How to Speak ‘Perfect’ French

When learning French, it’s normal (and encouraged) to set goals for yourself. For instance, a common goal is: “I want to speak perfect French.”

You may be telling yourself something like: “I’m not confident enough to speak French yet. I don’t want to make mistakes! I don’t want to embarrass myself! So, I’ll only speak when I know my French is perfect. Soon!”

It’s normal to feel this way. Don’t worry, I’ll help you speak perfect French, so you can finally use all those French lessons from school.

(Spoiler : There’s a twist at the end of this lesson. Spooky!)

Bonjour I’m Géraldine, your French teacher.
Welcome to Comme une Française.
I’m here to help you speak everyday modern French with confidence.

Learning goals: This is what you’ll be able to do after watching this lesson

  • Make a perfect negative sentence
  • Ask a question perfectly
  • Use the perfect conjugation

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1) The negative sentence

This first step is learning how to make a proper negative sentence.

Let’s start with a basic affirmation:
Cécile mange la pomme.
(= Cécile is eating the apple.)

Then you apply the French negation.
la négation = ne + [verbe] + pas

So it makes:
Cécile mange la pomme.
→ negation “ne… pas”
Cécile ne mange pas la pomme.
(= Cécile doesn’t eat the apple)

And that’s how it goes in proper French grammar!

You can also play around with other negative words instead of “pas” to express other ideas.

Negative words:

  • Plus = anymore
    → Sounds like {plew}, as in my lesson Plus : with or without the “S” ?
  • Jamais = Never
    → {“Jah may”}
  • Aucune = “no” as in “not a single one”
    → {“Ohk ewn”}
  • Rien = “Nothing”, “not… anything”
    → {“Ree un”, where un is a nasal French vowel sound}

So we have, for example:

Cécile ne mange plus la pomme. (= Cécile doesn’t eat the apple anymore.)
Cécile ne mange jamais la pomme. (= Cécile never eats the apple.)
Cécile ne mange aucune pomme. (= Cécile doesn’t eat any apple.)
Cécile ne mange rien. (= Cécile doesn’t eat anything.)

There used to be a special “negative word” for each verb, but language evolution through the centuries collapsed almost all of them into “pas” (= a step). For example:

Cécile ne marche pas. → “Cécile doesn’t walk (even) a step.”
Cécile ne mange rien. → “Cécile doesn’t eat a thing.” “Rien” comes from the latin “res” (= “something”), so this meaning stayed the same, for all verbs.
Cécile ne dit mot. → “Cécile doesn’t speak (even) a word.” This is still a very formal expression, that’s used in novels from time to time.
Cécile n’y voit goutte. → “Cécile doesn’t see (even) a droplet.” Like “ne dit mot”.
Cécile ne voit point → “Cécile can’t see (even) a small point.” This is not used anymore either, except in stereotypical “very formal” or medieval French.
Now we would say, “Cécile ne voit pas,” or even better “Cécile ne voit rien” – “pas” and “rien” switched from nouns to purely grammatical words, in this case.

2) How to ask a “Yes / No” question

Let’s start with a basic affirmation:
Tu aimes les pommes.
(= You like apples.)

Perfect French grammar will lead you to the proper way to turn it into a question:

The subject pronoun moves right after the verb, and you add un tiret (= a dash) between them:
Tu aimes → Aimes tu → Aimes-tu

Tu aimes les pommes. → Aimes-tu les pommes ? (= Do you like apples?)

Or with:
Vous pouvez porter ma valise.
(= You can carry my luggage)

Pouvez-vous porter ma valise ?
(= Can you carry my luggage?)

Le truc en plus :

In French writing, there’s always a space before le point d’interrogation (= the interrogation point, the question mark).

When the verb ends with a vowel and the subject pronoun starts with a vowel, you need to throw in a “t” between the dashes. It doesn’t have any grammatical role or meaning, it just sounds better.

Elle mange une pomme (= She eats an apple)
→ Mange-elle une pomme ? (inversion + dash)
Mange-t-elle une pomme ? (= Is she eating an apple?)

Finally, when the subject is not a pronoun, you need to keep the affirmative sentence, but add the relevant pronoun right after the verb (with a dash and everything).

Les enfant sont partis. (= The children are gone.)
Les enfants sont-ils partis ? (= Are the children gone?)

Cécile mange une pomme. (= Cécile is eating an apple.)
Cécile mange-t-elle une pomme ? (= Is Cécile eating an apple?)

You can also simply add Est-ce que (= “Is it… ?”) before the affirmative sentence to turn it into a “Yes / No” question.

Est-ce que Cécile mange une pomme ? (= Is Cécile eating an apple?)
Est-ce que vous pouvez porter mes bagages ? (= Can you carry my luggage?)

We use “Est-ce que” instead of the inversion with “Je”, except in very formal or literary French.

3) The perfect conjugation?

The key to perfect conjugation is…

Ok, that’s enough.

There’s no perfect French. And striving for it is not going to help you learn!

Students wish for “perfect French” all the time. In this lesson we’ve seen a few basics of what it could look like… But the thing is: no French person speaks this way in real life!

This is textbook French. It’s perfect for exams, if you want to have a certificate for a level A1, A2, B1, etc. But that’s not modern everyday spoken French!

“Real life” (modern everyday spoken) French isn’t about being vulgar or “wrong.” But it is about sounding real. Authentic. Understanding the language as it’s heard everywhere. Talking to French people like a friend – and not only like a French learner.

Next week, I’ll tell you more about how learning to speak ‘perfect’ French is a bad goal to have, and we’ll deconstruct together what you learned today. It will be a BIG ‘Aha!’ moment for you, and I can guarantee you’ll want to change your learning goals.

Learning imperfect French is how you can really make useful progress in speaking French – and get the confidence you need to communicate in French (and make mistakes without fear of embarrassment.)

You’ll see: modern French is easier than textbook French. You’ll speak and understand French better!

If you’re curious about modern spoken French, check out my short playlist of videos on modern spoken French that I put together for you.

A tout de suite.
See you in the next video!

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And now:

→ If you enjoyed this lesson (and/or learned something new) – why not share this lesson with a francophile friend? You can talk about it afterwards! You’ll learn much more if you have social support from your friends 🙂

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Allez, salut 🙂

Join the conversation!

  • Bonjour Geraldine,I am in the early stages of learning French and I listen to French radio to get my ears tuned into the language. I find myself trying to translate the words into English when Im listening but end up missing half if not more of the content. Ive been told that I shouldnt be trying to translate this way?…any advice??? Kind regards..Alex.

    • My advice is “you’re a beginner, relax. take it step by step. it’s absolutely normal to translate at the beginning. Don’t worry. And good luck, I’m sure you’ll amaze yourself, Alex.” 🙂

  • My lesson ended right in the middle of the negative explanation — even though I ran it twice. It simply ended. I would like to see it all the way through!

    • Hi Jennifer,

      For many months, the videos have been stopping around 1:58 or 1:59 minutes into the lesson. Other people have experienced this problem too. Don’t restart the video from the beginning. Just back it up a few seconds (to 1:50 or so), and the video should continue without any further glitches (it does for me and for some others who have commented on it in the past).

  • Bonjour Géraldine merci beaucoup pour cet leçon et j’attends avec impatience pour la semaine prochaine.
    Bonne journée

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