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Posts Tagged ‘contraction’

Saw this in a tea shop window in Montréal:

thé mon amour

A friend from Central America took a beginner’s French course. In class, they learned that tu es means “you are,” but they never got around to learning that tu es contracts to t’es in spoken language.

This really baffles me. T’es isn’t an obscure contraction. T’es is a high frequency usage that should be introduced right from the beginning.

T’es sounds like (or like the French word thé in the window).

thé mon amour
tea my love

t’es mon amour
you’re my love

Oh, it’s a Valentine’s Day tea pun!
N’est-ce pas romanteaque? N’est-ce pas — oh, fine, I’ll stop.

A few essential spoken contractions to know using tu:

t’es for tu es
t’as for tu as
t’étais for tu étais
t’avais for tu avais
t’en for tu en

In short, tu loses its u before a vowel.

Don’t be afraid to try using these contractions yourself in conversations. They’re so frequently used that nobody’s going to even notice.

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Pu capab' !

Pus capab’, moé !

Moi là, l’hiver, pas capable!

Literal translation:
Personally, the winter, not capable!

Huh??
Not capable of what?
Not capable of standing the winter, of course!

Moi là, l’hiver, pas capable!
Personally, I can’t stand the winter!

The le in capable often drops in colloquial speech: capab’. It sounds like capabe.

Moi là, l’hiver, pas capab’!

Honnêtement là, c’te fille-là, pas capab’!
Honestly, I can’t stand that girl!

C’te is an informally contracted form of cette. To understand what c’te sounds like, first say te. Now put an s sound at the beginning of it: ste.

People also say chu pas capab’. Remember, chu is an informally contracted form of je suis. So chu pas capab’ is a contracted form of the much less informal sounding je ne suis pas capable.

Chu pas can contract even further to ch’pas. Maybe this contraction will remind you of Lisa LeBlanc’s song J’pas un cowboy, where j’pas is pronounced ch’pas. I’ll use the spelling ch’pas here because it’s more phonetic, but remember that you might read j’pas instead in authentic texts.

L’hiver, ch’pas capab’.
I can’t stand the winter.

C’te fille-là, ch’pas capab’.
I can’t stand that girl.

J’aime tous mes voisins. Y’a juste toi que ch’pas capab’.
I like all my neighbours. You’re the only one I can’t stand.

Ouch!

If pas capab’ means “can’t stand it,” then pu capab’ means “can’t stand it anymore.” Remember, pu is an informally contracted form of plus, which means “no more.” It’s also often spelled pus (don’t pronounce the s).

C’te fille-là, pu capab’.
I can’t stand that girl anymore.

Ch’pus capab’ d’habiter au centre-ville.
I can’t stand living downtown anymore.

Honnêtement là, l’hiver, ch’pu capab’.
Honestly, I can’t stand the winter anymore.

Lots of contractions in this post! If you can manage them, you’ll go a long way in making your French sound more natural.

If these contractions are still too challenging for you, don’t stress out about it. Keep listening to lots of spoken French and you may just find that you start using them without having to think too much about it.

Image credit: Watyrfall

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Is Québécois French more difficult than other varieties of French?

Is Québécois French more difficult than other varieties of French?

Maybe no and maybe so.

By maybe no,
I mean that learning Québécois French is inherently probably just as easy or just as difficult as learning any other variety of French. I’m sure this point can be argued — maybe you’ll disagree by saying that spoken Québécois French has more colloquial contractions than other varieties of French. This may be true, but the good thing is that contractions can be learned.

You can learn that sur la often contracts informally to s’a in colloquial Québecois French in the same way that de le contracts to du in all varieties of French. The finer points of the pronunciation of Québécois French may also make it more difficult for some people than other varieties, but I don’t think I’d qualify the differences as exceptionally more difficult.

I can accept that Québécois French may be inherently somewhat more difficult, but not to the extremes people sometimes suggest. If you’re enthusiastic about learning the French of Québec, you’ll probably find the mechanics of it more or less equally challenging or equally breezy as any other variety of French.

By maybe so,
I mean that the Québécois make learning French more difficult than it has to be. What I write here may sting, but I believe it to be the truth. If Québécois French feels much more difficult to learn than other varieties of French, the Québécois themselves play a role in this.

A learner of French once asked me if the French (the ones from France) and their refusal to accept the validity of other varieties of French were to blame for the absence of good quality learning materials for Québécois French.

No, I’m afraid the French have nothing to do with it. It would be convenient to place the blame on the French, wouldn’t it? But the Québécois are free to publish whatever they like without having to consult with the French first.

I’m sure there are different reasons for the lack of good quality learning materials for colloquial Québécois French — publishers may not consider it lucrative, for example, to produce materials for a smaller variety of French (Québécois) than for a much larger variety (so-called international French).

Then there is the resistance to teaching what some Québécois themselves consider to be an inferior form of French. The colloquial register (or level) of Québécois French is what the Québécois use when they speak amongst themselves, but many Québécois are reluctant when it comes to explicitly teaching that register of French to non-francophones.

In French courses in Québec, the colloquial register of Québécois French is generally not taught to non-francophones. Students are taught the standard form of Québécois French (the register used in the media, for example). It is of course essential that students be taught this register of French, but equally essential — and probably much more immediately practical — would be to teach colloquial Québécois French, words like pogner and niaiser, and how the Québécois ask yes-no questions with tu, immediately come to mind.

