Archive for February, 2016

On 98,5 fm, there was a discussion about the spelling modifications that have taken place in French.

The animator of the show brought up the example of the French word for onion, whose spelling has been modified, but whose old spelling is still considered acceptable nonetheless.

Jokingly, the animator asked in French in a slightly exasperated tone:

How do you spell it?

Can you say how she might’ve said that? She said it in a way typical of colloquial language.

Here’s how she said it:

Comment qu’on écrit ça?

That que in there can often be heard in spoken language — but you should be aware some people will tell you it’s incorrect. If you’re bothered by this, you can say comment on écrit ça?

We’ve seen other examples of que used like this recently, here and here.

So, onion in French… comment qu’on écrit ça?

  • oignon (old spelling)
  • ognon (new spelling)

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During a conversation, a man said in French an equivalent of:

They’re talking nonsense.

To say to talk nonsense, he used the expression dire n’importe quoi. Knowing this, can you now guess how he said it in a colloquial style?

He said:

I’ disent n’importe quoi.

I’, which sounds just like the French letter i, is a contraction of ils. In informal writing, this contraction is more often spelled y.

Do you remember that dire is pronounced by the Québécois as dzir? That’s because the letter d is pronounced dz when it comes before the French i and u sounds. Dire, then, sounds like dzir, and disent sounds like dziz.

N’importe quoi has four syllables — n’im / por / te / quoi. The final e of n’importe is heard.

To say that’s nonsense!, you can say:

C’est n’importe quoi!

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Here’s more French pulled straight from a conversation. A guy said an equivalent in French of:

That’s so cute!

Do you know how he might’ve said this?

To say it, he used the word cute, which, when used in French, is only heard in colloquial language. It’s pronounced as if it were written kioute in French (i.e., it follows English pronunciation).

Here’s what he said:

C’est don’ ben cute!

Don’ is in fact donc, but the final c isn’t pronounced here. The apostrophe is there to remind you.

Ben sounds like the French word bain. It’s a contraction of bien.

The words don’ and ben are very often used together for emphasis.

C’est don’ ben cute.
C’est don’ ben cher.
C’est don’ ben loin,

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During a conversation, one man told another in French an equivalent of:

I’ll get back to you on that.

Do you have any idea how you might hear someone say this in French?

Église du très Saint nom de Jésus, à Montréal

Église du très Saint nom de Jésus, à Montréal

As usual, there are different ways someone might say this, but here’s what the man said:

J’te r’viens là-d’ssus.

There are a number of contractions here, as you can see. In full, it’s:

Je te reviens là-dessus.
–> J’te r’viens là-d’ssus.

  • j’te sounds like ch’te
  • j’te r’viens sounds like ch’te’r / viens
  • là-d’ssus sounds like lad / su

Ch’te’r / viens / lad / su.

Là-dessus here means on it/that, about it/that, etc. The contracted là-d’ssus has two syllables: lad / su. This is how you’ll hear it pronounced in spoken language. It’s not a Québécois pronunciation; it’s a spoken language one common to all francophones.

Do you remember what m’as means, from entry #1086? Here’s a fuller example of the quote from above, this time using m’as as well:

M’as écouter ça p’is j’te r’viens là-d’ssus.
I’ll give it a listen ‘n’ get back to you.
(I’m going to listen to it and get back to you on it.) 

M’as (+ infinitive) means I’m gonna (+ infinitive). M’as rhymes with pas.

P’is is a contraction of puis. It sounds as though it were written pi in French. It means and, then here.


Mark asks about the expression tout craché. It’s used as a way of pointing out a person or thing’s resemblance to another.

C’est son père tout craché.
He’s the spitting image of his father.

Ce film, c’est du Almodóvar tout craché.
This film is just like Almodóvar’s [style].

Cette manière de faire, c’est lui tout craché.
This way of doing things, it’s very typical of him.

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Can you guess how a woman said “he seems really friendly” in French? Make an attempt, and then read on.

Métro Saint-Michel, à Montréal [février 2016]

Métro Saint-Michel, à Montréal [février 2016]

Maybe your guess included the adjective gentil, but the woman didn’t use it. Instead, she used the adjective fin. Fin (masculine) and fine (feminine) are very often used to describe someone as being nice, friendly.

Really can be said as très, vraiment in French, of course, but that’s not what the woman said. Instead, she said ben. It’s a contraction of bien, and it rhymes with the French word fin we just looked at. We could also spell it bin, but you’ll most often see it spelled ben.

What about to seem here? You can use the expression avoir l’air, meaning to seem, to look. For example, you might say what the woman said as y’a l’air ben fin, where y’a is a spoken language contraction of il a.

But… that’s not what she said either!

