être vrai, mais j’en doute That might be true, but I doubt it (v) is used to request permission (cf. 508,v), e.g.: Pourrais-je vous suggérer que c’est idiot ? Might I suggest that this is idiotic? 510


‘Must’ (i) expresses a moral certainty, something that is regarded as being inevitably so, in which case the usual equivalent is devoir, e.g.: Cela doit être vrai That must be true Vous devez croire que je suis bête You must think that I am stupid Note that, where English uses ‘must’ and the past infinitive, French usually has a compound tense of devoir and the present infinitive (cf. 508,iv), e.g.: Il a dû partir He must have left Je supposais qu’il avait dû partir la veille I assumed he must have left the day before (ii) expresses obligation – note that in this case devoir is not strong enough and that some such expression as il faut que or il est nécessaire que ‘it is necessary that’ has to be used, e.g.: Il faut que nous partions tout de suite We must leave at once 511


‘Ought’ is translated by the conditional of devoir, e.g.: Je devrais y aller

I ought to go


Verbs 511–513

or, when English has ‘ought to have’ and the past participle, by the past conditional of devoir and the infinitive, e.g.: J’aurais dû y aller 512

I ought to have gone


‘Should’ (i) is often the expression of the conditional (see 415–423) in the first persons singular and plural, e.g.: Je ne vous le dirais pas, même si je le savais I should not tell you, even if I knew (ii) is sometimes the equivalent of ‘were to’ in ‘if’-clauses; in such cases, it must not be translated by the French conditional but by the imperfect of devoir and the infinitive, e.g.: S’il devait arriver ce soir, donnez-moi un coup de fil If he should arrive (were to arrive) this evening, give me a ring (iii) is sometimes the equivalent of ‘ought to’, in which case it must be translated as in 511, e.g.: Vous devriez y aller You should go (= You ought to go) (iv) is sometimes used with verbs of believing or doubting as a less categorical assertion than would be the case if the present tense were used, e.g. ‘I should think he will come’, ‘I should doubt whether he will come’; in such contexts, French would usually use the present indicative, i.e. Je crois qu’il viendra, Je doute qu’il vienne, or some kind of circumlocution, e.g. Je suis porté à croire qu’il viendra ‘I am inclined to think he will come’. 513


‘Would’ (i) is very frequently the expression of the conditional (see 415–423), e.g.: Ils ne vous le diraient pas, même s’ils le savaient They would not tell you even if they knew (ii) expresses determination, in which case it is usually stressed in English and should be rendered in French by vouloir ‘to wish’

513–514 The imperative


or tenir à ‘to insist on (doing)’, which are often strengthened by an adverb, e.g.: Il voulait (absolument) y aller Il tenait (absolument) à y aller

} He would go

(iii) in ‘would that’, expresses a wish and is rendered in French by a si-clause, e.g.: Si j’étais (j’avais été) plus jeune Would that I were (had been) younger (iv) occasionally expresses a habitual action or state in the past, in which case French uses the imperfect indicative (see 417), e.g.: Un jour il était insensé de fureur; le lendemain il oubliait ses griefs et devenait l’ami de tout le monde One day he would be beside himself with rage; the next he would forget his grievances and make friends with everybody

Q The imperative

514 Generally speaking, the imperative is used to express commands in French in much the same way as in English. Note however: (i) that, whereas it is possible in English to use the subject pronoun ‘you’ with the imperative for purposes of emphasis, this is not possible in French which instead uses, depending on the precise type of emphasis required, either the appropriate form for ‘yourself’ or ‘yourselves’, e.g,: Fais-le toi-même ! Faites-le vous-même ! Faites-le vous-mêmes !


You do it!

or some such circumlocution as Il faut que toi tu le fasses ‘You must do it (= You do it)’, or Vous pourriez peut-être le lui dire ‘You might perhaps tell him (= You tell him, please)’ (ii) that French has a first person plural imperative corresponding


Verbs 514–518

to ‘Let us (do something)’ and that neither the verb laisser nor que and the subjunctive (as in 515) must be used, e.g.: Partons tout de suite

Let’s leave at once

515 A kind of third person imperative can be expressed by means of que and the subjunctive, e.g. Qu’il attende ‘Let him wait’ (see also 480,i). 516 For the use of the infinitive as the equivalent of an imperative in general instructions, etc., see 429,ii. 517 The future tense may be used as a polite imperative, i.e. to express a request rather than a command, e.g.: Quand il arrivera, vous me le direz, s’il vous plaît When he comes, please let me know

R The complement of verbs 518

Linking verbs

A certain number of verbs, in particular être ‘to be’ but also devenir ‘to become’, sembler ‘to seem’, paraître ‘to appear’, rester ‘to remain’ and a few others, can function as ‘linking verbs’. This means that they take as their complement (i.e. complete their sense with) not a direct or indirect object but a noun (or noun phrase) or adjective (or adjectival phrase) relating to the subject, e.g. ‘Peter is a doctor’, ‘She is becoming a very attractive girl’, ‘These books seem too difficult’. The main differences between English and French in their treatment of the complement of linking verbs are the following: (i) in French, the adjective has to agree with the subject (see 127–130), e.g.: Il est petit He is small Elle en est devenue furieuse She became angry at it

518–520 The complement of verbs


Vos sæurs paraissent intelligentes Your sisters seem intelligent Ils sont restés calmes They remained calm (ii) in English, one might hesitate in the case of personal pronouns between the more formal ‘It is I’, ‘It was he’, etc., and the more informal ‘It’s me’, ‘It was him’, etc.; in French there is no problem since the disjunctive pronoun must always be used, e.g. C’est moi, C’était lui. Verbs other than linking verbs 519 Verbs other than linking verbs (see 518) may, in appropriate circumstances, take as their complement(s) one or more of the following (though it is not necessarily the case that any particular one of these complements can occur with any given verb): (i) a direct object (otherwise referred to as an object in the accusative – see 17), e.g. Il a acheté ce livre ‘He bought this book’, Je les connais ‘I know them’ (for direct object personal pronouns, see 198–199) (ii) a noun or pronoun introduced by the preposition à, or one or other of the dative conjunctive pronouns me, te, nous, vous, se, lui, leur or y (see 198–200) (iii) a noun or pronoun introduced by the preposition de (see 19), or the genitive conjunctive pronoun en ‘of it, of them, etc.’ (see 201) (iv) a noun or pronoun preceded by some other preposition – e.g. avec, dans, en, sur (v) an infinitive alone without a preposition (vi) an infinitive introduced by de (vii) an infinitive introduced by à (viii) an infinitive introduced by some other preposition – e.g. après, par, pour, sans (ix) a present participle introduced by the preposition en (x) a clause introduced by a conjunction or by some interrogative word. 520 The complement(s) that can occur with a given French verb are not necessarily the same as those that occur with the equivalent verb in English – for example, in English ‘one plays the piano’


Verbs 520–521

and ‘one plays football’ (direct object in each case) whereas in French on joue du piano (complement introduced by de) and on joue au football (complement introduced by à), and, on the other hand, in English ‘one listens to the music’ (complement introduced by ‘to’) whereas in French on écoute la musique (direct object). Some of the main differences that occur in this respect are classified in the following sections. For the terms accusative, dative and genitive, see 17–19 and 519,i–iii. 521 Verbs taking a direct object in English but in French taking a noun or pronoun introduced by à or one of the dative conjunctive pronouns me, te, nous, vous, se, lui, leur or y (see 198–200): (a) The following verbs, among others, take a direct object in English and an indirect object in French: convenir à, suit déplaire à, displease désobéir à, disobey grimper à, climb1 jouer à, play (a game) nuire à, harm obéir à, obey obvier à, obviate parvenir à, reach, attain plaire à, please remédier à, remedy, make good renoncer à, renounce, abandon, give up répondre à, answer résister à, resist ressembler à, resemble, be like, look like succéder à, follow, succeed survivre à, survive Examples: Il joue au football He plays football Je vais obéir à vos ordres I shall obey your orders J’y ai renoncé I’ve given it up Il ne ressemble pas du tout à son frère He is not at all like his brother

521 The complement of verbs


Note 1 Grimper can also take dans or sur when the sense allows, e.g. grimper à l’échelle, aux arbres ‘to climb the ladder, to climb trees’, grimper dans un arbre ‘to climb up into a tree’, grimper sur le toit ‘to climb on to the roof’. (b) The following verbs always take a direct object in English but in French take either a direct object or an indirect object depending on the meaning: insulter ‘to insult’ takes a direct object with reference to a person (insulter quelqu’un ‘to insult someone’) but otherwise an indirect object (e.g. insulter à l’intelligence de quelqu’un ‘to insult someone’s intelligence’); toucher takes a direct object when it merely means ‘to touch’ physically (e.g. toucher le mur ‘to touch the wall’, toucher quelqu’un à l’epaule ‘to touch someone on the shoulder’), but an indirect object when it conveys the idea of ‘meddling with’ (e.g. Ne touchez pas à mes papiers ‘Don’t touch my papers’) and in certain other cases (e.g. Il n’a pas touché à son petit déjeuner ‘He hasn’t touched his breakfast (i.e. he hasn’t eaten any of it)’, toucher à une question ‘to touch on a question’) – consult a good dictionary. (c) Note that in English ‘one asks or forgives someone for something’ whereas in French on demande ou on pardonne quelque chose à quelqu’un, e.g.: J’ai demandé cent euros à mon frère I asked my brother for a hundred euros Je lui pardonnerai son absence I shall forgive him for his absence (d) Verbs such as défendre ‘to forbid’, dire ‘to tell’, offrir ‘to offer’, ordonner ‘to order’, permettre ‘to allow, permit’, promettre ‘to promise’, raconter ‘to tell’, refuser ‘to refuse’ and others of similar meaning that can have both a direct and an indirect object have the same construction in both languages, but whereas in English the indirect object is often identical in form with the direct object, i.e. it is not accompanied by the preposition ‘to’ (e.g. ‘to promise somebody something’ = ‘to promise something to somebody’), in French the indirect object must always be expressed by a dative pronoun or by à + a noun phrase, e.g.:


Verbs 521–522

Il faudra le dire à Pierre We shall have to tell Peter Voulez-vous permettre aux enfants de sortir ? Will you allow the children to go out? Je lui ai promis cent euros I promised him a hundred euros Le consulat leur refuse un visa The consulate refuses them a visa 522 Verbs taking a direct object in English but in French taking a noun or pronoun introduced by de or the genitive pronoun en (see 201): abuser de, misuse, exploit s’apercevoir de, notice douter de, doubt se douter de, suspect s’emparer de, seize hériter de, inherit1 jouer de, play (an instrument)2 jouir de, enjoy médire de, malign, speak ill of se tromper de, get wrong, make a mistake about user de, use (with direct object = ‘wear out’) Examples: Je ne m’en suis pas aperçu I didn’t notice (it) Je doute de sa sincérité I doubt his sincerity Il joue du piano He plays the piano Dans un grand nombre de cas, posséder un objet, c’est pouvoir en user (Sartre) In many cases, to possess an object is to be able to use it Il s’est trompé de date He got the date wrong Notes 1 Hériter is used in three ways, viz. hériter d’une fortune ‘to

522–523 The complement of verbs



inherit a fortune’, hériter une fortune de quelqu’un ‘to inherit a fortune from someone’, heriter de quelqu’un ‘to be someone’s heir’. Jouer d’un instrument but jouer à with reference to games, e.g. jouer au football ‘to play football’.

523 Among commonly used verbs that take a prepositional complement (introduced by ‘of’, ‘for’, ‘at’, ‘to’ or ‘with’) in English but a direct object in French are: approuver, approve of attendre, wait for chercher, look for demander, ask for écouter, listen to espérer, hope for fournir, supply with (see also 526) habiter, live in1 payer, pay for regarder, look at reprocher, reproach for2 viser, aim at Examples: Attendons le bus Let’s wait for the bus Je n’ai pas écouté son discours I didn’t listen to his speech Il lui fournit une grande somme d’argent He supplied him with a large sum of money Qui a payé les billets ? Who paid for the tickets? Notes 1 Habiter with an accusative is used of the house, room, town, etc., in which one lives, e.g.: Il habite la maison en face He lives in the house opposite It can also be used absolutely, e.g.: Il habite depuis quelques mois en Italie He has been living for a few months in Italy


Verbs 523–524

Il habite près de Paris He lives near Paris 2

Reprocher: in English one reproaches someone for something, in French on reproche quelque chose à quelqu’un, e.g.: Il reprocha au garçon ses fautes He reproached the boy for his mistakes

524 With a number of verbs, of which the following are the most frequent, French uses the preposition à or one of the dative conjunctive pronouns (see 18 and 198) me, te, lui, nous, vous, leur, with the somewhat unusual value of ‘from’: cacher à, hide from dérober à, steal from, hide from échapper à, escape (from)1 emprunter à, borrow from enlever à take away from ôter à louer à, rent, hire from prendre à, take from (also dans, 659,iii; sur, 685) retirer à, remove from soustraire à, abstract from (maths, subtract, de) se soustraire à, withdraw from (intrans.) voler à, steal from2


Examples: Il cacha son dessein à ses amis He hid his plan from his friends Je vais emprunter mille euros à mon frère I am going to borrow a thousand euros from my brother On lui a volé sa montre Someone has stolen his watch from him Notes 1 Échapper à implies ‘not being caught’ and so is usually to be translated ‘to escape’ (with a direct object) rather than ‘to escape from’, e.g. Il a échappé à la police ‘He escaped the police’ (i.e. ‘He avoided being caught’), échapper au gibet ‘to escape the gallows’; ‘to escape from’ in the sense of ‘to get out of’ is s’échapper de (as in Il y a de l’eau qui s’échappe de

524–525 The complement of verbs



ce tuyau ‘There is water escaping from this pipe’) or, particularly in the sense of escaping from prison, etc., s’évader de. Voler meaning ‘to rob (a person)’, when the thing stolen is not mentioned, takes a direct object, e.g. voler ses clients ‘to rob one’s clients’, On l’a volé ‘They have robbed him’ or ‘He has been robbed’.

525 English uses a much wider range of prepositions than French in introducing prepositional complements. After the following verbs, French uses à (or the conjunctive pronoun y – see 200,i) where English uses ‘at’,‘by’,‘in’,‘for’,‘on’,‘of’,‘about’,‘over’,‘upon’ or ‘to’ (for a similar variety of prepositions corresponding to French de, see 527): assister à, be present at, attend1 connaître à, know by2 croire à or en, believe in3 mêler à, mix, involve in pendre à, hang on (trans. or intrans.) penser à, think of, about4 pourvoir à, provide for présider à, preside over (also with direct object) reconnaître à, recognize by5 réfléchir à, think of, about, reflect on, upon (also sur) réserver à, reserve for songer à, think of, about, over suspendre à, hang on (intrans.) veiller à, attend to, see to (things)6 Examples: Il va assister à la réunion He is going to attend (be present at) the meeting Ils veulent me mêler à leur entreprise They want to involve me in their venture J’y pense souvent I often think about it Vous le reconnaîtrez à sa cicatrice You will recognize him by his scar Cette salle est réservée a nos clients This room is reserved for our customers


Verbs 525–526

Notes 1 Assister meaning ‘to help’ takes a direct object. 2 ‘To know someone by name, by repute, by sight’ is connaître quelqu’un de nom, de réputation, de vue. ‘To be known by’ in the sense of ‘known to’ is être connu de, e.g. Il est connu de tout le monde ‘He is known by (to) everyone’. 3 Croire sometimes takes a direct object, sometimes à or en, e.g. Croyez-vous cette histoire ? ‘Do you believe that story?’, Je la crois ‘I believe her’, Je ne crois pas aux miracles ‘I do not believe in miracles’, croire au Saint-Esprit, au diable, aux fées ‘to believe in the Holy Spirit, in the devil, in fairies’ (but croire en with names, e.g. croire en Dieu, en Jésus-Christ ‘to believe in God, in Jesus Christ’), Je crois en mes amis ‘I believe in (i.e. I have confidence in) my friends’. For other uses of croire with à or en, consult a good dictionary. 4 Penser à ‘think of’ in the sense of ‘have in mind, keep in mind, remember, reflect on’, e.g.: A quoi pensez-vous ? What are you thinking about? penser de ‘think of ’ in the sense of ‘have an opinion about, form a iudgement on’, e.g.: Que pensez-vous de ces gens ? What do you think of these people? 5 ‘To be recognized by a person’ is être reconnu par, e.g. Il fut reconnu par la police ‘He was recognized by the police’. 6

Veiller à, as in veiller à l’ordre public ‘to see to it that public order is maintained’. Veiller sur is ‘to watch over, keep an eye on (people)’, e.g. Il me faut veiller sur ces enfants ‘I have to keep an eye on these children’. Veiller in the sense of ‘to sit up with (a sick person or a dead body)’ takes a direct object.

526 (i) After the following verbs (among many others – and see also ii below), French uses de whereas English uses ‘with’ (for verbs after which English uses either ‘with’ or some other preposition, see 527): accabler de, overwhelm with armer de, arm with charger de, load with, entrust with combler de, shower with, fill with

526 The complement of verbs


faire de, do with fourmiller de, swarm with fournir de, supply with1 (see also 523) menacer de, threaten with munir de, provide with orner de, decorate with, adorn with pourvoir de, provide with remplir de, fill with trembler de, tremble with Examples: Cette nouvelle m’accable de honte This news overwhelms me with shame Il m’a chargé de cette responsabilité He has entrusted me with this responsibility Qu’avez-vous fait de mon livre ? What have you done with my book? Le gazon fourmille d’insectes The turf is swarming with insects menacer quelqu’un de mort to threaten someone with death L’enfant tremblait de peur The child was trembling with fear Note 1 Fournir takes either de or, more usually nowadays, en, e.g. fournir quelqu’un de viande or en viande ‘to supply someone with meat’. (ii) With many such verbs, de = ‘with’ is found particularly (but not exclusively) in the passive, e.g.: Il fut criblé de balles He was riddled with bullets or when the past participle is used adjectivally, e.g.: La salle est ornée de tapisseries The room is adorned with tapestries (and likewise armé de ‘armed with’, couronné de ‘crowned with’, planté de ‘planted with’, semé de ‘strewn with’, taché de ‘stained with’, etc.).


Verbs 527–529

527 Like à (see 525), de may correspond to any one of a variety of prepositions in English including, as the following list shows, ‘in’, ‘from’, ‘by’, ‘at’, ‘on’, ‘for’, ‘after’, ‘over’ or ‘about’ (and, in some cases, as an alternative to one of these, ‘with’ – for other verbs taking ‘with’, see 526): s’abriter de, to shelter (take shelter) from s’alarmer de, to become alarmed by, at couvrir de, cover in, with débarrasser de, free from, rid of (se débarrasser de, get rid of) délivrer de, deliver from, free from dépendre de, depend on dîner de, dine on envelopper de, wrap (up) in, envelop in se moquer de, laugh at, make fun of se nourrir de, feed on répondre de, answer for, guarantee rire de, laugh at rougir de, blush for, with tenir de, take after triompher de, triumph over vivre de, live on Examples: La voiture était couverte de boue The car was covered in mud Cela dépend de vous That depends on you Vous vous moquez de moi You are making fun of me Il triomphe toujours de ses ennemis He always triumphs over his enemies Infinitive complements 528 Sections 529–537 classify verbs on the basis of the construction they take when their complement, or one of their complements, is an infinitive. 529 Certain categories of verbs are followed directly by the infinitive, i.e. there is no linking preposition. These are:

529 The complement of verbs


(i) The modal verbs: devoir, be (due) to, have to, must pouvoir, be able, can savoir, know how to, be able, can vouloir, wish Examples: Vous devez être fatigué You must be tired Savez-vous nager ? Can you swim? Note that vouloir only takes the infinitive when the subject of both verbs is the same, e.g. Je veux le faire ‘I want to do it’; otherwise que and the subjunctive must be used, e.g. Je veux que vous le fassiez ‘I want you to do it’. (ii) The following verbs of the senses (see also 430–438): écouter, listen to entendre, hear regarder, look at, watch sentir, feel voir, see Examples: Il écoutait chanter les oiseaux He was listening to the birds sing(ing) Je le vois venir I can see him coming (iii) Most verbs of ‘saying’ and ‘thinking’ when the subject of both verbs is the same, e.g.: Il prétendait la connaître He claimed to know her (i.e., that he knew her) Je crois la connaître I think I know her which could also be expressed as follows: Il prétendait qu’il la connaissait Je crois que je la connais


Verbs 529

Among the verbs in this category are: affirmer, maintain, assert avouer, admit croire, believe, think déclarer, declare, state dire, say nier, deny penser, think prétendre, claim, maintain reconnaître, acknowledge, admit In some cases, the construction with an infinitive is also possible with the corresponding verb in English (see the first example above, with ‘to claim’) but in other cases it is not (see the second example above, with ‘to think’). Note that, if the subject of both verbs is not the same, the construction with que must be used, e.g.: Je crois que vous la connaissez I think you know her (iv) Certain verbs of motion, in which case the construction verb + infinitive expresses purpose, e.g.: Il accourut m’annoncer l’heureuse nouvelle He came running to tell me the good news Je suis venu vous féliciter de votre succès I have come to congratulate you on your success Among the verbs in this category are: accourir, run up, rush aller, go courir, run descendre, come (or go) down (and redescendre) monter, come (or go) up (and remonter) partir, to go (away) retourner, return venir, come (and revenir) (v) The following verbs: adorer, adore, love aimer autant (see example below)1

529 The complement of verbs aimer mieux, prefer1 amener, bring (and ramener) compter, intend, expect daigner, deign désirer, wish détester, hate, detest (also with de) emmener, take envoyer, send espérer, hope faillir (see example below) faire (see example below and 430– 438) falloir (impersonal), be necessary se figurer, imagine s’imaginer, imagine laisser, let, allow (and see 430–438) oser, dare paraître, appear, seem préférer, prefer1 sembler, seem souhaiter, wish (also with de) valoir autant (impersonal), be just as well1 valoir mieux (impersonal), be better1 Examples: J’adore jouer au tennis I love playing tennis J’aime autant partir tout de suite I’d just as soon leave immediately Je compte y arriver demain I expect to get there tomorrow Il m’a emmené voir ses roses He took me to see his roses J’espère vous revoir bientôt I hope to see you again soon Il faut le faire One must (It is necessary to) do it J’ai failli tomber I nearly fell



Verbs 529–530

Il fait bon se promener sur la plage It’s nice going for a walk on the beach Laissez-moi finir ! Let me finish! Je n’ai pas osé le lui dire I didn’t dare tell him Elle semble être contente She seems to be pleased Il vaudrait mieux lui écrire It would be better to write to him Note the idioms envoyer chercher quelqu’un ‘to send for someone’, envoyer dire à quelqu’un ‘to send word to someone’. Note: 1 In a comparison after aimer autant, aimer mieux, valoir autant, valoir mieux and usually also after préférer, a second infinitive (introduced by que ‘than’) is preceded by de, e.g.:

J’aimerais autant J’aime mieux (Je préfère) partir maintenant que Autant vaut d’attendre Il vaut mieux I would just as soon leave now as I prefer to leave now rather than wait We might as well leave now as It’s better to leave now than

530 The following verbs (and a few other relatively infrequent ones) take à before a following infinitive (this list does not include verbs that also take a direct object (see 531) or an indirect object (see 532) or reflexive verbs (see 533)): aimer à, like to1 apprendre à, learn to aspirer à, aspire to avoir à, have to chercher à, try to commencer à, begin to (also de) (and recommencer à, de) concourir à, combine to condescendre à, condescend to consentir à, consent to

530 The complement of verbs


consister à, consist in . . .-ing conspirer à, conspire to continuer à, continue to (also de) contribuer à, contribute to demander à, ask to2 exceller à, excel in . . .-ing hésiter à, hesitate to incliner à, incline to parvenir à, manage to, succeed in . . .-ing persister à, persist in . . .-ing renoncer à, give up . . .-ing répugner à, detest, loathe . . .-ing3 réussir à, succeed in . . .-ing songer à, think of . . .-ing suffire à, be enough to (also pour)4 tendre à, tend to tenir à, be anxious, eager, keen to viser à, aim to Examples: Je cherche à vous aider I am trying to help you Pourquoi ne veut-il pas renoncer à fumer ? Why doesn’t he want to give up smoking? Notes: 1 Aimer is also used without a preposition, e.g. J’aime voyager ‘I like travelling’; this is the most usual construction in speech and it must always be used with aimer autant, e.g. J’aimerais autant partir tout de suite ‘I would just as soon leave right away’, and aimer mieux ‘to prefer’. Aimer de is archaic and should not be used. 2 For demander à or demander de + infinitive, see 536, note 1. 3 Though répugner when used personally takes à, e.g. Je répugne à suivre ses conseils ‘I am reluctant to take his advice’, it is more often used impersonally, in which case it takes de, e.g. Il me répugne de le faire ‘I hate doing it, it is repugnant to me to do it’. 4 Suffire, whether used personally or impersonally, takes à or pour when the infinitive expresses what something or other is sufficient for, e.g. Cette somme suffira à (or pour) payer ses


Verbs 530–531 dettes ‘That sum will be enough to pay his debts’, or, impersonally, Il a suffi de trois jours pour achever le travail ‘Three days were enough to complete the work’. But when the impersonal il suffit introduces an infinitive expressing what it is that is sufficient, the infinitive is preceded by de, e.g. Il suffira de lui écrire ‘It will be enough to write to him’ (i.e. ‘Writing to him is all that will be necessary’).

531 The following verbs (and a few other relatively infrequent ones) can take both a direct object and an infinitive introduced by à: accoutumer à, accustom aider à, help amener à, induce, persuade appeler à, summon astreindre à, compel autoriser à, authorize condamner à, condemn conduire à, lead, induce convier à, invite destiner à, destine1 déterminer à, decide (someone) to disposer à, induce employer à, employ encourager à, encourage engager à, urge exciter à, incite exercer à, train exhorter à, exhort exposer à, expose forcer à, force2 habituer à, accustom inciter à, incite incliner à, lead, incline, make inclined inviter à, invite mettre à, set someone to work at obliger à, oblige2 passer à, spend (time) in porter à, induce, cause pousser à, urge préparer à, prepare

531–532 The complement of verbs


provoquer à, provoke réduire à, reduce1 Examples: Vous ne l’amènerez jamais à avouer sa faute You will never induce him to admit his mistake Je les ai encouragés à persévérer I encouraged them to persevere Je vais le pousser à se raviser I shall urge him to reconsider his decision Notes: 1 Destiner and réduire + à + infinitive are found particularly in the passive, être destiné (réduit) à, e.g. destiné à disparaître ‘doomed to disappear’, J’en ai été réduit à boire de l’eau ‘I was reduced to drinking water’. 2 In the passive, être forcé and être obligé take de, e.g. J’ai été obligé de partir ‘I was obliged to leave’. 532 The following verbs take an indirect object and an infinitive introduced by à: apprendre à quelqu’un à, to teach someone (how) to1 enseigner à quelqu’un à, to teach someone (how) to2 montrer à quelqu’un à, to show someone how to Examples: Je lui apprends à jouer du piano I am teaching him to play the piano Il montre aux plus hardis à braver le danger He shows the bravest how to face danger Notes: 1 With a direct object only, apprendre means ‘to learn’, e.g. J’apprends l’allemand ‘I am learning German’. With a direct object and an indirect object, it means ‘to teach something to someone’, e.g. Je lui apprends l’allemand ‘I am teaching him German’. 2 With a direct object only, enseigner means ‘to teach (a subject)’, e.g. J’enseigne l’allemand ‘I teach German’. With a direct object and an indirect object, it means ‘to teach something to someone’, e.g. J’enseigne l’allemand à mes étudiants ‘I teach my students German’.


Verbs 533

533 The following reflexive verbs (among others) take à before a following infinitive: s’abaisser à, condescend to s’accoutumer à, be accustomed to s’acharner à, persist in, be bent on s’amuser à, enjoy s’appliquer à, apply oneself to s’apprêter à, get ready to s’astreindre à, force oneself to s’attacher à, be intent on s’attendre à, expect to se borner à, confine onself to se complaire à, take pleasure in se disposer à, arrange to, prepare to s’égayer à, be highly amused at s’employer à, apply oneself to s’engager à, undertake to s’entêter à, persist in s’essayer à, try one’s hand at s’évertuer à, strive to se fatiguer à, wear oneself out by s’habituer à, get used to se hasarder à, risk se mettre à, begin to s’obstiner à, persist in s’occuper à, busy oneself with1 s’offrir à, offer to se plaire à, delight in se refuser à, refuse to se résigner à, resign oneself to se résoudre à, resolve to Examples: Je ne m’attendais pas à réussir I wasn’t expecting to succeed Je m’habitue à me coucher de bonne heure I am getting used to going to bed early Il s’est mis à pleurer He began to cry

533–534 The complement of verbs


Note: 1 There is a distinction between s’occuper à + infinitive (which is in any case somewhat old-fashioned) ‘to busy oneself with’, e.g. Il s’occupe à faire des traductions ‘He busies himself with doing translations’, and s’occuper de + infinitive ‘to deal with, see about’, e.g. Il s’occupe de prendre les billets ‘He is seeing about getting the tickets’. 534 The following verbs (among others) take de before a following infinitive (this list does not include verbs that also take a direct object (see 535) or an indirect object (see 536), or reflexive verbs (see 537)): achever de, finish . . .-ing affecter de, pretend to ambitionner de, aspire to brûler de, long to cesser de, cease to choisir de, choose to commencer de, begin to (also à) (also recommencer) continuer de, continue to (also à) craindre de, fear to décider de, decide to dédaigner de, disdain to désespérer de, despair of . . .-ing détester de, detest (see also 529, v) discontinuer de, leave off enrager de, be infuriated by, loathe entreprendre de, undertake to essayer de, try to éviter de, avoid feindre de, pretend to finir de, finish . . .-ing jurer de, swear to ne pas manquer de, not to fail to1 (etc.) mériter de, deserve to négliger de, neglect to obtenir de, get leave to offrir de, offer to omettre de, omit to oublier de, forget to projeter de, plan to


Verbs 534–535

promettre de, promise to refuser de, refuse to regretter de, regret to risquer de, risk rougir de, blush, be ashamed to souffrir de, be grieved to souhaiter de, wish to (see also 529, v) supporter de, bear to tâcher de, try to tenter de, try to Examples: Il a choisi d’y demeurer He has chosen to live there Il a décidé de vendre sa maison He has decided to sell his house J’essaie de comprendre I am trying to understand Il avait juré de nous aider He had sworn to help us Voulez-vous me promettre de ne plus y aller ? Will you promise me not to go there again? Note: 1 Ne pas manquer de is used only in the negative, e.g. Je ne manquerai pas de vous écrire ‘I shall not fail to write to you’. 535 The following verbs (and a few other relatively infrequent ones) can take both a direct object and an infinitive introduced by de: accuser de, accuse of applaudir de, applaud for avertir de, warn to blâmer de, blame for charger de, make responsible for conjurer de, implore, beg to défier de, challenge dégoûter de, disgust with, deter from détourner de, divert from dispenser de, exempt from, let off

535–536 The complement of verbs


dissuader de, dissuade from empêcher de, prevent from excuser de, excuse for féliciter de, congratulate on gronder de, scold for louer de, praise for persuader de, persuade to1 plaindre de, pity for presser de, press to, urge to prier de, beg to punir de, punish for remercier de, thank for reprendre de, reprove for sommer de, summon to soupçonner de, suspect of supplier de, entreat, beg to Examples: Il m’accuse d’avoir volé son crayon He accuses me of stealing his pencil Cela ne m’empêchera pas d’y aller That won’t prevent me from going there Je vous supplie de me croire I beg you to believe me Note: 1 Persuader takes either a direct or an indirect object, i.e. either persuader quelqu’un de faire quelque chose or, more usually nowadays, persuader à quelqu’un de faire quelque chose ‘to persuade someone to do something’. 536 The following verbs can take both an indirect object and an infinitive introduced by de: commander de, command conseiller de, advise crier de, shout to défendre de, forbid demander de, ask1 déplaire de, displease3 dire de, tell écrire de, write to


Verbs 536–537

enjoindre de, enjoin upon jurer de, swear to offrir de, offer ordonner de, order pardonner de, pardon for permettre de, allow persuader de, persuade2 plaire de, please3 prescrire de, prescribe, ordain promettre de, promise proposer de, propose recommander de, urge reprocher de, reproach for répugner de, be repugnant, disgust3 suggérer de, suggest Examples: Il lui a conseillé de ne pas le faire He advised him not to do it Il leur demanda (permit) de s’en aller He asked (allowed) them to go away Je lui ai dit de rester I told him to stay Il répugne à une mère de voir sa fille mal habillée A mother hates (lit. It disgusts a mother) to see her daughter badly dressed Notes: 1 ‘To ask someone (else) to do something’ is demander à quelqu’un de faire quelque chose, but ‘to ask to (be allowed to) do something (oneself)’ is demander à faire quelque chose, e.g. Il a demandé à partir ‘He asked to (be allowed to) leave’. 2 For persuader + direct or indirect object + infinitive, see 535, note 1. 3 Déplaire, plaire and répugner (see 530, note 3) are followed by de and an infinitive only when used impersonally, e.g. Il me plaît de vous écouter ‘I like listening to you (lit. It pleases me to listen to you)’. 537 The following reflexive verbs (and a few other relatively infrequent ones) take de before a following infinitive:

537 The complement of verbs il s’agit de, it is a question of s’arrêter de, stop s’attrister de, regret to s’aviser de, take it into one’s head to se charger de, undertake to se contenter de, be content with, put up with se dépêcher de, hasten to se désaccoutumer de get out of the habit of se déshabituer de s’efforcer de, struggle to s’empresser de, hasten to s’ennuyer de, be bored with s’enorgueillir de, pride oneself on s’étonner de, be surprised to s’excuser de, apologize for se flatter de, flatter oneself on se garder de, take care not to se hâter de, hasten to s’impatienter de, long to, be dying to s’inquiéter de, be anxious about, care for s’irriter de, be angry at s’occuper de, deal with1 s’offenser de, be offended at se passer de, do without se piquer de, pride oneself on se plaindre de, complain of se presser de, hurry to se réjouir de, rejoice at, be glad to se repentir de, regret, be sorry for se soucier de, care for, or about se souvenir de, remember se vanter de, boast of

Examples: Il s’est arrêté de travailler He has stopped working Il s’excuse d’être en retard He apologizes for being late Je me hâte de répondre à votre lettre I hasten to reply to your letter


Verbs 537–538


Note: 1 For s’occuper with à or de, see 533, note 1. 538

Miscellaneous verbs

The following verbs are used in a variety of constructions and with a variety of meanings: approcher 1 Transitive (a) ‘bring near (or nearer) to’ (de ‘to’), e.g.: Approchez la table de la fenêtre Bring the table near (or nearer to) the window (b) ‘approach, come near’, e.g.: Ne m’approchez pas ! Don’t come near me! 2 Intransitive ‘come, get near (or nearer)’ (de ‘to’), either literally or figuratively, e.g.: L’hiver approche Winter is coming (or will soon be here) Nous approchons de Paris We are getting near Paris Il approchait de la cinquantaine He was approaching (getting on for) fifty 3


s’approcher (de), ‘come, draw near’, usually (but not exclusively) in a literal sense, e.g.: Approchez-vous ! Come closer! Il s’approcha de la porte He walked towards the door Elle s’approcha de moi She came up to me Whereas approcher (de) (see 2 above) refers only to the fact of drawing near(er), s’approcher (de) usually implies an intention to do so.

