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Lesson Transcript

Michael: Is it common to omit the subject in French sentences?
Aurore: And why?
Michael: At FrenchPod101.com, we hear these questions often. In the following situation, Doriane Dantois is in a bookstore with her friend, Sasha Lee. She notices that the other friend who came along is not around and says,
"Do you know where Paul is?"
Doriane Dantois: Tu sais où est Paul ?
Doriane Dantois: Tu sais où est Paul ?
Sasha Lee: sais pas…
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Doriane Dantois: Tu sais où est Paul ?
Michael: "Do you know where Paul is?"
Sasha Lee: sais pas...
Michael: "dunno..."

Lesson focus

Michael: Omitting an explicit subject in a sentence is possible in a null-subject language. A null-subject language permits an independent clause to stand without a subject. This means a sentence in such a language may not contain a subject and yet can still be understood. French, however, is not a null-subject language. Like English, it requires an explicit subject in order for a sentence to stand. However, there are special cases when the omission of the subject is allowed in French, particularly in colloquial expressions.
[Recall 1]
Michael: Let's take a closer look at the dialogue.
Do you remember how Doriane Dantois says "Do you know where Paul is?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Aurore as Doriane Dantois: Tu sais où est Paul ?
Michael: One more time.
(pause 4 seconds)
Aurore: Tu sais où est Paul ?
[Recall 2]
Michael: Now let's take a look at our second sentence.
Do you remember how Sasha Lee says "dunno..."
(pause 4 seconds)
Aurore as Sasha Lee: sais pas...
Michael: Here, Sasha Lee answers with a brief "dunno" or "don't know," which lacks a subject. Can you guess what the full sentence should sound like?
(pause 4 seconds)
Aurore: Je suis désolé, mais je ne sais pas où est Paul.
Michael: "I'm sorry, but I don't know where Paul is." or simply, "I don't know where Paul is," or
Aurore: Je ne sais pas où est Paul.
Michael: Omitting the subject in French may work in some situations, since it's possible to do so without the sentence losing its meaning. In formal French, however, the subject should always be included. When you're having a formal conversation in French, omitting the subject will give the impression that you're unfriendly or are not entirely focused on the conversation. This is why it's better not to omit the subject as much as possible.
Michael: We learned in today's lesson that, in French, you should not omit the subject in a sentence. This is especially important when you're having formal conversations. Very occasionally, the subject can be dropped without the sentence losing its meaning. Let's have a look at some other sentences where the subject can be omitted and yet the message is still understood.
Michael: While it's not a good habit to omit the subject when having a formal conversation in French, there is a particular instance when it's possible, aside from when you're having an informal conversation, of course. This instance is when you're giving a command. We refer to this as the imperative mood, or
Aurore: l'impératif.
Michael: In English, for instance, instead of saying "You take a break," we simply say, "Take a break." To form the imperative in French, we drop the subject pronouns,
Aurore: tu, vous, nous
Michael: and keep the verb in the present tense. For instance, instead of saying
Aurore: Tu pars !
Michael: or "You leave!" we can simply say,
Aurore: Pars !
Michael: or "Leave!"
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: Just because the French language seems to offer less flexibility when it comes to grammatical rules doesn't mean French people are just as stiff. Our lesson, for instance, may give you the impression that you always have to be formal when talking to French people. And perhaps this is the reason that some cultures think that it's difficult to make friends in France, that they are somewhat stern, or,
Aurore: peu amicaux
Michael: But nothing could be further from the truth. The French are some of the friendliest people in the world. And how they love to talk! To them, a conversation is a form of art. So while you want to be sure you don't commit any errors when speaking with a French person, you can also relax, knowing that French people are actually very friendly, or
Aurore: amicaux


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Aurore: À bientôt !
Michael: See you soon!