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"So" is one of the most common connecting words in English, and I often have trouble translating it to French.

Sometimes I just translate it directly to alors, as in "Il avait froid, alors je lui ai donné ma veste."

But I'm under the impression that the more common way to translate it is to use donc, but I'm never clear on exactly where among the words of the sentence donc should be placed.

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In the example you're using, a native speaker could also say : "Je lui ai donné ma veste parce qu'il avait froid". –  Jo Bedard May 27 at 16:07
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J'ai trouvé une réponse à ta question avec laquelle je suis plutôt en accord. –  Laure May 27 at 17:55
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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

In most cases it's best to translate so (the one that starts a proposition1) with donc used as an adverb2, not as a conjunction. It suggests a light natural follow-up.

Il avait froid, je lui ai donc donné ma veste.

If the meaning of so is close to “hence” or “from this observation” (like in your example), then you may use alors.

Il avait froid, alors je lui ai donné ma veste.

But this has a strong flavor of oral communication3. This alors may conveniently be added while the sentence is being spoken, but alors should normally only be used as a “then” (temporal or conditional). So4… you may want to reformulate. In the following sentence, “comme” should be understood somewhat like “given that”5, and this is the preferred form in writing.

Comme il avait froid, je lui ai donné ma veste.

Last, if so is meant as a logical conclusion you may want to use donc, in this case, as a (coordinating) conjunction.

Il avait froid, donc je lui ai donné ma veste.


1. But not the one in “so be it” or “so to say”, which is an “ainsi”!
2. Place it where you would place pas in a negative sentence.
3. Just like using so in English, you may say, but English's oral phrasings certainly pervade much more into writing than French's.
4. I'll let you guess ;-)
5. But given that best translates as “étant donné que”.

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If I overlooked something please comment. –  Stéphane Gimenez May 27 at 21:47
    
So donc can be an adverb. That was the part that always confused me, seeing a conjunction used as an adverb. That particular construction is very counter to English tendencies. –  Aerovistae May 28 at 2:05
    
Inside a sentence it's an adverb or a particle (it has the same strange hybrid status as pas). –  Stéphane Gimenez May 28 at 12:34
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Donc and alors can be both used as a translation for so in most of the case. You must can (see my comment) use donc instead of alors when you can replace so by therefore (http://www.linguee.fr/anglais-francais/traduction/therefore.html).

Example :

You read my message so you must understand why donc is more used than alors

Becomes in french

Tu as lu mon message donc tu dois comprendre pourquoi donc est plus utilisé qu'alors.

I used donc because the so of the original sentence can become a therefore.

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I "must"?? That doesn't make much sense to me. Needs more clarification! Then when would I use alors? Cases where so means therefore are the only ones I'm asking about. I've seen translations like this: Elle ne comprend pas, alors il faut l'aider : She doesn't understand, so we need to help her and that uses alors... –  Aerovistae May 27 at 16:49
    
My answer is maybe a bit confused. When I spoke about therefore it was to show you the logical implication. Have a look at these links, they explain the think better than I could : youtube.com/watch?v=ernFuOcfpTU and youtube.com/watch?v=ernFuOcfpTU . Sorry again for my bad answer. –  EricFr May 27 at 17:06
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The best way to translate so to French is with using alors.

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Except in the many many cases where it isn't. There isn't a one-for-one correspondence here. –  Gilles May 27 at 19:30
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