Homework and Easy Test

So, Fred has gone off to Paris for two nights muttering ‘La vie est dure’ to himself, determined to use it at least ten times.  He is under instructions to report back.

He kept saying ‘le vie’, (lurgh vee) which is not right.  You need to say ‘la’ with the ‘a’ sound from ‘apple’.  You can’t be lazy.  You have to open your jaw to say it.  Say it now:  ‘la, la, la.’  I said, ‘Fred, just think of going to the lavvy.  Say ‘lavvy’ and you have ‘la vie’ right.’

We had to practise the ‘dure’ quite a lot too.  You have to exaggerate the sounds.  I said ‘Fred, it’s deeuwwwr.’  And after that, he got it.

We are also revising all the other phrases.  He goes off with a list of them in his pocket to look at on the Eurostar.  I also text them to him in case he loses the list.  Can’t be taking any risks with this learning French business.


What does ‘dur’ or ‘dure’ mean?

Why, in this phrase, does ‘dure’ have the ‘e’ on the end?

What does ‘la vie’ mean?

What English word can you say to help you pronounce ‘la vie’?

What is ‘to be’ in French?

What is ‘I am’ in French?

What does ‘La vie est dure’ mean?

Jolly good.  I hope you are getting them all right.  Even if you are not, don’t worry.  A little goes a long way.  Even if you have learnt one phrase, that’s already good: ‘C’est déjà bien!’

‘La vie est dure.’

Granny and Grampa had a French friend over yesterday. He is a Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure. Granny asked him for a nice easy phrase for Fred. The professor thought long and hard, and came up with: ‘La vie est dure.’

It’s pronounced ‘La vee ay deeuwwr,’ and means ‘Life is hard.’

This is so easy and so good. Life is hard, after all, so you can use it willy-nilly, whenever the hell you like, as, chances are, it will fit in with the conversation.

The professor said he had used the phrase only last night at the Candlemas Feast as he was waiting for the port, which had somehow got held up as it was being passed around the table.

But the phrase could equally well be used for more serious situations: broken legs, missed flights, the bloody weather, unexpected encounters with the tax-man etc. I am sure Fred will spot better situations than I can as he is apparently the context king.

Anyway, just learn it. I won’t go on.

Although I will just say that the reason that the adjective ‘dure’ (hard) has that ‘e’ on the end, is because ‘la vie’ is feminine.

And that in French they say ‘The life is hard.’ ‘La vie est dure.’ You can’t just say ‘Vie est dure.’ Non!

Notice how, just as the words ‘life’ and ‘live’ in our language have letters in common, the word ‘vie’ has letters in common with the verb we learnt already in ‘on ne vit qu’une fois’:vivre’, ‘to live.’

You might already know ‘La vie’ from the well-known phrase ‘C’est la vie!’ (That’s life), pronounced ‘say la vee.’

The word ‘est’ means ‘is’ and is from the verb ‘être’, a very important verb if you are at all interested in language, existence, Shakespeare, life or death. It is of course the verb ‘to be.’ As it will keep on coming up, please write out and stick on your fridge the present tense of être:

je suis

tu es

il/elle/on est

nous sommes

vous êtes

ils sont.

And say along with Fred:

‘je swee

teeww ay

eel/ell/ong ay

noo som

vooz ett

eel song.’

You can use this verb être with adjectives, for example:

je suis heureux (if it is a boy or man speaking) – I am happy

je suis heureuse (if it is a girl or woman speaking) – I am happy

je suis triste – I am sad

tu es riche – you are rich

il est beau – he is good-looking/beautiful

elle est belle – she is good-looking/beautiful

nous sommes fatigués – we are tired

vous êtes polis – you are polite

ils sont aimables – they are nice.

So, for homework, please write out: ‘La vie est dure,’ three times and stick it on your tea-pot, your table, and your laptop.  La vie est dure, la vie est dure, la vie est dure.

