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Today we’re going to learn about French conjunctions.
What are conjunctions? They are words or phrases that link similar words or groups of works together.
In French, there are two different kinds of conjunctions: coordinating conjunctions (les conjonctions de coordination) and subordinating conjunctions (les conjonctions de subordination). These also exist in English.
Coordinating conjunctions – in English these are words like and, but, for, or, nor, so, and yet — connect words or clauses with EQUAL emphasis. For example, in English you could say: I like apples and oranges. In French, this would be J’aime les pommes et les oranges. Et – which means “and” – is the coordinating conjunction here that connects two words of equal importance to the sentence.
Here’s a list of some more French coordinating conjunctions: car (for, because), donc (so), ensuite (next), et (and), mais (but), or (now, yet), ni (neither), ou (or), ou bien (either/or else), puis (then). In order to correctly use these words, they must join words that are the same part of speech or similar clauses.
Now let’s use some of these conjunctions in example sentences:
Je pense donc je suis (Descartes’ famous phrase) – I think therefore (or so) I am.
Je me lève, puis je me brosse les dents – I wake up, then I brush my teeth.
Je veux le faire, mais je n’ai pas d’argent – I want to do it, but I don’t have any money
Fais tes devoirs et ensuite lave la vaisselle – Do your homework, and then wash the dishes.
Je n’aime ni les lentilles ni les épinards – I like neither lentils nor spinach.
Il était sur de gagner, or il a perdu – He was sure he would win, and yet he lost.
Nous sommes inquiets car il n’est pas encore rentré – We are worried because he hasn’t yet come back.
**Ou bien elle est malade ou bien elle est tres fatigueé – Either she is sick or she is very tired.
Notice that all of these examples either connect the same parts of speech or use similar commands, tenses, or employ similar moods.
**In this sense, ou bien is similar to ou but with enumeration. However, ou bien can be used to mean “or what” informally as well, as in Elle est malade, ou bien?
A tip to help you remember these coordinating conjunctions: French children are taught the mnemonic Mais où est donc Ornicar?, which includes the most common coordinating conjunctions.
French subordinating conjunctions link dependent or subordinate clauses to main clauses. A subordinate clause is a clause that cannot be used alone because its meaning is incomplete without the main clause. For example, if you say: “I’m scared when he travels”, the main clause is “I’m scared”. Why? Because you are not scared all the time, but only when he travels. Here, the word when is the subordinating conjunction, which signals that something happens if and only if the dependent clause occurs first.
Here’s a list of the most common French subordinating conjunctions: comme (as, since), lorsque (when), puisque (since, as), quand (when), que (that), **quoique (even though), and si (if). Unlike coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions can be used at the beginning of a sentence.
Now let’s use these subordinating conjunctions in example sentences:
J’ai dit que j’aime les oranges – I said that I like oranges. Here the main clause is J’ai dit because it doesn’t matter whether or not the speaker actually likes oranges, but rather what matters is that the speaker said he or she likes oranges.
Il est blanc comme neige – It is white like snow. The main clause here is Il est blanc.
Lorsque tu arrives je pars – When you arrive, I’m leaving. Tu arrives is the main clause.
Si tu es le plus intelligent du groupe, prouve-le-nous – If you are the most intelligent of the group, prove it to us. Can you guess what the main clause is here?
Puisque je suis ici, profites-en! – Since I am here, take advantage of it!
**Quoiqu’il ait grandi, il reste le plus petit de sa classe – Even though he grew, he is still the smallest one in his class. What is the main clause in this sentence?
**The conjunction quoique uses the subjunctive, so you should avoid using this if you do not feel comfortable using this advanced tense.
There are also many conjunctive phrases in French, which are two or more words that function together as a conjunction. You can identify many of them because they normally end in que. These include: ainsi que (just so, so as), alors que (while, whereas), après que (after), avant que (before), bien que (although), and many, many more.
Stay tuned next week for our lesson on French conjunctive phrases. And, if you’ve already studied the subjunctive, be sure to brush up on it because many conjunctive phrases are followed by verbs in the subjunctive.
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