Louisiana French/Verbs and Tenses
In the previous units we learned a number of useful verbs, être, avoir, aller, etc. Now we are going to learn how to modify those verbs and combine them with other structures to move beyond the present tense and talk about things that happened in the past and in the future.
In Cajun French verb forms have been simplified when compared to International French. In most cases if you know the infinitive form for a verb and the present and imperfect tenses of a few helper verbs, then you can say just about anything you want.
The helper verbs are être, avoir, aller, and venir. In this lesson we'll see how to talk about an event that has just happened by using the verb venir.
To say that something has just happened, Cajuns would use the following structure:
subj. + present tense form of venir that matches the subj. + de + infinitive
Just to remind you, venir is conjugated in the present tense like this:
|Venir (Present Tense)|
|Je viens||On vient|
|Tu viens||Vous-autre vient|
|Il vient||Ils viennent (viennont)|
Note that even though the third person plural (ils viennent) is spelled differently, it sounds exactly like viens and vient. The variation (viennont) is pronounced differently and heard in many locales. However, the rest are pronounced vee-an.
Also note that if the infinitive begins with a vowel, then the de is contracted with the infinitive, e.g. d'aller.
Now let's practice with a few examples.
|Examples with Venir + De|
|Je viens de finir mon ouvrage.||I have just finished my work.|
|Ils viennent (viennont) de partir.||They have just left.|
|On vient de voir Bigfoot!||We have just seen Bigfoot!|
|Tu viens d'attraper un gros poisson.||You have just caught a big fish.|
Present Progressive Tense
One of the ways of speaking and writing that make Louisiana French identifiably different from International French is in the way certain things are said or written. For example, when a Cajun wants to say that something it happening right now, they'll use a construction (the present progressive tense) that isn't found in International French at all. This is very similar to the same tenses in English, for in both Louisiana French and English this is translated as the difference between, I go to the store, and, I am going to the store. The first is the regular present tense while the second is the present progressive tense. And it is to be noted that as in English this is the form used to talk about something that you are doing or that is taking place. Here is the conjugation:
- subj. + present tense form of être + après + infinitive
As a reminder, here's how to conjugate être (to be):
|Être (Present Tense)|
|Je sus [j'sus]||On est|
|Tu es [t'es]||Vous-autre est|
|Il est||Ils sont|
Now see it in action:
|Examples with Être + Infinitive|
|Jean est après étudier.||John is studying.|
|Quoi c'est que Marie est après faire?||What is Mary doing (right now)?|
|Alle est après coudre une robe.||She is sewing a dress.|
|On est après déjeuner.||We are eating breakfast.|
|Ils sont après se battre.||They are (in the act of) fighting.|
To practice the present progressive tense, a lesson is available in BYKI's List Central: Cajun 11 "Action in progress (A)"
In Cajun Self-Taught, Rev. Daigle shows how to use après as the "quasi-verb" to get:
|Examples with Après as a Verb|
|Va après de l'eau.||Go get some water (now).|
|Viens après des patates.||Come get some potatoes (now).|
|Va après ton père.||Go get your father (now).|
While it is correct to use the form of the verb être after the subject and before aprés, the vast majority of the time you will hear this elided out. In other words you will simply hear J'aprés parler à toi (I'm speaking to you), or, on aprés aller ou pas? (Are we going or not?)
Past Progressive Tense
We can build on what we learned in the previous lesson to talk about events that happened at a definite time in the past and have completed. The formula differs from the present progressive (see the previous lesson) only in that the imperfect form of être is used instead of the present.
subj. + imperfect form of être + après + infinitive
Here are the imperfect forms of être:
|Être (Past Tense)|
|J'étais [j'étais]||On était|
|Tu étais||Vous-autre était|
|Il était||Ils étaient|
Again, all the forms are pronounced the same way: ay-tay.
Now for some examples:
|Examples with Être (past progressive)|
|J'étais après écrire.||I was writing.|
|Tu étais après dormir.||You were sleeping.|
|Il était après marcher.||He was walking.|
Typically, you'll encounter this construction when the past action is combined with some other event. For example:
|Examples with Être (past progressive)|
|Alle était après marcher équand alle a guetté les canards.||She was walking when she saw the ducks.|
|Ils sont après danser équand il étais après jouer l'accordéon.||They were dancing when he was playing the accordion.|
En train de...
You can talk about an event that is about to happen by using the construction:
subj. + present tense of être + entrain de + infinitiive.