538 The complement of verbs


changer Changer has many meanings, including the following (for others, consult a good dictionary): 1 Transitive (a) ‘change, alter, modify’, e.g.: Il a changé le début de son roman He has changed the beginning of his novel Il a changé ses habitudes He has changed his habits (b) ‘change, exchange (one thing for another)’, e.g.: Aves-vous changé les draps ? Have you changed the sheets? Il a changé cent euros He changed a hundred euros (c) ‘change (one thing into another), transform’ (en ‘into’), e.g.: Les alchimistes cherchaient à changer les métaux vils en or The alchemists tried to change base metals into gold (d) ‘move’ (followed by de), e.g.: changer les meubles de place to move the furniture around changer quelqu’un de poste to move someone to another job 2 Intransitive (a) ‘change (i.e. become different)’, e.g.: Le temps va changer The weather is going to change Vous n’avez pas changé du tout You haven’t changed at all (b) ‘change (trains, etc.)’, e.g.: Il faut changer à Dijon You have to change at Dijon (c) ‘to change’ in the sense of ‘to exchange one item for another of the same type’ is changer de, e.g.:

Verbs 538


changer d’avis changer de train changer de place changer de coiffure 3

to change one’s mind to change (trains) to change one’s seat to change one’s hair-style


(a) ‘to change, turn into’, e.g.: Les souris de Cendrillon se sont changées en chevaux Cinderella’s mice turned into horses (In this sense, se transformer is very often used.) (b) ‘to change (one’s clothes)’, e.g.: Il faut que je me change avant de sortir I must change before I go out convenir 1 Personal, with an indirect object, ‘suit, be fitting, agree with’, e.g.: Ses vêtements conviennent à sa position His clothes suit (are in keeping with) his position Ce climat ne leur convient pas This climate does not suit them (agree with them) 2 Impersonal followed by de and an infinitive, ‘to be fitting, appropriate, advisable’, e.g.: Il convient de ne pas trop en parler It is advisable not to say too much about it 3

Convenir de ‘to agree’

(a) with an infinitive, e.g.: Nous avons convenu d’y être à midi We have agreed to be there at noon (b) with a noun or pronoun (including en ‘of it, of them’ – see 201), e.g.: Nous allons convenir du prix We are going to agree on the price (c) note être convenu de with either an infinitive or a noun or pronoun, ‘to be in agreement’, e.g.:

538 The complement of verbs


Nous sommes convenus de nous taire We are in agreement to say nothing Nous sommes convenus du prix We are agreed on the price 4 Convenir de with a noun or pronoun (including en – see 201), ‘to acknowledge, recognize, admit’, e.g.: Il a convenu de son erreur He has acknowledged his mistake J’ai eu tort – j’en conviens I was wrong – I admit it décider ‘decide, induce, etc.’ 1 Transitive (a) ‘decide (on)’, e.g.: La compagnie a décidé la fermeture de cette usine The company has decided on the closure of this factory (b) ‘induce, make (someone) decide’ (quelqu’un à faire quelque chose ‘someone to do something’), e.g.: La mort de son fils l’a décidé à partir The death of his son made him decide to leave 2 Intransitive (a) ‘decide, take a decision (decisions), etc.’, e.g.: C’est moi qui décide ici I take the decisions here (b) décider de (quelque chose) ‘decide about (something)’, e.g.: Le gouvernement a décidé de l’avenir du projet The government has decided on the future of the project Le comité en décidera The committee will decide about it 3


(a) se décider (= passive) ‘to be decided’, e.g.: La question se décidera aujourd’hui The question will be decided today (b) se décider à + infinitive ‘to decide to (do something)’, e.g.:


Verbs 538

Elle s’est decidée à partir She has decided to leave 4 Passive être décidé à quelque chose, à faire quelque chose ‘to be determined on something, to do something’, e.g.: J’y suis décidé I am determined on it Nous sommes décidés à partir We are determined to leave devoir 1 ‘Owe’, e.g.: Je lui dois mille euros I owe him a thousand euros 2 In simple tenses (other than the conditional – see 3 below), when followed by an infinitive, ‘be to’, or ‘have to’, or, sometimes, ‘must’ (but see also 510), e.g.: Je dois y aller demain I am to (have to) go there tomorrow Cela doit être vrai That must be true Il devait partir le lendemain He was to leave the next day Je devrai lui écrire I shall have to write to him Je dus y aller I had to go there 3 In the conditional when followed by an infinitive, ‘ought’ or ‘should’ (expressing obligation) – see 511 and 512,iii 4 In compound tenses when followed by an infinitive, two quite distinct meanings (see also 510,i): Il a dû écrire à son frère (a) He had to write to his brother (b) He must have written to his brother

538 The complement of verbs


Je supposais qu’il avait dû le faire (a) I supposed that he had had to do it (b) I supposed that he must have done it 5 For devoir and an infinitive as the equivalent of a future subjunctive, see 506. manquer Manquer is used in a variety of constructions and with a number of different meanings of which the following are the most important (for the whole range of meanings, consult a good dictionary): 1 Transitive, ‘miss, fail in, etc.’, e.g.: manquer un train manquer une classe Je les ai manqués à la gare Il a manqué son coup

to miss a train to miss a class I missed them at the station He failed in his attempt

2 Intransitive (a) ‘fail’ (échouer is more usual in this sense), e.g.: L’expérience a manqué

The experiment failed

(b) ‘be lacking, missing’, with, when necessary, à = ‘from’ and/or de and an infinitive, e.g.: La première page manque à ce livre The first page is missing from this book Rien ne manque Nothing is missing Les occasions ne m’ont pas manqué de visiter Paris I haven’t lacked opportunities to visit Paris (c) manquer à ‘fail (someone), fail in (something)’, etc., e.g.: Les mots me manquent Words fail me manquer à son devoir to fail in one’s duty manquer à sa promesse to break one’s promise Note the idiom A manque à B = ‘B misses A’ (i.e. ‘regrets his or her absence’), e.g.: Elle me manque beaucoup I miss her a lot (d) manquer de ‘lack (= not have any of, or enough of)’, e.g.:


Verbs 538

Il manque de patience He lacks patience Je manque de temps pour le faire I haven’t (enough) time to do it 3

Manquer followed by an infinitive

(a) manquer de faire or manquer faire translated by ‘nearly’, e.g.: J’ai manqué (de) tomber I nearly fell (Faillir is more usual in this sense, e.g. J’ai failli tomber.) (b) ne pas manquer de faire ‘not to fail to do’, e.g.: Ne manquez pas de nous écrire Don’t fail to write to us (or Mind you write to us) Je ne manquerai pas de vous le dire I shan’t fail to tell you In the negative (as in the above examples), this construction is still in current use. In the affirmative, however, manquer de faire and its alternative manquer à faire are now characteristic only of a somewhat archaic literary usage; négliger de ‘to neglect to’ or omettre de ‘to omit to’ should be used instead for ‘to fail to do something’ in the sense of ‘not to do’, e.g.: Il a négligé de répondre à ma lettre He failed to answer my letter 4 Impersonal ‘be missing, lacking’, with, when necessary, à = ‘from’, e.g.: Il ne manque pas de candidats There is no shortage of candidates Il manque vingt pages à ce livre There are twenty pages missing from this book Il nous manque cent euros We are a hundred euros short rester 1 ‘Remain, stay’, e.g.: J’y suis, j’y reste Here I am and here I stay

538 The complement of verbs


Elle y est restée dix jours She stayed there for ten days 2 ‘Remain, be left (over)’, e.g.: tout ce qui reste all that remains les quelques amis qui lui restaient the few friends who remained to him (that he had left) With reference to precise amounts remaining, the impersonal construction (see 3 below) is more usual. Note the construction in which the verb comes first and is translated into English as ‘there remain(s), there remained’, etc., e.g.: Restait le problème des pays en voie de développement There remained the problem of the developing countries Restent deux solutions There remain two solutions 3 Impersonal, ‘to be left’, with an indirect object of the person, e.g.: Il ne leur restait que cent euros They had only a hundred euros left (lit. There remained to them only a hundred euros) 4 Impersonal with à and the infinitive, ‘it remains to’, e.g.: Il ne me reste qu’à vous remercier de votre bonté It only remains for me to thank you for your kindness Reste à voir It remains to be seen servir 1 Transitive, ‘serve’ in a wide range of contexts, including the following: (a) ‘be of service to (a person, a cause)’, e.g.: servir le roi servir un client servir la cause de la paix

to serve the king to serve a customer to serve the cause of peace

(b) with a thing as direct object, e.g.:


Verbs 538

servir la balle servir un repas

to serve the ball (at tennis) to serve a meal

2 Intransitive, in various senses, e.g.: J’ai servi pendant la guerre I served in the war Il sert dans un café He serves (i.e. He is a waiter) in a café C’est à vous de servir It is you to serve (or your service) (at tennis) 3 Servir à ‘be of use to or for, be for’, with a noun or pronoun or with an infinitive (N.B. an infinitive representing the subject is introduced by de), e.g.: Cela ne sert à rien That is (of) no use Mes paroles ne servaient qu’à l’irriter My words only served to annoy him Une pelle sert à creuser des trous A spade is for digging holes A quoi sert de pleurer ? What is the use of crying? (i.e. What purpose does crying serve?) 4

Servir de ‘serve as, act as’, e.g.: Je lui ai servi d’interprète I acted as interpreter for him Cette pièce sert de salle à manger This room serves as a dining-room


Se servir

(a) ‘help oneself (to food)’, e.g.: Servez-vous (de légumes) Help yourself (to (some) vegetables) Je me suis servi de poisson I’ve taken some fish (b) se servir de ‘use, make use of’, e.g.: Il vaut mieux vous servir d’un dictionnaire You had better use a dictionary

538 The complement of verbs


tarder 1 ‘Delay, linger, be a long time (doing)’, with à and an infinitive where necessary, e.g.: Vous avez tardé à venir You have been a long time coming Il ne va pas tarder He won’t be long Je suis venu sans tarder I came without delay 1 Impersonal, ‘long to, be impatient to’, with dative of the person and de with the infinitive, e.g.: Il lui tarde de partir He is longing to start traiter 1 ‘To treat (a person)’ – ‘as’ is either comme (un) or en, e.g.: Il me traitait durement He used to treat me harshly traiter un malade to treat a patient Traitez-moi comme (un) ami Treat me as a friend traiter quelqu’un en enfant to treat someone as a child 2

Traiter quelqu’un de ‘call someone something’, e.g.: Il nous a traités d’imbéciles He called us fools


Traiter un sujet and traiter d’un sujet ‘deal with’

Traiter un sujet implies a systematic treatment of a subject, whereas traiter d’un sujet implies no more than that the subject is dealt with in the book, article, etc., in question, perhaps even only incidentally, e.g.: Ce rapport traite le problème de l’énergie nucléaire This report deals with the problem of nuclear energy

Verbs 538–539


Tous ses romans traitent du problème des relations entre parents et enfants All his novels deal with the problem of relations between parents and children venir 1 ‘Come (and)’ – venir and infinitive, i.e. no word for ‘and’ and no preposition, e.g.: Venez me voir demain Il est venu me remercier 2

Come and see me tomorrow He came to thank me

Venir de ‘to have just’, e.g.: Je viens de lui écrire Il venait de les voir

I have just written to him He had just seen them

This construction rarely occurs with forms of the verb other than the present indicative (‘has just, have just’) and the imperfect indicative (’had just’) 3

Venir à with an infinitive, ‘happen to’, e.g.: Un de mes amis vint à passer One of my friends happened to pass Si vous veniez à le voir If you happened to see him

4 En venir à with a noun or an infinitive, ‘come to, turn to, be reduced to, etc.’, e.g.: J’en viens maintenant au problème principal I now come (or turn) to the main problem Il en était venu à mendier He had been reduced to begging 5 For the difference between Il vient à moi ‘He comes to me’, etc., and L’idée me vient que . . . ‘The idea comes to me that . . .’, etc., see 220,b.

S Idioms with avoir, être, faire


Idioms with avoir

(a) In a number of idioms, French uses avoir + a noun (without an article) where English uses ‘to be’ + an adjective:

539 Idioms with avoir, être, faire


avoir faim, to be hungry avoir soif, to be thirsty avoir froid, to be cold avoir chaud, to be hot avoir dix ans, to be ten years old avoir raison, to be right avoir tort, to be wrong avoir honte, to be ashamed avoir peur, to be frightened avoir sommeil, to be sleepy Other idioms in which French uses avoir + a noun without an article include: avoir affaire à, to have . . . to deal with, be faced with avoir besoin de, to need avoir envie de, to want (something, to do something) avoir pitié de, to pity, take pity on avoir soin de, to look after, take care of (b) In expressions of age, French uses the construction avoir X ans, mois, etc., where English uses the construction ‘to be X years, months, etc., old’, e.g.: Elle a trente ans She is thirty years old Le bébé n’avait que six mois The baby was only six months old Note that, although it is possible in English to omit the words ‘years old’, the word ans cannot be omitted in French, e.g.: Ma fille a vingt-neuf ans My daughter is twenty-nine except when the conjunctive pronoun en ‘of them’ stands in for it, e.g.: Il aura bientôt cinquante ans mais sa femme n’en a que trente He will soon be fifty but his wife is only thirty (lit. ‘has only thirty of them (i.e. years)’) Likewise, ‘How old . . . ?’ is Quel âge . . . ? + avoir, e.g.: Quel âge avez-vous ? How old are you?


Verbs 539

(c) avoir + a noun sometimes (and particularly in the perfect and preterite tenses) expresses a physical reaction, e.g.: Il a eu un mouvement de colère He made an angry gesture Il eut un murmure de satisfaction en apercevant la cuisine (Simenon) He murmured with satisfaction on noticing the kitchen La jeune femme près de lui eut un petit rire (Simenon) The young woman near him gave a little laugh (d) en avoir pour expresses the amount of time or money that has to be expended in achieving a certain end, e.g.: Nous en avons pour une demi-heure It will take us half an hour Je n’en ai pas pour longtemps It won’t take me long (I shan’t be long about it) Je lui ai dit que j’en avais pour le reste de la journée I told him it would take me the rest of the day (that I should be at it for the rest of the day) Il en a pour mille euros It will cost him a thousand euros (Note that the French construction uses the present or imperfect tenses where the corresponding English constructions take the future or the conditional.) (e) With avoir l’air + adjective ‘to look, seem, appear’, the adjective may agree either with l’air (as, strictly speaking, it should since the literal meaning of Il a l’air heureux ‘He looks happy’ is ‘He has a happy appearance’, cf. Il a les yeux bleus ‘He has blue eyes’) or (as is more usual nowadays) with the subject, e.g.: Elle a l’air heureux (agreement with air) Elle a l’air heureuse (agreement with elle) She looks happy (f) Note the idiom Qu’est-ce que vous avez ? ‘What is the matter (with you)?’, Qu’est-ce qu’il avait ? ‘What was the matter with him?’, etc., and, similarly, Qu’est-ce qu’il y a ? ‘What’s the matter?’

540–541 Idioms with avoir, être, faire 540


Idioms with être

(a) y être, as well as having its literal meaning of ‘to be there’ (e.g. Il y est déjà ‘He is there already’), is used in the expression J’y suis, j’y reste ‘Here I am and here I stay’ and can also have the meaning of ‘to understand, to get the point’, e.g.: J’y suis maintenant Now I get it (I understand) (b) en être can have the meaning of ‘to have reached a certain point’, e.g.: Où en étions-nous ? How far had we got? (e.g. in a discussion or a course of lessons) J’en suis au chapitre douze I am up to (I have got as far as) chapter twelve Ils en étaient à mourir de faim They had reached starvation point (c) In the literary language only, and only in the preterite and very occasionally in the imperfect subjunctive, être is used reflexively (with en) as the equivalent of s’en aller ‘to go (away)’, e.g.: Patrice s’en fut au jardin (Duhamel) Patrick went (out, off) into the garden Il s’en fut la chercher He went off to look for her (d) Forms of être occur in a considerable number of other idiomatic expressions, including: C’en est trop ! cela étant ainsi soit-il Nous sommes le 7 avril toujours est-il que . . . il n’est que de . . . en être pour sa peine

That’s going too far that being so 1. so be it; 2. amen It is the 7th of April the fact remains that . . . the best thing is to to have wasted one’s efforts

For others, consult a good dictionary. 541 Idioms with faire Faire is used in a great variety of idioms of which the following are some:


Verbs 541

(a) faire alone, like the English ‘does’, ‘have’, etc., is used as a substitute for a verb which would otherwise have to be repeated, e.g.: Il mange des escargots comme le font les Français He eats snails as the French do Il est merveilleux qu’ils aient tenu bon comme ils l’ont fait It is wonderful that they have held out as they have This is not possible when the substitute verb is stressed in English, in which case various corresponding expressions are found in French, e.g.: She sings well. – Yes, she does Elle chante bien. – Oui, en effet (or c’est vrai) He doesn’t like cheese. – Yes he does! Il n’aime pas le fromage. – Mais si ! (b) faire + an adjective is used in a number of expressions referring to the weather and the like, e.g.: il fait beau il fait chaud il fait froid il fait lourd il fait noir il fait sombre

it is fine it is hot it is cold it (or the weather) is close it is dark it is dull

Also il fait bon ‘it is nice’ (e.g. Il fait bon se promener à la campagne ‘It’s nice going for walks in the country’) and, with nouns, il fait jour ‘it is daylight’ and il fait nuit ‘it is dark (i.e. night-time)’. (c) Many idioms are based on the construction faire + noun (with no article), e.g., among many others: faire attention faire face (à) faire honte à faire horreur à faire part à quelqu’un de quelque chose faire peur à

to take care to face (up to), be opposite to make (someone) feel ashamed to disgust, be repugnant to to inform someone of something to frighten, scare

541 Idioms with avoir, être, faire faire plaisir à faire semblant (de faire quelque chose) faire signe (à) faire tort à


to please, give pleasure to to pretend (to do something) to beckon, signal (to) to wrong

(d) se faire + an adjective or adverb can have the meaning of ‘to get, become’, e.g.: Il se fait vieux He is getting old Le beurre se faisait rare Butter was getting scarce Il se fait tard It is getting late (e) se faire + an infinitive serves the same function as English ‘to get’ + a past participle or some other equivalent construction meaning ‘to undergo a certain process’ (particularly an unpleasant one), e.g.: Si tu ne fais pas attention, tu te feras tuer If you don’t take care, you’ll get (yourself) killed Il s’est fait gronder He got scolded, ticked off and likewise se faire agresser ‘to be (get) assaulted, mugged’, se faire arrêter ‘to get arrested’, se faire écraser ‘to get run over’, se faire opérer ‘to have an operation’, se faire voler ‘to get (be) robbed’. (f) Note that, though faire quelque chose de quelque chose is one equivalent of English ‘to make something (out) of something (else)’, e.g.: Il va faire de sa pelouse un jardin potager He is going to make a vegetable garden (out) of his lawn ‘to make’ + an adjective, meaning ‘to cause someone or something to be what they were not before’, is expressed by rendre, not by faire, e.g.: La guerre l’a rendu pauvre The war has made him poor


Verbs 541

Son premier roman l’avait rendu célèbre His first novel had made him famous Le comité rendra publique la décision qu’il doit prendre demain The committee will make public the decision it is to take tomorrow For other idioms involving faire, consult a good dictionary.

The Structure of the Sentence


Introduction 542

We shall discuss negation under the following headings:

A: Negation with a verb B: The negative conjunction ni ‘neither, nor’ C: Negation of an element other than a verb

A Negation with a verb Introduction 543 Negation with a verb is expressed by the use of ne (or n’ before a vowel or mute h) before the verb and, in most cases, of another element which may be a determiner (aucun, nul ‘no, not any’), a pronoun (personne ‘nobody’, rien ‘nothing’, aucun, nul), an adverb (aucunement, nullement, ‘in no way, not at all’, guère ‘hardly, scarcely’, jamais ‘never’, plus ‘(no) longer’, que ‘only’, and what are often termed the negative particles pas and point ‘not’). Some of these elements always follow the verb, others may either precede or follow depending on meaning or on the degree of emphasis they carry. All are discussed at greater length below. Negation is a field where it is essential to take account of medium and register (see 13). Note in particular the mainly literary use of point (545), of nul (547) and of nullement (548), the omission


The structure of the sentence 543–544

of ne in informal registers (556), the use of ne on its own in the literary language (561) and the use or non-use of ne after avant que and à moins que (566). Note that faire must not be used as the equivalent of ‘do’ in negative constructions, e.g.: Ils ne parlent pas français They do not speak French For the use of ne alone, see 559–567. Ne and another element ne . . . pas, ne . . . point ‘not’ 544 (i) The normal way of making a verb negative is to use ne . . . pas. Pas comes immediately after the verb or, in compound tenses, after the auxiliary (but see also ii below), e.g.: Je ne viens pas I am not coming Il n’est pas venu He has not come Mon frère ne la connaissait pas My brother did not know her However, ne pas come together before an infinitive, e.g.: Je préfère ne pas le voir I prefer not to see him Je suis content de ne pas le lui avoir dit I am glad not to have told him (The construction ne + infinitive + pas exists but is archaic and should not be imitated.) (ii) Nothing can come between the verb (or auxiliary) and pas except the subject pronoun in a negative-interrogative clause or certain adverbs, mainly adverbs of affirmation or doubt (see 627–628), such as certainement ‘certainly’, même ‘even’, peut-être ‘perhaps’, probablement ‘probably’, sûrement ‘certainly’ and the adverbial phrase sans doute ‘doubtless’, e.g.: Ne vient-il pas ? Isn’t he coming?

544–546 Negation


Ne vous l’avais-je pas dit ? Had I not told you? Il ne viendra certainement pas He certainly won’t come II ne m’a même pas regardé He did not even look at me Vous ne l’avez peut-être pas vu Perhaps you did not see him Il ne la connaissait probablement pas He probably didn’t know her The only items that can come between ne and the verb are the conjunctive personal pronouns, me, le, vous, etc. – see 387,ii,d, and some of the examples quoted above. (iii) The only case in which pas can precede the verb is when it forms part of the expression pas un (seul) ‘not (a single) one’ as subject of the verb, e.g.: De tous mes amis, pas un (seul) n’a voulu m’aider Of all my friends, not one was willing to help me Pas un oiseau ne chantait dans la forêt Not a single bird was singing in the forest 545 Some grammars state that point expresses a ‘stronger’ negation than pas (some, indeed, go so far as to translate it as ‘not at all’). This is not so. For ‘not at all’, some such expression as pas du tout or absolument pas must be used. Point nowadays is used mainly by writers who wish to give a slightly archaic or a provincial flavour to their French. Many modern writers never use it and foreigners are well advised to avoid it altogether. Note that, although (subject to the above remarks) point could replace pas in any of the examples given in 544,i and ii, it cannot be substituted for pas in pas un – see 544,iii. 546

aucun ‘no, not any, etc.’

Aucun is used: (i) In the singular only, as a pronoun, e.g.: Aucun de mes amis n’est venu Not one of my friends came


The structure of the sentence 546–547

Aucune de ces raisons n’est valable None of these reasons is valid De tous mes amis, aucun ne m’a aidé Of all my friends, not one helped me In compound tenses it follows the past participle, e.g.: Je n’en ai acheté aucun I did not buy one (any) of them (ii) As a determiner, e.g.: Aucun exemple ne me vient à l’esprit No example comes to my mind Je n’ai aucune intention d’y aller I have no intention of going there As a determiner, aucun is not used in the plural except sometimes with nouns that have no singular (e.g. aucuns frais ‘no expenditure’) or are used in the plural with a meaning they do not have in the singular (e.g. aucuns gages ‘no wages’). 547

nul ‘no, not any, etc.’

(i) Nul is characteristic of the literary rather than the spoken language. (ii) As a pronoun it is used, usually only in the singular and only as the subject of the verb: (a) with reference to some person or thing already mentioned (in which case the conversational equivalent is aucun), e.g.: De toutes les maisons que je connais, nulle n’est plus agréable que la vôtre Of all the houses I know, none is more pleasant than yours (b) meaning ‘nobody’ (in this sense personne, not aucun, is used in speech), e.g.: Nul ne sait ce qu’il est devenu Nobody knows what has happened to him (iii) As a determiner, nul is used in the literary language, mainly in the singular but occasionally (though this should not be imitated) in the plural, as the equivalent of aucun, e.g.: Je n’ai nulle envie de la faire I have no desire to do so

548–550 Negation 548


aucunement, nullement ‘not at all’

Aucunement and, especially in the literary language, nullement serve to negate the verb more emphatically than pas; they follow the verb (or the auxiliary, or the infinitive if the sense requires it), e.g.: Je n’en suis aucunement (or nullement) froissé I am in no way (or not at all) put out about it Je ne crains nullement (or aucunement) la mort I am not in the least afraid of death Il semble ne vouloir aucunement y aller He seems to be by no means anxious to go there 549

ne . . . guère ‘hardly, scarcely’

Ne . . . guère is used both as an adverb, e.g.: Cela n’est guère probable That is hardly likely Je ne comprends guère ce qu’il dit I scarcely understand what he says and as a quantifier, e.g.: Je n’ai guère d’argent

I have hardly any money

In compound tenses it precedes the past participle, e.g.: Je ne l’aurais guère cru I should hardly have believed it 550

ne . . . jamais ‘never’

Jamais usually follows the verb or the auxiliary, e.g.: Je ne bois jamais de vin Il n’a jamais dit ça

I never drink wine He never said that

but it comes before the infinitive, e.g.: Il décida de ne jamais revenir He decided never to come back For emphasis, it may be placed first, e.g.: Jamais je ne dirais ça !

I would never say that!


The structure of the sentence 551–552


ne . . . personne ‘nobody’, ne . . . rien ‘nothing’

Personne and rien can serve either as the subject or as the object of a verb or as the complement of a preposition, e.g.: Personne n’arrivera ce soir Nobody will arrive this evening Rien ne le satisfait Nothing satisfies him Je ne vois personne I can’t see anyone Je ne dirai rien I shall say nothing Je ne travaillais avec personne I wasn’t working with anybody Je ne pensais à rien I wasn’t thinking of anything Note that, in compound tenses, rien follows the auxiliary but personne follows the past participle, e.g.: Je n’ai rien vu I saw nothing (I haven’t seen anything) Je n’ai vu personne I saw no one (I haven’t seen anyone) Nous n’avions rien fait d’intéressant We hadn’t done anything interesting (Rien, however, sometimes follows the participle if it is qualified, e.g. Je n’ai trouvé rien qui vaille la peine ‘I found nothing worthwhile’.) Likewise, rien goes before and personne after the infinitive, e.g.: Il a décidé de ne rien faire He decided to do nothing Il a décidé de n’accepter personne He decided to accept nobody 552 ne . . . plus ‘no longer, not any more’ Ne . . . plus means ‘no more’ only in the sense of ‘no longer, not any more’, e.g.:

552–553 Negation


Je n’y travaille plus I don’t work there any more, I no longer work there Nous n’avons plus de pain We have no more bread (i.e. no bread left) (‘No more’ in a strictly comparative or quantitative sense is ne . . . pas plus, e.g. Ce livre n’est pas plus intelligible que l’autre ‘This book is no more intelligible than the other one’, Je n’ai pas plus de temps que vous ‘I have no more time than you’.) Plus follows the verb or auxiliary, but precedes the infinitive, e.g.: Je n’y suis plus allé I never went there any more J’ai décidé de ne plus y aller I have decided not to go there any more 553

ne . . . que . . . ‘only’

(i) Whereas in unaffected English (as distinct from pedantic English) ‘only’ can go before the verb even when it relates to something else, provided the meaning is clear from the context (e.g. ‘He only works on Saturdays’ = ‘He works only on Saturdays’), the que of ne . . . que . . . always goes immediately before the element it relates to, e.g.: Je n’en ai que trois I only have three Il ne travaille que le samedi He only works (= works only) on Saturdays Je ne l’ai dit qu’à mon frère I only told (told only) my brother (ii) As que must also follow the verb, there might seem to be a problem when ‘only’ relates to the verb itself, as in ‘She only laughed’ or ‘On Saturdays he only works’ (i.e. ‘All he does on Saturdays is work’); what happens in French is that the verb faire ‘to do’ is used to express the relevant person, tense and mood, which que can then follow while at the same time preceding the infinitive of the verb it relates to, e.g.: Je ne faisais que plaisanter I was only joking


The structure of the sentence 553–554

Elle n’a fait que rire She only laughed Le samedi il ne fait que travailler On Saturdays he only works All he does on Saturdays is work Il ne fera que te gronder He’ll only scold you (iii) Though the use of ne . . . pas que . . . to mean ‘not only’ is frowned on by some purists, it is well established in literary as well as spoken usage and there is no good reason to avoid it, e.g.: Ne pensez pas qu’à vous (A. France) Don’t only think of yourself Il ne négligea pas que l’église (Mauriac) It was not only the church he neglected Il n’y a pas que l’argent qui compte It is not only money that counts (i.e. Money isn’t everything) 554

‘Fossilized’ negative complements

In a few idioms, goutte and mot replace rien. Goutte occurs only with voir ‘to see’, comprendre ‘to understand’, and entendre in the sense of ‘to understand’ (not in the sense of ‘to hear’) and usually with y before the verb or, failing that, à + a noun, e.g.: La lune est cachée, on n’y voit goutte (Mauriac) The moon is hidden, one cannot see a thing L’électeur moyen n’y comprend goutte (Le Monde) The average voter understands nothing about it Ils ne comprennent goutte à ma conduite (Flaubert) They completely fail to understand my behaviour Mot still retains its meaning of ‘word’ and occurs only with dire ‘to say’, répondre ‘to answer’ and in the idioms ne (pas) sonner mot and ne (pas) souffler mot ‘not to utter a word’, e.g.: Le curé souriait . . . mais ne disait mot (Mauriac) The priest smiled but said nothing Il n’en souffle mot à personne (P.-J. Hélias) He says nothing about it to anyone

555–556 Negation 555


Multiple negative complements

Pas and point cannot be combined with any of the other negative complements discussed in 546–554 (except in the expression ne . . . pas que, see 553,iii). Various combinations of other complements are, however, possible, e.g.: Personne n’a rien dit Nobody said anything Personne ne peut plus le supporter Nobody can stand him any more Il n’a jamais blessé personne He has never hurt anyone Nous n’avons jamais eu aucun problème We never had any problem Cela ne me regarde plus guère That hardly concerns me any more Il se décida à ne jamais plus rien supporter de la sorte He decided never to put up with anything of the kind again 556 In colloquial usage, ne is very frequently omitted and the negation is expressed by pas, rien, jamais, etc., alone, e.g.: Je veux pas y aller Dis pas ça ! J’ai rien acheté Tu viens jamais me voir

I don’t want to go (there) Don’t say that! I haven’t bought anything You never come and see me

This is so widespread, even in educated speech, that it cannot be considered unacceptable. However, foreigners should not adopt this construction until they can speak French fluently and correctly and at a normal conversational speed. For more on this, see R. Ball, Colloquial French Grammar (Oxford, Blackwell, 2000), pp. 13–25. The feature in question is sometimes found in print in plays, novels, etc., that aim to represent spoken usage; the following examples are from Sartre’s play Les Mains sales: C’est pas vrai Touche pas Je crois pas

It isn’t true Don’t touch I don’t think so

It should not, however, be used in writing in other circumstances.


The structure of the sentence 557–558

Negation without ne 557 pas without ne When the verb of a negative clause is dropped, the ne of course drops with it and pas alone expresses the negation; for example, in answer to the question Est-il arrivé ? ‘Has he arrived?’, instead of the complete sentence Il n’est pas encore arrivé ‘He has not yet arrived’, one is likely to find simply the expression Pas encore ‘Not yet’. This is a construction one constantly comes across. Further examples: Est-ce que vous l’admirez ? – Pas du tout (or even Du tout) Do you admire him? – Not at ail Tu viens ? – Pas tout de suite Are you coming? – Not immediately Qu’est-ce que je dois prendre ? Pas ça ! What am I to take? – Not that! Qui l’a dit ? – Pas moi, de toute façon Who said so? – Not me, at any rate Likewise certainement pas ‘certainly not’, pourquoi pas ? ‘why not?’, pas là ! ‘not there!’, etc. For other negative complements without ne, see 558,iii. 558 aucun, any

jamais, ever

personne, anybody

plus, more

rien anything

without ne

(i) As sans ‘without’ implies a negative, these five words may be used after sans or sans que ‘without’, e.g.: sans aucune raison, sans raison aucune without any reason sans jamais le dire without ever saying so sans voir personne without seeing anyone sans plus tarder without delaying any more, without further delay sans rien dire without saying anything, saying nothing

558 Negation


Il est parti sans rien He left without anything Elle est partie sans que personne le sache She left without anyone knowing sans que rien soit fait without anything being done (ii) The five words in question originally had a positive value and this survives in questions and comparisons and after si ‘if’, e.g.: Y a-t-il aucune raison pour ça ? Is there any reason (at all) for that? Je le respecte plus qu’aucun autre homme I respect him more than any other man Vous le savez mieux que personne You know better than anyone Avez-vous jamais rien entendu de si absurde ? Have you ever heard anything so absurd? Si jamais vous le voyez, dites-le-moi If ever you see him, tell me On jamais, see also 618. Plus retains a positive value generally, not just in the circumstances mentioned above – see 159–173. (iii) As is explained in 557, pas retains a negative value when the verb (and hence the ne) of a negative clause is dropped. The same is true of aucun, jamais, personne, plus and rien. Each of these originally had a positive value but, through their constant association with negative constructions, they have themselves acquired a negative value in the circumstances in question, e.g.: Y a-t-il aucune raison pour ça ? – Aucune Is there any reason for that? – None Le lui avez-vous jamais montré ? – Jamais Have you ever shown it to him? – Never Qui vous l’a dit ? – Personne Who told you so? – Nobody Plus de discussions ! No more arguing!


The structure of the sentence 558–560

Qu’est-ce qu’il t’a dit ? – Rien de très intéressant What did he tell you? – Nothing very interesting Ne alone 559 In medieval French, ne was frequently used on its own (i.e. without pas or any other complement, though these were in fact already in use) to negate a verb, e.g. Ne m’oci ! ‘Don’t kill me!’ There are relics of this in modern French, falling into three categories, viz.: (i) Fixed expressions and proverbs (560) (ii) Constructions in which ne is a literary alternative to ne . . . pas (561) (iii) Constructions in which ne is superfluous (and where English has no negative at all) (562–567) (i) Ne on its own in fixed expressions and proverbs 560

Ne is used on its own:

(a) In a number of fixed expressions, including: A Dieu ne plaise ! God forbid! N’ayez crainte ! Fear not! Never fear! N’importe or Il n’importe It doesn’t matter Qu’à cela ne tienne ! Never mind that! (b) A few constructions that can vary slightly in respect of their subject and/or tense and/or complement, and mainly involving one or other of the verbs avoir and être, e.g.: n’avoir cure de not to be concerned about n’avoir (pas) de cesse que . . . not to rest until . . . n’avoir garde de (faire) to take good care not to

560 Negation


n’avoir que faire de (+ noun) to have no need of, no use for, to manage very well without n’était but for, were it not for n’eût été but for, had it not been for si ce n’est (+ noun or pronoun) if not . . . , apart from

Examples: Il n’avait garde de contredire sa fille (Mérimée) He took care not to contradict his daughter Je n’ai que faire de ses conseils I can manage very well without his advice N’était son arrogance, il serait sûr de réussir Were it not for his arrogance, he would certainly succeed On ne voyait rien si ce n’est le ciel (Barbier d’Aurevilly) Nothing was to be seen apart from the sky Three such expressions involving other verbs are n’en déplaise à ‘with all due respect to’, n’empêche que ‘the fact remains that’, and savoir in the conditional, meaning ‘to be able’ (of the constructions listed here, these last two are the only ones that are current in conversational usage), e.g.: N’empêche qu’il a tout à fait tort The fact remains that he is quite wrong Je ne saurais répondre à votre question I can’t answer your question (c) A few proverbs beginning with il n’est . . . ‘there is not’, e.g.: Il n’est pire eau que l’eau qui dort Still waters run deep (lit. There is no worse water than sleeping water) Il n’est pire sourd que celui qui ne veut pas entendre There is none so deaf as he who will not hear


The structure of the sentence 561

(ii) Ne as a literary alternative to ne . . . pas 561 In a variety of constructions, the use of ne alone is still possible, particularly in the literary language. The principal constructions in question are: (a) With the verbs cesser ‘to cease’ (but only when followed by de and an infinitive), daigner ‘to deign’, oser ‘to dare’, pouvoir ‘to be able’, and occasionally bouger ‘to move’, e.g.: Il ne cesse de pleurer Je n’ose l’avouer Je ne peux vous aider Ne bougez d’ici !

He never stops crying I dare not admit it I cannot help you Don’t move from here!

