To contract or not to contract…
That is the question that will now have a correct answer, rather than be a choice you can make freely.
As opposed to English, where you can choose to write “I will” or “I’ll,” for example, in French contractions are required.
Luckily, the rules are pretty simple to learn. Plus, contractions are a part of everyday speech, so you’ll see and hear them often.
There’s even more on this bright side: The fact that these are necessary means you’ll never have to think about if it’s appropriate or not to contract—so hard rules can be handy for this reason!
Below we’ll go over the instances in which you must contract in French, when not to contract, plus additional resources for contraction practice.
The Beginner’s Guide to French Contractions
First things first, let’s get our terms straight.
A contraction refers to the shortened form of written and/or spoken forms of a word or word group, created by the omission of internal letters and/or sounds.
In French there are some words like aujourd’hui (today), which were initially contractions. Aujourd’hui (today) is a contraction that dates back to the 12th century, made of:
au (on) + jour (day) + de (of) + hui (Latin for “today”)
Literal translation: on the day of today
D’abord (first of all, in the first place), d’accord (okay) and d’ailleurs (moreover, besides) are other examples of contractions cum words.
Besides the above-mentioned, there are quite a few contractions of a different sort in French. Let’s take a look at them according to two different categories. Ready? Allons-y (Let’s go!)
Group 1: Words That Contract When Followed by a Vowel, Silent H or the Pronoun Y
Let’s take a look at some examples, shall we?
Singular definite article: le, la
In French, a definite article corresponds to “the” in English, which means it refers to a specified noun. Le (the) accompanies masculine nouns and la (the) accompanies feminine ones.
L’ (the) is the contracted version of the definite article and it’s used when the noun, either masculine or feminine, begins with a vowel or an h muet (silent h):
Animal (animal) is a masculine noun, which means its accompanying definite article is le (the).
Le (the) + animal (animal) must contract to l’animal (the animal).
Étiquette (label, tag) is a feminine noun, which means its accompanying definite article is la (the).
La (the) + étiquette (label, tag) must contract to l’étiquette (the label, tag).
Homme (man) is a masculine noun, which means its accompanying definite article is le (the).
Le (the) + homme (man) must contract to l’homme (the man).
Single-consonant words that end with a silent e
In French there are nine single-consonant words that end with an e muet (silent e): ce, de, je, le, me, ne, que, se and te.
Let’s take a look at some common single-consonant words in contraction action, where the vowel is dropped and contracted with the second word.
Ce (this) + est becomes c’est (this/that/it is).
De (of, from)
De (of, from) + Angleterre (England) becomes d’Angleterre (of/from England).
Je + aime (likes) becomes j’aime (I like/love).
Je + y (an adverbial pronoun that refers to “here” or “there”) + vais (go) becomes j’y vais (I’m going there).
A short note: When je (I) is inverted, it does not contract. For example, in the construction puis-je (may I), when followed by a verb which begins with a vowel such as avoir (to have), a resulting sentence would look like this, with no contraction between je and avoir:
Puis-je avoir un verre d’eau ?
(May I have a glass of water?)
Le (him, it) — direct object pronoun that refers to a third person singular noun
(I like/love him.)
Me (myself) — direct object pronoun meaning that refers to a first person singular noun
(I dress myself/I am getting dressed.)
Ne (not) — adverbial negation, usually used in conjunction with pas to produce ne…pas (not) or plus to form ne…plus (not any longer)
Il n’est pas chez lui.
(He is not at home.)
Que (that/what/whom) — conjunction or relative pronoun
Le livre qu’il a achété est long.
(The book that he bought is long.)
Se (oneself) — object pronoun that refers to a third person singular noun
Il s’appelle Jean.
(His name is Jean.)
Literally: He calls himself Jean.
Te (you, to you) — object pronoun that refers to a second person singular noun
Marie t’écrit une lettre.
(Marie is writing you a letter.)
The conjunctions puisque (since, because as) and lorsque (when, while, as soon as)
Puisque + on becomes puisqu’on (since we…)
Puisqu’on parle de coûts, je vais vérifier les achats.
(Since we’re talking about costs, I will verify the purchases.)
Puisque + il becomes puisqu’il (since he…since it…)
Puisqu’il était en avance, Marc a sorti son livre.
(Since he was early, Marc took out his book.)
Lorsque + on becomes lorsqu’on (when one)
Lorsqu’on est gourmand, on mange sans avoir faim.
(When one is a food lover, one eats without being hungry.)
Lorsque + il becomes lorsqu’il (when it…)
Lorsqu’il est vide, range ton sac.
(When it is empty, put away your bag.)
