Choppy French is a recipe for disaster.
Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad…
But nobody wants their French to sound choppy, right?
Luckily, the French language has quite the catalog of transition words to help hold it all together.
And let me tell you, the French love their transition words!
Not only do they keep you from sounding robotic, but they’re also the key to writing effective essays, understanding the literature you’re reading and improving (never stop!) your comprehension and conversation.
They may be little words, and you could ignore them and get the bare gist of things anyway, but you’re not that kind of learner, now, are you?
Let’s get to it and start adding these key ingredients to our nouns, verbs and adjectives.
How to Integrate French Transition Words into Your Diet
Get your feet wet with quizzes
How much do you really know about these words, anyway? Gauging your knowledge with a few quizzes before you delve into any topic is always a good idea. You may even get a little confidence boost when you realize that you already know a sizable handful of transition words!
If your knowledge is looking kind of rough, make sure to study away using the methods below.
Extract transition words from your reading
Transition words are sprinkled all over your French texts (you’re doing your reading, right?). In order to fully understand what you’re reading, knowing transition words is the final frontier. The clarity will be unreal! With this in mind, use the words around transition words to try and guess from context if you’re unsure. If you still aren’t positive as to what a word means, highlight it for later and look it up in one of your French dictionaries.
You’ll find these fun tie-in words in every type of French literature, from children’s books to young adult fiction to classic literary masterpieces. Once you know the bulk of them, you can revel in the wonderful feeling of understanding that much more French text.
Write your own beautiful sentences
I didn’t want to say it, but here it is…practice makes perfect, guys. So get out your pens and paper, and start on those French sentences! Try writing a paragraph that uses four or five transition words.
If you’re more into immersion-based learning, make sure to include appropriate transition words when writing emails to your pen pals, writing entries in your French journal or even in text messages with another French-speaking friend. You’ll sound oh-so-sophisticated.
Use transition words with the subjunctive
The subjunctive is nothing to fear, but sometimes it can be difficult to integrate into the French you actually use. The tendency of some learners is to avoid it (we’ve all been there). Lucky for you, I’ve noted which of the transitional words and phrases below take the subjunctive. It shall be ignored no longer! This will give you some French to use right away while practicing both your transitions and the subjunctive.
If you’re still a beginner, no worries here. Many of these words and phrases don’t require the subjunctive mood. On the other hand, you always could take the opportunity to learn about this ultra-useful and fun French staple.
Tying It All Together: 23 Transition Words for Seamless French
Translation: First of all
D’abord, il faut réchauffer le four. (First of all, you must preheat the oven.)
When you think “transition word,” this may be what you’re thinking. To start with the basics, here’s one of the first transition words you likely learned in French class. It’s best at the beginning of sentences, when giving directions or when recounting a series of events.
Ensuite, je prépare la tarte aux cerises. (Next, I prepare the cherry pie.)
An easy way to remember this one (yet another in the series of your basic transition words), is that la suiteis the sequel or “the next one” in French. It’s a useful piece of vocab when delving into French book series and films, and this transition word is obviously useful for continuing a series of events or directions you may be giving.
Puis, je coupe les pêches. (Then, I cut the peaches.)
Then, you’ve got puis. If you’re unfamiliar with this one, just know that it’ll come up a lot in literature and conversation. It’s a very useful transition word to have under your belt. Puis proves to be a good fallback word to have when some of the more specific transition words slip your mind.
Subjunctive-friendly? Not this one, either.
Enfin, on mange tout. (Finally, we eat everything.)
In our d’abord, ensuite, puis sequence, we end with enfin. This useful word is not only used as a transition to mark la fin(the end) of something, but is also an interjection—a filler word, if you will. It can mean “well,” “all in all,” “I mean” or “at least.” It’s a multi-edged sword. Use it as a transition to an end or to make your conversational French more authentic.
Subjunctive-friendly? Pas du tout (not at all).
5. Ainsi que
Translation: As well as
Je voudrais une tarte aux pommes ainsi que deux boules de glace. (I would like apple pie as well as two scoops of ice cream.)
