Archive for September, 2014

Today’s three usages come to us by way of a woman in her 70s. I overheard her speaking with her husband in Montréal.

1. une sacoche

One of the things the woman talked about was her handbag (or purse), which she called une sacoche. I don’t recall her exact words now, but here’s an example:

J’ai laissé ma sacoche sous la table.
I left my handbag (purse) under the table.

2. un char de police

Not far from us, a man got arrested outside. The woman talked about the police cars on the scene.

We’ve seen the masculine word char before, which means “car” in Québec. The woman used this word to talk about the police cars, calling them chars de police.

Y’a deux chars de police.
There are two police cars.

Remember, y’a is an informal (and the most frequent) pronunciation of il y a.

3. m’as

The woman also used the contraction m’as, which means “I’m gonna…” It’s pronounced mâ.

M’as te dire une affaire, là.
I’m gonna tell you something.

M’as aller m’en chercher un.
I’m gonna go get myself one.

If these don’t make sense to you, replace m’as with je vais.

Where does m’as come from?

je m’en vais
je m’en va’s
m’en va’s

Je m’en vais is a variation of the simpler je vais.

You don’t have to start using m’as yourself. Nobody expects a non-native Québécois to use it. Do learn what it means though so you’ll understand it when you hear it. It’s always fine to use je vais. (Note that the Québécois very often say je vas as well, which sounds like je vâ.)

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I spotted a Québécois usage on the cover of the magazine Ricardo yesterday.

Tanné de jeter de la bouffe?
Tired of throwing food away?

The expression to learn is être tanné, which means to be tired, fed up.

je suis tanné
(pronounced informally chu tanné)
I’m fed up

If you want to say what you’re sick of, use être tanné de, for example: être tanné de la chaleur, être tanné d’étudier, être tanné de quelqu’un.

Then there’s tanner (to irritate) and tannant (irritating)…

Way back in #241 (Tu me tannes), there’s an example from 30 vies where a character called Blaise is tired of listening to his classmate Massoud lecture him.

Blaise says to Massoud: tu me tannes, you irritate me. We could describe Massoud as being tannant, or irritating.

Learn la bouffe too, if you don’t know it. It means food. Maybe you’ve come across bouffe before in the supermarket IGA’s slogan Vive la bouffe (literally, “long live food”).

tanné, fed up
tanner, to irritate
tannant, irritating
la bouffe, food

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Remember the Mansfield gym with their Fuck the excuses posters? Or how about the Be better than your best excuse ones? They’ve got some new posters outside the gym now, these ones suggesting reasons to work out:

Je le fais pour le gâteau double chocolat après le souper!
I do it for the double chocolate cake after supper!

Je le fais pour rester jeune et continuer à jouer avec mes enfants!
I do it to stay young and keep playing with my kids!

Je le fais pour pouvoir encore le faire quand j’aurai 85 ans!
I do it so I’ll still be able to do it when I’m 85 years old!

In the first sign, we’ve got the word souper. Do you remember what the three meals of the day are called in Québec?

le déjeuner, breakfast
le dîner, lunch
le souper, supper

For some (but not all) francophones elsewhere in the world, the three meals are called le petit déjeuner, le déjeuner, le dîner instead. This is the case for Parisians. The Québécois usages aren’t limited to Québec. They’re also used in Belgium and Switzerland.

The Québécois usage of déjeuner for breakfast instead of lunch makes sense. Le jeûne is a period of fasting (not eating). On jeûne through the night, and on déjeune in the morning at the déjeuner. The déjeuner breaks the jeûne.

English and Spanish also use the equivalent of déjeuner: “breakfast” breaks the fast, and desayuno breaks the ayuno.

In addition to le dîner, lunch is also called le lunch in Québec. Une boîte à lunch is a lunchbox. Sur mon heure de lunch means “on my lunch break,” like at work.

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The British are known for how seriously they take queueing up, but I say the Québécois are just as particular. It’s not for nothing “Québec” shares the same first three letters as “queue.”

(Before I go on, I know that “queueing” can also [or should?] be spelled “queuing,” but I like all the vowels in “queueing.” Humour me.)

There are four times in particular where you break queueing rules at your own risk:

1. Waiting for the bus
2. Waiting to be served at the cash
3. Waiting for the bank machine
4. Using an escalator

You’ll see lines form spontaneously at a bus stop. The first person stands where the pole is, and the people who arrive after that person line up behind. If you arrive last but get on the bus before the others, be prepared for some nasty looks or comments.

People queue up in the métro too, but it’s less strict than at bus stops. There’s less time to be so particular about it because the doors aren’t going to stay open forever. But even then, I think most people have the expectation that you’ll attempt to queue up behind those arrows.

In places where you pay at the cash, you’ll also see lines form. It’s even common to see the next person to be served leave more than a metre of space between him and the person already being served at the cash, rather than stand right behind the person being served. If you’re from a place where people rush to the cash to be served, you may not even realise that person is waiting to be served next.

I remember a time when I stood two metres away from the cash looking at the overhead menus deciding what to order, and three people asked me if I was waiting to be served. I had to move even farther away to stop confusing people.

The same goes for bank machines. People will leave more than a metre of space behind the person already using the machine. Everybody queues up behind the next person in line.

On an escalator, the right side of the step is for standing, the left side of the step is for walking up or down. You’ll often see everybody lined up on the right side of the escalator with the left side unobstructed for those who want to pass by quickly.

If you stand on the left side of the step instead of the right side, you’ll probably set off some huffing and puffing behind you if someone wants to get past but is too polite to tell you to get out of the way.

How do you say “queue up” or “line up” in French? You might come across three ways:

faire la file
faire la queue
faire la ligne

I might suggest you use faire la file.