Try to say it at least ten times a day, in context if possible. Please let me know in the comments if you have managed to slip it in to any conversations. This will surely not be too hard if you live in England, as people love having a good rant about all the things that are bugging them. Just make the most of this fact. If you punctuate their tirade with ‘La vie est dure’ often enough, they might even stop going on.

I am sure Fred, and blog readers, will be able to use the new phrase in almost any conversation, so it’s a winner. If, after a while, no one will have a conversation with you, you could just wander about, doing all those deathly chores, muttering ‘La vie est dure, la vie est dure,’ to yourself.

Great Big Massive TEST!

Big Mega Massive Great Enormous Test Exam Thing on all of Unit 1 what we have just done.

  1. What does ‘on ne vit qu’une fois’ mean?
  2. What does ‘aujourd’hui il a plu toute la journée’ mean?
  3. What does ‘Parle pas aux étrangers’ mean?
  4. What does ‘Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué’ mean?
  5. What does ‘Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid’ mean?

More Big Mega Massive Test:

  1. What would you say about a person who is talking about all the fun adventures they are going to have at Glastonbury but they haven’t even registered to get tickets yet? (Fred thought up this one himself as he said the one I had thought up was crap.)
  2. What might you say to a person who has an awful lot of GCSE revision to do before June?
  3. How might you spread paranoia about the dangers of speaking to people one doesn’t know?
  4. How might you best depress someone by telling them what the weather did today? Fred says this is a crap one as a gardener might be happy about the rain. Why are you bringing depression into it? he says. And anyway it’s not about that, he says, it’s more: ‘what would you say to someone who has had a lot of disappointing news all at once?’ (he is still not getting the fact it’s not a proverb, how sweet!)
  5. If you don’t believe in the afterlife, what might you say to confirm this? Fred answered with ‘aujourd’hui il a plu toute la journee.’! Makes me die! Then he said ‘even if you do believe in the afterlife, YOLO still applies’. (YOLO means You Only Live Once.  I have to say this for Granny and Auntie Meg who might not know it.)

Fred says he is surprised at my level of ignorance regarding using the phrases. He says my examples are forced! Can you credit it? And not only are they forced, they apparently show a lack of compassion! Gosh, for a failing student, he has a lot of attitude.

Fill in the blanks:

  1. Vivre = to live
  2. Parler = to………
  3. Faire = to do/make
  4. Vendre = to………
  5. Tuer = to…….

You’ll be glad to know, Fred got all this last lot right.

What is the French for:

  1. The Bird – ………………..
  2. The Bear – ………………….
  3. The Stranger – ……………………
  4. The Day – ………………………
  5. The Nest – ………………………..

Fred also got all of these right (orally), (sounds rude but isn’t) apart from he puts the S into étranger, making it sound rather like ‘stranger.’ Tchuh!  Any excuse to speak English.

I will post the answers in a little while.  If you got about 40 percent right, then please carry on.  If you got only about 20% right, just try a bit harder and write the phrases out again and stick them back on the teapot!  If you got 0%  then….well, don’t give up!  Think positive and keep trying.  If Fred can do it, then you can do it!





Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.

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.)

Homework 4 and Test 4

For homework you might have to take ‘Eel ne foh pah vondre la poh de loors avong de lavwaa teewway‘ in bits to learn it.

Please write:

Eel ne foh pah‘ on one post-it sticker, followed by ‘Il ne faut pas.’

vondre‘ on another, followed by ‘vendre.’

la poh de l’oors‘ on another, followed by ‘la peau de l’ours.’

Say these a few times first.

Then write ‘avong de‘ on a post-it note, followed by ‘avant de’.

Put ‘lavwaa teewway‘ on another, followed by ‘l’avoir tué.’

Now shuffle your post-it notes.  Then try to put them together in the right order!   Then say the whole phrase, several times.  Shuffle again, and repeat!  You can also write the English on the back and test yourself as with flash-cards.  Haha, I can just see some of you rolling your eyes and saying ‘Jeez, does this woman not think I have a life?’

