December 19, 2009

New article on web site localisation

Readers may be interested in a new article I posted a few days on web site localisation. The article explores some of the issues involved the actual translation process, but also some of the technical points that are worth considering.

A broad issue that I repeatedly see in localisation is that developers often don't get the translator involved in the early stages of the project, either because they don't think to do so, or because it's just not practical to do so from the point of view of their project workflow. Broad recommendations I would suggest at a relatively early stage (see the article for more details on some of these) include:
  • build into your design some flexibility in terms of field lengths and validation on your DB (such-and-such a field may need to accept a different range of characters and/or length once localised);
  • test at an early stage that you can correctly place accented characters in fields (e.g. web forms) and have them safely saved to your database and retrieved again without any corruption; similarly, ensure that accented characters in your copy appear properly;
  • check that your page layouts and web forms do not depend on the particular length of strings in English;
  • try not to share messages/string properties that are superficially similar but have clearly different uses (don't share the same string property for "up" meaning "to the top of the page" and "higher price")-- and as an approximate way of finding these ambiguous cases, one strategy is to have a separate properties file for each major section of your site, even if this means repeating some strings in English (their translations may differ);
  • find out what localisation features are present in the programming language you are using, and consider whether you need to use each one (e.g. for sorting data in Java, it is preferable to use a Collator rather than the Collections.sort() call in its raw form).
From a practical viewpoint, you should also allow extra time for the translation and localisation process. Beyond the usual recommended timescale of around 1 day per 2,000 words for the translation itself, bear in mind that there may be extra file conversion/importing/exporting involved that will take extra time.

November 30, 2009

Dictionary update fixed

In yesterday's update to the French dictionary, a few basic words were temporarily missed out. The error has now been fixed. Apologies to those who were told that some basic words such as habiter could not be found...!

November 29, 2009

New URL for translation newsletter

The URL for signing up for the translation mailing list has changed. For those interested in signing up, please go to the following address:

Those signing up will receive e-mail notifications of free and reduced-price translation offers in the future. Providing accurate details will help to make sure that you are informed of offers most appropriate to your needs. When signing up, please take care to enter a correct e-mail address!

For beta testers: corrections to pronunciation section

For beta testers of the French pronunciation section: a few corrections have been made to the pronunciations of words with accents (to correct character encoding problem).

Dictionary entries include present subjunctive

As you have probably noticed, entries for verbs in the French dictionary contain a "mini verb table" listing some of the most common verb forms for that verb. A minor change has been made so that these tables now display the present subjunctive form of the verb.

As explained in more detail in the French grammar section, the subjunctive forms are special forms used to mark a non-assertion. In other words, they're the rough equivalent of English structures such as him coming, for them to help, where the emphasis is not so much on an actual action taking place, but more on a "snapshot" of an envisaged situation.

For most verbs, the subjunctive forms are not so complicated provided you know the "normal" (indicative) present tense plus, for the nous and vous forms, the French imperfect tense. However, for a few verbs, subjunctive forms can look quite different from the normal present tense form. (For example, the present tense of aller is usually je vais etc, but the corresponding subjunctive form is j'aille.)

November 27, 2009

French 'SMS speak' decode reinstated

On the automatic French translation page, the "Decode SMS speak" function has been reinstanted. This function replaces some common SMS abbreviations used in French text messages so that the machine translator can understand them.

For example, c will be expanded to c'est; chuis to je suis; koi to quoi etc.

Certain more complex forms are also expanded: for example, jmappel will be expanded to je m'appelle. The SMS decoder is in constant development-- watch this space for further improvements!

Please note that the automatic translator is designed for translating whole sentences/paragraphs of text. For single words, it is still recommended that you use the French dictionary.

November 25, 2009

Today's French dictionary update

A number of new entries and improvements in both the English-French and French-English sides of the dictionaries have been uploaded today.

November 2, 2009

French dictionay update

As usual, today's update to the French dictionary adds various new entries and improvements to various English-French entries.

A question I've been asked a couple of times is whether I would like to be notified of missing entries. So I'd like to take this opportunity to ensure users that the dictionary system automatically notifies me of this and various other issues (including, for example, frequently consulted entries that contain few examples and are thus prime candidates for being expanded).

If you do find that the dictionary doesn't provide enough examples of a particular word, then remember that another useful resource is the translation examples site, which allows you to search a public domain database of translations between French and English (and various other language pairs).