Faire la ligne is felt by some people to be incorrect because it’s influenced by the English word “line.”

As for faire la queue, it’s considered to be entirely correct, but it’s a little iffy for some people because queue can refer informally to the penis.

If you say faire la file, you’re always in the clear!

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Rabii Rammal writes about the overuse of text messages in a relationship, even when the subject matter is important. He says:

Même les affaires importantes. Genre quand on se chicane, on s’envoie des romans.

Even important stuff. Like when we fight, we send each other novels.

They don’t really send each other novels of course, just really long text messages.

As you listen to spoken French, have you heard genre used like that? It means “like” when giving an example of something. We can say it’s a colloquial way of saying par exemple.

In another example using genre, Rabii talks about going overboard with saying thanks in certain situations:

Genre je peux remercier le facteur qui me remet une lettre, mais je ne peux pas remercier un facteur que je croise dans la rue pour l’ensemble de son œuvre.

For example, I can thank the mailman who delivers a letter to me, but I can’t thank a mailman who I bump into in the street for the entirety of his career.

Harriet mentioned in a comment that she learned the difference between the words facture and facteur. Une facture is a bill. Cashiers also often use this word in the sense of receipt. (Voulez-vous la facture? Do you want the receipt?) Un facteur delivers the mail.

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A reader of OffQc will be travelling to Montréal and had some questions for me about informal and formal language. I’m going to answer here because I’m sure others have similar doubts.

He asks:

In your blog, you make it clear when something is informal vs. formal. So, in my interactions, which will be mostly buying things and asking directions, I can stick to the formal usage but perhaps it would be helpful to recognize the informal usage, is that about right?

In the situations that you’re likely to find yourself in as a tourist, most of those situations are probably informal language situations. By informal, I mean normal sounding and feeling language.

Consider this sentence pair in English:

I do not think I am going to go.
I don’t think I’m gonna go.

If you were to say these to someone in a conversation, which one feels more normal to you? The second one, right? The way that second sentence feels to you is what I call informal on the blog. It feels normal. It doesn’t feel stiff like the first one. Is there even a time when you’d be likely to say the first one to someone?

Speaking with friends, talking to shop assistants, addressing a stranger in the street, all of these situations call for normal language. Even in situations where you’re on vous terms with someone, it’s still common to hear informal contractions and dropped words — y’a (for il a, il y a), dropping ne in ne…pas, using the informal yes-no question marker tu (like ça se peut-tu?), j’su’s (for je suis), etc. Contractions are a normal part of usage and there’s no escaping learning them.

Other than using vous with certain people, I really can’t think of any typical situations as a tourist in Montréal where you’d be required to speak formal language (no informal contractions, no dropped words, no informal vocabulary). That said, if the only French you know is a more formal sounding French, then go ahead and use it. Use whatever French you know.

He also asks:

Furthermore, verbs like pogner and niaiser and capoter, are those considered standard or are they more colloquial, or perhaps even vulgar? Are they ok to use on a crowded métro?

These three verbs are never vulgar. Go ahead and use them in a crowded métro. Their use is perfectly normal. The Québécois use them all the time in regular conversations. On your trip to Montréal, I really can’t think of any situation at all where they’re likely to be inappropriate. Fire away!

He also asks:

[…] but when I’m in Montreal, when they hear my metropolitan accent and hear me struggling with verb tenses, if they start talking to me in English I will be mortified! Would the best way to prevent that be to just focus on the accent and master some quebecois vocabulary, and not focus too hard on things like contractions?

It’s going to happen. Someone’s going to switch to English on you — I can almost guarantee it. It’s not worth getting worked up over. It hurts the pride a little, but let it go, and don’t be mortified. I’m sure your French is really good.

When you’re in Montréal, remember that it’s okay (and necessary) to make mistakes, and that includes saying inappropriate things in French and saying them with a horrible accent. Enjoy your holiday and speak lots of French!

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How good is your Québécois French coming along? Take the quiz and find out! For each question, find the correct French translation of the English sentence in bold.

There’s only one correct answer for each of the three choices. The other two sentences are either full-on fake or weird-sounding Québécois or answers with some sort of mistake in them, so don’t be fooled!

The answers come after the flag below. Have fun, là!

1. You’re gonna go crazy.
a. Tu vas virer folle.
b. Tu vas pogner un flyé.
c. Tu vas te crisser folle.

2. Wow, check it out!
a. Wow, check ça bien!
b. Wow, check ben ça!
c. Wow, check-tu ça ben!

3. I don’t like it one bit!
a. J’aime pas ça pantoute!
b. J’aime pantoute ça du tout!
c. Pantoute que j’aime pas ça, bon!

4. Why did you say that?
a. Pourquoi t’as-tu dit ça?
b. T’as-tu dit ça pourquoi?
c. Pourquoi t’as dit ça?

5. Can that possibly be?
a. Ça peut-tu?
b. Ça peut, là?
c. Ça se peut-tu?

6. Did you see that?
a. T’as vu-tu ça?
b. T’as-tu vu ça?
c. As-tu vu-tu ça?

7. Beats me. (Who knows.)
a. Fouille-moi, là.
b. Bouille-moi, là.
c. Couille-moi, là.

8. Stop kidding around.
a. Arrête de pogner la poutine.
b. Arrête de foutre la joke.
c. Arrête de niaiser, là.

9. OK, don’t get angry!
a. OK, capote pas, là!
b. OK, prends pas la capote!
c. OK, décapote pas, là!

10. I totally love it!
a. Je tripe fort dessus!
b. Chu full tripé en-dedans!
c. Chu contre-tripé en masse!


1a, 2b, 3a, 4c, 5c,
6b, 7a, 8c, 9a, 10a

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