Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

French "avoir": 20 expressions and 2 language games

French "avoir" = English "to have" Today we'll take a look at the French verb "avoir", with 20 expressions and 2 language games for practice.

In English "avoir" means "to have", as in "j'ai un soeur" - "I have a sister". But "avoir" also appears in many idiomatic expressions, which are often used in daily conversations.

For some of the expressions, the meaning is pretty obvious. These are the ones that typically combine a form of the verb "avoir" with a noun. In idiomatic English you would use either just a verb, or the verb "to be" plus an adjective. For example: "Elle a du charme" - "She's charming."

For other expressions, it's hard to guess what they really mean. That's because you cannot easily infer the meaning from the individual words.

In either case, idiomatic expressions are fun to use and will make your French sound more natural.
(You'll find the 2 French language games, one to practice the Present Tense, the other with the Passé Composé, below after the 20 French expressions.)

20 Common French Expressions

1. avoir besoin de

Meaning: to need
Literally: to have need of
Sentence: Tu as besoin de quelque chose ? (Do you need anything?)

2. avoir faim

Meaning: to be hungry
Literally: to have hunger
Sentence: J'ai vraiment faim. (I'm really hungry.)

3. il y a

Meaning: there is, there are
Literally: it here/there has
Sentences: Désolé, il y a erreur. (Sorry, there's a mistake.)
Il y a beaucoup de monde à la plage. (There are a lot of people at the beach.)
Il y a du soleil aujourd'hui. (It's sunny today.)

4. il y a + time phrase

Meaning: - ... ago
Literally: it here/there has
Sentences: Je l'ai vu il y a deux semaines. (I saw him two weeks ago.)
Je l'ai connu il y a quelques années. (I met him a few years ago.)

5. avoir l'air

Meaning: to look, seem
Literally: to have the air
Sentences: Ce gâteau a l'air bon. (This cake looks good!)
Tu as l'air fatigué. (You look tired.)
Il a l'air triste. (He looks sad.)

6. avoir envie de [qch] 

Meaning: to want [sth]
Literally: to have wish/desire of [sth]
Sentence: Tu as envie d'une glace? (Do you want an ice cream?)

7. avoir envie de faire

Meaning: to want to do, feel like doing
Literally: to have desire to do
Sentence: J'ai envie de voyager. (I want to travel.)

8. avoir soif

Meaning: to be thirsty
Literally: to have thirst
Sentence: Oui, nous avons soif. (Yes, we are thirsty.)

9. avoir mal à la tête 

Meaning: to have a headache
Literally: to have ache in the head
Sentence: Il a toujours mal à la tête. (He always has a headache.)

10. avoir peur de 

Meaning: to be afraid of [sth, sb]
Literally: to have fear of
Sentences: Ils ont peur de moi. (They are afraid of me.)
Moi, j'ai peur des araignées. (Me, I'm afraid of spiders.)

11. avoir de la peine à faire [qch]

Meaning: to have trouble doing [sth]
Literally: to have some pain/trouble/effort/sorrow
Sentences: J'ai de la peine à comprendre ça. (I have trouble understanding that.)
J'ai de la peine à croire ça. (I can hardly believe that.)

12. avoir des soucis 

Meaning: to be worried, have problems
Literally: to have some worries/trouble
Sentence: Je sais qu'il a des soucis d'argent. (I know that he has money worries.) 

13. avoir tort

Meaning: to be wrong
Literally: to have fault
Sentence: Tu as tort, ce n'est pas le mien. (You're wrong, that's not mine.)

14. avoir lieu

Meaning: to take place
Literally: to have place
Sentence: Ce marché a lieu tous les samedis. (This market takes place every Saturday.)

15. avoir X ans

Meaning: to be X years old
Literally: to have X years
Sentences: Il a quel âge? (How old is he?)
Il a vingt ans. (He's twenty.)

16. avoir le cafard 

Meaning: to be depressed, feel blue
Literally: to have the cockroach
Sentence: Ma soeur ne veut pas sortir. Elle a le cafard. (My sister doesn't want to go out. She's depressed.)

17. avoir beau + infinitive

Meaning: to do something in vain
Literally: to have beautiful
Sentence: J'ai beau essayer, je n'y arrive pas. (However hard I try, I just can't do it. )

18. avoir beau jeu

Meaning: to be easy [to do sth]
Literally: to have beautiful game
Sentence: Il a beau jeu de protester. (It's easy for him to protest.)

19. avoir du pain sur la planche

Meaning: to have a lot to do
Literally: to have bread on the shelf
Sentence: Je ne peux sortir ce soir, j'ai du pain sur la planche. (I can't go out this evening, I'm swamped.)

20. en avoir marre de

Meaning: to be fed up with/sick of
Literally: It's unclear what the origin of "marre" is.
Sentences: J'en ai marre de faire mes devoirs. (I'm sick of doing homework.)
J'en ai marre de cette voiture. (I'm fed up with this car.)

The verb "avoir" is frequently used in conversations, both in its meaning "to have", or as part of idiomatic expressions. Becoming familiar with its forms is a good start. So, go ahead and try those two games below.

2 French language games for fun practice

screen shot of French Language Game: avoir - Present TenseThe first French language game lets you practice the present tense forms of "avoir", and five of the idiomatic expressions above.

With many verbs, the French passé composé is formed with the present tense of "avoir".

Screenshot of French Language Game: Passé Composé with "avoir"In the second French language game, you can review several passé composé forms with "avoir". You would use this tense in French to talk about a one-time event or action that took place in the past.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

German Direct or Indirect Pronouns With Easy Games

confused emoticonDo the German direct or indirect pronouns give you a little headache from time to time? Do you automatically know when to use use the dative or accusative form?

It not, you're not alone. But there's a way to tackle the dative and accusative forms step by step. Here you can start with the dative pronouns.

The "dative" forms, also known as "indirect objects" are nouns or pronouns that tell you for whom or to whom an action is done.
For example:
You gave my number to him!?
Oh no, you gave her my book?
She showed me her apartment.

In English, the indirect object (dative) and the direct object (accusative) pronouns are the same: me, you, him, her, us, them
However, German has different forms for the direct and the indirect pronoun. The two exceptions are "uns" (us / to us) and "euch" (you-all / to you-all).

German Dative (indirect) and Accusative (direct) Pronouns

Dat: mir - (to) me
Acc : mich - me

Dat: dir  - (to) you, familiar
Acc: dich - you, familiar

Dat: ihm - (to) him
Acc: ihn - him

Dat: ihr - (to) her
Acc: sie - her

Dat: Ihnen - (to) you, formal
Acc: Sie - you, formal

Dat: uns - (to) us
Acc: uns - us

Dat: euch - (to) you-all
Acc: euch - you-all

Dat: ihnen - (to) them
Acc: sie - them

So, how to navigate this grammatical jungle?
Start by becoming familiar with the forms. A good way to do that is by practicing some simple sentences that will help you to get the words and the sounds into your brain.

Geben, zeigen

The verbs "geben" (to give) and "zeigen" (to show) are very useful for learning dative forms.

It's pretty clear that one gives "something" (direct object /accusative case), "to someone" (indirect object /dative case).

And, that one shows "something" (direct object /accusative case), "to someone" (indirect object /dative case).

Sehen, kennen, suchen, anrufen

The verbs "sehen" (to see), "kennen" (to know, be acquainted with), "suchen" (to look for), and "anrufen" (to call, i.e. phone) clearly take a direct object (i.e. the accusative case).

To help you make these forms intuitive, we've put together some games. One for Dative pronouns, one for Accusative pronouns, and a third one where you choose between Dative and Accusative.

Screenshot of Gamesforlanguage Dative GameThe Dative Pronouns Game

In the Dative Pronouns Game, you'll first review the dative pronouns and some vocabulary. You'll then put basic sentences together. To ace the Dative Game, you may want to play it a couple of times.

