06 April 2012

Bon Pâques ??

Easter in French is « Pâques ». Happy Easter, then — or Bon Pâques. What an unusual word in French. It looks like it would be feminine and plural, and it can be in some contexts. But in everyday language in France, Pâques is a masculine singular word — even though « Joyeuses Pâques », feminine and plural, is a set expression.

Pâques is masculine and singular because it's a shortcut for saying « le jour de Pâques » — Easter Day, or Easter Sunday — and the word « jour » is masculine and singular. Evidently, the fact that Noël, Christmas, is masculine influenced the usage for Pâques. Rules, exceptions, expressions, and strange agreements like this one is one of those things that will always trip you up if you aren't a native French speaker, and give you away.

Here's the entry from the French Robert Electronique dictionary.Click the image to enlarge it.

We have a lot of little expressions in English that trip up French-speakers too, and give them away no matter how good their English is. One that comes to mind is the distinction between "this" and "that" or "here" and "there" — its instinctual for us but not for non-native speakers. It confuses the dickens out of French-speakers.

Oh well. When you aren't a native speaker, you have to grit your teeth and be resigned to making a lot of mistakes and to confusing people by saying something that's almost correct but not quite. You get used to seeing the puzzlement on people's faces when you talk to them.

Tomorrow is market day in Saint-Aignan. We'll be going into town to look for three specific items. One is fresh asparagus. The season is starting and will run into June. White asparagus is a local crop and specialty. Out of season, you don't find asparagus on the markets or even in the supermarket, except in cans and jars.

Un escargot

The second thing will be some escargots. There's often a man at the market who sells nothing but snails. He sells them raw and he sells them cooked. I don't know if he sells them live, but he might. Walt and I have been wanting to eat snails for a while, but the man hasn't been at the market the last few times we've gone. Maybe tomorrow, Easter weekend, he'll be there.

The other thing we want to bring home is a rabbit — not a live one, but one that's been skinnedk, cleaned, and dressed for cooking. We've been eating rabbit every year for our Easter dinner for decades now, and we don't want to break the tradition. I plan to cook lapin à la moutarde on Sunday morning. That's rabbit braised in white wine with onions, carrots, and herbs, and then served with a sauce composed of the braising liquid, some fresh cream, and a little bit of Dijon-style mustard.

Wish us luck on finding the three things we're hoping to find. And Bon Pâques.


  1. Bon Pâques to you and Walt, too!
    I was trying to get the correct wording for a home-made Easter card to send to an elderly aunt and went and looked at the cards in the tabac... and got totally confungled!
    There was Bon Pâques on a few; there was also Bonnes Pâques on a couple and one with Joyeux Pâques... but the majority said "Joyeuses Pâques"... and so did a lot of the 'pub' that was in the Poste box this week... so I went with that... but was it 'bad' French? Unconfungle me, SVP.

    Fortunately, my aunt is an ex-science teacher and doesn't have the French [or a computer] so won't know if I've made an error.

  2. Let us not forget la Pâque, which is Passover.
    So, Happy Easter to both of you! Getting some sprinkles up in the Paris region.

  3. Thanks for the reassuring post Ken. I needed it after just making a phone call. Fortunately the person at the other end (the doctor) was understanding and guessed what I wanted to say, but I just had a total blank about how to say 'as soon as possible' and no matter how I stuttered it wouldn't come. It's always really demoralising to have an embarrassing experience like that.

    On a brighter note, I had my local fruit and veg couple's first asparagus yesterday for lunch and it was lovely and sweet - I paid 9.20/kg for it though. Also had their first strawbs - yum.

    Ellen: thanks for the passover connection.

  4. Good luck with the market hunt and Bon Paques to you and Walt.

  5. We'll see if CHM chimes in with a comment. I know he's pretty busy right now, but he's the expert when it comes to French language questions.

  6. Here I come! LOLOL

    Despite what the “authority” [Robert] says, it seems that when Pâques is preceded by an adjective it becomes feminine and plural. Several words in French do that, notably amour, délice and orgue. I suppose it could be the same for Pâques.

    About one and a half billion French men and women would wish you Joyeuses Pâques, short for “joyeuses fêtes de Pâques.” Fêtes [Sunday and Monday] and not jour [Sunday] being implied.