Test 4

  1.  What does ‘il faut manger’ mean?
  2. What does ‘il ne faut pas regarder la télé’ mean?
  3. What does ‘il ne faut pas vendre..’ mean?
  4. What does ‘la peau’ mean?
  5. What does ‘l’ours’ mean?
  6. What, therefore, does ‘la peau de l’ours’ mean?
  7. What does ‘avant de manger’ mean?
  8. After ‘avant de…’ do you put an imperative or an infinitive?
  9. Put these into the right order:

la peau …l’avoir….Il ne faut pas…..avant de……tué….vendre….de l’ours.

Fred got the first seven right!  Then the imperative/infinitive question scared him. He got brain-freeze and couldn’t answer.  He did manage to put the words of number 9 into the right order!  But it turned out he was cheating and had the phrase in front of him on his laptop.

We did the test again.  Again he got the first seven right, but number 8 freaked him out.  I said ‘Infinitive’ is the correct answer.  He said ‘I don’t care though.’  I persisted and have made him repeat after me that the infinitive is the Mother Ship of the verb.

He got number 9 right again!  But he was cheating again!  Merde!

I have two more questions:

  1. What is ‘the skin’ in French?
  2. What is ‘the bear’ in French?

Hooray!  Freddie got both of these right.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.

By the way, I have received some feedback:  Granny says it’s too hard and can I do an easy one?  So the blog’s next phrase will be short and easy, I promise.

‘Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué.’

We were down the hill in the Boar’s Head with my sister Penel and her lovely French chap, who is called ‘Alfred,’ funnily enough, seeing as we have three Alfred’s already: GrandAlf (Fred’s dad), Fred (who is really Alfred Frederick) and Little Alfie (our son, who is no longer little.)

‘So, French-Alfred,’ I said. ‘Please can you give us a French phrase for Fred?’ Except I had to say it in French, as his English is at a similar level to Fred’s French: ‘Alors, Alfred, s’il te plait, est-ce que tu peux nous donner une phrase française pour Freddie?’

‘Bien sûr,’ (‘of course’) he replied: ‘ ‘Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué.’ ‘

‘Ooh! It’s a bit hard,’ I exclaimed, ‘and a bit long. Fnarr fnarr.’ We were in the pub so, obviously, you can’t say something like ‘it’s a bit hard and a bit long’ without having a little snort. Oops, I keep saying that this blog is not going to be at all rude but then I just can’t help myself. I’m in a terrible habit.

We explained to Fred that the phrase means ‘You mustn’t sell the skin of the bear before you have killed it.’  We thought the nearest English equivalent must be: ‘Don’t count your chickens til they’re hatched.’ But the bear one has more of a demanding future task implied: I mean, catching the bear let alone killing it is already likely to be tricky.

‘Can I use it at work though?’ Fred wondered.

‘You could say it at a meeting,’ I suggested, ‘when someone is saying they will deliver a project pronto but you know full well they haven’t started writing it yet.’

We decided it was a mighty useful phrase as it could be used to temper any empty or extravagant boast.  Fred still thought it was too hard to learn though. ‘You can learn it in bits,’ my sister suggested. ‘Start with just ‘Il ne faut pas vendre,’ ‘one mustn’t sell, or you mustn’t sell…’

Eel ne…

‘Faut pas vendre..’

Eel ne foh pah vondre,’ said Fred.

‘Excellent! Then learn ‘la peau de l’ours’. The skin of the bear.’

La poh de loors,’ said Fred.

‘Very good. Now put them together: ‘Il ne faut pas vendre…la peau de l’ours.’

Eel ne foh pah vondre….la poh de loors, eel ne foh pah vondre….la poh de loors.

We clapped and clinked glasses and exclaimed in wonder. Half of a new phrase conquered already. We thought we should teach French-Alfred a phrase in return. ‘Une phrase très facile!’( ‘A very easy phrase!’) he begged.

‘It’s my round. What are you having?’ said Fred.

‘That’s useful,’ I commented, ‘especially in a pub.’

Eet’s my….rrraound,’ said Alfred.