Ich gebe ihm den Schlüssel. (I'm giving him the key.)
Kann ich Ihnen meine Handynummer geben? (Can I give you my cell number? [formal])
Geben Sie uns doch Ihre Adresse. (Do give us your address.)
Warum gibst du mir das Buch? (Why are you giving me the book?)

Sie zeigt ihnen die Zeitung. (She shows them the newspaper.)
Er zeigt dir den Stadplan. (He shows you the city map.) [familiar]
Wir zeigen ihr das Foto. (We're showing her the photo.)
Sie wollen euch die Wohnung zeigen. (They want to show you-all the apartment.)

Screenshot of Gamesforlanguage Accusative GameThe Accusative Pronouns Game

In the Accusative Pronouns Game, you first review the accusative pronouns. You'll then put together basic sentences using these pronouns and verbs that take a direct object.

Er sieht dich. (He sees you. [familiar])
Wir sehen Sie. (We see you. [formal])
Ihr seht ihn. (You-all see him.)

Du kennst ihn. (You know him.)
Ihr kennt sie. (You know her /them.)
Kenne ich Sie nicht? (Don't I know you? [formal])

Ich suche sie. (I'm looking for her /them.)
Er sucht euch. (He's looking for you-all.)
Wir suchen sie. (We're looking for her /them.)

Du rufst mich nie an. (You never call me.)
Ich rufe dich später an. (I'll call you later. [familiar])

Screenshot of Gamesforlanguage German Pronoun GameThe Practice Pronouns Game

If you have navigated the previous two games successfully, the Practice Pronouns Game will be your next challenge.
Here we have Accusative and Dative forms mixed up and you'll also have to choose again between the familiar and formal  forms.

Dative Prepositions

Some German prepositions always take the dative case. Here are 5 common ones:
bei, mit, nach, von, zu

Examples:
bei (near, next, at, with)
Sie wohnt jetzt bei mir (She now lives with me /at my place.)

mit (with, together with)
Ich gehe gern mit dir ins Kino. (I like going to movies with you.)

nach (after, to [direction])
Bitte, nach Ihnen. (Please, after you. Go ahead.)

von (from)
Ich habe heute einen Brief von ihm bekommen. (I got a letter from him today.)

zu (to [direction])
Gehst du heute zu ihr? (Are you going to her place today?)

Dual Prepositions

You thought that you have figured out now whether to use the accusative or dative form of the pronouns?
But I have bad news: There are also a number of common German prepositions that take either the dative or the accusative case. Generally speaking, the difference is one of "static position" (with the dative), "change of position" (with the accusative).

an (on, at)
auf (on, on top of)
hinter (behind)
in (in, into)
neben (beside)
über (over, above)
unter (under, below)
vor (in front of, before)
zwischen. (between)

These prepositions are best explained with examples using a noun rather than a pronoun.
We'll do this in another blog post.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

The German Separable Prefix “mit-”

Screenshot of of German prefix "mit" Quick Game German prefixes are hard for English speakers as they often seem capricious. When used in sentences, they are sometimes attached, and sometimes they're not.

And where to put them if they're not?

Mark Twain, who had a love/hate relationship with the German language, put it this way:

"The Germans have an inhuman way of cutting up their verbs. Now a verb has a hard time enough of it in this world when it's all together. It's downright inhuman to split it up. But that's just what those Germans do. They take part of a verb and put it down here, like a stake, and they take the other part of it and put it away over yonder like another stake, and between these two limits they just shovel in German."  (Mark Twain's Speeches, "Disappearance of Literature" in twainquotes.)

Our German Quick Language Game with the separable prefix "mit-" is a popular one. That's not surprising. The separable prefix "mit-" (with, along with) connects to a lot of common verbs, adding the idea of "with [sb]", "along with [sb]", "together with [sb]" etc.

When prefixes in German are added to a verb, they change the verb's meaning, sometimes a lot. But sometimes the new meaning is easy to guess, as in the examples below:

kommen (to come) - mitkommen (to come with, come along).
bringen (to bring) - mitbringen (to bring with, bring along)
nehmen (to take) - mitnehmen (to take with, take along)

What makes German prefixes often tricky is the fact that there are three types of them:

1. Inseparable Prefixes are the easiest ones.

They are never detached from the verb.
Common inseparable prefixes: be-, emp-, ent-, er-, ge-, miss-, ver-, zer-
Examples are:

befreien (to liberate)
empfehlen (to recommend)
entschuldigen (to excuse, apologize)
erkennen (to recognize)
gefallen (to like)
missverstehen (to misunderstand)
versuchen (to try)
zerschneiden (to cut into pieces)

2. Separable Prefixes are the ones that can cause trouble

And there are a lot of them. They detach from the main-clause verb in the present tense and simple past.
Common separable prefixes: ab-, an-, auf-, aus-, bei-, ein-, hin-, her-, mit-, nach-, vor-, zu-, zurück-

abholen (to call for [sb, sth], pick up)
anrufen (to call [sb])
aufmachen (to open)
ausbrechen (to break out, escape)beifügen (to add, enclose)
einladen (to invite)
hingehen (to go there)
herkommen (to come here, approach)
mitkommen (to come with, along)
nachschlagen (to look up [a word])
vorschlagen (to suggest, propose)
zumachen (to shut, close)
zurückgehen (to go back)

3. Prefixes that are Separable or Inseparable

Fortunately there are not that many of them, and we only mention them in case you encounter one of them.
Common examples: durch-, über-, unter-, um-, wider-
The stress on the verb gives you a clue, as in the one example below.

Separable Prefix: umschreiben - to write again, rewrite (literal meaning, "um" is stressed)
Inseparable Prefix: umschreiben - to paraphrase (meaning is not literal, "schreiben" is stressed)

Now, taking our three separable prefix verbs: "mitkommen, mitbringen, mitnehmen", let's look at what happens to "mit-" in the various types of common German sentences.

The Separable Prefix "mit-" in Simple Present-Tense Sentences

In sentences with one subject and one verb, the prefix "mit-" separates from the infinitive and goes the end of a sentence. It is now an independent word.

mitkommen - Kommst du mit? (Are you coming with me/with us?)
mitbringen - Ich bringe ein paar Freunde mit. (I'm bringing a couple of friends with me.)
mitnehmen - Ich nehme es gerne mit. (I'm happy to take it with me.)

The Separable Prefix "mit-" in Simple Past-Tense Sentences

Note: The simple past of verbs is not used a lot in conversational German (except with the verbs "sein" and "haben", and for telling a story or a past event).

You'll see the simple past routinely in books and newspaper stories.It looks like this:Screenshot German "mit" Quick Game

mitkommen - Du kamst mit. (You came with me/us.)
mitbringen - Ich brachte ein paar Freunde mit. (I brought along a couple of friends.)
mitnehmen - Ich nahm es gerne mit. (I was happy to take it with me.)

The Separable Prefix "mit-" as a Past Participle:

Note: The prefix "mit-" attaches to the participle of the stem word, i.e. "gekommen", "gebracht", "genommen".
Here are the same sentences in conversational German.

mitkommen - Du bist mitgekommen. (You came along.)
mitbringen - Ich habe ein paar Freunde mitgebracht. (I brought a couple of friends with me.)
mitnehmen - Ich habe es gern mitgenommen. (I was happy to take it with me.)

The Separable Prefix "mit-" following a Modal Verb:

Not much to worry about here: just use the infinitive.

mitkommen - Du kannst nicht mitkommen. (You can't come along.)
mitbringen - Ich kann ein paar Freunde mitbringen. (I can bring a couple of friends along.)
mitnehmen - Ich kann es gerne mitnehmen. (I can take it with me, no problem.)

