Posts Tagged linguistics

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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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.

L’impératif

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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Songs to Learn French to: Le ours et la hirondelle, part 2


Confession bear: J'ai fait semblant de mal parler le français, parce que je suis jaloux des lolcatsA few days ago I posted about the song Le ours et le hirondelle by Jérémie Kisling, and encouraged French learners to try correcting its grammar by adding in all the necessary contractions. I hope some of you tried it. Here is my corrected version. Is it the same as yours? If not, which one of us is wrong, or are both versions valid?

Elle m’hydrate,
mon hirondelle.
Si délicate,
si sûre d’elle.

Quand je la vois, l’homme des cavernes
qui m’habite
trébuche sur sa propre ombre
et tout mes plans s’effritent.

Parfois, je l’épouse en rêve.
Du bout des doigts
je l’enlève.

Mais quand mes mains sont proches des siennes,
mes mains d’ours,
j’ai l’allure d’une baleine,
d’une baleine d’eau douce.

Jusqu’à la
fin des jours,
au creux de ses bras,
je veux faire l’amour.
Oui, je veux l’amour.

J’ai le blues quand elle n’est pas là.
Qu’il est beau le temps des premiers emois!

Mais quand mes mains sont proches des siennes,
mes mains d’ours,
j’ai l’allure d’une baleine,
d’une baleine d’eau douce.

Viens viens, suis moi
Dans l’eau douce,
et ne t’effraie pas
si je t’éclabousse.

« ne t’en fais pas.
Je t’aime comme ça »

I’ll post another song to learn from soon (my own life is a bit unpredictable right now, so I can’t promise you a schedule) but in the mean time, here’s one just for fun:

Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to learn to sing it. There are versions with subtitles in French and English.

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Songs to Learn French to: Le ours et la hirondelle, part 1


In May 2014 I passed my DALF C1 French exam. Of course, that makes me eminently qualified to teach. I intended to spend a bit more time on a lesson plan, but for the sake of holidailies I’m just going to dive right in. I’ve always found songs to be a good way to learn French. After listening to them enough times, I have a library of grammatically-correct (or at least idiomatically accepted) sentences and properly-pronounced words in my head which I can check whenever I need to remind myself how a particular rule works or what the gender of a given noun is. So here is the first of a series of songs to learn French to.

Each one will have a song, a note on what you can learn from the song, and usually an exercise, the answers to which I’ll put up in a later post. These lessons will assume you already know the basics of French, and can look up vocabulary yourself, 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 songs, though, feel free to ask in the comments, and I’ll answer in the comments and maybe in a later post.

The following, Le ours et la hirondelle, from the album Le ours by Jérémie Kisling, is not a good song to add to that library of grammatically-correct sentences, though it’s a good one for remembering the genders of nouns. I’d recommend buying the album, not just because it is good, but also because it contains another song I’ll be blogging about later.

It is, however, a good song to learn from. To quote Carrie Dahlby, what’s wrong with this song? Here are the lyrics, in case you missed some when listening.

Elle me hydrate,
ma hirondelle.
Si délicate,
si sûre de elle.

Quand je la vois, le homme de les cavernes
qui me habite
trébuche sur la ombre de lui-même
et tout mes plans se effritent.

Parfois, je la
épouse en rêve.
De le bout de les doigts,
je la enlève.

Mais quand mes mains sont proches de les siennes,
mes mains de ours,
je ai la allure de une baleine,
de une baleine de eau douce.

Jusque à la
fin de les jours,
à le creux de ses bras
je veux faire le amour.
Oui, je veux le amour.

Je ai le blues quand elle ne est pas là.
Que il est beau, le temps de les premiers émois!

Mais quand mes mains sont proches de les siennes,
mes mains de ours,
je ai la allure de une baleine,
de une baleine de eau douce.

Viens viens, suis moi
dans la eau douce,
et ne te effraie pas
si je te éclabousse.

« ne te en fais pas
Je te aime comme ça »

Have you figured out what it is yet? If you have, go ahead and write a corrected version of it for practice, and subscribe to this blog if you want to see when I post my version to compare. Otherwise, read on.