Getting into some more advanced vocabulary now, this means “just as.” This conjunction is useful when elaborating on something you’re already discussing. It can also be used with a different meaning of “just as,” as in “It went just as I thought.”
6. Après que
Je vais dormir après que je mange toute cette tarte. (I’m going to sleep after I eat all this pie.)
Bet you’re wondering what the difference is between après queand that old favorite après. Après is a preposition, and après que is a compound conjunction. All that means is you use the latter when it’s followed by a verb (like in the example). If you wanted to start a sentence with “after,” then you would use the preposition:
Après, on va partir. (After, we’re going to leave.)
Remember that the quehelps link the clauses, and you should be good to link the night away.
Subjunctive-friendly? Technically, no, but French speakers tend to use the subjunctive after it regardless. So go ahead and get the extra practice.
7. Avant que
Je vais finir la tarte avant que je nettoie la cuisine. (I’m going to finish the pie before I clean the kitchen.)
Similar to après que, this conjunction is not to be confused with its definition without que. The same distinction can be made—avantbeing the preposition in this case and avant quethe compound conjunction.
Subjunctive-friendly? Yes, and don’t you forget it!
8. Bien que
Translation: Although/even though
Il m’a donné une tarte aux pêches bien que j’aie commandé une tarte aux pommes ! (He gave me peach pie even though I ordered an apple pie!)
Careful not translate this one to “good that.” This conjunctive phrase is great for showing contrast and adding “conditions” to things, even though you have to know your subjunctive to use it.
Subjunctive-friendly? Oh, most definitely.
9. Dès que
Translation: As soon as
Dès que la tarte arrive, je vais la détruire. (As soon as the pie arrives, I will destroy it.)
This is usually followed by not the subjunctive, but by a future tense! Makes sense considering the context. This is a great conjunctive phrase to use when making threats, lofty goals and uncertain plans. Très useful.
Subjunctive-friendly? Never, ever.
10. Parce que/car
J’aime les tartes plus que les gâteaux parce que (car) la croûte est magnifique. (I like pies more than cakes because the crust is magnificent.)
You’re likely familiar with parce que, and maybe less so with car. There are some slight distinctions to keep in mind for you nit-picky French speakers out there: Car leans slightly more towards “since” or “for.” Parce que is a little stronger when used in speech. They both mean essentially the same thing, but it’s good to know both of them to add variety to your French conversation.
11. Pour que
Translation: So that
Je fais une tarte pour que tu aies quelque chose à manger ce soir. (I’m making a pie so that you have something to eat tonight.)
Oh, isn’t it great when such a useful conjunction takes the subjunctive? Well, sure it is! That’s how you get practice. Pourmeans for, but for translation purposes, “so that”makes more sense when using this phrase.
Subjunctive-friendly? You better believe it!
12. Quoi que
Translation: No matter what
Quoi que ma mère fasse en cuisine, c’est délicieux. (No matter what my mom makes in the kitchen, it’s delicious.)
I bet your mind is reeling with how much better your French will sound once you get this one down. No matter what the medium is, it’s useful. But you may be noticing an interesting trend: A word that you’re well-versed in (bien, quoi, pour), whenadded to our favorite little word que, can bring out a completely different definition. Keep this in your mental notebook when you read these phrases or hear them spoken!
Subjunctive-friendly? Yes…yet again!
13. Tant que
Translation: As long as
Tant que cette tarte est là, je serai tenté de la manger. (As long as this pie is here, I will be tempted to eat it.)
What’s tantmean anyway? Funny you should ask, because this here is yet another example of fun words being transformed by their trusty sidekick que. Tant by itself means “so much or many,” or can be used to express an indefinite quantity. If you apply that definition back to this transitional phrase, then you can see something of a rough translation that matches “as long as.” But as long as you remember the definition, you’ll be good to go.
Subjunctive-friendly? No, you’re safe on this one.
Comme j’ai mangé trop de tarte, je ne peux pas manger mes légumes. (Since I ate too much of the pie, I can’t eat my vegetables.)