Other Verbs with the Prefix “mit-” 

The meaning of most of these is easy to guess.

mitreden - to join in or add to a conversation
Da kann ich nicht mitreden. (I can't add anything to this conversation.)

mitgehen - to go with [sb]
Ja, meine Kinder gehen auch mit. (Yes, my children are also going with me.)

mitgehen lassen - to steal, pinch, swipe
Ich glaube, er hat einen Silberlöffel mitgehen lassen. (I think he pinched a silver spoon.)

mitmachen - to join in, take part in [an activity]
Heute hat er beim Spiel nicht mitgemacht. (Today he did not join in the game.)

mitfahren - to ride along [as a passenger]
Kann ich mit dir mitfahren? (Can a get a ride with you?)

mitschreiben - to take notes
Ich mache heute blau. Kannst du für mich mitschreiben? (I'm cutting class today. Can you take notes for me?)

mitspielen - join in the game, be involved
Willst du mitspielen? (Do you want to join in the game?)

mitkriegen - catch, get [what's been said, or done]
Das habe ich nicht mitgekriegt. (I didn't catch that.)

mithalten - to keep up with somebody
Du rennst zu schnell. Da kann ich nicht mithalten. (You're running too fast. I can't keep up.)

The more you engage with a language - by reading, listening, speaking and writing - the more familiar you become with how it works. Prefix verbs are no exception.

Practice with short sentences until you can confidently push those prefixes around.
And by the time you are able to "shovel in German" between a prefix and the stem verb, you should feel pretty good about yourself.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

3 Grammar Baby Steps for Self-Learners

baby-steps_by_david-brooke-martin-qa4-KH8UjRA-unsplashHow to deal with grammar is a question we get a lot from language learners. Yes, classroom learning often focuses a lot on grammar.

I also plead guilty to having used this approach with my students during my college teaching years. But I now know that it does not help your speaking abilities early on.

Fortunately, if you're learning a new language independently, it's okay to put grammar on the back burner. Still, not focusing on grammar doesn't mean you ignore it completely. A good approach is to start with "baby steps" to learn gradually how your new language works.

Grammar in any language is a huge subject. However, knowing a grammar book inside out doesn't mean you can communicate in the language. All it means is that you can remember a lot of abstract rules. And these don't automatically translate into fluent communication.

So, what are a few "baby steps" that self-learners can take? Here are the steps that work for me when I start out in a new language. (My examples are from the four languages on our site.)

Step #1: A Quick Glance At Grammar Basics

I do mean a "quick glance", and really just basic grammar.Grammar topics spread across page Do it in whatever way works for you - on the internet or in a basic grammar book. You don't really want to know ALL the grammar rules right off. Especially not all the dozens of exceptions to those rules to boot.

What you want to know is how your new language works. How it is essentially different from your native language(s). Knowing these main differences will help you when starting out with conversations.

Pronouns

In English, you always use pronouns. The same goes for German and French.

Italian and Spanish usually drop the pronouns, unless they are needed for clarity or emphasis.

The Pronoun "you"

English has just one word for "you", and it works for familiar and formal, for singular and plural.

French, German, Italian and Spanish have different pronouns for familiar and formal, and also for singular and plural. You need to sort out which pronoun and/or verb ending to use for each of those situations.

Present Tense Verb Endings

English verb endings are pretty simple. Generally, you just have to watch out for the third person singular, which adds an "s". (I go, you go, he goes, we go, you go, they go.) 

For Italian and Spanish the personal endings of verbs are important because of dropped pronouns.

For German and French, the different verb endings depend on which personal pronouns you use.

Articles and Gender

English has the definite article "the" and no gender for its nouns.

French, Spanish, and Italian have 2 noun genders.

German has 3 genders, plus various case-dependent forms of the definite article.

Negation

Each language has its own ways to express negation. English has "not", which is often attached to a helping verb, and contracted: "don't, isn't, can't, won't, shouldn't".
 
Generally speaking, negation is simple in Spanish and Italian. In Spanish you put "no" in front of the verb, and in Italian "non".

French uses the double negative "ne ... pas".

German has "nicht" for negating verbs and "kein" for negating nouns.

Basic Word Order

Here you don't want to learn any rules. You only want to observe and understand that there are differences.

Once you've had a quick glance at basic grammar differences between your native language and your target language, forget what you've read. It will all come back bit by bit, once you start listening, repeating and reading - a lot - in your new language.

Step #2: Look for Patterns

Patterns in sandWe may not feel that we are "wired for grammar" (as Noam Chomsky once suggested), but we are certainly wired for recognizing and internalizing patterns.

Sounds 

For children in their early years, language is primarily sound. Even as adults we hear spoken language all day - in conversations, on the radio, on TV, on the internet.

Sound remains an important part of communication. When talking with others, we produce the correct sounds to get the message across. When we write, we often silently pronounce what we're writing.

Sentences

Learning the meaning of foreign words is important. But hearing and seeing them in complete sentences is essential: That's where "Grammar" is happening! 

When learning a new language be sure to include the sound of words, phrases and simple sentences. Listen and repeat as much as you can. It's important to get the sound of what you're learning into your ear.

As you listen, repeat and read, watch for patterns. Patterns of verb endings are basic, so listen and look for them. Watch out for the differences between questions and statements. Try to notice simple idiomatic ways of saying things.

Stories

Easy stories are a good next step. They will put essential vocabulary in context and therefore give you a more precise meaning of words and phrases.

Stories also show how the language works. You'll hear and see questions, responses to questions, emphatic forms, the use of familiar or formal "you", negation, word order variations, etc.

Reading & Writing

Once you're reasonably happy with your pronunciation, begin to pay closer attention to the written text as you practice listening and repeating. It will help you to master the correlation between sound and written text in your new language. It's a good way to get into reading.

Reading is a fantastic tool for acquiring vocabulary and for internalizing typical patterns of a language.

Step #3 More In-depth Grammar

When you're happily into your new target language,Grammar items when you continue to feel motivated and love the progress you're making, that's the time to tackle more grammar. But don't focus on rules. Focus on typical patterns. Below are two examples.

Gender and Articles

Italian
Suppose you've been reading and listening to Italian and notice that the simple English article "the" has several Italian equivalents: "il, la, lo, l', i, le, gli".

You've probably figured out the articles "il, la, i, and le". But you're curious enough to check when "lo" and "gli" are used. From then on, each time you see or hear "lo" and "gli" in context, you become more familiar with its use.

French and Spanish
They have have 2 genders, feminine and masculine, and four articles that go with it. In French, there's "le, la, l', les". In Spanish, you have "el, la, los, las". Good to know, but pretty easy to figure out on your own as you're hearing and reading a story.

German
It has 3 genders: "der, die, das" (masculine, feminine, and neuter). Plus, the definite articles, including the plural forms, change depending on the case of the noun. So, it will take more effort to really learn the correct German forms.

You'll want to study the various German article/case combinations written out in front of you on a sheet. Then, saying the forms often helps to make them automatic. Still, perfect mastery is elusive for most, and that's okay. (You're not alone: Mark Twain in his “A Tramp Abroad”, Appendix D, makes some very funny, but cogent observations.)

Asking Yes-No Questions

There are often fundamental word order differences between languages.

English
For example, it's not easy for foreigners to understand when to use "do" or "are" in a question in English.
You say: "Do you know?", while the question, "Are you knowing?" doesn't make sense.
On the other hand, you would tend to say "Are you going?" The question "Do you go?" needs more context, such as "Do you often go to the movies?"

French
There are various ways to ask yes-no questions. But these are different from English. For one, you can put the question particle, "Est-ce que" at the beginning of a sentence and thus turn it into a question, "Est-ce que vous parlez anglais ?"

Then there's the inversion of subject and verb, as in "Parlez-vous anglais ?" Or, you can just add "n'est-ce pas ?" at the end of a statement: "Tu parles anglais, n'est-ce pas ?" Finally, in informal speech, you can just raise your voice at the end: "Tu parles anglais ?" Once you start paying attention to questions when hearing and reading French, these patterns will become familiar and you'll learn when to use which.

Italian 
You can make a statement into a question by letting your voice go up at the end, and/or adding a tag: "È americano?, È americano, vero?, È americano, no?" It's as simple as that.

