45 Days of French – Day 5

Today I continued with lesson (leçon) 3 of Essential French (EF). It gives a lot more meat, adding some useful verbs to your repertoire. It also introduces the definite article (somewhat awkwardly) and the usefulness of the preposition de. Having a little bit more  familiarity with the forms of questions after this chapter, I will offer here some feel for how questions can be formatted based on this and the previous chapter. However, there are still outstanding questions in my mind.

Worse, the copy editor failed this chapter. There are a number of “inconsistencies” in this leçon. One has an entire paragraph describing a language feature based on a  preceding example that is not present. Another is met when charting the forms of the verbs. The text jumps to examples of the use of aller “to go” prior to charting it, which is out of step with the rest of the charting of verbs done to that point. Then, following the chart of aller, it does a mixture of examples and notes on both aller and revenir “to come back, return”. Looks like at some point someone decided to remove revenir from this chapter but it didn’t work out quite right. Or at least, that’s my best guess.

The focus of this lesson is around a conversation discussing upcoming travel plans. A very nosy person starts asking if the other person has a whole bunch of stuff, like tickets and a suitcase. This provides a springboard to look at the important, though irregular, verb avoir “to have” – examples of which take up the majority of the lesson. It also introduces prepositions that describe possession, position within, as well as movement to and from.

I’m going to give information backwards from the way it was given in the book – only because my intent is to provide an overview of details I have learned, not present the actual examples and logic – unless it needs to be discussed. The book chooses to do a number of examples and description of specific forms of avoir, the definite article and prepositions before ever charting things out systematically. I’m going to just provide the condensed verb chart first:

Verb: #: 1p 2p 3p
“to be”
sg. j’ai tu as il/elle a
pl. nous avons vous avez ils/elles ont
“to travel”
sg. je voyage
tu voyages
il/elle voyage
pl. nous voyageons vous voyagez
ils/elles voyagent
“to leave, depart, go away”
sg. je pars
tu pars il/elle part
pl. nous partons vous partez ils/elles partent
“to take”
sg. je prends
tu prends il/elle prend
pl. nous prenons vous prenez ils/elles prennent
“to go”
sg. je vais
tu vas il/elle va
pl. nous allons vous allez ils/elles vont
“to come back, return”
sg. je reviens
tu reviens il/elle revient
pl. nous revenons vous revenez ils/elles reviennent

It is worth noting that revenir in form is just the same thing as the venir conjugated, all forms having the prefix re-. The book also points out that the first person plural form voyageons keeps the -e- so that the pronunciation of the g remains consistent. Seems straight-forward enough.

Now for some notes in relation to the above chart (and some that will help the discussion):

The Definite Article
Lesson 3 gives about half a page of examples and other notes before even using the word “definite” in the section headed “LE / LA”. Overall, the description is brief; Le is used with masculine nouns, and la with feminine nouns, to indicate a definite object – similar to English “the”. L’ is used when the following word begins with a vowel or a mute h. It did startle me to have this h variation described as mute rather than unaspirated (as ATYF has done), but my spell-checker likes “mute” much better!

Sometimes in French, more frequently so than in English, when the expression with the definite article is the subject, the subject gets duplicated – sort of. For example, to say “The big man is David,” one would offer Le grand homme, c’est David. Note the use of ce.

Through the examples, and some helpful notes, the reader runs up against the following prepositions:

Preposition Usage
  1. À is used when describing where one is going “to”.
  2. It can also indicate where someone is “at”.
  3. It is also used when describing something’s usage, “for”, as in une tasse à café “a coffee cup”, or more woodenly “a cup for coffee”. Compare this to une tasse de café, “a cup of coffee”.
  1. This is like English “with”, describing accompaniment. The book’s example is avec une grande valise “with a large suitcase”, though I believe avec can be used of people accompanying as well.
  1. Dans is used of being inside something, like a container. The repeated example is dans le sac “In the bag”. Not sure, but I expect this always requires some sort of article, whether definite or indefinite.
  1. De is has a possessive usage frequently – le billet de Paul “Paul’s ticket”, or even “the ticket of Paul”.
  2. De has a partitive usage many other times, as in the earlier example, une tasse de café, “a cup of coffee”.
  3. De can also point to where something comes “from”, as in Viens-tu de Paris? “You are coming from Paris? or “You are from Paris?”

The Absolute Negative
The absolute negative is the form of statement that negates the verb. A positive statement would be like Je suis un professeur “I am a teacher”, or Je voyage à Marseille “I am traveling to Marseille”. The absolute negative of these two sentences would be Je ne suis pas un professeur and Je ne voyage pas à Marseille “I am not traveling to Marseille”. Note that the verb is surrounded by ne..pas, or n’..pas if the verb begins with a vowel. This is fairly consistently employed with all the verbs seen thus far, though the fact that “absolute” is in this name suggests there are other ways of negating.

With forms of avoir and the absolute negative, particular care must be taken. Take for instance J’ai un billet “I have a ticket.” If the indefinite article is used (but not the definite article) with the direct object, it must be replaced by de, resulting in Je n’ai pas de billet “I don’t have a ticket”, here.

Forming Questions
The formation of questions, beyond the simple “What is this?” and “Is this…?”, was looked at in the last chapter. However, it was late and I was tired of typing. And I still had a number of outstanding “whys”. Those “whys” are still there, mostly. But it is past time to look at questions in EF, since they are a major component of the examples presented.

There are two means of turning a verbal statement into a question. The first places the statement after the question phrase “Est-ce que…”. The second inverts the subject pronoun and the verb (normally the subject would come before the verb), and connects them with a hyphen. If the subject pronoun ends begins with a vowel, and the verb form ends in one, a -t- is placed between them. Just try saying these without the -t- and you will see why this rule has developed; it is noticeably awkward. Here are some examples:

  • Est-ce que vous allez aujourd’hui? “Are you going today?”
  • Allez-vous aujourd’hui? “Are you going today?”
  • Est-ce qu’il va aujourd’hui? Is he going today?
  • Va-t-il aujourd’hui? “Is he going today?”

But not all forms are used with all verbs and with all subject pronouns. And this is where I have questions. I don’t understand yet the pattern. There is something with formality, based on the note in the book as to why the expression Ai-je… “Do I have…” is not used. But it seems some verbs will use one or the other expression primarily, while other verbs seem to allow either expression in most contexts. Hopefully some clarity will be offered shortly.

Question Words
A few words that are used in information-seeking questions have been introduced:

Preposition Usage
  1. Is used when asking “Where?”
  1. Is used when asking “When?”
quel / quelle
  1. Is used to ask “Which?”. It is actually an adjective, and thus agrees with the gender of the associated noun phrase, quel with masculines and quelle with feminines.

That is all for now. Au revoir!


About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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1 Response to 45 Days of French – Day 5

  1. Pingback: 45 Days of French | σφόδρα – exceedingly

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