Elision

Essentially, the protagonist is a bear, and speaks like one. It’s like a French version of lolcat, which would probably be called mdrours. One big problem in bear French is that it does not have any obligatory elision. That’s when the unstressed vowel at the end of a word such as le, la, de, me, je or jusque is removed because the next word begins with a vowel. For example, you can say:

Le calembour et la colombe en rondelles

(though I don’t know why you would; it means ‘the pun and the sliced dove’, and is not a good example of either.) because the words calembour and colombe start with consonants. But you can’t say:

*Le ours et la hirondelle

(the bear and the swallow) because ours starts with a vowel, and hirondelle starts with an h muet (a silent h that French-speakers don’t even pretend to pronounce, as opposed to the h aspiré, which still isn’t pronounced but is nonetheless treated like a consonant for the purposes of elision.) So you have to say:

L’ours et l’hirondelle

You have to be careful with this, though; when a word starts with h, check a dictionary to see if it’s an h muet or an h aspiré. In the latter case, you shouldn’t do the elision. If you think you know which is which, see if you can do this exercise.

Now, as much as it might seem useless to remember the words of a grammatically incorrect song, the lack of elision does actually give learners an advantage: you could hear l’ours and l’ombre many times and still not necessarily know the genders of those nouns, unless you happen to remember lyrics where the gender is clear from other parts of the sentence. But with this song, you can tell from *le ours, *la ombre that ours is masculine and ombre is feminine. I think if it weren’t for this song, I wouldn’t know the gender of ombre.

Other Contractions

Bear French is also missing other contractions, such as des for de les, du for de le, au and aux for à le and à les respectively. There’s a great list of all these elisions and contractions over at about.com, so I won’t try to repeat that. For example, you can say:

Mais quand mes mains sont proches de tes veines…

(Though I’d be a little afraid of you if you did, since it means, ‘but when my hands are close to your veins’) because there is no contraction for de tes. Similarly, you could say:

Mais quand ma main est proche de la sienne…

(‘but when my hand is close to hers/his’) because there is no contraction of de la. But you can’t say:

*Mais quand mes mains sont proches de les siennes…

(‘but when my hands are close to hers/his’) because *de les is not allowed; it changes to des. You have to say:

Mais quand mes mains sont proches des siennes…

All of these contractions are obligatory; you should never use *de les or *à le when the le and les would be definite articles (as they always are in this song.) You will see de le, de les, à le, etc. when le and les are object pronouns, and in rare cases you can use these for names of people which start with the definite article, but none of those things are in this song.

Other Considerations

Another thing that’s weird in this song is this line:

…trébuche sur la ombre de lui-même…

Even if we elide *la ombre to l’ombre, it still translates to ‘trips over the shadow of himself’ which I think sounds as awkward in French as it does in English. What we really want to say is ‘trips over his own shadow’, which in French is:

…trébuche sur sa propre ombre…

So we end up not even needing the elision. Now, what if we just wanted to say, ‘trips over his shadow’? If you wanted to speak like a bear, you’d probably say it like this:

…*trébuche sur sa ombre…

But you’re not a bear, are you? There are two vowels with only a space between them in sa ombre, which is called a hiatus. The reason for elision above is that French speakers, like die-hard Da Vinci’s Notebook fans, do not like hiatus. There are even some adjectives with special forms for avoiding hiatus. When it comes to possessive pronouns such as sa, ma, and ta, to avoid hiatus they switch to the masculine possessive even if the noun is feminine, like ombre is. So that would be:

…trébuche sur son ombre…

You can’t tell the gender of ombre from this phrase any more than you could from l’ombre. It’s just as well you now know a song that mentions *la ombre, so you will always be able to remember the gender of the word ombre.

Exercise

Vindicate the well-educated bears of the world: go through the lyrics of Le ours et la hirondelle and fix all the problems you can find. I’ll post my fixed version in a few days and we can compare. For extra credit, figure out a way to sing the new version, or add some more words so that it can be sung to the original tune. For fun rather than credit, turn the original song into a series of lolcat-like memes featuring bears.

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Perhaps I will not post something interesting every day for the rest of the month, but I should at least try.


