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Le Blog: Lingual Links

By angelaluke, Mar 25 2017 02:15PM

So this week's conversation had one phrase that

four people asked me about: 'Il ne cesse de pleuvoir'.

Why was there no 'pas' to accompany the 'ne'?

The 'ne' used on its own like in the phrase above is called the 'ne littéraire' and there are seven verbs whose meanings are rendered negative just by adding the 'ne'. The first six verbs are: cesser, oser, pouvoir and, less common, bouger, daigner, and manquer. And so, 'il ne cesse de pleuvoir' means 'it hasn't stopped raining' or 'it keeps on raining'.

The seventh verb is savoir and the 'ne' can be used on its own under three conditions. Firstly, if the sentence expresses doubt, 'je ne sais s'il arrive', secondly. with 'would', je ne saurais comment y aller', and thirdly with a question word, 'il ne sait quoi dire'. However, we cannot use 'ne' on its own if we are talking about a skill or a fact, for example 'je ne sais pas parler chinois'.

The other instance when 'ne' can be used without 'pas' is called the 'ne explétif ' and, unlike the 'ne littéraire', it does not have a negative meaning. However it is used in situations where the main clause has a verb with a negative meaning to express fear, warning, doubt, and denial. Here's an example: J'ai peur qu'il ne fasse trop froid'. The 'ne explétif ' is also used after certain conjunctions, namely, à moins que, avant que, de crainte que, de peur que and sans que. So, for example, we could say, 'j'irai à la plage demain à moins qu’il ne pleuve.'

In common parlance, you can get away without using either the 'ne littéraire' or the 'ne explétif ' but if you want to use stylised, beautiful-sounding French, having a couple of set phrases up your sleeve can be a good idea.

Please let me know if you have found this useful, or use our panic button if you'd like more detail on this. We are always happy to help... à moins que la question ne soit trop difficile bien sûr :)

À bientôt,


By angelaluke, Apr 29 2016 10:05AM

Last week in our French conversations we had the phrase, ‘ça a été?’ This common colloquial expression is used in conjunction with something already mentioned or mentioned in the phrase itself. For example, ‘le weekend, ça a été?’ and is a way of asking how your weekend was, but the speaker is often expecting a positive response. The closest to this in English would be ‘And was your weekend good?’ What is great is that you can use the expression with lots of subjects, eg ‘Ça a été le repas/le theatre/le film/les vacances?’ So it's a good piece of small talk and something you might hear in a friendly informal French bar.

However, let’s not forget that ‘été’, as well as being the past participle of être, also is a noun meaning ‘summer’. So, in September, if you are catching up with a French-speaking friend you haven’t seen since April, you could find yourself saying, ‘Alors, l’été, ça a été?’. And if someone does ask you, a stock response whilst you're thinking of what else to say would be, 'Super, merci!' and then you could add more detail. Alors, cet article, ça a été? :)

By angelaluke, Apr 15 2016 09:50AM

Tenir is a verb that came up in our French conversation groups last week. It is quite a useful verb but one that tends to get missed. It literally means ‘to hold’ and conjugates like ‘venir’ but has a myriad of other meanings. It’s a great sentence starter, or a way of introducing a subject. You can use it in the ‘tu’ or ‘vous’ form to attract your listener’s attention. E.g. ‘Tiens, devine ce que je viens de faire’ = ‘Hey, look what I’ve just done’.

Tenir also indicates surprise : ‘Tiens, je me suis trompé encore de numéro!’ – ‘Goodness me, I’ve got the number wrong again!’ You’ll also hear it in shops when the shopkeeper gives you your change: ‘Tenez’ = ‘Here you are’.

And there are lots of idioms using this verb: ‘j’y tiens’ means ‘it’s important to me’ and ‘ je te tiens au courant’ means ‘I’ll keep you posted’. The verb is not to be confused with ‘le tien’ which means ‘yours’, so ‘ce stylo, c’est le tien? = ‘Is this pen yours?’. Which brings me to finish with ‘A la tienne, Étienne!’ – a colloquial expression for ‘Cheers’!

A la semaine prochaine, Angela

By angelaluke, Apr 9 2016 03:57PM

Wednesday’s scripted dialogues at the French conversation groups threw up some imaginative endings when people were faced with the situation that their payment card had been refused. We had all sorts of scenarios but the most useful phrase seemed to be ‘je me suis trompé(e) de code’ meaning ‘I got the code wrong’. The grammar here is a reflexive verb in the past tense but the best way forward is to learn the set phrase, ‘je me suis trompé(e) de...’ as you can then add any noun. In English we have many ways of expressing this: ‘je me suis trompé(e) d’adresse’ means ‘I got the wrong address’, and ‘je me suis trompé de ville’ could mean ‘I went to the wrong town’. ‘Je me suis trompé(e)’ on its own means that you made a mistake. However, ensure you use the reflexive pronoun, otherwise you are deceiving, betraying or cheating on someone, instead of making a mistake. So, ‘elle a trompé son mari’ means that she had an affair, which I guess is still getting the husband wrong in a way! And lastly, there is a very similar verb: ‘tremper’ which means ‘to soak’, so ‘je suis trempé(e) jusqu’aux os’ means that you are soaked to the bone. A bientôt, et ne vous trompez pas de verbe :) A bientôt, Angela

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