by Clare Jones

Raunds Community Choir

Raunds Community Choir

Last Saturday I sang in my very last concert with Raunds Community Choir at the Raunds Flower Festival in St Peter’s Church. I have been singing with the choir since its very first meeting six years ago. When I joined, I said to the organiser, “I’m not sure how regularly I’ll be able to attend as I often teach on a Tuesday night”. Little was I to know that I would fast become hooked and Tuesday night lessons were immediately rescheduled. I only missed one and a half rehearsals in six years!

Saturday’s concert was the best we have ever given and at the end I was so full of adrenalin, j’avais de l’énergie à revendre! I was overflowing with energy – I had energy left to sell off. Unlike in previous concerts where I often felt nervous and unsure of myself, this time we were singing mainly songs we had sung many times before and I was happy and confident. Je m’en donnais à coeur joie­ – I was having a field day (literally I was giving myself of it with heart joy).

Sadly, toute bonne chose a une fin – all good things come to an end, and having now moved to Oundle, I’ve decided to say goodbye to my Tuesday night rehearsals in Raunds but without a doubt I shall be sitting in the audience at their next concert wishing them well and waiting for that little tingle down the back of my neck when the music starts.

A bientôt!


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by Clare Jones

Oundle bookshop

Oundle bookshop, Northamptonshire

Last week I was delighted to finally get my book on display in a shop window! Oundle bookshop is housed in wonderful old premises in the centre of the beautiful historic town in East Northamptonshire where I now live and teach. It helps local writers by not taking a huge cut of the profits from a book, thereby allowing us poor authors to make a small profit from our sales. Here’s a photo of my book dans la vitrine de la librairie – in the bookshop window.

Je mourrai moins bete: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid

Je mourrai moins bete: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid

Don’t forget that la librairie in French is a false friend. It is not a library, which is une bibliothèque. I wouldn’t be happy if you tried to take my book away without paying! Nor would I be content if all the French learners in Oundle contented themselves with window shopping (faire du lèche-vitrines –  literally to do lick-windows).

faire du lèche vitrines

picture by Tamsin Edwards Texart


For those of you who live too far from Oundle to come and buy a copy, you can buy it on Amazon worldwide. If you have read and enjoyed it, please do leave a review for me. It would only take you a few moments and would give me much encouragement.

A bientôt!



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by Clare Jones

Cwellyn Arms campsite

Cwellyn Arms campsite, Rhyd Ddu

I have just come back from a fabulous two nights’ family camping trip to the “wild and wonderful” Cwellyn Arms campsite in Snowdonia. I can’t exactly say “nous avons dormi à la belle étoile” (we slept under the stars) because there was a very small canvas separating us from the sky but it was close enough! The sky turned pink and yellow as the sun set over the lake, and we chatted by the camp fire until it got dark well after 10pm then we wriggled into our sleeping bags which barely fitted in the tiny tent. We were in fits of giggles when we realized we had put our sleeping bags in the tent the wrong way round and we somehow had to reverse our positions before it was possible to lie down – not an easy task!

le soleil se couche – the sun is setting

le soleil couchant – the setting sun

un feu de camp – a campfire

un sac de couchage – a sleeping bag

à l’envers / sens dessus dessous – upside down

piquer un fou rire – to get a fit of the giggles

The following morning, we set off on the half-mile walk up to the pub for one of the best cooked breakfasts I have ever had the pleasure to eat. The uphill walk was excellent for stretching the limbs and easing out the aches and pains I could feel from passing the night on the hard ground, and as the French say, “Ça ouvre l’appétit” – it whets the appetite (literally it opens the appetite). The breakfast wasn’t cheap but it was obviously made with the finest of local ingredients and was cooked to perfection. Myam myam!

According to, the expression dormir à la belle étoile used to be used ironically as if La Belle Étoile were the name of an inn (The Beautiful Star) and the ceiling above you the stars in the night sky.

Rhyd Ddu

Rhyd Ddu, Snowdonia

We were lucky to have splendid weather for the whole of our stay in Snowdonia. It wasn’t until I got home that I heard of the appalling weather the French have had to suffer this week. I do hope my French friends and readers are safe and well. Please leave a comment in French or in English.

A bientôt!