Today I watched this video from the Virtual Linguistics Campus:

After that, I intended to analyse some sentences myself, but I got sidetracked thinking of simple ways to make diagrams like the ones in the video. It looks like there are apps and LaTeX packages to do something like it, but just for fun, I modified the AppleScript I wrote for diagramming monduckens to turn text like this:

Clause(Adverb(Perhaps) NP(Noun(you)) VP(Auxiliary(will) Adverb(never) Verb(find) NP(Determiner(a) Noun(job)) PP(Preposition(as) NP(Determiner(a) Noun(linguist))))) Clause(Conjunction(but) Noun(you) VP(Auxiliary(should) Adverbial(at least) Verb(try)))

into a tree like this in OmniGraffle:

TreeDiagram

Note that I am not sure if this is strictly correct (I think the adverbial ‘at least’ could have been broken into words, and the conjunction perhaps shouldn’t have been included in the second clause) but it’s how it is in the video. Redone with only rectangles (which is an option when running the script) and using the exact same Tree nester script the monducken diagrams did, this can then be turned into a rather oversized and misaligned version of the sentence with rectangles around the constituents:

Perhaps your sentence will never be a credible turducken, but you could at least try.

I didn’t have a lot of time, so it’s pretty crude as yet, but it would be fairly simple to adjust the settings of the shapes to be more like what’s in the video. I’m posting it now in order to continue with Holidailies.

While we’re on the subject of grammar, The Doubleclicks have just covered a Tom Lehrer song about adverbs. I get this song in my head every single time I answer a ‘how’ question with an L-Y adverb, so I am very happy about the cover.

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Forms and Formulae: Linguistics → Mathematics


A picture of the Sun peeking over the spine of The Princeton Companion to Mathematics as it rests on top of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & PoeticsThis is the second in a series called ‘Forms and Formulae‘ in which I write about articles in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics using poetic forms covered by articles in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. This week’s mathematics article is entitled ‘The Language and Grammar of Mathematics’ and the poetic form is acrostic, which is a superset of last week’s form, the abecedarius.

I’ve already written plenty of apronyms about mathematics that could be considered acrostics, so for this I had to do something else. The following is a double acrostic about the language of mathematics — the first letter of each line spells ‘Linguistics’ and the last letter of each line, read upwards, spells ‘Mathematics’. The line lengths are highly irregular (just as the mapping from linguistics to mathematics can be), which makes that less impressive, but I tried to keep decent enough rhythm and rhyme that it sounds good when read aloud.

Linguistics is mathematics.
Is’ it? Well, that ‘is’ a classic.
Now which ‘is’ is that ‘is’ that you and I
Grammatically understand… wait!
Understand, or understands? It all depends on how that ‘and’ treats data:
I understand ∧ you understand, or you+I is? Are? Am?
Some singular object that understands ambiguous copulae
That may~equivalence relations, ambivalent notations for functions, adjunctions, or ∈ life ∪ death
I ‘am’ and i ‘is’, in a nonempty set?
Cogito, ergo ∀ subjects Ɣ ∈ {sums, numbers, dynamics, …} Ɣ has Grammar s.t. Meaning(s)=Meaning(t)⇔s=t ∀ symbols s,t in Grammar sub gamma.
So, let ‘is’ be a relation where no such equation’s imposed but the intersection of the sets of accepted bijections on the subjects’ grammar sets are nonempty we get (and I don’t have the proof yet to hand, um… It’s trivial, readers with wits understand’em) that linguistics is mathematics, quod erat demonstrandum.

This was a particularly interesting article for me, since I’m very interested in language and grammar in general. It goes into various symbols used in mathematics and talks about which parts of speech they are and how they compare to similar words or parts of speech in English. It turns out mathematics has no adjectives. I had several attempts at different acrostics, and when I figured out the first few lines of this one, I thought I’d move on to explaining a different section of the article every few lines. Then I was inspired to continue it at a time when I didn’t have the book handy, so it ended up focusing on just the first few parts with a nod to something mentioned in a later section. One nice thing I found in the article was:

  1. Nothing is better than lifelong happiness.
  2. But a cheese sandwich is better than nothing.
  3. Therefore, a cheese sandwich is better than lifelong happiness.

Soon after, we get the haiku I found earlier:

For every person
P there exists a drink D
such that P likes D.

It’s really a fun book to read. Next week’s Forms and Formulae will be an air on some fundamental mathematical definitions, which should be interesting because I’m not certain I fully understand the requirements for an air. I may have to dust off the robot choir.

In other news, I got some copies of the They might not be giants poster printed locally, and they look great, even when accidentally printed at twice the intended size. The English pronoun poster is quite readable at about 42x42cm, which is a little less than the size it’s on Zazzle at.