(b) With savoir followed by an indirect question (in which case it is better to use ne alone rather than ne . . . pas), e.g.: Je ne sais pourquoi I don’t know why Il ne sait quel parti prendre He does not know what course to take or in answer to a question: Qu’allez-vous faire ? – Je ne sais encore What you going to do? – I don’t yet know (c) In rhetorical or exclamatory questions introduced by qui ? ‘who?’, quel ? + noun ‘what?’, que ? ‘what?’ or que ? ‘why’, e.g.: Qui ne court après la Fortune ? (La Fontaine) Who does not chase after Fortune? Que ne dirait-on pour sauver sa peau ? What would a man not say to save his skin? Que ne sommes-nous arrivés plus tôt ! Why did we not get here sooner! If only we had got here sooner! (d) After si, especially when the main clause is negative, e.g.: Je ne vous lâcherai pas si vous ne l’avouez I will not let you go unless you confess Le voilà qui arrive, si je ne me trompe Here he comes, if I am not mistaken

561 Negation


(e) After non que, non pas que, ce n’est pas que ‘not that’, e.g.: Non qu’il ne veuille vous aider . . . Not that he does not want to help you Ce n’est pas qu’il ne fasse des efforts, mais qu’il oublie tout It is not that he doesn’t try, but that he forgets everything (f) In relative clauses taking the subjunctive after a negative (expressed, or implied in a question) in the preceding clause, e.g.: Il ne devrait être personne qui ne veuille apprendre le français There ought to be no one who does not want to learn French Y a-t-il personne qui ne veuille apprendre le français ? Is there any who . . . ? etc. (= Surely there is no one who . . . etc.) Il n’y a si bon cheval qui ne bronche There is no horse so good that it never stumbles (g) In a que-clause expressing consequence after tellement or si meaning ‘so’, e.g.: Il n’est pas tellement (or si) bête qu’il ne comprenne cela as not to He is not so stupid understand that that he does not

(h) In a dependent clause meaning ‘without . . . -ing’; que . . . ne in this sense is equivalent to sans que, e.g.:

qu’il ne me prie de passer chez lui sans qu’il me prie I never see him without his asking me to drop in on him Je ne le vois jamais

(i) As an alternative to ne . . . pas in conditional sentences with inversion of the subject (see 424), e.g.: Il se serait retiré, n’eût-il (pas) pensé qu’il se ferait remarquer He would have withdrawn had he not thought he would attract attention (j) For ne or ne . . . pas after depuis que, etc., see 567.


The structure of the sentence 562–563

(iii) Ne inserted where English has no negative 562 Ne alone occurs in a number of constructions that are not, strictly speaking, negative though, as we shall see, there is usually a negative implication of some kind or other. This ne is often referred to as ‘redundant ne’, ‘pleonastic ne’ or ‘expletive ne’. In speech the ne is dropped more often than not and it is also often dropped in writing in an informal style. The constructions in question can be classified as follows: (a) after comparatives (563) (b) after verbs and expressions of fearing (564) (c) after certain other verbs and their equivalents (565) (d) after the conjunctions avant que ‘before’ and à moins que ‘unless’ (566) (e) after the conjunction depuis que ‘since’ and comparable expressions (567). 563 (a) Ne after comparatives In an affirmative clause after a comparative and que ‘than’, e.g. Il en sait plus qu’il n’avoue ‘He knows more than he admits’, the use of ne can be explained by the fact that the que-clause contains a negative implication, viz. ‘He does not admit to knowing as much as he does’. Other examples: Il a agi avec plus d’imprudence que je ne croyais He has acted more rashly than I thought Il est moins riche qu’il ne l’était He is less rich than he was Also with autre(ment) que ‘other than, otherwise than’, e.g.: Il agit autrement qu’il ne parle He acts differently from the way he speaks Note, however, that, when the main clause is interrogative or negative, the ne is not usually used unless the negative of the first clause also covers the second clause, e.g.: Avez-vous jamais été plus heureux que vous l’êtes maintenant ? Have you ever been happier than you are now?

563–565 Negation


Jamais homme n’était plus embarrassé que je le suis en ce moment Never was a man more embarrassed than I am at this moment Vous ne réussirez pas mieux que nous n’avons réussi nousmêmes You will not succeed any better than we have (i.e. ‘We have not succeeded and you will not succeed’) (Ne is sometimes used after questions, particularly when the question is rhetorical, e.g.: Peut-on être plus bête qu’il ne l’est ? Can anyone be stupider than he is?) 564

(b) Ne after verbs and expressions of fearing

The use of ne after verbs and expressions of fearing such as craindre que ‘to fear that’, avoir peur que ‘to be afraid that’, de crainte que, de peur que ‘for fear that’, is explained by the fact that a fear that something may happen implies a hope or wish that it may not happen; for example, J’ai peur que ce ne soit vrai ‘I am afraid it may be true’, and Il est parti de peur qu’elle ne le voie ‘He left for fear she might see him’, imply respectively a hope that it might not be true and that she should not see him. Note that after a verb of fearing that is itself negative there is no ne and that the problem does not, of course, arise when the verb of the que-clause is itself negative. We therefore have the following constructions: Je crains qu’il ne vienne I am afraid he will come Je ne crains pas qu’il vienne I am not afraid he will come Je crains qu’il ne vienne pas I am afraid he will not come Je ne crains pas qu’il ne vienne pas I am not afraid he will not come 565

(c) Ne after other verbs and their equivalents

After douter ‘to doubt’ when negative or interrogative, e.g.:


The structure of the sentence 565

Je ne doute pas qu’il ne vienne I have no doubt he will come Doutez-vous qu’il ne vienne ? Do you doubt whether he will come? but, after douter in the affirmative: Je doute qu’il vienne

I doubt if he will come

Il n’est pas douteux que . . . takes either the subjunctive with or without ne or the indicative without ne, e.g.: Il n’est pas douteux qu’il (ne) vienne Il n’est pas douteux qu’il viendra

There is no doubt that he will come

Other negative expressions of doubt are usually followed by the indicative without ne, e.g.: Il n’y a pas de doute qu’il viendra Sans doute qu’il viendra

There is no doubt that he will come

Nier ‘to deny’ when affirmative follows the same rule as douter; but, when negative, it can have any of the constructions illustrated below: Je nie qu’il l’ait fait Je ne nie pas qu’il ne l’ait fait Je ne nie pas qu’il l’ait fait Je ne nie pas qu’il l’a fait

I deny that he did it

I do not deny that he did it

After nier in the interrogative, the verb of the que-clause is usually in the subjunctive, with or without ne, e.g.: Niez-vous qu’il (ne) l’ait fait ? Do you deny that he did it? Note that, if the person is unchanged, the infinitive can be used, e.g.: Il ne nie pas l’avoir fait He does not deny doing it (that he did it) Empêcher que ‘to prevent’ and éviter que ‘to avoid’ are usually but not invariably followed by ne whether they are used affirmatively or negatively, e.g.: Rien n’empêche qu’on (ne) fasse la paix Nothing prevents peace from being made

565–567 Negation


J’évite qu’il (ne) m’en parle I avoid having him speak to me about it But note that empêcher is very frequently followed by an infinitive, e.g. Il m’empêche de partir ‘He prevents me from leaving’. Ne is optional after peu s’en faut que or il s’en faut que (for which no even approximately literal translation is possible), e.g.: Peu s’en fallut qu’il (ne) tombât dans la mer He very nearly fell into the sea Il s’en faut de beaucoup que cette somme soit suffisante This sum is far from being enough A few moments’ thought ought to be enough to identify the negative implication in the above examples – for example, ‘to prevent something from happening’ is ‘to ensure that it does not happen’. 566 (d) Ne after avant que ‘before’ and à moins que ‘unless’ The use of ne after avant que ‘before’ and à moins que ‘unless’ is optional, but it is in general preferred in modern literary usage (much more so than in Classical French), e.g.: Je le verrai avant qu’il (ne) parte I shall see him before he leaves Avant qu’ils n’eussent atteint la galerie . . . (J. Green) Before they had reached the gallery . . . Il va y renoncer à moins que vous (ne) l’aidiez He is going to give up unless you help him The negative implication of such examples as these is clear – ‘he has not yet left’, ‘they had not reached the gallery’, ‘if you do not help him’. Note that the use of ne after sans que ‘without’ that one sometimes comes across is best avoided, e.g.: Il est parti sans que ses parents le sachent He left without his parents knowing about it 567 (e) Depuis que and comparable expressions The two interlocking problems that arise with the use of depuis que, viz. that of the choice of tense and that of the choice between ne and ne . . . pas, can best be explained if we first take an example. ‘Ten years have passed since I saw him’ (a sentence in which, in


The structure of the sentence 567

English, there is no negative) may be translated either by: Dix ans se sont écoulés depuis que je ne l’ai vu (i.e. with the perfect tense and ne), or by: Dix ans se sont écoulés depuis que je ne le vois pas (or plus) (i.e. with the present tense and either ne . . . pas or ne . . . plus). The sense of the second of these forms becomes plain if one takes depuis que as an equivalent of ‘during which’, i.e. ‘Ten years have passed during which I do not (or I no longer) see him’. Furthermore, the first type has influenced the second and so one often comes across the construction: Dix ans se sont écoulés depuis que je ne l’ai pas vu Alternative constructions to depuis que are provided by il y a, voici, voilà + expression of a period of time (e.g. dix ans ‘ten years’, longtemps ‘a long time’) + que, e.g.:

Il y a Voici dix ans que je ne le vois pas (or plus) Voilà It is ten years since I saw him or, alternatively: Il y a Voici Voilà

dix ans que je ne l’ai vu

Another alternative construction is provided by cela (ça) fait, e.g. Ça fait dix ans que je ne l’ai pas vu. But note that since cela (ça) fait is a somewhat informal construction and the use of ne alone is a literary construction, the two should not be combined, i.e. with cela fait or ça fait always use ne . . . pas. Similarly with reference to the past:

Dix ans s’étaient écoulés depuis je ne l’avais (pas) vu que je ne le voyais pas (or plus) Ten years had elapsed since I saw (or had seen) him

Il y avait je ne l’avais (pas) vu dix ans que Voilà je ne le voyais pas (or plus) It was ten years since I had seen him

567–569 Negation


Note that the use of pas or plus is optional with the compound tenses (i.e. the perfect and the pluperfect) but compulsory with the simple tenses (the present and the imperfect). Generally speaking, plus is more widely used than pas with the simple tenses. De, du, etc., un(e) and the direct object of negative verbs 568 De is normally substituted for the partitive or the indefinite article with the direct object of a verb in the negative (for exceptions, see 569 and 570), e.g.: Nous avons une maison We have a house Nous n’avons pas de maison We haven’t a house Ils vendent du fromage They sell cheese Ils ne vendent pas de fromage They don’t sell cheese Nous avons eu de la difficulté We have had some difficulty Nous n’avons jamais eu de difficulté We have never had any difficulty Note that, in the construction il y a ‘there is, there are’ followed by a noun (e.g. Il y a des pommes ‘There are (some) apples’), the noun is the direct object of the verb a (from avoir) and so the rule applies (e.g. Il n’y a pas de pommes ‘There aren’t any apples’). Note too that ne . . . que ‘only’ is not negative in sense and so does not follow the rule, e.g. Il n’y a que des pommes ‘There are only apples’. 569 The use of the indefinite article, un, une, is not impossible after a negative, but there is a difference in meaning between this construction and the usual construction with pas de discussed in 568. Whereas pas de expresses the negation in an unemphatic way (‘not a’), pas un is somewhat emphatic (‘not one, not a single’), e.g.: Il n’y a pas de communiste qui soit capitaliste There is no communist who is a capitalist


The structure of the sentence 569–570

Il n’y a pas un communiste qui soit capitaliste There is not a single communist who is a capitalist Je ne vois pas de cheval I can’t see a horse Je ne vois pas un cheval I can’t see a single horse (This last sentence might be spoken to express one’s disappointment, for example, at not seeing any horses in circumstances where one had been expecting to see some.) Some circumstances virtually exclude the construction with pas un: for example, one might very well say of a woman Elle n’a pas de mari ‘She hasn’t got a husband’, but it is difficult to imagine any kind of normal context in which one could say, as a complete sentence, Elle n’a pas un mari. Similarly in negative questions. Whereas N’avez-vous pas de crayon ? merely means ‘Haven’t you got a pencil?’, to ask N’avezvous pas un crayon ? has something of the same implication as ‘You haven’t (by any chance) a pencil, have you?’ (i.e., if so, may I borrow it?). 570 The construction discussed in 568 must be clearly distinguished from others that are superficially similar (or even, in English – but not in French – identical), but have a very different meaning. One of these is the construction in which the negation applies, according to the sense, not to the verb but to the direct object. For example, ‘I didn’t buy a car’ may carry the implication, or be followed by a specific statement, that ‘I bought something else (e.g. a bike)’. So, in French we have Je n’ai pas acheté une voiture (mais un vélo). The meaning in effect is ‘I bought not a car but a bike’, i.e. the negation, according to the sense, applies not to the verb ‘bought’ but to the direct object ‘car’. Another similar construction is that in which the negation applies, according to the sense, neither to the verb nor to the direct object but to some other element in the sentence. For example, an utterance such as ‘One doesn’t keep a dog in order to eat it’ has the implication ‘If one keeps a dog, it is not in order to eat it’. So, in French one has On n’a pas un chien pour le manger.

571 Negation


B The negative conjunction ni ‘neither, nor’ 571 Ni is the equivalent both of ‘neither’ and of ‘nor’. There are important differences between the two languages in the use of these conjunctions: (i) When they apply to finite verbs (see 341), ‘neither’ is ne and ‘nor’ is ni ne (and note that both negative elements are essential here – ni alone will not do), e.g.: Je ne peux ni ne veux y consentir I neither can nor will agree to it Il ne m’écrit ni ne vient me voir He neither writes to me nor comes to see me (ii) When they apply to elements other than a finite verb, each of the elements in question (which may be, for example, the subject, the direct or indirect object, past participles, infinitives, adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases, etc.) is preceded by ni while the finite verb is preceded by ne, e.g.: Ni lui ni moi ne serons prêts à temps Neither he nor I will be ready in time Il ne comprend ni l’anglais ni le français He understands neither English nor French Je ne le donne ni à Pierre ni à Jean I am giving it neither to Peter nor to John Je ne les ai ni vus ni entendus I have neither seen nor heard them Il ne veut ni m’écrire ni me téléphoner He will neither write to me nor telephone me Je ne suis ni riche ni avare I am neither rich nor miserly Il ne vient ni aujourd’hui ni demain He is coming neither today nor tomorrow Nous n’allons ni à Paris ni à Strasbourg We are going neither to Paris nor to Strasburg (iii) the construction (ne) . . . ni . . . ni is also the equivalent of ‘not . . . or . . . (either)’, ‘Not . . . either . . . or’, etc.; for


The structure of the sentence 571

example, the second, third, fourth and last examples in ii above could also be translated ‘He doesn’t understand (either) English or French’, ‘I am not giving it either to Peter or to John’, ‘I haven’t seen them or heard them’, ‘We are not going to Paris or to Strasburg either’, and similar alternative translations could be provided for the other examples except the first (in which ‘neither . . . nor’ relate to the subject of the verb). (iv) French uses ni where English uses ‘and’ or ‘or’ after a negative or after sans or sans que ‘without’, e.g.: sans père ni mère without father or mother, with neither father nor mother Il faut le faire sans qu’il voie ni (qu’il) entende rien It must be done without his seeing or hearing anything La vieille aristocratie française n’a rien appris ni rien oublié The old French aristocracy has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing (v) Note the use of ni to introduce a kind of afterthought after a negative construction with ne . . . pas, e.g.: Il ne faut pas s’asseoir ni même se remuer avant que la reine n’ait donné le signe No one must sit down or even move till the queen gives the signal Il ne comprend pas le français, ni l’anglais d’ailleurs He doesn’t understand French, or indeed English When the newly introduced element is the equivalent of the subject, English has the construction ‘neither (or nor)’ + some such verb as ‘is, has does, shall, will, can, must’ + the subject; French has the construction ni (optional – see below) + subject (disjunctive form if it is a personal pronoun) + non plus, e.g.: Il n’y va pas, (ni) son frère non plus He is not going (and) neither is his brother Je ne regarde jamais la télé, (ni) ma femme non plus I never watch TV, (and) neither (or nor) does my wife (Ni) moi non plus Neither am I (have I, can I, do I, etc.) Elle ne travaillait jamais. – (Ni) lui non plus She never worked. – Neither did he

571–574 Negation


In speech, the form without ni is the more usual, the form with ni being rather more emphatic.

C Negation of an element other than a verb 572

‘No’ or ‘not’ as the equivalent of a negative sentence.

The English ‘no’ in answer to a question, or by way of being a comment, an objection, a warning, etc., is translated by non or, more emphatically, by mais non !, e.g.: Vous partez demain ? – Non, monsieur Are you leaving tomorrow? – No, sir Non ! non ! non ! Ce n’est pas comme ça qu’il faut le faire ! No! no! That’s not the way to do it! Vous partez demain, n’est-ce pas ? – Mais non ! Je reste encore trois jours You’re leaving tomorrow, aren’t you? – No! I’m staying another three days 573 As an exclamatory negative (usually with a sense of protest against the suggestion made), que non is sometimes used, e.g.: A votre avis, votre mari est-il coupable ? Oui, ou non ? – Que non ! Oh, que non ! In your opinion, is your husband guilty? Yes, or no? – No! Oh, no! 574 After verbs of saying or thinking and a few others such as espérer ‘to hope’, and after certain adverbs of affirmation or doubt (see 627–628) such as heureusement ‘fortunately’ and peut-être ‘perhaps’, ‘not’ or ‘no’ can take the place of an object clause; e.g. ‘I hope not’ as an answer to ‘Is he coming?’ is the equivalent of ‘I hope he is not coming’ (it is not therefore the equivalent of ‘I do not hope’). The French equivalent of this, and also of ‘not . . . so’ in such sentences as ‘I don’t think so’, is que non, e.g.: Il part déjà ? – J’espère que non / Je crois que non Is he leaving already? – I hope not / I don’t think so


The structure of the sentence 574–576

Tu viens à la piscine ? – J’ai déjà dit que non Are you coming to the swimming pool? – I’ve already said no (or . . . said I’m not) Vous feriez mieux de ne pas lui écrire. – Peut-être que non. You had better not write to him. – Perhaps not. (For a similar use of que oui and que si, see 628,ii.) Non, non pas, pas ‘not’ 575 When ‘not’ negates some element other than the verb, there are three possible forms, viz. non, non pas, or pas. These are interchangeable in some circumstances but not, unfortunately, in all circumstances. We have to distinguish between a number of different constructions. The following summary is based on the admirably clear explanation given by R.-L. Wagner and J. Pinchon in their Grammaire du français classique et moderne, revised edition, Paris, Hachette, 1991, pp. 433–4. All depends on whether (i) two items are presented as being in opposition to one another, or (ii) two elements are presented as being alternatives, or (iii) only one item is expressed (and, of course, in the negative). Further distinctions are necessary in (i) according to whether it is the first or the second element that is negatived, and in (ii) according to whether or not the second element is or is not expressed. These distinctions should become clear from the examples that follow. 576 (i) Two elements are presented as being in opposition (i.e. we have one or other of the constructions ‘not X but Y’ or ‘X not Y’): (a) The first element is negatived – ‘not’ is non or non pas, e.g.: Il a l’air non fatigué mais malade Il a l’air non pas fatigué mais malade He looks not tired but ill Elle arrive non mardi mais jeudi Elle arrive non pas mardi mais jeudi She is arriving not on Tuesday but on Thursday Henri sera mon cavalier, non (pas) qu’il soit beau, mais parce qu’il danse à ravir Henry shall be my partner, not that he is handsome, but because he dances divinely

576–578 Negation


(b) The second element is negatived – ‘not’ is non, non pas, or pas: Il a l’air fatigué, non malade Il a l’air fatigué, non pas malade Il a l’air fatigué, pas malade He looks tired, not ill Elle arrive mardi, non jeudi Elle arrive mardi, non pas jeudi Elle arrive mardi, pas jeudi She is arriving on Tuesday, not on Thursday Il l’a fait par mégarde, non (non pas, pas) avec intention He did it by mistake, not on purpose 577 (ii) Two elements are presented as being alternatives (i.e. we have one or other of the constructions ‘X or not X’ or ‘X or not’): (a) The second element is expressed – ‘not’ is usually pas, e.g.: Fatigué ou pas fatigué, il part demain Tired or not tired, he is leaving tomorrow Qu’il parle bien ou pas bien, peu importe Whether he speaks well or not well, it doesn’t much matter (b) The second element is not expressed – ‘not’ is non or pas, e.g.: Fatigué ou non, il part demain Fatigué ou pas, il part demain Tired or not, he is leaving tomorrow Qu’il parle bien ou non, peu importe Qu’il parle bien ou pas, peu importe Whether he speaks well or not, it doesn’t much matter Les uns l’aiment, les autres non Les uns l’aiment, les autres pas Some like it, others not 578 (iii) Only one (negative) item is expressed – not is non or pas, e.g.: Il habite non loin de Paris Il habite pas loin de Paris He lives not far from Paris Il était furieux et non content de ce qu’il avait vu Il était furieux et pas content de ce qu’il avait vu He was angry and not pleased with what he had seen

The structure of the sentence 579–580

460 579

We therefore have the following pattern:

(i) (ii) (iii)

a b a b

non non — non non

non pas non pas — — —

— pas pas pas pas

Note in particular: (a) that non pas is used only to express opposition; (b) that pas may be used in all constructions except to negative the first of two elements in opposition. Note also that, where there is a choice between non and pas, the former is characteristic of a more formal, the latter of a more familiar style.

580 Non is used before a past participle not compounded with être or avoir, e.g.: une leçon non sue vin non compris les pays non-alignés

a lesson not known wine not included the non-aligned countries

before a present participle used purely as a noun or qualifying adjective, e.g.: un non-combattant

a non-combatant

and to form compounds (many of them technical) with various nouns and adjectives, e.g.: non-conducteur non-conductor le point de non-retour the point of no return non-réussite failure non valable invalid (excuse, etc.), not valid (ticket, etc.) une manifestation non-violente a non-violent demonstration

581–582 Interrogative sentences (questions)


Interrogative sentences (questions) Introduction 581 There are various ways of asking questions in French, and, in choosing which construction to use in a given context, it is essential to take account of medium and register (see 13). In general, it is important to note that the use of inversion (i.e., the placing of the subject after the verb, as in Vient-il ? ‘Is he coming?’, Où allezvous ? ‘Where are you going?’) is relatively little used in informal registers. Note in particular the use of intonation alone to express a question (586), the tendency in informal registers to place the interrogative word (e.g. où ? ‘where?’, pourquoi ? ‘why?’) at the end rather than at the beginning of an utterance (593,i), and other constructions characteristic of highly informal registers (593,ii, iii). Questions are either: (i) Direct – e.g. ‘Are you coming?’, ‘What is he doing?’, ‘Why did the cat eat the goldfish?’ or (ii) Indirect – e.g. ‘(He asked) if I was coming’, ‘(I wonder) what he is doing’, ‘(Nobody knows) why the cat ate the goldfish’. Direct questions fall into one or other of two categories: (i) Total interrogation – i.e. ‘yes–no’ questions, e.g. ‘Is she happy?’, ‘Have you any change?’, ‘Did the cat eat the goldfish?’; (ii) Partial interrogation – i.e. questions introduced by an interrogative expression, e.g. ‘Who?’, ‘What?’, ‘When?’, ‘Where?’, ‘How?’, ‘Why?’, ‘How many?’, ‘Which book?’, ‘For what reason?’ We shall discuss interrogative sentences under the following headings: A: Direct questions: total interrogation B: Direct questions: partial interrogation C: Indirect questions 582 In direct questions, in either total or partial interrogation, English makes much use of the verb ‘do’, which has no function other than to turn a statement into a question, e.g.: I saw him My brother smokes too much

Did I see him? Does my brother smoke too much?


The structure of the sentence 582–584

She bought a book They eat too much

What did she buy? Why do they eat too much?

Note that, in French, the verb faire ‘to do’ is never used in this way.

A Direct questions – total interrogation 583 The basic interrogative form of a ‘yes–no’ question when the subject is a personal pronoun or one or other of the pronouns on or (with être only) ce is obtained by inverting the subject, i.e. placing it after the verb, e.g.: je suis elle chante on dit

suis-je ? chante-t-elle ? dit-on ?

vous venez ils peuvent c’est vrai

venez-vous ? peuvent-ils ? est-ce vrai ?

For the interrogative conjugation of a typical verb, see 387. For the use of -t- when a verb form ending in a vowel is followed by il, elle or on, see 388. Note that, in the present tense, the inversion of je is not possible with most verbs (see 389). Further examples: Puis-je vous aider ? May I help you? A-t-il terminé son travail ? Has he finished his work? Viendra-t-elle nous voir ? Will she come and see us? Aviez-vous beaucoup de voisins ? Did you have many neighbours? 584 A noun subject cannot be inverted in total interrogation. The equivalent construction is obtained by leaving the noun subject at the beginning and inverting the appropriate personal pronoun, e.g.: Le chat a-t-il mangé le poisson rouge ? Has the cat eaten the goldfish?

584–587 Interrogative sentences (questions)


Marie habitait-elle à Paris ? Did Mary live in Paris? Les Français boivent-ils trop de vin ? Do the French drink too much wine? Vos sœurs seront-elles contentes ? Will your sisters be pleased? 585 An alternative and widely used way of asking questions is to preface the affirmative form with Est-ce que . . . ? (literally ‘Is it that . . .’? – but it must not be translated thus), e.g.: Est-ce qu’elle viendra nous voir ? Will she come and see us? Est-ce que Marie habitait à Paris ? Did Mary live in Paris? This is an effective way of coping with those contexts in which je cannot be inverted, e.g.: Est-ce que je parle trop ? Do I talk too much? Est-ce que je pars tout de suite ? Do I leave immediately? Note that est-ce que is often used for the sake of emphasis, expressing indignation, surprise or doubt, e.g.: Est-ce que je vais me confier à de telles gens ? Do you think I am going to entrust myself to such people? 586 The excessive use of est-ce que should be avoided. In writing, this can be done by using inversion (see 583–584). In speech, questions are very frequently formed by means of intonation alone, keeping the same word-order as in statements, e.g.: Je parle trop ? Tu pars déjà ? Mon père est sorti ?

Am I talking too much? Are you leaving already? Has my father gone out?

587 The only French equivalent for English tag-questions, i.e. brief questions such as ‘Don’t I?’, ‘Isn’t she?’, ‘Haven’t you?’, ‘Won’t they?’, tacked on to an affirmative sentence, is n’est-ce pas ?, e.g.:


The structure of the sentence 587–589

Elle est très heureuse, n’est-ce pas ? She’s very happy, isn’t she? Vous êtes allé à Paris, n’est-ce pas ? You’ve been to Paris, haven’t you? Ils voyageaient beaucoup, n’est-ce pas ? They used to travel a lot, didn’t they? Vous me prêterez votre voiture, n’est-ce pas ? You’ll lend me your car, won’t you? N’est-ce pas ? can also be used after a negative, as the equivalent of ‘Is she?’, ‘Did they?’, etc., e.g.: Tu ne pars pas maintenant, n’est-ce pas ? You’re not leaving now, are you? Il n’a jamais dit ça, n’est-ce pas ? He never said that, did he?

B Direct questions – partial interrogation 588 For questions involving the interrogative pronouns qui ? ‘who?’, qu’est-ce qui ?, qu’est-ce que ?, que ?, quoi ? ‘what’, lequel ? ‘which?’, see 280–290. For questions introduced by combien ? ‘how much?’, ‘how many?’, see 326. 589 In questions introduced by one of the interrogative adverbs où ? ‘where?’ (or d’où ?, jusqu’où ?, par où ?), quand ? ‘when?’, comment ? ‘how?’, pourquoi ? ‘why?’, or an interrogative phrase including quel ? ‘which?’, the subject, if a personal pronoun, on or (with the verb être only) ce, is inverted, as in total interrogation, e.g.: Où avez-vous garé la voiture ? Where have you parked the car? Quand viendra-t-elle nous voir ? When will she come to see us? Pourquoi dit-on cela ? Why do they say that?

589–590 Interrogative sentences (questions)


Comment le savaient-ils ? How did they know? Pour quelle compagnie travaille-t-il ? Which company does he work for? Où est-ce ? Where is it? As in total interrogation, est-ce que ? may be used, in which case the order subject–verb remains, e.g. (as alternatives to the above): Où est-ce que vous avez garé la voiture ? Quand est-ce qu’elle viendra nous voir ? Pour quelle compagnie est-ce qu’il travaille ? etc. 590 When the subject of a question introduced by où ?, quand ?, comment ?, pourquoi ?, a preposition + qui ? or quoi ?, or an expression including quel ?, is a noun (or a pronoun other than a personal pronoun, on or ce), it may (contrary to what is the case in total interrogation, see 584) be inverted, subject however to certain restrictions (see 591–592), e.g.: Où travaillait votre père ? Where did your father work? Quand arrivent les enfants ? When are the children coming? D’où est venue cette idée ? Where has that idea come from? Avec qui voyage votre frère ? Who is your brother travelling with? A quelle heure est la conférence ? What time is the lecture? An alternative is to invert the appropriate subject pronoun, in which case the noun subject may go either before or after the interrogative word, e.g.: Votre père où travaillait-il ? Où votre père travaillait-il ? Again, in speech in particular, est-ce que ? provides a further alternative, e.g.:


The structure of the sentence 590–593

Où est-ce que votre père travaillait ? Quand est-ce que les enfants arrivent ? 591 The inversion of the noun subject is not possible with pourquoi and tends to be avoided with other interrogative words and phrases of more than one syllable. In such cases, one or other of the constructions referred to in 590 should be used, e.g.: Pourquoi les enfants pleuraient-ils ? Why were the children crying? Comment est-ce que votre frère le sait ? How does your brother know? Combien votre sæur a-t-elle perdu ? How much has your sister lost? 592 The noun subject cannot be inverted when the verb has a direct object (other than a conjunctive pronoun) or some other complement to which it is closely linked and from which it should not be separated; an alternative construction must therefore be used, e.g.: Où est-ce que votre frère gare sa voiture ? Where does your brother park his car? Quand les étudiants passent-ils leurs examens ? When do the students sit their exams? Quand les enfants partaient-ils en vacances ? When were the children leaving on holiday? 593 (i) A non-literary construction that is very current in speech is to put the interrogative word not first but after the verb (and, in most cases, at the end), e.g.: Vous allez où ? Henri est arrivé quand ? Ton frère part quel jour ? Vous en voulez combien ? Il a fait ça pourquoi ? Elle écrit à qui ? Il est où ton sac ? C’est quand ton examen ?

Where are you going? When did Henry arrive? What day is your brother leaving? How much (How many) do you want? Why did he do that? Who(m) did she write to? Where’s your bag? When is your exam?

593–594 Interrogative sentences (questions)


(On the use of both noun and pronoun subjects in the last two examples, see 602.) (ii) A construction that occurs widely in informal spoken French, especially when the subject is a conjunctive personal pronoun (see 193–198), or on, ce, or ça, is that in which the interrogative word or phrase remains at the beginning (contrast i above) but the subject is not inverted, i.e. it remains before the verb (contrast 589), e.g.: Où vous avez trouvé ça ? Pourquoi tu (ne) veux pas venir ? A quelle heure il est parti ? Combien ça coûte ? Quel âge il a ?

Where did you find that? Why don’t you want to come? What time did he leave? How much does it cost? How old is he?

This construction occurs in the informal speech even of educated speakers and there is no good reason why it should not be copied, in informal speech, by foreigners whose conversational French is generally fluent and correct at a normal speed. It is particularly common with comment ? ‘how?’, e.g. Comment tu t’appelles ? ‘What is your name?’, Comment vous avez trouvé ce vin ? ‘How did you find (i.e. What did you think of) this wine?’, and is firmly established in the expression Comment ça va ? ‘How are things?’ (iii) Yet another construction but, in this case, one which is generally regarded as substandard and which should therefore be avoided by foreigners, even in informal speech, is that in which the interrogative word or phrase is followed by que, e.g.: Combien que je vous dois ? Pourquoi que tu dis ça ? Avec quoi qu’il écrit ?

How much do I owe you? Why do you say that? What is he writing with?

For more on questions in colloquial usage, see R. Ball, Colloquial French Grammar (Oxford, Blackwell, 2000), pp. 26–40. C Indirect questions 594 Indirect questions corresponding to total interrogation are introduced by si ‘if, whether’, and take the appropriate tense as in English, e.g. (corresponding to Pouvez-vous m’aider ? ‘Can you help me?’, Est-ce que le train arrivera à temps ? ‘Will the train arrive in time?’, Est-ce qu’il viendra ? ‘Will he come?’):


The structure of the sentence 594–595

Il m’a demandé si je pouvais l’aider He asked me if I could help him Nous ne savions pas si le train arriverait à temps We didn’t know whether the train would arrive in time Je me demande s’il viendra I wonder if (whether) he will come Je me demandais s’il viendrait I wondered if (whether) he could come Note the use of this type of si-clause with ellipsis of the main clause where English would use an echo-question (i.e. a repeat question by way of seeking confirmation of the tenor of the original question – cf. 595), e.g.: – M’aimes-tu ? – Si je t’aime ? (Balzac) ‘Do you love me?’ – ‘Do I love you?’ (i.e. ‘Are you asking me if I love you?’) This sometimes has an exclamatory value, e.g.: – Voulez-vous y aller ? – Si je le veux ! ‘Do you want to go?’ – ‘Do I want to!’ (= ‘I should think I do!’) 595 Indirect questions introduced by one of the interrogative expressions discussed in 588–589 have the same word-order as in affirmative clauses, e.g.: Nous ne savions pas pourquoi il était parti We didn’t know why he had left Il m’a demandé à quelle heure le train partait He asked me what time the train left Je me demande où mon frère va acheter sa nouvelle voiture I wonder where my brother is going to buy his new car However, inversion of the noun subject is possible provided the indirect question is not introduced by pourquoi and there is no direct object and no other complement closely linked to the verb, e.g.: Dites-moi où habite votre frère Tell me where your brother lives

595–596 Inversion


Je ne comprends pas comment vivaient les hommes des cavernes I don’t understand how cavemen lived Note the use of an indirect question with ellipsis of the main clause where English uses an echo-question (cf. 594), e.g.: – Pourquoi es-tu venu ? – Pourquoi je suis venu ? (Loti) ‘Why have you come?’ – ‘Why have I come?’ – Où êtes-vous ? – Où je suis ? Mais je suis chez moi ‘Where are you?’ – ‘Where am I? I am at home’ These correspond to something like ‘You ask why I have come?’ and ‘You ask where I am?’