Puisque je l’ai fait, je goûte en premier. (Since I made it, I’ll taste [it] first.)
Even though the definition is the same on these two, there is a slight distinction. Comme is useful for showing both the cause and result in a sentence, whereas puisque just gives an explanation. Comme also likes to hang around at the beginning of sentences, whereas puisque can go in the middle if it so pleases. This distinction will help you sound extra-super pro!
Subjunctive-friendly? No and no.
Je cuisinais quand/lorsquetu es arrivé. (I was cooking when you arrived.)
These are interchangeable when talking about time, though lorsque is a formal upgrade of quand. Gauge the situation when you pick. They both have their own special purpose as well: Quand can mean “whenever,” and lorsque can mean “whereas.”
Subjunctive-friendly? Sadly, no.
Translation: Even though
Je mangerai une autre tranche quoique je n’aie pas faim. (I will eat another slice even though I’m not hungry.)
Okay, I’ll admit…it does get a bit confusing here. We just did quoi que, meaning “no matter what,”and now we’ve got the same thing minus the space in between and all of a sudden it means “even though”? These sound the same when spoken, but you should be able to figure it out based on the context. In addition, bien queand quoique can be used interchangeably. Just another opportunity for you to diversify.
Subjunctive-friendly? You better believe it.
Je veux que tu la goûtes, donc je garde une part. (I want for you to taste it, so I’m saving a piece.)
There is so much to say about this little word. Doncis one of the holy grails of French filler words, one of the little idiosyncrasies of French speech that you’ll pick up while in France and carry with you, smiling, forever. They use it both in the “correct” fashion, showing causation, as well as how we use it in English: “So, here’s the thing.” “So, I was heading to the store.” “So… So… So…” Remember donc. Cherish it. Can you tell this is my favorite French transition word?
Subjunctive-friendly? Not even close.
18. En fait
Translation: In fact
En fait, l’année dernière j’ai gagné une competition. (In fact, last year I won a competition.)
You have no excuses for not remembering this one. It’s spelt and sounds similar to the English definition. Use this phrase before emphasizing an important conclusion or key point.
Translation: However, nonetheless
Cependant, j’aime un bon gâteau de temps en temps. (However, I enjoy a nice cake from time to time.)
Cependantis actually an adverb, but it still functions as a transition word. Use it at the beginning of a sentence to point out an opposition or contradiction. Pourtantis a close cousin, but it’s a little more nuanced, as it indicates that one thing happened when another one was expected to.
Subjunctive-friendly? No! No!
20. En revanche/par contre
Translation: On the other hand, in opposition
Une tarte aux pommes est classique. Par contre, une tarte aux tomates est bonne pour le petit-déjeuner, le déjeuner et le dîner. (An apple pie is classic. On the other hand, a tomato pie is good for breakfast, lunch and dinner.)
The definition is close to cependant, but provides a little clearer contrast. Those make for two great transition words when you’re writing essays in French or can’t decide which type of pie is better.
Subjunctive-friendly? Mais non !
21. En plus/en outre
En outre, il faut choisir un bon parfum de glace pour accompagner la tarte. (Also, one must choose a good ice cream flavor to go with the pie.)
Need to add something that you forgot before? These two are good ways to vary your language and avoid using aussi (also) at every turn. En plusis common in conversation, and it, as well as en outre, is often a better alternative to aussi in written French.
Subjunctive-friendly? Jamais (never).
22. Pour ma part/pour moi
Translation: For me
Pour moi/ma part, je préfère la tarte au citron. (For me, I prefer lemon pie.)
Here are two phrases to use when you want to put emphasis on “me! me! me!” Pour moiis a good way to order at a restaurant, and pour ma partis best for stating opinions.
Subjunctive-friendly? Stop asking. It’s another “no.”
23. À mon avis
Translation: In my opinion
À mon avis, tous ces phrases sont ridicules ! (In my opinion, all of these sentences are ridiculous!)
