A Simple, No-Fail Guide to French Contractions | Talk in French
Talk in French
Shares

A Simple, No-Fail Guide to French Contractions

Shares

French words often appear with contractions. But unlike in English where you can choose to say “I am” instead of “I’m” or “you’d” instead of “you would” depending on the formality of your tone, in French you have no choice about it. You see, French contractions are mandatory. If the words call for a contraction, you contract it. There’s simply no other way.

But what are the kind of French words that need contractions? And when should you use them?

Here in this article, let’s learn all about French contractions and see how we can simplify the rules to make it as easy for you to remember as possible.

Before we jump into the meat of this lesson, first, let’s ask ourselves:

What are French contractions?

French contractions are two or more words combined together where a letter (or more) is removed. The omitted letter is often replaced with an apostrophe.  You see it in common French phrases: je t’aime, c’est la vie, je m’appelle…and so many others. But perhaps you’ve wondered if there are rules behind it?

The good news: Yes there are guiding rules on French contractions! And, yes, we’ll discuss them shortly.

What French words need contractions?

Here are the French words that you need to remember when it comes to French contractions.

1. The singular definite articles le and la

When le and la are followed by a vowel, h muet (silent h), or the pronoun y, the vowel in le and la are omitted and they are lumped in together with the second word.

For example:

  • Le + amour is l’amour
  • Le + homme is l’homme

  • La + abeille is l'abeille

2. Single consonant French words that end in e muet (silent e): ce, de, je, le, me, ne, que, se, te

When these nine single consonant words that end in silent e are followed by a word that begins with a vowel, silent h, or the pronoun y, the silent e are dropped and the two words are contracted.

Single consonant
word that end in e muet
What it meansExample contractionsWhat the example means
cethisC’estIt is / this / that
deOf / fromd'AmériqueOf America
jeIj’aimeI love / I like
leHim / itje l'aimeI love it
memyselfJe m’appelleMy name is (literally: I call myself….)
nenotIl n’est pas là He is not here
queThat / what / whomqu’il
that he
seoneselfll s’appelle His name is (literally: he calls himself…)
teYou / to youJe t’aimeI love you

3. The French conjunctions puisque and lorsque

These two conjunctions which mean since / because / as (puisque) and when / while / as soon as (lorsque) becomes shortened into the following:

  • Puisque + on is puisqu’on
  • Puisque + il is puisqu’il
  • Lorsque + on is lorsqu’on
  • Lorsque + il is lorsqu’il

4. The French preposition or adverb jusque

Jusque means until or too, and this word is also contracted when it is followed by a word that begins with a vowel.

  • Jusque + à is jusqu’à
  • Jusque + en is jusqu’en
  • Jusque + alors is jusqu’alors
  • Jusque + ici  is jusqu’ici

Still with me so far?

Okay, good.

5. French prepositions à (to, at, in) and de (of, from, about)

Le and les

A contraction will be formed when these two common French prepositions are followed by the definite articles le and les.

Let’s take a look.

  • à + le is au
  • à + les is aux
  • de + le is du
  • de + les is des

Quick note:

1.When la and l’ follows  à and de, there are no contractions. This means:

  • à + la is still à la
  • à + l’ is still à l’
  • de + la is still de la
  • de + l’ is still de l’

2. When le and les are used as object pronouns instead of definite articles, there are no contractions.

Lequel

À and de also contract with the different forms of lequel (which one).

  • à + lequel is auquel
  • à + lesquels is auxquels
  • à + lesquelles is auxquelles
  • de + lequel is duquel
  • de + lesquels is desquels
  • de + lesquelles is desquelles

Quick note:

When laquelle follows à and de, there are no contractions. This means:

  • à + laquelle is still à laquelle
  • de + laquelle is still de laquelle

6. Fixed contractions

There are some words that are always contracted. It’s just the way they are. Here are some of them:

  • Aujourd’hui (au + jour + de + hui)
  • Ès (en + les)
  • D’abord
  • D’accord
  • d’ailleurs
  • Presqu'île
  • Voici (vois + ci)
  • Voilà (vois + là)
  • Quelqu'un

Contractions in Informal French

Let’s back up to what I said earlier in the first paragraph. I mentioned that unlike English where you have a choice to contract when you speak informal English, it’s not the same with French. But actually, there’s a tad bit of similarity here, too.

Language is a growing, changing thing and it adapts to new manners of usage. And yes---like in English, there are instances when you contract words when speaking informally.

Let’s take a look at sample scenarios below.

The contracted ‘tu’

In informal French, ‘tu’ when followed by a verb that begins with a vowel will be shortened to t’. The most common way to do this is with tu as and tu es which become t’as and t’es.

Other examples:

  • tu aimes becomes  t’aimes
  • tu ouvres becomes t’ouvres
  • tu arrives becomes t’arrives
  • tu écoutes becomes t’écoutes

Quick note:

This is a highly informal contraction and only appears in casual spoken conversations among friends. It NEVER appears in written texts such as newspapers, write ups, or other written materials, unless of course it happens to be a text message (SMS) between friends.

Contracted il(s), elle(s), puis, parce que, quelque

Also in informal French conversations, people take liberties in shortening some words and pronunciations. Here are some of them:

  • The pronouns il (“he”) and ils are reduced to y
  • elle (“she”) and elles are reduced to è (when followed by a consonant)
  • When followed by a vowel, il and elle are reduced to l’ whereas ils becomes y z’ or just z’and elles becomes è’z’.
  • The word puis is more commonly pronounced as pis
  • parce que is shortened to pasque
  • quelque is pronounced as quèque

But once again, these are highly informal usages. You don’t need to follow these manner of speaking unless you really want to sound as authentic and naturally French as possible.

Learn more about Informal French in this article: The Simple Guide to Informal French Grammar


Scenarios when you should not contract

Of course, there will always be cases when even though you think you should contract, you just shouldn’t (yep, it sucks like that).

Here’s when you shouldn’t contract:

  • Before h aspiré
  • Before the word onze
  • Before the word oui
  • Before foreign words that begin with y
  • Between si + elle
  • Between la + une
  • After presque
  • After qui

Quick Recap

  • check
    When le and la are followed by a vowel, h muet (silent h), or the pronoun y, the vowel in le and la are omitted and they are combined with the second word.
  • check
    When the nine single consonant words that end in silent e (ce, de, je, le, me, ne, que, se, te) are followed by a word that begins with a vowel, silent h, or the pronoun y, the silent e are dropped and the two words are contracted.
  • check
    The two conjunctions puisque and lorsque as well as the French preposition or adverb jusque are contracted when they’re followed by a vowel.
  • check
    French prepositions à and de are contracted when they are followed by the definite articles le and les and the different forms of laquel.
  • check
    In informal French, the tu is sometimes contracted and so are  il(s), elle(s), puis, parce que, quelque.
  • check
    Some words such as aujourd’hui, voici, and voila are fixed contractions. Meaning they are words which are contracted in itself.

Conclusion

So there you go with everything you need to know about French contractions. It’s not so bad, is it? Feel free to review this lesson anytime you want. And if you have some questions about it, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments section.

Want more French grammar lessons? Get a copy of my book Intermediate French Grammar in 30 Days. It comes with audio plus 300 French grammar exercises. Check it out below!

About the Author Frederic

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +

follow me on:
>