Savoir ou connaître ? How to say “to know” in French.

Savoir ou connaître ? The French language has two different verbs that mean “to know”. Here’s a flowchart I created to help you decide when you should use each one.

The first part (the flowchart) is very straightforward and fairly easy to remember. I recommend that you practice each usage thoroughly before moving on to the next.

Sections 1 to 4 are the easiest. Once you have mastered them, you can slowly progress to sections 5 and 6, as well as the exceptions.

drawit-diagram-1

Further practice activities

1. The following numbers correspond to sections 1 to 4 in the flowchart above. Click on each song title to hear French songs that illustrate the use of « savoir » and « connaître », as explained in the similarly numbered flowchart sections. These are external links, so there is no guarantee how long they will be live.

         -1-  Jean Gabin: « Maintenant, je sais »

         -2-  Charles Aznavour : « Il faut savoir »;  Emily Loizeau : « Je ne sais pas choisir »

         -3- Georges Moustaki: « Je ne sais pas où tu commences » (This song is also good to practice French possessive adjectives!); Joyce Jonathan: « Je ne sais pas [comment te dire] » (I chose the link with the fewest spelling mistakes in the lyrics.)

         -4- Joël André : « Si tu ne connais pas Cassis »

2. Alone or in a group, toss a die to see which section to practice. For example, if the die lands on “2”, the player has to make a sentence using « savoir » followed by an infinitive. Playing in a group has the advantage that others can correct you. You can also assign points for each correct sentence, and the winner can be the one with the most points at the end of a round.

3. Choose a short text where the verbs « savoir » or « connaître » appear. Examine what follows each one and explain why « savoir » or « connaître » was used.

A few idioms using « savoir » and « connaître »

« Connaître quelque chose ou quelqu’un par cœur » (“To know something or someone by heart / inside out”)

« Connaître quelque chose comme sa poche » (“To know something like the back of your hand”)

« C’est qui tu connais, et non pas ce que tu sais qui compte. » (“It’s not what you know, but who you know that counts.”)

« Savoir-faire » (“Know-how”)

« Va savoir » (“Go figure.”)

« Pas que je sache » (“Not to my knowledge”)

« Ne pas savoir où donner de la tête » (“Not know whether you’re coming or going”)

Et voilà ! C’est tout pour aujourd’hui. (That’s it for today.) I hope you enjoyed my post. If you would like to practise discussing these expressions, you may wish to sign up for our one-on-one conversation classes here.

Cheers, and ’til next time:)

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Except where otherwise noted, all content on this site by Yuri de la Pena is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

 

Moon-Man Newfie: A Fish Story?

This charming animation by the National Film Board of Canada for one of Stompin’ Tom Connors’ songs highlights the folklore of the Province of Newfoundland.

(Scroll down to see the song lyrics below. Tool tip bubbles will pop up with explanations for some of the vocabulary. )

If you enjoy it, remember to like us and the National Film Board of Canada on twitter and Facebook!

 

Moon Man by Paul Morstad, National Film Board of Canada

The Moon-Man Newfie (1972, by Stompin’ Tom Connors)

You might think it’s goofy , but the Man in the Moon is a Newfie ,
And he’s sailin’ on to glory, away in the golden dory ;
He’s sailin’ on to glory, away in the golden dory.

Cod Fish Dan from Newfoundland, he dreamt that he had three wishes;
And he took Mars and all the stars, and he turned ’em into big fishes.
He said the sky was much too dry, and he made a wavy motion;
And the Moon, like a boat, began to float upon the starry ocean.

And you might think it’s goofy, but the Man in the Moon is a Newfie,
And he’s sailin’ on to glory, away in the golden dory;
Sailin’ on to glory, away in the golden dory.

One night he strayed to the Milky Way, to cast his nets upon it;
He spied the tail of a great big whale, and he harpooned Haley’s Comet.

He never had a pot for the fish that he caught, so he had to use the Big Dipper ,
And the sun, by Jove , was a very good stove, for cooking up smelts and gippers .