November 1, 2009

Bug fix to verb conjugations

A problem has now been fixed that was causing certain verb conjugations not to appear. French verb conjugations may now be displayed by any of the following means:
  • from the French grammar page, by clicking on one of the verbs in the list in the Verb Conjugations section (the green boxed section);
  • from entries in the French dictionary: as you are probably aware, in entries for verbs, forms for four common tenses are displayed within the entry itself (present, imperfect, future and perfect), but clicking on the link marked Click here to see the full conjugation will now display the full conjugation for all verbs (thus fixing a problem whereby certain verbs with accented letters did not display properly);
  • advanced users may also link directly to the conjugation of a particular verb (see below).
To link directly to a verb conjugation from your web site, simply construct a URL of the following form:
placing immediately before the .html the infinitive of the verb you wish to be conjugated (in these examples, "regarder" and "se taire" are chosen). In the second case, adding "R" before the final .html indicates that the conjugation of a "reflexive" (pronominal) verb is to be displayed.

Sign up to the translation newsletter

Those who may be requiring the site's translation services are encouraged to sign up to the translation newsletter. This newsletter will be sent out on a regular basis to inform subscribers about translation offers and other news relating to the translation service.

Anybody may sign up. However, the newsletter is particularly aimed at companies and individuals who have regular translation needs (in particular, who typically need at least 1 document translated every month). When signing up, please ensure that you provide an accurate e-mail address.

You're also invited to provide some approximate information about your translation needs. If you can provide this information, then it will allow you to be informed of offers that are suited to your particular requirements. For other translation-related enquiries, please contact

French wordsearches reinstated

Eagle-eyed users of the French Linguistics web site will have noticed that the French wordsearches were not working over this weekend. The problem appears to have been caused by an update performed on Friday evening and has now been fixed. Apologies for the inconvenience caused to our wordsearch addicts.

Update and minor disruptions today

The French Linguistics site will undergo some occasional short disruptions today as some updates and bug fixes are applied to the site. Apologies for the inconvenience. If you find that a particular feature isn't working, you are advised to try again in 5 minutes.

October 25, 2009

French/English dictionary update

Today's update adds various new entries to the French dictionary and follows in the wake of other recent updates by including various improvements to commonly consulted entries in the English-French side of the dictionary.

October 11, 2009

Dictionary update

Today saw another action-packed update of the French-English and English-French sides of the dictionary. Hurray!

Article on translation of advertising material

Readers interested in translation are invited to read a new article I have written on the translation of advertising material. The article examines some of the issues involved in translating on-line advertising material and how this differs from the translation of ordinary material.

As explored in the article, one of the challenges with translating on-line adverts comes in translating the associated keywords which you may be bidding on in your campaigns, showing some of the considerations which a good translator must take into account.

October 7, 2009

Discounted German language software

Some readers of this blog and users of the French Linguistics site will be interested in languages more generally, so this is just a little note to point out that Amazon US are currently offering a fairly substantial discount on Instant Immersion German Deluxe. In case you're not familiar with the series, the Instant Immersion software offers a range of audio and video-based material aimed at beginner to intermediate learners.

Instant Immersion French
was reviewed on the site a few months ago.

October 5, 2009

500th forum member; dictionary update

Good news, everybody.

The French language forum has reached its 500th member! Many thanks to all those who participate in the forum, be it to ask questions about French or to help learners. If you haven't discovered it yet, the forum is a great community for expanding your knowledge of French, even if you're just beginning, or simply for chatting to other French speakers and learners.

I'd like to take this opportunity to plug the on-line "chat" function. A few regulars are already using it, but it would be nice to see more users taking advantage.

On a smaller note, the English-French side of the dictionary has today seen a few more additions, as part of an ongoing effort to improve the entries to various commonly looked up words.

October 3, 2009

English-French dictionary update

Today's update to the dictionary focuses on various new entries and improvements to existing entries in the English-French dictionary. New and/or improved entries have been included for various frequently looked up words, including special entries for various conjugated forms of verbs.

September 14, 2009

French dictionary update

Today's update to the French dictionary includes a variety of new words and improvements to existing entries. Specific updates include:
  • various new terms added in the fields of computing;
  • various new terms of French and English legalese;
  • improvements to various entries in the English-French side of the dictionary.
As usual, your feedback is always welcome on how useful you found the dictionary for a particular purpose.

