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As I walked into the library just now, I thought to myself "It's quite cold in here". The closest translation I could think of was:

Cette bibliothèque est assez froide.

It seems, to my French-as-Second-Language understanding, that this sentence has somewhat opposite possible meanings, considering that I need places that are quite warm in order for me to study well. That is, this sentence could mean "This library is quite cold [and I'm noticing this because I don't like it]", or "This library is cold enough [for my needs, because I require cold temperatures]".

It seems that context gives no clue to which meaning this sentence has.

Questions:

  1. Is the word "assez" in this sentence equally ambiguous, or is it more likely to mean one of the two meanings more often than the other (ie, between "enough" and "quite")?
  2. In general, does "assez" more often tend to mean one of the two meanings more than the other?
  3. If I wanted to use other words to clarify my meaning (ie, to emphasize "enough", or to emphasize "quite"), what words could I use?
  • Since nobody mentioned this, I learned "assez" to mean "rather", so I would translate your sentence as "the library is rather cold". – Mehrdad Apr 7 '18 at 21:58
  • Same thing happens in Spanish, “bastante fría” is literally “cold enough” but idiomatically “rather cold”.. – Jim Garrison Apr 8 '18 at 5:11
  • At a gathering after graduating from high school a friend who was in French with me played a song and I, having just learned the usage, said, "C'est assez bonne !" She might have been familiar with more than the literal definition at the time, but to this day I'm not quite sure if she knew it was the compliment I meant it to be... – Luke Sawczak Apr 15 '18 at 3:44
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Don't say "Ce bibliothèque est assez froid" but "Il fait assez froid dans la bibliothèque"

"assez" means both "quite" and "enough"

Q1 : The word "assez" in this sentence is clear, it clearly means "quite"

If you want to say "It is cold enough in the library you should say "Il fait suffisamment froid dans la bibliothèque"

Q2: "assez" means most of time "quite", when "assez" is at the end of a sentence, it means "enough". But sometimes it can be both "quite" and "enough", I don't really know how to tell you, but if you don't know, use "assez" for "quite" and "suffisamment" for "enough"

Q3 : So if you want to say "quite", use the word "assez", if you want to say "enough", use "suffisament"

-Native French speaker ;)

  • Can you give me an example of a sentence where "assez" is at the end of the sentence? – silph Apr 7 '18 at 18:01
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    "J'en ai mangé assez" - "I've eaten enough of it" – Antoine Apr 7 '18 at 18:03
  • "Ce n'est pas assez" - "This is not enough" – Antoine Apr 7 '18 at 18:03
  • Avec nos 2 réponses je pense qu’on a une réponse complète... "plutôt" pour "quite", "suffisament" pour "enough"... – Laurent S. Apr 7 '18 at 18:11
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    J’ai failli ajouter un point là-dessus mais on s’éloignait trop de l’objet de la question. Effectivement "il fait froid ici" me semble plus idiomatique. D’une manière plus générale, il fait froid dans les lieux, mais les objets, les personnes, etc sont froids (ou chauds d’ailleurs hein, on a dans le coeur le soleil qu’on n’a pas dehors comme dirait l’autre :-)) – Laurent S. Apr 7 '18 at 18:29
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First of all, let me correct your sentence. "Bibliothèque" being a feminine word, the sentence should be

Cette bibliothèque est assez froide.

Then to answer your question, you’re right this could be ambiguous without context, but in many occasions you will have a context, so that shouldn’t be an issue. Without one you can only assume. In this case I would say logic will be your best friend... A library is not necessarily something you expect to be cold, it would then be more reasonable to think someone says this thinking "quite" cold.

If you were to use other words, I would say that "plutôt" would really be the best translation for "quite". I’m trying to think about English sentences where it cannot replace "quite" and have a hard time finding one, but maybe this is because of my own limitations in English...

On the other hand I have more difficulty replacing "assez" without using a superlative, as it is actually a very precise translation of "enough". EDIT: I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but as pointed by Antoine in his answer, "suffisamment" would be in many (I won’t dare to say all) cases an appropriate substitute for "assez" when meaning "enough".

  • Actually, most places (libraries, restaurants, offices spaces) I expect to be quite cold -- at least, that's how they often feel to me! So if I understand you correctly, "Cette bibliothèque est assez froide" really is in fact ambiguous? What do you think of a the other answer to this question, that says that if in doubt, "assez" probably means "quite", instead of "enough"? – silph Apr 7 '18 at 18:09
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    I don’t really agree with it but have no reference at hand. We both agree though that in this sentence the most reasonable meaning is "quite". And I agree indeed for the "end of sentence" meaning "enough". In doubt, as I said the logic will help you decide, but not everybody has the same logic :-) – Laurent S. Apr 7 '18 at 18:21
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    Oui tout à fait, d’où mon commentaire sur l’autre réponse... devrais-je éditer ? – Laurent S. Apr 7 '18 at 20:16
  • @silph I would say that cold not being something one usually look for in a library, the first interpretation would indeed be that it is a bit too cold for comfort. Now if someone is looking at cold being a desirable feature of a library, for whatever reason (let's say for instance that cold improves the preservation of archived documents), then yes, it can be interpreted as adequately cold. – ﺪﺪﺪ Apr 7 '18 at 20:16
  • @Feelew: I might happily say, when entering a library, "Ah, it's quite warm in here!", "Il fait assez chaud!". (And additionally, there are people who enjoy cold working spaces). So if I understand you correctly, the sentence really is ambiguous (given that "Il fait assez froid" might mean "quite" and "Il fait assez chaud!" might mean "enough")? – silph Apr 7 '18 at 20:22
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While everything that's been said in the other answers also applies to Belgian French, there exists an extra way to disambiguate the two meaning of assez in that dialect: word order.

Il fait assez froid = Il fait plutôt froid = It is rather cold

Il fait froid assez = Il fait suffisamment froid = It is cold enough

This practice of putting assez after the adjective it qualifies used to be common to all dialects of French, but this went out of usage outside Belgium.

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