Learning French little by little

Windows Alt keyboard codes for French accents and Ligatures

The following alt codes can be used for typing French accents and ligatures on a non-French Keyboard. They can be entered by holding down the Alt key on your keyboard and typing the 4 digit number on your keyboards num pad .

IMPORTANT: Remember to turn on “Num Lock” because some of these codes use the the number 4, which is used by web browsers to go to the previous page, meaning you could accidentally lose anything you are directly typing in to a web browsers input fields if num lock isn’t on.

Acute Accents

Firstly, we have the easy ones for acute accents, simply hold down ctrl+alt (+ shift for uppercase) and press the relevant letter:

Letter Keys
é ctrl + alt + E
É ctrl + alt + shift + E


These ones are a little trickier to remember. Simply hold the alt key and key in the numbers in the num pad on your keyboard.

Grave accents

Letter Keys
à alt + 0224
è alt + 0232
ù alt + 0249
À alt + 0192
È alt + 0200
Ù alt + 0217



Letter Keys
â alt + 0226
ê alt + 0234
î alt + 0238
ô alt + 0244
û alt + 0251
 alt + 0194
Ê alt + 0202
Î alt + 0206
Ô alt + 0212
Û alt + 0219


Umlauts / dieresis

Letter Keys
ë alt + 0235
ï alt + 0239
ü alt + 0252
Ë alt + 0203
Ï alt + 0207
Ü alt + 0220


The Cedille

Letter Keys
ç alt + 0231
Ç alt + 0199



Letter Keys
æ alt + 0230
œ alt + 0156
Æ alt + 0198
Œ alt + 0140
Featured post

Aimer: Passé Composé vs Imperfait

The difference between aimer in the passé composé and imperfait can be quite tricky to grasp.

Let’s take a simple example:

Nous avons aimé le film – We liked the film.

Because the passé composé  refers to things that have completed in the past, it can seem like that we are saying that we liked the film but we don’t anymore, but in fact we are saying we liked the film and still do. Here the passé composé is referring to the action of liking the film which is now completed (i.e. you are not watching the film right now), but not the completion of the state of liking.

The imperfait of aimer refers to something that you did like or were liking until something else happened.

Nous aimions le film jusqu’à la scène avec le fantôme – We liked the film until the scene with the ghost. / We were enjoying the film until the scene with the ghost

And it can also refer to something you continuously liked in the past, but you are no longer involved in the experience:

J’aimais travailler comme camionneur – I liked (it when I was) working as a truck driver.

Here you are talking about a continuous liking for being a truck driver, the entire experience, almost as if you are talking from the perspective of when you were actually a truck driver, you are placing yourself in the scene in the past.

But, if we use the passé composé: 

J’ai aimé travailler comme camionneur – I liked working as a truck driver.

We are talking about a liking for being a truck driver generally, maybe not all of it, but it was something you liked doing; the perspective is from outside the scene; you are placing yourself in the present.

As with many state verbs in the passé composé and imperfait, some of the differences are nuanced and are quite difficult to understand. Even in English it’s difficult to explain the difference between “I liked it when I was doing” and “I liked doing”,  there isn’t a huge difference in meaning,  it’s just “I liked it when I was doing” feels a bit more dynamic – you are liking it at the time, from inside the experience (imperfait) – but “I liked doing” feels a bit more disconnected, as if you are talking from outside the experience (passé composé). These are nuances we pick up automatically in our own language without ever really thinking about them, and it’s  the same for the French, which is why the difference between passé composé and imperfait is one of the most difficult aspects of French to fully understand.


Aimer – To Like / To Love

Aimer is one of those confusing verbs that changes meaning depending on context. When aimer is refers to a person or a pet it means “to love”:

J’aime mon chien – I love my dog

Il aime Jane – He loves Jane

Je t’aime – I love you

But when aimer refers to a thing it means like:

J’aime le chocolat – I like chocolate.

On a aimé le film – We liked the film

If you want to say that you love something other than a person or pet then the correct verb is adorer:

J’adore le chocolat – I love chocolate

On a adoré le film – We loved the film

And if you want to say that you like a person or pet then you need to qualify aimer with an adverb:

J’aime bien Jane – I like Jane.

J’aime assez Jane – I quite like Jane.