Readers are also reminded that the French language forum is a useful source of information on a variety of topics, such as interpreting or translating a particular sentence of French.

September 8, 2009

400 forum members and counting!

A big thank-you to everyone who's been contributing to various interseting discussions recently on the French language forum. We've now reached over 400 members. Whilst it's surely true that not all of these members continue to be active, it's nonetheless a great milestone and it's good to see that so many people have passed through at one time or another with their questions. Keep them coming!

August 20, 2009

Automatic translation tool undergoing maintenance

The automatic translation tool is currently undergoing maintance and will be off line for a few days. Meanwhile, you may use:
  • the site's French dictionary for looking up individual French words;
  • the French language forum, where you may ask questions about the French language or get help with your French homework; for small, informal sentences for non-commercial use, people will often be happy to help you translate your sentence free of charge;
  • the site's professional translation service for getting documents translated (please note that this is a paid service, whereby your document is translated by professional translators; it is not a free service, and is not available for very short texts).

August 2, 2009

English-French dictionary update

Today's update focusses primarily on improvements to various entries in the English-French side of the dictionary. The entries to various commonly lookuped up words have been expanded and clarified.

July 4, 2009

This week on the forum

As usual, we've seen various interesting discussions this week on the French language forum. It's interesting to see how on various occasions, a simple, innocent query about the meaning of a word or phrase can spiral into a discussion of various grammar and vocabulary points.

Some threads not to miss:
  • a discussion around expressing obligation in French, which ends up touching on the somewhat quirky behaviour of the French verb obliger, and some aspects of the use of à and de before verbs in French;
  • an overview of the curious form l'on in French: a variant of on which occurs under certain circumstances, but not others;
  • a look at the French negative with 'de': the general use of the determiner de instead of other indefinite determiners when the entire sentence is negated.
Various entries also centre on choices between sentences produced by machine translation systems. If you use such a system, it's important to understand some of the implications. Among other reading, I'd recommend an article I wrote recently on Machine Translation.

June 27, 2009

200th forum member

The French forum now counts over 200 members, with discussions ranging from simple homework help to details of French grammar to cultural issues. Thank you to everyone who participating in what are some very interesting and helpful discussions.

June 19, 2009

French dictionary update

Another small update to the French dictionary today to fix one or two minor typos and add a few more words and phrases. My thanks as usual to those who have written to me to mention typos that they have spotted and to make other suggestions. Your feedback is always welcome.

June 18, 2009

New translation submission tool

The home page of the French Linguistics translation service now contains a new tool to make it easier to get a quote and submit that document for translation. The tool appears in the top-right of the page under the heading Instant translation quote. Submitting the document is simple: select the "Browse" button next to the File field to select the document that you need translating. Then, indicate which language you wish to have the document translated into, and enter a contact e-mail, before hitting the quote button. An approximate price for translation will then be displayed on screen, and you will be able to decide whether to submit the document for final approval.

It is important to note that at this point you are not committing to anything. Your document will shortly be reviewed and you will be e-mailed with confirmation of the price and proposed delivery time. At this point, any queries about your document may also be raised. For translation to go ahead, you will then be required to reply to the e-mail with confirmation.

Note that the automated quoting tool is currently available for certain document types and target languages only. If you have several documents or if the document type and/or language required isn't supported, please submit your document manually.

Why are these steps necessary? Well, they're essential to getting you the best possible translation. It is impossible for a translator to give a reliable quote and delivery time without having seen the document first, and no reputable translator or translation agency should do so. (As mentioned in a previous post, be very wary of any company that does give a firm price or deadline commitment without having first seen the actual document to be translated: if they underquote on either price or delivery time, they may be forced to cut corners and compromise translation quality in order to meet the commitment.)

New topic: French marketing terms

Those using French for business may be interested in a page of French marketing terms added to the French vocabulary and phrases section of the web site.

Other sections that may be of interest:

June 15, 2009

New vocab topic: tax and finance in French

A new French vocabulary topic added to the French Linguistics site looks at French finance terms. At present, the terms specifically cover tax and investment. Suggestions for additional terms are also welcome.

June 12, 2009

Getting the best translation results

As part of running the French Linguistics site, I provide various translation services, notably translations into and out of French and Spanish, where necessary in collaboration with a network of other freelance translators in order to bring the best experts together on a given job. I thought it would be worth clarifying a couple of points here about how to make translation services work best for you, and to help you find the right service.