And you might think it’s goofy, but the Man in the Moon is a Newfie,
And he’s sailin’ on to glory, away in the golden dory;
He’s sailin’ on to glory, away in the golden dory.

Now the Northern Lights that seemed so bright like nothin’ could be grander ,
Well they’re just waves of the moon boat, made by the Newfoundland commander.
And don’t you sigh and say, “Oh my, what gross exaggerations”
‘Cause he’ll tell you the dream was true when Cod Fish Dan awakens.

And you might think it’s goofy, but the Man in the Moon is a Newfie,
And he’s sailin’ on to glory, away in the golden dory;
He’s sailin’ on to glory, away in the golden dory.

You might think it’s goofy, but the Man in the Moon is a Newfie,
And he’s sailin’ on to glory, away in the golden dory;
Sailin’ on to glory, away in the golden dory.

♪ /♪/ ♫ /♪ /♪ /♫ /♪ /♪ /♫ /♪ /♪ /♫ ♪ /♪/ ♫ /♪ /♪ /♫ /♪ /♪ /♫

A Fish Story about Fish

Newfoundland is a large island that is part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in the North Atlantic Ocean. Canadians from Newfoundland are called Newfoundlanders and often Newfies for short.

The fishing industry has always played a vital role in Newfoundland’s history, culture and survival. In 1992, a moratorium by the government put a halt to cod fishing because of depleted stocks and drastically affected the future of so many Newfoundlanders who had depended on fishing for their livelihood.

The song “Moon-Man Newfie” is about the dream of a fisherman from Newfoundland. In his dream, the fisherman is granted “three wishes”, just like the poor fisherman of fairy tales who accidentally frees a genie from a bottle.

Man in the Moon

Before the age of space exploration, people all over the world wondered what the patterns on the moon represented. Some people thought they saw the shape of a rabbit pounding or mixing something in a pot; some even joked that the moon must be made of cheese because the craters on the moon looked like the holes in Swiss cheese; and others, who thought they saw a human face in the moon, imagined there was a “man in the moon”. In the song “Moon Man Newfie”, we are told that the “man in the moon” is actually Dan, the fisherman from Newfoundland.

Three Wishes

Dan dreams that he can have three wishes come true.

Dan’s first wish allows him to turn the planet Mars and all the stars into fishes. That’s great for a fisherman!

His second wish allows him to turn the sky into an ocean. That way, the fish can swim in it and Dan can sail on it 🙂

But how can he sail on such an ocean without a proper boat? His third wish allows him to turn the moon into a dory (a flat-bottomed boat) that is made of gold.

Stars and Galaxies

The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our solar system. We call it the Milky Way because in the night sky it looks like a spiral road that is white like milk.

To cast a net is to throw a fishing net over the water in order to catch fish. Dan can cast his net over the Milky Way because the sky has become an ocean and the stars have become fish.

When you’re out on the ocean in the middle of the night, and you’re far from any city lights, it’ wonderful to see so many stars and constellations in the night sky.

DISCUSSION

  • So, what do you think? Was it a dream or a “fish story”?
  • Which stories about the moon are told in your cultural tradition?
  • Which parts of this story do you find hard to believe?
  • Have you ever told a fish story to anyone? What did you exaggerate and why? (Remember, a fish story can be about anything, not just fish.)
  • If you had three wishes, what would they be? Why?

FUNNY EXPRESSIONS

Sometimes we use the expression “(Everything is) hunky dory” to mean “(Everything is) perfect / completely satisfactory”.

I hope you enjoyed my post. If you would like to practise using these expressions, you may wish to sign up for our conversation classes here.

 

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Except where otherwise noted, all content on this site by Yuri de la Pena is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Myself or By Myself?

My students often ask me what the difference is between “doing something oneself” and “doing something by oneself”. If you’re wondering the same thing, I hope the two examples below will shed light on the difference. In both cases, the emphasis is on doing something alone, but with a slight difference in usage.