‘I’ll have a pint of bitter,’ said Fred.

‘Yeah, a pint please,’ said my sister.

‘And I’ll have a double G n T,’ I said.

Alfred laughed masses when he realised what a nasty trick we had played on him. We then taught him ‘It’s your round,’ to ensure he would be able to recoup funds as it would be an extraordinary curse to have nothing but ‘it’s my round’ in one’s repertoire.

We still had to do the second half of our new phrase: ‘avant de l’avoir tué.’ ‘before having killed it.’ Hmm. Tricky to remember. Fred had to try it in bits again: ‘avant de,’ ‘avant de,’ ‘avant de.’ Then ‘l’avoir,’ l’avoir,’ ‘l’avoir.’ And then the ‘tué’ ‘tué’ ‘tué’. Surely that one can’t be hard, as it’s so short! (Sounds rude, but isn’t.)

Avong de, avong de, avong de, l’avwah, l’avwah, l’avwah, teewway, teewway, teewway,’ said Fred.

He was fine splitting it up into parts, but went to pieces when trying to put it together. (Ha, there’s a pun in there somewhere.) He’s still working on this phrase a good three weeks later. This is annoying as he had a perfect opportunity to use it at work the other day, but couldn’t remember it. I got a text: ‘What’s the one about the bear?!’ but too late to be able to help. Damn. Still, the opportunity to use it will arise again soon, for sure.

For people who like grammar: ‘Avant de’ is a really useful thing to learn. There is a little formula. This is like maths, so Fred should like it: ‘Avant de + infinitive.’ Remember the infinitive is the name of the verb, the Mother Ship of the verb. So to say ‘before eating…’ it would be ‘avant de manger….’ (avong de monjay) To say ‘before going to the pub…’ it would be ‘avant de aller au pub,’ which contracts into ‘avant d’aller au pub…’. ‘Before reading the book…’ would be ‘avant de lire le livre…’, ‘before watching telly…’ would be ‘avant de regarder la télé….’

Also look back at ‘Il ne faut pas vendre…’ ‘You mustn’t sell…’ The formula is ‘il ne faut pas + infinitive.’ So you can use this ‘Il ne faut pas’ with any infinitive: ‘Il ne faut pas fumer.’ (pronounced: Eel ne foh pah feewwmay.) ‘Il ne faut pas manger.’ (pronounced: Eel ne foh pah monjay.) ‘Il ne faut pas aller aux toilettes.’ (Eel ne foh pah allay oh twalett). Equally you can miss out the ‘ne’ and the ‘pas’ and say ‘il faut manger,’ (Eel foh monjay), ‘it is necessary to eat’, ‘il faut boire’, (Eel foh bwar) ‘it is necessary to drink’, ‘il faut aller aux toilettes,’ (Eel foh allay oh twalett) ‘one must go to the loo’, ‘il faut parler lentement pour Freddie,’ (Eel foh parlay lontermong poor Freddie) ‘we should/one must/it is necessary to speak slowly for Freddie.’

Anyway, to recap:  repeat ten times: ‘Eel ne foh pah vondre la poh de loors avong de lavwah tewway.’

Keep saying all of your phrases. Do not give up! Remember, the Fredway is one hell of a strange method…but it is a method.


Homework 3 and Test 3

I hope you are doing your homework.  Please say ‘Parle pas à un étranger‘ ‘Parl pah a ung ay tron jay‘ ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ to yourself lots of times today and tomorrow.  Write it down and stick it on your table.  Say it to people while wagging your finger at them and furrowing your brow.

Remember also to keep saying ‘On ne vit qu’une fois,’ ‘Honour vee kune fwa‘ ‘You only live once’ several times a day, while out walking, while shopping, while watching telly etc.

Don’t forget to repeat ‘Aujourd’hui il a plu toute la journée‘ ‘oh jor dwee eel a pleeww toot la jornay,’ ‘Today, it rained all day,’ as well, while you are doing the recycling or riding your bike, not forgetting the ‘a’ like Fred does, and remembering that it is not a proverb, but a statement of fact!  Actually, today is a very good day to practise this one, as it is truly pissing down.