Spanish
Similarly, you can change a statement to a yes-no question by using question intonation and sometimes adding a tag: "¿Hablas inglés?, ¿Hablas inglés, no? ¿Hablas inglés, verdad?" Or, in some cases, you can invert verb and pronoun: "¿Tiene Ud. sed?"

German
For yes-no questions, you normally invert subject and the personal verb: "Sind Sie Amerikaner?" Or, "Wollen Sie jetzt essen?"

Make Grammar a Treat not a Chore!

There are exceptions, but most language learners don't learn grammar to become fluent in grammar. They learn a language because they want to be able to speak with others. 

It's more fun to figure things out than to memorize rules. So, try to figure out little by little how your new language works. Don't focus too much on the rules.

Becoming fluent in another language is a hugely satisfying achievement. It's great fun to step out of your native language and step into another way of communicating. It can be a wonderful life-long adventure!

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here below!

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

How to Use the German Modal Verb "können"

Gamesfrolanguage.com: German Modal Shoot Quick GameNo better way to practice the German Modal Verb "können" than with one of Gamesforlanguage's most popular games: the German Modal Shoot.
It's a three-minute interactive online game that gives you a quick practice of the basic forms of the German modals.

What are Modal Verbs?

Modal Verbs are helping verbs, also called auxiliary verbs. They add a chunk of meaning to the main verb of a sentence.
In conversations they show up all the time.

German has six modals. They express ability, necessity, obligation, permission, a wish, etc.
They are:
- können (be able, can),
- müssen (to have to, must),
- sollen (shall, ought to),
- dürfen (be permitted, may),
- wollen (to want) and
- mögen (to like).

So for example, take the sentence: Ich arbeite heute (Architect greeting foremanI'm working today) and add the modals:
- Ich kann heute arbeiten. (I can work today.)
- Ich muss heute arbeiten. (I have to work today.)
- Ich soll heute arbeiten. (I ought to work today.)
- Ich darf heute arbeiten. (I'm allowed to work today.)
- Ich will heute arbeiten. (I want to work today.)

But: Ich möchte heute arbeiten. (I would like to work today.)
Arggh, here you would use the (subjunctive) "would" form in German: "möchte", not "mag".
(The present forms of "mögen" can't be used with an infinitive verb.)

The modal "können" (can, to be able) is a very useful helping verb.

But its changing forms and conjugations often make it frustrating for the English-speaking learner, who is only used to “can” and “could”.

German Modal Verb "können" - Present Tense

In the Present singular form, "können" changes its stem vowel from "ö" to "a":
- ich kann (I can)
- du kannst (you[fam.] can)
- er, sie, es kann (he, she, it can)
- wir können (we can)
- ihr könnt (you-all can)
- sie, Sie können - they, you[form.] can

Below are examples of different ways you can use it.

"Können" - for a polite offer or request:
- Ich kann Ihnen helfen. (I can help you.)
- Können Sie/Kannst du mir helfen? (Can you help me?)
- Ja, das kann ich. (Yes, I can.)

"Können" to express know-how:
- Er kann Gitarre spielen. (He can play the guitar.)
- Kannst du Deutsch? (Do you know German? i.e. Are you able to speak German?)
- Ja, aber ich kann kein Englisch. (Yes, but I don't know any English.)

"Können" to express possibility:
- Das kann doch nicht wahr sein. (Surely that can't be true.)
- Kann das wirklich stimmen? (Is that really correct?)
- Ja ja, heute kann's regnen. (Yes yes, today it may rain.)

"Können" to ask or give permission:
- Kann ich jetzt gehen? (Can I go now?)
- Nein, das können Sie nicht. (No, you can't. [formal])
- Ja, du kannst. (Yes, go ahead. [familiar])

Did you get all this? If so try this Quiz #1 for "können" on our sister site Lingo-Late.
Or, if you are looking for a fun German Quick Game: Practice "Können"

Modal Verb "können" - Simple Past Tense

Unfortunately the Simple Past is not that simple for English speakers, who conveniently use "could" for all persons.
In German, the stem drops the umlaut, and is "konn-" for all persons. But you still need to add the so-called "weak" personal endings for the Simple Past:
- ich konnte (I could)
- du konntest (you could)
- er, sie, es konnte (he, she, it could)
- wir konnten (we could)
- ihr konntet (you-all could)
- sie, Sie konnten (they, you could)

Past situations:
- Sie konnte mich nicht verstehen. (She couldn't understand me.)
- Ich war in Deutschland aber ich konnte kein Deutsch. (I was in Germany but I didn't know German.)
- Warum konntest du mich nicht anrufen? (Why couldn't you call me?)

For making excuses:
The Simple Past of "können" is also perfect for making excuses, especially when you add "leider" (unfortunately)
- Ich konnte leider nicht anrufen. (Unfortunately, I couldn't call .)
- Leider konnten wir nicht früher kommen. (Unfortunately, we couldn't come earlier.)
- Mein Mann konnte leider seine Autoschlüssel nicht finden. (Unfortunately, my husband couln't find his car keys.)

Modal Verb "können" - Imperfect Subjunctive Tense

This unapproachable-sounding tense is actually easier, if you remember the Simple Past forms above. You just add an umlaut to every Simple Past form.
- ich könnte - I could, would be able
- du könntest - you could, would be able
- er, sie, es könnte - he, she it could, would be able
- wir könnten - we could, would be able
- ihr könntet - you-all could, would be able
- sie, Sie könnten - they, you could, would be able

Use this tense for polite requests (with or without "bitte"):
- Könnten Sie mir bitte sagen ... (Could you please tell me ...)
- Könntest du mir das Salz geben? (Could you pass me the salt?)
- Könnte ich etwas anderes bestellen? (Could I order something different?

Make a polite suggestion:
- Wir könnten jetzt gehen. (We could go now. Let's go now.)
- Ich könnte dich morgen anrufen. (I could call you tomorrow.)
- Du könntest auch später gehen. (You could also go later.)

Express a tentative possibility:
- Das könnte teuer werden. (That could get expensive.)
- Es könnte morgen schneien. (It could snow tomorrow.)
- Wir könnten den 8Uhr Zug nehmen. (We could take the 8 o'clock train.)

Related verbs: können and kennen

Hearing the difference between “können” and “kennen” is often a challenge for the beginning German learner.
We've seen that the auxiliary verb "können" means "to be able, to know how".
On the other hand, the verb "kennen", means "to know, be acquainted with", referring to a person, a place, a song, a book, etc.
You say:
- Peter und ich, wir kennen uns. (Peter and I, we know each other.)
- Ich kenne Helsinki noch nicht. (I don't know Helsinki yet.)
- Kennen Sie London gut? (Do you know London well?)
- Kennst du dieses Buch? (Do you know this book?)

One clue to know whether you hear a form of “können” or one of “kennen” is to listen for another verb: In most cases, the auxiliary verb “können” needs another verb. (But as you've seen above there are exceptions.)

So, go ahead and use "können" as much as you can.
Ich kenne dich nicht, aber ich weiß, du kannst es. (I don't know you, but I know that you can do it.)

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

10 Easy Rules to Help Your German:

Know the rules - for German (Updated 3/2021)

Learning German? A few easy rules will give your grasp of German grammar a boost. These rules are a kind of "back-ground language work" that you do, like setting up the frame of a building.

Grammar rules, even easy ones, are not what you think about when you’re engaged in speaking a language. In the flow of speaking, you don’t have time to think much about grammar. Conversations just move too fast. In a conversation, there's too much else going on.

However, when reading, listening to a podcast, doing some online practice, easy grammar rules are good to keep in mind. You'll keep seeing or hearing certain examples over and over again. With time, you’ll start to apply them automatically also for speaking.

