The French They Never Taught You 14: One More Thing

Two of the very first things that you learn in French class are the indefinite article (un, une) and the numbers (un, deux, trois). In un and une the indefinite article and the number one overlap. This pair of words can mean either "a" or "one." Une personne can be either "a person" or "one person." What they don't teach you is that French has a way of making it clear that you mean "one" and not "a." Consider the following sentence: Une même personne ne peut signer plus d'une soumission. The word même is used after une to make it clear that une means "one" and not "a." So when you translate the sentence from French to English, you can simply ignore the word même and translate it like this:

The French They Never Taught You 13: Translating the Infinitive

Infinitives, which consist of "to" plus a verb in English but are a single word in French, are one of the first things that French students learn. To take examples of the three regular conjugations that are part of every beginning French class, aimer is "to like" or "to love," finir is "to finish" and rendre is "to give back" or "to return." Once you've known that for quite a while, it can be hard to see that à plus an infinitive works differently. Consider these examples: à suivre – to be continued à rendre – to be returned à débattre - to be discussed le document à traduire – the document to be translated les mesures à prendre – the action to be taken When à is in front of an infinitive, i

Spanish Names for Legal Scholars

In Spanish the suffix -ISTA can be added to the names of areas of law to designate a person who specializes in that area, either as a scholar or as a practicing lawyer. There is a similar practice in English. For example, a "medievalist" is a scholar who studies the Middle Ages. But that practice doesn't extend to the names of legal scholars, and therefore, there is not a one-word English translation for the following: civilista - civil law scholar penalista - criminal law scholar constitucionalista - constitutional law scholar mercantilista - commercial law scholar laboralista - labor law scholar procesalista - procedural law scholar comparatista - comparative law scholar The terms above ca

The French They Never Taught You 12: A French brouhaha is not an English brouhaha

Although English apparently borrowed the word "brouhaha" from the French, which in turn took it from the Hebrew "baruch habba" (the beginning of the phrase "blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" in Psalm 118:26), the two words are used differently in English and French. Some of the bilingual dictionaries seem not to be aware of this fact, because if you look up the English word "brouhaha" in the Oxford French Dictionary, the only translation you'll find is le brouhaha. What "brouhaha" actually means in English is a "fuss", a "to-do" or even a "stink." So you might say "There will be quite a brouhaha over his resignation" (which is another way of saying "There will be a great to-do

The French They Never Taught You 11: Word Order

Because word order in French is generally similar to word order in English, learners of French are only told about the one main case where it clearly differs, namely that adjectives generally follow the noun they modify in French, while in English the rule is just the opposite: adjectives generally precede the noun they modify, unless the expression is one that originated in French, such as: notary public condition precedent attorney general court martial Note that the plurals of these expressions are notaries public, conditions precedent, attorneys general and courts martial. To be sure, students learning French study the cases where an adjective can be placed before the noun with a differe

Many ways to say "law firm" in Spanish

There are many ways to say "law firm" in Spanish. In some countries, the terms bufete jurídico or bufete de abogados are used, but never in Argentina or Uruguay, where law firms are called estudios jurídicos. In Mexico and Spain, law firms are often called despachos de abogados. In the Dominican Republic, you sometimes see the term gabinete de abogados (which is a calque of the French term for "law firm"--cabinet d'avocats). Surprisingly enough, in Venezuela, the term escritorio jurídico is often used, although in standard Spanish an escritorio is a desk, not an office (but note that escritório is indeed the Portuguese word for office). In some countries, you may even see firma de abogados.

The French They Never Taught You 10: A Different Way of Expressing the Past

Students of French spend a long time learning when to use the passé composé and the imparfait because the distinction between these two aspects is not made in English (at least not in the same way). What they don't learn is a way of expressing the past, particularly in journalism, called the infinitif de narratif, which according to Grevisse in Le Bon usage is "élégant et un peu recherché." The infinitif de narratif consists of a sentence started with et and then the verb in the infinitive form preceded by de. For example: Et l’ancien Premier Ministre d’affirmer : This is just another way of saying Et l’ancien Premier Ministre affirma : and it means: And the former Prime Minister said... Her

The French They Never Taught You 9: The Present Isn't Necessarily the Present

In French class, students learn that the present tense in French can be translated in three ways in English. For example, je vais means I go, I do go, and I am going. That is complicated in and of itself. But the present tense in French can actually be used in at least three other ways. Where English uses the past tense Where English uses the future Where English uses the imperative French uses the present tense in the minutes of a meeting (un procès-verbal) but English uses the past tense, and in this case, the present tense in French must be translated by the past tense in English: La Présidente préside (presided over) la séance. Elle ouvre la séance (called the meeting to order) et donne

Two Legal Terms to Watch Out For

Two legal terms that are often mistranslated into the Romance languages are "comparative law" and "derivative work." Comparative law is obviously the study and comparison of the legal systems in different countries. In the Romance languages, its name would translate literally into English as "compared law," but we don't call it that. We call it "comparative law." Thus, we have: French: droit comparé Spanish: derecho comparado Portuguese: direito comparado Italian: diritto comparato So note that if you translate, say, from Spanish to English, derecho comparado is not called "compared law" but comparative law and if you translate from English to Spanish, "comparative law" is not called "derech

The French They Never Taught You 8: "pouvoir" is not the only way to say "may" or "could"

One of the first irregular verbs that French students learn is pouvoir, which means "to be able." Thus, je peux means "I can" or "I am able", nous pouvons means "we can" or "we are able," and so on. Nous pourrions means "we could." What they don't learn is that a common way of saying "can" or "may" or "could" is risquer de. Il risque de pleuvoir. It may rain. La dette française risque d'atteindre un niveau record en 2015. French debt could reach record levels in 2015. The point here is that although "risquer de" looks like "risks," the better translation is often "may" or "could."

