Archive for March, 2011

Moé, toé? (#171)

I’ve been asked many times over the years if people in Quebec say moé and toé instead of moi and toi. Numerous learners have also asked if they themselves should use moé and toé. In this entry, I’ll talk about my impressions and the social “value” attached to moé and toé.

For those of you who live in a French-speaking community far from Quebec, you may hear moé and toé used with a frequency that I wouldn’t even know how to comment on. The rules may be different there, and the social value of moé and toé may not be the same as in Montreal or elsewhere in Quebec. My impressions below are from a Montreal perspective.

It’s not my intention here to pass judgement on any individual speaker. I hesitated many times before hitting the publish button on this post because I know all too well that writing about certain aspects of language online can lead to misunderstanding. Describing moé and toé is one of those areas that I find challenging to write about. But it’s a risk that I’m going to take here with the intention of helping you.

Lacking in prestige

Many French speakers will tell you straight out that moé and toé are bad French. Although I don’t believe in “bad” language, the negative value attached to moé and toé is a very important concept to grasp.

M and toé sound uneducated to many speakers’ ears. Broadly speaking, these pronunciations are associated with the working class, or with a “rough” crowd. For these reasons, moé and toé lack social prestige.

From a Montreal perspective, I can say that moé and toé sound very unrefined and, yes, even uneducated. I’ll even risk adding that it sounds decidedly unclassy for a female to say moé and toé.

A parallel?

I think we can draw a useful parallel of social prestige between moé and toé and the English word “ain’t.” Many English speakers would classify “ain’t” as bad English, and I don’t think many of you would recommend that learners of English use it themselves when they speak.

A bit of nuance should be added here, however. On a rare occasion, you could hear moé or toé used by a speaker you wouldn’t otherwise consider uneducated, working class, or “rough.” Deliberate attempt to create comic effect? Moment of anger? Perhaps. But rare.

Again, I think we can draw a parallel to the English word “ain’t.” You may not use “ain’t” yourself, but it isn’t impossible for you to use it on a rare occasion if you were trying to create some sort of special effect in your speech.

My recommendation

Right. So I still haven’t answered that nagging question many of you have: Should I, a learner of French, use moé and toé when I speak?

I will say no.

As a learner of French, use only moi and toi.

With moi and toi, you’ll never make a social slip-up. Ever. You now know the negative weight that moé and toé carry with them. You’ll be forgiven for any linguistic faux pas you make, but many speakers in Quebec would find it absurd to hear a learner say moé and toé.

That said, do learn to recognise the pronunciations moé and toé. They’re sometimes used in song lyrics because of the “rustic” feel they convey, which makes them better adapted to some kinds of music, like folk or country.

You may also hear moé and toé in stand-up comedy, or even see them in literature, such as in direct speech in certain novels or comic books.

To conclude

My apologies to those who’ve asked me this question in the past and to whom I’ve given an unsatisfactory answer, or an answer that lacked sufficient nuance. I may have even contributed to the confusion in the past by not being detailed enough about this in other places I’ve published online.

I find it terribly challenging to describe certain aspects of language in writing because of all the variables to consider.

The only real way to “feel” moé and toé the way a French speaker does is to immerse yourself in a French-speaking environment. I understand that this is impossible for many of you, however. In that case, I hope this entry provides some guidance and helps to clear up doubt.

Or did I just go and make it all complicated on you? 😉

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A friend of mine left a message on my phone. What he didn’t know then was that some of his words would later appear on OffQc to help you learn French…

Imagine you phone a friend. No answer. So, you leave a message. In English, maybe you’d say something like “hi, just calling to see what’s new” in your message.

Could you say that in French?

Sometimes it’s the seemingly simple things that trip you up when learning to speak in another language. If you don’t have opportunities to hear French speakers, it’s hard to learn to say these everyday phrases naturally.

Here’s how Marc began his message:

Salut Félix! C’est Marc. Je t’appelle comme ça, là — pour avoir des nouvelles.

To say “just calling,” Marc said: je t’appelle comme ça, là. There’s that again. It isn’t necessary to include it here, but it adds a ring of informality. You’ll hear it frequently in spoken French.

When said in a relaxed way, je t’appelle can contract to j’t’appelle in speech. It sounds as though it were written chtappelle.