Here is what she said:

Y’a d’l’air ben fin.

The expression she used is avoir de l’air (pronounced avoir d’l’air), which is an informal variation on the expression avoir l’air.

Here are a a few more examples of this:

Y’a l’air ben sérieux.
Y’a d’l’air ben sérieux.
He seems, looks really serious.

T’as l’air ben fine.
T’as d’l’air ben fine.
You seem, look really friendly.

T’as rhymes with pas; it’s a contraction of tu as.

Ç’a l’air compliqué.
Ç’a d’l’air compliqué.
It seems, looks complicated.

Ç’a sounds like sa; it’s a contraction of ça a.

Ç’a l’air que non.
Ç’a d’l’air que non.
It seems not. It doesn’t appear so. It doesn’t look like it.

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Imagine someone were complaining about a situation. You, unable to do anything about it and frustrated by the person’s complaints, might say to him in English in an indignant tone, “what do you want me to say?”

During a conversation, a guy said an equivalent of this in French to the person with whom he was speaking.

Can you guess how?

Make an attempt, and will look at the answer below. (Clue: More literally, he said the equivalent of “what do you want me to say to you?”)

Rue Sainte-Catherine, à Montréal [février 2016]

Does what you guessed sound something like this?

Qu’est-ce que tu veux que je te dise?

It’s correct, but it’s not quite how he said it. Before we look at how he did say it, let’s look at the expression vouloir que (+ subjunctive) because it’s important to learn.

I want you to leave.
Je veux que tu partes.

I want him to redo it.
Je veux qu’il le refasse.

I want you to be there.
Je veux que tu soies là.

He wants me to learn French.
Il veut que j’apprenne le français.

In sum, to say in French I want you to (verb in infinitive form), you literally say the equivalent of I want that you (verb in subjunctive form).

Let’s go back to our sentence from above.

Qu’est-ce que tu veux que je te dise?

Dise is in the subjunctive.

Remember, though, that this isn’t quite how the guy said it, so let’s look now at how he really did.

In spoken language, je te can contract to j’te. It sounds like ch’te, where the ch sounds like the ch of the French words chaise, choix, tache, etc. To pronounce j’te, then, put the ch sound immediately in front of the word te.

Qu’est-ce que tu veux que j’te dise?

In spoken language, there are times when you might notice that que is omitted. In this case in particular, the guy omitted both instances of que.

Qu’est-ce tu veux j’te dise?

Qu’est-ce on its own without que sounds like quèss, or like kess using an anglicised spelling.

Maybe you’ll remember that the letter d sounds like dz (like the dz sound of the English word lads [i.e., ladz]) when it comes before the French i and u sounds. Dise, then, is in fact pronounced dziz. And maybe you’ll also remember that t sounds like ts (like the ts sound of the English word cats) when it comes before the French i and u sounds. Tu, then, is in fact pronounced tsu.

Using a more phonetic spelling, here’s how what the guy said actually sounds:

Quèss tsu veu ch’te dziz?

And that’s how the guy said it.


To read a condensed version of the French language explored in the first 1000 posts of OffQc, you might like to get a copy of 1000: Québécois French.

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“I’m gonna check [that] this evening.” A man said an equivalent of this in French. Can you guess how? Make an attempt before reading on.

Square Dorchester, à Montréal [février 2016]

Square Dorchester, à Montréal [février 2016]

Did your attempt sound like the following?

Je vais vérifier ça ce soir.

It’s correct, but it’s not what he said. Let’s look at how he did.

Maybe you know that, in conversational French, ce soir is often said instead as à soir.

Je vais vérifier ça à soir.

And maybe you know also know that vérifier is often said informally as checker.

Je vais checker ça à soir.

Maybe you know too that je vais is often said as j’vas in spoken French, where vas rhymes with pas.

J’vas checker ça à soir.

But did you know that je vais and j’vas might also be said as m’as in conversations? M’as rhymes with pas.

M’as checker ça à soir.

That’s exactly how the man said it.

M’as comes from s’en aller. In the same way that je vais can be conjugated colloquially as je vas (which contracts to j’vas), the first-person conjugation je m’en vais can be conjugated colloquially as je m’en vas (which contracts to j’m’en vas).

Je m’en vas
contracts to j’m’en vas, which
contracts to m’en vas, which
contracts to m’as.

M’as is an informal usage. You’re not required to use it yourself (nobody expects non-native speakers to use it), but do be sure to understand it.

You can stick with je vais when you need to use prescribed French (in French class, in writing, etc.), but you might want to give j’vas a try from time to time to give your French a colloquial feel — when speaking with francophone friends, for example.

You’ll know if and when you can use m’as when you reach a high level of mastery in French.

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