But when you really want to make it all about you and your opinions, this is the best phrase. To qualify a statement as an opinion, or before you go on a rant about something you’re passionate about, this is a great transitional phrase to use and abuse!
Subjunctive-friendly? This is the last time I’m saying it…nope.
Enfin, you’re well-equipped to speak like a pro, write like an essayist and understand all the details in the French literature you’re devouring.
While there are far more transition words than those listed, knowing the basics will do wonders for your fluency.
Choppy French no more!
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The subjunctive is used normally in a subordinate clause (in other words, after the word que or some other conjuctions) where the preceding main clause requires the subjunctive. Like in English, French requires the subjunctive where the main clause expresses some doubt, wishing or emotion.
- Je doute que vous fassiez vos devoirs.
[fassiez is the present subjunctive formoffaire].
- Nous ne croyons pas que le monde soit rond.
- Nous croyons que le monde est rond. (present indicative)
[soit is the present subjunctive form ofêtre].
Note that the expression croire que does not require the subjunctive because no doubt is implied. Thus, we would say:
- Il est douteux que vous arriviez à l'heure.
Note: Even though we express the action in the second clause in the future tense in English, we must use the present subjunctive in French.
- Il semble que l'école ne produise pas d'élèves intelligents.
- Il me semble que l'école ne produit pas d'élèves intelligents.
Note: In English, "it seems that" doesn't seem to imply a lot of doubt. However, it implies some uncertainty and thus, in French, requires the subjunctive. The expression Il me semble que... does not require the subjunctive. Presumably, this is because there is less doubt. Thus:
This rule is still under debate. Please adhere to your instructor's direction if there is a conflict.
- Il est possible que nous allions en vacances.
- Il se peut que mes frères sachent faire la lessive.
- Il ne paraît pas que l'hiver parte bientôt.
Note: Because there is no future subjunctive, the present subjunctive serves to indicate the future meaning.
- Il est faux que l'Indiana soit au bord de l'océan.
- Il est incroyable que cet animal puisse parler.
In French, impersonal expressions of necessity require the subjunctive in the subordinate clause. In English, an example of an impersonal expression of necessity would be: "It is essential that he finish the work." The subject of the main clause is "it." However, "it" doesn't refer to any person, place, thing or concept; it has no antecedent. That is why the expression "it is essential" is considered impersonal. The rule is the same for the French equivalent Il est essentiel. Some common expressions of necessity include:
- Il faut que ma voiture soit réparée avant de partir.
- Il ne faut pas que ma voiture soit réparée avant de partir.
- Il ne faut pas que vous sortiez.
Note: The negative il ne faut pas que...does not simply mean . The statement:
Therefore, if someone tells you:
he is not saying
In other words, he is not offering a choice.
- Il est nécessaire que le défilé commence à l'heure.
[commence is in the subjunctive mood, however, its form is the same as the present indicative].
- Il est essentiel que mon collègue et moi finissions ce projet de chimie.
- Il est important que vous votiez pour le meilleur candidat.
Most expressions of desirability or insistance in French, whether personal or impersonal require the subjunctive. Most of these expressions require the subjunctive even if the expression is in the negative. For instance, "I desire that you come" and "I don't desire that you come" would both require the subjunctive in French. Here are some of these expressions:
- Il n'est pas bon que nous dormions pendant toute la journée.
- Ma mère veut que je fasse mes devoirs.
- Nos amis et moi, nous ne voulons pas que le ciel tombe.
- Je veux aller à l'école is the same as Je veux que j'aille à l'école.
- Nous voulons faire du ski.
- Nous voulons que notre ami fasse du ski.
This structure in French often causes many problems for introductory students because it is very dissimilar to English. In English we can say, "I want you to go to the store" which means "I desire that you go to the store." In French, it is impossible to use "want" in this way. To translate a sentence like that into French, one must say, "I want that you go to the store." And, such a structure requires requires the subjunctive. Note the examples below:
- J'aime qu'il ne pleuve pas.
- Vous n'aimez pas que votre ennemi vienne ce soir.
- Le président de la République désire que l'éléctorat le choisisse.
