Lesson 2: To Be

Where are you from?

French Dialogue • To be
Where are you from? Tu es d’où?
Quentin Bonjour, Léon. Dis donc, tu es d’où?
Léon Je suis de Paris, Quentin.
Quentin Alors, tu es français?
Léon Oui, exactement.
Quentin Et Marie, elle est d’où?
Léon Elle est de Marseille. Elle est française, aussi.
Quentin Merci, Léon. Au revoir.

Subject pronouns

French has six different types of pronouns: the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person singular and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person plural.

French Grammar • To be
Subject Pronouns Les pronoms soumis
1st person singular je I
plural nous we
2nd person singular tu you
plural vous you
3rd person singular il, elle, on he, she, one
plural ils, elles they (masculine)
they (feminine)


When referring to more than one person in the 2nd person, “vous” must be used. When referring to a single person, “vous” or “tu” may be used depending on the situation; see notes in the introductory lessons.
The pronoun it does not exist in French. Il replaces all masculine nouns, even those that are not human. The same is true with elle and feminine nouns.
In addition to the nuances between vous and tu, as discussed earlier, French pronouns carry meanings that do not exist in English pronouns. The French third person “on” has several meanings, but most closely matches the now archaic English “one”. While in English, “One must be very careful in French grammar” sounds old-fashioned, the French equivalent “On doit faire très attention à la grammaire française” is quite acceptable. Also, while the third person plural “they” has no gender in English, the French equivalents “ils” and “elles” do. However, when pronounced, they normally sound the same as “il” and “elle”, so distinguishing the difference requires understanding of the various conjugations of the verbs following the pronoun. Also, if a group of people consists of both males and females, the male form is used, even with a majority of females — however, this sensibly yields to overwhelming majority: given a group of only one male to thousands of females, the female form would be used.
In everyday language, “on” is used, instead of “nous”, to express “we”; the verb is always used in the 3rd person singular. For example, to say “We (are) meeting at 7 o’clock”, you could say either “On se rencontre au cinéma à sept heures.” (colloquial) or “Nous nous rencontrons au cinéma à sept heures.” (formal) (there are two words “nous”). For more, see the Wikipedia entry.

Introduction to Verbs

A verb is a word that describes an action or mental or physical state.

Tenses and Moods

French verbs can be formed in four moods, each of which express a unique feeling. Each mood has a varying number of tenses, which indicate the time when an action takes place. The conjugations in the present tense of the indicative mood, the present indicative, is discussed in the next section. There is one conjugation for each of the six subject pronouns.

Infinitives

The infinitive form is the basic form of a verb. It does not refer to a particular tense, person or subject. In this book, the infinitive form of the verb is used to identify it. In English, the infinitive form is to ___. In French, the infinitive is one word. For example, parler translates to to speak, finir translates to to finish, and aller translates to to go.

Conjugation

French verbs conjugate, which means they take different shapes depending on the subject. English verbs only have one conjugation; that is the third person singular (I see, you see, he/she sees, we see, they see). The only exception is the verb “to be” (I am; (thou art); you are; he/she is; we are; they are;). Most French verbs will conjugate into many different forms. Most verbs are regular, which means that they conjugate in the same way. The most common verbs, however, are irregular.

Être – To Be

Être translates as to be in English. As in most languages, it is an irregular verb, and is not conjugated like any other verb.

Formation

French Verb • To be
être to be
Singular Plural
first person je suis jeuh swee I am nous sommes noo sum we are
second person tu es too ay you are vous êtes voozett you are
third person il est eel ay he is ils sont eelsohn they are
(masc. or mixed)
elle est ell ay she is
on est ohn ay one is elles sont ellsohn they are (fem.)

Examples

French Grammar • To be
To Be Examples Exemples d’Être
Je suis avocat. I am (a) lawyer. jzeuh sweez ah voh cah
Tu es à la banque. You are at the bank. too ay ah lah bahnk
Il est beau. He is handsome. eel ay boh


Try to learn all these conjugations. They will become very useful in forming tenses.

Idioms

  • Ça y est! – I’ve done it! Finished!
  • J’y suis! – I get it!
  • Vous y êtes? – Are you ready?

Expressing Agreement

Tu es d’accord ou pas?, Tu es d’accord? (lit: You are of agreement?), or simply D’accord? is used informally to ask whether someone agrees with you.
To respond positively, you say Oui, je suis d’accord. or simply D’accord. D’accord corresponds to the English okay.

Cities and Nationalities

To say what city you are from, you use the preposition de.

  • Il est de Paris.

When stating your nationality or job, it is not necessary to include the article. This is an exception to the normal rule.

  • Je suis Australien(ne).I am [an] Australian.

There is both a masculine and feminine form of saying your nationality – for males and females respectively.

  • Il est Australien.He is [an] Australian.
  • Elle est Australienne.She is [an] Australian.

In the next lesson, you will learn how to say the nationality of more than one person.

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