The French They Never Taught You 23: talk about, read about, write about

"To talk about something" in French is parler de quelque chose. Students learn to replace de phrases with ce dont, so "what you're talking about" is ce dont tu parles. It would be logical to assume that the verbs "to read" (lire) and "to write" (écrire) work the same way as "to talk" (parler), but in fact, they don't: you cannot say "lire de quelque chose" or "écrire de quelque chose" in French. Instead, "to read about something" is lire quelque chose sur X. For example, "I read about it in Le Monde" is J'ai lu quelque chose là-dessus dans Le Monde. "We read about him yesterday" is Nous avons lu quelque chose à son sujet hier. "To write about something" works the same way. "He writes about

Is "normal" in French always normal?

To be sure, the French translation of the English word "normal" is normal -- but the situation is more complicated than it looks. French speakers also use normal to mean "natural" or "the way things should be" or "what you would expect." Consider these examples: C'est normal qu'il soit fâché ! It's not surprising that he's angry. It stands to reason that he's angry. You would expect him to be angry. Il n'est pas rentré. Ce n'est pas normal ! He hasn't come home. Something must have happened. Ils ont encore augmenté le prix, ce n'est pas normal ! They've raised the price again; it's not right! Je n'ai pas encore reçu le texte à traduire. Est-ce normal ? I haven't yet received the text to be t

Translating French Prospectuses

The first thing to note when you translate a prospectus from French to English is that it is bound to include boilerplate from United States law that has been translated into French. It's your job to translate it back into English correctly. For example: la Règle S de la Loi de 1933 In English this is "Regulation S under the 1933 Act" but if you don't recognize this as a standard phrase in U.S. law, you could make quite a few mistakes: You could mistranslate règle as "rule" when "regulation" is meant here. You could mistranslate Règle S de la Loi as "Regulation S of the Act" when it is actually a regulation promulgated under (=pursuant to) the Act. Regulation S of the Act would imply that th

The French They Never Taught You 22: de France or de la France?

The general rule in French is that you express "from" or "of" a feminine country using de without the definite article la: revenir de Russie - to come back from Russia importé de Thaïlande - imported from Thailand du fromage de Hollande - cheese from Holland (= Dutch cheese) le gouvernement de Norvège - the government of Norway (= the Norwegian gov't) le plus long pont d'Europe - the longest bridge in Europe la reine d'Angleterre - the Queen of England l'histoire de France - the history of France (= French history) les vins de France - the wines of France (= French wines) l'ambassade de France - the embassy of France (= the French embassy) However, when a country is being mentioned as politi

France vs. Quebec: toutou

Here's a logo from Quebec that is bound to confuse a reader from France. Why? Because it shows the wrong animal! The word toutou in France means "puppy dog." For example, the French news magazine L'Express reported on a new "dog wash" (similar to a "car wash") in France: Fini, les poils de chien dans la baignoire. Les toutous ont désormais leur station de lavage en libre-service. This passage would presumably strike a French Canadian as strange, because as the Quebec logo clearly shows, in Canadian French toutou doesn't mean "dog" but "teddy bear." So the logo above is from the French Canadian website of the Plush Factory (similar to the Build-a-Bear workshops throughout the United States).

The French They Never Taught You 21: Annoncer

Annoncer is one of those verbs whose meaning is so apparent that teachers expect to you to recognize it when you see it. Obviously it means "to announce"! But when annoncer is reflexive (s'annoncer) it takes some thought to translate it properly into English (something "announces itself" won't work). Consider these examples: La journée s'annonce difficile. It looks like it's going to be a hard day. Le temps s'annonce beau. The weather promises to be nice. La moisson s'annonce bien belle. The harvest looks promising. L'été s'annonce chaud. It looks like we're in for a hot summer. La saison s'annonce bien. The season is off to a good start.

The French They Never Taught You 20: Là and Voilà

They teach you that ici is "here" and là is "there." Voici means "here is" and voilà is "there is." That is true, as far as it goes. But là and voilà can be used in ways in French where "there" or "there is" won't work in English. Notice how French uses être là. These sentences have to be completely recast in English: Le fait est là. That's the fact of the matter. Les choses en sont là. That's how things stand. Les faits sont là. The facts speak for themselves. Tout le pari est là. That's what's at stake. L'affaire en est là. There's the stage things have reached. Le résultat est là : l'inflation est tombée à 5 %. There is no doubt about the result: inflation has fallen to 5%. Voilà qui is

The French They Never Taught You 19: ne pas que

Every first-year French student learns the forms "ne...pas" (not) and "ne...que" (only). But when both structures appear together, English speakers sometimes get confused. Consider these examples: Il ne fait que travailler. All he does is work. Il ne fait pas que travailler. He doesn't just work. Work isn't the only thing he does. Il n'y a que l'argent dans la vie. Money is all there is in life. Il n' y a pas que l'argent dans la vie. Money isn't all there is in life.

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