Questions from Brickman (A Short Course in Reading French)

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Here's an excerpt from Le bourgeois gentilhomme which I'm unsure about. I don't understand why imperfect subjunctive is being used here.

Monsieur Jourdain: Je suis amoureux d'une personne de grande qualité, et je souhaiterais que vous m'aidassiez à lui écrire quelque chose dans un petit billet que je veux laisser tomber à ses pieds.

"I am in love with a (female) person of high degree, and I would hope that you (might) help me write something in a little note to her that I wish to let fall at her feet." (?)
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
I would hope that you (might) help me
Yes, or "I would like you to help me".

As you perhaps already know, the imperfect subjunctive is somewhat archaic. We'd usually use the present subjunctive there now, "je souhaiterais que vous m'aidiez..."

I guess the imperfect tense was triggered by the main verb being in the conditional, cf. how subordinate clauses that depend on a conditional main verb in English sometimes take past-tense verbs.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
a (female) person
By the way, French "personne" is just as neutral as English "person" when it comes to natural gender (though the grammatical gender is feminine*).

I wasn't sure why you'd added "female" in parentheses, so I wrote this to clarify things just in case you'd done so because of some misconception (like thinking that a male person would be "un person" or so, lol :D). Forgive me if I'm telling you what you already knew.

*When used as a noun ("une personne"/"la personne"). When used as a pronoun it's masculine, e.g. "Personne n'a été méchant (not "méchante") avec moi", "Nobody has been mean to me".
 
Last edited:

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Oh, very good point. I had learned that, in fact, but I think I automatically treated it as the equivalent of a common-gender Latin noun. (It didn't help that a play written by Molière probably wouldn't have a guy falling in love with some other guy, so naturally I assumed that une personne was female, which it probably is here, though (as you point out) we can't know for sure.)
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
I'm quite sure the person in question here is female. I just wasn't sure why you felt the need to explicitate the fact at that point in your translation.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
I'm having some trouble with a passage from Pascal's Pensées now. The version given in my textbook appears to be slightly corrupt (which isn't helping) so I'll include the version I grabbed off the internet, with Brickman's variations in brackets.

Nous ne nous tenons [Brickman: "Nous ne tenons"] jamais au temps présent. [Brickman adds here: "Nous rappelons le passé;"] [N/n]ous anticipons l’avenir comme trop lent à venir, comme pour hâter son cours, ou nous rappelons le passé pour l’arrêter comme trop prompt, si imprudents que nous errons dans les temps qui ne sont point nôtres et ne pensons point au seul qui nous appartient, et si vains que nous songeons à ceux qui ne sont rien, et échappons sans réflexion le seul qui subsiste.

"We never [hold onto? care about?] the present. ["We recall the past;"] we anticipate the future as too slow to come, as if to hasten its course, or we recall the past to halt it as if too swift, [as?] if imprudent that we wander in times that are not ours at all and do not think at all about the only one to which we belong [??? I don't understand why it's qui here], and [as?] if vain that we consider those [times] which do not exist at all, and let slip [?] without reflection the only one which exist."
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
I'm quite sure the person in question here is female. I just wasn't sure why you felt the need to explicitate the fact at that point in your translation.
Because I (erroneously) thought, momentarily, that it could be "un personne" or "une personne" depending on the person's actual gender, and wanted to show that I "knew" the person in question was female. ;)
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
[or, "hold onto?"]
I would translate "Nous ne nous tenons jamais au temps présent" as something like "We never stick to the present" or less literally maybe "We are never content with the present".
[as?] if imprudent
"so imprudent"
That's an unnecessary addition.
the only one to which we belong
You've got it backwards. It's "the only one that belongs to us".
[??? I don't understand why it's qui here]
Because it's the subject of "appartient". See above.
[as?] if vain
Like above, this "si" means "so".
which do not exist at all
Wouldn't a literal translation work? "which are nothing"?
let slip [?]
That seems to be it. I was unfamiliar with that use of "échapper". The use I'm familiar with is "échapper à", which means "to escape (from)". The internet tells me the "let slip" meaning is Quebecois. I take it it wasn't so in Pascal's time.
Because I (erroneously) thought, momentarily, that it could be "un personne" or "une personne" depending on the person's actual gender, and wanted to show that I "knew" the person in question was female. ;)
So my suspicion was correct — your addition was due to a misconception.
 
