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Being French … étant français

by Bernard O'Shea

Being French is easy. You just eat croissants for breakfast, accompanied by coffee in a wide cup, consume lots of vin et fromage (wine and cheese), gesticulate frequently, and philosophise a lot. You must also learn to shrug your shoulders every now and say “pfff!” a lot (make your lips vibrate while you do it) when dismissing someone else’s ideas or worries, but in a benign fashion. The top French actors shrug and “pfff” with great aplomb – follow their lead!

The verb ‘to be’ in French

On to the more grammatical sense of “being”. The two main verbs you need in your French armoury are être (to be) and avoir (to have). Apart from their own particular contexts, they are also auxiliary verbs (they help with the construction of other verbs in past tenses, etc).  He are the main subject pronouns in French and the present tense of être


  • je suis (I am)
  • tu es (you are, you being singular and informal/familiar)
  • il est, elle est (he is, she is)
  • nous sommes (we are)
  • vous êtes (you are, you being plural, or singular, formal use)
  • ils sont, elles sont (they are, the former being masculine, the latter feminine, if it was a combination of men and woman you would use ils)

The use of the verb être would require many, many pages of explanation, but here are some points to note.

1) To say it is… normally you would use ce (which means it, this, that, etc) but it takes the form c’ before a vowel, hence

  • c’est moiit’s me
  • c’est facileit’s easy 

2) In English, we use the verb to be to say I am cold, hungry, thirsty etc but in French and other many other Romance languages the construction is I have cold, I have hunger, I have thirstj’ai froid, j’ai faim, j’a soif (using the verb avoir, to have).

The social etiquette of when to use tu or vous is a little complicated, as it is with their equivalents in other Romance languages, but generally you use vous with strangers or on formal occasions, and tu with people whom you are friendly and already familiar with.

Here’s a fun musical pronunciation lesson for you should you need one.

‘To be’ in my other Romance languages

Being Portuguese is complicated
Being Italian: is your ego under control?
Being Romanian gets the knees up
Being Spanish gets the tongues wagging

Ça suffit! That’s enough! Time for another coffee and croissant. Bon appétit! M5R

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trishwhytock 08/12/2012 - 9:30 pm

c’est bon prietenul meu. Thrilled that you have eventually begun this wonderful journey. I can’t wait for the travel blog!!

bernardoshea 12/12/2012 - 12:38 am

Hi there, it sounds like you are pretty multilingual yourself! Excellent French, Romanian and English there. You’ll have to guest blog for me ok on the finer points of it all. Ate logo, a bientot… xxx 🙂

trishwhytock 13/12/2012 - 1:27 am

I’m afraid apart from a brilliant French accent it all Goolingual!

bernardoshea 13/12/2012 - 10:53 pm

Goolingual is a great language. I think lots of people will be talking it. I did suspect you had strayed into the vernacular…

France Assessment: If You Plan to Visit France | travelbugdotme 10/12/2012 - 7:53 am

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