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The propositions in French

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What is a proposition in French ?

A proposition is a part of a sentence containing a verb. A sentence can have one or several propositions. Therefore it is linked to the phrases in French. 

It is a grammatical set organized around a verb, generally conjugated. In a sentence, each conjugated verb is therefore the core of a proposition: there are as many propositions than verbs.

The French grammar has three types of proposition: 

  • Independent proposition
  • Main proposition
  • Incidental proposition 

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independent proposition in French 

The independent proposition (French: la proposition indépendante) is linked to the simple phrases. It is a proposition which does not depend on any other proposition and of which no proposition depends. 

Examples

proposition indépendanteTraduction
Il boit du lait(He is drinking milk)
Le chat chasse la souris(The cat is hunting the mouse)
Cendrillon est une princesse Disney(Cinderella is a Disney princess)

 A phrase can have many independent propositions. Then it is called: 

  • Coordinated independent proposition 
  • Juxtaposed independent proposition

Examples

PropositionIndependanteTraduction
CoordonnéeJe ne comprends pas la leçon mais je peux faire l'exercice(I don't understand the lesson but I can do the exercice)
JuxtaposéeNe t'en vas pas, ferme d'abord la boutique(Don't leave, close the shop first)

enlightenedLearn more about these types propositions to use it in the composed phrase

Main proposition in French 

The main proposition (French: la proposition principale) is a proposition that does not depend on any other and upon which depends at least one subordinate clause

It is the basic proposition to which the other proposals hang up. 

Examples

Proposition principaleProposition subordonnéeTraduction
Léo a fui quand il a vu ses parents(Leo ran away when he saw his parents)
Marie a acheté une nouvelle voiture lorsqu'elle a déménagé à Los Angeles(Marie bought a new car when she moved to LA)
Elle se demandepourquoi je suis plus avec elle(She wonders why I left her) 

Incidental proposition in French 

The incidental proposition (French: la proposition incidente) also called "incise", appears in another proposition with which it is not coordinated and has no relationship of dependence. 

It plays somehow the role of a parenthesis. Usually, It indicates that someone is reporting what somebody said. 

The incise proposition can be placed whenever you want: at the beginning, in the middle or at the end

Examples

  • "Il faudrait trouver une autre solution" disait -il. (We have to find another way, he said)
  • Quoi qu'il en soit, je ne reviendrais pas sur ma décision. (Anyway, I won't reconsider my decision)
  • Le directeur, paraît-il, a déposé sa démission. (It seems that the CEO has submitted his resignation)

Subordinate clauses in French 

The subordinate clauses (French: les propositions subordonnées) are linked to the complex phrases. We say that a proposition is subordinate if it depends on another proposition (almost always a main). It completes the meaning. 

There are four types of subordinate clauses: 

  • Relative subordinate clauses 
  • Conjunctive subordinate clauses 
  • Completive subordinate clauses
  • Circumstantial subordinate clauses

Relative subordinate clauses in French 

The relative subordinate clause (French: la proposition subordonnée relative) is part of the nominal group. It can not exist alone and is necessarily introduced by a relative pronoun.

Its grammatical function is the complement of the name. The completed name is called antecedent and the pronoun agrees with it. 

Let's analyze this sentence: 

Je ne veux pas réveiller mon amie qui dort dans la chambre. (I don't want to wake up my friend who sleeps in my room)

  • The main proposition is "je ne veux pas réveiller mon amie"
  • The subordinate clause is "qui dort dans la chambre"
  • "Qui" replace "mon amie" so the antecedent is "mon amie"

Examples

Proposition principaleProposition subordonnée relativeTraduction
Je parlais de l'enfantdont on a eu la garde(I was talking about the kid whom we have had the custody)
Léa acheté les mêmes chaussuresque j'ai porté à son anniversaire(Lea bought the same shoes that I wore at her birthday party)
Pierre a rencontré l'homme 

qui lui a sauvé la vie

(Peter met the man who saved his life) 

enlightenedNote that the relative subordinate clauses is not necessarily placed after the main proposition

Conjunctive subordinate clause in French 

The subordinate conjunctive proposition (French: la proposition subordonnée conjonctive) is a proposition which depends on a principal proposition and which is introduced by  a conjunction of subordination

The conjunctive subordinate clause can be completive or circumstantial

Recap: What is a subordinated conjunction in French ? 

The conjunctions of subordination (French: les conjunctions de subordination) are invariable words. They can also be conjunctive phrases. 

They connect two propositions: a main and a conjunctive subordinate whose grammatical function varies with the conjunction used.

It belongs to the subordinate clause it introduces 

Conjonctions de subordinationque, quand, comme, si, lorsque, puisque, quoique
Locutions conjonctivesainsi que, vu que, alors que, à moins que, après que, depuis que, aussitôt que, bien que, parce que, dès que, malgré que, pendant que, tandis que

The completive subordinate clause in French

The completive subordinate clause (French: la proposition subordonnée complétive) is a proposition which depends on a main proposition and which, in most cases, has a role of direct object complement. The completive subordinate clause can be conjunctive, infinitive or interrogative.

The conjunctive is introduced by: 

  • que (that)
  • ce que

Examples

ConjonctionProposition subordonnée completiveTraduction
QueMalia a beaucoup aimé la robe que je lui ai achetée(Malia really loved the dress that I bought for her)
Ce queIl ne s'attendait pas à ce qu'il soit aussi distant(He wasn't expecting him to be this stant-offish)

The infinitive has any introductory word and includes an infinitive verb. It is often a direct object of a verb of perception like voir, regarder, entendre..

Examples: 

  • Pedro sent Sandra s'éloigner de lui. (Pedro can feel Sandra driving away from him) 

​The interrogative is indirect and may be introduced by 

  • "si" if it's the total interrogation 
  • An interrogative, pronoun and adverb id it's the partial interrogation

Examples: 

InterrogationProposition subordonnée complétiveTraduction
TotalJe ne vois pas si elle a raison (I cannot see if she is right)
PartialDis moi pourquoi tu es parti(Tell me why you left)

enlightenedYou can learn more about the two types of interrogation

Circumstantial subordinate clauses

The circumstantial subordinate clause (French: la proposition subordonnée circonstancielle) depends on a main proposition and has the function of circumstantial complement.

It can be introduced by a subordinated conjunction or a verb conjugated in the past or present participle.

Examples

CirconstancielleProposition subordonéeTraduction
Conjonction de subordinationJ'ai visité la tour Eiffel quand j'ai été à Paris(I have been to the Eiffel tower when I was in Paris)
ParticipleLa travail fini, tout le monde rentra chez eux(Job is over, everyone went back home)

Exercises

  1. Multiple choice questions about the propositions in French
  2. Fill in the blank exercise about the relative subordinate clause in French
  3. Completive vs circumstancial subordinate clause in French
  4. Fill in the blank exercise about the conjunctions of subordination in French

Multiple choice questions about the propositions in French


Fill in the blank exercise about the relative subordinate clause in French


Completive vs circumstancial subordinate clause in French


Fill in the blank exercise about the conjunctions of subordination in French


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