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I live in Quebec, and I hear all the time people saying this:

  • Nous autres” instead of “nous” I guess
  • Vous autres” instead of “vous
  • Eux autres” instead of “eux

I have some questions:

  • Is it right to use “-autres” in this case?
  • Do the “-autres” words have the same meaning as the ones without it?
  • I live in Quebec, is it used just here? I've never been to another French-speaking place.
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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I've read a discussion on the grammar of this a while ago.

Basically nous-autres and vous-autres correspond to the emphatic forms "moi", "toi" and "lui", particularly in topic/comment construction (because "nous" and "vous" lack separate object forms): "nous-autres, on sait cuisiner", "vous autres, je peux pas vous sentir" etc. The extension to eux-autres is a natural analogy. (English does not have this construction, which is close to cleaving)

I do not know what the specific etymology is (and @Oct's seems like some awfully pop-whorfian approach to me), and the etymology of many grammatical constructions is not very well known anyway. There is a sociolinguistic element to it, since it's not a formal construction, so it tends to be marked as low-class.

I went and looked at my Grevisse (14th ed.), with the caveat that it is an analysis of mostly written, European French (though it does often discuss regional usage). The relevant sections are §358 a), discussing adjectives applied to pronouns, and 659 h), on reinforced pronouns (autres discussed in the same context as -même). In both instances there is a brief mention of opposition/separation, but he also notes that there is a marked correlation with topic/comment-life construction, which in the Quebec dialect/sociolects we are discussing, will actually require the -autres forms.

I think a sensible argument is that what was originally an emphatic form (remember that this topicalization is already an emphasis!) was generalised to topicalizations as a whole (and a few others: "chez" can also sometimes be used with -autres pronouns without cleaving): a proper cleft sentence "C'est à nous-autres qu'ils l'ont donné" is also valid.

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Do you think there is any connection between vous autres and the Southern US y'all? –  Gilles Mar 7 '12 at 21:14
    
I'll admit I am not very au fait of the grammar of "y'all". My gut instinct says "no" for a very simple reason: the -autres is not possible as a subject or object of a verb in Quebec French (a construction like "Nous autres Français" (where to me "nous autres" acts as an apposition to "Français"), seem to call for a different analysis). So you can say "y'all are awesome" in English, but no Quebecer in their right mind would say or write "Vous-autres êtes super"... –  Circeus Mar 7 '12 at 21:37

"autres" is meant to emphasize the difference between "nous" and the other people.

For my intuitive knowledge (and thus maybe wrong), this marks a clear difference between the subject group and the rest of the world.

"Nous autres, on sait faire la cuisine": suggests that the non-cited implicit group does not know how to cook, for example.

The meaning is not the same as "nous"

  • The "autres" form is rarely used in France French.
  • I've never ever heard the "Eux autres" form however.
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"Eux autres" is quite frequent in Québec. –  Drahakar Feb 29 '12 at 4:27

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