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Pronoun Flowchart Update and Poster


It occurred to me that now that I have a Zazzle store, I could print posters of the inadvertently-Zork-themed English pronoun flowchart I made at the start of the year. The image I used for the background has no ‘noncommercial’ condition on the license, after all. So I fixed a typo, fixed the alignment of the text in the boxes, thickened the lines, nudged a few things into better positions, and before I knew it I was moving a whole lot of things around to get it into more of a square shape to make better use of the space and fit onto a standard poster size. I think the result looks much tidier, and what’s more, in the process of doing that I noticed I’d somehow forgotten to add an example sentence for the pronoun ‘he’.

Now it is available as a 24″x24″ poster. You can order it at a smaller size if you like, but I think the text would be quite small (though still readable) in that case. I’ve also made an updated pdf of it, so if you want you could print that as a poster instead, or just read it on your screen; I don’t mind. The background might look slightly different from the Zazzle version due to resolution issues, but it’s only a faint background image so it doesn’t matter that much. I have yet to try either option.

Zork-themed English Pronoun Flowchart
Zork-themed English Pronoun Flowchart by Angelastic
Browse more Grammar Posters at Zazzle

It still doesn’t include relative, possessive or interrogative pronouns. Picking a pronoun is complicated enough without them. It does include we, ourselves, us, they, themselves, them, he, she, himself, him, herself, her, I, itself, it, myself, me, oneself, one, yourself, yourselves, you, and advice on when to look up a more exotic gender-neutral pronoun or dialectal plural ‘you’. Most of these rules will be obvious to native English speakers, but if you like grammar or flowcharts it’s interesting to see them written explicitly, and the example sentences may be entertaining. It could also be useful to people or robots whose native language is not English.

As with the other poster, if I get enough money that Zazzle actually pays me, I will lend it on Kiva, since I currently have enough money from my day job to live on.

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See Their Fuss, Memorising: A Mnemonic for German Articles, With Gender and Case


In German the nouns have three categories,
referred to as ‘genders’ but that’s just linguistics.
While often sex tells a word’s gender with ease,
to learn all the rest, I present some heuristics.

Each gender has articles (like ‘a’ or ‘the’.)
Each ‘a’ starts with ein and each ‘the’ starts with d.
Each stanza gives one, but they’ll sometimes entwine;
you’ll note that the ‘the’ word will rhyme with each line.
First let’s consider the nominative,
when the noun does an action: ‘that is’, and ‘I live’.

For neutral nouns, ‘a’ is just ein, and ‘the”s das.
The line through the middle, not minus or plus.
So anything ending in -mittel is thus,
and anything ending in -lein, too, you suss?
And metals, and other -um words ride this bus,
Colours and -at words are in this noun class,
and one more wee suffix we’ll shortly discuss.

For ‘feminine’ nouns you use eine or die.
Most female people are -in this group, see?
Though young girls are neutral, that won’t confuse us;
It’s Mädchen, and all of the -chen nouns are das.
But -ions aren’t neutral; that’s plain chemistry,
and neither are flowers or fruit or a tree
(though apples and peaches and -Ents don’t fit there;
for those we will need the more ‘masculine’ der.)
‘Feminine’ endings are -schaft, -ung and -ie;
Their meanings are sort of like ‘-ness’, ‘-ing’ and ‘-y’.
Remember that ‘-ness’ and get -heit and -keit free!

For masculine nouns, once more ein, and ‘the”s der.
All male folk are this, you were surely aware,
and that’s a trait French-like -eur suffixes share.
And -ist is there too; let’s hope sex-ists are rare,
for -ant man will get them, and that could quite scare
the wussiest -us words whose gender they share.
Remember all this? Have some brain-boosting fare,
or drinks made with alcohol, if you don’t care.
Points on the compass should indicate where,
and weekdays and seasons say when to be there.

One more thing, by the way: any plural is die.
Forgot something’s gender? Just talk about three.

All right, now were done with the nominative,
but what about when it’s a thing that you give?
When we use direct objects, what happens then?
Well, most stay the same, except der becomes den.
But what if you want to give something to it,
or use aus, außer, bei, nach, zeit, von, zu, or mit?
Oh, hear them, see their fuss, memorising…
Go “derdem, dieder, dasdem”, surprising!
But that isn’t all: just like ‘man’ goes to ‘men’,
the die for the plural (not feminine)’s den.

