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Small Words, Big Payoff

We are all familiar with the sound of non-native speakers getting it almost right except for one little word. "He makes the shopping" instead of "He does the shopping" or "I saw it at the TV" instead of"I saw it on TV". And trust me, you will do the same thing in French many times. There's a reason this is such a common difficulty. In all languages, those little words are flexible critters with a wide variety uses.

For instance, in English when we say "the house is on the lake", we really mean "the house is beside the lake", unless we are referring to an ice fishing house.You can see how that could be confusing if you had learned that on=on top of. On oftenmeans "on top of", but sometimes it means beside, powered up (the radio is on), or that someone is doingsomething really well(man, you are on tonight!). If this seems arbitrary, that's because it is. We say that something is "on" TV. It would make just as much sense to say it was"atthe" TV, except that no one actually says that so it's wrong.

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When you start learning French, you will likely learn that the translation of "on" is "sur". And then you will say "La tl est sur" and everyone will laugh because in French theysay "La tl est allume" literally, the TV is lit. Meanwhile, the preposition "" can mean at, to, in, or on depending on how it's used.

  • C'est la maison It's at the house
  • Je vais la maison I'm going to the house
  • Paris in Paris
  • c'est gauche it's on the left

It can also indicate possession. "Cette voiture est moi" (This car is mine). But so can "de" as in "La voiturede mon ami" (my friend's car). And both have several more uses.The point is,don't get stuck on a direct translation for prepositions or vague verbs like "to do" or "to make". Learn them in context as part of phrases or particular constructions, and understand that every language is unique in the way it employs these small words. At least we are allconsistently arbitrary! Getting a handle on their variable use early will take you a giant step toward sounding fluent. The words may be small but the pay off is huge.

Here are a few uses of small words in French commonly screwed up byEnglish speakers:

  • Il fait chaud/froid it "makes" hot/cold
  • avoir faim (J'ai faim) "to have" hunger (I have hunger)
  • fait la main made by hand
  • Je n'ai rien dire I have nothing to say
  • J'habite Paris I live in Paris
  • Je suis de Paris I am from Paris
  • pendant une heure for an hour (not "pour une heure")
  • je pars en bateau I'm leaving by boat
  • je voyage par avion I'm traveling by plane

And finally, take this one to heart: C'est facile dire That's easy to say!

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Posted in Home Improvement Post Date 07/23/2015


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