French Alfred gave us another phrase just before he left for France: ‘Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.’ It is quite short and quite easy, and very useful. It is a form of encouragement for any project-in-the-making. It means ‘Little by little, the bird makes its nest.’ Fred likes it because he says he could use just ‘petit à petit,’ on its own sometimes and not have to remember the whole phrase. He is ‘très paresseux,’ (tray parr ess ugh) very lazy.
The new phrase is pronounced: ‘Per tea a per tea, lwuzoh fay song nee.’
So practise saying ‘Per tea a per tea,’ lots of times. When you are filling in your tax return, when you are unloading and unloading the dishwasher, when you are living your life.
I will probably say ‘Petit à petit, je fais la vaisselle,’ quite a lot. It’s pronounced: ‘Per tea a per tea, juh fay la vay sell’ – ‘little by little, I do the washing up’.
I might say: ‘Petit à petit, j’écris un roman.’ ‘Per tea a per tea, jay kree ung romong,’ meaning ‘Little by little I am writing a novel.’
Fred could say ‘Petit à petit, j’apprends le français,’ pronounced: ‘Per tea a per tea, japrong ler frong say.’ (Little by little, I am learning French.’)
Now, moving on to: ‘son nid,’ ‘its nest’. You might remember from school some dim memory of ‘mon, ma, mes…ton, ta, tes…son, sa, ses.’ Does that ring any bells? These lovely little words are called possessive pronouns. (I can’t say ‘possessive pronoun’ to Fred, because if I do, he says something like ‘Does that mean it’s in the present tense?’ or something equally moronic, at which point I say: ‘no, dear, the present tense is only applicable to verbs,’ at which point he says, ‘what’s a verb again?’)
So instead of having to say ‘Little by little, the bird makes the bird’s nest,’ you substitute the second ‘bird’ with ‘its’, since we will know that ‘its’ is referring to the bird and it is annoying to have to repeat nouns or names too often. It would be irritating, for example, to have to say: ‘Emilie looks in Emilie’s bag.’ Much better to be able to say ‘Emilie looks in her bag.’ So this ‘her’ is in the place of (pro – on behalf of, in place of) the name/noun Emilie (noun from ‘nom’, name) and this is why this word ‘her’ is called a pronoun. It is a possessive pronoun because it is indicating ownership of something.
Now, when in English we say ‘his bag,’ or ‘her bag,’ the gender of the person whose bag it is is made apparent. So ‘his’ shows us that the person is male, and ‘her’ would show us that the person owning the bag is female.
In French, this is not the case. Watch: ‘Emilie regarde dans son sac.’ (Emily looks in her bag.) ‘Pierre regarde dans son sac.’ (Pierre looks in his bag.) The ‘son’ is going with the bag, which is masculine, not with Emilie or Pierre! The choice of ‘son, sa or ses’ is not to do with Emilie or Pierre. That’s why, in both sentences ‘son sac’ remains the same. See how ‘son’ can mean ‘his’ or ‘her’. The choice of ‘son, sa or ses’ has everything to do with ‘sac’. ‘Sac’ is masculine, therefore we use ‘son’. ‘Son’ would only change to ‘sa’ if the noun following it was feminine. So: ‘Emilie aime sa famille.’ (Emily loves her family.) ‘Famille’ is a feminine word: la famille, therefore to say ‘his or her family’ you need the feminine form of ‘son, sa, ses,’ which is ‘sa.’ ‘Pierre aime sa famille.’ (Pierre loves his family.) Same! Famille is still feminine and still requires ‘sa’, regardless of whether the owner of the family is masculine or feminine.
So do you see how the ‘son’ or the ‘sa’ is going with the noun that follows it, and is not going with the person who owns the thing?
This is one of the most difficult things to get in French. As a teacher, you find yourself explaining it again and again to students, as it is counter-intuitive to us.
With ‘mes’, ‘tes’ and ‘ses’, which are used in front of plural nouns, for example: my flowers, ‘mes fleurs’, you will be glad to know that the gender of the noun following does not matter. We use ‘mes’ for things that are feminine and things that are masculine: ‘mes fleurs’ (my flowers) which are feminine, ‘mes chiens,’ (my dogs), which are masculine.
So: some quick examples using: mon ma mes (mong, ma, may), ton ta tes (tong, ta, tay), and son sa ses (song, sa, say).
With masculine things: mon chien, (my dog) mon argent, (my money) mon sac, (my bag)
(Mong shiang, mon arjong, mon sack)
With feminine things: ma famille, (my family) ma situation (my situation)
(ma fameeyy, ma see teeww a seeong)
With plural things: mes chaussures, (my shoes) mes parents (my parents)
(may show seeourrgh, may parrong)
With masculine things: ton chien (your dog), ton argent (your money), ton sac (your bag).
(tong she ang, ton arjong, tong sack)
With feminine things: ta famille (your family), and ta situation (your situation),
(ta fameeyy, ta see teeww a see ong)
With plural things: tes chaussures (your shoes), tes parents (your parents).
(tay show seeourrgh, tay parrong)
With masculine things: son chien (his/her dog), son argent (his/her money), son sac (his/her bag), son nid (his/her/its nest).
(song she ang, son arjong, song sack, song nee)
With feminine things: sa famille (his/her family), sa situation (his/her situation).
(sa fameeyy, sa see teeww a see ong)
With plural things: ses chaussures (his/her shoes), ses parents (his/her parents).
(say show seeourrgh, say parrong)
Say these out loud a few times, as that’s how it goes in. Practising your French is all about pretending to be French! You have to act French! Push your lips forward, shrug your shoulders, and say ‘Bof!’ (Boff!) This kind of means ‘I don’t give a damn.’ (very short and easy for Granny.)