1. Diminutive nouns with the ending -chen or -lein are neuter:

Note: in some cases, the stem vowel becomes an umlaut.
• das Mädchen (the girl)
• das Schwesterlein (the little sister) [but: die Schwester]
• das Tischlein (the little table) [but: der Tisch]
• das Gläschen (the little glass) [das Glas]
• der Vögelchen (the little bird) [but: der Vogel]
• das Brötchen (the roll) [das Brot]

2. Nouns ending in -heit, -keit, -ung are always feminine

• die Freiheit (freedom)
• die Gesundheit (health)

• die Freundlichkeit (friendliness)
• die Tätigkeit (activity)

• die Rechnung (bill/check)
• die Bewegung (movement)

3. “die” is the plural article for all nouns (subject forms)

• das Kind - die Kinder (child - children)
• die Frau - die Frauen (woman - women)
• der Mann - die Männer (man - men)

4. All seasons are masculine:

• der Frühling (the spring)
• der Sommer (the summer)
• der Herbst (the fall)
• der Winter (the )winter

5. All says of the week are masculine:weekdays in German

• der Montag (Monday)
• der Dienstag (Tuesday)
• der Mittwoch (Wednesday)
• der Donnerstag (Thursday)
• der Freitag (Friday)
• der Samstag (Saturday)
• der Sonntag (Sunday)

6. Seven common prepositions contract with “das."  

Note: these all imply a “change  of place” or “direction to”:
• an + das:  ans Meer gehen (to go to the sea)
• auf + das:  aufs Land fahren (to go to the countryside)
• in + das:  ins Haus gehen (to go into the house)
• hinter + das:  hinters Auto gehen (to go over behind the car)
• über + das:  übers Meer fliegen (to fly across the ocean)
• unter + das:  unters Buch legen (to place under the book)
• vor + das:  vors Fenster legen (to place in front of the window)

7. A predicate adjective takes no ending

A predicate adjective follows a noun and a form of “sein” (to be).
• Die Straße ist breit. (The street is wide.)
Compare this to "article + adjective + noun":  Die breite Straße. (The wide street.)

• Der Kaffee ist stark. (The coffee is strong.)
• Compare this to "article + adjective + noun":  Der starke Straße. (The strong coffee.)

• Das Haus ist groß. (The house is big.)
• Compare this to "article + adjective + noun":  Das große Haus. (The big house.)

8. Numbers: 

• 1-12 you have to memorize. Eins - one (1); zwei - two (2); drei - three (3); vier - four (4); fünf - five (5); sechs - six (6); sieben - seven (7); acht - eight (8); neun - nine (9); zehn - ten (10); elf - eleven (11); zwölf - twelve (12).

• 13-19 have the same format as English. For example: dreizehn - thirteen (13); fünfzehn - fifteen (15); neunzehn - nineteen (19)

• But 21-29, 31-39 etc. are “reversed” in German and are linked with "und" (and). For example: einundzwanzig - twenty-one (21), neununddreißig - thirty-nine (39), etc.

You can also learn the numbers and practice your pronunciation with our Quick Games: German Numbers 1-20 and 21 and Beyond.

9. The verb forms of formal "you" (Sie) and "they" (sie) are the same.

• Gehen Sie heute ins Kino? (Are you going to the movies today?)
 
• Gehen sie heute ins Kino? (Are they going to the movies today?)
 

Note:
• Formal "you" (Sie) is always capitalized
• The pronoun "they" (sie) begins with a lower-case letter (except at the beginning of a sentence).

10. Word Order: In simple sentences, the verb is in second position.

• Ich gehe heute ins Kino. (I'm going to the movies today.)
• Heute gehe ich ins Kino. (Today, I'm going to the movies.)

Note:
• In the sentence "Heute Abend gehe ich ins Kino.", the verb is the third word, but still in second position, as the (adverb) phrase "Heute abend" is in first position.

• Whatever word/phrase occurs before the verb is emphasized.

You Want to Practice Your German?

Our games and travel-story based courses are also a great way to practice your German.

With our German 1 and 2 courses you'll learn and practice German for FREE - with stories of a young man traveling through Germany and - its sequel - solving a "Blüten"-mystery in Berlin. "The Story" and easy games will let you forget that you are actually learning German! And you can also listen to both Stories by clicking on German 1 or German 2 on our Podcast page.

If travel to Germany is in your near future, you may also enjoy our post: 4 Fun German Language Games Before You Travel.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

3 Steps for Tackling Grammar Slowly

grammar books stacked How to deal with grammar is a question we get a lot from language learners. Yes, classroom learning often focuses a lot on grammar. I also plead guilty to having used this approach with students during my college teaching years.

But I now know that it does not help your speaking abilities early on. Fortunately, if you're learning a new language independently, it's okay to put grammar on the back burner. 

Still, not focusing on grammar doesn't mean you ignore it completely. A good approach is to start with "baby steps" to learn gradually how your new language works.

Grammar in any language is a huge subject. However, knowing a grammar book inside out doesn't mean you can communicate in the language. All it means is that you can remember a lot of abstract rules. And these don't automatically translate into fluent communication. 

So, what are a few "baby steps" that self-learners can take? Here are the steps that work for me when I start out in a new language. (My examples are from the four languages on our site.)

Step #1: A Quick Glance At Grammar Basics

Man studying laptopI do mean a "quick glance", and really just basic grammar. Do it in whatever way works for you - on the internet or in a basic grammar book. 

You don't really want to know ALL the grammar rules right off. Especially not all the dozens of exceptions to those rules to boot.

What you want to know is how your new language works. How it is essentially different from your native language(s). Knowing these main differences will help you when starting out with conversations. 

PRONOUNS 
In English, you always use pronouns. The same goes for German and French. Italian and Spanish usually drop the pronouns, unless they are needed for clarity or emphasis.

THE PRONOUN "YOU" 
English has just one word for "you", and it works for familiar and formal, for singular and plural.

French, German, Italian and Spanish have different pronouns for familiar and formal, and also for singular and plural. You need to sort out which pronoun and/or verb ending to use for each of those situations.

PRESENT TENSE VERB ENDINGS 

English verb endings are pretty simple. Generally, you just have to watch out for the third person singular, which adds an "s". (I go, you go, he goes, we go, you go, they go.) 

For Italian and Spanish the personal endings of verbs are important because of dropped pronouns. For German and French, the different verb endings depend on which personal pronouns you use.

ARTICLES AND GENDER

English has the definite article "the" and no gender for its nouns.

French, Spanish, and Italian have two noun genders, and German has three genders, plus various case-dependent forms of the definite article.

NEGATION

Each language has its own ways to express negation. English has "not", which is often attached to a helping verb and contracted: "don't, isn't, can't, won't, shouldn't". Generally speaking, negation is simple in Spanish and Italian. In Spanish you put "no" in front of the verb, and in Italian "non". French uses the double negative "ne ... pas", and German has "nicht" for negating verbs and "kein" for negating nouns.

BASIC WORD ORDER

Here you don't want to learn any rules. You only want to observe and understand that there are differences.

Once you've had a quick glance at basic grammar differences between your native language and your target language, forget what you've read. It will all come back bit by bit, once you start listening, repeating and reading - a lot - in your new language.

Step #2: Look for Patterns

Carpet PatternsWe may not feel that we are "wired for grammar" (as Noam Chomsky once suggested), but we are certainly wired for recognizing and internalizing patterns.

SOUNDS

For children in their early years, language is primarily sound. Even as adults we hear spoken language all day - in conversations, on the radio, on TV, on the internet.

Sound remains an important part of communication. To engage with others, we produce the correct sounds to get the message across. When we write, we often silently pronounce what we're writing.

SENTENCES

Learning the meaning of foreign words is important. But hearing and seeing them in complete sentences is essential: That's where "Grammar" is happening! 

When learning a new language be sure to include the sound of words, phrases and simple sentences. Listen and repeat as much as you can. It's important to get the sound of what you're learning into your ear.

As you listen, repeat and read, watch for patterns. Patterns of verb endings are basic, so listen and look for them. Watch out for the differences between questions and statements. Try to notice simple idiomatic ways of saying things.

STORIES

Easy stories are a good next step. They will put essential vocabulary in context and therefore give you a more precise meaning of words and phrases.

