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edited August 2011 in French
Post your questions in this discussion, s'il vous plaît.


  • regarding pronunciatio of words ending in lle

    some e.g.vieille are ponounced with like "yehy", while others like ville or nouvelle are pronounced as "lle". Is there a rule or you just learn as you go?

  • Dear PUMMU,

    Sorry for the delay! Regarding your question, there is no hard rule (and this is confirmed by French teachers in France). 

    Typically, the sound of such words will be like a 'Y'.

    Look at this link for some reported exceptions:


  • I think, and I could be wrong, that if the ending is:
    vowel + ielle, then there's a y sound: vieille, grenouille, paille...
    (The vowel before it makes the y a semi-vowel, or glide.)
    But if the ending is:
    consonant + ielle, the i is pronounced as ee, not y: Gabrielle (can't think of any others).
    Since spelling doesn't always perfectly match phonology, there are probably counterexamples, but that should cover most instances.
  • Thank you Christopher for these remarks.

    However, some words ending in 'ille' do not have the y a semi-vowel, or glide - to use your words.

    Here are some know examples (the list is not exhaustive):
    • un bacille - germ, bacillus
    • un billion - trillion
    • capillaire - capillary
    • un codicille - codicil
    • distiller - to distill
    • Lille - town in France
    • lilliputien - Liliputian
    • mille - thousand (un millénium, millier, etc.)
    • un mille - mile (le millage)
    • milli- (prefix)
    • un milliard - billion (un milliardaire, le milliardième, etc.)
    • un million- million (un millionaire, le millionième, etc.)
    • osciller - to oscillate, swing
    • un/e pupille* - ward of the state
    • une pupille* - pupil
    • tranquille - calm, tranquil
    • une ville - town (une villa, un village, etc.)

  • On several occasions I was asked the difference between "c'est" and "il est", and when to use them.

    Here is a useful link regarding this matter:

  • Petite question, toujours au sujet de St. Martin. Il y a des restaurants là-bas qui s’appellent les lolos. Je n’avais aucune idée d’où vient ce mot, mais on m’a expliqué qu’il
    vient du mot local, comme un restaurant local, de l’île. Je n’avais jamais
    entendu cette expression. Est-ce que ça se dit en France, ou ailleurs?
  • Sev
    edited May 2012
    Indeed Chris, with so many restaurants competing for the attention of tourists, often with renowned French chefs, some have opted to serve food in the most simplest settings but near the water.

    Lolos have become synonymous with cheap, local food. The name seems to be 'indigenous' to the Caribbean, especially St Martin, and the term does not seem to be heard in France. 

    Some of these Lolos have garnered long-standing reputations for their culinary experiences. One of them is Hilma’s Windsor Castle.

  • Sev
    edited September 2012
    Something that comes up often with my students is: can I say: "Peux-je..." (Can I)? Indeed, logically, one would expect this to be correct, since a question is often formulated with an inversion of the subject and the verb.

    However, in French, we have kept the old form of the verb 'pouvoir' for that specific interrogative case, which is: "Puis-je...".

    But "puis-je" remains a little too formal for many French people, which in many situations will rather use: "Est-ce que je peux" which avoids the inversion subject-verb and sounds more casual.
  • edited September 2012

    Many people ask about the difference between un an and une année, or jour and journée. Check out this article for an explanation.

  • Sev
    edited November 2012
    If you are confused about using either the prepositions à or de, here is a good article on the subject.
  • In a session, I was asked when to use "ce que", "ce qui", "ce dont". These are called indefinite relative pronouns.

    Here is a good website about the subject.
  • How do you say in french:

    "We are from the university" or  "we are from ABC flowers"

    "Nous sommes de ******" is this correct?
  • Bonjour Volant. Though it would be better for me to have the context to give you a possible answer, you would translate:

    "We are from the University of Paris" -> "Nous sommes de l'université de Paris"

    As for "we are from ABC flowers",  I'm afraid I don't understand the meaning. Could you re-phrase perhaps.
  • Is it the name of a company?
  • Hello Sev!

    How many vowel sounds are in French? I am soon going to take my first eTutor session  but I am not ready yet.
  • Bonjour Anna!

    I look forward to guide you through your first session.

    The answer to your question:

    17 vowels: 13 oral and 4 nasals (although the distinction between -un
    and -ain is becoming flattened in current French.)

    There's a good wiki article on it with both IPA and examples:

    (Of course there's a different number of letters that represent
    vowels, but that's not quite the same thing as the phonemic inventory
    of vowels in French - think of the different pronunciations of a in
    maman, for example.)

  • I love a bit of linguistic terminology! Thanks, Sev. For people unfamiliar with some of the terms, an oral vowel is one that's produced with the air passing entirely through the mouth. Say "ma" while holding your nose.