In colloquial English, the translation is "to be fixing to". Here are some examples:
|Examples with En train de|
|Jean est en train de travailler dans son jardin.||John is about to / fixing to work in his garden.|
|Asteur Marie est en train de partir.||Mary is about to / fixing to leave now.|
|Ils sont en train d'aller.||They are about to / fixing to go.|
|Le band est en train de commencer.||The band is about to / fixing to start (playing).|
|J'sus en train de laver mon char.||I am about to / fixing to wash my car.|
Note that this construction is used also in International French, but it doesn't convey the same meaning. The expression en train de in International French indicates present progressive action (see above).
For the beginner one of the appealing aspects of Louisiana French is its simplicity. As we have seen, if you learn the infinitive forms of the core verbs, you'll be able to express most of what you want to say in Louisiana French.
Talking and writing about future events or about what will happen in the future is accomplished with this construction:
subj. + present tense form of aller + infinitive.
Just to remind you, the present tense conjugation of aller is:
|aller (Present Tense)|
|Je vais [j'vas]||On va|
|Tu vas||Vous-autre va|
|Il va||Ils vont|
Often you'll see je vais written as j'vas. This is fine because it reflects the actual Cajun pronunication of je vais, sh-vah (not sh-vay, as in International French). All forms above (aside from vont) are pronounced like vah.
And now for some examples:
|Examples of standard future|
|Je vais cuire le dîner.||I'm going to cook dinner.|
|Il va être icitte à dix heure.||He will be here at ten o'clock.|
|Ils vont pas répondre leur téléphone.||They will not answer their telephone.|
|On va t'embêter.||We will bother you.|
|Vous-autre va salir tout la maison avec ça fatras.||Y'all are going to dirty the whole house with that trash.|
Note that when you are forming negative statements, the word pas goes between the form of aller and the infinitive, like this:
subj. + present tense form of aller + pas + infinitive.
When forming questions about what will happen in the future, you start with one of the question words (équand, quoi, comment, éoù, etc.) then follow with the statement worded as in the formula above. In Louisiana French, questions are form with verbal intonation rather than by subject-verb reversal.
Here are a few questions:
|Example questions about future events|
|Équand Henry va arriver?||When will Henry arrive.|
|Tu vas arranger ma pendule?||Are you going to fix my clock?|
|Éoù vous-autre va aller?||Where will y'all go?|
|Comment ils vont savoir?||How will they know?|
The Future Progressive
To talk about events that will happen at a definite time in the future, Cajuns use the future progressive tense. Like the past and present progressive tense, this tense is built with the aide of être après, like this:
subj. + future form of être + après + infinitive.
Let's review the conjugation of être in the future tense.
|aller (Present Tense)|
|Je serai [j's'ra]||On sera|
|Tu seras||Vous-autre sera|
|Il sera||Ils seront|
Again, all forms except the third person plural are pronounced the same, s'rah.
|Je serai après étudier.||I will be studying.|
|On serai après boire de la bière.||We will be drinking beer.|
|Ils seront après passer la nuit.||They will be spending the night.|
|Tu seras après content.||You will be happy.|
The Future Progressive with aller
A more common way for Cajuns to talk about events that will take place at a definite time in the future is to use this formula:
subj. + present form of aller + être + après + infinitive.
Here are some examples:
|Je vais être après étudier.||I will be studying.|
|On va être après boire de la bière.||We will be drinking beer.|
|Ils vont être après passer la nuit à chez toi.||They will be spending the night at your house.|
|Tu vas être après content équand alle arrive.||You will be happy when she arrives.|
|Équand tu vas arriver, elle va être après dormir.||When you (will) arrive, she will be sleeping.|
|Jean va être après déjeuner à sept heure et demie.||John will be eating breakfast at seven thirty.|
|Il va être après guetter la télévision équand t'appelle.||He will be watching television when you call.|
|Ils vont pas être ici équand toi, tu vas arriver.||They will not be there when you arrive.|
|On va être après travailler à la maison demain.||We will be working at home tomorrow.|
|Je vais être après prendre un hike sur la trace demain.||I will be taking a hike on the trail tomorrow.|
We use the imperative form when we want to tell some one to do something, like when we are making a request or giving a command. You use the imperative to tell or ask someone to do or not to do something.
Forming the imperative in Cajun French is simple, just use the first person singular form of the verb if you are talking to one person. E.g. Mange pas. Don't eat.
If you are addressing more than one person, you use the second person plural vous form. E.g. Mangez pas. Don't eat (y'all).
If you want to include yourself in the commanded action, then use the verb Allons plus the infinitive. Allons dancer! Let's dance.
- If you are following along with Rev. Daigle's Cajun Self-Taught, note that in that book the accent over the "e" in aprés is different. He argues this is the correct way it sounds in Cajun. Après is generally used in other texts, including Rev. Daigle's A Dictionary of the Cajun Language.
- Alle is another form for elle, the third person feminine.