Stories also show how the language works. You'll hear and see questions, responses to questions, emphatic forms, the use of familiar or formal "you", negation, word order variations, etc.

READING & WRITING

Once you're reasonably happy with your pronunciation, begin to pay closer attention to the written text as you practice listening and repeating. It will help you to master the correlation between sound and written text in your new language. It's a good way to get into reading.

Reading is a fantastic tool for acquiring vocabulary and for internalizing typical patterns of a language.

Step #3 More In-depth Grammar

Grammar Book on table with woman's handsWhen you're happily into your new target language, when you continue to feel motivated and love the progress you're making, that's the time to tackle more grammar. But don't focus on rules. Focus on typical patterns. Below are two examples.

GENDER AND ARTICLES

Suppose you've been reading and listening to Italian and notice that the simple English article "the" has several Italian equivalents: "il, la, lo, l', i, le, gli". You've probably figured out the articles "il, la, i, and le". But you're curious enough to check when "lo" and "gli" are used. From then on, each time you see or hear "lo" and "gli" in context, you become more familiar with its use.

French and Spanish have two genders, feminine and masculine, and four articles that go with it. In French, there's "le, la, l', les". In Spanish, you have "el, la, los, las". Good to know, but pretty easy to figure out on your own as you're hearing and reading a story.

German, however, has three genders: "der, die, das" (masculine, feminine, and neuter) and the definite articles, including the plural forms, change depending on the case of the noun. So, it will take more effort to really learn the correct German forms. You'll want to study the various article/case combinations written out in front of you. Then, saying the forms often helps to make them automatic. Still, perfect mastery is elusive for most, and that's okay. (You're not alone: Mark Twain in his “A Tramp Abroad”, Appendix D, makes some very funny, but cogent observations.)

ASKING YES-NO QUESTIONS

There are often fundamental word order differences between languages. For example, it's not easy for foreigners to understand when to use "do" or "are" in a question in English.

For example, you say: "Do you know?", while the question, "Are you knowing?" doesn't make sense. On the other hand, you would tend to say "Are you going?" The question "Do you go?" needs more context, such as "Do you often go to the movies?"

French, too, has various ways to ask yes-no questions. But these are different from English. For one, you can put the question particle, "Est-ce que" at the beginning of a sentence and thus turn it into a question, "Est-ce que vous parlez anglais ?"

Then there's the inversion of subject and verb, as in "Parlez-vous anglais ?" Or, you can just add "n'est-ce pas ?" at the end of a statement: "Tu parles anglais, n'est-ce pas ?" Finally, in informal speech, you can just raise your voice at the end: "Tu parles anglais ?" Once you start paying attention to questions when hearing and reading French, these patterns will become familiar and you'll learn when to use which.

In Italian you can make a statement into a question by letting your voice go up at the end, and/or adding a tag: "È americano?" "É americano, vero?" "É americano, no?" It's as simple as that.

Similarly, in Spanish, you can change a statement to a yes-no question by using question intonation and sometimes adding a tag: "¿Hablas inglés?, ¿Hablas inglés, no? ¿Hablas inglés, verdad?" Or, in some cases, you can invert verb and pronoun: "¿Tiene Ud. sed?"

For yes-no questions in German, you normally invert subject and the personal verb: "Sind Sie Amerikaner?" Or, "Wollen Sie jetzt essen?"

Make Grammar a Treat not a Chore!

There are exceptions, but most language learners don't learn grammar to become fluent in grammar. They learn a language because they want to be able to speak with others. 

It's more fun to figure things out than to memorize rules. So, try to figure out little by little how your new language works. Don't focus too much on the rules.

Becoming fluent in another language is a hugely satisfying achievement. It's great fun to step out of your native language and step into another way of communicating. It can be a wonderful life-long adventure!

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here below!

Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

4 Languages – Different Language Subtleties

national flags on TVYou know that you're making progress when you start to pick up language subtleties in the language you're learning. Language subtleties can be fun or embarrassing, but you'll especially remember the embarrassing ones.

I'm not only talking about “false friends”, which are not that hard to check. For example, my (German speaking) father quickly learned the English word “gift”, as the same word means “poison” in German.  “Gift” was also the first entry in our earlier post, 20 German False Friends To Watch Out For.

There are also quite a few such “cognates” in Spanish, as we listed in False Language Friends – Spanish: me despierto et al. (And, we just realized that we are still to list the major cognates for Italian and French, Gamesforlanguage's other two languages.)

In the meantime, here are just a few language subtleties we came across recently.

GERMAN SUBTLETIES

One of our sons told us the other day that during a stay in Germany he responded to a question whether the room temperature was ok: “Ja danke, ich bin warm.” But, the correct German expression for "I'm warm" is “Es ist mir warm.” He could not understand the chuckle of the family friend he was staying with.

The friend explained that the answer did not go together with the question:  “warm sein” in German is used to mean to be “gay”, or “schwul”. Although the above exchange occurred over 15 years ago, our son still remembers the different meanings of the two expressions.

Going back even further, I remember when my French-speaking brother-in-law, who also spoke excellent German, was puzzled when he heard one of our friends tell us over a glass of beer:monkey on tricyle cartoon

“Als ich nach der Party mit dem Fahrrad nach Hause fuhr, hatte ich einen ordenlichen Affen sitzen.” (Literally: When I rode home on my bicycle after the party, I had a substantial monkey sitting.)

My brother-in-law laughed as heartily as all the others, but later he asked me: “Why did he have a monkey sitting on the bicycle with him?”

Idioms

As many other languages do as well, German has many ways to express being tipsy or drunk, for example:
• einen sitzen haben  (literally: to have one sitting)
• einen Affen sitzen haben (literally: to have a monkey sitting)
• einen Schwips haben (somewhat literally: to have intoxication)
• einen im Tee haben (literally: to have one in the tea)

And in the various German dialects there are quite a few more.

Words with more than one Meaning

This brings me to German words with more than one meaning. For example, “einen Kater haben” could mean “owning a male cat”. But more likely – and you would know from the context – it would mean “having a hangover”.

In German, there are plenty of words with more than one meaning. There is no way around learning them. Examples are:
• “Linsen” are “lentils”, but also lenses of cameras
• “ein Gericht” could be “a court of justice”, or a meal
• “die Wirtschaft” could mean “the economy” or the local pub
• “ein Bienenstich” is a German cake specialty, made with yeast dough, filled with vanilla custard and topped with almonds, but it also simply means “the sting of a bee”. I still have no idea how this cake got its name.

You can sometimes guess the meaning of a word from the context, but that is often harder for idioms.

SPANISH SUBTLETIES

The other day I was again reviewing the use of “estar” and “ser” in Spanish. One of the explanations of the difference between both is the following: Think about “ser” as a “passive” verb, something “being” that way permanently, e.g. describing a personal trait;  “estar”, on the other hand, is a more active verb describing a (temporary) condition.

Expressions with Ser and Estar

In the examples below the use of either “ser” or “estar” changes the meaning of the adjective. For example:

Bored woman ignored by her dateThe young woman in the picture certainly would NOT want to say: “Soy aburrido” which means “I am boring”, when she really wants to say: “Estoy aburrido” (“I am bored”) - hopefully only a temporary condition with her date!

Similarly, when you tell somebody that you are not ready, say “No estoy listo” and NOT “No soy listo”. The latter means that you are not intelligent or a quick thinker.
Also:

• vivo/a is “alive” with estar, but “clever” with ser
• cansado/a is “tired” with estar, but “tiring” with ser

Remember as well that “estar” is used to indicate your location, as in “Estoy en casa” (I'm at home), but “ser” is used to indicate your origin, e.g. place of birth, “Soy de Austria.” (I'm from Austria.)\

Exceptions

And just when I thought I had understood the differences well enough, I was reminded of a few major exceptions:
• “Está muerto” (he is dead) seems to be quite a permanent condition, but uses “estar” to indicate that somebody is dead.
• On the other hand “ser” is used to indicate time as in “Son las tres de la tarde” as in “It's 3 PM”, which seems quite transitional.