    A nasal vowel is one that's produced with the air partly flowing through the nasal cavity. We have these in English, too. Say "man' while holding your nose, and you'll find that you get stuck at the end, because the air needs to pass through the nose for the nasal vowel, not to mention the nasal consonant n

    In French, like in English, nasal vowels are marked in spelling with an -n or -m. So in a word like maman, the vowel in the first syllable is oral: ma. But the vowel in the second syllable is nasal: man. (Of course not pronounced like 'man' in English.)

    A phonemic inventory is basically the inventory of sounds in a language. The difference between phonology and phonetics is a bit more complicated. A sort-of watered down explanation that a phonology professor of mine gave me is "phonology is in the head, phonetics is in the mouth."

    Here's the idea. A word (and even that is a complicated notion in linguistics!) has an abstract, underlying representation in your 'head' (or at least the part of it that's associated with language, which a linguist would call a grammar.) A good example, where spelling actually helps, is the word latter in English. In it's phonemic representation, there's a /t/ sound in it. We know this, probably, because it comes from the word late

    But that's in our heads. When we pronounce it, in our mouths, it comes out with a flapped consonant, sounding exactly the same as ladder, except for vowel length, which is another phonological issue related to the difference between t and d. Another story! Note, though, that this flapping rule (a /t/ between vowels comes out as a flap) isn't found in all varieties of English. Think of 'standard' British English - no flap there, just the t

    Speaking of late, another difference between the phonological representation and the phonetic realization is that, for many speakers of English, the final t comes out as a glottal stop, that little catch in your mouth that doesn't sound at all like the t in tea. This is another example of a rule where the underlying phonological representation is changed: final t is turned into a glottal stop.

    You don't need to know any of this, of course, to learn French, or any other language. But just in case you were curious, there you go.
  • Merci Chris pour tous ces détails; quelles superbes connaissances linguistiques!
  • Sev
    edited January 2013
    Another question from students is when to pronounce the 's' in 'plus'. Here is a good page on the matter:

  • Also confusing sometimes is the use of the word 'de'. Visit this page for a comprehensive explanation.
  • Many people ask about the difference between "un an" and "une année", or "un jour" and "une journée". Check out this article for an explanation.
  • edited January 2013
    Bonjour Sev. 

    I'm working on the subjunctive, and it seems to me that the nous and vous forms of the present subjunctive are the same as the past imperfect. C'est correct ?  Par example :

    nous parlions (we spoke)
    J'espere que nous parlions (I hope that we speak - or - I hope that we will speak).


    Best, Ravi
  • edited January 2013
    I'll let Sev give you a better answer if he thinks this isn't enough, but basically, yes that's right with most verbs, at least.

    Some common verbs have irregular subjunctives, like être, avoir, and vouloir, so the forms are different between the subjunctive and the imperfect:

    que nous soyons (subj) / nous étions (imp)
    que nous ayons (subj) / nous avions (imp)
    que nous veuillons (subj) / nous voulions (imp)

    C'est vrai, Sev?

    [UPDATE: See below. It's que nous voulions!]
  • Merci Christopher
  • De rien. But I'm no native speaker, so we should see what Sev has to say. 

    Plus, I think I screwed up vouloir. It's que je veuille, que tu veuilles, qu'il veuille, but que nous voulions, so that's the same as the imperfect.
  • Chris, thank you for your response to Ravi; and your last correction was to the point :)

    Indeed, the irregular verbs avoir, être, faire, pouvoir, savoir have a different form for nous et vous in the subjunctive compared to the imperfect.

    Look at this page for the details.
  • Sev
    edited January 2013
    Concerning the subjunctivehere is a useful tool as to whether to use the French subjunctive or indicative.
  • Merci Sev.  Also, regarding numbers: why is 31 trente et un and 71 soixante et onze when  57 is cinquante-sept.  Is the word "et" used when second number begins with a vowel, and otherwise it is hyphenated?  Merci!

    Best, Ravi
  • Sev
    edited January 2013
    Pas de quoi, Ravi. 

    Check here for the complete picture. As to why it is so, this would require an in-depth search into French language history...

    According to Wiktionary (French): 

    "Use of 'et':

    The conjunction 'et' is used exclusively in the name of a ten, twenty, thirty, etc.., (except eighty) and the one or eleven that immediately follows: forty-one, sixty--eleven.

    Use of the hyphen:

    Before the 1990 French spelling reform, any two-word number less than 100 that doesn't use the word et had hyphens between the components. After the reform, any two-or-more-word number takes hyphens between the components. This is used to distinguish, for example, soixante-et-un tiers (61/3) from soixante et un-tiers (60⅓)."

    Here is a more detailed section about French numbers, but in French!
  • Thanks Sev...the first link doesn't seem to work though.
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