Archive for October, 2015

Songs to Learn French to: Grammaire Song, part 2

This is part two in my explanation of the song ‘Grammaire Song’ by Chanson Plus Bifluorée. See the first lesson for the full lyrics and explanation of the first stanza.

Previous lessons in the ‘Song to Learn French To‘ series are Le ours et la hirondelle, part 1 and part 2

The first lesson only covered the first stanza; this one covers the next two.

Adjectif possessif : possession

Do you know all the possessive adjectives in French? They correspond to words like ‘his’ or ‘your’, but unlike ‘his’ and ‘her’, which depend on the gender of the person possessing the thing, French possessive adjectives depend on the gender and number of the actual items being possessed. They can also depend on whether the thing being possessed starts with a vowel (or an h muet) to avoid the hiatus that I mentioned in a previous lesson. The song lists some of the possessive adjectives you should know:

Mes, tes, ses, nos, vos, leurs, mon, tonson

Those are just some of the masculine and plural possessive adjectives; there are several others:

Ma, ta, sa, notre, votre, leur, ta

Actually, we don’t know whether the song says leur or leurs, since they sound the same, but the lyrics I found online had leurs, and that goes with the other plural possessive adjectives listed.

Next the song gives a confusing example which contains a lot of words that sound like possessive adjectives, but aren’t. I’ve put actual possessive adjectives in bold, and words that sound like possessive adjectives underlined, all colour-coded to match the possessive adjectives they sound like, if they appear elsewhere. I’ve tried to use a somewhat colourblind-safe palette, but sorry if you have trouble distinguishing some of the colours.

Exemple facile ; c’est son tonton
qu’est ton maçon, lui qui t’a bâti ta maison

Plurals (or should that be pluraux?)

Un cheval au pluriel c’est chevaux
Mais des batailles font pas des bateaux
Exception faite pour aller aux bals
Danser quels régals dans tous les carnavals

Do you know your French irregular plurals? A lot of French words ending in -al, and a few ending in -ail, be they adjectives (e.g. international), or nouns (e.g. cheval, journal, travail) change to -aux in the masculine plural (e.g. internationaux, chevaux, journaux, travaux). But many words that already end in -au or -eau (tuyau, bateau) also take an -x in the plural (tuyaux, bateaux), so if you only knew the plural forms you might be confused about the singular. Or maybe, like The Arrogant Worms possibly do in their song about Celine Dion (inasmuch as the French at the end of that song is decipherable), you get chevaux (the plural of cheval) confused with cheveux (the plural of cheveu) because they look so similar. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe this is all perfectly simple for you. In that case, don’t worry, there are some exceptions just for you. Some words ending in -al (e.g. balrégalcarneval) just take a regular -s in the plural.

That will do for this lesson. Even though I’d already written most of it, I still didn’t find the time to publish it after a week, as I’d promised. It’s hard to predict how much free time I’ll have when I’m away from home, and I lost some work a browser crash. Tune in next week or so to learn about agreement.

If you want to keep learning between lessons, then first of all, of course, buy the songs I’ve mentioned (or better, the albums they’re on) and listen to them while thinking about what you can learn from them. Also, try duolingo, and feel free to follow me. If you’re already fairly fluent, the regular exercises might be detrimental (as they train you to translate simple sentences rather than simply understanding and responding to them without going via your native language) so I recommend the ‘Immersion‘ section where you read and translate interesting real-world text. If you’re still learning the basics, the exercises are useful, but don’t be afraid to try a bit of translation as well. Start with a topic you already know a lot about — before I was at all confident with reading or translating German, I found German Wikipedia articles related to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy surprisingly easy to read.

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Welcome, McFly. Seriously.

I arrived in October 21 2015 about an hour ago, and Marty McFly should be arriving later. It seems a good time to recap a few things I’ve made and done relating to Back to the Future.

They chained off my car! I guess I’m stuck in 2015 now.

Firstly, here are some lyrics I wrote for a Back-to-the-Future-related parody of Moxy Früvous’s Gulf War Song. If I’d been in Vienna more this year I probably would have fixed the bit I don’t like (the heavy/light line that needs too much explanation) and organised for some of my musical friends to sing it at Open Phil, but alas, I’ve been away too much.

Secondly, here’s a video I took of a superconducting magnetic hover-scooter created by MaNEP several years ago and occasionally shown off at events at CERN. I’m not too happy about the way I deliberately decoupled the sound from the video at one point, but never mind. You can see me riding a hoverboard. I wrote a blog post with more information.