Je t’aime beaucoup – I like you a lot.

Interestingly, if you use the adverb bien when you are talking about a thing, it does not intensify the meaning of like:

J’aime le chocolat / J’aime bien le chocolat – I like chocolate

So, both “J’aime le chocolat” and “J’aime bien le chocolat” mean exactly the same thing!


Learn more about aimer in the passé composé and Imperfait

Pronoun “En”: Replacing a Quantity

A pronoun is something that replaces a noun that has already been introduced in some way. For example, if I say “She is nice” then you will already understand who the pronoun “she” refers to. So, the conversation may have gone: “What do you think of Jane?“, “I think she is nice”, so “she” has replaced the noun “Jane” and this is called a pronoun.

In our example above “she” was used to replace the name “Jane”, but “en” is used to replace a previously introduced noun (a thing) plus a quantity of that thing:

Voulez-vous du vin rouge ? – Do you want some red wine?

Oui, j’en voudrais une bouteille, s’il vous plaît – Yes, I would like a bottle of it, please.

As you can see, we have used “en” to replace “du vin rouge”, which was introduced earlier, and we have a quantity, “a bottle” (or 1 bottle), so this satisfies all the required aspects for using “en”.

One important aspect here is that the quantity can either be specific:

Avez-vous un chat ? – Do you have a cat?

Oui, j’en ai trois – Yes, I have three of them.

Or can be an adverb of quantity:

Aimez-vous les montres ? – Do you like watches?

Oui, j’en ai beaucoup – Yes, I have a lot of them.

Some things to remember are that anything introduced by “un” or “une” is a specific quantity (a quantity of 1):

On en apporte une boîte – We brought a box of them.

And, if you want to say one of something previously introduced, you need to repeat “un” or “une”, just like any other number:

Voulez-vous une tarte à la crème ? – Do you want a custard tart?

Oui, j’en voudrais une, s’il vous plaît – Yes, I would like one (of them) please.

And “pas” means “none”, which is also a quantity:

Voulez-vous du fromage ? – Do you want some cheese?

Non merci, je n’en veux pas – No thank you, I do not want any of it.

And this also applies to “plus”:

Avez-vous du lait – Do you have any milk?

Non, on n’en a plus – No, we do not have any of it anymore?

  • A note on “plus”, in colloquial spoken French the “ne” is often dropped, which means we get: “Non, on en a plus“, which could be “I have no more of them” or “I have more of them”. To make the distinction between the two you pronounce the “s” at the end of “plus” to mean “more”, and keep it silent when you mean “no more”.

The placement of “En”

In the present tense “en” is placed directly before the conjugated verb:

J’en achete – I am buying some.

Nous en achetons – We are buying some.

Je n’en achete pas – I am not buying any.

Nous n’en achetons pas – We are not buying any.

In the passé composé and other compound tenses, you place the “en” before the conjugated auxiliary verb (before the entire thing):

Ils en ont acheté – They bought some 

Ils n’en ont pas acheté – They did not buy any.

And when used with object pronouns the object pronouns are placed before “en”:

Il m’en achete – He is buying me some.

Il ne m’en achete pas – He is not buying me any.

Il  m’en a acheté – He bought me some.

Il ne m’en a pas acheté – He did not buy me any.

One final point, if you want to say “it” on it’s own ( referring to a specific thing), you would need to use the direct object pronoun and not “en”. So, “en” translates to “some of them” or “some of it” or – with a specific number – “One of them”, “Two of them” etc or in the negative “any of it” or “any of them”. If you want to say “it” directly you would use the direct object pronoun:

T’a-t-il acheté la bague de diamants ? – Did he buy you the diamond ring?

Oui, il me l’a acheté ! – Yes, he bought it for me !

In this post, I’ve only talked about the pronoun “en” when it is used with quantities. In the next article I will talk about the second case when “en” is used ; when it is used to replace a noun introduced with verb + de.

