3. A little cultural background.
Using NOUS is the grammatically correct way of writing (and saying) WE or US. In the written form this is invariably what is used. In typical, everyday spoken French ON is almost always used because of the obvious simplicity. Technically speaking, ON can refer to different people in different situations but WE or US is the standard in spoken French. In the above examples, the verb is pronounced the same way for; Je (I) Tu (You) Il/Elle (He/She) On (We/Us) Ils/Elles (They masc. group/They fem. group) Be aware however that the rule is that ON is conjugated exactly the same way as the third person singular i.e. Il or Elle. (He or She). ILS and ELLES. ILS refers to two or more males as THEY. ELLES refers to two or more females as THEY. If there is a mixed group of males and females to be referred to as THEY then the masculine term ILS is used. Even if the group contains only one male and one hundred females we still use ILS. The 'S' on the end of ILS, like English, signifies plural or that you are referring to more than one person. The ...ENT at the end of the conjugated verb is the written form to signify the verb in plural for THEY. That probably sounds complicated but you never hear (or pronounce) this ..ENT verbally anyway so don‟t worry about it. At this stage we are not particularly concerned about what 'THEY' are doing anyway and are not likely to use it very often. What is important is making yourself understood to the person you are directly speaking to or working with. VOUS. Until now we have used VOUS when saying YOU to two or more people. There are two other reasons for using VOUS which are closely connected. Respect. This has nothing to do with using VOUS when referring to two or more people. Depending on the company/enterprise you are talking about and the difference in title or authority an underling will address his/her boss using 'Vous' and conjugate all his verbs accordingly. This is in recognition of the boss's authority and a sign of respect in his everyday language. At the same time the boss will address his underling as 'tu', again, underlining his superior position. Sound crazy? Not so long ago it was the way things were done everywhere in Europe and beyond and still exists today in many circumstances. This is not seen as a subtle form of oppression of the masses any more but merely a sign of politeness and respect. Many bosses today return the same courtesy to their workers, addressing them with 'Vous', which brings us to the next context. Politeness. The rule is that you must address anybody you don‟t know, or don‟t know well, using the 'VOUS' form of YOU with the resultant palava of conjugation that follows. That's the rule and millions of travel and phrase books are sold every year to people who have no idea that they are mimicking conjugated verbs in the present and future tense let alone having any idea why except for the vague notion that it has something to do with good manners. But you have to be polite to people you don‟t know otherwise they won't help you, particularly in France, some would moan. Great, but a handshake and a 'Bonjour' quickly obliterates the need to go into a grammatical twilight zone, particularly at work. So that's that for VOUS, for now. Get the conjugation in your head (we will be practicing this in the coming exercises) then don‟t worry about it. You can impress people with your fake manners and shallow politeness when you go to live in Paris. One last example for the simplest ER verbs and how we pronounce them verbally. Once you have read through this example go to section 1 of the mini-dictionary in the last chapter and pick up your immediate 250 word vocabulary in French. PREPARER Je prepare (mon sac) Je pre-par (my bag) Tu prepares (ton argent) Tu pre-par (your money) Il/Elle prepare (sa voiture) Il/Elle pre-par (his/her car) On prepare (les sacs) O(n)** pre-par (the bags) Vous preparez (les enfants) Voo pre-par-ay (the children) Ils/Elles preparent (les tenues) Il pre-par (the uniforms) ** We don't hear a definite N in ON PREPARE when the next word begins with a consonant or 'hard' letter i.e. not one of the vowels. This will be explained further in the following chapters and will come with practice. It is just another detail that was mentioned in the last chapter and not something to be too concerned about at the moment. Whether you pronounce the 'N' or not you will still be perfectly understood.