596 In most contexts, the subject in French precedes its verb, e.g. Il chante ‘He sings’, Mon frère habite ici ‘My brother lives here’, and this can therefore be considered the normal word-order in French. In certain circumstances, however, the subject follows the verb: this is known as ‘inversion’. There are in fact three types of inversion in French: (i) the pronoun subject follows the verb, e.g.: Est-il arrivé ? Peut-être viendra-t-il demain Has he arrived? Perhaps he will come tomorrow (ii) the noun subject follows the verb, e.g.: C’est là qu’habite mon frère That is where my brother lives Non, monsieur, répondit le garçon ‘No, sir,’ the boy replied (iii) A noun subject comes first and the corresponding conjunctive pronoun is added after the verb, e.g.: Peut-être ma mère avait-elle changé d’avis Perhaps my mother had changed her mind


The structure of the sentence 596–598

Vos enfants sont-ils en vacances ? Are your children on holiday? Types (i) and (ii) are sometimes known as ‘simple inversion’ and type (iii) as ‘complex inversion’. 597

For inversion:

in direct questions, see 583–584 and 589–592 with the subjunctive, expressing wishes, see 476–477 in hypothetical constructions, in the sense of ‘(even) if, supposing, etc.’, see 478. 598 (i) Inversion may occur when the subject is a noun (for exceptions, see ii, below) in indirect questions, relative clauses, and other subordinate clauses, e.g.: Je ne comprends pas ce que dit mon professeur (or ce que mon professeur dit) I don’t understand what my professor says Savez-vous de quoi se fâchait son père ? (or de quoi son père se fâchait ?) Do you know what his father was getting angry about? Je ne connais pas le monsieur dont parlait mon père (or dont mon père parlait) I don’t know the man my father was talking about Voici le livre qu’a acheté mon frère (or que mon frère a acheté) Here is the book my brother bought Elle avait été heureuse tant qu’avait vécu son époux (or tant que son époux avait vécu) She had been happy for as long as her husband had lived (ii) Inversion of the noun subject is not, however, possible in such clauses if this would have the effect of separating the verb from some element with which it is closely linked, such as a direct object, e.g.: Voici la librairie où mon frère achète ses livres Here is the bookshop where my brother buys his books or the complement of être or another linking verb (see 518), e.g.:

598–599 Inversion


C’est en 1959 que de Gaulle est devenu Président de la République It was in 1959 that de Gaulle became President of the Republic or an adverbial complement modifying the verb, e.g.: . . . tant que son époux avait travaillé à Paris . . . for as long as her husband had worked in Paris (iii) Inversion is not possible in such clauses when the subject is a conjunctive personal pronoun, or on or ce, e.g.: Je ne peux pas deviner ce qu’il veut faire ici I cannot imagine what he wants here Je ne connais pas les hommes dont il parlait I do not know the men of whom he was speaking . . . tant qu’il avait vécu . . . for as long as he had lived (iv) It goes without saying that inversion is impossible when qui or ce qui is itself the subject. 599 In short parenthetical expressions reporting someone’s words, inversion is essential. This applies not only to verbs explicitly referring to speech, such as dire ‘to say’, s’écrier ‘to exclaim’, demander ‘to ask’, continuer ‘to continue (speaking)’, répondre ‘to reply’, but also to a few verbs such as penser ‘to think’, se demander ‘to wonder’ when they imply that the subject is inwardly addressing herself or himself, e.g.: Je ne sais pas, répondit mon frère ‘I don’t know,’ my brother answered dit-il, cria-t-il, Hélas ! s’écria-t-il, que vais-je devenir ? pensa-t-il, a-t-il dit, disait-il, ‘Alas!’ he said (he shouted, he exclaimed, he thought, he said), ‘what will become of me?’ With other verbs that occasionally have a similar value, inversion is optional, e.g.:


The structure of the sentence 599–600

ai-je réfléchi qu’il n’en ait rien dit j’ai réfléchi, It is odd, I reflected, that he has not mentioned it C’est bizarre,



600 Certain adverbs and adverbial expressions cause inversion more or less regularly (though not invariably) when they stand first in the clause. In the case of a noun subject, we have complex inversion (see 596, end). Of the expressions in question, à peine ‘scarcely’ nearly always causes inversion, and peut-être ‘perhaps’ and sans doute ‘doubtless’ usually do so (except when followed by que – see below and 642), e.g.: A peine se fut-il assis que le train partit Scarcely had he sat down when the train started Peut-être arrivera-t-il demain Perhaps he will arrive tomorrow Sans doute ma sæur vous a-t-elle écrit Doubtless my sister has written to you but also, as an alternative, Peut-être qu’il arrivera demain, etc. Toujours is always followed by inversion in the expression toujours est-il que . . . ‘the fact remains that . . .’ Among other adverbs and adverbial expressions that frequently (and in some cases more often than not) cause inversion are: ainsi, thus aussi, and so aussi bien, and yet du moins, at least (et) encore, even so encore moins, even less

encore plus, even more en vain, in vain rarement, rarely tout au plus, at most vainement, vainly

Inversion also sometimes occurs after various other adverbs. Examples: Ainsi la pauvre dame a fini (or a-t-elle fini) par s’échapper Thus the poor lady ended by escaping En vain luttait-il (or il luttait); rien ne lui réussit In vain he struggled; nothing went right for him

600–602 Dislocation and fronting


Vous avez demandé des nouvelles de son mari ! Mais on vient de l’arrêter; du moins on le dit (or le dit-on) You inquired after her husband! He has just been arrested; so they say at any rate Tout au moins auriez-vous pu m’en avertir plus tôt At least you might have warned me sooner Note that ‘at least’ in its literal sense, i.e. before an expression of quantity, is always au moins and that, in this case, there is no inversion, e.g.: Au moins trois cents personnes en moururent At least three hundred people died of it 601 A different type of inversion is that in which the verb (which may or may not be preceded by an adverbial expression) has relatively little significance and serves mainly to introduce the subject which is the really important element. In equivalent sentences in English, the verb is regularly introduced by a meaningless ‘there’ or ‘it’, e.g.: Suivit une âpre discussion en russe (Duhamel) There followed a sharp discussion in Russian Restent les bijoux (Chamson) There remain the jewels Reste à voir ce qu’il fera It remains to be seen what he will do A ce moment surgit un petit homme en casquette (Benoit) At that point there appeared a little man in a cap

Dislocation and fronting

602 (i) Spoken registers of French (for the term ‘register’ see 13; for literary registers, see v below) make considerable use of a procedure known as ‘dislocation’ whereby an element is taken out of the main structure of the clause, repositioned before or after the rest of the clause, and recalled or anticipated by a conjunctive pronoun, e.g.:


The structure of the sentence 602

(a) Paul, je le connais (b) Je le connais, Paul I know Paul which, literally, mean ‘Paul I know him’ and ‘I know him Paul’ respectively: the direct object Paul, is taken out of the main structure of the clause and recalled (in a) or anticipated (in b) by the corresponding direct object pronoun le. Because of the positions the dislocated elements occupy on the printed page, type (a) is known as ‘left dislocation’ and type (b) as ‘right dislocation’. If the dislocated element is a personal pronoun, the disjunctive form (see 215) is used, e.g. Moi je le déteste or Je le déteste, moi ‘I hate him’. It is impossible here to discuss all the multifarious forms taken and roles played by dislocation. These depend on a complex interplay of factors which include the level of formality or informality of the discourse, the identification of the theme or topic of the sentence (i.e. what the sentence is talking about) and emphasis. Furthermore, two or more sentences containing dislocation that are identical in print may be clearly differentiated in speech by intonation and/or emphasis. For this and related constructions, see R. Ball, Colloquial French Grammar (Oxford, Blackwell, 2000), pp. 130–149. The following notes cannot do more than draw attention to some of the more common types of dislocation. (ii) A sentence such as Je connais Pierre ‘I know Peter’ can be dislocated in the following ways, with differences in intonation and subtle differences in role: Moi, je connais Pierre Je connais Pierre, moi Pierre, je le connais Je le connais, Pierre Moi, Pierre, je le connais Pierre, moi, je le connais Je le connais, moi, Pierre Je le connais, Pierre, moi Moi, je le connais, Pierre Pierre, je le connais, moi As a further complication, note that some or all of the commas (representing pauses) in the above examples could be omitted. The above examples involve dislocation of the subject and/or direct object. However, other elements can also be dislocated as the following examples show:

602 Dislocation and fronting


Je lui écris souvent, à Pierre A Pierre, je lui écris souvent I often write to Peter J’y vais souvent, à Paris A Paris, j’y vais souvent I often go to Paris J’en connais beaucoup, d’Américains I know a lot of Americans (iii) Right dislocation, as in Je le connais, Pierre ‘I know Peter’ and the last three examples in ii above, tends to be thematic, i.e. to clarify the information given by the conjunctive pronouns (le = Pierre, lui = à Pierre, y = à Paris, en = Américains) – the ‘core’ of the meaning, the ‘new’ information, is conveyed in these examples, but not necessarily in all sentences, by the verb; e.g. in Je lui écris souvent à Pierre and Il y va souvent à Paris, the new information the speaker wishes to convey in relation to the theme (Peter and Paris respectively) is that ‘I write to him’ and ‘He goes there’. Left dislocation can also be thematic, but sometimes with greater emphasis on the dislocated element than with right dislocation. (iv) In left dislocation, but not in right dislocation, there is a further possibility which is perhaps most clearly illustrated by such examples as the following: Pierre, je lui écris souvent I often write to Peter Paris, j’y vais souvent I often go to Paris in which the preposition à does not figure before Pierre and Paris even though the meaning is ‘to Peter’, ‘to Paris’ – it is sufficient that this is made clear by the conjunctive pronouns lui and y respectively. What we have here is what is known as a ‘hanging topic’, i.e. one that is not integrated into the grammatical structure of the sentence. The following is a further example: Des Américains, j’en connais beaucoup I know a lot of Americans (lit. Americans, I know a lot of them)


The structure of the sentence 602

This procedure can be taken further, in that the hanging topic relates not to some element expressed as such in the rest of the sentence but to something that is merely implied, as in Baudelaire’s well-known line: Moi, mon âme est fêlée My soul is cracked in which moi ‘I, me’ relates to the personal pronoun that is implied in the possessive mon ‘my’. This construction can have an emphatic value, as in: Mon père, il ne faut rien lui dire My father mustn’t be told anything (v) As has been mentioned above, dislocation is especially characteristic of informal spoken French. It has, however, become the norm in literary French in the following circumstances: (a) in certain contexts when a personal pronoun is to be stressed (see 216,i) (b) with complex inversion (see 596,iii). (vi) Fronting ‘Fronting’ (which is sometimes considered as yet another type of dislocation) means bringing to the beginning of the clause an element that normally follows the verb. It differs from dislocation (as defined above) in that the fronted element is not recalled by a conjunctive pronoun, e.g.: Ces gens-là je connais Those people I (do) know It is much less common than dislocation and care must be taken not to use it in contexts where left dislocation, with the use of a conjunctive pronoun, is the appropriate construction. Fronting often serves to mark a contrast, e.g.: Je n’aime pas Paul mais Pierre j’aime beaucoup I don’t like Paul but Peter I like very much Il téléphone souvent à sa sæur mais à sa mère il écrit He often phones his sister but to his mother he writes Je vais de temps en temps à Paris mais à Strasbourg je vais souvent I go to Paris occasionally but Strasburg I often go to

Adverbs, Prepositions and Conjunctions

Adverbs Introduction 603 Adverbs can be conveniently classified as follows: A: Adverbs of manner; these generally, but not invariably, end in -ly in English and in -ment in French (see 604–613) B: Adverbs of time (see 614–623) C: Adverbs of place (see 624–625) D: Adverbs of quantity (see ‘Quantifiers’, 320–337) E: Adverbs of affirmation or doubt (see 627–628) F: Adverbs of negation (see 544–558) G: Interrogative adverbs (see 630–631)

A Adverbs of manner 604 Most adverbs of manner, and some others that for convenience we shall include in the following sections, are formed


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 604–605

from adjectives by adding -ment (which corresponds to English -ly, as in ‘slow, slowly’), according to the rules set out in sections 605–607. 605 (i) With the exceptions noted in ii below and in sections 606 and 607, -ment is added to the feminine form of the adjective (the reason is that -ment derives from the Latin -mente, a form of the word mens ‘mind’ which was feminine, so one had constructions like placida mente ‘with a placid mind’, hence ‘placidly’), e.g.: clair, fem. claire, clear complet, fem. complète, complete doux, fem. douce, gentle fou, fem. folle, mad nouveau, fem. nouvelle, new premier, fem. première, first public, fem. publique, public sec, fem. sèche, dry soigneux, fem. soigneuse, careful tendre, fem. tendre, tender utile, fem. utile, useful

clairement, clearly complètement, completely doucement, gently follement, madly nouvellement, newly premièrement, firstly publiquement, publicly sèchement, drily soigneusement, carefully tendrement, tenderly utilement, usefully

(ii) Exceptions: (a) While most adjectives having a final -e in both masculine and feminine form their adverbs regularly (see, for example, tendre and utile at the end of the list in i above), the following adverbs take -é- before the adverbial -ment: aveugle, blind commode, convenient conforme, in accordance with énorme, enormous immense, immense incommode, inconvenient intense, intense uniforme, uniform

aveuglément, blindly commodément, conveniently conformément, in accordance with énormément, enormously immensément, immensely incommodément, inconveniently intensément, intensely uniformément, uniformly

(b) Adverbs from the following adjectives also take -é- before the adverbial -ment:

605–606 Adverbs commun, fem. commune, common confus, fem. confuse, confused diffus, fem. diffuse, diffuse exprès, fem. expresse, express importun, fem. importune, importunate inopportun, fem. inopportune, inopportune obscur, fem. obscure, obscure opportun, fem. opportune, opportune précis, fem. précise, precise profond, fem. profonde, deep profus, fem. profuse, profuse


communément, commonly confusément, confusedly diffusément, diffusely expressément, expressly importunément, importunately inopportunément, inopportunely obscurément, obscurely opportunément, opportunely précisément, precisely profondément, deeply profusément, profusely

(c) The adverbs corresponding to bon ‘good’ and mauvais ‘bad’ are bien ‘well’, mal ‘badly’. The ‘regular’ adverb bonnement exists, but only in the expression tout bonnement ‘just, simply, merely’, e.g. il a répondu tout bonnement que . . . ‘he merely answered that . . .’, Je lui ai dit tout bonnement la vérité ‘I just told him the truth, I told him the plain truth’. (d) The adverb corresponding to bref ‘brief’ is brièvement (from an old adjective brief, feminine briève, that no longer exists). (e) The adverb corresponding to gentil, fem. gentille ‘nice’ is gentiment. (f) The adverb corresponding to traître (originally a noun), fem. traîtresse ‘treacherous’, is traîtreusement. 606 (i) Most adjectives ending in the vowels -ai, -é, -i (but not -oi), -u (but not -eau or -ou) or -û form their adverbs by adding -ment to the masculine form, e.g.: aisé, easy dû, due poli, polite vrai, true

aisément, easily dûment, duly poliment, politely vraiment, truly

and the following adjectives in -u (for other adjectives in -u, see ii,b below):


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 606–608

absolu, absolute ambigu, ambiguous éperdu, frantic ingénu, ingenuous irrésolu, irresolute résolu, resolute

absolument, absolutely ambigument, ambiguously éperdument, frantically ingénument, ingenuously irrésolument, irresolutely résolument, resolutely

(ii) Exceptions: (a) The adverb from gai ‘gay’ is written either gaiement (the form preferred by the Académie française) or gaîment. (b) The following six adjectives in -u change this vowel to -û before adverbial -ment (for adverbs in -ument, see i above): assidu, assiduous continu, continuous cru, crude goulu, greedy incongru, incongruous indu, unjustified

assidûment, assiduously continûment, continuously crûment, crudely goulûment, greedily incongrûment, incongruously indûment, unjustifiably

The adverb from nu ‘naked’ is written either nûment (the form preferred by the Académie française) or nuement. Note also dû (fem. due) ‘due’, dûment ‘duly’. (c) Corresponding to the adjective impuni ‘unpunished’ is the highly irregular adverbial form impunément ‘with impunity’. 607 (i) Most adjectives in -ant or -ent form their adverb in -amment or -emment respectively, e.g.: brillant, brilliant constant, constant fréquent, frequent récent, recent

brillamment, brilliantly constamment, constantly fréquemment, frequently récemment, recently

(ii) However, two adjectives in -ent form their adverbs by adding -ment to the feminine form of the adjective in line with 605 above: lent, fem. lente, slow présent, fem. présente, present

lentement, slowly présentement, at present

Also, corresponding to véhément(e) ‘vehement’, there is véhémentement ‘vehemently’, but this is now uncommon – use avec véhémence (see 611). 608 The adverbs journellement ‘every day’, notamment ‘notably, in particular’, nuitamment ‘by night’, précipitamment ‘hurriedly’,

608–609 Adverbs


sciemment ‘knowingly’, have no corresponding adjective. Nor has grièvement, which exists only in the expression grièvement blessé ‘gravely wounded’. 609 As in English, a few adjectives can be used as adverbs qualifying certain verbs, e.g.: Elle marcha droit devant elle She walked straight ahead Il travaille très dur He works very hard The following list gives the adjectives most commonly used as adverbs and the verbs with which they are generally used: bas, with jeter, ‘down’; with chanter, parler, ‘low, in a low voice’ (often tout bas) bon, with sentir, ‘(smell) good, nice’; with tenir, ‘(hold) fast, (stand) firm’ cher, with acheter, coûter, vendre, ‘dear’ clair, with voir, ‘clearly’ court, with s’arrêter, ‘(stop) short’; with couper, ‘(cut) short’; with demeurer, rester, se trouver, ‘be at a loss for words’ droit, with aller, marcher, ‘straight’; also tout droit ‘straight ahead’ dru, with pleuvoir, ‘hard’; with semer, ‘thickly’; with tomber ‘thick and fast’ dur, with travailler, jouer, ‘hard’ faux, with chanter, jouer, ‘out of tune’; with sonner, ‘have a false ring’ ferme, with discuter, ‘vigorously’; with tenir, ‘(stand) fast, firm’; with travailler, ‘hard’ fort, with déplaire, douter, etc., ‘greatly’; with sentir, ‘have a strong smell’; with frapper, jouer, ‘hard’; with crier, parler, ‘loudly’ gros, with écrire, ‘big’; with gagner, perdre, ‘heavily, a lot’ haut, with lire, ‘aloud’; with parler, ‘loudly’; with viser, ‘high’ juste, with tirer, ‘(shoot) straight’; with deviner, raisonner, voir, ‘correctly, accurately’; with chanter, ‘in tune’ long, in en savoir long sur quelque chose, ‘to know all about something’ lourd, with peser, ‘heavy, heavily’


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 609–611

mauvais, with sentir, ‘(smell) bad’ net, with se casser, ‘snap in two’; with dire, parler, etc., ‘plainly’; with refuser, ‘point blank’; with trancher, ‘(cut) short (e.g. a discussion)’; with tuer, ‘outright’; etc. profond, with creuser, ‘(dig) deep(ly)’ ras, with couper, tondre, ‘close’ sec, with boire, ‘heavily’; with parler, répondre, etc., ‘curtly’ serré, with jouer, ‘cautiously’ 610 (i) The above follow the verb they qualify and are invariable, e.g. Elle travaille dur ‘She works hard’. But note that frais ‘freshly’ used adverbially before a participle, and grand and large ‘wide’ before the one participle ouvert ‘open’, vary like adjectives, e.g.: des fleurs fraîches cueillies freshly picked flowers les yeux grands (or larges) ouverts with eyes wide open une fenêtre grande ouverte a wide open window (ii) In (tout) battant neuf, (tout) flambant neuf ‘brand new’, tout and neuf normally agree but battant and flambant are usually invariable, e.g. des vêtements (tous) battant neufs ‘brand new clothes’, une voiture (toute) flambant neuve ‘a brand new car’ – but occasionally the form in -ant agrees (and, just to complicate things, sometimes neuf does not, e.g. des bâtiments flambant neuf ‘brand new buildings’). (iii) For a general statement of the conditions in which tout does or does not vary when used adverbially, see 317,v,b. 611 French sometimes uses adverbial phrases of the type de or d’une façon, de or d’une manière + (feminine) adjective, i.e. ‘in suchand-such a way’, as the equivalent of an adverb of manner modifying a verb, e.g. agir discrètement or d’une manière discrète ‘to act discreetly’, différemment or de manière différente ‘differently’, inexplicablement or d’une façon inexplicable ‘inexplicably’. Another possibility is to use avec and a noun, e.g. soigneusement or avec soin ‘carefully’, impatiemment or avec impatience ‘impatiently’.

611–613 Adverbs


Note that these alternative constructions can be used only when they modify a verb or the clause in general; so, agréablement could not be replaced by d’une manière agréable in, for example, agréablement surpris in which it modifies a participle. In the case of a small number of adjectives that have no corresponding adverb, some such alternative construction must be used, e.g. d’une manière tremblante ‘tremblingly’, Il regardait autour de lui d’un air content ‘He looked contentedly around him’, avec concision ‘concisely’. 612 Adverbs of manner that have no corresponding adjective include: ainsi, thus debout, standing exprès, deliberately, on purpose vite, quickly and also, taking the term ‘adverb of manner’ in a very wide sense: ensemble, together

plutôt, rather

For bien ‘well’ and mal ‘badly’ see 161–163. 613 Comme and comment (i) With être and sometimes with other linking verbs such as devenir ‘to become’, paraître ‘to appear’, comme after an adjective expresses a comparison in a large number of fixed expressions such as: Il est fort comme un bœuf He is as strong as an ox Elle est devenue blanche comme un linge She turned as white as a sheet malin comme un singe as artful as a monkey noir comme (du) jais as black as soot (lit. jet) blanc comme neige as white as snow Note that this construction is limited to such expressions and is not used as a general equivalent of aussi . . . que . . . (see 157);


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 613

it could not, for example, be substituted for aussi . . . que . . . in il est aussi intelligent que son frère ‘he is as intelligent as his brother’. (ii) As a conjunction expressing a comparison between two verbs, comme means ‘as’, e.g.: Il écrit comme il parle He writes (in the same way) as he speaks Il se conduit comme se conduirait un enfant He behaves as a child would behave When, as is frequently the case, the verb of the second clause would merely repeat the first, e.g. ‘He behaves as a child behaves’, ‘I consider him as I (would) consider a brother’, it may be omitted in French as in English, e.g.: Il se conduit comme un enfant He behaves like a child Je le considère comme un frère I consider him as a brother and in many expressions of the type: courir comme un lièvre to run like a hare travailler comme un forçat to work like a galley-slave (iii) In the sense of ‘how’, comme must not be confused with comment. (a) In direct questions, ‘how?’ is comment ? (see 589–590) (b) With an exclamatory value, ‘how’ is translated as comme or as que when qualifying an adjective, e.g.: Comme il est (or Qu’il est) facile de se tromper ! How easy it is to be mistaken! Comme elle est (or Qu’elle est) belle ! How beautiful she is! but usually as comme when modifying a verb or adverb, e.g.: Comme elle a pleuré ! Comme elle chante bien !

How she wept! How well she sings!

613–614 Adverbs


Conversational alternatives are ce que and, in an even more familiar style, qu’est-ce que, e.g.: Ce qu’elle est belle ! Ce qu’elle a pleuré ! Ce qu’elle chante bien !

Qu’est-ce qu’elle est belle ! Qu’est-ce qu’elle a pleuré ! Qu’est-ce qu’elle chante bien !

(c) In indirect questions either comme or comment may be used, with, however, a significant difference in meaning. Comment refers strictly and objectively to the way something is done, e.g.: Observez bien comment il travaille Notice how he does his work while comme (in line with b above) is somewhat exclamatory and conveys the idea of the extent to which something is done, e.g.: Observez bien comme il travaille Notice how hard he works (d) Comment ! is also the equivalent of exclamatory ‘What!’, e.g.: Comment ! Tu es toujours là ! What! You’re still there!

B Adverbs of time 614

Adverbs of time include, among a number of others:

actuellement, at present alors (see 615), then après, afterwards aujourd’hui, today auparavant, beforehand autrefois, formerly avant, before bientôt (see 622), soon déjà, already demain, tomorrow depuis, since désormais, henceforward donc (see 615), then


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 614–615

encore (see 616), again enfin, at last ensuite (see 615 and 617), then, next hier, yesterday jamais (see 618), ever, never longtemps, for a long time lors (see 619) maintenant (see 620), now parfois, sometimes précédemment, previously puis (see 615), then (next) quelquefois, sometimes souvent, often tard (see 621), late tôt (see 622), early toujours, always, still 615

Alors, puis, ensuite, donc, lors ‘then’

(i) The above five adverbs can all be translated as ‘then’, but in fact they mean very different things and, apart from puis and ensuite, they are not in general interchangeable. (ii) Alors means ‘then’ in the sense of: (a) ‘at that time’ (see also 620), e.g.: Nous étions à Paris en 1943. La France était alors sous l’occupation allemande We were in Paris in 1943. France was then under German occupation (b) ‘so, therefore, in that case, etc.’, e.g.: Alors, tu viens ou non ? Well, are you coming or not? (Are you coming or not, then?) Il a été très impoli. – On ne l’invite plus, alors He was very rude. – We shan’t invite him again, then (iii) Puis and ensuite mean ‘then’ in the sense of ‘next, afterwards’, e.g.: Je suis allé d’abord à Bruxelles et puis (or ensuite) à Paris I went to Brussels first and then to Paris

615–616 Adverbs


With reference to space, however, puis (not ensuite) should be used, e.g.: Vous voyez les champs de blé et puis le chemin de fer You can see the fields of wheat and then the railway line On ensuite, see also 617. (iv) Donc means ‘therefore, so, then’, and, with the meaning of ‘therefore’ (i.e. expressing the conclusion of a logical argument), it comes first in the clause, e.g.: Je pense, donc je suis I think, therefore I exist When meaning ‘therefore’ in a rather weaker sense, i.e. ‘so, then’, it usually follows the verb, e.g.: On m’a téléphoné; je sais donc ce qui est arrivé They telephoned me; so I know what has happened Il est donc de retour ? So he’s back? (He’s back then?) Donc also frequently expresses surprise or irritation or some other emotional reaction, in which case it never comes at the beginning of the clause; there may well be no specific equivalent in the corresponding English utterance (see the second example below); e.g.: Vous habitez donc ici ! So this is where you live! Dépêchez-vous donc ! Do hurry up! (v) For lors, see 619. 616 Encore ‘again, still, yet’ (i) Strictly as an adverb of time, encore has three senses: (a) ‘Again’, e.g.: J’espère y aller encore I hope to go there again Encore une fois ‘(once) again’ is often used in this sense, e.g.: Il m’a téléphoné encore une fois He has phoned me again


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 616

(b) ‘Still’ (i.e. continuing into the present, or into some other period of past or future time indicated by the context), e.g.: A minuit il était encore là At midnight he was still there Vous travaillez encore ? Are you still working? In contexts where encore could be ambiguous (‘again’ or ‘still’?), it is advisable to use toujours (which is in any case probably more common in this sense) for ‘still’, e.g.: Vous travaillez toujours ? Are you still working? (c) With a negative, ‘(not) yet’ especially in the expression pas encore ‘not yet’ but also with other negatives such as personne ‘no one’, rien ‘nothing’, jamais ‘never’, in which case it normally follows the verb (the auxiliary in the case of compound tenses), e.g.: Ne partez pas encore ! Don’t go yet! Personne n’a encore terminé ? – Pas encore Hasn’t anyone finished yet? – Not yet Rien n’était encore prêt Nothing was yet ready Je ne les ai encore jamais vus I have never yet seen them (ii) Encore is sometimes the equivalent of ‘as well, in addition, too’, e.g.: Outre l’amende, il fut encore condamné à trois mois de prison Besides the fine, he was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment as well (iii) Note the distinction between encore un(e) ‘another’, in the sense of ‘one more, an additional one’, and un(e) autre ‘another’, in the sense of ‘a different one’, e.g.: Il demanda encore un verre de vin He asked for another (= an additional) glass of wine Il demanda un autre verre He asked for another (= a different) glass

616–618 Adverbs


(In conversational usage, however, un(e) autre can have the meaning of encore un(e), as in Une autre bière ? ‘Another beer?’) Likewise,‘more’ meaning ‘some more’ can be rendered by encore and the partitive article (but note that ‘no more’ is ne . . . plus), e.g.: Désirez-vous encore du vin ? – Merci, je n’en veux plus Would you like some more wine? – No thank you, I don’t want any more (iv) Note that ‘even’ with a comparative must be translated by encore (cf. English ‘yet more’ = ‘even more’), not by même, e.g.: Elle est encore plus intelligente que ses collègues She is even more intelligent than her colleagues J’aime encore mieux votre maison que la mienne I like your house even better than my own 617

Ensuite and other expressions based on suite

Ensuite (see 615) was originally two words, viz. en suite, and it is worth noting a number of other adverbial and prepositional expressions formed on the basis of suite: à la suite à la suite de et ainsi de suite dans la suite de suite par la suite par suite par suite de tout de suite

in succession, one after another following, in consequence of and so on later (on), subsequently (1) in succession, running; (2) immediately later (on), subsequently consequently, therefore owing to, as a result of at once, immediately

Examples: Il est mort à la suite d’un He died following an accident accident Il m’a téléphoné dix jours de He phoned me ten days suite running Je reviens de suite I’ll be right back 618

Jamais ‘ever’

Jamais is used particularly in direct and indirect questions, after comparisons, and after si ‘if’, e.g.:


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 618–620

L’avez-vous jamais vu ? Have you ever seen him? Je t’aime plus que jamais I love you more than ever Si jamais je le vois, je le lui dirai If ever I see him, I’ll tell him and in a few expressions like à jamais, à tout jamais ‘for ever’. For jamais in the sense of ‘never’, see 550 and 558. 619


Lors is not used on its own but only when preceded or followed by a preposition. The combinations depuis lors and dès lors mean ‘since then, from that time, thenceforth’, pour lors means ‘for the time being, at the moment’ (with reference to the past), while the prepositional phrase lors de means ‘at the time of, in the days of ’, e.g.: Lors de son mariage, il était bibliothécaire à Rouen At the time of his marriage, he was a librarian at Rouen Although lors is normally written as one word with a following que in the conjunction lorsque ‘when’, it is separated from it by the adverb même in the expression lors même que ‘even if’. 620

Maintenant, or ‘now’

The normal equivalent of ‘now’ with reference to present time is maintenant. Where English uses ‘now’ with reference to past time, alors is more usual in French though maintenant also occurs, e.g.: Alors ils se rendirent enfin compte du danger Now at last they realized the danger Son pouls était presque insensible maintenant (Flaubert) Her pulse was now almost imperceptible Or, which always comes at the beginning of its clause, does not refer to time but is the equivalent of ‘now’ serving to introduce a statement (which, in many cases, represents the next stage in a narration or an argument), e.g.: Tous s’écrièrent encore, disant : Non pas celui-ci, mais Barabbas. Or Barabbas était un brigand They all cried out again: Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber

621–622 Adverbs 621


Tard, en retard ‘late’

Tard is ‘late’ as the opposite of ‘early’, without any suggestion of ‘too late’, ‘later than arranged’, etc., e.g.: Je me couche toujours tard I always go to bed late Il compte arriver tard – peut-être pas avant minuit He expects to arrive late – perhaps not before midnight En retard, on the other hand, always has the idea of ‘late (for an appointment, etc.)’, e.g.: Il est en retard, comme d’habitude He is late, as usual The noun retard is also used in other expressions, e.g.: Le train a dix minutes de retard The train is ten minutes late 622

Tôt ‘soon, early’ and compounds thereof

It should be noted that there are a number of restrictions on the use of tôt – the usual word for ‘soon’ is bientôt and ‘early’ is more often than not best translated by de bonne heure. (i) Tôt is used in a number of fixed expressions, e.g.: arriver (partir) tôt to arrive (leave) early se coucher (se lever) tôt to go to bed (get up) early (ii) Tôt may be freely qualified by quantifiers such as assez ‘rather, quite’, aussi (si) ‘as’, plus ‘more’, trop ‘too’ and words for ‘very’, e.g.: Il est parti assez tôt He left quite early Nous arrivons très tôt – trop tôt en fait We are arriving very early – too early in fact Je vais commencer plus tôt que d’habitude I am going to begin earlier than usual au plus tôt (1) as soon as possible; (2) at the earliest


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 622–623

Je n’y serai pas aussi (or si) tôt que vous I shall not be there as early as you (iii) The following adverbs are the result of the fusion of some other adverb and tôt in one word (e.g. tantôt from tant + tôt): aussitôt, immediately bientôt, soon plutôt, rather sitôt, as soon tantôt, this afternoon tantôt . . . tantôt, sometimes . . . sometimes e.g.: J’irai aussitôt, bientôt, etc. I will go at once, soon, etc. Je vous écrirai aussitôt que je pourrai I shall write to you as soon as I can Il était tantôt heureux, tantôt triste He was sometimes happy, sometimes sad Aussitôt and sitôt may be used with past participles, e.g.: Aussitôt (sitôt) dit, aussitôt (sitôt) fait No sooner said than done Aussitôt (sitôt) la lettre reçue, il partit As soon as the letter was received, he left and have also come to be used as prepositions (e.g. aussitôt mon arrivée ‘immediately upon my arrival’). Note the distinction between plus tôt (que) ‘earlier (than)’ and plutôt (que) (originally from plus + tôt) ‘rather (than)’, e.g.: Il est arrivé plus tôt que prévu He arrived earlier than expected Je prends celui-ci plutôt que celui-là I’ll take this one rather than that one 623

Tout à coup and tout d’un coup

These both mean ‘suddenly, all at once’ but, in addition, tout d’un coup has the meaning (which can also be expressed by d’un seul coup) of ‘at one go, at one (fell) swoop, etc.’.

624–626 Adverbs


C Adverbs of place 624

Adverbs of place include:

ailleurs (see 625), elsewhere autour, around dedans, inside dehors, outside derrière, behind dessous, below dessus, above 625

devant, in front ici, here là, there loin, far partout, everywhere près, near proche, near

Ailleurs ‘elsewhere’ and d’ailleurs ‘besides, moreover’

Ailleurs is ‘elsewhere, somewhere else’, e.g.: Il n’habite pas ici, il habite ailleurs He doesn’t live here, he lives somewhere else ‘Elsewhere’ may also be expressed by autre part, but note that ‘everywhere else’ can only be partout ailleurs. D’ailleurs means either (a) ‘from elsewhere, from somewhere else’, e.g.: Ils ne sont pas d’ici, ils sont venus d’ailleurs They are not from here, they have come from somewhere else or (b) ‘besides, moreover’, e.g.: Je ne peux pas quitter Londres; d’ailleurs je n’aime pas voyager I can’t leave London; besides, I don’t like travelling

D Adverbs of quantity 626

For adverbs of quantity, see 320–337 (‘Quantifiers’).


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 627–628

E Adverbs of affirmation or doubt 627

Adverbs of affirmation or doubt include:

apparemment, apparently assurément, most certainly certainement, certainly certes, of course, admittedly peut-être, perhaps probablement, probably oui (see 628), yes si (see 628), yes sûrement, certainly volontiers, willingly vraiment, really vraisemblablement, in all likelihood 628 (i) French has two words for ‘yes’, oui and si. In most contexts oui is used, but si is used in answer to a question expressed in the negative or to contradict a negative statement, e.g.: Ne m’avez-vous pas entendu ? – Mais si, je vous ai entendu Didn’t you hear me? – Oh yes, I heard you Vous n’y réussirez jamais. – Mais si ! You will never succeed. – Oh yes I shall! Que si and si fait are sometimes found as emphatic alternatives for si. (ii) Note the use of que oui and que si after verbs of saying or thinking, after espérer ‘to hope’, and after peut-être ‘perhaps’, e.g.: Est-ce qu’il peut partir maintenant ? – J’ai déjà dit que oui May he leave now? – I’ve already said yes (said so, said he can) Est-ce qu’il arrive aujourd’hui ? – J’espère que oui (Je crois que oui) Is he arriving today? – I hope so (I think so) Il n’acceptera jamais de le faire. – Ah, je crois que si He will never agree to do it. – Oh, I think he will

628–631 Adverbs


Peut-être que oui Perhaps so (Cf. the use of que non, 574.)

F Adverbs of negation 629

For adverbs of negation, see 544–558.

G Interrogative adverbs 630

The interrogative adverbs (see also 589–593 and 595) are:

combien ? (see 326) comment ? où ? pourquoi ? quand ? que . . . ne . . . ? (see 631)

how much? how many? how? where? why? when? why . . . not . . . ?

631 On the basis of où ? ‘where?’ is formed d’où ? ‘whence? where from?’, e.g.: D’où vient-il ? Where does he come from? In the literary language, que ? can have the meaning of ‘why?’, expressing at the same time an emotional reaction such as regret or surprise; in practice, this construction now seems to occur only in negative questions (though this restriction did not always apply in Classical French), and note that que . . . ne . . . ? ‘why . . . not?’ is not accompanied by pas, e.g.: Olivier et Roland, que n’êtes-vous ici ? (Hugo) Oliver and Roland, why are you not here? Interrogation is also expressed by a variety of adverbial phrases, e.g. de quelle manière ? ‘how? in what way?’, pour quelle raison ?


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 631–635

‘why? for what reason?’, à quel moment ? ‘at what time?’, pendant combien de temps ? ‘for how long?’

The comparison of adverbs 632 For the comparison of adverbs, see ‘The comparison of adjectives and adverbs’ (155–174).