If you want to get the best translation results, the first thing to consider is making sure your text is well-written in the first place. Are there any parts that would be open to misinterpretation by another reader knowledgeable in the field?

In general, you should then always provide the doument to be translated in your initial contact. You'd never call your plumber and say "I've got this job for you to do and I want to know how much it'll cost, but I'm not going to tell you what it is that I want you to do". But it's amazing how many people contact translators expecting to get a quote on a "miscellaneous document". As a general rule of thumb, no reputable translator will agree to a price without first seeing the document that you need translated. Unless you've really made special arrnagements otherwise, then as a rule of thumb, if you are ever given a quote without having supplied the document, alarm bells should probably be ringing.

The same is true of deadlines. Translators can give a rough words-per-day estimate, but no reputable translator will commit to a given deadline without having seen the document. A thousand words of one document may require much more time than a thousand words of another.

The next thing that can help speed up the process is to be specific about which parts of the document need to be translated and in what format you require the translation. It may be obvious to you that you only need columns one and two of the three-column PDF you sent, but unless you explicitly state that, you may risk waiting for and getting billed for a translation you don't need. For similar reasons, if you send additional files "for reference" that don't need translating, be very specific about this. A reputable translator will always query in case of doubt, but it is good to be specific from the outset.

If you need to translate business documents, try and see the translation as an important part of the process, whose results will affect the impression that readers of the document have about your company. Properly budget for the time required to get a quality translation (ideally, at least a day or more per 2,000 words on average); don't just go for a cheap "rush job".

If quality is important to you, then don't engage in cowboy practices. Reputable translators should generally not engage in practices such as discounting repeated words (the translation may depend on context) or discounting names (names may also require translation, choice of spelling alternatives, and the choice of surrounding words may depend on the name-- in short, names are part of the translatin too!). If a translator or translation company agrees to such practices, it is likely that the quality of your translation will be compromised.

Finally, as mentioned in the section on book translation, you may need to adjust the layout of your document to accommodate the extra length (or diminished length, depending on direction) of the translation. As rough guide, English text translated into French typically has 20-30% more words compared to the original. (This increase is generally due to certain company grammatical structures that English has, but other languages such as French do not.)

For a good translation, you should expect to pay around 50-60 Euros per 1000 words at the very least, and more for specific circumstances such as an unusual language pair or for extra reviewing time. Sometimes translators can quote less than this if it's a document they know they can translate quickly and accurately, e.g. because it's very similar to one they've translated before. But in general, if you are ever given a quote for much less than this-- especially by an agency-- then that is probably a sign that cowboy practices are being employed, such as using a machine translation or not having the text translated or properly reviewed by a native speaker of the target language.

French Dictionary update

As usual, today's update to the French dictionary adds various new words and translations.

One interesting word that was missing, and is still missing from various of the large paper dictionaries, is étasunien, a neologism derived from États-Unis, and becoming increasingly common in journalistic writing. It came to my attention particularly this week as I was working on some translations for a UK newspaper. As rightly pointed out by my collaborator, although a slightly ugly word, it covers cases where a degree of "neutrality" is required: although the term américain is commonly used in French (as indeed the word American in English) to imply "from the US", there are various countries that consider themselves to be part of "America", but not part of the US. We were then faced with an interesting translation problem: where to draw the line between not wishing to express political or cultural bias, and avoiding a slightly awkward neologism where such a word was not present in the original text. When making a decision between, say, troupes américaines and troupes étasuniennes, there's some balance to strike between how well the text "reads" and politcal correctness. I hope in this case that we struck the right balance.

June 4, 2009

French Dictionary update

The latest update to the French-English dictionary adds various new words and terms, plus corrections to various entries.

Various improvements have also been made based on comments left by users on individual entries. I'd like to thank all those who have left comments.

May 24, 2009

Review: DK Visual French-English Bilingual Dictionary

A visual dictionary is an excellent way to learn or browse vocabulary by topic rather than alphabetically. The concept of a visual or pictorial dictionaries is nothing new: they've been around for a long time in technical spheres, for example.

The DK Visual French-English Bilingual dictionary, recently reviewed on the French Linguistics web site, strikes an excellent balance between range of vocabulary and avoiding too much detail or complication that could be daunting for intermediate learners. Rather than concentrating on technical topics, the dictionary covers many everyday topics such as travel, restaurants, the home, parts of the body etc, but with just that little more detail and ease of organisation compared to basic vocabulary books. As mentioned at the end of the review, modern technology means you can take the guesswork out of deciding if this dictionary is right for you. Use Amazon's the Look Inside option, and then click the Surprise Me! button to flick to a random page. Keep flicking to browse different topics and see if the dictionary looks right for you.