The adverb or preposition jusque (until, too)
Jusque + à (at) becomes jusqu’à (up to)
On marche jusqu’à la gare.
(We’re walking up to the train station.)
Jusque + alors (then, at the time) becomes jusqu’alors (up until now)
Son magasin jusqu’alors fermé est ouvert.
(His store, up until now closed, is open.)
Jusque + en (in) becomes jusqu’en (until [a certain date])
L’eau est restée au même niveau jusqu’en 2015.
(The water stayed at the same level until 2015.)
Jusque + ici (here) becomes jusqu’ici (all the way here)
J’ai couru jusqu’ici.
(I ran all the way here.)
Group 2: The Prepositions à (at) and de (of, from)
In this group, the prepositions à (at) and de (of, from) will contract with the definite articles le/les (the) and their accompanying forms of lequel (of which).
The preposition à (at)
à + le (the) becomes au (at the)
Je suis au parc.
(I am at the park.)
à + les becomes aux (to the, at the, with)
J‘ai mal aux yeux.
(My eyes hurt.)
à + lequel becomes auquel (to which)
L’homme auquel tu parlais habite dans ce quartier.
(The man to whom you were speaking lives in this neighborhood.)
à + lesquels becomes auxquels (to which, referring to masculine plural nouns)
Les hommes auxquels tu parlais habitent dans ce quartier.
(The men to whom you were speaking live in this neighborhood.)
à + lesquelles becomes auxquelles (to which, referring to feminine plural nouns)
Les femmes auxquelles tu parlais habitent dans ce quartier.
(The women to whom you were speaking live in this neighborhood.)
A short note: à + laquelle does not contract, as in:
La femme à laquelle tu parlais est arrivée.
(The woman to whom you were speaking has arrived.)
The preposition de (of, from)
de + le becomes du (from, of the)
J’ai une table du Maroc.
(I have a table from Morocco.)
de + les becomes des (the indefinite article for some)
Il y a des crayons sur le bureau.
(There are some pencils on the desk.)
de + lequel becomes duquel (of which)
Le bâtiment à côté duquel on habite a été cambriolé.
(The building next to which we lived was robbed.)
de + lesquels becomes desquels (of which, referring to masculine plural nouns)
Les bâtiments à côté desquels on habite ont été cambriolés.
(The buildings next to which we lived was robbed.)
de + lesquelles becomes desquelles (of which, referring to feminine plural nouns)
Les voitures à côté desquelles nous avons stationné ont été cambriolées.
(The cars next to which we parked were robbed.)
A short note: The definite articles la and l’ do not contract when in the presence of the prepositions à or de. Also, when le and les are object pronouns rather than definite articles, they do not contract either.
When to Not Use Contractions in French
Speaking of cases in which contractions are not to be used, it’s worth taking a look at other examples in which contractions don’t play a role. Indeed, contractions seem to be everywhere in French so the question begs: When don’t we use contractions?
- Before h aspiré (aspirated h)
Nouns like haricot (green bean) and héro (hero), which begin with an aspirated h, are accompanied by the definite article le (the) rather than l’ (the) to form:
le haricot (the green bean)
le héro (the hero)
- After qui (that)
Voici un livre qui est intéressant.
(Here is a book that is interesting.)
- Between si and elle(s)
Si elle est là, je serai contente.
(If she is here, I will be happy.)
- Between la and une
Okay, this one requires a bit of explanation. In most cases, a contraction actually is used between la and une, as in L‘une entre elles est en retard (One of them is late). When la une refers to news headlines, however, no contraction is used:
Le scandale a fait la une.
(The scandal made the headlines.)
Additional Resources for Practicing French Contractions
As you know by now, grammar is an essential for unlocking the puzzle that is the French language. Practice is essential for upping your grammar game. Here are some resources you can use:
- Grammar books. Alongside the mainstay “The Everything Guide to French Grammar” by Laura K. Lawless, I also recommend checking out “French Grammar and Usage” by Roger Hawkins and Richard Towell. And I know you’re no dummy, but “French All-in-one for Dummies” is also worth looking into.
- Flashcards. Flashcards are a great way to make sure the information gleaned from the grammar books makes its way into your long-term memory. Check out this and this flashcard set from Quizlet to get you started reviewing contractions.
- Quizzes. Check out this quiz from Tex’s French Grammar to see if things have really sunk in. You can also take the quiz at the end of this helpful Lawless French article, the site run by Laura K. Lawless, author of the above mentioned grammar guide.
Make sure to keep your practice short and sweet.
Consistency is the key, and with it your contraction game will be ace in no time. Good luck!
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