Defining the Possessor: How to say “His” or “Her” in French

In French the possessive articles follow the gender of the noun, not the gender of the owner. For example we use “sa” with “voiture” (sa voiture) because “voiture” is feminine. However, “sa voiture” means both his car and her car,  and mostly context will tell whose car you are referring to. But sometimes we need to be more specific:

J’aime sa voiture, je n’aime pas sa voiture – I like her/his car, I do not like her/his car

As you can see here, there is nothing that let’s the reader or listener know whose car you like and whose car you don’t. It’s ambiguous. To remove this ambiguity you can use a stress pronoun after the noun to nail down exactly whose car you do like and whose you don’t. Let’s try again:

J’aime sa voiture à elle, je n’aime pas sa voiture à lui  – I like her car, I do not like his car

As you can see, by adding the stress pronouns (à elle = her, à lui = his) after the noun (voiture) we have removed any ambiguity. It’s definitely her car I like and his car I do not like.

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda – The French Conditional

Translating “could”, “would” and “should” can sometimes be confusing because where we use modal verbs in English, the French use the conditional mood. However, the conjugations for the conditional mood translate to “would”, but they can also be used to say “could” and “should” with the conditional conjugations of devoir and pouvoir,  which are used in much the same way as our modal verbs.

Using the conditional mood for would

The conditional mood generally translates to “would”, so if you want to say that you would do something simply use the conditional conjugation. As this is conditional, you will often find this in “si” clauses, but may also be used when the the conditional aspect is implicit:

Je voudrais une bière, s’il vous plaîtI would like a beer please.

On mangerait ici si l’on était riche – We would eat here if we were rich.

Il irait, mais il s’occupe des enfants – He would go but he is looking after the children.


Conditional Could with Pouvoir

To say “could” as a conditional – I could do something if something else were to happen – you  use the conditional conjugation of the verb pouvoir (“to be able to”) followed by the infinitive of the verb of the thing that you could do, you may also think about it as “I would be able to”:

Je pourrais écrire une chanson sur tes yeux – I could write a song about  your eyes

On pourrait prendre les escaliers – We could take the stairs.

Nous pourrions manger le dîner dans le salon – We could eat diner in the living room.

Ils pourraient faire plus pour aider leurs parents – They could do more to help their parents.

Je pourrais manger un cheval entre deux matelas – I could eat a horse between two mattresses.

Saying Should with Devoir

Firstly, “should” in this context is not a conditional, but it does require the French conditional conjugation of devoir (“to have to”) followed by the infinitive:

Je devrais être travailler – I should be working.

Tu devrais te lever – You should get up.

Ils devraient aider leurs parents – They should help their parents.

Nous devrions manger quelque chose – We should eat something.

S’en aller – To Depart / To Leave

S’en aller is an interesting verb meaning to depart or to leave. It’s slightly different from aller on it’s own because it places more emphasis on the act of leaving.

You should also note that this verb is pronominal, so we need to make sure that aspect is included when we conjugate it, and it is one of the few cases where the pronoun (en) comes as part of the verb.

Interestingly, “en” really doesn’t mean much here, it’s just how this verb has evolved, but it is required and this aspect suggests the idea of leaving “from somewhere”, which is good to note as this verb can also take an object preceded by de:  “Il s’en va de Paris” – “He is leaving (from somewhere) to go to Paris”. Although, it may still be preferable to say: “Il va partir à Paris”

With that bit of analysis out the way (basically it boils down to it is what it is) let’s look at how this might be conjugated. Well we need to conjugate aller as normal, we keep “en” in place and make sure we change the reflexive pronoun:

Je m’en vais – I am leaving

Tu t’en va – You are leaving (informal)

Il s’en va – He is leaving.

Vous vous en allez – You are leaving (plural/formal).

Nous nous en allons – We are leaving.

Ils s’en vont – They are leaving.

In the negative the reflexive pronoun and en come after ne:

Il ne s’en va pas – He is not leaving.

Ne t’en va pas ! – Don’t go!

Other meanings

As with all languages, verbs can take on different meanings depending on context and this verb can also take on the meaning of “to die”, and when placed in the imperative it means “Go away!”:

Ma grand-mère s’en est allé – My grandmother has left / My Grandmother has died.

Va-t’en ! – Go Away!

French Phrases: In the Restaurant

Here are some useful phrases for when you are in a French restaurant. Things wrapped in brackets are optional:

Bonjour, (Nous voudrions) une table pour deux, s’il vous plaît – Hello, (We would like) a table for two please?

Avez-vous une carte des boissons ? – Do you have a drinks menu?

Qu’est-ce que vous avez comme bière ? – What types of beer do you have?

