by Clare Jones
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
If you are interested in the origin of this expression, I suggest you buy my book where all is revealed!
- 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: dû (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.
- 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.
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