The position of adverbs 633 The position of adverbs is to some extent a matter of taste and may vary in the interests of special emphasis or other stylistic effects. The observations that follow should therefore be taken as indications of general practice, which is often deviated from, rather than as hard-and-fast ‘rules’. Adverbs in -ment 634 Like their English equivalents in -ly, French adverbs in -ment may modify either (i) a verb (see 635), or (ii) some other element within a clause (see 636), or (iii) the clause as a whole (see 637). 635 (i) When it modifies a verb, the adverb follows it, even if its English equivalent precedes its verb, e.g.: Ils se battent fréquemment They frequently fight (or fight frequently) Les socialistes rejettent totalement cette proposition The socialists totally reject this proposal Essayez d’écrire lisiblement Try to write legibly In compound tenses, the adverb usually comes between the auxiliary and the past participle, but may also follow the participle, e.g.:

635–636 Adverbs


Ils se sont fréquemment battus Ils se sont battus fréquemment They fought frequently Nous avions longuement discuté là-dessus Nous avions discuté longuement là-dessus We had argued about it at length When the adverb has other words depending on it, it must follow the participle, e.g.: Ils se sont battus indépendamment les uns des autres They fought independently of one another (On the position of adverbs with participles used adjectivelly, see 636.) (ii) When the verb is closely linked to some following element (e.g. a direct or indirect object or a prepositional phrase), the adverb may follow this element, particularly if it is as long as or longer than the other element or if it is in any way emphasized, e.g.: Il prononce ses mots distinctement He pronounces his words clearly Je vais à Paris fréquemment I go to Paris frequently 636 When an adverb modifies an element other than a verb, it normally precedes it. Such elements include adjectives and adjectival phrases, other adverbs and adverbial phrases, and occasionally pronouns (on past participles used as adjectives, see below). Examples: Il nous a donné une explication complètement incompréhensible He gave us a completely incomprehensible explanation Comme spectacle, cette pièce est absolument sans pareille As a spectacle this play is absolutely without equal Elle chante exceptionnellement bien She sings exceptionally well Il faut partir absolument tout de suite We must leave absolutely immediately


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 636–639

Ils sont pratiquement tous morts They are practically all dead Adverbs may either precede or (though less usually) follow past participles used as adjectives, e.g.: Il est complètement guéri He is completely cured Un dîner parfaitement cuit (or cuit parfaitement) A perfectly cooked dinner (or a dinner cooked perfectly) 637 Adverbs modifying the clause as a whole have considerable flexibility of movement and the choice of position depends upon such factors as emphasis and the rhythmic balance of the clause, e.g.: Malheureusement, je ne peux pas y aller aujourd’hui Je ne peux malheureusement pas y aller aujourd’hui Je ne peux pas y aller aujourd’hui, malheureusement Unfortunately, I can’t go there today 638 A small group of adverbs in -ment expressing certainty or probability (apparement ‘apparently’, assurément ‘certainly’, certainement ‘certainly’, probablement ‘probably’, sûrement ‘certainly’, vraisemblablement ‘probably’) together with heureusement ‘fortunately’ can serve as the equivalent of a clause (= ‘it is certain, probable, fortunate (that)’) and be followed by que, e.g.: Assurément qu’il a tort He is certainly wrong Heureusement que vous le connaissez Fortunately you know him Probablement qu’il arrivera mardi Probably he will arrive on Tuesday (Note that, whereas être heureux que takes a subjunctive, e.g. Je suis heureux que vous le connaissiez ‘I am happy that you know him’ (see 485), heureusement que takes the indicative.) Adverbs not ending in -ment 639

(i) Manner

(a) Bien ‘well’, mieux ‘better’ and mal ‘badly’, like adverbs in

639–640 Adverbs


-ment (see 635), follow verbs (and, in the case of compound tenses, usually follow the auxiliary) and precede other elements that they modify, e.g.: Elle chante bien mais son frère chante mieux She sings well but her brother sings better Il était mal habillé He was badly dressed However, when modified by another adverb such as si ‘so’, trop ‘too’, or when followed by que ‘as, than’, they may precede or follow the past participle in compound tenses, e.g.: Il a si bien chanté que tout le monde a applaudi Il a chanté si bien que tout le monde a applaudi He sang so well that everyone applauded Finally, an adverb modified by another adverb or followed by que ‘as, than’ may follow some other element closely linked to the verb such as a direct object (cf. 635,ii), e.g.: Il prononce ses mots très bien He pronounces his words very well Il a prononcé son discours si mal que personne n’a compris He delivered his speech so badly that no one understood (b) Other adverbs of manner, such as exprès ‘deliberately, on purpose’, gratis ‘for nothing, for free’, volontiers ‘willingly’, follow the verb, or some element such as a direct object or prepositional phrase closely linked to the verb (cf. 635,ii) and, in compound tenses, do not come between the auxiliary and the past participle, e.g.: Mon père passera volontiers vous voir My father will willingly call and see you Il l’a fait exprès He did it deliberately Nous allons assister au spectacle gratis We are going to see the show for free 640

(ii) Time and place

The position of adverbs of time and place is flexible, as in English, and is governed by a wide range of stylistic factors. It is not


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 640–641

possible to give clear-cut rules but, fortunately, in most contexts the position is the same as in English, e.g.: Il est fatigué aujourd’hui He is tired today Il est toujours fatigué He is always tired Two important considerations to be borne in mind are: (a) that, like other adverbs, when they qualify a verb they normally follow it, or some element closely linked to it (cf. 635,ii), and that, in compound tenses, they follow the past participle (cf. 639,b, and contrast 635,i), e.g.: Il n’est pas arrivé aujourd’hui, mais il arrivera demain He hasn’t come today but he will come tomorrow Je vous ai cherché partout I’ve been looking everywhere for you and (b) that to express contrast or for other stylistic reasons they may, as in English, come at the beginning of the clause, e.g.: Devant, il y avait une pelouse, et derrière, un grand jardin In front, there was a lawn, and behind, a big garden Aujourd’hui je ne peux pas Today I can’t Aujourd’hui il est fatigué mais demain il va travailler Today he is tired but tomorrow he is going to work Like adverbs in -ment, these adverbs of time and place usually have the same position as in English. 641

(iii) Quantity

Adverbs of quantity generally stand after the verb in simple tenses and between the auxiliary and the participle in compound tenses and the past infinitive, e.g.: Il voyage beaucoup He travels a lot Il a beaucoup voyagé He has travelled a lot Vous avez tant souffert You have suffered so much

641–643 Adverbs


Nous avons assez travaillé We have worked (long) enough Il croyait avoir trop bu He thought he had drunk too much 642

(iv) Affirmation or doubt

Peut-être ‘perhaps’ and the adverbial phrase sans doute ‘doubtless’ can either stand after the verb or else come first and be followed by que, like heureusement, etc. (see 638), or, in addition, they can come first and be followed by inversion of the subject pronoun (see 600), e.g.: Mon frère vous écrira sans doute Sans doute que mon frère vous écrira Sans doute mon frère vous écrira-t-il Il viendra peut-être mardi Peut-être qu’il viendra mardi Peut-être viendra-t-il mardi 643



My brother will doubtless write to you

Perhaps he will come on Tuesday

(v) Interrogatives

In literary French, interrogative adverbs always precede the verb both in direct and in indirect questions, e.g.: Pourquoi veut-il y aller ? Why does he want to go there? Je me demande pourquoi il veut y aller I wonder why he wants to go there Quand partez-vous ? When are you leaving? But note that in spoken French there is a widespread tendency to put the interrogative last in direct questions, e.g.: Vous partez quand ? Vous en voulez combien ? For more on this. see 593,i.

When are you leaving? How many do you want?


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 644–645

Prepositions Introduction 644 In this section we consider both: (a) simple prepositions, i.e. those consisting of a single word, e.g. avec ‘with’, sur ‘on’ (see 645), and (b) complex prepositions, consisting in most cases of an expression ending in à (e.g. grâce à ‘thanks to’) or, more frequently, de (e.g. à côté de ‘beside’) together with a few others, e.g. à travers ‘across’ (see 647–648).

Simple prepositions 645 à, to, at après, after avant, before (of time) avec, with chez, at the house of, etc. (see 665) concernant, concerning contre, against dans, in, into de, of, from depuis, since, from derrière, behind dès, from (of time) devant, before (of place) durant, during en, in, into entre, between envers, towards hormis, except hors, outside, except malgré, in spite of moyennant, in return for, on payment of

645–647 Prepositions


outre, besides par, by, through parmi, among pendant, during pour, for sans, without sauf, except, save selon, according to sous, under suivant, according to sur, on, upon vers, towards There are in addition the literary and somewhat archaic prepositions nonobstant ‘notwithstanding’ and touchant ‘concerning’. The forms après, avant, depuis, derrière, devant are also regularly used as adverbs. Other forms used as adverbs in specific contexts (a good dictionary should be consulted) are avec, contre, outre, pour and selon. 646 The following past participles are now used in certain circumstances in such a way that they must be considered as being, in effect, prepositions (see 134): attendu, given, considering (y) compris, including excepté, except passé, after, beyond vu, in view of, considering

Complex prepositions 647

Complex prepositions ending in à or de

It is a moot point whether expressions such as dans le but de ‘with the aim of’, à l’insu de ‘without the knowledge of’, à raison de ‘at the rate of’ should or should not be included in a list of complex prepositions. In order not to inflate the list inordinately, we have excluded such expressions when either (a) the meaning of each of its elements seems to be still noticeable (e.g. dans le but de) or (b)

Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 647


the expression is relatively uncommon and unlikely to be much needed by the learner who can, in any case, find out its meaning from a dictionary when it is encountered in reading (e.g. à l’insu de). But such decisions are necessarily subjective – the list could have been much longer. The list follows the alphabetical order of the main components (so, for example, en face de comes before au lieu de). The English equivalents given here do not always cover the whole range of meanings of the French preposition in question; for fuller information, consult a good dictionary. (i) Forms ending in à grâce à, thanks to jusqu’à, up to, as far as, until quant à, as for (ii) Forms ending in de auprès de, near, compared with autour de, around à cause de, because of à côté de, beside du côté de, to or from the direction of au dedans de, inside en au dehors de, outside en au delà de, beyond au-dessous de, below au-dessus de, above en face de, opposite faute de, for lack of au lieu de, instead of au (or le) long de, along, throughout lors de, at the time of près de, near proche à propos de, in connection with, apropros of au sujet de, about au travers de, through en travers de, across, athwart vis-à-vis, opposite, in relation to

} }


648–649 Prepositions 648


Complex prepositions not ending in à or de

A few complex prepositions do not end in à or de. Those in common use are: d’après, according to, in the style of à travers, through, across par derrière, behind, round the back of (see 669) par-dessous, ‘under’, par-dessus ‘over’ (see 671 and 684)

Government of verbs by prepositions 649 (i) Whereas, in English, many prepositions are followed by the gerund (‘on hearing’, ‘after deciding’, ‘while singing’, etc.), the only French preposition that may be followed by the gerund is en, e.g. en travaillant ‘by working, while working, etc.’ (on the various meanings of this construction, see 445). (ii) The only part of the verb that can follow other prepositions is the infinitive, e.g.: Je commence à m’inquiéter I am beginning to get worried Essayez de comprendre Try to understand Elle était près de s’évanouir She was nearly fainting Je l’ai fait pour vous aider I did it to help you Il est entré sans frapper He came in without knocking (iii) par + infinitive occurs only after verbs of beginning or finishing (and occasionally after continuer, but continuer en + gerund is more usual, e.g. Il continua en me posant plusieurs questions ‘He continued by asking me several questions’), e.g.: Je vais commencer par vous montrer le jardin I am going to begin by showing you the garden


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 649–650

Il a fini par me remercier He ended by thanking me and likewise after débuter ‘to begin’, achever, conclure, terminer ‘to end’. (iv) ‘Before’ with an infinitive is avant de and never avant alone, e.g. avant de partir ‘before leaving’. (v) Après always takes the perfect infinitive, i.e. avoir and the past participle or, in the case of those verbs that form their perfect tense with être (see 347), être and the past participle (which agrees with the implied subject), e.g. après avoir chanté ‘after singing, after having sung’, Après être tombée, elle a voulu se reposer ‘After falling, she wanted to rest’. (vi) For the construction preposition + infinitive as the complement of a verb, see 530–538. (vii) For the construction preposition + infinitive as the complement of an adjective, see 688.

Repetition of prepositions 650

à, de, en

The prepositions à, de and en are almost invariably repeated before each item they govern and, in most cases, it is unacceptable not to repeat them, e.g.: Il doit son succès à son intelligence et à sa bonne volonté His success is due to his intelligence and good will Il commence à grandir et à se développer He is beginning to grow and develop Vouz avez besoin de repos et de tranquillité You need rest and tranquillity Est-ce qu’il arrive de Metz ou de Troyes ? Is he coming from Metz or (from) Troyes? J’y vais chaque année en avril et en septembre I go there every year in April and September Je vais en France et en Suisse I am going to France and Switzerland

650–653 Prepositions


Il répondit en riant et en se moquant de leurs conseils He replied by laughing and making fun of their advice 651

Other prepositions

Prepositions other than à, de and en need not be repeated except when two or more complements express opposite or alternative concepts, e.g.: Dans la prospérité et dans l’adversité il montra la grandeur de son âme In prosperity and adversity he showed his greatness of soul Réponds-moi seulement par oui ou par non (Bourget) Just answer me yes or no When the two complements express much the same idea, the preposition is usually not repeated, e.g.: Il est amolli par le luxe et l’oisiveté He is enervated by luxury and idleness In other cases, repetition is optional.

The meaning and use of individual prepositions 652 There is only an approximate equivalence between the meanings and uses of prepositions in different languages. In figurative and idiomatic expressions in particular, one language will use a preposition that does not correspond to its literal equivalent in another language. This is frequently so with French and English. Some of the main correspondences and differences between the two languages are given in the following sections, but an exhaustive treatment is impossible – and does not, indeed, exist anywhere else either though, to a considerable extent, uncertainties can be resolved by consulting a good large dictionary. 653 à, primary meanings ‘to, at’ (i) The preposition à denotes possession when used with the verb être, e.g.: A qui est ce livre ? Il est à Charles, mais l’autre est à moi Whose is this book? It is Charles’s, but the other one is mine


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 653

or with disjunctive personal pronouns, particularly for purposes of emphasis, e.g.: Il a des idées à lui He has ideas of his own mes amis à moi et ses amis à elle my friends and her friends (ii) Note the use of à + infinitive as the equivalent of an English present participle expressing a way of spending time, e.g.: Il était perché sur le toit à regarder attentivement l’horizon He was perched on the roof carefully scanning the horizon Il passe son temps à lire des romans He spends his time reading novels (iii) The expression à la (which has also passed into English) is a reduction of à la mode (with adjectives) or of à la mode de (with nouns), e.g. à l’américaine ‘in the American way’, des petits pois à la française ‘peas French-style’, des poésies à la Victor Hugo ‘poems in the style of Victor Hugo’. (iv) French uses à where English uses ‘with’ to indicate characteristic features, permanent or temporary, e.g.: une personne à l’esprit vif un garçon aux cheveux longs le monsieur au parapluie

a quick-witted person a boy with long hair the man with the umbrella

(v) For the use of the dative à with verbs denoting ‘to take something from someone’, see 524. (vi) The following is a selection of idioms using à where the English equivalents have one or other of a range of other prepositions: (1) by

à force de peu à peu deux à deux fait à la main vendre au poids vendre aux enchères à l’heure à la lumière d’une bougie

by dint of little by little two by two, i.e. two at a time made by hand, handmade to sell by weight to sell by auction by the hour by candlelight

(For à meaning ‘by’ see also 433,ii.) (2) for

à jamais mot à mot

forever word for word

653–654 Prepositions


(3) in

à la campagne au bois au lit à l’ombre au milieu de à mon avis à la hâte à temps avec un bâton à la main au désespoir

in the country in the wood in bed in the shade in the middle of in my opinion in haste in time with a stick in his hand in despair

(4) on

à bord à pied à cheval à droite, à gauche à son départ il se mit à genoux à condition que au contraire à l’heure

on board on foot on horseback on the right, left-hand side on his departure he knelt down (lit. placed himself on his knees) on condition that on the contrary on time

à grandes enjambées avoir affaire à quelqu’un abattre un arbre à coups de cognée à grand-peine à regret

with long strides to have to deal with someone to fell a tree with (blows of) an axe with great difficulty with regret

(5) with

(6) within à portée de fusil, etc. à portée de la main à portée de voix à portée de vue


within range (of rifle, etc.) within reach within hail within sight

à, en, de as linking prepositions

The prepositions à, en and de can all be used to link two nouns, the second of which qualifies the first. They are, however, not interchangeable: (i) à expresses (a) purpose, use, function (= ‘for’), e.g.: une tasse à café un moulin à café un ver à soie un tuyau à gaz

a coffee-cup (i.e. cup for coffee) a coffee-mill (i.e. for grinding coffee) a silkworm (i.e. for producing silk) a gas pipe (i.e. for conducting gas)

(b) characteristics (including the method by which something is fuelled, driven, etc.), e.g.:


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 654–655

une chemise à rayures bleues un moulin à eau une cuisinière à gaz

a shirt with blue stripes a water-mill a gas cooker

(ii) en refers to the material of which something is made, or to shape, e.g.: une montre en or une maison en pierre un escalier en colimaçon un assemblage en queue d’aronde

a gold watch a stone(-built) house a spiral staircase a dovetail joint

(iii) de expresses a multiplicity of relationships, many of them also expressed by ‘of’ in English, e.g.: une tasse de café un marchand de légumes une robe de soie une jauge d’essence un professeur d’histoire une mine de charbon une carte de crédit

a cup of coffee a greengrocer (lit. seller of vegetables) a silk dress (i.e. made of silk) a petrol gauge a history teacher a coal mine a credit card

à, dans, en 655 Great care is needed in translating ‘at, to, in, into’ when used of place. The three usual equivalents are à, dans and en, each of which can be used both of motion towards (= ‘to, into’) or of position at a place (= ‘at, in’) – but they are not interchangeable, e.g.: Il est à la maison He is in the house Il vient à la maison He is coming to the house Il se trouvait dans la chambre He was in the room

655–656 Prepositions


Il entra dans la chambre He went into the room Il est en prison He is in prison On l’a envoyé en prison He has been sent to prison For further details, see 656–659. For the use of these prepositions with reference to time, see 709 and 710. 656 (i) ‘To’, ‘at’ and ‘in’ with names of towns are all translated by à, e.g.: Je vais à Paris Je demeure à Paris Il est étudiant à Dijon

I am going to Paris I live in Paris He is a student at Dijon

If the name of the town includes an article, as in Le Havre and les Andelys, the usual contractions apply (see 25), i.e. au Havre, aux Andelys, but, in the feminine singular, à la Haye ‘at or to The Hague’. See also 659,ii, for the use of dans with names of towns. (ii) With place-names other than names of towns, the situation is much more complicated. Here too there is no difference between ‘in’ (i.e. situation) and ‘to’ (i.e. motion towards) but, in terms of the actual preposition used, the choice depends on a number of factors including gender (see 52,b), whether the name begins with a consonant or a vowel, whether the name is singular or plural, and, to some extent, the type of geographical entity referred to. There are four main possibilities (but see also iv below): (1) en alone (i.e. with no article); (2) à alone; (3) à + definite article; (4) dans + definite article. The following rules cover the great majority of cases: (1) en alone is used: (a) with feminine singular names of continents, countries (but see b), provinces, American states, large islands that are not also countries, and (to use a necessarily vague term) regions, e.g.: en Afrique en France en Picardie

in, to Africa in, to France in, to Picardy


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 656

en Californie en Toscane en Sardaigne en Sibérie

in, to California in, to Tuscany in, to Sardinia in, to Siberia

(b) with masculine singular names of countries etc. beginning with a vowel, e.g.: en Iran en Anjou en Ontario

in, to Iran in, to Anjou in, to Ontario

(c) with names (of either gender) of French departments of the type X-et-Y, e.g. en Lot-et-Garonne (masc.), en Meurthe-et-Moselle (fem.), en Indre-et-Loire (fem.) (2) à alone is used with the names of certain islands that are also countries, e.g. à Chypre (fem.) ‘in, to Cyprus’, à Cuba (fem.) ‘in, to Cuba’, à Malte (fem.) ‘in, to Malta’, à Madagascar (masc.) ‘in, to Madagascar’; also à Terre-Neuve (fem.) ‘in, to Newfoundland’, à Guernesey ‘in, to, on Guernsey’, à Jersey ‘in, to, on Jersey’ (3) à + definite article is used: (a) with masculine singular names of countries beginning with a consonant, e.g. au Danemark ‘in, to Denmark’, au pays de Galles ‘in, to Wales’, au Pérou ‘in, to Peru’ (b) with feminine names of some small islands (especially nonEuropean islands), e.g, à la Martinique ‘in, to Martinique’, à la Réunion ‘in, to Réunion’ (c) with plural names of countries and groups of islands (but see also iv below), e.g. aux États-Unis (masc.) ‘in, to the United States’, aux Pays-Bas ‘in, to the Netherlands’, aux Philippines (fem.) ‘in, to the Philippines’, aux Açores (fem.) ‘in, to the Azores’; (on the use of dans with other plural geographical names, see 4,c below) (4) dans + definite article is used, meaning both ‘in’ and ‘to’: (a) with names (of either gender or number) of French departments, except those of the X-et-Y type (see 1,c above), e.g. dans le Gard, dans le Maine, dans la Nièvre, dans les Vosges. (b) with masculine singular names beginning with a consonant of French provinces, Swiss cantons, British counties, American states, and various other territorial units, e.g. dans le Poitou, dans

656–657 Prepositions


le Valais, dans le Yorkshire, dans le Texas (but en also occurs with masculine names of French provinces, e.g. en Poitou) (c) With plural geographical names (of either gender) other than those of countries or groups of islands (see 3,c above), e.g. dans les Flandres ‘in, to Flanders’, dans les Balkans ‘in, to the Balkans’, dans les Grisons ‘in, to the Grisons’. (iii) Note that à la (or à l’) is used with feminine names of countries, etc., and à l’ with masculine names beginning with a vowel when the preposition means neither ‘to’ in the sense of ‘motion towards’ nor ‘in’, e.g.: Je préfère la Suisse à la Belgique I prefer Switzerland to Belgium La CE va accorder une aide financière à la Pologne The EC is going to grant financial aid to Poland En matière de cuisine, la France est supérieure à l’Angleterre As far as cooking goes, France is superior to England Il pense toujours à la Grèce He is always thinking of Greece quant à l’Afghanistan as for Afghanistan This construction is not used with such verbs as écrire, téléphoner and envoyer, e.g.: Il écrit (or téléphone) souvent en France He often writes to (or phones) France Je viens d’envoyer le manuscrit en Allemagne I have sent the manuscript to Germany In a few uncommon contexts it is also possible to have en la, e.g.: Il a confiance en la France He has confidence in France (iv) With names of islands when the word île or îles is included, sur is used to mean not only ‘on’ but also ‘in’ or ‘to’, e.g. sur l’île de Ré ‘on, in, to the île Ré’, sur les îles d’Hyères ‘on, in, to the îles d’Hyères’. 657

Distinction between dans and en

(i) En is not used with the definite article except in certain fixed expressions such as the following:


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 657–658

en l’absence de in the absence of en l’air in the air (lit. and figurative) en l’an 1980 in the year 1980 en l’espace de within the space of (a period of time) en l’honneur de in honour of en la matière on the subject, in the matter (e.g. je suis ignorant en la matière) en la personne de in the person of en la présence de in the presence of Note that all the above expressions involve the use of en l’ or en la; the use of en with le or les is very rare and should be avoided as it is usually unacceptable. (ii) Dans, on the other hand, must always be followed by an article – definite, indefinite or partitive – or by another determiner (see 23), except with names of towns or people (see 659,ii), e.g. dans le tiroir ‘in the drawer’, dans votre sac ‘in your handbag’, Dans quel roman avez-vous trouvé cette citation ? ‘In what novel did you find that quotation?’, dans trois villes différentes ‘in three different towns’. The result of this is that dans is in many cases more specific than en, e.g.: Il est en prison He is in jail (place unspecified) Il est dans la prison de Poitiers He is in Poitiers jail (a definite place) 658 Idiomatic uses of en Note the following idiomatic uses of en: (a) as the equivalent of English ‘as’:

658 Prepositions


Il le traita en enfant He treated him as a child déguisé en agent de police disguised as a policeman Je l’ai reçu en cadeau I got it as a present (b) where English uses ‘on’, e.g.: en garde en pente en vacances en moyenne

on guard on a slope on holiday on (an) average

(c) with reference to the material of which something is made (see also 654,ii), colour, or shape, e.g.: une maison bâtie en brique(s) être en noir, en blanc, etc. un mur peint en blanc en croix

a house built of brick to be dressed in black, in white, etc. a white-painted wall in the shape of a cross

(but note habillé en blanc, en noir, or de blanc, de noir, etc. ‘dressed in white, in black, etc.’). (d) with reference to dress, e.g.: des policiers en tenue en civil en bras de chemise

uniformed police in civilian clothing, plain-clothed in one’s shirt sleeves

(e) with verbs of ‘changing into’ and ‘dividing into’, e.g.: Le cinéma va être transformé en supermarché The cinema is going to be turned into a supermarket La grenouille s’est changée en prince The frog changed into a prince changer des dollars en euros to change dollars into euros Il coupa le gâteau en tranches He cut the cake into slices (f) with reference to months, seasons, years, e.g.:


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 658

en juin (or au mois de juin) in June en été, en automne, en hiver in summer, in autumn, in winter en 1934 in 1934 en quelle année ? in what year? but au printemps ‘in spring’. (g) before plein when English has ‘in’ (or occasionally ‘on’), e.g.: Il le frappa en pleine poitrine en plein hiver en plein jour en pleine mer

He hit him right in the chest in the middle of winter in broad daylight on the high seas

(h) with a wide range of adverbial expressions of which the following are only a selection: en arrière en avant en bas en face passer quelque chose en fraude en guerre en haut en plus en tout en tout cas en vain

behind, backwards in front, forwards below, downstairs opposite to smuggle something through at war above, upstairs in addition altogether anyway, at any rate in vain

(i) in the construction de . . . en . . . in such expressions as: d’année en année de mal en pis de porte en porte

from year to year from bad to worse from door to door, from house to house

and with comparatives of the type ‘more and more’ or ‘less and less’ + adjective or adverb, e.g.: de plus en plus difficile de moins en moins souvent de mieux en mieux

more and more difficult less and less often better and better

659 Prepositions 659


Distinction between à and dans

(i) When ‘in’ is more or less the equivalent of ‘at’ or in other contexts in which the idea of being ‘inside’ is only weakly present, its French equivalent is often à not dans, e.g.: Est-ce que votre père est à la maison ? Is your father in the house? (i.e. as distinct from being somewhere else) Je n’ai jamais étudié l’anglais à l’école I never studied English in (or at) school Il a toujours une cigarette à la bouche He’s always got a cigarette in his mouth Il tenait un couteau à la main He was holding a knife in his hand Il a été blessé à l’épaule He has been wounded in the shoulder as contrasted with: Il est quelque part dans la maison He is somewhere in the house Il est dans l’école en ce moment He is in(side) the school at the moment Cette viande fond dans la bouche This meat melts in your mouth Il tenait une perle dans la main He was holding a pearl in his hand Il a toujours une balle dans l’épaule He still has a bullet in his shoulder (ii) ‘In’ or ‘at’ with the name of a town, regarded as a place where something is situated or where some event takes place, is normally à, e.g. Il travaille à Londres ‘He works in London’, Je l’ai vu à Paris ‘I saw him in Paris’. Dans may, however, be used to express the idea of ‘within, (right) inside’, e.g. L’ennemi est déjà dans Paris ‘The enemy is already inside Paris’, or to stress the idea of the town as an area (within which one can move about, for example) rather than as a point on a map, e.g. J’aime me promener dans Paris ‘I like going for walks in Paris, walking about Paris’. Dans is also used if the name of a town is qualified by an adjective or adjectival expression, e.g.:


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 659–660

A l’exposition on se plonge dans le vieux Paris At the exhibition we plunge into old Paris Dans le Paris d’aujourd’hui on ne sait guère s’orienter In present-day Paris one can hardly find one’s bearings With the name of a person, dans means ‘in the works of’, e.g. Vous le trouverez dans Molière ‘You will find it in Molière’. (iii) Note the use of dans where English uses ‘out of’ in such contexts as: On a bu dans ce verre Someone has been drinking out of this glass un article découpé dans le journal an article cut out of the paper Prenez un mouchoir dans le tiroir Take a handkerchief out of the drawer – i.e. French indicates where the object was before it was moved while English expresses the direction in which it is moved (cf. sur ‘on’ where English uses ‘from, off’, 685). (iv) dans + les and a numeral means ‘about, approximately’ with reference to prices, quantity, time and age, e.g.: Cela va vous coûter dans les deux cents euros That will cost you about two hundred euros Je compte mettre dans les trois ou quatre mois pour l’achever I expect to take about three or four months to finish it Il faudra acheter dans les dix mètres de corde We shall have to buy about ten metres of rope Elle doit avoir dans les quarante ans She must be about forty (v) dans is widely used in figurative senses, e.g. dans les affaires ‘in business’, dans ces conditions ‘in these conditions’, dans la misère ‘in poverty’, dans ce but ‘with this aim in view’, dans les limites de la légalité ‘within the law’. (vi) For the distinction between dans une heure and en une heure ‘in an hour’, etc., see 709. 660

après, primary meaning ‘after’

(i) In such contexts as the following, après can be rendered in English by ‘next to’:

660–662 Prepositions


Après le ski, j’aime mieux la natation Next to skiing, I like swimming best (ii) In a spatial sense, après ‘past, beyond, the other side of’, e.g.: Son bureau est juste après l’église His office is just beyond (past, the other side of) the church For après with a past infinitive (e.g. après avoir mangé ‘after eating’), see 649,v. 661

à travers, au travers de, en travers de

In spite of what some grammars say, there is little or no distinction in meaning between à travers and au travers de meaning ‘through’; à travers (which, note, is never followed by de) is the more usual, e.g. à travers un verre, les nuages, la foule, ‘through a glass, the clouds, the crowd’, Il avait reçu un coup d’épée au travers du bras (or à travers le bras) ‘He had received a sword-thrust through the arm’. A travers occasionally means ‘across’, e.g. à travers champs ‘across country’, but note carefully the following points in connection with the translation of ‘across’: (a) ‘across’ meaning ‘placed across, lying across’ is en travers de, e.g. Il y a un arbre en travers de la route ‘There is a tree (lying) across the road’ (but un pont sur le ruisseau ‘a bridge across the stream’) (b) when ‘across’ means ‘on the other side of’, none of the forms based on travers will do, e.g. ‘I saw him across the square’ is best rendered by Je l’ai vu de l’autre côté de la place (c) where English uses a verb of motion (e.g. ‘to swim, to run’) and ‘across’, French normally uses traverser ‘to cross’ and an adverbial expression expressing the type of motion involved, e.g.: traverser la Manche à la nage to swim across the Channel Il traversa la place en courant He ran across the square but ‘to walk across’ is often just traverser, e.g. traverser le pont ‘to walk across the bridge’. 662

auprès de

Auprès de is a complex preposition based on près ‘near’ and still occasionally has its original meaning, especially when its


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 662–663

complement is a person, auprès de quelqu’un ‘near someone’, but more usually it expresses closeness in less literal senses, in which case it is translated by various prepositions in English, e.g.: Il était ambassadeur auprès du Saint-Siège He was ambassador to the Holy See Il était bien auprès du ministre He was in good standing with the minister faire des démarches auprès de quelqu’un to take a matter up with someone 663

avant, devant, primary meaning ‘before, in front of’

(i) avant refers to time, e.g.: Il va partir avant la fin du mois He will be leaving before the end of the month Je suis arrivé avant mon frère I arrived before my brother and is also used to express preference, e.g.: Je choisirais cela avant tout I should choose that before (in preference to) anything else Note also the complex preposition en avant de which, contrary to the simple preposition avant, is used with reference to place in the sense of ‘ahead of’, e.g.: marcher en avant du défilé to walk ahead of the procession (ii) devant refers to place, position, e.g.: Vous verrez la statue devant la gare You will see the statue in front of the station Il fut amené devant le juge He was brought before the judge and is also used in a number of figurative senses, e.g.: Tous sont égaux devant la loi All are equal before (in the eyes of) the law Je ne reculerai pas devant mes responsabilités I shall not back away from my responsibilities

663–666 Prepositions


(further examples may be found in any good dictionary). Note also the complex preposition au-devant de which occurs with verbs of motion used either literally or figuratively in such contexts as the following: Il courut au-devant de son père He ran to meet his father Il va toujours au-devant du danger He always goes to meet danger aller au-devant des désirs de quelqu’un to anticipate someone’s wishes 664

avec, primary meaning ‘with’

Used in most of the senses of English ‘with’, but see throughout this section the use of other prepositions where English uses ‘with’. 665

chez, primary meaning ‘at the house (or shop) of’

Il est chez lui He is at his house, at home Il sort de chez lui He is coming out of his house Je l’ai vu chez Jean I saw him at John’s chez le boulanger at the baker’s Also used in sense of with

C’est une habitude chez moi


Ça se fait chez les Anglais

in (the works of)

l’emploi du subjonctif chez Racine

It’s a habit with me (or ‘of mine’) This is done among the English the use of the subjunctive in Racine

and note too chez nous ‘in our country’, etc. 666

contre, primary meaning ‘against’

Also used in sense of with from

se fâcher contre quelqu’un Il s’abrita contre le vent

to get angry with someone He took shelter from the wind

522 for



Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 666–667 la haine qu’elle éprouvait contre son gendre échanger x contre y six voix contre cinq

her hatred for her son-in-law to exchange x for y six votes to five

de, primary meanings ‘of, from’

(i) One important construction involving the use of de, and one that must be carefully noted since it does not correspond at all to English usage, is the compulsory insertion of de when such indefinite pronouns as quelqu’un ‘someone’, personne ‘nobody’, quelque chose ‘something’, rien ‘nothing’, aucun, pas un ‘not one’, are followed by an adjective or past participle, e.g.: Quelqu’un d’important demande à vous parler Somebody important is asking to speak to you Je ne connais personne de plus charmant I don’t know anyone more charming Il y a quelque chose de louche dans cette affaire There’s something suspicious about this business Rien de grave ! Nothing serious! Je n’ai jamais rien vu de pareil I’ve never seen anything like it Parmi tous ces hommes il n’y en avait aucun (or pas un) de capable Among all these men there wasn’t one who was efficient Note in particular personne d’autre, rien d’autre, quoi d’autre ? ‘nobody else, nothing else, what else?’ (ii) The same rule applies after such expressions as ce qu’il y a ‘what (= that which)’, quoi ? ‘what?’, qu’est-ce qu’il y a ? ‘what?’, il n’y a . . . que . . . ‘there is nothing . . . but’, e.g.: Ce qu’il y a d’intéressant c’est que . . . What’s interesting is that . . . Quoi de neuf ? What news? Anything new? Qu’est-ce qu’il y a de plus beau que . . . ? Quoi What is more beautiful than . . . ?