1) Doing something oneself = taking credit for what you do

Normally, the most common way of taking credit for something you’ve done or to identify yourself as the doer of an action is by saying, “I did this” or “I’m the one who did this”.

The abbreviated Latin inscription on the Pantheon in Rome reads, “M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIVM·FECIT”, which means “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, Consul for the third time, built this”, not someone else. What’s funny here is that most of the building that we now see is really the reconstruction made by the Emperor Hadrian about a hundred years later, after a fire consumed most of the original building. There was no need to tear down what was still standing after the fire, and by leaving the original inscription there, Hadrian could also show respect towards Agrippa’s work and honour his memory. (You can read more about the Pantheon and emperors Agrippa and Hadrian on Wikipedia.)

Agrippa-fecit_IMG_3884_090829
The Pantheon. (Piazza Navona, Rome) Photo credit: Yuri de la Pena.

So if it’s more common to say, “I did this” or “I’m the one who did this”, when would it be useful to say, “I did it myself“?

Saying “I did it myself” can be really useful when the emphasis placed on you is associated with the hope or expectation of obtaining a better result than if you let someone else do the same work.

Example one: The hot water tap is still dripping. No one has come to fix it, even after your roommate asked the landlord to fix it.

You tell your roommate, “This time I’ll talk to him myself.” It’s like saying to your roommate, “This time, I will be the one who will talk to him, not you. It excludes the other and is often associated with the hope or expectation of obtaining a better result.

Another example: The soup your roommate makes isn’t usually very tasty. This time, you’ll make it yourself. Even if you consult several recipe books, you’re the one who will make the soup, not your roommate.

Of course, you could always get a more reliable roommate who is also a good cook or you could teach your roommate to be more reliable or to make better soup, but then you wouldn’t have as many opportunities to take credit for doing things yourself 🙂

As you can see in the table below, the form “myself” will vary to reflect the different persons in the singular and plural:

Singular

Plural

myself

yourself

himself / herself / itself

ourselves

yourselves

themselves

In French, this expression corresponds to « faire quelque chose soi-même ». In the landlord example, you would say : « Cette fois, je lui parlerai moi-même ». As in English, this would be equivalent to the emphatic « C’est moi qui lui parlerai ».

The form « moi-même » will vary to reflect the different persons in the singular and plural, as shown in the table below:

Singular Plural
moi-même

toi-même (fam.) / vous-même (formal)

lui-même / elle-même

nous-mêmes

vousmêmes

eux-mêmes / elles-mêmes

 

2) Doing something by oneself = without anyone’s help

This expression is much easier to understand than the one above because it simply means doing something without anyone else’s help. Yes, it’s OK to consult books and videos first:) Basically you’re doing something without anybody looking over your shoulder to correct you.

Example one: I have now learned how to fix a dripping tap.The next time a tap is dripping, I can fix it by myself. This means I can do it without anyone’s help because I know how to do it and I, too, can do a good job.

Example two: Today you learned the secret to making delicious soup. You can now make delicious soup by yourself. This means you will now be able to do this without anyone’s help.

In French the way to express this is to say « tout seul ». This means “all alone”, but in this context it is used to mean  “without anyone’s help”.

Please note that « tout seul » is used to refer to one male individual, « toute seule » for one female individual, « toutes seules » for two or more female individuals (and no male) and « tous seuls » for two or more individuals that include at least one male.

3) To be by oneself

Being by oneself” means being alone. “Being all by oneself” means being alone, but often implies feeling lonely or abandoned. Eric Carmen‘s song, “All by Myself” is a perfect illustration of this expression. You can hear more songs by this very talented musician on YouTube and check out his website here.

Discussion:

Think about situations at work, at home or while travelling when you had to do things yourself and/or by yourself? Discuss why that was and what you did about it. What did you learn from each experience? What would you do differently this time?

I hope you enjoyed my post. If you would like to practise discussing these expressions, you may wish to sign up for our conversation classes here.

Cheers, and ’til next time:)

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, all content on this site by Yuri de la Pena is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, all content on this site by Yuri de la Pena is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.