Interestingly, various other traditional dictionaries are also now available with this Look Inside option.

May 23, 2009

This week on the forum

This week has seen a few interesting discussions on the French language forum, which I'd urge you to take a look at if you've not already paid it a visit. Some of my own contributions come in the form of the French Word of the Day category: each day, I'll be posting a word that is "interesting" in some way-- for example because it illustrates a useful basic grammar point, or because it has some interesting history to it. The French slang system verlan also had a mention this week.

Other questions posted by members of the group (of which we now have nearly a hundred and this number is growing every day), hit on a range of topics such as the pronunciation of certain words, or various translation and grammar difficulties that cropped up in certain sentences.

I'd like to take this opportunity to mention a couple of tips on posting. The first is, if it's easy for you to do, please try and put accents on French words and sentences, although I appreciate that on some keyboards/setups, this is cumbersome. Windows users may be interested in the French Linguistics article on how to type accents in Windows-- if you're going to be dealing a lot with French, it is definitely worth finding out how to get the accents. The other tip is simply a reminder that the forums allow you to use formatting such as bold and italic if this makes you post clearer. A convention that I like to use, for example, is to put French words in bold and translations in italics.

Anyway, enjoy the forum, and I look forward to some interesting discussions over the next week!

May 22, 2009

Book review: Correct your Spanish Blunders

Those who have read my review of Correct your French Blunders may be interested in its counterpart, Correct your Spanish Blunders. For those who know the French book, its Spanish cousin offers much of the same type of pragmatic advice. In other words, for most students who don't want to get too bogged down in too many tricky details, it will be an excellent companion through high school level Spanish, or an excellent way to "fill in the gaps" in your knowledge at this level. (Note that, in the case of both books, more advanced students will be looking for something more in-depth.)

May 19, 2009

Software review: Instant Immersion French

A new addition to the French reviews section of the web site looks at a piece of software called Instant Immersion French. The software provides a number of vocabulary and grammar-based exercises, some traditional, some less traditional. Generally, a good variety of types of exercise are provided.

One of the most interesting features of this software is its use of speech input as well as output. As well as listening to recordings of various French speakers, you are encouraged to take to the microphone and practise various dialogues, pronunciation exercises and other activities into which speech has been integrated.

The Deluxe version reviewed represents particularly good value as in addition to the program itself, some "bonus" CDs and DVD are included, along with a simple point-and-click French adventure.

Note that the program is primarily of interest to learners at lower levels, although, as discussed in the review, if you have various people in your household learning at a mixture of levels, there may be something in the product for more advanced speakers in the adventure game and in some of the more advanced information in the grammar section of the program.

May 17, 2009

Translation examples: searching for accented words

A couple of minor improvements have been made to the Translation Examples service to allow more reliabe searching of words with accented characters (or charcters not from the "standard" Roman alphabet, such as the German ß).

In general, you can simply search for a word without including the accents. (If a version of the word you enter exists both with and without accent(s), then examples of both words will be returned.) This includes the c cedilla used in French and Portuguese. In German, to search for a word with ß, replace this with ss (in any case, the choice between ß and ss is arbitrary and subject to variation, not helped by the recent Rechtschreibreform).

At present, when you look up conjugated or delcined forms (e.g. different tense forms of verbs), these will be treated as separate words. For example, looking up the French form trouverai (afuture tense form of trouver) will list example translations including specifically the form trouverai (and not, say, trouver, trouveras etc).

This has advantages and disadvantages, and is something that will be thought about more as the site matures. On the one hand, the translation often isn't dependent per se on the particular person form, and a change in tense form often results in an uninteresting, predictable change in the translation. On the other hand, there are times when a change in one of these factors can bring about a less obvious change in the translation.

As always, feedback on the example translation search is welcome, and can be left as a comment on this blog entry, or on the French Language forum.

May 5, 2009

Translation examples now available from English

Users of the French Linguistics site may be interested to know that the Translation Examples search engine now supports searching for translations of English words. You can now search English-French, English-Spanish, English-Portuguese, English-Dutch and English-German (as well as the reverse of these pairs).