667 Prepositions


Il n’y a d’important que la vérité There is nothing important but truth Note that in both of these types the adjective remains invariable (contrast iii below). (iii) The same construction can also occur (a) after a noun introduced by an indefinite article, in which case the preposition serves to detach the adjective from the noun in much the same way as a relative clause, e.g.: si vous avez une journée libre if you have a free day but si vous avez une journée de libre if you have a day (which is) free and (b), with a similar value, after a numeral or some other expression of quantity such as plusieurs ‘several’, la moitié ‘half’, encore un ‘another one’, beaucoup ‘a lot’, combien ? ‘how many?’, e.g.: Sur ces quatre verres, il y en a trois de sales Of these four glasses, there are three dirty Il y a déjà la moitié de mes crayons de perdus There are already half my pencils lost Encore une journée de perdue ! Another day wasted! Il y aura beaucoup de soldats de tués There will be a lot of soldiers killed Note that in type (iii) the adjective or participle agrees in gender and number with the noun or pronoun to which it refers (contrast i and ii above). Another idiomatic use of de is found in French (where English also often has ‘of’) between two nouns, the first of which qualifies the second, e.g.: un vrai fripon d’enfant a regular rascal of a boy un pauvre diable de mendiant a poor devil of a beggar


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 667

un imbécile de douanier a fool of a customs officer une chienne de vie a rotten life un amour de petit chien a cute little dog Note: (a) that, in this construction, diable is often treated as feminine with a following feminine noun, e.g. une diable d’affaire ‘a wretched business’, une diable d’idée ‘a weird idea’ (b) the use of un or une drôle de meaning ‘strange, odd’, e.g. un drôle de type ‘a strange fellow’, une drôle d’idée ‘an odd idea’. Notice that all the above constructions express some kind of value judgement (in most – but not all – cases unfavourable). (iv) On colloquial constructions such as elle en a un beau, de chat ‘she has a beautiful cat’, j’ai ma mère de malade ‘I’ve got my mother (who is) ill’, see R. Ball, Colloquial French Grammar (Oxford, Blackwell, 2000), pp. 59–61. (v) The following is a selection of the many idioms using de where the English equivalents have one or other of a wide range of other prepositions: (1) for

le respect de la vérité de longue date

respect for truth for a long lime (past)

(2) with

de tout mon cœur rouge de colère (see also 526, 687)

with all my heart purple with rage

(3) in

d’un ton sec de cette façon augmenter (baisser) de prix (see also 171) jamais de la vie

in a dry voice in this way to go up (or down) in price never in my life

Also with words denoting physical or mental qualities or defects, e.g.:

(4) by

sain de corps et d’esprit aveugle de chaque œil et boiteux d’un pied

sound in body and mind blind in both eyes and lame in one foot

de naissance de vue de nature de nom

by birth by sight by nature by name

Also of time:

667–669 Prepositions

(5) on

Il est parti de nuit (see also under par and 171)

He left by night

de tous côtés de garde

on all sides on duty


For discussion elsewhere in this volume of other uses of de the index should be consulted. 668

depuis, primary meaning ‘since’

In French, depuis is used to indicate not only ‘time since when’, e.g.: Il est absent depuis mardi He has been away since Tuesday but also ‘period since the beginning of which’, where English uses ‘for’, e.g.: Il est absent depuis un an He has been absent for a year (For the tense, see 413,iv. For depuis lors see 619.) Depuis is also used in the sense of ‘from’ of time or place, e.g.: depuis le matin jusqu’au soir from morning till evening La France s’étend depuis les Alpes jusqu’à l’Océan France stretches from the Alps to the Ocean 669 derrière, en derrière de, par arrière, primary meaning ‘behind’ Derrière is used only in a literal sense, e.g.: Il se cacha derrière la porte He hid behind the door ‘Behind’ in a figurative sense (‘behindhand with’) is en arrière de (which may also be used in a literal sense), e.g.: Il est en arrière des autres élèves He is behind the other pupils (i.e. in his school work) Par derrière implies movement, e.g.: Il est passé par derrière la maison He went round the back of the house


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 670–671

670 dès, primary meaning ‘from the time of, right from’ Examples: dès sa première enfance dès le début

from his earliest infancy right from the beginning

Dès is also used with expressions of place when these denote a point in time, e.g.: Dès Orange le train augmente de vitesse From (the moment of leaving) Orange the train’s speed increases (For dès lors see 619.) 671 dessus, au-dessus de, par-dessus, primary meanings ‘above, over’ Dessus, which survives as an adverb, is no longer in normal use as a preposition, its place having been taken in most contexts by au-dessus de, whether the meaning is literal or figurative, e.g.: Son portrait pend au-dessus de la cheminée His portrait hangs over the mantelpiece Il est au-dessus de moi (dans la hiérarchie) He is above me (in the hierarchy) les enfants âgés au-dessus de dix ans children aged over ten être au-dessus de la flatterie to be above flattery au-dessus de la moyenne above average The English equivalent is sometimes ‘beyond’, e.g.: être au-dessus de tout éloge to be beyond praise Cette tâche est au-dessus de ses capacités This task is beyond his capabilities Par-dessus is used when there is an implication of motion from one side of something to the other and in a variety of idiomatic expressions, e.g.: Il sauta par-dessus la haie He jumped over the hedge

671–673 Prepositions


Il a jeté la balle par-dessus le mur He has thrown the ball over the wall lire par-dessus l’épaule de quelqu’un to read over someone’s shoulder Il porte un manteau lourd par-dessus son pull He wears a heavy coat over his pullover par-dessus le marché into the bargain 672

du côté de

Du côté de means ‘in the area of’, ‘in the direction of’ and ‘from the direction of’, e.g.: Il habite du côté de la place de la République He lives somewhere near the Place de la République La voiture filait à toute vitesse du côté de Vendôme The car was speeding in the direction of Vendôme Le vent vient du côté de la mer The wind is coming from (the direction of) the sea (This complex preposition represents a specialized use of the adverbial expression du côté + adjective ‘on, to the . . . side’, as in de l’autre côté de la rue ‘on, to the other side of the street’, du côté sud de la place ‘on the south side of the square’.) 673

entre, parmi

The primary meaning of entre is ‘between’ and that of parmi is ‘among’, e.g.: Son bureau est situé entre la mairie et la gare His office is between the town hall and the station Essayez d’arriver entre midi et quatorze heures Try and arrive between twelve and two Parmi les invités il y avait plusieurs Américains Among the guests there were several Americans Il se cachait parmi les buissons He was hiding among the bushes While parmi is not used as the equivalent of ‘between’, entre is sometimes used instead of parmi (as ‘between’ is instead of


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 673–674

‘among’), especially with verbs denoting selection or distinction, e.g.: Il nous faut choisir entre plusieurs possibilités We have to choose between (among) several possibilities Moi je ne fais pas de distinction entre mes enfants I make no distinction between (among) my children Le ciel vous prépare une place entre les immortels Heaven is preparing a place for you among the immortals 674


In addition to meaning ‘from between’, d’entre is used instead of de to link a numeral or an indefinite or interrogative pronoun to a following personal pronoun, e.g.: deux d’entre nous two of us certains d’entre vous some of you plusieurs d’entre eux several of them la plupart d’entre nous the majority of us Personne d’entre vous ne sait rien None of you know(s) anything Lequel d’entre eux a dit ça ? Which of them said that? However, de + a disjunctive pronoun is possible as an alternative to d’entre after chacun ‘each’, l’un ‘one’, pas un ‘not one’, aucun ‘not one’, qui ? ‘who?’, and occasionally la plupart ‘most’, e.g.: chacun d’eux (or d’entre eux) each of them l’un de nous (or d’entre nous) one of us qui de vous ? (or d’entre vous ?) who among you? Note that de (not d’entre) must be used when the pronoun is

674–677 Prepositions


qualified, e.g. Personne de nous trois n’est coupable ‘None of us three is guilty’. 675 to’

envers (see also 687, c), vers, primary meanings ‘towards,

Envers denotes conduct or attitude towards people. Vers refers to physical motion towards; with expressions of time it means ‘about’. Examples: sa générosité envers sa famille his generosity to (towards) his family Il courut vers moi He ran towards me Il leva les yeux vers le ciel He raised his eyes to (towards) heaven vers trois heures about three o’clock 676

hormis, sauf, excepté, primary meaning ‘except’

Hormis is archaic; sauf and excepté are used just like English ‘except’: Tout le monde est arrivé, sauf ma sœur Everybody has come except my sister Ils sont tous partis, excepté les trois Allemands They have all left, except the three Germans Note, however, that excepté, which was originally a past participle, occasionally follows the noun to which it refers, and then it agrees with it in gender and number, e.g. Elles sont toutes mariées, la fille aînée exceptée ‘They are all married, the eldest daughter excepted (apart from the eldest daughter)’ (see also 134). 677 hors, hors de, en dehors de, fors, primary meanings ‘out of, outside’ In this literal sense hors is chiefly confined to fixed phrases, e.g.: hors commerce not on general sale hors jeu offside


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 677–679

hors ligne incomparable, outstanding mettre hors la loi to outlaw It is also, though rarely, used in the sense of ‘except’. Hors de and en dehors de are both used literally of place, e.g.: Ils se trouvèrent hors de la ville, or en dehors de la ville They found themselves out of the town, or outside the town Hors de can also be used metaphorically, e.g.: Il est hors de danger He is out of danger hors d’haleine out of breath hors de combat disabled, out of action Fors is an old form of hors, meaning ‘except’, and has now gone almost totally out of use except in the saying Tout est perdu fors l’honneur ‘All is lost save honour’. 678

malgré, primary meanings ‘in spite of, notwithstanding’, e.g.:

Malgré sa colère il ne dit rien In spite of his fury he said nothing malgré tout in spite of everything malgré moi in spite of myself, against my better judgement 679

outre, en outre de

Outre, whose primary meaning is ‘beyond’, is little used with that meaning as a preposition (it is also an adverb) except in such compounds as: outre-Manche, across the Channel (i.e. in Britain) outre-mer, overseas outre-Atlantique, across the Atlantic

679–680 Prepositions


outre-Rhin, beyond the Rhine outre-tombe, beyond the grave and in a small number of fixed expressions, in particular outre mesure ‘excessively’ (lit. ‘beyond measure’). It also has the secondary meaning ‘in addition to, besides’, e.g.: outre cela in addition to that outre le fait que besides the fact that Outre ses névralgies, elle souffrait de maux de cœur fréquents (Boylesve) In addition to her neuralgia, she suffered from frequent heart disorders En outre de has the same meaning as en plus de, i.e. ‘in addition to’, e.g. en outre de son épouse légitime (Montherlant) ‘in addition to his lawful wife’. 680

par, primary meanings ‘by, through’

(a) ‘by’ Par is the equivalent of ‘by’ expressing the agent or instrument of a passive verb, e.g.: Le radium fut découvert par Pierre et Marie Curie Radium was discovered by Pierre and Marie Curie Il fut tué par les soldats (or par une balle) He was killed by the soldiers (or by a bullet) La ville sera entourée par les insurgés The town will be surrounded by the rebels Note, however, that when the agent’s role is a fairly inactive one, as is often the case with verbs of the emotions and sometimes with verbs such as entourer, environner ‘to surround’, accabler ‘to overwhelm’, inonder ‘to flood’, when they express a state rather than an action, de is frequently used rather than par, e.g.: Mazarin était fort détesté des Parisiens (A. France) Mazarin was greatly hated by the Parisians Il est aimé de tout le monde He is loved by everybody


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 680

une ville entourée de remparts a town surrounded by ramparts Elle est toujours entourée d’admirateurs She is always surrounded by admirers Je suis inondé de travail I am swamped by work Par also corresponds to ‘by’ in a variety of other contexts, e.g.: deux par deux par avion par centaines par cœur par hasard par la poste par tous les moyens (saisir quelqu’un) par le bras (payer) par chèque (voyager) par le train

two by two by air, by airmail by the hundred by heart by chance by post by every possible means (to grab someone) by the arm (to pay) by cheque (to travel) by train

(b) ‘through’, e.g.: passer par la Belgique par le trou de la serrure

to pass through Belgium through the keyhole

(c) In other expressions, par corresponds to one or other of a wide range of English prepositions (for further examples, consult a good dictionary), e.g.: par avance par contre par écrit par exemple par habitude par moments par pitié par temps de pluie (être couché) par terre (tomber) par terre

in advance on the other hand in writing for example out of habit at times out of pity in rainy weather (to be lying) on the ground (to fall) to the ground

(d) Note also such idiomatic constructions and expressions as: deux fois par jour

twice a day

680–682 Prepositions cent euros par personne par ailleurs par conséquent par ici 681


a hundred euros a head (per person) otherwise, in other respects, moreover consequently this way, hereabouts

pour, primary meaning ‘for’

The use of pour often corresponds to that of ‘for’, e.g.: Je l’ai acheté pour mon frère I bought it for my brother Il part pour Paris He is leaving for Paris Je pars pour trois semaines I am leaving for three weeks With reference to time, however, it is used only when there is an idea of intent, as in the last example. For ‘for’ expressing duration, see 708 and 711, iii. Pour is also used in percentages, e.g. dix pour cent ‘ten per cent’. For ‘for’ with expressions of price, see 712. 682 sans, primary meaning ‘without’ Examples: Ils sont partis sans moi sans difficulté sans répondre Cela va sans dire

They left without me without difficulty without answering That goes without saying

Other English equivalents are ‘but for’ or a negative element such as ‘un-’ or ‘-less(ly)’, e.g.: Sans vous, j’aurais pu être tué C’est sans espoir une robe sans manches sans cesse sans y avoir été invité

But for you I could have been killed It’s hopeless a sleeveless dress ceaselessly uninvited, without being asked


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 682–684

un repas à 20 euros sans le vin

a meal at 20 euros not including wine

683 selon, primary meaning ‘according to’ Examples: Selon lui nous partons demain l’évangile selon saint Luc à chacun selon ses besoins agir selon les règles

According to him we leave tomorrow the Gospel according to St Luke to each according to his needs to act according to the rules

684 sous, au-dessous de, par-dessous, primary meanings ‘under(neath), beneath, below’ These prepositions are not, generally speaking, interchangeable. The distinction is basically as follows: (a) sous means ‘under (literally or figuratively)’, e.g.: sous la table être sous l’influence de quelqu’un

under the table to be under someone’s influence

Note also such expressions as the following in which prepositions other than ‘under’ are used in English: sous mes yeux sous presse sous tous les rapports passer sous silence sous forme de cachets sous la forme d’une sorcière sous peine de mort sous serment sous (le) prétexte que

before my (very) eyes in the press in every respect to pass over in silence in tablet form in the shape (guise) of a witch on pain of death on oath on the pretext that

(b) au-dessous de means ‘beneath, below, lower than (literally or figuratively)’, e.g.: au-dessous du genou Le thermomètre est audessous de zéro

below the knee The thermometer is below zero

684–685 Prepositions Cette tâche est au-dessous de lui


That task is beneath him

or ‘under’ in such contexts as les enfants au-dessous de dix ans ‘children under ten’. (c) par-dessous usually implies motion, e.g.: ramper par-dessous la haie

to crawl under the hedge

685 sur, primary meanings ‘on, on to, over’ (a) ‘on, on to’ Examples: Tes livres sont sur la table Your books are on the table Il monta sur la table He got up on to the table sur votre gauche on your left Je n’ai pas mon passeport sur moi I haven’t got my passport on me (with me) (b) ‘over’ Examples: La ville s’étend sur vingt kilomètres The town extends over twenty kilometres On va construire un pont sur la rivière They are going to build a bridge over the river Je n’ai aucune influence sur lui I have no influence over him sur une période de dix jours over a period of ten days (c) Two frequent uses of sur are as the equivalent of ‘by’ in measurements and of ‘out of’ with reference to a fraction, e.g.: Cette pièce mesure cinq mètres sur dix This room measures five metres by ten treize sur vingt thirteen out of twenty


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 685–687

deux mariages sur trois two out of every three marriages (d) sur frequently corresponds to some other preposition in English, e.g.: un livre sur Paris tirer sur quelqu’un sur invitation La clef est sur la porte parler sur un ton dédaigneux prendre un livre sur la table

a book about Paris to shoot at someone by invitation The key is in the door to speak in a scornful tone to take a book (from) off the table

Prepositions used with adjectives or past participles 686 Prepositions frequently link an adjective or past participle to a following noun (or pronoun). There are, however, considerable discrepancies both within the same language (e.g. English ‘full of ’ but ‘covered in or with’) and between languages (e.g. English ‘greedy, hungry, avid for’ but French ‘avide de’ – see 687). (Note that with a following verb a different preposition may be required, e.g. English ‘ready for action’ but ‘ready to go’; on this, see 688.) 687 (a) In this section we list some of the commoner adjectives and past participles and the prepositions used to link them to a following noun or pronoun; for de meaning ‘by’ with certain past participles, see b below; for envers ‘to(wards)’, see c below; for other adjectives and participles, a good dictionary should be consulted: agile de avide de bon à bon pour certain de confus de content de couvert de différent de

nimble with greedy, hungry, avid for good for (see below) good to, for (see below) certain, sure of embarrassed at, by pleased with, at covered in, with different from, to

687 Prepositions expert en fort à or en (see below) fou de furieux contre heureux de inquiet de ivre de lourd de mécontent de orné de plein de prêt à or pour propre à ravi de reconnaissant de responsable de satisfait de semblable à soigneux de sûr de trempé de voisin de


expert in, at good at mad with angry with, at happy at, with, about worried about, at drunk, intoxicated with heavy with discontented with decorated with full of ready for suitable for delighted with, at, about grateful for responsible for satisfied with similar to careful with, about sure of soaked in adjacent to, bordering on

Examples: Il est très agile de ses doigts He is very nimble with his fingers (nimble-fingered) avide de pouvoir hungry, greedy for power Cette machine n’est bonne à rien This machine is good for nothing (no good for anything) C’est bon pour la santé It’s good for your health Il a toujours été très bon pour moi He has always been very good to me Il est fort au tennis, aux échecs He is good at tennis, at chess (à with reference to games, etc.) Il est fort en anglais He is good at English (en with reference to academic subjects)


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 687

fou de colère mad with rage une atmosphère lourde de menaces an atmosphere heavy with threats Je vous suis très reconnaissant de votre aide I am very grateful for your help Qui est responsable de cette décision ? Who is responsible for this decision? trempé de sueur soaked in sweat (b) Note the use of de as the equivalent of ‘with’ or ‘by’ with a number of past participles used as adjectives (cf. 526), e.g.: une femme admirée et adorée de tout le monde a woman admired and loved by everyone des nuages chargés de neige clouds laden with snow une maison entourée d’arbres a house surrounded by trees une voiture suivie d’un bus a car followed by a bus and likewise aimé de ‘loved by’, enchanté de ‘enchanted by’, encombré de ‘laden, encumbered with’, précédé de ‘preceded by’, and many others. (c) With adjectives or past participles indicating attitude or conduct towards people, ‘to, towards’ is rendered by envers if the emphasis is on the person’s attitude (see also 675), e.g.: Il a toujours été doux (dur) envers ses enfants He has always been gentle (harsh) towards his children Je suis bien disposé envers les Américains I am well disposed towards Americans though pour may be used if the focus is on the person’s actual behaviour, e.g.: Il a toujours été très gentil pour sa mère He has always been very kind to his mother Other adjectives falling into this category include aimable ‘kind, amiable’, cruel ‘cruel’, généreux ‘generous’, indulgent ‘indulgent’,

687–689 Conjunctions


injuste ‘unjust, unfair’, juste ‘just, fair’, rigoureux ‘harsh, strict’, sévère ‘harsh, severe’. Others that normally take only envers include bon ‘good’ (see also a above), grossier ‘rude’, impoli ‘impolite, rude’, insolent ‘insolent, impertinent’, poli ‘polite’, respectueux ‘respectful’. 688 An adjective or past participle is linked to a following infinitive either by à or by de: (i) Adjectives taking à include apte ‘fit, suitable’, bon ‘good’, habile ‘clever, skilful’, hardi ‘bold’, prêt ‘ready’, and propre ‘fit, suitable’, e.g.: Cela n’est pas bon à manger That is not good to eat Il est très habile à donner une impression de sincérité He is very clever at giving an impression of sincerity Je suis prêt à partir I am ready to leave une personne propre à occuper une position de responsabilité a fit person to occupy a position of responsibility (ii) Adjectives and participles taking de include certain ‘certain, sure’, confus ‘embarrassed’, content ‘glad, pleased’, libre ‘free’, ravi ‘delighted’, reconnaissant ‘grateful’, soucieux ‘anxious’, sûr ‘sure’, surpris ‘surprised’, triste ‘sad’, e.g.: Je suis content de vous voir I am glad to see you Vous êtes libre d’essayer You are free to try Je vous suis reconnaissant d’être venu I am grateful to you for coming

Conjunctions Introduction 689 Conjunctions, as the term suggests, serve as linking or ‘conjoining’ elements. They fall into two categories, (i) coordinating conjunctions and (ii) subordinating conjunctions – though the


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 689–690

distinction is not as absolute as some grammars suggest, and car ‘for’ (see 690, iii) seems to occupy an intermediate position on the border between the two categories. 690 Coordinating conjunctions (i) Coordinating conjunctions like et ‘and’ join together two elements of similar status, which may be either two (or more) clauses (e.g. Il est parti hier et il revient demain ‘He left yesterday and he is coming back tomorrow’) or constituent elements of a clause such as verbs (Il mangeait et buvait trop ‘He ate and drank too much’), nouns (les chats et les chiens ‘the cats and the dogs’), adjectives and/or adjectival expressions (noir et blanc ‘black and white’), adverbs and/or adverbial expressions (Elle m’écrit souvent et dans les moindres détails ‘She writes to me often and in great detail’), etc. (ii) The universally recognized French coordinating conjunctions are: (a) et ‘and’, ou ‘or’, ni ‘nor’, which, when repeated, are also the equivalents of ‘both . . . and’, ‘either . . . or’, ‘neither . . . nor’, respectively, e.g.: Je les ai vus et à Paris et à Londres I saw them both in Paris and in London Il est ou malade ou fatigué He is either tired or ill Il ne comprend ni l’anglais ni le français He understands neither English nor French Note, however, that French has at its disposal a number of alternative constructions to the repetition of et, e.g.: Il craignait en même temps qu’il désirait de parler He both feared and wished to speak C’était un enfant à la fois sage et espiègle He was a child both well-behaved and mischievous (On the syntax of ni, see 571.) (b) mais ‘but’ which, like its English equivalent, introduces either a clause, e.g.: Mais je vous l’ai déjà dit But I’ve already told you

690–691 Conjunctions


Il est malade mais il veut venir quand même He’s ill but he still wants to come or the second of two other elements of similar status, e.g.: Ce livre est difficile mais très intéressant This book is difficult but very interesting Je l’ai connu non à Londres mais à Paris I met him not in London but in Paris (iii) Car ‘for’ is usually classified as a coordinating conjunction, though its usage is much more restricted than that of et, ou, ni and mais since, normally (but see note b below), it can serve only to introduce a clause, e.g.: Il était très fatigué, car il travaillait depuis l’aube He was very tired, for he had been working since dawn Note: (a) that car, like ‘for’, introduces the second of two clauses (as in the example above) and cannot introduce the first clause, whereas subordinating conjunctions can, e.g. Puisqu’il travaillait depuis l’aube, il était très fatigué ‘Since he had been working since dawn, he was very tired’ – car or ‘for’ cannot be substituted for puisque or ‘since’ in such circumstances: this is the main justification for considering car and ‘for’ as coordinating rather than subordinating conjunctions; (b) that, by analogy with the use of parce que ‘because’ in such contexts as Le puritanisme est faux (parce que contraire à la nature humaine) (Maurois) ‘Puritanism is false (because [it is] contrary to human nature)’, car is occasionally found introducing an adjective, but this should not be imitated. (iv) Or ‘now’ is sometimes considered to be a coordinating conjunction but in this grammar is treated as an adverb (see 620). 691 Subordinating conjunctions The subordinating conjunctions are: (i) comme ‘as’ (see 613) si ‘if’ (see 414,iii; 415; 418–422) quand ‘when’ (see 315, iv; 414,iii; 422) que ‘that’ (see 692; 699–704) and ‘as, than’ (see 157; 166) and (ii) a considerable number of compounds of que, a few of


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 691–694

which are written as one word (lorsque ‘when’, puisque ‘since’, quoique ‘although’) though most are written as two or more words (e.g. bien que ‘although’, jusqu’à ce que ‘until’) (see 694–698). 692 In this grammar, comme, si, quand and que are considered as ‘simple conjunctions’ while compounds of que (including those that are written as one word, see 691, ii) are termed ‘compound conjunctions’. (Note that some grammars consider lorsque etc. as simple conjunctions, while some French grammars use the term locutions conjonctives for conjunctions consisting of more than one word.)

Compound conjunctions not requiring the subjunctive 693 The following conjunctions take the indicative or the conditional, not the subjunctive. In the case of those listed in 694, que is comparative and means ‘as’. In the case of those listed in 695, que is not comparative and so is not translated as ‘as’ (except in the one case of dès que which, though not itself based on comparative que, corresponds to an English expression based on comparative ‘as’, viz. ‘as soon as’). For the use of the future tense after temporal conjunctions such as aussitôt que, tant que, après que, lorsque, pendant que, etc., see 414,iii. In some contexts, other English equivalents than those given here may be appropriate; for the full range of meanings of each French conjunction a good dictionary should be consulted. 694 ainsi que, (just) as (au fur et) à mesure que, (in proportion) as aussi . . . que, as . . . as aussitôt que, as soon as autant que, as much as, as far as (but see 490) de même que, just as selon que, according to whether si . . . que, as . . . as (after negatives only – see 157) sitôt que, as soon as

694–696 Conjunctions


suivant que, according to whether tant que, as long as, while (see 696) 695 alors que, whereas après que, after attendu que, seeing that, since depuis que, since (the time when) dès que, as soon as étant donné que, since, given that excepté que, except that lorsque, when outre que, besides the fact that parce que, because pendant que, while (see 696) puisque, since sinon que, except that tandis que, while, whereas (see 696) vu que, seeing that, since On other conjunctions used in colloquial French (e.g. à cause que ‘because’, même que ‘even if’), see R. Ball, Colloquial French Grammar (Oxford, Blackwell, 2000), pp. 112–15. 696 pendant que, tant que, tandis que Pendant que ‘while’ and tant que ‘(for) as long as’ are both temporal conjunctions, but whereas pendant que merely indicates an action during the course of which something else happens, tant que refers to an action throughout the whole time of which something else happens, e.g.: Pendant que j’étais en Espagne j’ai visité l’Escurial While I was in Spain I went to see the Escorial Tant que j’étais chez eux, il a fait affreusement chaud While (i.e. all the time) I was with them it was terribly hot Tandis que ‘while’ originally had the same value as pendant que and sometimes still does in literary usage, but its normal value nowadays is that of ‘whereas’, i.e. it implies a contrast, e.g.: Son père a peiné jusqu’à la mort, tandis que lui n’a jamais rien fait His father laboured to the end of his life, while he has never done anything


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 697–699

Compound conjunctions requiring the subjunctive 697

The following conjunctions take the subjunctive:

afin que (see 489), in order that en attendant que (see 488), until avant que (see 488 and 566), before bien que (see 487), although de crainte que . . . ne (see 491, 564), for fear, lest encore que (see 487), although jusqu’à ce que (see 488), until (bien) loin que (see 491), far from . . . -ing malgré que (see 698), despite the fact that, although à moins que (see 490), unless non que, non pas que (see 491), not that de peur que . . . ne (see 491, 564), for fear, lest pour peu que (see 490), if only pour que (see 489), so that, in order that pourvu que (see 490), provided that quoique (see 487), although sans que (see 491), que . . . ne (see 561,h), without . . . -ing soit que . . . soit que (see 480,iii,c), whether . . . or à supposer que, supposé que (see 490), supposing that 698

malgré que

Although frowned on by some grammarians, malgré que is widely used in speech, and increasingly in literary usage too, with the meaning ‘although’, e.g. malgré qu’il ait obtenu tous les prix de sa classe (Mauriac) ‘although he won all the prizes in his class’.

Que as a subordinating conjunction 699 In subject or object clauses Except in indirect questions introduced by si (see 594), if the subject or object of a verb is itself a clause then that clause is introduced by que, e.g.:

699–701 Conjunctions


(i) The que-clause is the subject: Qu’il soit mécontent est certain That he is displeased is certain This also applies when the grammatical subject is a ‘dummy’ subject, il, and the logical subject, represented by the que-clause, follows: Il est évident qu’il a tort It is obvious that he is wrong (= ‘That he is wrong is obvious’) (ii) The que-clause is the object: Il dit qu’il y a eu un accident He says there has been an accident Je crains que ce ne soit trop tard I fear it may be too late Je veux qu’il s’en aille I want him to go away (See also 480,ii.) 700 In alternative conditional clauses In alternative conditional clauses introduced in English by ‘whether . . . or’, each clause is introduced in French by que, e.g.: Qu’il pleuve ou qu’il fasse beau, je vais sortir Whether it’s raining or whether it’s fine, I shall go out Qu’il soit d’accord ou non, moi je reste ici Whether he agrees or not, I am staying here (See also 480,iii,d.) 701

Que in conditional constructions

Note the following construction (on which see also 422) in which the French main clause is the equivalent of an English subordinate clause introduced by ‘even if’ and the French subordinate clause introduced by que and having its verb in the conditional tense is the equivalent of the English main clause: Et je vous promettrais mille fois le contraire, Que je ne serais pas en pouvoir de le faire (Molière)


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 701–702

And even if I were to promise you the contrary a thousand times, I should not be able to do it 702

Que as the equivalent of other conjunctions

When two or more subordinate clauses in English are introduced by the same conjunction, the conjunction is frequently not repeated, e.g. ‘Because it was raining and he had to go out (= and because he had to go out’). In French, on the other hand, each subordinate clause must be introduced by a conjunction unless (a) they have the same subject and it is not repeated and (b) the verbs are in the same tense, e.g. lorsqu’il est entré et a vu son frère ‘when he came in and saw his brother’, puisqu’il était fatigué et ne savait pas où chercher un hôtel ‘since he was tired and didn’t know where to look for a hotel’. The second clause is normally introduced not by a repetition of the same conjunction but by que. This applies both to simple and to compound conjunctions, e.g.: (i) Simple conjunctions Comme c’était le dimanche matin et qu’on ne se lèverait que pour la grand’messe . . . (Proust) As it was Sunday morning and we should only be getting up in time for high mass Quand la le¸con fut finie, et que les autres élèves se furent dispersés, Louis s’approcha (Romains) When the lesson was over and the other pupils had gone, Louis came up Si je vais en Égypte et que j’y sois tué . . . (Stendhal) If I go to Egypt and (if) I am killed there . . . Note that, whereas si is followed by the indicative, que standing in for si is usually followed in literary French by the subjunctive (see the last example). The indicative is possible, however, and is usual in conversational French, e.g.: Si c’est vrai et que Vous êtes venu pour servir . . . (Claudel) If it is true and if You have come to serve . . . Si quelque chose vous retient et que vous avez le temps, envoyez-moi un petit mot If something delays you and (if) you have time, drop me a line

702–703 Conjunctions


Note, too, that when si is the equivalent of ‘whether’ in indirect questions it cannot be replaced by que, e.g.: Il m’a demandé si j’allais à Londres et si j’avais mon billet He asked me if I was going to London and if I had my ticket (ii) Compound conjunctions Puisqu’il pleuvait et qu’il était fatigué, il alla se coucher Since it was raining and he was tired, he went to bed Lorsqu’il est entré et qu’il m’a souri, je me suis rendu compte que tout allait bien When he came in and smiled at me, I realized that all was well Il va vous écrire afin que (pour que) tout soit clair et que vous compreniez ce qu’il veut faire He is going to write to you so that everything shall be clear and so that you shall understand what he wants to do Bien qu’il soit arrivé très tôt et que sa fille l’ait reconnu, ils ne se sont rien dit Although he arrived very early and his daughter recognized him, they did not say anything to each other Il faut tout préparer avant que ton frère arrive et que ta mère le voie We must get everything ready before your brother arrives and your mother sees him Note that que standing in for a compound conjunction takes the same mood (indicative or subjunctive) as the conjunction in question (see examples above). 703 Note that, in certain circumstances, que may have the value of one or other of a number of compound conjunctions even when no repetition is involved. In particular: (i) After an imperative (and occasionally elsewhere), it can express purpose (i.e. it serves as the equivalent of pour que or afin que), e.g.: Mettez-vous là que je vous voie mieux Stand there so that I can see you better (ii) It occasionally expresses consequence, e.g.:


Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions 703–704

Il tousse qu’il en secoue toute la maison (Flaubert) He coughs [so loudly] that he makes the whole house shake (iii) Particularly after questions (and occasionally elsewhere), it has a vaguely causal value (in which case it is more or less the equivalent of puisque), e.g.: Est-ce que vous avez des amis de ce côté-là, que vous connaissez si bien Balbec ? (Proust) Do you have friends there, since you know Baalbek so well? (iv) After a negative clause it can serve as the equivalent of sans que ‘without’ (see 491) (in which case the verb in the clause it introduces takes ne), e.g.: Il ne se passait pas de semaine qu’il ne fût terrassé par une migraine atroce Not a week passed without his being laid low by a fearful migraine (v) In certain circumstances, particularly after déjà ‘already’ or after a negative, it has a temporal value, often expressing total or partial simultaneity between two events, e.g.: J’étais déjà dans la rue qu’il cherchait toujours ses clefs I was already in the street while he was still looking for his keys Elle n’était pas là depuis cinq minutes, qu’il sortit (Zola) She hadn’t been there for five minutes when he came out (vi) The use of que as the equivalent of ‘when’ is particularly common after à peine ‘scarcely’, e.g.: Elle était à peine sortie de la chambre que la porte s’ouvrit (Bourget) She had scarcely left the bedroom when the door opened A peine Kyo avait-il fait cent pas qu’il rencontra Katow (Malraux) Kyo had hardly gone a hundred steps when he met Katow (vii) On the use of que as a substitute for other conjunctions in colloquial French, see R. Ball, Colloquial French Grammar (Oxford, Blackwell, 2000), pp. 117–21. 704 For que in comparisons, see 166; after tout, 310,i; after quelque, etc., 308–310, 315.


The expression of age, time, price, dimensions, speed, fuel consumption Age 705 In asking about or expressing age in French, the verb avoir ‘to have’ is used, together with an appropriate noun such as âge ‘age’, an(s) ‘year(s)’, mois ‘month(s)’, which cannot be omitted, e.g.: Quel âge avez-vous ? How old are you? J’ai dix-huit ans I am eighteen Je ne sais pas quel âge elle a I don’t know how old she is Le bébé a deux ans et trois mois The baby is two and a quarter un garçon de vingt ans (or âgé de vingt ans) a boy of twenty

Appendix 706

550 Time 706

The time of day

(i) In asking about or expressing the time of day, the word heure(s) ‘hour(s)’ is used (except with midi ‘noon, midday’ and minuit ‘midnight’), and cannot be omitted, e.g.: Quelle heure est-il ? What time is it? A quelle heure arrivez-vous ? (note that à cannot be omitted) (At) what time are you arriving? Il est midi (minuit) It is twelve o’clock (twelve noon, midnight) Il est (presque) trois heures It is (almost) three o’clock Il est cinq heures passées It is after five (o’clock) Il est sept heures précises It is exactly seven (o’clock) When necessary, ‘a.m.’ can be rendered by du matin ‘in the morning’ and ‘p.m.’ by de l’après-midi ‘in the afternoon’ or du soir ‘in the evening’, e.g. à huit heures du matin ‘at eight a.m.’. (ii) ‘Half past’ is et demi with midi and minuit but et demie when the word heure is involved, e.g.: Il est midi et demi It is half past twelve Il arrive à deux heures et demie He arrives at half past two ‘Quarter past’ and ‘quarter to’ are usually et quart and moins le quart (though un quart and moins un quart also occur), e.g.: A minuit et quart j’ai été réveillé par l’orage At a quarter past midnight I was woken up by the thunderstorm Attendons jusqu’à trois heures moins le quart Let’s wait until a quarter to three Otherwise, ‘so many minutes past the hour’ is expressed by the

706–707 Time


appropriate figure, and ‘so many minutes to the hour’ by moins and the appropriate figure, usually without the word minutes in either case, e.g.: Il est trois heures dix-sept It is seventeen minutes past three Je pars à quatre heures moins vingt I am leaving at twenty to four (iii) Time is frequently expressed according to the 24-hour clock, not only for administrative purposes (timetables, appointments, radio and TV programmes, etc.), but in ordinary conversational usage too. This is very easy. All hours are expressed, as in the other system (see i and ii above), by heures, including twelve noon (douze heures) and twelve midnight (vingt-quatre heures or zéro heure). Minutes are expressed as minutes past the hour (never as so many minutes ‘to’ the hour), e.g.: 02h.15 (deux heures quinze) 18h.35 (dix-huit heures trentecinq) 707

two fifteen (a.m.) six thirty-five (p.m.)