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by Clare Jones

Here is the second half of the spelling reforms in France which have caused such recent controversy despite it being old news. For the first five changes, please refer to last week’s blog and for more details in French look here.

Nouvelle orthographe


  1. Words which have been borrowed from other languages will be made to conform to the normal rules for French words in the plural.

Previously: un match, des matches

Now: un match, des matchs

Previously: une miss (an English girl), des misses

Now: une miss, des miss

An accent will be added if this helps the reader to pronounce the word correctly –

Previously: un revolver

Now: un révolver

Notice that this doesn’t mean that the word is pronounced exactly as it would be in English; rather it has been modified to sound more natural to a French speaker and therefore to be more easily absorbed into the French language.

  1. Lots of words which used to be hyphenated will now be written as one word. These will include
  • words which start with contr(e) and entr(e)
  • words which start with extra, infra, intra and ultra
  • words with scholarly elements such as hydro and socio
  • onomatopoeic words such as tictac
  • foreign words such as weekend

So ‘to go away for a weekend’ will now be partir en weekend.

In fact, dictionary writers are invited to extend the rules above to all hyphenated words so, for example, porte-monnaie (a purse) now becomes portemonnaie.

  1. Words which used to end in -olle, e.g. corolle (corolla – part of a flower) will now end in -ole to bring them into line with words such as bestiole (creature; creepy-crawly) but exceptions to the new rule include la folle (the mad woman), la colle (the glue) and la molle (the soft or spineless woman).

Also, verbs which formerly ended in -otter will now end in -oter with one T. Exceptions to this new spelling rule are the verbs botter (to boot) which comes from a noun –  la botte (the boot) – and any other verbs which come from nouns with a double consonant. So we now have the lovely verb mangeoter (to eat without appetite; to pick at one’s food) which is now in line with another verb I rather like, neigeoter (to snow a little).

  1. The ninth new rule clears up an area which has caused many headaches to learners: the tréma (two dots) has either been moved or added so that it now sits over a letter which is pronounced separately from the letter before or after it.

Bye-bye to: aiguë (high-pitched – feminine adjective), ambiguë (ambiguous – feminine adjective), ambigüité (ambiguity) and also arguer (to argue).

Hello: aigüe, ambigüe, ambigüité and argüer.

There is also now a tréma in the word gageüre (challenge) –

C’est une véritable gageüre ! It’s a real challenge!

  1. The final rule concerns the verb laisser (to let /allow) when followed by an infinitive. Previously in the passé-composé, there would have had to be an agreement, e.g. elle s’est laissée maigrir (she let herself get thin), je les ai laissés partir (I let them leave). Now this construction follows the similar construction using faire followed by an infinitive, where the past participle is invariable: elle s’est laissé maigrir, je les ai laissé partir.


There are several anomalies which have also been regularized. Here are a few of them:

asseoir → assoir (to sit somebody down)

bonhomie → bonhommie (affability)

chariot → charriot (trolley)

combatif → combattif (ready to fight)

eczéma → exéma (eczema)

imbécillité → imbécilité (idiocy)

nénuphar → nénufar (waterlily)

oignon →ognon (onion)

pagaïe → pagaille (mess; chaos)

saccharine → saccarine (saccharine)

papeterie → papèterie (stationery; stationer’s)

leader → leadeur (leader)

allô → allo (hello – on the phone)

I hope I’ve managed to summarize well enough for you to follow the main ideas and that you don’t find the whole thing too much of une véritable gageüre and that it hasn’t made you feel too combattif /combattive ! If it’s all too much for you, go for a trip to the supermarket to take your mind off it, and fill your charriot with ognons ! Don’t forget to leave a comment below, please.

A bientôt!


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by Clare Jones

nouvelle orthographe

I mentioned in my last blog post that the French have reformed their spelling rules and that oignon is now spelled ognon. Here are some more onion expressions:

Occupe-toi de tes ognons ! –Mind your own business! (literally take care of your onions)

Ce ne sont pas mes ognons – It’s none of my business (literally these are not my onions)