Words with more than one Meaning

As with German, Spanish also has words that have more than one meaning:
• piso: can mean “apartment” or “flat” but also is used for a building's “level” or “floor”
• gato: “cat” is the translation I know, but apparently it is also a “car jack”
• tiempo: can mean “time” or “weather”
• techo: can mean “ceiling” or “roof”

Different Meaning in Different Countries

As Spanish is spoken not only in Spain but also in the Americas, it's not surprising that there are quite a few words that have acquired various meanings in different countries. A few examples include:
• fresa: a “strawberry” in most Spanish speaking countries (but “frutilla” in Argentina); in Mexico it's also a slang term for a “spoiled, egocentric, wealthy youngster”
• coche: a “car” for Spaniards, but a slang term for “pig” in Guatemala (maybe from French “cochon”?), or a “babystroller” in Chile
• torta: a “cake” in most Spanish speaking countries, it also translates as “a punch in the mouth” in Spain.

This iTalki post has quite a few more Spanish words with different meanings in different countries. Only the context of a sentence lets you sometimes figure out the meaning. But because Spanish has phonetic spelling, it is much easier than French with its many homophones, as we'll see below.

FRENCH SUBTLETIES

As with German and Spanish above (and most languages), some French words have two or more meanings.

words with more than one meaning

For example, “voler” can mean either “to fly” or “to steal”. (Maybe the image with the seagulls below will help you remember the two meanings).

seagulls trying to steal food on beachBut with nouns, often the article changes, and that can alert you to which meaning is used.
• la tour (a tower), le tour (a trip)
• la poste (the post office), le poste (a position)
• la mémoire (the memory), le mémoire (the essay)

I'm doing a lot of listening at the moment (on LingQ) to get my French up a notch for an upcoming trip to French Switzerland.

words that sound the same but have a Different Meaning

One feature that makes spoken French particularly tricky are its many homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently. Here are a few examples:
• fin (end), faim (hunger)
• verre (glass), vers (a verse, or “towards”), ver (worm), vert (green)
• vin (wine), vain (in vain), vingt (twenty), vint (came)
• saut (jump), seau (bucket), sot (dummy), sceau (seal)
• maire (mayor), mer (sea), mère (mother)
c'est (it is), sait (knows), s'est (reflexive pronoun + est)

Not to mention the various personal verb endings that get swallowed in spoken French.
• (il) est, (tu) es
• (je) parle, (tu) parles, (ils) parlent

You have to pay special attention to the context to get the right meaning and spelling.

Idioms

Idioms pose their own challenge as the literal meaning is often quite far from the idiomatic meaning. A couple of my favorites are:
• poser un lapin à quelqu'un - to put a rabbit to someone (to stand someone up, not show up for a date)
• faire la grasse matinée - to do the fat morning (to sleep in)
• faire le pont - to make the bridge (if Thursday is a holiday, you may as well not work Friday either and take a nice long weekend)

If you like French idioms, check out our post on Other Cats to Whip? The Book of French Idioms. It's a collection of funny idioms with delightful illustrations.

Québecois

Last August, we spent several days in Montreal to attend LangFest 2017. The conference is a popular annual language gathering that attracts language enthusiasts from all over the globe.

We really enjoyed being in a French environment, but it took us a few hours to attune our ears again to the melody and expressions of Québecois, the local language spoken there.

One of the first workshops at LangFest was a quick overview of Québecois by translator and editor Grégoire Lahaia. This was really helpful for us. Lahaia pointed out three major characteristics of how Québecois is pronounced:

1) Dipthongization of long vowels (also called vowel breaking)
• père (pronounced: paèr)
• rêve (pronounced: raève)
• fort (pronounced: faort)

2) The consonants t/d are pronounced ts/ds before the vowels u/i
• tu (pronounced: tsu)
• tuer (pronounced: tsuer)
• tirer (pronounced: tsirer)
• durant (pronounced: dsurant)

3) Many words are contracted
• tu es (pronounced: t'es
• sur la (pronounced: s'a)
• il aime (pronounced: y'aime)
• je suis (pronounced: j'su)

It made us realize again how important it is to listen to different regional accents of a language to train your ear to understand variations beyond standard pronunciation.

ITALLIAN SUBTLETIES

Even if you've figured out the difference in Spanish between “estar” and “ser”, the Italian verbs “stare” and “essere” will provide you with a new challenge.

Expressions with essere and stare

In general “essere” means “to be”, and “stare” means “to stay”. But in some contexts “stare” also means “to be”. As a starter, it's useful to learn a few basic phrases, so you don't have to think about what to use with these.

Use “essere”:

For nationality, profession, possession, essential qualities.
Sono italiano. - I'm Italian.
• Sono insegnate di francese. - I'm a French teacher.
• La casa è di Carla. - It's Carla's house.
• Il tavolo è negro. - The table is black.

For condition or emotion.
Sono malato. - I'm sick.
• Sono felice. - I'm happy.

For Date and Time.
Sono le dieci. - It's ten o'clock.
• È lunedì. - It's Monday.

Use “stare”:

For precise location (but in some cases, you can also use “essere”)
• La sedia sta/è in cucina. - The chair is in the kitchen.
• Lui sta da me. - He's at my place.

For certain idiomatic expressions.
Sto bene. - I'm well.
• Come stai? - How are you?
• Sto male. - I'm feeling bad.

For the continuous tense:
Sta piovendo. - It's raining.
• Sto mangiando una pizza. - I'm eating a pizza.

The little word “ci”

The two-letter word “ci” pops up a lot in conversational Italian. You'll see it on its own and also attached to the end of a verb. It helps to learn basic phrases, but more importantly, just become aware of it as you read or listen to Italian. With time, you'll learn to recognize the various meanings of “ci”.

Personal pronoun “ci” = us/to us/ourselves
Marco ci ha invitato a cena. - Marco has invited us to dinner. (direct object)
• Ci l'hanno dato. - They gave it to us. (indirect oject)
• Ci siamo divertiti molto. - We enjoyed ourselves a lot. (reflexive)
• Ci vediamo là? - We'll see each other there? (reciprocal)

Demonstative pronoun “ci” = about it/on it
Non so che farci. - I don't know what to do about it.
• Ci penserò. - I'll think about it.
• Ci puoi contare. - You can depend on it.

Adverb ci” = here/there; there is/there are; it is/they are
• Qui non ci ritorno più. - I'm not coming back here again.
• Conosco Roma perché ci ho abitato. - I know Rome well because I lived there.
• Ci sono 30 kilometri. - It's (there are) 30 kilometers.
• C'è nessuno in casa? - Is there anybody at home?

Verbs with ci

A number of verbs change meaning by adding “ci”. The meanings have to be learned in context. Here are a couple of examples: 
• pensare - to think
• pensarci - to think/take care of sth; ci penso io (I'll take care of it)

• stare - to be, stay
• starci - to be up for it/to fit in it; non ci sta (it doesn't fit in it)

• credere - to believe
• crederci - to believe it; non ci credo (I don't believe it)


We obviously could only touch the surface of the four languages' many subtleties. But once you start paying attention to them, you'll be a step closer to mastering the language you're learning. The proof will be when you recognize some of the expressions in conversations and can use them yourself.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Practice French Conjunctions with Language Games

French flags as connected puzzle pieces Conjunctions join words, groups of words, clauses, or sentences, and show how actions, events and ideas are connected. They are essential for conversations and are the staple of any speech or argument.

Memorizing French conjunctions individually is not that difficult, but using them correctly in sentences takes some practice. Most of them occur in our French 1 travel-story course, where you can practice them in various games.

French, like English, has two types of conjunctions: coordinating and subordinating.

French Coordinating Conjunctions

These join words or groups of words that are of equal value. The most commonly used French coordinating conjunctions are: et (and), ou (or), mais (but), ni...ni (neither...nor), car (because, as), donc (therefore, so).