Days of the week, months, seasons, years

(i) Capital initials are not used for the names of the days of the week and the months, e.g. lundi ‘Monday’, janvier ‘January’. (ii) Apart from le premier ‘first’, dates are expressed by using the cardinal (i.e. not the ordinal) numerals (for these terms, see 178), and no preposition is used to correspond to the English use of ‘of’, e.g.: le premier mars le quatorze juillet

the first of March the fourteenth of July

Note that ‘What is the date today?’ is Nous sommes (or C’est) le combien aujourd’hui ? (iii) Where English uses ‘on’ with days of the week or month, French has no preposition. Note too the difference between lundi, etc. (no article) ‘on Monday’ (i.e. one particular Monday, last Monday or next Monday) and le lundi (singular, definite article) ‘on Mondays’ (i.e. regularly), but le (+ day) + date. Examples:


Appendix 707–708

Je l’ai vu samedi I saw him on Saturday J’écrirai lundi I will write on Monday J’y vais toujours le samedi I always go there on Saturdays Il est parti le quinze août He left on the fifteenth of August Il doit arriver le vendredi premier septembre He is due to arrive on Friday, September 1st (iv) With reference to months or years, ‘in’ is en, e.g. en décembre ‘in December’, en quelle année ? ‘in which year?’, en 1980 ‘in 1980’, though with reference to months au mois de is also used, e.g. au mois de mars ‘in March’. (v) Note that ‘in summer, in autumn, in winter’ are en été, en automne, en hiver, but that ‘in spring’ is au printemps. (vi) ‘bc’ and ‘ad’ are, respectively, av. J.-C. (= avant Jésus-Christ) and ap. J.-C. (= après Jésus-Christ), e.g. au IVe siècle av. J.-C. ‘in the 4th century bc’, en 336 ap. J.-C. ‘in ad 336’. 708

Duration of time

(i) Pour ‘for’ is usually not the correct equivalent of English ‘for’ with relation to time. It is, however, used with reference to a period of time that is later than the time of the action expressed by the verb, in which case it also includes an idea of purpose, e.g.: Je croyais qu’il n’était venu que pour trois jours I thought he had only come for three days Je vais à Paris pour une semaine I am going to Paris for a week Note that in such contexts ‘for’ does not express the time that the action (of coming or going respectively) lasts. (ii) ‘For’ meaning ‘time during which’ is usually to be translated by pendant ‘during’, e.g.: L’an dernier j’ai été malade pendant trois mois Last year I was ill for three months

708–711 Time


(iii) Note the use of depuis ‘since’ instead of pendant with reference to a period of time that still continues at the time of the action expressed by the verb, e.g.: J’insiste là-dessus depuis dix ans I have been insisting on it for ten years (and still am) 709

En and dans with reference to a period of time

‘In’ with reference to a period of time is sometimes en and sometimes dans, but with a very clear distinction of meaning between the two: (i) en refers to duration, to the length of time required to do something, e.g.: On peut traverser la Manche en quarante minutes One can cross the Channel in forty minutes Je le ferai en deux heures I shall do it in two hours (i.e. it will take me two hours to do it) (ii) dans refers to the period of time that will elapse before the action takes place, e.g.: Nous partons pour Paris dans un quart d’heure We are leaving for Paris in a quarter of an hour Je le ferai dans deux heures I shall do it [not now but] in two hours’ time 710

‘From’ with reference to time

The time from which something starts may be expressed in various ways, including de ‘from’, dès ‘as from’, depuis ‘since’ (see 668), à partir de ‘as from, starting from’, and après ‘after’, e.g.: de neuf heures à midi dès maintenant dès le début à partir de dix heures après neuf heures de temps en temps, or de temps à autre 711

from nine to twelve as from now from the outset from ten o’clock onwards after nine (o’clock) from time to time

Miscellaneous points

(i) Ici and là (literally ‘here’ and ‘there’ respectively) are used of


Appendix 711

time in a few expressions such as jusqu’ici ‘up to now, so far’ and d’ici là ‘between now and then’. (ii) Souvent ‘often’ cannot be used in any French equivalent of ‘how often?’ which is usually combien de fois ? (literally ‘how many times?’), e.g.: Combien de fois êtes-vous allé à Paris ? How often have you been to Paris? but, with reference to something that occurs on a more or less regular basis, tous les combien ? (cf. tous les trois jours ‘every three days’) is used, e.g.: Tous les combien y a-t-il des trains qui vont d’ici à Chartres ? How often do trains run from here to Chartres? (iii) The translation of ‘how long?’ depends on whether it means ‘how much time?’, e.g.: Combien de temps vous faudra-t-il pour faire cela ? How long will it take you to do that? or ‘for how long?’, e.g.: Pour combien de temps est-il parti ? How long has he gone for? or ‘for [in the sense of ‘during’] how long?’, e.g.: Pendant combien de temps allez-vous travailler ? How long are you going to be working for? or ‘since when?’ (cf. 413,iv), e.g.: Depuis combien de temps (or Depuis quand ‘since when?’) y habitez-vous ? How long have you been living there? (iv) ‘Whenever’ meaning ‘every, each time that’ must be translated by something meaning just that, e.g.: Chaque fois (or Toutes les fois) qu’il venait, il était le bienvenu Each time (Whenever) he came he was welcome For ‘whenever’ meaning ‘no matter when’, see 315,iv. (v) For ‘last’ and ‘next’ with reference to moments or periods of time, see 142.

711–712 Price


(vi) Note the use of the preposition par in the construction plusieurs fois par jour ‘several times a day’, deux fois par mois ‘twice a month’, dix fois par an ‘ten times a year’, etc.

Price 712 (i) No preposition corresponding to English ‘for’ is normally used to indicate the price for which something is bought or sold, e.g.: Il a acheté (vendu) ce tableau 15 000 euros He bought (sold) this picture for 15,000 euros (though pour 15 000 euros is also possible). Ces pommes se vendent 2 euros le kilo These apples sell (or are sold) at 2 euros a kilo Note too that payer means not just ‘to pay’ but also ‘to pay for’, so no preposition is used in such contexts as: J’ai payé ces billets 20 euros I paid 20 euros for these tickets Je les ai déjà payés I have already paid for them (ii) In the absence of a verb, the price at which something is sold (i.e. ‘at’ meaning ‘costing’) is indicated by à, e.g.: du vin à quinze euros la bouteille wine at fifteen euros a bottle du tissu à douze euros le mètre material costing twelve euros a metre trois billets à trente euros three thirty-euro tickets (iii) With coûter ‘to cost’ and valoir ‘to be worth, to cost’, the construction is the same as in English, e.g.: Ce tissu coûte (vaut) douze euros le mètre This material costs twelve euros a metre (iv) For the use of the definite article where English uses the


Appendix 712–713

indefinite article (deux euros le kilo = ‘two euros a kilo’), see 29, i,a.

Dimensions 713

(i) Dimensions may be expressed in a number of ways:

(a) adjective + de + measurement, e.g.: une tour haute de quarante mètres a tower forty metres high un lac profond de vingt mètres a lake twenty metres deep and likewise with épais ‘thick’, large ‘wide’, long ‘long’ (b) de + measurement + de + adjective, e.g.: une tour de quarante mètres de haut a tower forty metres high un champ de cent mètres de long a field a hundred metres long and likewise with large but not with épais or profond (c) être + adjective + de + measurement, e.g.: La tour est haute de quarante mètres The tower is forty metres high Le lac est profond de vingt mètres The lake is twenty metres deep and likewise with épais, large and long (d) avoir + noun + de + measurement, e.g.: La tour a une hauteur de quarante mètres The tower is forty metres high (‘has a height of forty metres’) Le lac a une profondeur de vingt mètres The lake is twenty metres deep and likewise with une épaisseur ‘thickness’, une largeur ‘breadth’, une longueur ‘length’ (e) avoir + measurement + de + noun, e.g.:

713–714 Dimensions, speed


La tour a quarante mètres de hauteur The tower is forty metres high Le lac a vingt mètres de profondeur The lake is twenty metres deep and likewise with épaisseur, largeur, longueur (f) avoir + measurement + de + adjective, e.g.: La tour a quarante mètres de haut The tower is forty metres high Le champ a cent mètres de long The field is a hundred metres long and likewise with large, but note that this construction is not possible with épais and profond. (ii) To ask ‘how high?’, etc., the appropriate noun must be used, e.g.: Quelle est la hauteur de la tour ? (lit. ‘What is the height of the tower?’) or Quelle hauteur a la tour ? (lit. ‘What height has the tower?’) How high is the tower? and likewise with épaisseur, largeur, longueur and profondeur. (iii) Note that ‘by’ in expressing two or more dimensions is expressed by sur (see 685,c), e.g.: six mètres sur dix six metres by ten cinq mètres sur cinq five metres square (i.e. ‘five metres by five’—but cinq mètres carrés ‘five square metres’)

Speed 714

Speed is expressed as follows:

Cette voiture fait du cent (à l’heure) This car does a hundred kilometres an hour


Appendix 715

Fuel consumption 715 Fuel consumption is expressed not, as in English, according to the distance covered for a certain quantity of fuel (a gallon), but according to the amount of fuel consumed in covering a given distance (a hundred kilometres), e.g.: Sa consommation d’essence est de onze litres au cent (kilomètres) Elle (= cette voiture) consomme onze litres au cent It (= this car) does 26 miles to the gallon (lit. ‘It uses eleven litres to the hundred kilometres’)


References are to sections, not to pages. For a list of abbreviations used see page xix. ‘a, an’ (see indef. art.) à after adjs 687, 688 complex prepositions ending in 647 equivalent of ‘from’ 524 equivalent of other English prepositions 525 idioms with 653 indicating characteristic feature 46 indicating price 712 indicating purpose 46 meaning and use 653–656, 659 repetition of 650 with def. art. 25 with disjunct, pron. 220 replacing poss. pron. 232 with indirect obj. 18, 21, 536 with infin. 428, 530, 531, 532, 533 with place-names 654, 656 + compl. = Eng. direct obj. 521 = ‘with’ indicating characteristic 653 à (la) condition que 490 à demi 188 à la (= à la mode) 653 à l’insu de 647 ‘a.m.’ 706 à même 300 à moins que 490, 566 followed by redundant ne 566 à moitié 188 à panir de 710

à peine + inversion 600 + past ant. 411 à raison de 647 à supposer que 490 à travers 661 s’abaisser 533 ‘above’ 671 s’abriter 527 absolument pas 545 absolute constructions past part. 457 pres. part. 443 absolute degree of adjs and advs 156 absolute superlative 174 absoudre 377, 378 s’abstenir 376 abstract nouns, with def. art. 28 abstraire 376 abuser 522 accabler 526 accents 9 accepter + subjunct. 485 ‘according to’ 683 accoudé 379, 444 accourir 376, 452, 529 (s’)accoutumer 531, 533 accroître 373 accroupi 379 accueillir 364 accusative case 17 accuser 535 s’acharner 533



acheter 354, 712 achever 534 acquérir 372, 377 ‘across’ 661 adjectival clause 13 adjectival nouns 176 adjectival phrase 13 after celui, etc. 245 adjectives agreement of 127–152, 518 colour, adjs of 137 compound adjs 136 illogical or inconsistent 130 sing. with plur. nouns 127 with ce 248 with more than one noun 147 attributive use of 127 comparison of 154–173 compound adjs 136 corresponding to proper names 4 fem. of spoken French 77–81 written French 82–96 followed by à 687, 688 followed by de 45, 687, 688 followed by en 687 followed by envers 687 followed by subjunct. 482, 483, 485 indefinite 291–319 introduced by c’est or il est? 248, 250, 253 invariable 95, 96, 126 linked by et or ou 151 of colour (see colour) of nationality 4 plur. 122–126 position 139–154 meaning dependent on 146 when preceded by adverb 140, 153 preceded by de 44, 241, 285, 311, 312, 667, 713 predicative use of 127 repetition of 147 type: un drôle de type 667 use of diaeresis in fem. 11 used as advs 609 used as nouns 175–177 gender 74 used in one gender only 96 verbal adjs, differing from pres. part. 446 admettre 376

mood after 483 adonné 379 adorer 529 adossé 444 adverbial expressions 38, 46 in comme + noun 613 in de, d’une façon (manière) 611 with avec + noun 611 adverbs 603–643 comparison of 154–173 followed by inversion 600 in -ment formation of 604–608 with no corresponding adj. 608 indefinite 291–319 interrogative advs 630–631 numerical 186 of affirmation or doubt 627, 628 position of 642 of manner 604–613 with no corresponding adj. 608, 612 of negation 544–558 of place 624, 625 of quantity 320–337 of time 614–623 position 610, 633–643 preceding pas 544 prepositions used as 645 replacing preposition + pron. 221 same form as adj. 609 used as nouns gender 74 plural 117 affecter 534 afin que 489, 508 ‘after’ (see après) ‘again’ 616 age, expression of 705 agenouillé 444 il s’agit de 343, 537 agreement of adjectives 127–152 of past part. 380, 459–471 of verb with subject 390–397 agréer 353 aider 531 aïeui, plural of 108 aigre-doux 136 -ail, plural of words in 106, 107 ailleurs 625 aimer 530 aimer autant (mieux) 527, 529, 530 + infin. 529

Index + subjunct. 485 -aindre, verbs in 372 -aine, numerals in 185 + sing. or plur. verb 396 ainsi 256, 600, 612 ainsi que, agreement with nouns linked by 129, 393 -aître, verbs in 373 -al, plur. of words in 105, 124 s’alarmer 527 ‘all’ (see tout) aller 377 compound tenses formed with être 450 imper. 345 pres. subjunct. 346 used impersonally 343 + infin. 529 + present part. 441 aller faire 414 alors 615, 620 alors que 487 alphabet 1 altérer 353 alternative conditional clauses 700 ‘although’ 487 ambitionner 534 amener 354, 529, 531 amour, gender 65 s’amuser 533 animals, gender of names of 49 ‘another’ rendered by encore 616 (see also autre) -ant adjs, nouns in, differing from pros. part. 446 adverbs formed from adjs in 607 ‘any’ rendered bv n’importe + pron. or adv. 301 rendered by partitive art. 41 rendered by quelconque 304 rendered by quelque(s) 306 rendered by tout 317 ‘anyone’ 301, 312, 313, 315, 319 ‘anything’ 301, 311, 315, 319 ‘anywhere’ 301, 315 (s’)apercevoir 375, 522 apparaître 373, 452 apparemment 627, 638 appartenir 376 appeler 355, 531 en appeler, with à + disjunct. pron. 220


applaudir 535 s’appliquer 533 apposition, non-use of articles 27, 36 appréhender 534 apprendre 376, 530, 532 s’apprêter 533 (s’)approcher 538 approuver 523 subjunct. after 485 appuyé 444 oprès 645, 660, 710 with past infin. 649 après que + fut. 414 + indic. or subjunct. 488 + past ant. 411 argent comptant 445 armer 526 s’arrêter 537 arriver 286, 450 il arrive que 343, 483 articles: see definite article, indefinite article, partitive article ‘as’ ‘as . . . as’ 156, 157, 323 ‘as long as’ 323 ‘as much as, as many as’ 323 ‘as such’ 303 ‘just as’ 303 rendered by en 658 (see also comme) aspirate h 3 definition 3 form of def. art. with 25 aspirer 530 assaillir 364 s’asseoir 377, 378 asservir 363 assez 45, 322 assez . . . pour (que) 153, 482 assis 444 assister 525 assortir 363 assurément 627, 638 (s’)astreindre 372, 531, 533 ‘at’ 653, 655, 656, 659 with ref. to price 712 with ref. to time of day 706 ‘at least’ 600 s’attacher 533 atteindre 372 attendre 367, 523 agreement of past part. 134, 470 + subjunct. 482 s’attendre 533



s’attendre (cont’d) à ce que + subjunct. 482 + y where Eng. has no compl. 533 attendu agreement of 134 considered as preposition 646 attributive use of adjs 127 s’attrister 537 au 25 -au plural of words in 103 au moins 600 au travers de 661 aucun 219, 546, 558, 667, 674 aucunement 548 aucuns 298, 546 au-dessous de 684 au-dessus de 671 au-devant de 663 auprès de 662 aussi ‘as, so’ 157, 158, 600 aussi + adj, + que ‘however’ 310, 495 aussi bien que agreement with nouns linked by 129, 393 inversion after 600 aussi longtemps que 323 aussitôt 622 aussitôt que + fut. 414 + indic. 488 + past ant. 411 autant 45, 323 autant que 323, 490 agreement with nouns linked by 129 autoriser 531 autre(s) 216, 292, 293, 397 autre chose 311 autrui 293 aux 25 auxiliary verb avoir and être 348 ‘do’ in English 401, 543, 582 in double-compound tenses 412 repetition in Eng. for confirmation or contradiction 403 avant (de) 645, 649, 663 avant que 488 followed by redundant ne 566 avec 38, 664 used as adverb 221, 645 + noun forming adverbial expression 46, 611

avertir 535 s’aviser 537 avoir as auxiliary and as full verb 348 compound tenses with 448, 449, 452–456 forms in full 349 idioms with 539 n’avoir without pas 560 used impersonally (y avoir) 343 + à + infin. 530 avoir affaire à 220 avoir l’air, agreement of adjs with 130 avoir peur 485 followed by redundant ne 564 ayant + past part. 441, 444 baisser 455 battant neuf 610 battre 345, 369 beaucoup 45, 324 comparison of 165 sing, or plur. verb with 397 ‘before’ 488, 649, 663 ‘behind’ 669 ‘below’ 684 bénir 360 (avoir) besoin + subjunctive 482 ‘best’ 161–163 ‘better’ 161, 162 bien 605 bien d’autres 292, 325 bien du, des, etc. 325 comparison of 161, 162 position of 639 ‘very’ 335 bien loin que 484 bien que 487 bien sûr 403 bientôt 622 with past ant. 411 bizarre, + subjunct. 485 blâmer 535 blotti 379 boire 377 bon, comparison of 161, 162, 605 bon marché, comparison of 162 bon nombre de 397 bonnement 605 se borner 533 ‘both’ 317 ‘both . . . and’ rendered by et . . . et 690

Index bouger, with ne alone 561 bouillir 377, 378 braire 377, 378 breadth, expression of 718 bref, brièvement 605 bruire 377 brûler 534 ‘but for’ 682 ‘by’ 45, 653, 667, 680, 685, 713 after verbs of beginning or ending 444, 445 ‘by far’ 324 ‘by . . . -ing’ 444 ça

9, 242 after interrogatives 243 çà 9 cacher 524 capitals 4 accents sometimes omitted on 9 car 690 cardinal numerals (see numerals) ce (pronoun) ce disant 445 c’est 248–261 c’est or est? 258–261 c’est or impersonal il est? 253–257 c’est or personal il est, elle est, etc.? 250–252 c’est . . . qui, que . . . , use of tenses 257 full demonst. 240 tout ce + rel. clause 317 + rel. clause 247 + rel. clause in indirect questions 288 ce n’est pas la peine que 484 ce n’est pas que 484, 561 ce que, exclamatory (‘how’) 613 ceci 241, 242 céder 353 cedilla 10 before parts of alter or avoir 257 on some parts of recevoir, etc. 375 on some parts of verbs in -cer 352 ceindre 372 cela 9, 241, 242 after interrogatives 243 followed by même 300 separable (ce . . . là) 244 cela fait . . . que 567 celer 354 celui, etc. 238 followed by même(s) 300


with -ci, -là 238 without -ci, -là 245–247 + de 22, 245 + rel. clause 245, 246 c’en est assez (trop) 322 cent(s) 180, 183 -cer, peculiarities of verbs in 352 certain ‘sure’, mood after 483 certain(s) ‘certain, some’ 294, 392 certainement 627, 638 precedes pas 544 cesser with ne alone 561 + infin. 534 chacun 219, 295, 392, 674 changer 456, 538 chaque 219, 295 chaque fois 315 (se) charger 526, 535, 537 chercher 523, 530 chez 665 choir 377, 378 chose, gender 66 Christian names, hyphenated 8 ci with demonst. 8, 237, 238 + adv. 8 ciel, plural of 108 ci-indus, ci-joint, agreement of 134 ciseler 354 class, plural nouns denoting, use of def. art. 28 clore 377 collective nouns, sing. or plur. verb 394–396 colloquial French 242, 264, 460, 473, 556, 593, 594, 602, 667, 695, 703 colour, adjectives of 95, 126, 137, 148, 175 colours, gender of names of 50 combattre 369 combien 45, 153, 326 agreement of past part. with 460 le combien? 707 =‘how’ with adj. 153 combler 526 commander 532 commands, use of definite article in 28 comme 153, 613 agreement with nouns linked by 129 comme tel 303 exclamatory value 613



comme (cont’d) expressing comparisons 613 forming adverbial expressions 613 = ‘how’ with adj. 153 commencer 352, 530, 534 comment 589, 590, 593 exclamatory value 613 commettre 376 comparative of equality or inequality 156–158, 173 expressed by tant 323 of superiority or inferiority 156, 159–173 comparatives followed by redundant ne 563 irregular 161–165 comparison of adjs and advs 155–173 comparisons 613 non-repetition of verb in 173 use of le in second part 212 se complaire 533 complement of a preposition 20 of être 216, 248–261, 288, 323, 518 of linking verbs 518 of the subject 16 of verbs 518–538 compléter 353 complex prepositions 644, 647, 648 compound adjectives 136 compound conjunctions 692, 702 compound nouns gender 57–63 plur. 109–116 compound tenses 340 agreement of past part. 459–468 of refl. verbs 380, 381, 450 position of obj. prons 204 with avoir 448, 449, 452–456 with être 448, 450–456 compound words, hyphens with 8 comprendre 376 mood after 483 compris agreement of 134 considered as preposition 646 compromettre 376 compter (+ de) + infinitive 529 concevoir 375 conclure 377 concourir 376 condamner 531

conditional endings 345 is or is not the equivalent of ‘should’ 512 mood or tense? 340 stem 346, 376 values 415–418 conditional clauses, alternative, introduced by que 700 conditional sentences 418–424, 701 replaced by gerund 445 conduire 374, 531 confire 377 confirmation, procedures in Eng. and Fr. 403 confondre 367 congeler 354 conjugations 339 conjunctions 689–704 coordinating 690 elision of -e 12 simple and componnd 692 subordinating 691 repetition avoided by use of que 702 taking indic. or condit. 693–696 taking subjunct. 486–491, 697 conjunctive pronouns (see personal pronouns) conjurer 538 connaître 373, 525 conquérir 376 conseiller 536 consentir 482 à + infin. 530 à ce que + subjunct. 482 consister 530 conspirer 530 construire 374 contenir 376 content + subjunct. 485 se contenter 537 continuer 530, 534 continuous forms (verbs) (English) 399 contradiction, procedures in Eng. and Fr. 403 contraindre 372 contrast, marked by fronting 602 centre 666 used as adverb 645 contredire 377, 378 contrefaire 376 contribuer 530

Index convaincre 370, 388 convenir 343, 376, 450, 521, 538 il convient que 482 convier 531 coordinate subjects, person and number of verb 391–393 couché 444 coudre 345, 377 countries, names of gender 52 prepositions with 32, 654, 656 use of def. art. with 31–33 courir 377 agreement of past part. 469 + infin. 529 courre 378 court, position of 141 coûter 712 agreement of past part. 469 couvrir 345, 364, 527 craindre 372, 534 followed by redundant ne 564 + subjunct. 485 créer 353, 358 crier 358, 536 + subjunct. 482 crocheter 354 croire 373, 525 croître 373 ‘crouching’ 444 cueillir 345, 364 cuire 374 curieux + subjunct. 485 -d pronounced as [t] 388 daigner with infin. 529 with ne alone 561 d’ailleurs 625 dans 655–657, 659 distinction between dans and à 659 distinction between dans and en 657, 709 with place-names 655 with reference to time 709 dates of the Christian era 180 dates of the month 182, 707 dative case 18 d’aucuns 298 d’autres 292 davantage 330 days of the week 4, 707 gender of names of 50 translation of ‘on’ with 707



667 after adjs 45, 687, 688 after expressions of quantity 45 after negatives 36, 43, 568 after quantifiers 321 as alternative to d’entre 674 before adj. + noun 44 before infin. 261, 426, 534 complex prepositions ending in de 647 de . . . en 658 elision 12 equivalent of ‘by’ 45 equivalent of ‘in’ after superlative 171 equivalent of ‘with’ 45, 526 equivalent of other Eng. prepositions 527 expressing measure of difference 171 expressing possession 19, 22 idioms with 667 introducing adj. 241, 285, 311, 312, 667, 713 introducing infinitive 261, 426, 535–537 meaning and use 654, 667, 710 repetition of 650 ‘than’ 167, 168 with def. art. 25 with names of countries 32 + compl. of refl. verbs 537 + compl. = Eng. direct obj. 653 = ‘made of’, etc. 653 de beaucoup 324 de bonne heure 622 comparison of 162 de crainte que 485, 491 followed by redundant ne 564 de façon (à ce) que 489 de manière (à ce) que 489 de même 256, 300 de même que 300 agreement with nouns linked by 129, 393 d’entre 295, 674 de peur que (see de crainte que) de quelle manière? 631 de quelque façon (manière) que 309, 315 de quoi 273, 296 de suite 617 de telle façon (manière, sorte) que 489



(se) débarrasser 527 débattre 369 debout 444, 612 décéder 450 déceler 354 décevoir 375 déchoir 377 décider 534, 538 decimal system 192 découvrir 364 décrire 376 décroître 373 dédaigner 534 dedans 221 déduire 374 défaillir 365 défaire 376 defective verbs 344, 345, 376–378 défendre ‘forbid’ 367, 484, 521, 536 definite article 24–34 after de 32, 34 corresponding to Eng. indef. art. 29 with ref. to price 712 elision of le, la 12 preceded by tout 26 repetition of 30 replacing poss. 228–230 used in Eng. but not in Fr. 27 used in Fr. but not in Eng. 28 with days of the week 707 with double, etc. 187 with fractions 191 with geographical names 31–34 with parts of the body 29, 228, 229 with names of religious festivals, titles, etc. 28 dégeler 343 dégoûter 535 déjà 703 délice, gender 67 déliverer 527 demander 523 à faire 530, 536 à q.un de faire 536 de faire 536 q.ch. à q.un 521 + subjunct. 482 demeurer 453 demi- 188, 706 demonstrative determiners 235–237 demonstrative pronouns 238–247 neuter demonst prons 239–244

with possessive phrases 22 d’entre 674 departments (French), names of, gender 52 prepositions with 654, 656 se dépêcher 537 dépeindre 372 dépendre 367, 527 déplaire 521, 536 depth, expression of 713 depuis 645, 668, 708 depuis lors 619 tenses with 413 depuis que tenses with 413, 567 with ne or ne . . . pas (plus) 567 dernier 28, 142, 183 dernier-, plural of nouns in 111 mood after 494 dérober 524 derrière 645, 669 des 24, 25 dès 670, 710 dès lors 619 dès que + fut. 414 + past ant. 411 se désaccoutumer 537 descendre 450, 451 + infin. 529 désespérer 534 se déshabituer 537 désirer (+ de) + infin. 529 + subjunct. 482 désobéir 521 désolé 485 dessous 221, 684 dessus 221, 671 destiné 531 déteindre 372 (se) détendre 367 déterminer 531 determiners 23 articles 24–46 demonstrative 234–237 indefinite 291–319 interrogatives 278, 279 negatives 546, 547 numerals 178 possessive 222–230 relatives (lequel) 271 tout 317 détester 529, 534

Index détourner 535 détruire 374 deuxième and second 180 devant 645, 663 devenir 376 compl. of 518 compound tenses 450 devoir 375, 538 dût-il, etc. 478 renders ‘must’ 510 renders ‘ought’ 511 renders ‘should’ 512 + infin. 529 + infin., agreement of past part. 468 + infin. as equivalent of fut. subjunct. 506 diaeresis 11 d’ici là 711 Dieu sait (où, etc.) 299 différents 297 dimensions, expression of 713 dîner 527 dire 377, 378 dire à q.un de + infin. 536 q.ch. à q.un 521 with ne . . . mot 554 + de + infin. 536 + subjunct. 482 direct object 17, 198, 216, 519, 531 conjunctive personal pronouns 198 disjunctive personal pronouns 215, 216 Eng. direct obj. rendered by à + compl. 521 Eng. direct obj. rendered by de + compl. 522 preceding, agreement of past part. with 460, 461 verbs taking direct obj. in Fr. but requiring a preposition in Eng. 523 verbs taking direct obj. + à + infin. 531 verbs taking direct obj. + de + infin. 535 with faire, laisser, verbs of senses, + infin. 430–437 direct questions (see questions) discontinuer 534 discourir 376 disjunctive pronouns (see personal pronouns) dislocation 602


disparaître 373, 456 dispenser 535 (se) disposer 531, 533 dissoudre 377, 378 dissuader 535 distendre 367 distraire 376 divers 297 ‘do’ used in negative constructions in Eng. but not in Fr. 401, 543 used in questions in Eng. but not in Fr. 401, 582 donc 615 donner 351 dont 262, 268, 427 replaced by de qui, duquel, etc. 269 dormir 363 agreement of past part. 470 d’où 631 double-compound tenses 412 doubt, adverbs of 627, 628 position of 640 douter followed by redundant ne 565 mood after 483 se douter de 522 douteux followed by redundant ne 565 + subjunct. 483 drôle de 667 du 24, 25 du coté de 672 du moins 600 ‘dummy’ subject 343, 699 d’une façon (manière) + adjective 611 durer. agreement of past participle 470 -e- + cons. + -er, verbs in 354 -é- + cons. + -er, verbs in 353 ‘each’ 295 ‘early’ 622 -eau, plural of words in 103, 123 écarteler 354 (s’)échapper 524 échoir 377 echo-questions 594, 595 éclore 377 écouter 520, 523, 529 écrire 377 + de + infin. 536



écroulé 379 -éer, verbs in 358 s’efforcer 537 s’égayer 533 -eindre, verbs in 372 ‘either’ 690 élire 377 elision 3, 12 ‘else’ ‘someone else’ 293 ‘something else’ 311 ‘somewhere else’ 625 ‘elsewhere’ 625 émettre 376 emmener 359, 529 + reflex, verb. 436 émouvoir 377 s’emparer de 522 empêcher 484 followed by redundant ne 565 + infin. 535 + subjunct. 484 emphasis c’est + adj. 253 c’est + complement 256 c’est + subject or object 255 dislocation used for 602 est-ce que? 583 faire not used as equivalent of ‘do’ 401 jamais placed before verb 550 personal pronouns, disjunctive 216 point not a ‘strong’ negative 545 s’ employer 357, 531–533 empressé 379 s’empresser 537 emprunter 524 en (preposition) 649, 650, 654–658 as linking preposition 654 distinction between dans and en 657, 709 forming adjectival or adverbial expressions 46, 658 idiomatic uses 658 indicating material 654 indicating shape 654 meaning and use 654–658, 709 repetition of 650 with place-names 654, 656 with reference to time 709 + pres. part. (= gerund) 445, 649 = ‘made of’ 654 en (pronoun) 201, 321 instead of possessive 227

en arrière de 669 en attendant que 488 en avant de 663 en dehors de 677 en fail 401 en outre de 679 en plus de 679 en retard 621 en sorte que 489 en tant que tel 303 (être) en train de 399 en travers de 661 en un instant, with past anterior 411 en vain 600 enceindre 372 encore 300, 616 encore moins 600 encore plus 600 encore un(e) 616 et encore 600 encore que 487 encourager 531 encourir 376 endings, verbs condit. 345 fut. 345 imper. 345 imperf. indic. 345 imperf. subjunct. 345 infin. 339 past participles in -i, -u 345 pres. subjunct. 345 pret. in -is, -us 345 enduire 374 enfreindre 372 (s’)engager 531, 533 English words plur. 118 plur. words corresponding to a sing. in Fr. 121 pronunciation of w 1 (s’)ennuyer 357, 485, 537 s’enorgueillir 537 ‘enough’ 45, 153, 322 s’enquérir 376 enrager 534 enseigner 532 ensemble 612 ensuite 615, 617 s’ensuivre 377 -ent, adjs in, formation of adverbs from 607 entendre 367 agreement of past part. 466

Index s’entendre dire q.ch. 385 with ne . . . goutte 554 + infin. 529 s’entêter 533 ‘entire’ 317 entre 673 + rel. pron. 264 entreprendre 376, 534 entrer 450, 451 entrevoir 377, 378 enumerations, def. art. omitted with 28 envelopper 527 envers 675, 687 envoyer 357 + infin. 432, 435, 436, 529 + refl. verb 437 épais 713 épandre 367 épris 379 equative degree of comparison 156–158 -er verbs forms in full 351 imper. 345, 351 peculiarities of certain verbs 352–357 espérer 353, 523, 529 (s’)essayer 533, 534 essentiel + subjunct. 482 est-ce que? 389, 585, 586, 590 et 690 in numerals 8, 178, 180 introducing second term in comparisons 172 linking two adjs 151, 152 étant + past part. 441 étant donné, agreement of 134 été, no agreement 350, 459 éteindre 372 étendre 367 étonné 485 s’étonner 485, 537 être complement of 216, 248–261, 288, 322, 518, 598 compound tenses with 448, 450–456 être en train de 399 forms in full 350 fût-il, etc. 478 idioms with 540 ne without pas 559–567 serves as auxiliary and as full verb 348


soit ‘let there be’ 477 soit que 480 used impersonally 343 used to form the passive 382 with à + disjunct. pron. 220, 232 + à + infinitive 428 étreindre 372 -eu, plural of words in 103 évanoui 379 ‘even’ 300 encore with a comparative 300, 616 ‘even if’ 422, 423 ‘ever’ 618 s’évertuer 533 ‘every’ 317 ‘every second (third, etc.)’ 317 ‘everybody, everyone’ 319, 395 ‘everything’ 317, 319 éviter followed by redundant ne 565 + infin. 534 + subjunct. 484 exceller 530 excepté agreement of 134, 676 treated as preposition 134, 646 exciter 531 exclamatory expressions ce que 613 comme 153, 613 comment 613 def. art. 28 que (conjunction) 153, 484, 613 que de 333, 460 quel 36, 279 qu’est-ce que 613 exclure 377, 378 s’excuser 537 exhorter 531 exiger + subjunct. 482 expectation, verbs expressing, + subjunctive 482 ‘expletive’ ne 562–567 s’expliquer, mood after 483 exposer 531 exprès 612, 639 extraire 376 extraordinaire + subjunct. 485 fâché + subjunct. 485 se fâcher + subjunct. 485 (de, d’une) façon, forming adv. phrase 611 faillir 365, 377, 378, 529



faire 377 cela fait . . . que 567 faire de ‘do with’ 526 faire sien, etc. 233 idioms with 541 ne faire que + infin. 553 not an equivalent of ‘to do’ in negative constructions and questions 401, 543 not used for emphasis 401 pres. subjunct. 346 used impersonally 343 + infin. 430–438, 529 agreement of past part. 464 position of obj. prons 430–438 use of direct or indirect obj. 433, 434, 436, 438 + refl. verb 437 falloir 343, 377 il faut que 482, 510 + infin. 529 ‘far’ + comparative 324 ‘far from . . . -ing’ 491 ‘far too (much, etc.)’ 324 se fatiguer 533 (il) faut (see falloir) faux, position of 144 fearing, verbs and expressions of followed by redundant ne 564 + subjunct. 485 feindre 372, 534 féliciter 535 feminine of nouns and adjectives 75–96 fendre 367 feu ‘late’ 135 ‘(a) few’ 306, 328 fier + subjunct. 485 se figurer 529 finir 359, 534 finite verbs 341 ‘first’ 178, 182, 183 first conjugation (see -er verbs) fixed expressions use of ne alone in negation 560 with the subjunct. 476 flambant neuf 610 se flatter 537 fleurir 360 fois deux fois, etc. 186 la première (dernière) fois que 494 une fois + past part. 457 ‘-fold’ 187

fondre 367 ‘for’ (conjunction) 690 ‘for’ (preposition) 681 as expression of indirect obj. 18, 21 rendered by de 667 with ref. to price 712 with ref. to time 708 ‘for fear’, 485, 491 force ‘many’ 324, 397 forcé de 531 forcer 531 foreign words plur. 118 pronunciation of w 1 value of h 3 ‘(the) former’ 238 fors 677 fort ‘very’ 335 fourmiller 526 fournir 523, 526 fractions 188–192 gender of names of 50 sing. or plur. verb 396 frais, as adverb, variable 610 frire 377, 378 ‘from’ transl. by à 524 with ref. to time 710 ‘from there’ 201 fronting 602 fruit and vegetables, gender of names of 50, 51 fuel consumption, expression of 715 fuir 377 furieux 485 future 414 endings 345 expressing polite imper. 517 expressing probability 414 replaced by pres. 414 stem 346 future-in-the-past 415 future perfect expressing probability 414 for Eng. perfect 414 future subjunctive devoir + infin., equivalent of 506 se garder 537 geindre 372 geler 343, 354 gender 47–74 anomalies 65–73

Index compound nouns 57–63 gender according to meaning 50–51 gender and sex 48–49 letters of the alphabet 1 other parts of speech used as nouns 74 place-names 52 shown by ending 54–56 généralement parlant 445 generic subjunctive 493 genitive case (phrase) 19, 22, 519 gens, agreement of adjs, gender 68, 130 gentiment 605 geographical names (see place-names) -ger, peculiarities of verbs in 352 gerund 445, 649 gésir 377, 378 (ne . . .) goutte 554 grand, as adverb, variable 610 grand-, plural of nouns in 111 grand-chose 324 grandir 456 grasseyer 357 gratis 612 grêler 343 grièvement 603 grimper 521 gronder 535 (ne . . .) guère 549, 555 h, two varieties in French 3 (see also mute h) habiter 523 habitual past tense (English) 399 (s’)habituer 531, 533 haïr 361 haleter 354 ‘half’ (see demi, mi, moitié) ‘half past’ (time) 706 hanging topic 602 harceler 356 ‘hardly’ 549 se hasarder 533 se hâter 537 haut 713 height, expression of 718 ‘her’, distinguished from ‘his’ 225 hériter 522 hésiter 530 heureusement 638 h. que non 574 heureux + subjunct. 485


