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french

all about french
Click on any of the terms below to get a full explanation of that topic.
•  The French Alphabet
•  Accents and French Vowels
•  Greetings
•  Likes And Dislikes
•  Likes And Dislikes: Verbs
•  Infinitives
•  Gender And Definite Articles
•  Family Members
•  Making Conversation
•  Some Colors
•  Au Revoir!
Introduction

Bonjour! Welcome to Standard Deviants TV French, where learning is anything but standard. We'll go over the ins and outs of the French language and have a lot of le fun—that's "fun"—at the same time. So, the next time someone asks you, "Parlez vous français?" you'll be able to proudly say, "Oui."

First, we'll tackle the French alphabet and pronunciation, then go over basic greetings and introductions. Next, we'll teach you how to talk about things you like and dislike, followed by a discussion of gender and definite articles. Before we're done, you'll also learn family names, like father, uncle, and grandmother. Lastly, we'll show you how to talk about people and things, including all the colors of the French rainbow.

A lot of things about the French and English languages are similar. They use the same alphabet. For the most part, we construct sentences the same way. But one of the big differences between the two languages is in pronunciation. When you speak French, you use your lips, tongue, throat, and even your nose.

The French Alphabet

The best way to get a handle on the French pronunciation is to learn the French alphabet. The French alphabet has the same letters as our alphabet, they're just pronounced differently. Here are the letters of the French alphabet. Each letter is followed by a phonetic pronunciation, which means a word that resembles the French pronunciation of that letter.

The French Alphabet

a (ah)
b (bay)
c (say)
d (day)
e (euh)
f (effe)
g (zhay)
h (ahsh)
i (ee)
j (zhee)
k (kah)
l (elle)
m (emme)
n (enne)
o (oh)
p (pay)
q (koo)
r (air)
s (esse)
t (tay)
u (oo)
v (vay)
w (doobleh vay)
x (eeks)
y (ee grek)
z (zed)

There are several letters you should pay special attention to. They are: g, j, e, q and r.

Pronounce g like a soft j or "zhay." Pronounce j like a soft g, or "zhee." E has a weird "Euh" sound like someone just punched you in the gut. For q and u, you have to make a puckery face so you can say the "koo" and "oo" correctly. R is often the hardest French letter for Americans to pronounce. It sounds kinda like the word "air," but the end of the word is kinda guttural.

Accents and French Vowels

You've seen accent marks before. They're those funny lines over vowels. If you are familiar with the word fiancé, you have encountered the mystery of accents before. Accents are used for two reasons: to change the pronunciation of the vowel, and to differentiate between words that are spelled alike but have different meanings. Accents are considered part of the spelling of a word, so you're gonna have to just memorize where they go. Though most accents are used with vowels, there's one special accent that goes with a consonant, and that's la cédille. The accents you'll run into in French are:

à - l'accent aigu
á - l'accent grave
â - l'accent circonflexe
ä - le tréma
ç - la cédille

Honestly, the names of the accents don't get used much, except when you're talking about the spellings of words. The important thing to do when you're memorizing how to spell French words is to make sure you memorize which accents are over which letters. The accents are just as important as the letters.

Here's an example of the importance of accents. When studying French in a classroom setting, you'll hear your instructor say, "Répétez, s'il vous plaît," which of course means, "Repeat after me, please." However, if your instructor leaves out the first accent in répétez, and says, "Repétez, s'il vous plaît," the instructor is actually saying, "Please pass gas again."

Before we get too far, we have to clue you in on how to pronounce French vowels. French vowels are tense, which means you keep your mouth in the same position the entire time you make the vowel sound. Let's use a for an example. In English, when you make the a sound, it sounds like "AAY." Your jaw moves as the sound is made. Now, the French pronunciation of a sounds like "ah." The sound is short, and one's jaw doesn't move at all. All the French vowels are like that, so keep it in mind while you're pronouncing new words.

Greetings

Say you're at a party in France. Everyone decides to play ten minutes in a closet, and you and Pierre are chosen. So in you go. But you don't know Pierre, and he doesn't know you. Well, first you say hello, and then you introduce yourself. Saying hello is easy enough, you may have heard the word before. It's bonjour. A typical exchange using bonjour could go like this:

You: "Bonjour!"
Pierre: "Bonjour!"

Not too complicated, eh? You could also say, "Salut!" if it's someone you know well and you want to be informal. Or you could say, "Bonsoir," if it's evening.