May 2, 2009

Translation examples

The first version of an additional tool is now available for advanced language students and professional translators. At, you'll now find a translation example search engine that lets you search for examples of translations between various languages and English. At the moment, you can search for translations from French, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Dutch.

When you look up a word, you are presented with a list of sentences containing that word, plus English translations of those sentences. At present, the example translations are drawn from a bank of around 1,000,000 translated sentences from the Europarl corpus (a set of proceedings from the Euopean Parliament that, along with their corresponding translations, have been placed in the public-domain). It is likely that other corpora will be added in the near future.

Note that this example translations database should be seen as a complement to, rather than replacement for, the regular French dictionary.

May 1, 2009

350 new French wordsearches

Whether you're a wordsearch addict quarantined in your home during a swine flu outbreak, or a teacher looking for an end-of-term activity, you may be interested in the new set of 350 French wordsearches now available from the French Linguistics site. A small charge is made for the download, but the wordsearches cover more topics, come in more sizes, and include answers.

The sample of free wordsearches and crosswords is still also available, and in any case, you're advised to try these to make sure that the wordsearches will suit your needs if you decide to go for the whole set of 350.

Teachers may be interested to know that the 5 USD download fee also include permission to print out and/or photocopy any of the wordsearches as many times as you require for distributing to teachers/students at your establishment (or to any of your private students if you're a private French tutor). Similarly, if you're a student, you may give printouts of the wordsearches to any of your classmates/coursemates.

The wordsearches are downloadable in PDF format. You'll need a PDF reader such as Adobe Reader (downloadable free of charge for most platforms). Strictly speaking, you need a reader than can read PDF format 1.2 or later. On mainstream platforms, that means practically any PDF reader in the world. If you're using a more "exotic" platform such as a ZX Spectrum / Commodore Amiga etc, please check!

April 24, 2009

Is England the "pays du shake-hand"?

British prime minister Gordon Brown finally acted this week in an attempt to disspell the French myth that England is the so-called pays du shake-hand.

April 14, 2009

New French Language forum

The French Linguistics site now has a new-look French Language forum. Come and be among the first to post new questions or have a discussion about anything French. The new forum is at:

The new forum offers better features, such as formatted text in entries. If you don't find the category you're looking for, let me know!

Note that the old forum will shortly be retired. A few recent posts will be migrated to the new forum.

Look forward to seeing you there!

GCSE French: Hints and Tips

If you're about to take your GCSEs (or just learning for next year), you might be interested in the following resources available on the French Linguistics web site.

April 12, 2009

Dictionary update

Today's update to the dictionary contains improvements to various English-French entries.

March 30, 2009

How to say 'who' in French

I was recently revising the English-French entry for the word who and felt that, in addition to the dictionary entry, some words of explanation may help. Who is one of those awkward little words that feels like it should be simple, but sometimes things aren't that straightforward. It's also a frequently searched-for word in the dictionary.

Who when used to ask a question

When used to ask a question, the French word for who is practically always qui. But as with asking questions in French generally, what happens to the rest of the sentence can be more tricky.

In informal speech, a very common way to ask a question is to use what's technically called an in situ question. This is a question with "normal sentence order". In English, in situ questions are generally only used for emphasis or to suggest surprise ("you saw who yesterday?"). But in French, at least in informal speech, they're a common, neutral way of asking a question:

(1) T'as vu qui?
Literally: "You've seen who?"
Who did you see?
Vous voyez qui ce soir?
Literally: "You are-seeing who this evening"
Who are you seeing this evening?

(2) Elle vient avec qui?
Literally: "She comes with who?"
Who's she coming with?

(3) Qui est là?
Who's there?
Qui vient demain?
Who's coming tomorrow?

When qui is the subject of the verb, as in the last example, the verb generally takes the il/elle (3rd person singular) form. As in English, a common exception is qui sont...? for who are...?. Notice too that the abbreviated form t'as is common in this informal style, whereas in more formal/careful speech and writing, the form would be tu as. To give you an idea of level of formality, (1) and (2) would be acceptable when talking with or writing an e-mail to a friend (or in an on-line chat session). (3) is pretty much always acceptable: when qui is the subject, there's really no other place in the sentence to move it to...!

