In English, various linguistic "rules" are issued by pedants, often schoolteachers. These rules are often dissociated from actual usage, and often from the established usage of great authors. They range from obsolete definitions that are easily recognized as ludicrous:

"Nauseous" does not mean nauseated, but nauseating. Hot dogs are nauseous, not people.

To injunctions against common syntax that unnecessarily trip up students and adults alike:

Do not start a sentence with a conjunction. Do not end a sentence with a preposition.

To attacks on common dialect features not present in the standard dialect:

"I don't want no more rice" is a double negative and means the person does want more rice.

Now, I'll begin teaching French in high school in the fall. As a non-native speaker, I sometimes find it hard to distinguish legitimate descriptions of usage from prescriptive pedantry. I want to avoid unwittingly propagating said pedantry, seeing that I'd be peeved if someone taught my future child things like that in English.

What are the most common examples I should watch out for in French? What might I have been told is wrong but is actually used daily and/or in classic literature or by particular users of French?

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    En effet je ne pense pas que cette question soit vraiment adaptée à French Language ! Ce n'est pas une question un point de langue et ça fait partie des questions ouvertes à éviter. De plus elle concerne aussi la pédagogie et ce n'est pas du tout l'endroit pour en discuter, d'autant plus que les usages varient d'un pays à l'autre... Comme l'a dit Pascal « Vérité en deçà des Pyrénées, erreur au-delà. » On peut discuter de tout chez Cosette si tu veux essayer...
    – None
    Jul 29, 2019 at 14:43
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    I will not provide a list because this is the wrong way to do the job. You will end up with special cases that might be true only in certain parts of France, or worst, you will be aware only about certain casual terms and mix them up with another dialect and end up sounding super fake.
    – Winston
    Jul 29, 2019 at 15:02
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    Etymologically speaking “pedagogic pedantry” is a pleonasm. So I'm sorry to tell you this, but you can't escape it :-p. Rather than asking a list question. I'd suggest you have your teaching material (textbooks you base your lectures on, and so on. if any) reviewed by a few people. Ask them to annotate what they think goes against actual usage. Jul 29, 2019 at 16:19
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    C'est sans doute possible de dégager de vraies fausses règles ou distinctions imaginées par des grammairiens et encore colportées aujourd'hui, comme la distinction entre deuxième et seconde ou les règles d'accord du verbe en nombre avec des sujets à quantificateurs complexes comme "la moitié des étudiants" ou "la plupart d'entre eux". Mais y ajouter des variantes de registre ou de dialecte éparpillent un peu trop la question. Jul 29, 2019 at 16:36
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    @LPH Etymologically (to use Stéphane's word) "pedant" was once the general word for "teacher". Of course it doesn't mean that today, hence Stéphane's ":p" I think, but the suggestion is all too clear that the two ideas tend to associate!
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jul 29, 2019 at 19:45

4 Answers 4

  • après qu'il soit venu

It makes sense as a rule (indicative mood is legitimate here) but only the very educated will know it. For a lot of French speakers, après qu'il est venu sounds faulty.

  • malgré que

Very frowned upon by most educated French speakers. I still advise against it (use bien que / même si or malgré + noun). You see it all over the place in earlier authors such as Montaigne or Pascal. This is a good example of arbitrary language normalisation for purely sociological reasons, I think.

  • J'avais peur qu'elle soit en retard.

French grammar emphasizes on 'concordance des temps' whereas usage is more flexible. For instance, 'subjonctif imparfait' has dropped out of usage even in written French.

  • Mon père, il m'a appris à nager.

Dislocation is used all over in speech. I remember our 'collège' teachers blaming us for using it in oral speech. It is an idiomatic turn of phrase, though. Maybe not for use in written script but then again, "le nez de Cléopâtre, s'il eût été plus court, toute la face de la terre aurait changé." (Pascal)

  • I'd also like to point out that spelling has an awful lot of silly quirks, but with the 'réforme de l'orthographe', it is not as legitimate to blame you for writing cout, ambigüe or elle s'est laissé mourir.