Okay, now there’s just one more case to go through.
It’s mostly when ‘of the’ in English would do:
in spite of, inside of, because of, possession.
You’ll figure them out in the course of the session.
Außerhalb, innerhalb, trotz, wegen, während,
diesseits, jenseits, statt… ask a parent.
For these ones, again, see their fuss, guess their stress,
and simply repeat, “dieder, dasdes, derdes”.
The die for the plural is one of a pair;
it’s just like the feminine: die becomes der.

But now you might wonder what happens to ‘ein‘s
in the cases described in the previous lines.
It’s really quite simple; if the d-word’s amended
you take the new letter with which that is ended,
mix in an ein, and an ‘e’, and combine ‘em
for einer and eines, einen and einem.

Since I live in Austria now, of course I’m learning German, so I needed something to keep this all straight in my own head. I recall coming up with this idea while riding on a train through Switzerland a on a visit to Geneva few months ago; I’d brought along one of my German books in the hope of studying on the train, and it had a list of rules for figuring out the likely gender of a word. I wanted a more interesting way to memorise them. I didn’t write much of it at the time, but I came up with the main principles of it.

I didn’t expect to remember the entire poem by heart, so I wanted to make sure that even if I only remember one line, most of the time it will still contain some useful information. It’s no good remembering that flowers and fruit and trees are all the same gender if I don’t know which one it is. So I made each line that had a gender hint rhyme with the appropriate word for ‘the’; if I remember ‘neither or flowers or fruit or a tree’ then I know the definite article for flowers, fruit, and trees is ‘die’ because it rhymes with ‘tree’. This kind of thing gets complicated when I get to the stanzas about accusative, dative and genitive case; I glossed over those topics a bit, and didn’t even mention what the cases are called. But now all I have to remember is ‘hear them, see their fuss, mem…’ and through rhymes I can remember der dem, die der, das dem. I’d have liked to have that same line allude to which case it is, so I’d remember exactly when der should change to dem. I could also do with some kind of nice outro, and an introductory stanza that doesn’t have an alternating rhyme scheme completely unlike the rest of the poem. When I have more time, I’ll work on that. I’m already one poem down for the weekend, despite having taken a found-haiku break Friday.

After much deliberation, I decided to put German words and word parts (even the one that does double duty as the English ‘in’) in italics without any sort of quotes unless they need to be clearly separated from some English morpheme (e.g. ‘ein‘s is not the German word eins), mentioned English words (and that one language-neutral single letter) in inverted commas without italics (which makes things weird when I also need an apostrophe) and emphasised words in bold. I am not at all sure I made the right decisions.

For those who were confused, this poem references Ents and ions.

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Nine of Clubs: It is pitch black. I need to know which English pronoun to use.


Nine of ClubsEdit: There is now an updated version of this chart, which is available as a poster.

Below is a flow chart to help people determine when to use which pronouns to use in English. Click for a full-sized pdf version. I did not originally intend for it to be Zork-themed, but the first example sentence I thought of for ‘you’ happened to be ‘You are likely to be eaten by a grue.’ I hope the resulting colours don’t make it too hard to read, though perhaps that would help people remember it. If I’d realised it was going to end up so Zorky, I would have made the questions and answers read more like a text adventure. It’s just as well I didn’t, since would probably have made it less comprehensible to the non-native English speakers who are most likely to need help with pronouns.

I am not a linguist, so if you spot something I’ve got wrong or missed out (apart from interrogative, relative and possessive pronouns, details of gender-neutral singular pronouns and informal plurals of ‘you’, and other cases where additional people are named separately, which I omitted for the sake of simplicity), let me know. My original plan was to do such flow charts for all four Swiss languages, with English for comparison and maybe Māori for its interesting system of pronouns, but this one took long enough, and it ought to be the easiest for me. I also intended to have clearer and more interesting example sentences, and simpler-to-understand questions about subjects and objects, but I’m already a few weeks late due to visitors and travel, and I’m busy preparing for a cruise, so this will have to do for now.

The match photo is by Sebastien Ritter. I used it to keep grues away and to ensure the diagram would be illuminating at least in some sense.

EnglishPronouns

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