In the year 2015, I bought one of those holographic hats that everyone’s wearing here in the future, took it to the wax museum in Vienna, and took some pictures of wax figures wearing it. Here’s a guy who could help you solve any problems you might have caused with the spacetime continuum.

Einstein 2015

And this is Michael Jackson… Fox? ready to serve you at your nearest Cafe 80s.

Michael Jackson Fox.

Of course, Elvis never died; he just skipped a few decades.

Elvis 2015

Same goes for Freddie Mercury:

Freddie Mercury 2015

The Freud dude prefers to travel in time by phone booth, though.

Freud 2015

Gustav Klimt probably thought he knew how colour worked.


And here are Julia Roberts and Johnny Depp, just because.

Julia Roberts 2015

I don't recognise this guy, so it must be Johnny Depp.

Also, check out these songs other people wrote about Back to the Future. Like an Anvil by The Burning Hell (from the album ‘Flux Capacitor’) and one simply called Back to the Future by Insane Ian.

Have fun; I’ll be going to a screening of Jaws 19 (or is it Back to the Future I and II?) with my hat and my copy of the Back to the Future card game.

I look forward to seeing whether this tumblr continues as normal after it’s actually correct.

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Songs to Learn French to: Grammaire Song, part 1

This is the third in the ‘Songs to Learn French to‘ series. The first two are Le ours et la hirondelle, part 1 and part 2.

This is the first of what’s turning out to be far too many lessons about the song ‘Grammaire Song’ by Chanson Plus Bifluorée, which you can listen to below (from a well-hidden extracts page of the band’s website) and buy from epm musique or maybe from your electronic music retailer of choice. There’s so much in the song that this lesson only covers the first stanza. I’ll publish a new lesson every week until the song’s finished; it’ll probably be four lessons, though I’ve only written the first two so far, so it could end up longer.

The last song had an exercise attached, but this song doesn’t need any correction; it just lists and illustrates some grammatical concepts you should make sure you’re familiar with.

As before, I’ll assume you know French well enough to work out what the lyrics mean, but just need practice or ways to remember things. I’ll tend to link to other sites rather than explaining everything in detail. If you have any questions about the grammar or the meaning of the song, though, feel free to ask in the comments, and I’ll answer in the comments and maybe in a later post. Let me know if you spot any mistakes in my explanations or example sentences, too; I have a DALF C1 and half a Masters in linguistics, which doesn’t actually make me qualified to teach, whatever Tom Lehrer says.

Here are the words:

D’accord, c’est un peu rébarbatif
Le subjonctif en apéritif
Passons sur le mode impératif
Le plus-que-parfait, le pronom relatif

Adjectif possessif : possession
Mes, tes, ses, nos, vos, leurs, mon, ton, son
Exemple facile ; c’est son tonton
qu’est ton maçon, lui qui t’a bâti ta maison

Un cheval au pluriel c’est chevaux
Mais des batailles font pas des bateaux
Exception faite pour aller aux bals
Danser quels régals dans tous les carnavals

Avez-vous bien étudié la grammaire
Les règles littéraires, accordé l’auxiliaire ?
Avez-vous bien révisé le français
L’attribut du sujet, le complément d’objet ?

L’accent aigu remplace souvent
Un ancien “s” qu’on avait dans l’temps
L’accent circonflexe évidemment
mis pour une lettre qu’on écrivait avant

J’ai laissé mon épée à l’escole
Avant que d’estudier l’anatole
De l’anglais on garde le foot-ball
le gin, le pudding et puis le music-hall

Avez-vous bien étudié la grammaire
Les règles littéraires, accordé l’auxiliaire ?
Avez-vous bien révisé le français
L’attribut du sujet, le complément d’objet ?

“Tout” adverbe est toujours inchangé
Mais “tout” adjectif peut s’accorder
Quand “tout” est pronom, difficulté !
“Tout” c’est compliqué, on n’y est plus tout à fait

Bijou caillou chou genou hibou
Sans oublier tous nos vieux joujoux
Bijou caillou chou genou hibou pou
Mais où est donc or ni car, souvenez-vous

Avez-vous bien étudié la grammaire
Les règles littéraires, accordé l’auxiliaire ?
Avez-vous bien révisé le français
L’attribut du sujet, le complément d’objet ?

Avez-vous cherché dans le dictionnaire
Compris le questionnaire, écrit vos commentaires ?
Avez-vous bien étudié l’imparfait
L’attribut du sujet, le complément d’objet ?