Then, Marc added: pour avoir des nouvelles. This was his way of saying “to see what’s new” or “to see what’s going on.” Literally, it means “to get news.”

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In entry #153, you saw that the question
Quelle heure est-il?

can be asked informally as
Il est quelle heure?

In entry #157, you saw that the question
Quel temps fait-il?

can be asked informally as
Quel temps il fait?

Here’s another bookish-sounding question you might want to consider undoing:

D’où viens-tu?
can be asked informally as
Tu viens d’où? or
Tu viens d’où, toi?*

The questions quelle heure est-il?, quel temps fait-il? and d’où viens-tu? are the forms often given in books for learners of French. They’re correct, but they reflect a more formal or written style.

*Depending on the context, the toi at the end of this question can suggest a higher level of curiosity, similar to: “Where are you from, anyway?”

Are you using a book to learn French? Do the authors use the formal or informal versions of questions like these?

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In part 1, you watched the video below, where a magician reveals how to perform a card trick. In the comments section of part 1, MissInterpretar suggested that some important words to know before watching this video include: carte, spectateur, carreau, prendre, as, deviner, observer, replacer.

Here’s part 2.

1. In the video, listen for the French version of the expressions listed below. You can make a mental note of them, or write them down so that you can learn them. Feel free to leave a comment if you need to check your answers.

  • to draw a card
  • to take a card at random
  • to put the card back in the deck
  • to spread the cards out
  • to close the deck back up

2. You may find this part challenging. The speaker uses one informal pronunciation in the video. Can you find it? Clue: It’s an informal contraction. If you need another clue, feel free to ask.

3. Can you find any other interesting expressions to add to the comments section?

If you can’t see the video above, watch it here on the Radio-Canada YouTube channel.

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In a scene from 19-2, Ben arrives back home from work in a bad mood. When he walks through the front door, he finds his son’s backpack lying in the entrance.

Ben’s tired of telling his son to pick up after himself. He loses his temper and starts yelling at his son, wanting to know whether or not it’s possible to be obeyed in his own house:

Ya-tu moyen d’être obéi dans cette maison-là?!?

[Said by the character Ben in 19-2, season 1, episode 2, Radio-Canada, Montreal, 9 February 2011.]

What does ya-tu moyen de mean?

You already know that il y a is often pronounced informally as ya. That takes care of the first part. As for -tu, this is another example of that informal yes-no question word that occurs in relaxed speech.

So, [ya][-tu][moyen de] means [il y a][oui ou non][moyen de]. In other words, ya-tu is just an informal way of saying est-ce qu’il y a.

We could translate the quote above as: “Any chance of being obeyed in this house?!?” or “Any way I might be obeyed in this house?!?”

Here’s another example of this: Ya-tu moyen de savoir de quoi tu parles?! Remember, this is an informal example from relaxed speech. You won’t come across ya-tu in careful writing or speech.

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Here are five possible answers to the exercise in entry #165.

1. C’était ben le fun hier!
2. Son nouveau chum est vraiment fin avec elle.
3. T’as plein de temps libre — c’est quoi le problème d’abord?
4. J’te niaise pas — ça m’a coûté 50 piasses!
5. Pourquoi tu capotes de même, là?

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In entry #160, you saw how the verb fourrer could be used in a vulgar way to refer to having sex. This isn’t the only informal use you’ll hear of this verb.

Fourrer can also be used to refer to taking advantage of someone, by tricking them or by perhaps “screwing them over.” In the series La Galère, we hear an example of this.

Stéphanie is an author of novels, une romancière. She sometimes gets into disagreements with her publisher, son éditeur, Martin. In one scene, Stéphanie loses her temper with Martin. She uses the expression fourrer les auteurs, suggesting to Martin that that’s what he does to writers like Stéphanie.

Examples of this use (not actual quotes from the episode):

Son éditeur fourre les auteurs.
On m’a fourré en me faisant des promesses.
Ils font juste fourrer le monde en demandant des frais mensuels.

It’s tax time again (except for those of us who leave it to the very last minute!). A related expression you may hear in French is fourrer l’impôt, “to cheat the government (out of money) on your taxes.”


Ils ont fourré l’impôt de cent mille dollars.

But you wouldn’t fourrer l’impôt, would you?

[This entry was inspired by the character Stéphanie in La Galère, season 3, episode 7, Radio-Canada, Montreal, 1 November 2010.]

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