Qui can also be used with est-ce que, often used as a general "question marker" in French. However, as the subject, the form is qui est-ce qui. (If you're not familiar with the notions of subject and object, then roughly speaking, qui is the subject when it is asking about who is doing the action, and the object when asking about who is receiving it; another way of looking at things is that it's probably the subject if there isn't some other subject[1]!) Here are some example sentences with qui est-ce que and qui est-ce qui:

Qui est-ce qui vient?
Who's coming?
Qui est-ce que tu as vu hier?
Who did you see yeterday?
Avec qui est-ce qu'il vient?
Who is he coming with?

These forms are not particularly informal or formal: they would generally be acceptable in most spoken and written contexts. Notice how in French, you would never split up avec qui, whereas in English, it sounds quite unnatural not to use the formula who ... with?.

In formal French, if qui is the object of the verb (or of a preposition), then it can be used with inversion: qui invitez-vous?; avec qui vient-il?. When inversion is acceptable, which form is used and how formal it sounds is quite a complex issue. At GCSE/SAT level, try and make sure you understand inversion, but you'll generally not need to use it.

Who in relative clauses

Something that occurs in various languages is that the words used to ask questions are also used to introduce relative clauses: in other words, a description that is a "sentence inside a sentence", as in the man who I saw yesterday.

In these cases, French uses qui for the subject and que for the object. For example:

L'ami qui vient demain...
The friend who's coming tomorrow...
L'homme qui m'a aidé.
The man who helped me.
(qui is the subject of 'vient'/'aider')

L'ami que je vois ce soir...
The friend who I'm seeing tonight...
L'homme que j'ai vu hier.
The man who I saw yesterday.
(que is the object of 'vois'/'ai vu': notice how there's another subject, je, as a clue that qui/que can't be the subject in this case)

However, qui is still used for the object of a preposition:

L'ami avec qui je sors ce soir.
The friend who I'm going out with tonight.

Notice that in standard French, avec qui is not split up, whereas in English the usual formula is to split up who ... with. Some French speakers might actually sometimes say "...que je sors avec", but this is definitely non-standard, would be consider "uneducated" by many speakers, and would be avoided in more careful speech and writing. For more details about this construction, see Ball, R. (2000) referenced below.

[1] A more formal definition is that the subject is the part of the sentence that the verb "agrees" with.

Further reading

For an overview of the standard question forms with qui, see Price (2007), A Comprehensive French Grammar, pages 194 onwards.
For information about various non-standard question forms and relative clauses that occur in colloquial speech, I recommend Ball, R. (2000), Colloquial French Grammar. See pages 26-55.

March 28, 2009

65% off Dragon Naturally Speaking

Just in case anyone doesn't see the big picture on the dictionary home page, Amazon have a 65%-off offer today on Dragon NaturallySpeaking dictation software. This would appear to be an excellent deal that I wanted to bring to the attention of users of the site, since they may be interested in language-related software. Unfortunately, this offer does appear to be only on the English version of the software (i.e. it can perform speech recognition and text-to-speech on English, but not other languages; other language versions of the software are available, but not with the offer at present). Still, it's well worth knowing about.

Note that a few negative reviews point to problems in the installation process rather than the quality of the actual software, which generally appears to get a high rating. Contrary to some of the comments, a free Vista 64-bit upgrade is now available from the Nuance web site.

March 13, 2009

French dictionary update

Today's update to the French dictionary improves on the entries to various common words and adds various new words and phrases in various scientific fields. This new vocabulary reflects various recent coinages such as:
  • from sociology, mème and mémétique
  • from the field of crime and security, the entry for passeport now includes passeport biométrique
  • from the field of medicine, terms including myositis and anticholestérol
  • from the field of business, brevetabilité and troll de brevets
  • from the field of maths, various terms not necessarily newly coined but lacking from the dictionary, such as parallélipède and various types of triangle
Note that these are only a sample of the new terms added.

February 19, 2009

New French vocab and grammar content

The following new pages have been added to the site:

February 18, 2009

Dictionary update

The latest update to the French dictionary includes:
  • various geographical names that have recently occurred in news articles
  • various frequently-occurring declined forms (e.g. feminine forms, conjugated forms of verbs) with token translations to help readers (note that in general, conjugated verb forms can all be looked up in the dictionary, and you will be told which verb the form is from, and which tense and person the form is)
  • improvements to the entries of various common words.

February 14, 2009

Power outage 14 Feb

A severe data centre power failure caused this and other sites to be down for most of the morning (US) / afternoon (UK/Europe). Apologies for the outage, which was beyond mine and many people's control...!