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An elderly woman talked about how she’d slipped on an icy patch of the street, landing on her bum. Can you guess how she said I fell on my bum in French?

To say it, she used the verb tomber and the noun fesses.

Make your guess, and we’ll look at the answer after the image…

Dans le Vieux-Montréal (mars 2016)

Here’s what the woman said:

J’ai tombé s’es fesses.

This is a colloquial equivalent of je suis tombée sur les fesses.

Let’s look in detail at j’ai tombé s’es fesses.

S’es is a contraction of sur les often heard in spoken language. First, sur contracts to su’, and les contracts to ‘es. S’es is a result of the contracted forms su’ and ‘es coming together.

What about j’ai tombé?

In prescribed or codified French (the French you learn in school), the past tense must be said as je suis tombé. However, the form j’ai tombé also exists in French. It’s not accepted in prescribed French today, but it can still be heard in colloquial French.

The form j’ai tombé makes more sense than je suis tombé in our example above. J’ai tombé places the accent on the action (I fell), whereas je suis tombé insists on the state (I am fallen).

Considering that the woman wasn’t sitting on her bum in the street when she said it, it makes more sense to insist on the action — j’ai tombé. If instead she were sitting on her bum when she said it, then je suis tombée (or chu tombée) would make sense.

Alas, prescribed French doesn’t care unfortunately about this useful distinction. Only je suis tombé is allowed in prescribed French, whether it’s the action or state that’s being insisted upon.

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