Next, you might want to try some small talk. "How's it going" is always a good one. To ask that you say, "Comment vas-tu?" You could also try "ça va?" or "quoi de neuf?" We'll stick with the first one for now.

You: "Comment-vas tu?"
Pierre: "Bien merci, et toi?"

Now you're in trouble, because he clearly asked you a question. The first part, bien merci, is French for "good, thanks." Bien is "good," and merci is "thanks." Toi is the singular familiar form of the word "you," that you use when talking to people you know well or are your own age. Now we can piece together that Pierre said "Good, thanks, and you?"

You could say, "Très bien, merci," which means "I'm doing very well, thanks." Of course, you may not feel very good, or you might feel like being more expressive. You could say, "okay," which is "comme ci, comme ça." You could be not bad, which is "pas mal," or great, which is "formidable."

Another way you could have gone about this whole "how are you doing" thing is if you had said, "Ça va?" which is just another way of saying "How's it going?" Then, Pierre could have said, "Ça va," meaning it was going okay, or "Ça ne va pas", meaning that things are going poorly. He also could have said any of the other things that you could have said before, like "comme ci comme ça," "pas mal," or "très bien."

You: "Ça va?"
Pierre: "Pas mal."

Okay, things seem to be going pretty well. You got the small talk out of the way, so now it's time to let Pierre know who you are.

The way to say "my name is Xylorpt" in French is "je m'appelle Xylorpt." This is all you need to know if your name is Xylorpt. If that's the case, however, then you're probably also from the planet Quazplat, and you should quit messing around with our planet's many languages, and start spending your time trying to get back to the mothership. Otherwise, replace the name Xylorpt with your own name, Earthling, and get out there and introduce yourself to as many people as you can.

You: "Je m'appelle (Your name, hopefully something other than Xylorpt)."
Pierre: "Ah! Enchanté!"

In France, whenever you officially meet someone, it's polite to say "Enchanté." That means "Charmed." Now, in English, saying charmed makes you look like a dork, but in France, it's pretty much expected.

Now that Pierre knows who you are, he'll probably introduce himself.

Pierre: "Je m'appelle Pierre."
You: "Enchanté."

There is always the possibility that Pierre wouldn't offer his name right away without you asking. To ask Pierre his name, say, "Comment t'appelles-tu?"

You: "Comment t'appelles-tu?"
Pierre: "Je m'appelle Pierre."
You: "Enchanté."

Okay, so now your ten minutes are up and it's time to introduce your new friend Pierre to your old friends. To introduce him, say "Je vous présente," and then say his name.

You: "Je vous présente Pierre."
Your Friend: "Enchanté."
Your Other Friend: "Bonjour, Pierre."

There's a trick though. You say, "Je vous présente," when you introduce someone to a group, or when you introduce someone to a person with whom you must be polite, like your grandmother. If you were just introducing Pierre to your friend Azriel, then you would say, "Je te présente." You have to change the form of the French pronoun that means "you" because you're speaking to someone you're on familiar terms with, and there's only one of them.

One more thing:

When you greet someone who you have to be polite with, like a professor, a policeman, a head of state, or your grandparents, you use the pronoun vous, which is the formal form of the pronoun "you."

Likes And Dislikes

As you're probably aware, there's more to meeting people than just saying hello and telling people your name. You also need to talk about YOU. You can tell people what you like, what you don't like—that kind of thing. These are called your preferences. In French, they're called tes préférences, or if you're talking about your own preferences, you call them mes préférences.

So, the first thing on our agenda is to learn how to say you like something. Here's the situation. You're at a party with a bunch of French people. You're standing next to the stereo, trying to look unobtrusive. But when the music stops, a French guy named Robert comes wandering over to change the CD, and he's especially friendly. He starts things off by saying:

Robert: "Tu aimes la musique rap?"

The first thing he said was "tu aimes" which means "you like." In the second part of the sentence you may recognize some words that are similar to English words, in this case musique and rap, from which you can guess (correctly) that Robert is talking about rap music. So, he's asking you if you like rap music. Let's pretend that rap music happens to be one of your favorites. So, you just have to tell him, yes, I like rap music. The word aime means like, and as you may have heard, the word je means "I." When the French say je and aime together, the run them together into one sound, j'aime. So, now you can just mimic the sentence Robert made.

You: "Oui, j'aime la musique rap."
Robert: "Okay."

That's another convenient thing about French. The French use the word "okay" just like we do. So, you just said, "Yes, I like rap music," by saying, "Oui, j'aime la musique rap." Robert said, "Okay," and he then cranked up some rap music in the stereo.