Test 3

a)  What does ‘Parle pas à un étranger’ mean?

b)  What does ‘Parle pas aux étrangers‘ mean?

c)  What letter does that ‘x’ ending the word ‘aux’ sound like, as it links up with the vowel starting ‘étranger’?

d)  What word is missing from ‘Parle pas à un étranger.’

e)  When you see an ‘e acute’ ie ‘é’, what letter can you slip in after it to help you possibly find the meaning of the word?

f)  Is ‘étranger’ masculine, or feminine?

g)  How can you remember that the imperative is to do with giving orders?

If you score zero out of seven, like Fred, then please re-read the blog ‘Parle pas à un étranger’ and then try again!  Fred is scoring super-low and will never get his GCSE at this rate.  However, he can say all the phrases so far, albeit haltingly and with a constipated look on his face.

‘Parle pas à un étranger.’

We were chatting to a lovely French girl at the Euromondiale Language Centre Christmas party.  We asked her if she could come up with a good phrase for Fred. She frowned and said: ‘Parle pas à un étranger’.  It sounded like this, (but more French):  Parl pah a ung ay tron jay.  We looked at the girl, a bit saddened.  She was so young for this to be the first phrase to be jumping to mind.  ‘Parle pas à un étranger’ is what parents say to children, in fear of them being abducted:  ‘Don’t talk to a stranger,’ or ‘Don’t talk to strangers,’ more often.  The word ‘étranger’ also means ‘foreigner’, but the girl can’t have meant ‘don’t talk to a foreigner’ as then she would have been advising us not to talk to her.

First we discussed whether Fred should learn: ‘Parle pas aux étrangers‘ instead.  (‘Don’t talk to (literally: to the) strangers.’) Both phrases work. If you choose this version to learn, the pronunciation of ‘aux étrangers’ is ‘oh zay tronj ay.’  This is because the x turns into a ‘z’ sound before a vowel.

We had been looking out for phrases which could be useful to Fred in his job. So he thought for a minute, then said ‘When could I use it though?’

I said, ‘Well, if some very important people have flown over specially from San Francisco to talk to you, and your French colleagues introduce them to you, you could look alarmed, say ‘Parle pas à un étranger,’ and walk off.’ We had a little laugh, imagining this. We had knocked back a few mulled wines by then, so we thought it was funny, but it probably wasn’t.

‘Parle’ in this phrase is in the imperative form (not to be confused due to its four syllables and i at the beginning, with the infinitive, which you remember is the name or Mother Ship of the verb.) Think of the Emperor (in Latin, Imperator means Emperor) giving orders. So the imperative is an order, as in ‘Speak!’ or rather ‘Don’t speak!’ Now, confusingly for somebody like Fred, ‘Parle’ in the imperative looks exactly the same as the ‘je’ and ‘il/elle’ forms of the verb ‘Parler’ in the present tense: ‘je parle,’ ‘I speak’ and ‘il/elle parle’. However, you can tell that ‘parle’ is in the imperative because there is no ‘je’ or ‘tu’ or ‘il/elle’ in front of it. It’s the same in our language: ‘Go to bed!’ as an order is missing the ‘you’.

You might have met the imperative in its other (plural or formal) form:  ‘Parlez’.  This would be if you were saying it to adults or someone you don’t know, as opposed to a child.  You possibly heard ‘Ecoutez,’ at school (Listen!) or ‘Ecrivez!’ (‘Write!’), because the teacher would have been addressing the whole class, so more than one of you.

Now, strictly speaking, ‘Parle pas,’ meaning ‘Don’t speak’ should be ‘Ne parle pas…’ but, in conversation. the French often miss out the ‘Ne.’ You might hear parents saying ‘Regarde pas!’ (don’t look) to their child, or ‘Mange pas ça!’ (don’t eat that!) This missing out of the ‘ne’ is an example of contraction.

