French/Grammar/Sentences

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In the introduction of the book the description of a sentence, versus a phrase was outlined. A phrase does not contain a subject + verb, while a sentence includes a subject (what or whom) and a predicate (tells us about the subject). A sentence, and not a phrase, is a grammatical unit, which may have nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. Like English, a sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a punctuation mark.

In the introduction we highlighted the types of sentences, and these are:

  • Declarative (statements)
  • Interrogative (questions)
  • Exclamatory (exclamations)
  • Commanding (commands)


Declarative[edit]

A simple declarative sentence is subject + verb + object noun. This word order is pretty much the same as English. "Henry got a car." You may have heard that there are some English sentences that cannot be translated to French. While this is true in the literal sense, it doesn't mean you can't get the point across in another way. The French declarative sentence with direct and indirect object nouns must be in this order: subject + verb + direct object + indirect object.

For example, I can say "Peter bought a car for his son Henry" in French, but I can't say "Peter bought his son Henry a car." In the first example Peter is the subject, bought is the verb, a car is the direct object, and for his son Henry is the indirect object. In the second example you will see that the direct object and indirect object have been swapped. In order to translate an English statement like this, you would have to slide the indirect object to its proper place.

Henri obtenu une voiture. (Simple declarative)
Pierre a acheté une voiture pour son fils Henri. (With direct + indirect object)
Pierre a acheté pour son fils Henri une voiture. (With indirect + direct object - wrong)

Interrogative[edit]

Formation[edit]

Intonation[edit]

As in English, raising the tone at the end of a sentence can turn it into a question.

Example:

Il aime les bonbons. He likes sweets.
Il aime les bonbons? Does he like sweets?

Est-ce que...[edit]

"Est-ce que" (ehs kuh) by itself does not mean anything. Like the upside-down question mark in Spanish '¿', it merely indicates the sentence is an informal question. To form a question, attach "Est-ce que..." at the beginning of the sentence. Sometimes "que" has to be modified to "qu'" for elision. Est-ce is actually the inversion of c'est ("it is"). Like all inversions a '-' dash is required.

These questions in this form are typically mean't to elicit a "Oui" or "Non" answer. If you want more than that, you must precede it with an interrogative: Quand est-ce que, Qui est-ce que, or Quel est-ce que, for example.

Some of these later examples can more easily be said by just leaving the inversion off. For example "Quel est le problème ?" is preferred to "Quel est-ce que le problèm ?"

If the question is negative, then the form is: n'est-ce pas, as in: N'est-ce pas qu'il fait beau temps ? ou Il fait beau temps; n'est-ce pas ? (It is good weather, is it not?)

Example: Il aime ce film. => Est-ce qu'il aime ce film ?
(He likes this film. => Does he like this film?)

Inversion[edit]

This is considered to be the most formal way to ask a question out of the three.
(The indicative form of the following sentences will be placed in parentheses for comparison.)

To ask a question by inversion, simply invert the verb and the subject (the pronoun) and insert a hyphen (un trait d'union) in between.
Example: Do you like apples? (You like apples.)
Aimes-tu les pommes ? (Tu aimes les pommes.)

In the case where the verb ends in a vowel while the subject starts with one, a "t" needs to be inserted to avoid elision.
Example: Did she make the decision already? (She made the decision already.)
A-t-elle déjà pris la décision ? (Elle a déjà pris la décision.)

(Notice that for compound tense [les temps composés], only the avoir or être part is interchanged with the subject.)

For third person plural (verbs ending in "ent"), there is no need to insert the "t".
Example: Are they buying a house? (They are buying a house.)
Achètent-ils une maison ? (Ils achètent une maison.)

If the subject is a noun instead of a pronoun, invert the verb and the pronoun that represents the subject.
Example: Did Marie choose this shirt? (Marie chose this shirt.)
'Marie a-t-elle choisi cette chemise ? (Marie a choisi cette chemise.)

For negative such as "ne...pas", the verb should be inserted in between:
Example: Didn't you eat the whole pizza? (You didn't eat the whole pizza.)
N'as-tu pas mangé la pizza entière ? (Tu n'as pas mangé la pizza entière.)

If there is a direct or indirect object (complément d'objet [in]direct), it goes before the verb.
Example: Have you been there? (You have been there.)
Y es-tu allé(e) ? (Tu y es allé(e).)

Question/Interrogative words[edit]

  • Où ? - Where?
  • Quand ? - When?
  • Pourquoi ? - Why?
  • Comment ? - How?
  • Quel/Quels/Quelle/Quelles ? - Which?
  • Qui ? - Who?
  • Combien ? - How much?
  • Quoi ? - What?

Exclamatory[edit]

Commanding[edit]

If...[edit]

Si...

With present tense (le présent):

(1) Si + (le présent), (le futur simple)
Example: If you finish your homework, I'll give you some candies.
Si tu finis tes devoirs, je te donnerai des bonbons.

(2) Si + (le présent), (l'impératif)
Example: If you are cold, close the window.
Si tu as froid, ferme la fenêtre.

With imperfect (l'imparfait) past tense (to express hypothetical situations):

(3) Si + (l'imparfait), (le conditionnel)
Example: If I had a million dollars, I would buy a house.
Si j'avais un million de dollars, j'achèterais une maison.

With "plus-que-parfait" (also to express hypothetical situations):

(4) Si + (le plus-que-parfait), (le conditionnel passé)
Example: If I had known (or "had I known") computers were so useful, I would have taken a computer course.
Si j'avais su que les ordinateurs étaient si utiles, j'aurais suivi un cours de l'informatique.