Likes And Dislikes: Verbs

You may like broccoli, many people do. You may love your broccoli drenched in a rich and creamy chocolate syrup. Then again, you may despise broccoli served "au chocolat." Hey, that's your choice (but, in our opinion, you're missing out). In order to let people know that you prefer your broccoli served in more traditional style, you've got to learn a bit about verbs.

In French, every verb has many forms. Which form you use depends on a bunch of factors, like who is talking, whether you're talking about the present, the past, or the future, and a whole bunch of other things. The most basic form of the verb is called the infinitive. All other forms are derived from the infinitive.

In English, infinitives are forms of a verb that have a "to" in front of them, like "to go," "to have," or "to throw." French infinitives do the same thing. Whenever we talk about a French verb, or introduce you to a new one, we'll almost always use the infinitive. For right now, you're going learn to use the infinitive and the "I" form of the verb. The "I" form is also called the first person singular.

So, we're going to teach you the verbs aimer, which means "to like," adorer, which means to love, préférer, to prefer, and détester, to hate.

In the following dialogue, Valérie and Hélène talk about what they like and what they hate.

Valérie: "J'aime la musique rock et la musique classique."
Hélène: "Tu aimes le sport?"
Valérie: "J'adore le foot."
Hélène: "Alors, tu n'aimes pas la télévision."
Valérie: "Oui, je déteste la télévision, je préfère la radio."
Hélène: "J'aime l'université, les restaurants, et le cinéma."

You might have noticed that sometimes they used the word je, and sometimes it was a j' stuck on the front of the word. Whenever the word after je starts with a vowel, abbreviate the je to j' and run them together. This is called élision. It helps make the French sound smooth and not choppy. Instead of saying je aime, they say j'aime.

What if you want to say that you don't like something, but you don't necessarily hate it? Do that by using the construction ne… pas. Here is an example of how Sophie would say that she doesn't like la télé (the television):

Sophie: "Je ne préfère pas la télé."

See how that works? To stick "not" in the sentence, you just sandwich the verb between the words ne and pas. Sophie is saying "I don't prefer the television." Here are some more examples:

Je n'aime pas l'université.
Je n'aime pas les restaurants.
Je n'aime pas le cinéma.

What happened to the ne? Well, just like the word je, if our verb starts with a vowel, we abbreviate the word ne. Ne becomes n'. Pretty suave, eh?

Here are a number of expressions in French which behave in a similar way to ne… pas:

ne… jamais, which means "never."
ne… personne,
which is "nobody" or "no one."
ne… plus,
which means "no longer," "no more," or "any more."
ne… rien,
which is "nothing."

We're going to give you some examples with the verb écouter, which means "to listen to." Observe how the negative expressions are used in the sentences.

Je n'écoute jamais.
Je n'écoute personne.
Je n'écoute plus.
Je n'écoute rien.

Infinitives

The neat thing about these "like" and "dislike" words is that you can use them with actions. You could say that you dislike walking, or like eating. All you need to know is the infinitive for the action that you like or that you dislike.

Écouter (to listen): J'adore écouter la radio.

Chanter (to sing): J'aime chanter.

Marcher (to walk): Je déteste marcher.

Danser, (to dance): J'aime danser.

See, you need to know only the infinitive for the action you like or dislike, then you just stick it after the verb.

J'aime écouter la radio, mais je déteste écouter le chien.

(I like to listen to the radio, but I don't like to listen to the dog.)

Gender And Definite Articles

Every noun in French—that's every person, place, or thing—has an assumed masculine or feminine identity, or gender. The gender of a word has a profound effect on the articles that you use with it. So what are articles? They're those little words that go in front of nouns, like "a," "an," and "the."

The only articles we're going to talk about are the French equivalents of "the." You may have noticed them hanging around in front of some of the words we've learned so far. The French definite articles are le, la, and les. Le, la, and les are called definite articles because they refer to a specific object. Like: the car, the cat, or the washed-up film star.

Here are the rules:
Use le with masculine nouns.
Use la with feminine nouns.
Use les with plural nouns, regardless of whether they're masculine or feminine.

How do you know which French nouns are masculine or feminine? The first thing you should probably do is just try to memorize the nouns with their definite articles. So don't just memorize cinéma, memorize le cinéma.

If you come across a word and you can't remember its gender, there are a few tricks you can use to learn the gender from the structure of the word. Commonly, words that end in -ette,-ière, -tion, and -ie are feminine, as well as words that end in -ance, -ence, -ée, and -ure.

