Dialogue

Vocabulary

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Lesson Transcript

Michael: How are sentences structured in French?
Aurore: And are the rules rigid?
Michael: At FrenchPod101.com, we hear these questions often. In the following situation, Ben Lee, a foreign-exchange student, thinks he sees a famous French singer as he's walking with a friend in central Paris. He gestures to his friend, Justine Jerome,
"I know her, it's Zaz!"
Ben Lee: Je la connais, c'est Zaz !
Dialogue
Ben Lee: Je la connais, c'est Zaz !
Justine Jérôme: Moi aussi, je la connais.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Ben Lee: Je la connais, c'est Zaz !
Michael: "I know her, it's Zaz!"
Justine Jérôme: Moi aussi, je la connais.
Michael: "I know her too."

Lesson focus

Michael: In this conversation, we hear Ben Lee say,
Aurore: Je la connais, c'est Zaz !
Michael: which means, "I know her, it's Zaz!" In response, we hear Justine Jerome say,
Aurore: Moi aussi, je la connais.
Michael: "I know her too."
In this lesson, we’re going to focus on the sentence structure in French. For the purposes of this lesson, we will focus primarily on declarative sentences, those that make statements rather than ask questions, make demands, etc.
The good news is that French and English share the same basic sentence structure. Both follow a Subject, Verb, Object, or S-V-O formation. Of course, there are always exceptions, but this can help guide new French learners in creating and implementing declarative sentences. In many ways, French is a more rigid language than other Romance languages like Italian and Spanish since, in most cases, a subject is required and cannot be implied. French people say,
Aurore: Je suis.
Michael: "I am," for example, not
Aurore: Suis.
Michael: This is mostly the case because, even though verbs in French are conjugated in accordance with their subject, just like in Spanish and Italian, and even though those conjugations have unique endings, the way they are pronounced is identical in some cases. So, unless the subject is overtly included, it may not be clear who the speaker is talking about if only the conjugated verb were included.
Michael: It’s also important to note, however, that, when object pronouns are used in French, they are typically placed before the verb. Thus, when object pronouns are in a sentence, the structure becomes SOV, rather than SVO. We can look at our dialogue as an example of this sentence structure.
Michael: In the dialogue, Justine Jerome says,
Aurore: Moi aussi, je la connais.
Michael: In English, this translates as "I know her too." We can see here that the subject is
Aurore: je
Michael: meaning "I" and the verb
Aurore: connais
Michael: means "know."
Aurore: La,
Michael: which means "her" is the object pronoun in this case. As you can see, it is placed between the subject and the verb.
As you continue to study French at a more advanced level, you’ll notice that interrogative and imperative structures necessitate unique word orders. But, for now, in this lesson, you can master the word order used in declarative sentences.
[Recall 1]
Michael: Let’s take a closer look at the dialogue.
Do you remember how Ben Lee says "I know her, it's Zaz!"
(pause 4 seconds)
Aurore as Ben Lee: Je la connais, c'est Zaz !
Michael: In French, you have two basic sentence structures: S-V-O (if using a noun) and S-O-V (if using a pronoun). In this specific example, we’re using the SOV structure as we’re using the object pronoun
Aurore: la
Michael: meaning "her." We could also have a SVO structure without the object pronoun:
Aurore: Je connais Zaz,
Michael: meaning "I know Zaz," though here the pronoun is needed to point at the celebrity.
[Recall 2]
Michael: Now, let’s take a look at our second sentence.
Do you remember how Justine Jerome says "I know her too."
(pause 4 seconds)
Aurore as Justine Jerome: Moi aussi, je la connais.
Michael: It is the same thing here. We have to have a basic SOV structure with the object pronoun "her,"
Aurore: la.
Michael: I think you’ve got it by now—the object pronoun comes between the subject and the verb, and, without it, the sentence structure reverses back to the basic SVO you all know. Though it might be a little frustrating at first, you’ll soon get used to it, no worries! As long as you’re able to recognize object pronouns, you’ll know where to place them and how to construct your sentences. Just remember, in French, object pronouns use the SOV structure, while regular objects use the SVO structure.
[Summary]
Michael: In this lesson, you’ve learned the two basic sentence structures for declarative sentences in French. Now, let’s look at some examples. Our first example is
Aurore: La robe est rouge.
Michael: "The dress is red." Here, we have the basic SVO structure with "The dress" as the subject, "is" as the verb, and the adjective "red" as the object. The next example,
Aurore: Je le veux,
Michael: meaning "I want it," follows the SOV structure with "I" as the subject, and then comes
Aurore: le,
Michael: "it" as the object pronoun and, lastly, "want" as the verb.
Michael: As you can see, it’s quite easy once you’ve learned these two basic structures, and, as long as you remember the difference between the "regular" object and the object pronoun, you should be able to construct your own declarative sentences without any trouble!
Expansion/Contrast
Michael: In French, the speaker always makes the object appear somewhere in the sentence, contrary to English and other languages.
For example, in English, you could say:
"Did you meet Jonathan?"
"Yes, I did."
Here, the object—Jonathan—is implied but not said. In French, that would be wrong. Let’s listen to the translation,
Aurore:
As-tu vu Jonathan ?
Oui, je l'ai vu.
Michael: We hear the response "Yes, I saw him." instead of just saying,
Aurore:
Oui, j'ai vu,
Michael: which literally means "Yes, I saw," that is, in this instance, grammatically wrong.
This is why object pronouns are so important in French: we don't want to repeat over and over the noun, but still it absolutely needs to be somewhere in the sentence.
Michael: Let's review. Respond to the prompts by speaking aloud. Then, repeat after the native speaker focusing on pronunciation.
Do you remember how Ben Lee says "I know her, it's Zaz"?
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Aurore as Ben Lee: Je la connais, c'est Zaz !
Michael: Listen again and repeat.
Aurore as Ben Lee: Je la connais, c'est Zaz !
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Aurore as Ben Lee: Je la connais, c'est Zaz !
Michael: And do you remember how Justine Jerome says "I know her too"?
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Aurore as Justine Jerome: Moi aussi, je la connais.
Michael: Listen again and repeat.
Aurore as Justine Jerome: Moi aussi, je la connais.
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
Aurore as Justine Jerome: Moi aussi, je la connais.

Outro

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

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