Interestingly, I have three French dictionaries in app format which I have bought in the last few years and none of them recognizes the new spelling, though it has long been a recommendation that dictionaries list both versions. My spellchecker on my new computer, on the other hand, does recognize both. These new rules were introduced as long ago as 1990 and were approved unanimously by L’Académie française but it was only in September 2015 that publishers finally decided that all school text books would make the changes. That’s when fury erupted on social media and the changes hit the headlines. Even British newspapers reported on the story. French university students who had struggled to learn the old complex spellings and had finally mastered them now felt some attachment to them and pride at having learned them. They accused the socialist government of dumbing down the language of Molière. There was much support for their campaign but the spelling reforms stand and personally I find they make perfect sense. Both old and new spellings are to be accepted in examinations but the new spellings are recommended, so I will do my best to explain some of the main changes and will try to use them from now on. I have left out some details. For a more detailed guide in French on the subject take a look at this website and download this pdf. There are ten areas of change. Here are the first five.

  1. To start with, numbers which did not used to be hyphenated are now hyphenated so instead of vingt et un we now have vingt-et-un. This helps to clear up the ambiguity which arose in the following example:

Soixante et un tiers had two possible interpretations: 60 + 1/3 or 61/3.

Now there is a distinction:

Soixante et un tiers = 60 + 1/3

Soixante-et-un tiers = 61/3

  1. Composite nouns made up of a verb+ noun e.g. un pèse-lettre (postal scales) or a preposition + noun e.g. un sans-abri (a homeless person) from now on will always have an s at the end of the second half to mark a plural and in the singular will never have an s.

Bye bye: un compte-gouttes (a pipette / dropper), des compte-gouttes

Hello : un compte-goutte, des compte-gouttes

Bye bye : un après-midi, des après-midi

Hello : un après-midi, des après-midis


  1. Some acute accents have been changed to grave accents to regularize their spellings.

Bye bye: un événement (an event), un réglement (rules), je céderai (I will give in), ils régleraient (they would settle up / regulate)

Hello: un évènement, un règlement, je cèderai, ils règleraient

Notice though that we still have un médecin and la médicine.

So the French expression changer de crémerie (to take one’s business elsewhere) would now be written changer de crèmerie.

changer de crèmerie

Picture by Tamsin Edwards Texart


If you are interested in the origin of this expression, I suggest you buy my book where all is revealed!

  1. The circumflex accent is disappearing over an i and a u apart from in the simple past tense, the subjunctive and in five words where there might be some confusion with similar words: the circumflex accent will remain in the following masculine singular adjectives: (owing, due), mûr (ripe) and sûr (sure);

in the noun jeûne (fast);

and in just those forms of the verb croître /croitre (to grow) where there could be some confusion with the verb croire (to believe) e.g. il croît (he grows), il croit (he believes).

So bye bye to connaître, il connaît and entraînement and hello to connaitre, il connait and entrainement.

  1. Verbs ending in -eler and -eter will now follow the pattern of peler (to peel) and acheter (to buy). However, appeler (to call) and jeter (to throw) remain unchanged.

What do you think of the changes? Can you think of any other examples of words which will now change to conform to these first five rules? Please leave a comment. I’ll be back with the other five areas of change next week.


A bientôt!



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By Clare Jones

Last year I read with enormous pleasure Anna Gavalda’s book Ensemble c’est tout. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, the moment I finished it, I turned back to page one and read the whole book again. I won’t be doing the same thing with La Consolante by the same author. I really am finding it hard work and having read over 300 pages, I am seriously wondering whether I can make it to the end. I thought it was just me being a thick English person but having read the reviews just now, I’m glad to say other readers with French as a native language have also found it very challenging stylistically (what a relief!) I believe the end of the book is excellent so I will probably keep going but no promises!

I wouldn’t normally write a negative comment about an author’s work on this blog but I thought it worth pointing out what might be blatantly obvious to you but which has only just dawned on me: just because I’m finding a French book difficult, it doesn’t mean that I am not as fluent in French as I thought or that I’m unintelligent, or that I won’t get great enjoyment from another French book. It just means that I’ve chosen badly for me this time. The next book I choose might be a dream to read!

Anyway, I came across the lovely expression être aux petits oignons when the main protagonist, Charles, visits the grave of Anouk, the mother of his childhood friend. Addressing the grave, he says out loud, “Mais dis-moi… Tu es vraiment aux petits oignons ici…”  At the little onions? Charles is not comparing Anouk’s final resting place to a vegetable plot. Rather, it means something like ‘it’s perfect here’.  The expression is often used with the verb traiter (to treat) – traiter quelqu’un aux petits oignons, ‘to treat somebody with love and care’ or ‘just so’.