Some Feminine Nouns

la bicyclette
la lumière
la boulangerie
la chance
la journée
la nature

Words that end in either -eau, or -a, and words that end in consonants, are usually masculine.

Some Masculine Nouns

le bureau
le pont
le restaurant

But that's not completely foolproof. For example, it's usually easier to just memorize the word's gender the first time you come across it.

Family Members

Now it's time to get back to basics and learn how to talk about your family. Check out the following, where Marie introduces her family:

Marie: "Je m'appelle Marie. Voilà ma famille. Voilà mon père, il s'appelle Jacques. Ma mère est là, elle s'appelle Virginie. Mon frère, Jean, est là. Voilà ma sur, Hélène. J'ai un oncle et une tante. Oncle Frédéric, et tante Joséphine."

Okay, a little explanation is necessary. Voilà is just a short way of saying, "Here is." The other weird thing in there is s'appelle. Okay, you know that when you say your name you say, "Je m'appelle." If you're saying someone else's name, you use what is called the third person singular form of the same expression, also known as the il and elle form.

Marie also has one set of grandparents, so she says:

Marie: "Voici mes grands-parents. Mon grand-père s'appelle Jacques, comme mon père. Ma grand-mère s'appelle Marie, comme moi!"

Isn't that neat how her family names its members after each other? They're so nice. One word that was used in there, moi, you may have seen before. Use that word to refer to yourself whenever you're not the subject of the sentence. There's one more set of names you have to learn, the words for son, daughter, husband and wife.

Virginie: "Bonjour. Je m'appelle Virginie. Marie est ma fille. Jean est mon fils. Je suis la femme de Jacques."

Jacques: "Je suis le mari de Virginie."

Making Conversation

Okay, so you know who you are and where you come from, and beyond that, where you are. Now, let's discuss how to have more advanced conversations.

The following is a dialogue where Patrick, an eighteen-year-old college student from Reims, introduces himself to Pierre, whom he has just met.

Patrick: "Bonjour. Je m'appelle Patrick. J'habite à l'université de Reims. Bienvenu dans ma chambre. Dans ma chambre il y a une radio, un ordinateur, et un tapis vert et bleu."

Pierre: "Est-ce-qu'il y a d'autres choses?"

Patrick: "Oui! Il y a aussi deux plantes vertes, et une affiche de basket. Ma chambre est très interessante, n'est-ce pas?"

Okay, there's a bunch of stuff in this dialogue that we haven't run into yet.

We're familiar with the first part of the conversation Patrick said hello and introduced himself. He also let us know where he lives—at the University of Reims. To say where you live, use the phrase j'habite à, such as in "j'habite à New Orleans."

Let's move on. What's that next part of the sentence?

Patrick: "Bienvenu dans ma chambre."

He's just welcoming us to his room. You might have heard the word bienvenu before. So, "Bienvenu dans ma chambre," means, "Welcome to my room." The word ma means "my."

Patrick: "Dans ma chambre, il y a une radio, un ordinateur, et un tapis vert et bleu."

Lets look at the first part, "dans ma chambre." You've seen ma chambre before, it means "my room." Dans means "in." So, first there's "in my room." then there's that crazy "il y a" thing. Il y a means, "there is" or "there are." Makes sense, doesn't it? The rug, or tapis, is "vert et bleu" or "green and blue."

Since we've taught you the words for green and blue, let's check out some more color words.

Some Colors

red - rouge
orange - orange
yellow - jaune
green - vert
blue - bleu
violet - violet
white - blanc
black - noir
brown - brun

Since colors are mostly used to modify nouns, they must agree in gender with the noun that they're modifying. If the color ends in an e, then the masculine and the feminine forms are the same. Generally, if the color ends in a consonant, add an e to make it feminine. For a few colors, it's a bit more complicated, like violette and blanche, but they're also easy to remember. Let's look at the rest of the feminine forms of the colors.

rouge
orange
jaune
verte
bleue
violette
blanche
noire
brune

The extra echanges the pronunciation of a few colors. The color white, blanc,changes altogether. For that one, you add an hand an e.

Au Revoir!

Well, French fans, that's it for our crash course in French. We hope you learned how to mingle with all your French friends and had some fun along the way. We gotta scoot on out of here, but not before thanking you for spending some time with us. Au revoir!

Now that you've read All About French, test your knowledge with our Sample Test.

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