Now to: ‘Un étranger’. See that accent on the first ‘e’? Which makes the ‘e’ look like this: ‘é’? Now, a syllable with an ‘e’ in it without any accent normally sounds like our word ‘ugh!’ So, for example, ‘de’ is d-ugh!’, ‘me’ is m-ugh!’, ‘te’ is ‘t-ugh!’, ‘se’ is ‘s-ugh!’ But the letter ‘e’ with an acute accent (which goes upwards from left to right), sounds like a shorter version of ‘ay’ instead, or like our word ‘eh’, often used when you can’t hear what someone just said, like ‘Eh? What?’  So the word ‘thé’ in French, meaning ‘tea,’ is pronounced ‘teh,’ or a shorter form of ‘tay.’

Top Tip: when you see this ‘é’, which is called ‘e acute’, you can often slip an ‘s’ into the word just after it, and see if that helps you with the translation. Do it here and we end up with ‘estranger’. ‘Stranger’. This is because some accents on letters came about due to the dropping of certain other letters as the language evolved.

Try slipping that ‘s’ into the words ‘école,’ ‘étudiant,’ ‘étable’, ‘étonné’, ‘état,’ ‘établissement’, ‘étrangler’, and ‘répond’. You should get ‘escole,’ (clue for school), ‘estudiant’, (clue for student), ‘estable’, (‘stable’) ‘estonnes’ (astonished), ‘estat’, (state), and ‘establissement’, (establishment), ‘estrangler’ (‘strangle’), and ‘respond,’ (respond.)

So fun! Reminds me of learning ancient French. At uni, I had to read the ‘Chanson de Rollant,’ ‘The Song of Roland’ in the original, which was quite hard, I remember. It was all about handsome heros galloping about in the Pyrennees spearing each other to death and lying in pools of blood professing their bravery and love for others.  I also had to read the poems of Villon, which just felt completely authentic, philosophical and down to earth. I will see if I can find my old book. Hold on….

Yes, I have found Villon’s ‘Le Testament’, (his will, written in 1461 or 1462) which goes on for pages and pages of verse. He is full of grievances against people he thinks have wronged him, and regrets about not trying harder at school, about squandering time, money and love on ungrateful beings, but at the same time constantly acknowledging how everyone, no matter what their airs and graces, fancy clothes or rags, ends up dead.

Just so you can have a taste of how interesting the language is, have a look at this verse:

‘Hé! Dieu, se j’eusse estudié (oh, God, if only I had studied)

Ou temps de ma jeunesse folle (during the time of my mad youth)

Et a bonnes meurs dedié (and if I had dedicated myself to good habits)

J’eusse maison et couch molle. (I would have a house and soft bed.)

Mais quoi? Je fuyoie l’escolle  (But what?  I fled school)

Comme fait le mauvais enfant. (Like a naughty child)

En escripvant ceste parole  (In writing this word ie: these words)

A peu que le cuer ne me fent.’ (my heart is nearly breaking.)

A verse near the end starts:

‘Icy se clost le testament  (Here closes the will)

Et finist du pauvre Villon.  (And finishes (the will) of poor Villon.)

Venez a son enterrement,  (Come to his buriel)

Quant vous orrez le carillon…’  (When you hear the bells…)

It goes on to say he died as a martyr to love, and ‘ce jura il sur son couillon.’ ‘He swore this upon his bollock.’ French critics go on about fertility and the bollock being a ‘testis’ and ‘testis’ meaning ‘witness’ so it is a play on words as the bollock is like his witness and  because the will is called the ‘testament.’ I think he must have died laughing as he swore it all on his bollock.

Oops, I promised that this blog would not be a rude one.  Fascinating though, n’est-ce pas?

One more thing, just so you know: ‘Etranger’ at the beginning of a sentence would not need an accent at all, as accents are not put above capital Es. Look back at ‘Ecrivez!’ and ‘Ecoutez!’ from the paragraph about the imperative.  If those two words did not start with a capital letter, they would be:  ‘écrivez!’ and ‘écoutez!’  I guess because capital letters are often taller, there is generally not enough room for them to have accents above them without interfering with the line of text above.