Our Quick French Language Game, Basic French Conjunctions, will let you practice the most common ones. Click on the link or one of the images below.

Gamesforlanguage.com's French Conjunctions Wordinvader screenshotet (and)

• De rien, et bon voyage. (You're welcome and have a good trip.)
• Il est fatigué et dort un peu. (He is tired and sleeps a little.)

ou (or)

• Vous pouvez prendre les bus 3, 4 ou 6. (You can take the buses 3, 4 or 6.)
• Aller simple ou aller-retour? (One-way or return trip?)

(And don't confuse the conjunction “ou” with the acverb “où”, which is pronounced the same, but has a grave accent on the “u” and means “where” and in some cases “when.”)

mais (but)

• Oui, mais c'est mon premier voyage en France. (Yes, but it's my first trip to France.)
• Je ne suis pas certain, mais je crois que c’est ça. (I'm not sure, but I think that's it.)

ni (neither... nor...)

• Je n'aime ni la glace ni le chocolat. (I like neither ice cream nor chocolate.)
• Ni moi ni la police ne pouvions te joindre. (Neither I nor the police could reach you.)

car (because, for, as)

• Je suis inquiet car elle n'est pas encore rentré. (I'm worried because she isn't back yet.)
• Je reste à la maison car je suis malade. (I'm staying at home because I'm sick.)

donc (therefore, so)

• Je pense, donc je suis. (I think, therefore I am.)
• Je n'ai rien vu, donc je ne sais pas. (I didn't see anything, so I don't know.)

French Subordinating Conjunctions

These connect a dependent clause to a main clause, showing a relationship of time, place, or cause and effect between them. When using a subordinating conjunction, you'll have to think about which tense or mood of the verb to use.

The most commonly used French subordinating conjunctions are: quand (when), si (if), que (that), comme (as, since), quoique (although)

Gamesforlanguage.com's Shootout game of French conjunctionsquand (when)

• Quand je me suis réveillé, il était midi. (When I woke up it was noon.)
• Julie m'a fait visiter la ville, il ne faisait pas beau. (When Julie showed me around town, the weather wasn't nice.)

si (if)

• Tu peux le prendre si tu veux. (You can take it if you want.)
• S'il fait beau, on ira se promener. (If the weather's nice, we'll go for a walk.)

que (that)

• Je crois que c’est ça. (I think that's it.)
• Je suis content que tu nous rendes visite. (I'm glad that you're visiting us.)
• Il faut que tu reviennes bientôt. (You have to come back soon.)
• Dommage que je parte demain. (Too bad that I'm leaving tomorrow.)

Note: With expressions such as “je suis content(e) que”, “il faut que”, “dommage que”, you would use the subjunctive mood for the verb. This will be the subject of another post.

comme (as, since)

• Elle est partie comme j'arrivais. (She left as I arrived.)
• Comme il arrive demain, il faut préparer une chambre. (Since he's arriving tomorrow, we have to get a room ready.)

quoique (even though, although)

• Je veux l'acheter quoique ce soit très cher. (I want to buy it even though it's very expensive.)
• Quoiqu'il soit pauvre, il est très généreux. (Even though he's poor, he's very generous.)

Conjunctive Phrases

French also has a large number of phrases that function as conjunctions. They usually end with “... que” and mostly require the subjunctive. Here are just a couple of examples:

avant que (before)

• Il n’attend pas longtemps avant que le train arrive. (He doesn't wait long before the train arrives.)
• Avant que la réunion ne commence, le Directeur veut vous parler. (Before the meeting starts, the manager wants to speak with you.)

parce que (because)

• D’accord, mais c’est bien parce que c’est vous. (All right, but only because it's you.)
• Je suis en retard parce que mon réveil n'a pas sonné. (I'm late because my alarm didn't go off.)

jusqu’à ce que (until)

• Juste le premier chapitre, jusqu’à ce que je me souvenais. (Only the first chapter, until I remembered.)
• Reste ici, jusqu'à ce que je revienne te chercher. (Stay here until I come back to get you.)

Maybe next time you read a French article or listen to a French podcast, you'll pay special attention to the conjunctions. Reading and listening to French will help to internalize how conjunctions work and how they are used by native speakers.

Our easy language games will give you a good start by teaching you the individual basic conjunctions and how to build short sentences with them.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Italian Definite and Indefinite Articles - easy Rules

made in Italy stampEnglish speakers have it easy! The ubiquitous “the” makes any English noun definite. But getting the right Italian articles is a little more complicated.

Not only do you have to know the gender – OK, “a” and “o” endings will give you a clue, as long as you also remember some exceptions – but then you have to select among a number of singular and plural forms.

The masculine Italian definite articles are the ones that cause the learner most trouble. Don't despair, however, we'll give you the major rules, as well as a fun game, Italian Articles, so you can remember the rules more easily!

Italian Definite Articles for Masculine:


Singular: il - lo - l'

il: singular nouns that begin with a consonant Italian articles Quick Language Game
• il pranzo - the lunch
• il giorno - the day
• il succo - the juice

lo: singular nouns that begin with s+consonant, y, z, pn, ps, gn
• lo scrittore - the writer
• lo studente - the student
• lo yogurt – the yoghurt
• lo zio - the uncle
• lo pneumatico – the inflatable
• lo psicologo – the psychologist
• lo gnocco – the (small) dumpling

l': singular nouns that begin with a vowel
• l'album - the album
• l'indirizzo - the address
• l'orologio - the clock, watch

Note: The first letter of the word that follows the article determines the form of the article.
• lo zio - the uncle
• il vecchio zio - the old uncle

• l'album - the album
• il nostro album - our album

Plural: i and gli

i: plural nouns that begin with a consonant
• i pranzi
• i giorni
• i nonni

gli: plural nouns that begin with s + consonant, y, z, pn, ps, gn
• gli scrittori
• gli studenti
• gli yogurt
• gli pneumatici
• gli psicologi
• gli gnocchi
Note:  the plural form of “yogurt” doesn't change

gli: plural nouns that begin with a vowel
• gli amici
• gli edifici
• gli ospiti

Gamesforlanguage.com: Italian articles language gameNote: The first letter of the word that follows the article determines the form of the article
• gli amici - the friends
• i miei amici - my friends

• gli studenti - the students
• i tuoi studenti - your students

Italian Indefinite Articles for Masculine

Compared to the definite articles, the masculine singular indefinite articles are pretty easy:
un: for all masculine gender nouns
• un amico - a friend
• un libro - a book
• un succo - a juice

uno: for those beginning with s+ consonant, z, y, pn, ps, gn
uno studente - a student
• uno spazio - a space
• uno zio - an uncle

Italian Definite Articles for Feminine

The feminine Italian definite articles are either la, l', or le, as shown below.

Feminine Singular - Femminile Singolare: la and l'

la: for all feminine nouns (except - see below)
• la scuola - the school
• la ragazza - the girl, girlfriend
• la chiave - the key

l': for a noun that starts with a vowel
• l'ora - the hour
• l'idea - the idea
• l'edicola - the kiosk, newsstand

Femminile Plurale - Feminine Plural: le is used in all cases.

Gamesforlanguage.com's  Italian articles language game• le fotografie - the photos
• le settimane- the weeks
• le notti - the nights

• le ore - the hours
• le opere - the works
• le uve - the grapes

Italian Indefinite Articles for Feminine

una: for all singular feminine nouns 
• una camera - a room
• una domanda - a question

un' : for any feminine nouns beginning with a vowel
• un'idea - an idea
• un'ora - an hour

Partitive Articles and Combinations with Pronouns

Enough grammar rules for now! It's always a good idea to pace yourself and not bite off too much.

We'll cover the “del, dei, dello, della, glielo, glieli, etc.” in another post and have you practice them “playfully” with our language games.

Applying the rules and practicing the Italian articles with their singular and plural forms with as many nouns as you can remember is a worthwhile exercise. Once you got these down pat, it's time to internalize a few other Italian grammar rules.

Let us know any comments or questions below.

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