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"Il l'a fait" vs. "Il la fait"

The first sentence means, "He has made it." The second means, "He makes it." If you're having a verbal conversation with someone, is there any way to tell which one they said?

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    In practise, the first will always be pronounced with a long /l/ while the second will sometimes (but not always) be short, which cuts down some of the potential ambiguities – Eau qui dort Oct 28 at 1:10
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    @Eauquidort I gather this is exactly what the OP is asking for: difference in pronunciation since they can already differentiate in meaning. So please make it an answer. Although I'd rather say the difference lies in the strength rather than the length of the word and also that the verb can be said with /ɑ/ or /a/ and it can never be /ɑ/ for the pronoun. – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Oct 28 at 9:01
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    The pronunciation can help but it's more the context. – Destal Oct 28 at 11:23
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I don't think anyone would be able to distinguish il l'a fait and il la fait phonetically.

In spoken French, the pronoun il is often reduced to a single [i] so both sentences would be pronounced the same way:

Il l'a faitY l'a fait → [i.la.fɛ] or [i.la.fe].

Il la faitY la fait →            //

On the other hand, a careful pronunciation can lengthen or geminate the L [il:a.fɛ] or [il.la.fɛ] in one or both sentences. This doesn't help either.

What does prevent these sentences to be ambiguous in the vast majority of cases is the context.

It will tell which meaning is the most likely to match it, the best bet being the first one (il l'a fait) because it is more common.

Il l'a fait, la sieste. (he had a nap)

Il la fait, la sieste. (he is having a nap or he usually has a nap)

Note that I would translate il l'a fait by "he has made it" but either "he made it" or "he did it" while il la fait can be "he makes" or "he does it" with it representing a feminine word.

  • Il l'a faite, la sieste, non ? – jcm69 Oct 31 at 21:33
  • @jcm69 En théorie, oui, verbe avoir et cod placé avant. En pratique, l'absence d'accord n'est pas rare avec le verbe faire. As-tu vu la tête qu'il a fait quand il s'est aperçu qu'elle n'était pas là ? dit M. Verdurin à sa femme Marcel Proust, Du côté de chez Swann. Et puis si j'accorde, mon exemple tombe à l'eau ;-) – jlliagre Oct 31 at 22:40
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    Les Verdurin en exemple ! :) Prise de tête : lefigaro.fr/livres/2006/06/29/… ;) Je chipote, votre réponse est la bonne. – jcm69 Nov 1 at 19:21
  • @ jlliagre Je me demande si ça vient vraiment du verbe faire... Si on le remplace par prendre: la tête qu'il a pris d'un coup. Ça marche aussi. L'expression n'est pas courant, voire inexistante mais vous voyez ce que je veux dire ;) – jcm69 Nov 5 at 20:15
  • @jcm C'est vrai, le verbe faire n'est pas un facteur significatif : Je te dis pas la branlée qu'il s'est pris ! ;-) – jlliagre Nov 5 at 20:38
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Yes, with some practice there is no difficulty in understanding which is which and of course no reasoning is necessary, otherwise the forms would be unpractical and wouldn't be used. The clues are easy to identify as far as pronunciation goes, but then you have to know well the gender of the nouns.

Those forms would occur for instance as an answer or a confirmation. I chose this type of occurrence for the examples but the forms occur in plain text too. You can tell whether the pronoun "le" or "la" is being used from the gender of the antecedent and the tense (pronunciation).

  • — Vous me dites qu'il a fait son devoir de mathématiques ce soir ?
    — Il l'a fait.

"Devoir" is masculine and so that's enough here to deduce that the tense is the "passé composé" because "la" wouldn't make sense.

  • — Est-ce qu'il a fait sa rédaction ce soir ?
    — Il la fait.

(Here, we would say rather "Il est en train de la faire." but "Il la fait." is also a possibility that amounts to the same meaning.)

If we suppose the spelling is "l'a" in this second example then we have either an elision of "le" or an elision of "la". "Le" is not a possibility as "le", being masculine (or neutral¹) cannot be used for representing "rédaction" which is feminine. If we suppose it is the elision of "la", then "a" must be the verb "avoir" and "fait" is the past participle of "faire", which is not correct as this past participle has to agree with the cod ("la", here writen "l'"); we should have "Il l'a faite." (here "e" is pronounced) . Therefore the spelling can't be "l'a".; it's "la" and the tense is the "présent de l'indicatif".
Of course, after getting used to it you don't have to go through this reasonning to determine which is which, nor is it ever necessary to do that if you spend enough time reading. I can tell you that I never did; but if you think it helps to go through such an analysis now and again go ahead and do it, it might speed up your learning process.

¹— neutral when it stands for what a clause is saying

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