As a learner of French and more specifically Québécois French, you are not a helpless bystander. When learning Québécois French, the best thing you can do for yourself is to cultivate persistence. Continue to speak French when the opportunities arise, work on improving your listening skills, model your spoken French on that of the Québécois, and refuse to let certain people convince you there’s something wrong with what you’re working towards.

You may have had to deal with a teacher who disapproves of Québécois French, a commenter online who’s “warned” you against learning Québécois French because it’s “too different,” a speaker of another variety of French who believes Québécois French to sound rural or, sadly, a Québécois person who believes foreigners should not speak like the Québécois. Listen to what they have to say, then move on. There are many Québécois who will support you in your choice to speak Québécois French. Don’t let the ones who try to stand in your way stand in your way. If I did that whenever I heard a negative comment, there’d be no OffQc.

Back to the original question — is Québécois French more difficult than other varieties of French? Probably. But I’ll end with this:

If you learn to understand and speak like the Québécois, you’ll have stood up to many challenges, such as a lack of learning materials, people who’ll try to steer you off course, and bilingual francophones who’ll switch to English on you. Someone who learns Québécois French has learned a lot more than “just” French along the way — patience, persistence and staying on course despite the challenges, to name a few.

Isn’t that impressive?

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In the last entry (#717), there was an example of a yes-no question using the inverted form as-tu:

As-tu mal à la tête?
Do you have a headache?

Even though this question uses the inversion, it still works at the conversational level of French in Québec. You can read more about when the inversion is used and avoided in Québec in entry #717.

Another way that you may hear people ask as-tu questions is with the formulation t’as-tu. This formulation is an informal one that you may catch people use during everyday conversations.

Below are some examples. I’ve translated them into informal English to help convey the feel of the t’as-tu form:

T’as-tu vu ça?
Didja see that?

T’as-tu une cigarette?
Ya got a cigarette?

T’as-tu une blonde?
D’ya have a girlfriend?

T’as-tu peur?
You afraid?

All of those questions could have also simply been asked with as-tu rather than t’as-tu. So, where on earth does t’as-tu come from then?

The t’as part of t’as-tu is a contraction of tu as. This contraction occurs very frequently in French, and not just as part of the formulation t’as-tu but anywhere tu and as come together.

The -tu part of t’as-tu is the famous yes-no question marker so prevalent in the French of Québec.

All the questions above can be answered with yes or no. We can understand the -tu part of t’as-tu as meaning “yes or no?” like this:

T’as-tu une blonde?
= Tu as (oui ou non) une blonde?

How is t’as-tu pronounced?

The t’as part sounds like tâ, or like “taw” using an English approximation. The -tu part sounds like tsu. That’s because tu is a tsitsu word, and you remember all about those tsitsu words… right?? So, t’as-tu sounds like tâ-tsu.

Similarly, as-tu sounds like â-tsu.

It’s not necessary for you to adopt t’as-tu to make yourself understood by the Québécois. As-tu is always good. (It’s important to understand t’as-tu though because you’ll be hearing it.) And, of course, you can always use est-ce que, or just make your voice rise at the end of a statement to turn it into a yes-no question.

These questions all ask the same thing:

As-tu compris?
T’as-tu compris?
T’as compris?
Tu as compris?
Est-ce que t’as compris?
Est-ce que tu as compris?

How’s that for variety?

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Chu dans marde!

In spoken French, you’ll often hear the word combination dans la said as dans. Before looking at that, let’s take two expressions used in Québec:

être dans la marde
avoir les yeux dans la graisse de bines

1. être dans la marde

This expression, which literally means “to be in the shit,” is used to describe being up shit’s creek, to be in a rough spot, to be screwed, to be in for it.

2. avoir les yeux dans la graisse de bines

This expression literally means “to have one’s eyes in the bean grease.” When someone has a dazed or spaced out look in their eyes, their eyes are in the bean grease!

Both of these expressions contain the word combination dans la:

dans la marde
dans la graisse de bines

Informal pronunciation of dans la

At an informal level of spoken French, sometimes la loses its initial consonant sound, leaving just ‘a.

When this happens in the word combination dans la, we could say that the remaining ‘a sound gets “swallowed up” in the nasal vowel sound of dans.

This is why you’ll hear dans la marde and dans la graisse de bines from the two expressions above sound like:

dans marde
dans graisse de bines

T’es dans marde!
(té dans marde)
You’re screwed!
You’re gonna get it!

J’sus dans marde!
(chu dans marde)
I’m screwed!
I’m so in for it!

On est vraiment dans marde, hein!
You can hear Cynthia pronounce this here at 3:44.

T’as les yeux dans graisse de bines!
(t’a les yeux dans graisse de bines)
You look so spaced out!

Dans la may contract whenever these two words come together during informal speech, not just in the two expressions above.

With certain informal expressions, like the two above, it sounds kind of unnatural to say them with the full dans la. So you can say them with the contracted form explained above.

But elsewhere, with regular expressions (like dans la rue, dans la bouteille, dans la vie, etc.), you can continue to say the full dans la. It’s not necessary for you to apply the contraction here, even though you may hear native speakers do it spontaneously.

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