Homework 2 and Test 2

I hope you are doing your homework.  You must write down ‘Aujourd’hui il a plu toute la journée,’ and stick it on your forehead.  Try to remember it is not a proverb.  It is just a statement.  Try to say it even if it was a really nice day.  If you don’t like telling lies and it is a really lovely day you could push the boat out and say ‘Aujourd’hui il a fait beau toute la journée’ instead.

For people who know French, please know that I would prefer to be using the imperfect – il pleuvait, or il faisait beau – tense due to the lengthiness implied by the ‘toute la journée’, but the fact remains that this phrase (‘Aujourd’hui il a plu toute la journée’) was given to us by a proper proper French chap in a proper proper French restaurant, so who am I to argue with him?

Test 2

a)  Is the phrase ‘Aujourd’hui il a plu toute la journée’ more useful in England, or in France? (this is kind of subjective, so you score 1 for either answer.)

b) What does ‘Il a plu’ mean?

c) How do you pronounce ‘plu’?  Is it 1) ploo or 2) pleuww

c)  How would you say ‘it is raining’ like now, ie: in the present tense? (you can refer back to last blog)

d) A long time ago, what was the French word for ‘today’ or ‘this day’?

e)  Is the word ‘journée’ masculine, or feminine?

f) Is the word ‘journée’ therefore preceded by ‘le’ or ‘la’?

g) What is the French for ‘all day long’ or ‘all the day’?

h) What is the name of the parrot who taught himself to say ‘Clever GramPA’?

i) Is ‘Jesus Christ! Hasn’t the shit been hitting the fan all day!’ a proper and adequate translation of ‘Aujourd’hui il a plu toute la journée’?

‘Aujourd’hui il a plu toute la journée’


A couple of weeks before Christmas, I took the Eurostar to Paris at 4.22pm to arrive in time to have dinner out with Fred. We have never managed to do this before, as I get kind of stuck in with all the animals and children. However, the children now appear to be quite grown-up, and I had walked the dogs, cleaned out the parrots, massaged the chicken’s crop (she had sour crop, don’t ask, but all better now), so I managed to scarper.

‘Are you ready for another phrase yet, Fred?’ I asked him.

‘No. I haven’t mastered the first one. ‘Honour vee kune….fwa.’’

‘Ha. Yes you have!’

Fred grudgingly agreed that maybe it was time to learn another one. We were in a little restaurant, eating clams. I asked the owner, who was on a mission to get us to drink as much wine as possible, if he had a good phrase for Fred. Without a second’s hesitation he said, quietly, ‘Aujourd’hui il a plu toute la journée.’ Fred just stared at him, like ‘what?’ I explained that it means ‘Today it rained all day.’

‘More useful in England,’ I commented.

‘Are you kidding? It rains all the time in Paris,’ Fred said.

I had forgotten to specify to the lovely Frenchman that we were looking for proverbs really, something like the equivalent of ‘it’s raining cats or dogs.’ Never mind, it was a fine phrase to learn. Fred didn’t realise that it wasn’t a proverb. He thought it must be a metaphor for things being really really on a downer. ‘Today it rained all day,’ in his mind became the equivalent of ‘shit happens…and then you die,’ or one of our many similarly depressive English aphorisms.

He could do the ‘Aujourd’hui’ bit. ‘Oh…jor…dwee.’ In all these years of working in France or with French people, he must have heard that word a fair bit. My sister Penel told me that the word for ‘this day’ in French used to be ‘hui’, (from the latin ‘hodie’) but little by little, in order to specify that you really mean ‘today-today, like actually today as opposed to tomorrow,’ people added ‘au jour d’hui,’ literally meaning, ‘on the day of this day.’ And now when people really mean ‘today-today-today as in definitely-not-tomorrow’ they say ‘au jour d’au jour d’hui,’ meaning ‘on the day of the day of today.’ Because French is a very precise language, it probably has issues with the tendency of its people (in common with most people) to procrastinate and has to take steps to make people stop thinking that tomorrow will do just as well as today. No. For God’s sake: today means today people!

