French Language Blog

French Grammar: Ça alors! (How About That!) Posted by on Feb 27, 2014 in Grammar, Vocabulary

Let’s quickly quiz your French grammar: Can you tell what the difference is between ça, “çà“, and “sa“?

Ça“, “çà“, and “sa“: Just take a look at them. All three se prononcent exactement de la même façon (are pronounced exactly the same way.)

How on Earth then are we to tell them apart—especially if we are to run into them in the middle of a conversation, par exemple?

The answer is in fact quite simple, and holds in one beautiful word: *Contexte.*

It is all about the context of the conversation, indeed.

* First “Çà“, as un adverbe (an adverb):

As an adverb, it is easy to recognize “çà“, since it invariably occurs in the expression “çà et là“, meaning “here and there”, and can alternatively be expressed by “par-ci, par-là.

  • Here’s un exemple: “Il voulut prendre le pont Saint-Michel, des enfants y couraient çà et là avec des lances à feu et des fusées.” (“He wanted to take the Saint-Michel bridge, where kids were running here and there with flamethrowers and rockets.”) (Victor Hugo)
* Then “Ça“, as un pronom (a pronoun):

The “ça“, without an accent, is easily identifiable.
The best way to recognize it is by looking at the context of the sentence to verify whether one can replace it with “cela”, of which it is a shorthand.

Notice that the contraction of cela into ça is mainly acceptable in informal French, such as in daily conversations.
In the formal written French, however, one should avoid the use of “ça” instead of cela at all costs.
* Finally, “Sa“, as un déterminant (a determinant):
There’s an easy way to avoide mistakes about this one: Just try to replace “sa” with another determinant, such as “le” or “la“, “mon” or “ma“, etc., and then check if the newly formed sentence makes sense to you!
  • Example: “Il a bien retenu sa leçon” (“He learned his lesson well.”)
  • It can alternatively work for “J’ai bien retenu ma leçon” (“I learned well my lesson”)
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