Avez-vous de la bière à la pression ? – Do you have beer on tap?

Qu’est-ce que vous avez à la pression ? – What beers do you have on tap?

Quelles bières avez-vous en bouteille ? – What bottled beers do you have?

Combien coûte la bière ? – How much does the beer cost?

Je voudrais une bouteille de vin rouge,  s’il vous plaît ? – I would like a bottle of red wine please.

Je voudrais une bouteille de vin blanc, s’il vous plaît ? – I would like a bottle of white wine please.

J’en voudrais une bouteille, s’il vous plaît – I would like a bottle of it please.

Quelle boissions sans alcool avez-vous ? – What non-alcoholic drinks to you have?

Je voudrais une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plaît – I would like a jug of water please.

Je voudrais un café au lait, s’il vous plaît – I would like a coffee with milk please.

Avez-vous une chaise haute ? – Do you have a high chair?

Avez-vous une menu pour des enfants ? –  Do you have a childrens menu?

Quelle est la soupe de jour ? – What is the soup of the day?

(Puis-je avoir) l’addition, s’il vous plaît ? –  (Can I have) the bill please?

Puis-je payer par carte de credit ? – Can I pay by card?

Merci, bonne nuit – Thank you, Good night.

Adjectives: When “des” Becomes “de”

Articles are a continuous puzzle in French, and just when you think you’ve got the hang of them you read a sentence like:

Cherchez-vous de nouveaux clients ? – Are you looking for new customers? 

If you look closely, you will see that we have used “de nouveaux clients” and not “des nouveaux clients” even though “clients” is plural. So, what’s going here?

Well, when you have an adjective that comes before a plural noun (BANGS) you lose the partitive article (des) and instead use de:

Ce sont de bonnes personnes – They are good people.

Be careful though, “des” is still used with compound nouns:

Ce sont des jeunes mariés qui vont emménager ensemble – They are newlyweds who are going to move in with each other.

Here, we have used the compound noun “jeunes mariés” which means “newlyweds” or “young couple”so we have had to use “des” and not “de”.

How would you say “How would” in French?

Today I saw an advert that asked “how would your family cope?” and realised that this would be interesting to translate into French. There really isn’t, however, one way to say “How would” in French, but instead we need to use the French conditional. For this post I’ll also add a simpler sentence to each section because “to cope” is an unusual pronominal verb in French (s’en sortir), but here’s how we tackle this conundrum:

“How would” when the subject is an invertable pronoun

Firstly, the grammar: A pronoun is a word that replaces a noun, and an inversion is when you swap the word order of a pronoun and a verb. In French the invertable pronouns are (il, elle, on, ils, elles, vous, nous, and tu), so if we have one of these we can simply use an inversion.

To do this use “comment” (how) with the conditional conjugation for the verb and invert the verb and the pronoun (swap them around), as is standard for French interrogatives:

Comment survivriez-vous l’apocalypse zombie ? – How would you survive the zombie apocalypse.

Comment vous en sortiriez-vous ? – How would you cope?

“How would” when the subject is a non-invertable pronoun

It’s not really possible to invert “Je”, except for in certain phrases, so you can simply use “comment” without inverting it and raise the pitch of your voice at the end (or add a question mark in writing) to make it clear it is a question:

Comment je survivrais l’apocalypse zombie ? – How would I survive the zombie apacolypse?

Comment je m’en sortirais ? – How would I cope?

You can also use comment est-ce que, although many French people think that “est-ce que” after another interrogative adverb is inelegant:

Comment est-ce que je survivrais l’apocalypse zombie ? – How would I survive the zombie apocalypse?

Comment est-ce que je m’en sortirais ? – How would I cope?

“How would” when the subject is a noun

Obviously you could just use the same structure as the non-invertable pronoun but use a noun in place of the pronoun, but there is one different – if not slightly long winded – way to ask this question when you have a noun; simply place the noun after “comment” and follow with the inversion making a structure translating to “how, your family, would they cope”:

Comment votre famille survivraient-t-ils l’apocalypse zombie ? – How would your family survive the zombie apocalypse?

Comment votre famille s’en sortiraient-ils  ?- How would your family cope?


That’s it! To ask “how would” we just use the conditional of the verb and use our standard interrogative structures.

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