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I've searched online for this, but I keep coming up with 'worst' (i.e. the superlative of 'bad') as the meaning which doesn't seem to fit in the following example:

"N'est-ce pis là une phrase typique de ceux qui aiment plaindre?"

So, what does 'pis' mean in this sentence, and how does this usage relate to the standard meaning of 'worst' that appears in French-English dictionaries?

  • offqc.com/2014/10/27/… – rsanchez Nov 24 '15 at 4:34
  • @rsanchez interesting link, but the question above doesn't begin with pis là and it appears as a single thought, rather than an element of a story. – user913304 Nov 24 '15 at 6:01
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    Could you bring some context, such as where you have seen this sentence for example? The answer if this is old French might be different for modern French, for instance. In a modern context, I'd have in mind that this is just a typo for « pas » (or a variant of « puis » but I've never seen it used in an interrogative form that way). – Chop Nov 24 '15 at 6:33
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    This "N'est-ce pis là..." cannot be anything else than a typo or an OCR mistake for the obvious "N'est-ce pas là...". – jlliagre Nov 24 '15 at 7:21
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    Following @jlliagre point of view: as a stand alone word, "pis" was used in old French as "Pire"(worst), it is currently used as a synonym to "Et"(and) in Québec familiar language. Though, within this sentence, it can really only be a typo from "pas"(not). – Sifu Nov 24 '15 at 19:26
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The beginning of your sentence is wrong and would rather be: "N'est-ce pas là..."

But to answer your question, pis has 2 meanings in French:

  • worst (but it's kinda old french and "pire" is preferred)
  • a cow's udder
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    Could also encounter it as a slang version of puis : "Et pis c'est tout !", other usages in the comments to the OP. – Laurent S. Nov 27 '15 at 9:52
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In your case, I think the correct word is pas (Isn't it there a typical sentence of those who like complaining?).

pis comes from the latin pejor, which means worse. In general, if you can say pis, you can replace it by pire (the usual French word for worse). I personally encountered that word in expressions, and occasionally in old books: no one uses it outside of expressions. The grammar guide precises that the word can be used both as an adjective or as a noun.

Reference: Le français correct: Guide pratique des difficultés

Pis (du latin pejus, neutre de pejor) est le comparatif de supériorité de mal: Cela ne va ni mieux ni pis qu'avant (Petit Robert). - Excepté dans certaines expressions, pis est concurrencé par plus mal et par pire.

Pis et pire s'utilisent comme adjectifs ou comme noms. (...)

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