The origin of the expression does indeed lie in French cuisine. Imagine a succulent casserole which has been prepared with care using baby onions. At first only used as a culinary term, in the 19th century its use spread to other areas of life (see Expressio for more explanations and examples).

Did you know that since French spelling was recently reformed, oignon can now be spelled ognon?

What other French expressions do you know to do with onions? Please leave a comment for us to share!

A bientôt!


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Je mourrai moins bête

By Clare Jones

My thanks go to Tony Price of Weldon, Northants for sharing with us his favourite French expression: être sur le qui-vive – ‘to be on the alert’. Tony was the winner of our recent competition in conjunction with Village Connect magazine to receive a copy of my book Je mourrai moins bête: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid’. Tony writes:   “My favourite French expression is:-   être sur le qui-vive   which I may have found in a novel.   It perfectly described the 24/7 behaviour of our neighbour in a small French hamlet.  Any noise or activity triggered the release of Lassie (!) the barking Jack (Jacques?) Russell, closely followed by its owner to see what was going on and pretend to discipline the dog.”

What is your favourite French expression? Do you know a good French expression to describe a nosy neighbour? Please leave a comment.   Please don’t forget if you have read and enjoyed the book to leave a review on, or

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by Clare Jones

I will soon be moving house to Oundle near Peterborough but I’ve managed to squeeze in a little time to write a blog post this week.
un loup – a wolf

mettre bas – to give birth (of an animal) (literally to put low)

donner naissance à – (of a woman) to give birth to

I’ve recently finished reading La symphonie des loups which I found an interesting read. I had never considered the impact of wolves on the shepherds of the French Alps. In the opening pages we meet Ragan le loup, a magnificent creature. Who has more right to be in these mountains of the Mercantour, the wolf looking for territory or the shepherds and their sheep? Enzo the shepherd lives a simple life with his wife who is expecting their first baby, and Ragan’s mate is ready to give birth too. When Enzo’s cousin is killed along with his flock of sheep, the wolf is blamed, Enzo becomes unhinged and all talk is of revenge. A long hunt begins which leads to the climax of the book when Enzo and Ragan come face to face.
Here is the blurb from the publisher, Presse de la Cité. I’ll write more about the expressions I met in this book another time.
Dans le Mercantour, entre vallées et montagnes, la cohabitation entre bergers et loups est-elle possible ? Qui a raison ? Les bergers et leur travail pénible ? Ou bien le loup, sans cesse à  la recherche d’un territoire ?
Enzo le berger dont l’épouse Anna attend un fils, Ragan le loup et sa compagne qui va bientôt mettre bas, les brebis accompagnées de leurs agneaux en partance pour une longue transhumance, tous suivent le fil tout simple de la vie quotidienne. Jusqu’au drame fatal impliquant le cousin d’Enzo et le troupeau. Le premier accusé est le loup, le prédateur à  éliminer coûte que coûte. La vengeance est sur toutes les lèvres. Une longue traque commence alors, une chasse impitoyable qui amènera Ragan le loup et Enzo le berger à  un terrible face à face.
Don’t forget about the competition which is currently running to win a copy of Je mourrai moins bête: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid. Many thanks to all those who have bought a copy of my book. If you have enjoyed reading it, please leave a review on Amazon. Here are the links for, and

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By Clare Jones

Je mourrai moins bête

Cover by Tamsin Edwards Texart

I am pleased to announce that the lucky winner of a copy of Je mourrai moins bête: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid in the competition run by Lawless French was Michael Rosanova of Illinois. The first French expression he ever learned was C’est la vie! – ‘That’s life!’ A calm acceptance of life’s problems is what I need at the moment as we are in the throes of house moving and I am trying to cope with legal matters and bureaucracy without panicking! Another useful one for me is Ne t’en fais pas! – ‘Don’t worry!’ Do you know of any other calming French phrases which might help me through this tricky time? Please leave a comment in the box below.

