French Language Blog

Part 2: Line by Line Lesson: “Le droit à l’erreur” by Amel Bent Posted by on Mar 17, 2016 in Culture, Grammar, Music, Vocabulary

La semaine dernière (last week), I posted microlessons from the first 12 lines of Amel Bent’s Le droit à l’erreur (The Right to be Mistaken). The previous lessons focused on indefinite expressions, multiple word meanings, the 5 senses, negations, le passé composé vs. l’imparfait, the past infinitive, intensifiers, the uses of the word tout,  coordinating conjunctions, and stressed pronouns. Miss the post or need a refresher? Check it out here. What’s in store this week? Read along.

Happy studies!

Today’s lessons start at 1:30 in the song.


Line 13
Et je prétendais tout voir, me voilà dans le noir.
And I could see everything, even myself in the dark.

If you look at the translation, prétendre here does not mean to pretend. It can mean that, but it can also mean to claim. Read Elizabeth’s post on false cognates here!

Voilà has many uses in French, but for this lesson, we’re going to focus on voici vs. voilà. This is one of French’s many confusing pairs, but these are quite easy!

Voilà can translate to “here” or “this.”
Voilà le livre que je vais lire. (Here’s the book I’m going to read.)
Il est en retard. Voilà pourquoi je t’ai dit qu’on pouvait arriver plus tard. (He’s late. This is why I told you we could come later.)

Voici can mean there (opposite of here).
Voici ton livre. (There’s your book)


Line 14
Et mes yeux ne me servent aujourd’hui qu’à pleurer.
But today my eyes can only cry [lit: And my eyes are used for crying today.]

The verb servir means to use, serve, or help, but its meaning can depend on the preposition or object following it. Take a look:

  • servir à quelque chose – to be used for something
  • servir de quelque chose – to serve as something
  • servir quelque chose à quelqu’un – to serve something to someone
  • se servir quelque chose – to help yourself to something
  • se servir de quelque chose – to use something
  • se servir de quelqu’un – to use (take advantage of) someone


Line 15
Est-ce que tu peux entendre et est-ce que tu peux comprendre ?
Can you hear and are you able to understand?

Forming questions seems to cause a lot of problems for learners, but it’s not so difficult. Below I’ve listed the 3 ways to form questions. Elizabeth is working on a series about questions, so be sure to read her posts for even more information.

Est-ce que – tag this in front of an affirmative sentence, and suddenly it’s a question!
Est-ce qu’il a vu le film ? (Did he see the movie?)
You can also tag a question word (pourquoi, quand où, quel) in front of est-ce que:
Quelle émission est-ce que tu regardes ? (What show are you watching?)

Inversion means to flip the order of the subject and the verb. Be sure to separate the two with a hyphen.
Quelle chanson chantes-tu ? (What song are you singing?)
As you can see, just as with est-ce que, you can add question words before the inversion.

The third method is a little more informal, but it’s quite common. No inversion, no tags – just raise your voice at the end of the statement to make it a question.
Tu veux aller prendre un coup ? (Do you want to go have a drink?)


Line 16
Et faire le pas qui peut nous rapprocher?
And make the (first) move to bring us back together?

Pas is a useful little word in French. It’s most often used as a negation marker (Je n’aime pas la musique country / I don’t like country music.), but it has some other uses as well.

Le pas in this song means move or step. Other definitions include:

  • footstep/footprint
  • pace
  • pass (geographical)
  • strait
  • walk (as in marcher au pas)
  • step
  • stride

A few expressions:

  • à pas d’heure – far too late
  • à pas de loup – stealthily
  • approcher à grands pas – to be just around the corner


Line 17
J’ai perdu la direction et le sens
I’ve lost (all) direction and the way

How are you with direction? Mon sens de l’orientation (my sense of direction) is awful. Praise the GPS gods! Below I’ve listed les points cardinaux (the cardinal directions). Just whip out ta boussole (compass) to see what’s in front of you.

  • nord
  • est
  • sud
  • ouest

Each direction also has adjectival forms:

  • nord: nordique, arctique
  • est: oriental (easy to remember! Oriental rugs from form the East.)
  • sud: méridional, antarctique
  • ouest: occidental


Line 18
Je ne sais pas tenir la distance.
I can’t stay the course.