    As an atheist or agnostic, I would respect other people’s faith, and since France used to be “la fille aînée de l’Église,” [RCC’s eldest daughter], I suppose it would be “fêtes” de Pâques and not the secular “jour” de Pâques.

    Now, unlike the United States, France, fortunately, has a very effective separation of Church and State. So, the people of faith would say “joyeuses Pâques” and the secular ones would go along with M. Robert’s definition, or his “Remarque,” if they want.

    To this day, I’m not sure I really understand the difference between this and that! LOL

  7. CHM, Tim, and all, the final authority on French language and grammar, a book called Le Bon Usage by Maurice Grevisse, says:

    Pâques, désignant la grande fête chrétienne (généralement sans article, avec une majuscule et presque toujours avec s final) ou, elliptiquement, le jour, l'époque de cette fête, est masculin et singulier...

    and then gives examples.

    Grevisse goes on to say that the term Pâques can be used in the feminine and plural in « les formules de souhait joyeuses Pâques et bonnes Pâques », with examples.

    So there you go. You can't go wrong. Bon Pâques and bonnes Pâques are both "correct" — as I said, it's an unusual word in French. What I like about the French language is that it's so logical!

  8. Maurice Grevisse is THE authority.

    To please Martine, we should say Maurice Grevisse was a French-speaking Belgian, born in Rulles, near her favorite city of Habay-la -Neuve.

    It seems that Pâques and Passover have the same root and mean the same thing. In French, la Pâque juive is singular and feminine. Why is it that Pâques in French is plural and masculine?

    An interesting link in French:

  9. Love all the comments! Here in the US we go with the Anglo Saxon word of Easter bringing out our inner pagan;)

    Snails and the Easter bunny, oh my! I wish you luck at finding both, plus some good asparagus.

    Bon Pâques

  10. Thanks CHM

    I thought I made a "booboo" yesterday when I saw the "Bon Pâques" as the headline today.

    Hoping to bbq for this long WE .

  11. Whew, I'm glad that chm chimed in (and Grévisse backed him up), because I had always seen Joyeuses Pâques, and never Bon Pâques! I remember having some food item from a pâtisserie that had a plastic label on it wishing us Joyeuses Pâques, and so that always stuck in my mind to help me remember.

    I explained to my students yesterday about les cloches de Pâques, and they loved it!

  12. Hope you find the fresh asparagus. OK... If you really want to find snails and a dead bunny, I hope you find those, too!

    I have a Sevillana friend who's trying to learn English (from me, poor thing) and has made me aware of how difficult it is to know when to use "what" and when to use "that" since in Spanish they are "que or qué" and sound pretty much the same.

  13. In English, may I wish you and Walt a Happy Easter, with rabbit. And in Hungarian, "Boldog Husvet". The Hungarian word for Easter means "take meat".

  14. Do a lot of French people have trouble with here/this and there/that? Surely it's the same thing as "ci" and "là"?

  15. Bon Pâques, (bon?) Pâque, Buona Pasqua, счастливая Пасха...

    Ken and CHM, I'm curious about the confusion with this and that , could you give an example of the mixup? Is the confusion because of the implied location of an object?

  16. Happy Easter Sunday to you all! What a great post with which to start the day! My brain is firing. I hope you and Walt have a lovely weekend.

  17. Ellen and Autolycus, I've been trying to find an example of the "this" and "that" thing, but haven't yet come up with one.

    It's not usually a question of the direct distinction between "this" and "that", but in contexts where the notions are more abstract — as you say, Ellen, ("implied location"). Sorry I can't be clearer but I'll keep thinking about it.

    In French, ici and (here and there) are not as sharply distinguished as in English in everyday usage. "I'm here" can be either je suis ici or je suis là.

  18. Ellen, Patrick, there's an example of the slight misuse of "that" for "this" by a Francophone who wrote this about making bread:

    "Here is what I do. I put in the pan, in that order:

    ½ tsp. salt
    1½ cup whole milk or half milk and half water
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    1 tsp. instant yeast"

    To me, that "that" should be a "this" and it betrays the writer as a non-Anglophone. Don't know if you agree or if you are still getting notification of these comments.


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