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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 "Although his first novel was a hit, the second was panned by the critics."

Si nous nous félicitons de cette initiative, nous ne pensons pas qu’elle doive être financée au moyen de fonds publics.

While we welcome this initiative, we do not believe that it should be publicly funded.

Grammarians call this "le si concessif," which is translated by "while" or "although," never by "if."


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