The French They Never Taught You 7: The Conditional Doesn't Always Mean "Would"

As we saw in an earlier post, French students practice "if-then" sentences like the following: S'il était riche, il irait en Australie. If he were rich, he would go to Australia. This can give students the impression that the conditional form of the verb (here: il irait) is always translated as "would." But there is a second use of the conditional that students often don't learn. It's called the le conditionnel d’hypothèse and is used in French when reporting items for which you do not want to take responsibility. It can often be translated as "allegedly" or "reportedly." For example, judges use the conditionnel d'hypothèse when describing the arguments of each side: Le demandeur se serait

The French They Never Taught You 6: A New Twist on "de" and "à"

French students learn that de means "of" or "from" and that à means "at" or "to." That may be OK as a rule of thumb, but in fact, the situation is actually more complicated, because à sometimes means "from" (and thus just the opposite of "to"--which is what it usually means). Consider this passage: La Belgique va louer une prison aux Pays-Bas : Confrontée depuis des années à un problème de surpopulation carcérale, le gouvernement belge se tourne vers son voisin, qui compte plusieurs prisons complètement vides. At first glance, it looks as though Belgium is going to lease a prison to the Netherlands, but as the second part of the sentence makes clear, it's actually the other way around: Bel

The French They Never Taught You 5: A New Way to Say "You and I"

French students learn to use the "disjunctive" pronouns when they want to talk about two people doing something: Jeanne et moi, nous sommes allés au cinéma. Jeanne and I went to the movies. Paul et lui, ils ont joué au tennis. He and Paul played tennis. While expressions like these are still alive and well in French, people have begun to use a different way of saying this. Instead of saying "X et Y" they now say "avec X" such and such happened. Here are some examples: Sarkozy: « Avec Carla, on a décidé de ne pas mentir. » Carla and I decided not to lie. instead of "Carla et moi, nous avons décidé de ne pas mentir." Avec sa femme, ils sont allés à Cannes. He and his wife went to Cannes. inste

The French They Never Taught You 4: "Si" (if) Can Mean While and Although

One of main points of grammar that French students spend hours learning is the "sequence of tenses" in clauses using si, meaning "if": S'il fait beau, nous irons à la plage. If the weather is nice, we will go to the beach. S'il faisait beau, nous irions à la plage. If the weather were nice, we would go to the beach. S'il avait fait beau, nous serions allés à la plage. If the weather had been nice, we would have gone to the beach. After working hundreds of these exercises, students are likely to conclude that si always means "if." But consider these sentences: Si son premier roman a été un succès, le second a été éreinté par la critique. Here, "if" makes no sense, and the sentence means "Alth

The French They Never Taught You 3: No Plural After Zéro

Students of French have to learn the irregular plural forms of scores of French nouns: le jeu, les jeux le journal, les journaux l’œil, les yeux What they don't learn is that unlike "zero" in English, the French word zéro is followed by a singular noun, not a plural one. Thus, the title of the book above is Zéro faute en anglais (even though in English we say "Zero Mistakes in English"). Apparently zéro faute is seen as just another way of saying aucune faute (no mistake) and thus the noun is singular. Another example--one that you might see at the grocery store--is zéro calorie. Obviously, in English we say "zero calories" or "no calories." Also note that nouns after a one + a fraction are

The French They Never Taught You 2: "pour" (for) can mean "and"

In French class they teach you that the preposition pour means "for" and that pour followed by an infinitive means "in order to." So C'est pour toi means "it's for you" and Je vais en France pour apprendre le français means "I'm going to France (in order) to learn French." So far, so good. What they don't teach you is that pour followed by an infinitive can also act like the coordinating conjunction "and." Two actions can be linked by pour without any cause-effect relationship, in which case pour doesn't mean “in order to," but "and." Here are some examples: Il part tous les matins à 7 heures pour revenir le soir à 6 heures. He leaves every morning at 7:00 and comes back in the evening at 6

The French They Never Taught You 1: Connaître means more than you know!

Students of French spend hours and sometimes weeks learning to distinguish the verbs savoir and connaître, both of which mean "to know." Thus, for example, they do fill-in-the-blank exercises with sentences like Je connais Jacques (I know Jacques) and Je sais le nom de son frère (I know his brother's name). What they don't learn, though, is that connaître has a second meaning: literally "to experience." However, "to experience" is rarely the right translation. Instead, connaître is used in French along with a noun to express action that would be expressed by a verb and an adverb in English. Consider these examples: connaître une bonne progression to post a healthy rise / to gain ground, etc

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