In case you missed my previous competition, here’s another one. It is aimed at readers of Village Connect, a magazine which links up villages across Northamptonshire. Attention! Des conditions générales s’appliquent – terms and conditions apply. This competition is only open to UK residents, one entry per person. Send an email to me at with “Village Connect Competition” in the title telling me what your favourite French expression is and you will have the chance to win a copy of my book. Entries on a postcard can also be sent to Clare Jones, 33 Thorpe Street, Raunds, Wellingborough, Northants, NN9 6LS to arrive before the closing date of noon on Monday, 4th April, 2016. All entries will go into a hat and one will be drawn at random.

Many thanks to all those who have bought a copy of my book. If you have enjoyed reading it, please leave a review on Amazon. Here are the links for, and

A bientôt!


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by Clare Jones

14 – quatorze

Le 14 février c’est la fête des amoureux – la Saint-Valentin.

The 14th February is the feast day of lovers – Saint Valentine’s Day.

Notice that even though Saint Valentin was a man and therefore un saint rather than une sainte, the festival is feminine in French – la Saint-Valentin. This is because it is short for “la fête de saint Valentin”. Similarly, la Saint-Sylvestre (New Year’s Eve) is also feminine. We also talk of la Noël because it is la fête de Noël even though Noël is masculine – we say “Joyeux Noël!” (masculine).


un dîner aux chandelles – a candlelit dinner

un dîner aux chandelles

Picture copyright Tamsin Edwards

literally: a dinner with candles

register: normal

Pour fêter la Saint-Valentin, plutôt que d’inviter l’élue de votre cœur au restaurant, pourquoi ne pas préparer un dîner aux chandelles romantique ?

To celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day, instead of inviting your beloved to a restaurant, why not prepare a romantic candlelit dinner?


Don’t forget that to say “I love you” in French, you just say “Je t’aime”. Don’t go adding beaucoup or bien because that detracts from the strength of the sentiment. You could also say “Je t’adore” – I adore you (adorer is used more than to adore in English). If you do choose this expression, make sure you pronounce the A clearly. In English adore is pronounced more like “uh-dore” but not so in French. However, in some French families, the overuse of adorer is frowned upon. I remember once when I was visiting my French penfriend’s family, hearing one of the family saying “J’adore ce livre”. Maman didn’t like this turn of phrase at all and quickly reprimanded her daughter with a sharp “On n’adore que le bon Dieu” – ‘only God is adored’, so watch out!


There are lots of excellent articles and videos on Saint Valentine’s Day. Here are a few links to get you started:

Lawless French Il m’aime un peu, beaucoup, passionnément, à la folie, pas du tout

Comme une Française Dos and Don’ts on La Saint-Valentin, and  La Saint-Valentin Saint-Valentin 2016 : tout savoir sur la date des amoureux


If you haven’t already entered the competition to win a copy of Je mourrai moins bête: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid on the Lawless French website, it closes on February 14th, 2016. Just answer the question “What was the first French expression you learned?” There are also 8 other ways to enter! Many thanks to all those who have bought a copy of my book. If you have enjoyed reading it, PLEASE, PLEASE leave a review on Amazon. Here are the links for, and

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About the author

Clare Jones was born in the North of England in 1960. She fell in love with the French language at the age of 11 and went on to study it to degree level at Leicester University, where she also became a qualified teacher. In 2011 Clare collaborated with Tamsin Edwards to produce an iPhone application, “Figure out French, Rouler un patin: to give a French kiss and other French expressions for leisure and health”. Though she now lives in England, Clare always has her nose in a French book and she surrounds herself by all things French. She is currently very busy teaching French as a private tutor and when she has the time, she writes a blog on the subject of the French language (click on the blog tab to read it). Clare enjoys tai-chi, swimming, and cycling in the local country park. She is also an enthusiastic member of her local community choir.

About the illustrator

Tamsin Edwards studied art at both Nene Art College, Northampton, and Derby School of Art during the early 1980s. Though well known for her atmospheric watercolour landscapes, Tamsin also creates quirky pen & wash illustrations, often portraying comic images of people and places. Tamsin has already collaborated with Clare Jones to produce an iPhone application. Past commissioned projects also include the children’s storybook ‘Tales of Two Shires’ and a book of poetic verses. As well as regularly exhibiting work and selling to clients around the world, Tamsin has also had several paintings published in an international magazine. To view further examples of her work or to buy original artwork from this book, please visit Tamsin can be contacted at

Author Photo

Illustrator Tamsin Edwards (left) and author Clare Jones (right)

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