With ‘il a plu’, Fred kept forgetting the ‘a’. I thought it could help to explain that the ‘a’, from ‘avoir’, is the equivalent of ‘has’, from ‘to have’, in ‘has rained’ but his systems always shut down at the merest hint of grammar, so that was lost effort.

However, to anyone with more receptive ears I would explain that ‘il a plu’ (it rained/it has rained’) is one of the past tenses, the ‘passé composé’ or ‘composed past’ (don’t tune out: it’s honestly very easy, as ‘composed’ just means ‘made up of more than one word’: in this example, the word ‘a‘ and the word ‘plu‘) of ‘il pleut’ which means ‘it rains,’ or ‘it’s raining.’ The verb’s main name, its infinitive, its Mother Ship, is ‘Pleuvoir’, ‘to rain’.

To pronounce ‘plu,’ you put your lips forward as if you are going to say ‘ploo’, but inside your mouth you say ‘pleeee’ instead. The result should be a bit like the very start of our word ‘please’, followed by an eww sound, so: ‘plee-eww’, but quite fast.

‘Toute la journée’ means ‘all the day.’ ‘Toute’ (with that ‘e’ on the end, pronounced ‘toot’ but with more bouncy-sounding, softer Ts) is the feminine form of this adjective (describing word) because the word ‘journée’ (which is a noun, a thing) is feminine. ‘Tout’ without the ‘e’ on the end, (pronounced ‘too’) would be the masculine form, as in ‘tout le monde,’ which means ‘everyone,’ or literally, ‘all the world.’ (Clever Freddie pointed this out himself!) The form ‘tous’ would be correct if the noun were masculine and plural, as in ‘tous les chats’, all the cats, and ‘toutes’ is correct if the noun is feminine and plural: ‘toutes les fleurs’ meaning ‘all the flowers’.

Fred already knows the word ‘journée’, ‘day’  because every time he gets out of a lift in the morning, people say it to him: ‘Bonne journée!’ He has never been the person to initiate the ‘Bonne journée’ but always responds, also with a ‘Bonne journée.’ Très bien, Freddie!

Gosh. He’s learnt quite a lot already and we are only on Phrase Deux. I am wondering if I could learn maths like this, one sum at a time. It is the way our parrots have elected to learn Humanspeak. As well as their scales and arpeggios, they know ‘Clever Fred’, ‘Hello, Granny, hello, GramPA!’ ‘Good morning Fred,’ ‘Come on, doggies,’ and ‘Treacle!’, ‘Huggi!’, ‘Whisky!’, ‘Puss, puss, puss!’ ‘Shut up Birds!’ etc, also the noise of a big drip plopping into a pan, and the Radio 4 peep-peep-peeps, and some brilliant clucky-chicken sounds, all of which together make them sound as if they know what’s going on most of the time.

(Must be pointed out that they probably do know what’s going on. Remember the time Grampa was doing very difficult sums on his computer at the kitchen table and Torro merged two of the phrases he knew in order to freak him out with: ‘Clever GramPA!’, a phrase that nobody had taught him.)

Because Fred thought that the phrase ‘Aujourd’hui il a plu toute la journée’ was a proverb meaning ‘the shit has been hitting the fan’ or something similar, he has come out with it at work a few times, provoking the surprise of his colleagues. So when a colleague said a meeting had been cancelled, and he’d had to redo work he’d already done and it turned out the new topic had to be finished by the end of the week, Fred said: ‘Oh…jor…dwee…eel…a plew…toot…la jornay!’ People were the more confused, as it had been a fine, sunny day.

I did point out to Fred that his method has its limits. He disagreed, saying that in one year he will have learnt 52 phrases, cinquante-deux phrases, which is definitely ‘enough to get by,’ if you are clever about how you slip them in to the conversation.

A bientôt! ( A bee an toe). See you soon!