Off the top of my head, I think I'd make learners aware of the dropping of ne in spoken French :

  • J'ai pas compris.

On used instead of nous :

  • Cette année, on passe nos vacances en Italie.

Dislocation of the type :

  • Nous, cette année, en Italie, on y est pas allés.

Etre used to mean aller :

  • J'ai été voir mes parents dimanche dernier.

Lack of subject and verb inversion in questions :

  • Tu as compris?
  • Tu vas où?

Pronunciation issues as well, il and elle realized as /i/ and /ɛ/ before consonant sounds, ils and elles as /i/ and /ɛ/ or /iz/ and /ɛz/ before vowel sounds. Il y a pronounced more often than not /ja/.

Just a few examples. The idea is to point out the massive differences that we find sometimes between the written norm and actual spoken usage. If I can finish on a personal remark, I must say that, from the little I've seen of your posts, I'm not at all worried for your future students.

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    Good example of a bad example. I always hear "t'as compris?" instead of "tu as compris?" which sounds slightly uptight. Anyway, I believe this shows how wrong it is to use a list of examples to learn casual French. Immersion is the way. I am not blaming you petitrien, you did what OP asked for, I am just commenting towards the OP.
    – Winston
    Jul 29, 2019 at 15:07
  • Teachers are bound to curriculums (well usually, depends on the type of school) and any list the OP makes will have to be in keeping with the curriculum. On y est pas allé is a very bad example of the negative ne being dropped in spoken French because with or without the ne il will be pronounced [ɔ̃iɛpaale] because everybody will make the liaison.
    – None
    Jul 29, 2019 at 15:27
  • Do you mean [ɔ̃niɛpaale]?
    – user21018
    Jul 29, 2019 at 15:35
  • @petitrien yes, forgot one !
    – None
    Jul 29, 2019 at 15:36
  • @Laure The example I gave was to illustrate the dislocation of various parts of speech in spoken French. You're right that "on y" and "on n'y" are always pronounced the same.
    – user21018
    Jul 29, 2019 at 15:39

Not a native speaker but still I will give a try. Here is a list of some mistakes I have encountered (and sometimes I have made) during my stint in France. Some of these mistakes came from foreign students of physics, mathematics and the like.

  1. Use of beaucoup DE + noun, i.e. J’ai mangé beaucoup des tomates instead of J’ai mangé beaucoup de tomates.

  2. Je me rappelle de mon enfance instead of Je me rappelle mon enfance. On confond souvent le verbe transitif direct se rappeler avec le verbe transitif indirect se souvenir de.

  3. Je vais visiter mon fils instead of Je vais rendre visite à mon fils. (see http://www.academie-francaise.fr/visiter-son-oncle)

  4. Milles Mercis instead of Mille Mercis, that is, writing down without taking into account that mille is an invariable adjective.

  5. C'est vite instead of C'est rapide.

  6. C’est moi qui a raison instead of C’est moi qui ai raison. see « Moi qui fait » ou « moi qui fais » ?

  7. J’espère que tu es bien instead of J’espère que tu vas bien.

  8. Merci pour m’aider en anglais instead of Merci de m’aider en anglais.

  9. Je n'ai pas des amis instead of Je n'ai pas d'amis.

  10. Je veux vous faire/demander une question instead of Je veux vous poser une question.

Here are some links with mistakes that are common in colloquial French.







The only way to avoid such pitfalls is to be part of the French people daily life. Spend time in cafés, listen to people in public transportation, parks, anywhere. You will end up with a French language fine for daily life, and probably not that fine for business, let alone writing a book.

In short, you cannot have it all.

What you write is true for French language as much as English, and it is probably true for any language course around the world for various reasons. One of them is that when a second language is taught to teenagers, the final purpose is not definite and not single. Teachers probably believe they are teaching linguistics, a set of rules so as to be a linguist or a teacher. I have never seen an English language teacher in France caring that much about casual conversation. French people make an especially lousy job at teaching pronunciation, but Japanese teachers of English are the worst I encountered in the world regarding this.

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