By itself, tenir can mean to hold, take, grasp, hold on to, run (a business, for example), or to fit. Below I’ve listed its meaning when surrounded by other words and its usage in expressions:

  • tenir à quelque chose – to stick to something
  • tenir à quelqu’un – to care about someone
  • tenir à faire quelque chose – to be anxious to do something
  • se tenir – to stand/remain/stay/behave
  • se tenir une belle – three sheets to the wind (drunk!)
  • se tenir prêt – to be ready
  • tenir sa langue – to watch your mouth
  • tenir en place – to stand still
  • ne tenir à rien – to not take much
  • ne tenir qu’à un fil – to hang by a thread


Line 19
Est-ce que mes regrets peuvent suffire
Can my regrets be enough

Having regrets is an uncomfortable feeling, but maybe learning this will make you feel better: Regretter in French means to regret or to be sorry about something, but it can also be a nostalgic verb to express something you miss.

Je regrette nos nuits ensemble. (I miss our nights together) – This can indeed have 2 meanings…

Bonus: Do you know the story of Orpheus and Eurydice? Jacques Offenbach adapted this story as une opérette (an operetta), and in it, we learn that Eurydice is having an affair (and the husband is just as guilty!) and is tricked into going to Hades with her new beau. There, she’s locked in a room and is bored to tears. In this clip, she expresses her boredom: « Personne encore. Pas de nouvelle. Ah, mais c’est intolérable ! Je m’ennuie épouvantablement ici ! » (Still no one. No news. Ah, this is intolerable! I’m frightfully bored here). After she sings about the bad time she’s having, she says if this continues, « je vais regretter mon mari ». Check out the translation for regretter!


Line 20
Effacer le mal des mots qu’on peut dire
To erase the wrong [caused by] words we say

Mal and mauvais have been known to cause headaches for French learners since they’re often translated the same way. No worries, though:

Mal is mostly an adverb in French.
J’ai mal dormi. (I slept badly).

Mauvais is mostly an adjective in French.
C’est un mauvais film. (It’s a bad movie.)

So how do you know which to use? Generally speaking:

If it’s a question of ethics or morality, use mal. Talking about something immoral? Mal.
C’est mal de voler. (It’s bad to steal.)

If something is bad for you, use mauvais. Talking about taste? Mauvais. Bad at something in school? Mauvais.
C’est mauvais pour la santé.
(That’s bad for your health).


Line 21
Et nous redonner des couleurs ?
And help us get our colors back?

The re- prefix is so useful. Tag it in front of a verb or noun, and you have a new word! Officially it doesn’t always work, but you’ll most likely be understood. Just like in English, re- means to repeat something or to do it again.

General rules:

  • Re- is added to words starting with a consonant – just like in the song: redonner
  • Res- is added to a verb already beginning with an -s, like ressortir.
  • In front of an h muet, the re- generally becomes condenses to r-: rhabiller: to get dressed again
  • In front of a vowel, re- becomes ré- or r-: rééquilibrer (to restore balance).


Line 22
Est-ce que mon amour peut suffire
Can my love be enough

If you’ve used pick-up lines to find your one true love, you’ve probably started calling each other pet names. French also has these terms of endearment. Some of them sound odd (would you want to be lovingly called a cabbage?), but they are indeed used! Want to know a few? Look no further!

Pour les hommes (for the men)

  • mon gros – my fat one
  • mon chéri – my darling
  • mon chat – my cat
  • mon choupinet – comes from mon chou (my cabbage)

Pour les femmes (for the women)

  • ma biche – my doe
  • ma chérie – my darling
  • ma poule – my hen
  • ma puce – my flea


Line 23
Et qu’un jour enfin tu pourras m’offir
And one day will you finally be able to offer me

Pouvoir is one of those must know French verbs along with être, avoir, and aller. It’s extremely important and extremely irregular. It means “to be able to,” and you’ll often see it translated as can. Can you (pouvez-vous) identify which tense pouvoir is being conjugated in below? Answers are at the bottom of the post.

  1. tu pourrais
  2. vous avez pu
  3. ils pouvaient
  4. tu pourras
  5. elle puisse
  6. puis-je


Line 24
Le droit à l’erreur ?
The right to be mistaken?

Enfin (finally), the last line and the title of the song! We all make mistakes. We’re human. This right is called le droit à l’erreur. Sometimes, though, things have to be perfect, and there’s no room for error. The French translation for having no room for error is not literal and is quite easy: ne pas avoir le droit à l’erreur.




Pouvoir answers: 1. le conditionnel; 2. le passé composé; 3. l’imparfait; 4. le futur; 5. le subjonctif; 6. le présent

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About the Author: Josh Dougherty

Just your typical francophile. If you have any topics you'd like me to discuss, feel free to let me know!