Last edited:

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
That's an unnecessary addition.
I'm not sure which "at all" you meant (there are several) but my textbook gives, for, ne...point, both "not" and "not at all".

You've got it backwards. It's "the only one that belongs to us".
Because it's the subject of "appartient". See above.
Ohhhh...I saw the -ent and assumed the verb was plural. Oops. :redface:

Wouldn't a literal translation work? "which are nothing"?
It would sound a tad stilted in English, I think (though certainly it isn't impossible).

That seems to be it. I was unfamiliar with that use of "échapper". The use I'm familiar with is "échapper à", which means "to escape (from)". The internet tells me the "let slip" meaning is Quebecois. I take it it wasn't so in Pascal's time.
You mean that it was probably standard French in Pascal's time (and then died out in France, remaining only in Quebec)?
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
I'm not sure which "at all" you meant (there are several)
All those where you translated "point".
but my textbook gives, for, ne...point, both "not" and "not at all".
Hmm, dunno. Just "not" seems a sufficient translation to me. For an emphasis like that of "at all" I would usually add "du tout".
Ohhhh...I saw the -ent and assumed the verb was plural. Oops.
I thought that might have been what happened, lol. Even a plural -ent wouldn't have fitted a first person plural subject, though. :p
It would sound a tad stilted in English, I think (though certainly it isn't impossible).
OK.
You mean that it was probably standard French in Pascal's time (and then died out in France, remaining only in Quebec)?
Obviously I don't really know, but that seems plausible at least.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
I thought that might have been what happened, lol. Even a plural -ent wouldn't have fitted a first person plural subject, though. :p
LOL, very true. Not sure what I was thinking there. (Fittingly, Pascal goes on to write: Que chacun examine ses pensées. ;) )
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Here's another expression I'm not sure I understand:

...et si nous y [i.e. the present] pensons, ce n'est que pour en prendre la lumière pour disposer de l'avenir.

Literally: "And if we do think about it, it is only to take from it the light to have the future at our disposal". (I.e. use it to "illuminate" the future, so that we can anticipate/arrange matters more effectively?)
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
That seems right.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Come to think of it, "in order to shed its light on the future" preserves the expression pretty well.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Here's an excerpt from a work by de Tocqueville -- I don't understand the last sentence.

Dans les démocraties, on écoute les pièces de théâtre, mais on ne les lit point. La plupart de ceux qui assistent aux jeux de la scène n'y cherchent pas les plaisirs de l'esprit, mais les émotions vives du cœur. Ils ne s'attendent point à y trouver une oeuvre de littérature, mais un spectacle, et, pourvu que l'auteur parle assez correctement la langue du pays pour se faire entendre, et que ses personnages excitent la curiosité et éveillent la sympathie, ils sont contents; sans rien demander de plus à la fiction, ils rentrent aussitôt dans le monde réel. Le style y est donc moins nécessaire; car, à la scène, l'observation de ces règles échappe davantage.

"Style is therefore less necessary there; because, at the scene [? does he mean "at the theatre" or "while the play is being acted"?] the observation of these rules escapes more [?? maybe, "more often than not"?]"
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Is it normal, then, just to have davantage hanging out by itself like that, at the end of a sentence even? In English it would seem very strange to end a sentence with "more", particularly in formal writing.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Also, "the observation of these rules escapes" would sound VERY weird in English (I take it what he means is that "the observation of these rules (by the author) escapes the audience's notice"?)
 
Last edited:

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
That is how I take it.
 
Top