‘his’, distinguished from ‘her’ 225 historic present 404 hormis 676 hors (de) 677 ‘how’ 589, 590, 631 exclamatory value 613 ‘how high (long, wide, etc.)?’ 713 ‘how long?’ (time) 413, 711 ‘how much? how many?’ 326, 333 ‘how often?’ 711 + adj. or adv. 153, 326, 613, 713 (see also comme, comment) ‘however’ 315 + adj. or adv. 310, 478, 495 huit, huitième, no elision before 12 hyphens 6, 8 in interrogative conjugation 387 in numerals 178, 180 hypothetical clauses with que + subjunctive 480 ici, with reference to time 711 (l’)idée que, mood after 483 idioms with à 653 with avoir 539 with de 667 wilh en 658 with être 540 with faire 541 -ier, verbs in 358 ‘if’ (see si ‘if’) ‘if only, if ever’, 421, 490 ignorer, mood after 483 il, impersonal 197, 248, 253–257, 343 il en est ainsi 256 il en est de même 256 il est or c’est? impersonal il 248, 253–257 personal il, elle, etc. 248–252 il est vrai que 401 il n’y a aucune chance que 484 il n’y a pas de danger que 484 il s’en faut (de beaucoup) (que) 484, 565 il se peut que 483, 508 il y a 343 tenses with 413, 567 with ne or ne . . . pas (plus) 567 s’imaginer 529 impartir 363 s’impatienter 537 imperative 514–517 endings 345



imperative (cont’d) expressed by fut. 517 expressed by infin. 429 non-use of subject pronouns with 514 que + subjunct. as 3rd pers. imper. 480, 515 stem 345 use of object prons with 207 imperfect indicative 406, 409 endings 345 for Eng. pluperfect 413 renders ‘would (do)’ 417, 513 used after si ‘if’ 418 imperfect subjunctive 496–505 avoidance of in speech 496, 501, 504 avoidance of in writing 496, 501, 502, 505 endings 345, 346 in condit. sentences 424 stem 346, 376 impersonal verbs 343 + subjunct. 482 important + subjunct. 482 (il) importe que + subjunct. 482 importer (see (il) importe que, n’importe, peu importe) impossible + subjunct. 484 ‘in, into’ 653–659, 667 ‘in’ with ref. to time 709 ‘in order that’ 489 inciter 531 incliner 530, 531 inclure 377, 378 indefinite adjectives, pronouns, etc. 291–319 indefinite article 24, 35–39 in prepositional phrases 38 plur. 24 repetition of 39 replaced by de in certain negative constructions 568 used after negative constructions 569, 570 used in Eng. but not in Fr. 36 with parts of the body 29 indicative, after various conjunctions 487, 488, 489 indirect object 18, 21, 200, 208, 216, 532 conjunctive personal pronouns 198 disjunctive personal pronouns 208, 216, 220

replacing possessive 228 verbs taking indirect obj. + à + infin. 532 verbs taking indirect obj. + de + infin. 536 with faire, laisser, verbs of senses, + infin. 433–435 indirect questions (see questions) indispensable + subjunct. 482 inévitable + subjunct. 485 infinitive 339, 425–438 à + infin. with passive value 428 after faire 430–438 after laisser 430–437 after par 444 after prepositions 425, 649 after verbs of saying and thinking 427 after verbs of the senses 427, 430–438 as compl. of verb 258, 259, 529–537 as equivalent of Eng. pres. part. 430 as subject 258, 426 expressing instructions 429 in elliptical interrog. clauses 429 in exclamations 216, 429 instead of subjunct. with identical subjects 482 introduced by à 428, 530, 531, 533 introduced by de 261, 426, 535–537 introduced by pour after assez, trop 322 introduced by que de 261, 426 preceded by preposition 649 with imper. value 429 with ne pas ( point) 544 with or without de, as subject 426 without preceding preposition 529 s’inquiéter 537 inscrire 376 insister pour que 482 institutions, names of 4 instructions, expressed by infin. 429 instruire 374 insulter 521 interdire 377, 378 + subjunct. 484 interrogative advs 630–631 position of 643 conjugation 387 determiners 278–279

Index lack of inversion in questions in speech 593 pronouns 278, 280–290 sentences (see questions) words placed last 593, 643 intervenir 376 intonation differentiating otherwise identical sentences 602 expressing interrogation 389, 586 intransitive verbs compound tenses with avoir 449 compound tenses with être 450 introduire 374 inversion (of subject) 596–601 after advs and adverbial expressions 600 in conditional clauses 424, 478 in questions 583, 584, 589, 590 not after pourquoi 591, 595 serving to introduce subject 601 type: si riche soit-il 310 when avoided 591–592, 598 with subjunct. expressing wishes 476–477 inviter 531 -ir verbs forms in full 359 irregular verbs 377 peculiarities of some verbs 360–365 irregular verbs important introductory note 376 notes 378 principal forms 377 s’irriter 537 islands, names of def. art. with 31, 33 prepositions with 654, 656 ‘it’ en ‘of it’ 201 il, elle 197, 248–252 ‘it is I/me’, etc. 518 not used with verbs of thinking, etc. + que or infin. 214 replaced by an adv. 221 transl. by ce 248–257 y ‘to it, etc.’ 200 ‘its’ son, sa, ses 223 transl. by en 227 jamais ‘ever’ 618


(ne . . .) jamais ‘never’ 36, 550, 556, 558 je inverted only with certain verbs 389, 583 masc. or fem. agreement 195 je ne sais que (qui, quoi, quand, etc.) 289, 299 jeter 355 joindre 372 jouer 520–522 jouir 522 journellement 608 jurer 534, 536 jusqu’à ce que, mood after 488 jusque, elision 12 jusqu’ici 711 ‘just’ (‘to have just done’) 538 juste + subjunct. 485 ‘kneeling’ 444 là c’est là = cela 244 with demonst. 8, 237–238 with ref. to time 711 + adverb 8 là-bas, with demonst. 237 là-dedans, là-dessous, là-dessus 221 laisser laisser à désirer 428 position of obj. prons 436, 437 use and agreement of past part. 465 use of direct or indirect obj. 430–436 + infin. 430–438, 529 + refl. verb 437 languages, names of capital initials not used 4 def. art. with 28 large 713 as adverb, variable 610 ‘last’ 28, 142, 183 ‘late’ (see feu, en retard, tard) Latin phrases used as nouns, plur. 118 ‘(the) latter’ 238 se laver 381 le (invariable) 212, 213 ‘least’ 160, 164 léguer 353 length, expression of 713



lequel, etc. 262, 263, 266, 270, 271, 273, 290 as preceding direct obj. 460 duquel, etc. 262, 263, 269 ‘less’ 45, 156, 160, 164, 167, 330 ‘the less’ + adj. 153 ‘lest’ 485, 491 ‘let . . .’ expressed by future 517 expressed by infin. 429 expressed by que + subjunct. 480, 515 ‘let’s, let us’ expressed by imper. 514 letters of the alphabet gender 1, 50 no elision before 12 plur. 117 leur and y 200 lever 354 liaison 3, 7, 99 linking verbs 518, 613 lire 377 ‘little’ 328 (see also (un) peu, peu de) logique + subjunct. 485 loin que 491 l’on 302 long 141, 718 ‘(no) longer’ 552 lors 615, 619 lors de 619 lors même que 619 lorsque elision 12 + future 414 + past ant. 411 ‘(a) lot of’ 324, 325 louer ‘to praise’ 535 louer ‘to rent’ 524 lui and y 200 luire 374 ‘lying’ 444 maint 324 maintenant 620 maintenir 376 mais 690 mal 605 comparison of 161, 163 position of 639 malgré 678 malgré que 487, 698 manger 352

(de, d’une) manière, forming adv. phrase 611 manner, adverbs of 604–613 position of 639 manquer 538 (ne pas) manquer de 534 ‘many, as many, not many, so many, too many’ 45, 322–325, 328, 334 marcher, agreement of past part. 469 maudire 377, 378 mauvais 605 comparison of 161, 163 ‘may’ 507–509 meanings different in sing. and plur. 120 with adjs before and after noun 146 measure of quantity 29 méconnaître 373 médire 377, 378, 522 medium 13, 405 meilleur 161, 162 mêler 525 même 300, 544 même si 422 preceding pas 544 with disjunct, pron. (lui-même, etc.) 8, 215, 218, 219 menacer 526 mener 354, 437 -ment, adverbs of manner in 604–608 followed by que 638 position of 634–637 mentir 363 mériter 534 metals, gender of names of 50 (se) mettre 377, 531, 533 mi(-) 189 mieux 161–162 position of 639 ‘might’ 507, 509 mil 180 mille 180 milliard, millier, million 181 minerals, gender of names of 50 modal verbs 507–513 + infin. 529 + infin., agreement of past part. 468 modeler 354 moindre 161, 164 (le) moins 45, 153, 159–161, 163, 164, 170, 172, 330 agreement of past part. with 460 moins de deux, plural verb 397

Index repetition of 169 with invariable art. 170 with predicative adj. 153 moitié 188 sing. or plur. verb 396 monter 450, 451, 455 + infin. 529 months 4, 50, 658, 707 montrer 532 moods, classification 472 (se) moquer 379, 527 mordre 367 ‘more’ 45, 156, 159, 165, 167, 168, 172, 173, 330 ‘no more’ 552 ‘the more’ + adj. 153 ‘most’ 156, 160, 165, 170, 174 ‘extremely’ 174 = ‘the greater part’ 329 (ne . . .) mot 554 motion, verbs of with à + disjunctive pronoun 220 + infinitive 529 moudre 377 mourir 377, 450 mouvoir 377, 378 ‘much, as much, not much, so much, too much’ 45, 322–325, 334 munir 526 ‘must’ 510 mute h 3, 12, 223, 235 naître 377, 450 names (see personal names, placenames) naturel + subjunct. 485 ne elision 12 omission of in speech 556 position 205, 387 used on its own 559–567 as a literary alternative to ne . . . pas 561 in fixed expressions and proverbs 560 where Eng. has no negative 562–567 after avant que and à moins que 566 after comparatives 166, 563 after depuis que, etc. 567 after verbs and expressions of fearing 564


after other verbs and their equivalents 565 with a negative particle or other compl. 543–555 ne . . . aucun, aucunement, guère, jamais, nul, nullement, pas, personne, plus, point, que, rien (see aucun, aucunement, guère, etc.) ne . . . pas que 553 nécessaire + subjunct. 482 negation 542–580 of an element other than a verb 572–580 of the verb 543–570 negative complements (particles) 543–558 multiple negative compls 555 negative conjugation 387 negative-interrogative conjugation 387, 388 négliger 534 ‘neither’ 571, 690 n’empêche que 560 n’en déplaise 560 n’est-ce pas? 587 neuter demonstrative pronouns 239–244 ‘never’ 36, 550 ‘next’ 28, 142 ni 571, 690 ni l’un ni l’autre 292 nier followed by redundant ne 565 + subjunct. 484 n’importe comment, où, quand, quel, qui, etc. 301 ‘no’ (see aucun, non, non pas, nul, pas) ‘nobody, no one’ nul 547 personne 551 nombre de 36, 324 sing. or plur. verb 397 nominative case 15 non 403, 572, 575–580 in compound nouns and adjs 580 linking coordinate subjects 393 que non 573, 574 with past or pres. part. 580 non pas 575–579 non pas que 491, 561 non plus 571 non que 491, 561



‘none, not one’ 544, 546, 547 non-finite forms of the verb 341 ‘nor’ 571, 690 normal + subjunct. 485 ‘not’ (see negation, ne, non, non pas, pas) ‘not as (so) . . . as’ 157 ‘not at all’ 545, 557 ‘not one’ (see ‘none’) ‘not that’ 491 notamment 608 ‘nothing’ 551 noun clause definition 14 with subjunct. 480 noun phrase definition 14 functions 14–22 nouns sing. in Fr. but plur. in Eng. 121 used as adjs 95, 126 (see also gender, plural) se nourrir 527 nous, masc. or fem. agreement 195 nous autres 216 nouveau, position of 143 nouveau-, plural of nouns in 111 ‘now’ 620 transl. by ici 711 nu, agreement of 132 nu-, invariability of 132 nuire 374, 521 nuitamment 608 nul 547 nullement 548 number of verb after quantifiers 337 with collective subjects 394–397 with coordinate subjects 391, 392 numerals 178–192 accompanied by en 201 advs 186 approximate 185 cardinal 178–183 et in 180 expressing numerical frequency 186 followed by de 181 gender 50 hyphens, use of 8, 178, 180 multiplicatives 187 ordinal 178 preceded by ‘than’ 167, 168 preceded by tous 317

pronunciation 179 used as nouns, plur. 117 with names of monarchs, etc. 27, 182 obéir 521 object (see direct object, indirect object) obligé de 531 obliger 531 s’obstenir 533 obtenir 376, 534 obvier 521 s’occuper à, de 533, 537 œuvre, gender 69 ‘of’ (see de, possessive relationship) construction ‘a friend of mine’ 233 rendered by d’entre 674 s’offenser 537 (s’)offrir 364, 521, 533, 534, 536 oindre 372 -oindre, verbs in 372 -oir verbs verbs in -evoir 375 other (irregular) verbs 377 -oître, verbs in 373 omettre 376, 534 ‘on’ 653, 658, 667, 672, 685 ‘on . . . -ing’ 444, 445 with days of the week 707 on 219, 302, 319 agreement of adjs with 130 l’on 302 meaning ‘we’ 302 on ne sail (comment, etc.) 299 preceded by -t- 388 used instead of passive 302, 384 ‘one’ indef. pron. 318 (see also on) numeral 318 (see also un) ‘one another’ 292 ‘one more’ 616 rendered by celui, etc. 318 rendered by nous, vous 302 ‘only’ 43, 145, 216, 553, 568 ‘not only’ 553 onze, onzième, no elision before 12 s’opposer à ce que 484 ‘or’ 292, 690 or 620, 691 order, verbs expressing an, + subjunctive 482 ordinal numbers (see numerals) ordonner 536

Index q.ch à q.un 521 + subjunct. 482 organizations, names of, use of capitals 4 orge, gender 70 orgue, gender 71 orner 526 oser with ne alone 561 + infin. 529 ôter 524 ‘other(s)’ (see autre, autrui) ou 690 agreement with nouns linked by 128 linking two adjs 151 ou que 480 où interrogative 589, 590 used as rel. pron. 276, 277 with ref. to time 277, 488 -ou, plural of words in 104 où que 315, 495 oublier 534 ‘ought’ 511 oui 403, 628 no elision before 12 ouïr 377 ‘out (of)’ 659, 677, 680, 685 outre 645, 679 ouvrir 364 ‘over’ 671, 685 paître 373 Pâque(s), gender 72 par 680 faire faire par 433 par jour, etc. 680, 711 to translate Eng. indef. art. 37 + infin. after verbs of beginning and ending 444, 649 par derrière 669 paraître 373 compl. of 518 mood after 483 used impersonally 343 + infin. 529 parcourir 376 par-dessous 684 par-dessus 671 pardonner 521, 536 pareil 303 parenthetical expressions, inversion in 599


parfaire 376 parler negative and interrogative conjugations 387 parler (le) français, etc. 28 parmi 673 + rel. pron. 263 partial interrogation 581, 582, 588–593 partir 363, 450 + infin. 529 partitive article 24, 40–46 after prepositions 46 omitted 45 plur. 24 replaced by de in certain negative constructions 568 partout 315 parts of the body, articles with 29 parvenir 376, 521, 530 (ne . . .) pas 544, 545, 556 pas or non, non pas? 575–579 pas de with no art. 36, 43 position 387, 544 with infin. 544 with words meaning ‘since’ 567 without ne 556, 557 pas du tout 403, 545 pas grand-chose 324 pas mal de 324 pas un (seul) 544, 667, 674 passé agreement of 134 considered as preposition 646 passé surcomposé (see doublecompound tenses) passer 454 agreement of past part. 471 se passer 286, 343 + infin. 531, 537 passive 382–385 alternatives to 384 conjugation of 383 passive value of à + infin. 428 past anterior 411 past historic (see preterite) past participle 447–471 absolute use 457 after celui, etc. 245 agreement in compound tenses with avoir 460 in compound tenses with être 461, 462



past participle (cont’d) in passive 459 when followed by infin. 463–468 with expressions of time 470 with preceding direct object 460 with refl. verbs 380, 459, 461 corresponding to Eng. present part. 379, 444 endings 345 for Eng. present part. to denote posture 379, 444 used as adj. 127, 148 used as noun 471 gender 74 used as preposition 134, 646 used in an active sense 379 used to form compound tenses with avoir 448, 449, 451–456 used to form compound tenses with être 448, 450–456 payer 523, 712 peindre 372 peler 354 pendant 708 pendant que 488, 696 pendre 367, 525 pénétrer 353 penser 525 with à + disjunct, pron. 220 percevoir 375 perdre 367 perfect indicative 400 after si 419 difference between Eng. and Fr. 400 spoken language 410 written language 408 perfect subjunctive 496–498 used instead of imperf. subjunct. 505 used instead of pluperf. subjunct. 504 permettre 376, 536 q.ch. à q.un 521 + subjunct. 482 permission expressed by ‘may’ 508 expressed by ‘might’ 509 verbs expressing + subjunct. 482 persévérer 353 persister 530 personal names hyphenated 8 plur. 119

preceded by article 28 use of diaeresis 11 personal pronouns 193–221 conjunctive 193, 198–214, 220 as preceding direct obj. 460 impossible combinations 208 order 206–208 position 204, 207, 209, 387 in questions 583, 589, 590 with negation 544 with verb + infin. 436, 437 repetition 210 direct obj. forms 198 disjunctive 193, 200, 207, 208, 215–220, 225, 518 elided forms 8, 12 hyphenated 8 with -même 275 il, elle est or c’est? 250–252 indirect obj. forms 198, 208 reflexive 199, 218, 219 subject forms 198 not used with imper. 514 position 203, 387 repeating or anticipating conjunctive pron. 602 repetition 203 use of disjunct. pronouns 216–217 personne, gender 73 (ne . . .) personne 219, 551, 558, 667 replacing nul 547 persons of the verb 342, 390 after c’est (moi, etc.) qui . . . 255 agreement with 391 persuader 535, 536 peser 354 agreement of past part. 469 petit, comparison of 161, 164 (un) peu, peu de 45, 328 comparison of 161, 164 sing. or plur. verb 397 peu importe que 485 peu s’en faut 565 peut-être 508, 627, 638 inversion after 600 position 642 precedes pas 544 + que 574 phonetic symbols 2 phrases used as nouns, plural 117 se piquer 537 pire 161, 163 pis 161, 163

Index place, adverbs of 624, 625 position of 640 place-names gender 52 hyphenated 8 prepositions with 654, 656, 659 use of articles 31–34 (se) plaindre 372, 485, 535, 537 (se) plaire 377, 521, 533, 536 plein, invariable before def. art. 135 ‘pleonastic’ ne 562–567 pleuvoir 343, 377, 378 (la) plupart 329, 674 sing. or plur. verb 397 pluperfect indicative 411, 413 after si 420 pluperfect subjunctive as an archaic alternative to pluperf. indic. 420 avoidance of in speech 496, 501, 504 avoidance of in writing 496, 501, 502 in condit. sentences 424, 478 plural of adjs 122–126 plural of nouns spoken Fr. 97–100 written Fr. 101–119 compound nouns 109–116 foreign words 118 nouns with two plurs 108 other parts of speech used as nouns 117 personal names 119 plural nouns denoting a class, use of definite article 28 (le) plus 45, 153, 159–173, 330 agreement of past part. with 460 repetition of 169 with invariable art. 170 with predicative adj. 153 (ne . . .) plus 552, 558 with words meaning ‘since’ 567 plus d’un, singular verb 397 plus que, agreement with nouns linked by 129 plusieurs 331, 392 plutôt 612, 622 plutôt que 393 ‘p.m.’ 706 poindre 372 (ne . . .) point 544, 556 not a ‘strong’ negation 545 points of the compass 50


pondre ‘to lay (eggs)’ 367 porter 531 possessive determiner 222–229 referring to chacun, chaque 295 repetition 224 replaced by def. art. with parts of body 228–229 replaced by en 227 replaced by indirect obj. 228 replaced by refl. pron. 228, 229 use of à lui, etc., to distinguish between ‘his’ and ‘her’ 225 possessive pronouns 222, 231–233 replaced by à moi, etc. 232 without def. art. 233 possessive relationship 22 possibility (see ‘may’, ‘might’) possible + subjunct. 483, 484, 508 agreement of 133 posture, verbs denoting past part. corresponding to Eng. pres. part. 444 pour 681 after assez, trop 322 pour + adj. + que ‘however’ 310, 495 used adverbially 221, 645 with indirect obj. 18, 21 with ref. to time 708 pour autant que 490 pour lors 619 pour peu que 309, 490 pour que 489, 508 pour tel 303 pourquoi interrogative 589–591 no inversion of noun subject after 591, 595 poursuivre 377 pourvoir 377, 525, 526 pourvu que 490 pousser 531 pouvoir 345, 377, 378 corresponds to ‘may’ 508 corresponds to ‘might’ 509 no imper. 345 il se peut que 483, 508 puisse-t-il, etc., expressing wish 477 with ne alone 561 + infin. 529 + infin., agreement of past part. 468 précipitamment 608



predicative use of adjs 127 prédire 377, 378 préférable 482, 485 préférer 353, 485, 529 premier 182, 183 mood after 494 premier-, plural of nouns in 111 prendre 377, 524 préparer 531 prepositional phrases after celui, etc. 245 forming adverbial expressions 38 with or without art. 38, 46 prepositions 644–688 after adjs and past parts 686–688 before infin. 649 complex 644, 647–648 derived from past participles 134 government of verbs by 649 questions with prep. + qui?, quoi?, quel? 590 repetition 650–651 simple 644–646 used as adverbs 645 used as nouns, plur. 117 various Eng. prepositions transl. as à or de 526, 527 verbs requiring a preposition in Eng. but direct obj. in Fr. 523 with or without art. 38, 46 with pres. part. (only en) 445, 649 prescrire 376, 536 present indicative after si 419 expressing the fut. 414 historic present 404 where Eng. uses perfect 413 present participle 439–446 absolute use 443 after (s’en) aller 441 differing from verbal adj. 446 in Eng. but past part. in Fr. 379, 444 invariable when used as part. 441 rendered by past part. of verbs denoting position 379, 444 rendered by rel. clause 442 used as adj. 148, 440, 444 used as gerund (en . . . -ant) 445 present subjunctive 496–506 endings 345 in independent clauses 497 instead of imperf. subjunct. 502, 504

stem 346 présider 525 presque 332 elision 12 (se) presser 535, 537 prétendre 367 prétendu, position of 148 preterite after si ‘if’ 418 endings 345 in Eng. but pluperf. in Fr. 411, 413 in Eng.. French equivalents of 400 spoken language 410 written language 407, 408 prévaloir 377, 378 prévenir 377, 450 prévoir 377, 378 price, expression of 712 prier 535 probability expressed by future or future perfect 414 probable 483 probablement 627, 638 precedes pas 544 prochain 28, 142 produire 374 profond 713 progressive action (tense) 399, 444 projeter 534 promettre 376, 521, 534, 536 promouvoir 377 pronouns (see demonstrative, indefinite, interrogative, personal, possessive, reflexive, relative pronouns) proposer 536 proscrire 376 protéger 353 ‘provided that’ 490 provinces, names of, gender 52 provoquer 531 puis 615 puisque, elision 12 punctuation 5 in decimal numerals 192 punir 535 quand interrogative 589, 590 meaning ‘even if’ 422 meaning ‘whenever’ 315 tenses after 414 + future 414 + past anterior 411

Index quand même 300 meaning ‘even if’ 422 quantifiers 320–337 quantité de 324 sing. or plur. verb 397 quantity, adverbs of 320–337 position of 641 quantity, expressions of 45 accompanied by en 201 quart, sing. or plur. verb 396 quatre-vingt(s) 180, 182 que, elision 12 que (conjunction) 699 exclamatory 484, 613 in clauses dependent on a previous verb, adj., etc. 481–485 in conditional clauses 480, 700, 701 in independent clauses 480 in questions in substandard Fr. 593 ne . . . que ‘only’ 43, 216, 553, 568 que . . . ou que . . . 480 replacing si ‘if’ 480, 703 replacing other conjunctions 702, 703 que (interrogative) 283, 286, 287, 289 with ne alone 501 = ‘why?’ 561, 631 que (relative) 262 equivalent of ce qui, ce que 275 gender and number taken from antecedent 460 never omitted 264, 265 with ref. to time 277 que ‘than’ 166, 168 que? ‘why?’ 561, 632 que de agreement of past part. with 460 exclamatory 333, 460 introducing infin. 261, 426 que . . . ne . . . ‘without’ 561 que non, que oui, que si 573, 574, 628 (ne . . .) que ‘only’ 43, 216, 553, 568 quel as preceding direct obj. 460 exclamatory 36, 279 interrogative 100, 279, 280, 589, 590 with ne alone 561


quel . . . que 308 quelconque 304 quelque determiner 306 elision 12 invariable adverb 307, 310 quelque + adj. or adv. + que 310, 495 variable (see quelque(s)) quelque chose 311, 319, 667 quelque part 315 quelque(s) 306, 309 quelque(s) . . . que 495 quelques-uns 306 quelqu’un 312, 319, 667 quérir 376 qu’est-ce qui, que 283, 286, 287, 389, 667 exclamatory qu’est-ce que ‘how’ 613 (il est) question de/que 343 questions 581–595 direct questions 280–287, 290, 583–593 echo-questions 594, 595 est-ce que . . . ? 389 indirect questions 280, 288–290, 594, 595 introduced by comme, comment 613 introduced by si 594, 702 rhetorical, with ne alone 561, 563 spoken French 593 tag-questions 587 use of intonation 389, 586 with cela 243 with ne alone 561 (see also interrogative) qui (interrogative) 281, 287 agreement of past part. with 460 qui (relative) after prepositions 263, 266 equivalent of celui qui, ce qui 275 qui . . . qui . . . ‘some . . . some’ 314 subject 262 with de or d’entre 674 qui est-ce qui/que? 282, 287 qui que (ce soit) 315, 495 quiconque 219, 313 ‘quite’ rendered by assez 322 rendered by tout 317 quoi? (interrogative) 283–285, 287, 289, 667



quoi (relative) 262, 273–274 quoi que (ce soit) 315, 495 quoi qu’il en soit 315 quoique 487 elision 12 rabattre 369 racheter 354 raconter 522 rare + subjunct. 483 rarement + inversion 600 ‘rather’ (assez) 322 ravi + subjunct. 485 ravoir 349 -re verbs forms in full 367 irregular verbs 372–374, 377 verbs with -aindre, -eindre, -oindre 372 verbs in -aître, -oître 373 verbs in -uire 374 slightly irregular verbs 368–370 rebattre 369 recevoir 375 reciprocal verbs 379 recommander + subjunct. 483, 536 reconnaître 373, 525 recourir 376 with à + disjunct, pron. 220 recouvrir 364 recueillir 364 redevoir 375 réduit 374, 531 réfléchir 525 refléter 353 reflexive pronouns 199, 218, 219 possible omission after faire, laisser, etc. 437 replacing poss. 228, 229 reflexive verbs 379–381 after faire, laisser, etc. 437 agreement of past part. 461 compound tenses 380, 381, 450 conjugation of 381 used instead of passive 384 + à + infin. 533 + de + infin. 537 + infin. 437 (se) refuser 521, 533, 534 regarder 523 + infin. 529 regarder comme sien 233 register 13, 405, 543, 602 régner 353

regretter + infin. 534 + subjunct. 485 se réjouir + infin. 537 + subjunct. 485 relative clauses 262–277 after demonst. 245–247 as equivalent of Eng. pres. part 442 subjunct. in 492–495 with ne alone 561 relative pronouns 262–277 religious festivals, etc. capital initials 4 def. art. with 28 reluire 374 rémédier 521 remercier 535 remonter 451 remplir 526 rendre 367 renoncer 220, 521, 530 rentrer 450, 451 repaître 373 répandre 367 repartir 363 se repentir 363, 537 repenti 379 répéter 353 repetition of adjective 147 of auxil. verb in Eng. but not in Fr. 403 of comparative or superlative 169 of def. art. 30 of demonst. determiner 236 of indef. art. 39 of noun 213 of personal pron. 210 of possess, determiner 224 of tout 317 répondre 367 répondre de 527 with ne . . . mot 554 reprendre 535 reprocher 523, 536 répugner 530, 536 requérir 376 request, verbs expressing, + subjunct. 482 réserver 525 se résigner 533 résister 521

Index (se) résoudre 377, 378, 533 ressembler 521 ressortir 363 ‘(the) rest’ 397 (le) reste 397 rester 343, 450, 538 compl. of 518 + à + infin. 428 restreindre 372 retenir 376 retirer 524 retourner 450, 451 + infin. 529 réussir 530 révéler 353 revoir 378 rhetorical questions with ne alone 561, 563 (ne . . .) rien 551, 555–558, 667 rire 377, 527 risquer 534 rivers, names of, gender 52 rompre 345, 368 rougir 527 rouvrir 364 s, plural of words in 102, 125 ’s, indicating genitive in English 19, 22 saillir 365 saints’ days, use of definite article 28 ‘same’ 300 sans 682 followed by ni 571 implying a negative 558 used adverbially 221 + noun forming adv. expression 46 sans doute position 642 preceding pas 544 + inversion 600 sans que 491 followed by ni 571 implying a negative 558 without following ne 566 satisfaire 376 satisfait + subjunct. 485 sauf 676 savoir 377, 378 je ne sache pas que . . . 477 pres. subjunct. 346 with ne alone 560, 561 + infin. 529


saying, verbs of mood after 482, 483 + infin. 427, 529 ‘scarcely’ 549 sciemment 608 se 199, 206, 208 seasons 707 gender of names of 50 prepositions with 658 second and deuxième 180 second conjugation (see -ir verbs) séduire 374 ‘self’ non-reflexive 8, 215, 219, 300 reflexive 199, 219 selon 683 used as adverb 645 sembler compl. of 518 mood after 483 used impersonally 343 + infin. 529 semer 354 senses, verbs of with following inf. 430–438, 529 agreement of past part. 466 use and position of obj. prons 209 use of direct or indirect obj. 430–435 + refl. verb 437 sentir 363 + infin. 529 seoir 377, 378 sequence of tenses governing tenses of subjunct. 498 departures from 499–500 series of nouns, articles with 28, 30, 39 (se) servir 363, 538 seul, position of 145 (si) seulement 421 ‘several’ 331 ‘should’ (see also conditional) 507, 512 si ‘if, whether’ elision 12 ‘if only’ 421 introducing echo-questions 594 introducing indirect questions 594 not replaced by que 702 renders ‘would that’ 513 replaced by que 702 tenses after 415, 418–422



si ‘if, whether’ (cont’d) with ne alone 561 si ‘so, as’ 157, 158, 334 in negative comparisons 157 si + adj./adv. + que 310, 483, 484, 489 type: si riche qu’il soit 310, 495 type: si riche soit-il 310, 478 with ne alone in following que clause 561 = ‘so much’ 303 = ‘such (a)’ + adj. 303 si ‘yes’ 628 si fait 628 si tant est que 490 simple conjunctions 692, 702 simple prepositions 644–646 simple tenses 340 ‘since’ 413, 567, 668 ‘since when?’ 413, 711 sitôt 622 ‘so’ 158, 323, 334 rendered by le 213 ‘so . . . that’ 323 ‘so long as’ 490 ‘so many, so much’ 303, 323, 334 ‘so that’ 489 soi 218, 219, 302 soi-disant, agreement of 136, 148, 441 (avoir) soin + subjunct. 482 soit 477 soit que 480 ‘some’ certains 294 d’aucuns 298 en 201 quetconque ‘some or other’ 304 quelque (= ‘approximately’) 307 quelque(s) ‘some, a few’ 306 quelques-uns/unes 306 rendered by partitive art. 41, 42 ‘some . . . or other’ 303 ‘some . . . some’ 314 ‘someone’ 312, 319 ‘someone else’ 293 ‘something’ 319 ‘something else’ 311 ‘somewhere’ 315 ‘somewhere else’ 625 sommer 535 songer 525, 530 with à + disjunct, pron. 220 sonner, with ne . . . mot 554 ‘soon’ 622

sortir 363, 450, 451 se soucier 537 souffler, with ne . . . mot 554 souffrir 364, 534 souhaiter + infin. 529, 534 + subjunct. 482 soumettre 376 soupçonner 535 soupeser 354 sourd-muet 136 sourire 377 sous 684 sous (la) condition que 490 souscrire 376 (se) soustraire 376, 524 soutenir 376 se souvenir 376 + subjunct. 483 sovereigns, names of no art. used 27 with cardinal or ordinal numerals 27, 182 speed, expression of 714 spoken language dislocation 602 fem. of adjs 77–81 omission of ne 556 omission of redundant (pleonastic) ne 562 past tenses 409–410 plur. 97–100 questions 593 square measurements 713 stems condit. 346 fut. 346 imper. 345 imperf. subjunct. 346 pres. subjunct. 346 ‘still’ 616 subject 15 agreement of past part. with in compound tenses with être 462 agreement of past part. with in passive 459 ‘dummy’ subject 343, 699 subjunctive 473–506 after adjs 482–485 after conjunctions denying the reality of the event 491 after conjunctions expressing conditions, hypotheses or suppositions 490

Index after conjunctions formed on the basis of que 486–491 after expressions of acceptance, approval or pleasure 485 after expressions of curiosity or surprise 485 after expressions of fear 485 after expressions of indifference, annoyance, anger or sorrow 485 after impersonal verbs 482 after nouns 482 after que expressing the event as something to be accomplished 482 expressing the event as doubtful or merely possible 483 expressing a judgement or reaction 484 expressing an order or exhortation 480 in hypothetical clauses 480 in noun clauses 480 after verbs expressing a wish, request, order, expectation, permission 482 forms given without que 347 in rel. clauses 492–495 after a superlative 494 after indef. art. 495 generic subjunct. 493 tenses 496–506 without que 476–478 substances, definite article with names of 28 succéder 521 ‘such’ 303 ‘such and such’ 303 suffire 377, 530 il suffit de 530 il suffit que 482 suffisamment + adj. + pour 154 suggérer 536 suivre 377, 378 superlative 156 absolute superlative 174 degree of comparison 156 mood after 494 of superiority or inferiority 159–172 supplier 535 ‘suppose’, rendered by si 421 supposé que 490


supposer, mood after 483 sur 685 ‘by’ 713 ‘out of’ 186 sûr, mood after 483 sûrement 627, 638 preceding pas 544 surprendre 376 surpris + subjunct. 485 surseoir 377 survivre 377, 521 suspendre 525 syllables, division into in speech 7 in writing 6 -t- with inverted pron subject 8, 388 tâcher 534 tag-questions 587 taire 377, 378 tandis que 487, 696 tant 45, 303, 323, 334 tant . . . que + subjunct. 483, 484, 489 with predicative adj. 153 tant que 323, 696 tantôt 622 tard 621 tarder 538 ‘teach’ 532 teindre 372 tel 303 tellement 303, 334 tellement . . . que 323, 483, 484 with ne alone 561 with predicative adj. 153 tel quel 303 tendre (verb) 530 tenir 377, 378 imperf. subjunct. 346 pret. 345, 346 tenir à + infin. 513, 530 tenir à ce que + subjunct. 482 tenir de 527 tenses differences between Eng. and Fr. 398–400 names 340 tenter 534 ‘than’ 166–168 ‘that’ corresponding que, etc., never omitted 264, 265



‘that’ (cont’d) (see also demonstrative determiners and pronouns, que (relative)) theme of sentence, identified by dislocation 602 ‘then’ 615 transl. by là 711 thickness, expression of 713 thinking, verbs of mood after 483 no ‘it’ when followed by que or infin. 214 with following infin. 427, 529 third conjugation (see -re verbs) ‘through’ 661, 680 tiers, sing. or plur. verb 396 time, adverbs of 614–623 position of 640 time, expression of 254, 706, 708–711 titl