Avez-vous résolu tous les mystères
De la conjugaison et du vocabulaire
Du temps où vous remplissiez vos cahiers
D’attributs du sujet, de compléments d’objet ?
D’attributs du sujet, de compléments d’objet ?

Okay, now what can we learn from this song? For starters (that is, en apéritif) how about the subjunctive.

Le subjontif

D’accord, c’est un peu rébarbatif
Le subjonctif en apéritif

The subjunctive is one of several grammatical moods of a verb, others including the imperative (see below) and the indicative. In English, the subjunctive is often similar enough to the indicative that we don’t know we’re using it, but it’s important that you know when to use the subjunctive in French. It usually comes after the word ‘that’ (in French, que.) In the phrase, ‘it’s important that you know when to use the subjunctive’, ‘know’ is subjunctive because I’m not saying you do know; I don’t know whether you do or not. I’m just saying it’s important for you to know. Whereas in ‘the subjunctive is often similar enough to the indicative that we don’t know we’re using it’, I am saying that we don’t know we’re using it, so I don’t need to use the subjunctive. Here’s the same sentence in French, using ‘on‘ for both ‘we’ and the general ‘you’ because I wanted to show how different the indicative and subjunctive forms of ‘know’ (in bold) are without even changing the pronoun.

En anglais, le subjonctif ressemble tellement à l’indicatif que l’on ne sait même pas qu’on l’utilise, mais il est important que l’on sache quand utiliser le subjonctif en français.

So maybe that gives you some idea of when and why you need to know about the subjunctive, but for the details, here’s an explanation of the French subjunctive and how to form the subjunctive, and the Subjunctivisor to help you decide whether you need it in a certain phrase.

There’ll be a whole song on the subjunctive later in this series, with an exercise, so if you don’t quite get it yet, look forward to that one.


Passons sur le mode impératif

Okay, let’s just gloss over the imperative. You use the imperative mood to suggest that somebody do something. (See that ‘do’ there? That was the subjunctive again. ‘To suggest that somebody does something’ is a different suggestion entirely.) For example, ‘let’s gloss over the imperative’ (or more literally, ‘let’s pass on the imperative’) or passons sur le mode impératif.

Let’s summarise these moods. In the command ‘use the imperative!’ (utilisez l’impératif !) ‘use the imperative’ is in the imperative mood, while in, ‘It is imperative that you use the imperative’ (il est impératif que vous utilisiez l’impératif), ‘use the imperative’ is in the subjunctive, and in ‘You use the imperative to suggest that somebody do something’ (vous utilisez l’impératif pour suggérer que quelqu’un fasse quelque chose), ‘use the imperative’ is in the indicative, while ‘somebody do something’ is in the subjunctive. Simple, right?

Le plus-que-parfait

If you had already learnt the last two things before reading this blog, you would be perfect, but if you’d learnt this one, you’d be more than perfect! The plus-que-parfait (a.k.a. the pluperfect) is the tense you use for sentences where you’d say you ‘had’ done them in English. To make the plus-que-parfait you actually use the imparfait (imperfect) version of être or avoir to translate the ‘had’, because being made out of imperfect things is what makes something perfect even more so. You’ll hear more about the imparfait later in the song.

Si vous aviez déjà appris les deux choses précédentes avant de lire ce blog, vous seriez parfait(e), mais si vous aviez appris celle-ci, vous seriez plus que parfait.

Le pronom relatif

Relative pronouns are the words that connect a noun you just mentioned with some more information specifying which one you’re talking about. They’re not just any words, they’re the words that connect a noun you just mentioned with some more information specifying which one you’re talking about. So, let’s say the noun you just mentioned is ‘words’, and you want to specify that the particular words you’re talking about connect a noun you just mentioned with some more information specifying which one you’re talking about, you’d use the relative pronoun ‘that’.

In French you’d use qui in this case, because ‘words’ is a subject, which means the words are the ones doing something (in this case, connecting a noun you just mentioned with some more information specifying which one you’re talking about.)

If you were talking about a noun that someone was doing something to, for instance, a noun you just mentioned (also expressed as a noun that you just mentioned), you’d use que, because that noun is being treated as an object.

Les pronoms relatifs sont les mots qui lient un nom que l’on vient de mentionner avec de l’information précisant duquel des noms on parle.

There are several other relative pronouns, in English as well as French; for instance, French has duquel, which doesn’t even have a one-word equivalent in English. However, I don’t have room for the general theory of pronominal relativity here, so here’s a website where you can learn about them.

That’s all for this lesson; tune in next week to learn about possessive adjectives, irregular plurals, and more.

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