- Il n'est pas préférable que l'étudiant rate le cours.
- Je préfère que tu n'éternues pas.
- Le professeur n'insiste pas que nous rendions le devoir aujourd'hui.
- Vous tenez à ce que le travail soit bien fait.
- Mes camarades de chambre exigent que je paie le loyer.
- Il est exigé que l'on stationne la voiture ailleurs.
In French, there are two principal expressions used for fear. Both of these expressions, when followed by que require the subjunctive and, when desired, the pleonastic 'ne'. They areavoir peur, de peur queandcraindre.
- Le chat a peur que le chien (ne) le morde.
- Je crains que ma fiancée (n')ait une panne de voiture.
There are many conjunctions in French that require the subjunctive following them. It is very difficult to know which conjunctions require the subjunctive and which don't. Memorization is about the only sure way to get it right. Unfortunately, it would be impossible to reproduce an exhaustive list, but here are some of the most important:
- Je t'accompagnerai à condition que tu me paies le voyage.
- Téléphone à tes parents, afin qu'ils sachent où nous sommes.
- Il ne survivra pas à moins que les meilleurs médecins (ne) le soignent.
- Nous ne partirons pas pour la Floride avant que mon pere (ne) sache où nous allons.
- Tu ne peux pas recevoir ton diplôme juqu'à ce que tu finisses tes cours.
- La ville a établi des limites de vitesse pour que les conducteurs ne conduisent pas trop vite.
- Maudis-moi, pourvu que j'entende ta voix! (Flaubert)
- J'ai bien aimé ce film, quoiqu'il soit un peu long.
- Il a fini le travail sans que son voisin (ne) s'en rende compte.
- Je vais leur téléphoner afin de commander une pizza.
- Tu pourras venir à condition de faire tous les préparatifs nécessaires.
- Tu pourras réussir à cet examen pourvu que tu étudies!
Probably the most interesting use of the subjunctive in French is in the case of an indefinite antecedent. This is one of the few times that the subjunctive can exist in a sentence without the word que.
An indefinite antecedent exists when the object talked about, or referenced in the main clause is nonexistant or its existance is in doubt. This case comes about usually when talking about a search for something or someone with certain qualities. Here are a few examples:
- Nous cherchons quelqu'un qui puisse travailler indépendamment.
- Il ne connaît personne qui veuille venir à la fête.
- Il connaît quelqu'un qui veut venir à la fête.
- Il n'y a rien du tout dans cette situation qui soit compréhensible.
A superlative is an expression of totality or uniqueness that, in English, is usually expressed with the ending -est and some other words. For example, words such as "greatest", "best", "most", "only" are examples of superlatives. When these equivalents in French are followed by que, they are normally followed by a clause in the subjunctive:
- Voilà la plus belle femme que j'aie jamais vue.
- La seule voiture bleue que nous puissions conduire se trouve là bas.
- C'est la seule réponse qu'il sait. (I.e., a statement of fact.)
(i.e., a statement of opinion.)
The phrasesoù que, quoi que , qui que, quel que , andsi + adjective + que, are followed by the subjunctive:
- Où que j'aille dans la vie, je me souviendrai de votre gentillesse.
- Quoi que tu fasses, ne dis rien à mon petit ami!
- Si idiot que ce soit, rends-moi ce service.
Certain set expressions are conjugated in the subjunctive:
- Ainsi soit-il!
- Vive le roi!
- Advienne que pourra!
- Qu'il parte tout de suite!
- Qu'on me dise la vérité!
In certain subjunctive constructions, the false or pleonastic 'ne' is used. this usage has mostly disappeared from spoken French, but you will still see it in written French. Be sure to recognize it for what it is and not immediately see a negative. if pas or any other second element of negation (rien, jamais, plus, etc.) is there too, however, you are dealing with a real negative.
- Elle est plus sportive que je ne croyais.
- Parle-lui avant qu'elle ne parte.
- A moins qu'il ne perde le match, on sortira au restaurant.
- J'ai peur qu'il n'ait pas fini le projet.