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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

French Word of the Day: ‘verbaliser’ (a verb you think you already know)

If you've been following the French news recently, no doubt you'll have noticed the word "verbaliser" cropping up quite a bit... particularly if you've been reading about changes to driving laws. But what does it really mean?

French Word of the Day: 'verbaliser' (a verb you think you already know)
Why have we chosen the verb “verbaliser”?
 
First of all, we’re not talking about the act of saying something out loud.
 
We've picked “verbaliser” because it’s another buzz word that’s been making the rounds in the French press of late as a reduction of the speed limit, from 90 km/h to 80 km/h, which has been introduced on France's countryside and secondary roads.
 
This has led the French media to warn citizens that those who don’t comply can find themselves being “verbaliser” by a police officer. 
 
What does it mean exactly?
 
It means to “write somebody up” or “to be given a fine”. 
 
So if you’re driving over the speed limit for example, or breaking other rules such as driving with your shirt off or driving with your seatbelt unbuckled, you might get pulled over and the police officer might record your offense or give you a fine.
 
Examples
 
Je suis passée au feu rouge, l'agent me verbalise.
I went through a red light and the police officer gave me a fine.
 
Coupe du Monde 2018 : ils se font verbaliser pour avoir trop klaxonné le soir de la victoire des Bleus.
World Cup 2018: they’re being penalized for having honked too much on the night of the victory of Les Bleus.
 
La Ville peut verbaliser les infractions au code de la route grâce à la vidéo protection. 
The city can write up road traffic offences thanks to video surveillance footage.
 
Other Meanings
 
The other meaning is the obvious one. Just like it is in English, “verbaliser” in French also means to say something, “to verbalise” your thoughts rather than think them or write them down.
 
Synonyms
 
Some of these can get technical but here are a few terms that are similar: pénaliser, sanctionner, condemner, payer une amende.

Member comments

  1. Did I read paragraph eight correctly?
    Surely that is one of those French driving myths.
    Why would driving without a shirt on be illegal? I quite often drive, in the summer, in just a vest. Does that mean I’m breaking the law?

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.

Masculine

Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty

Feminine

Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 

Plural

And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  

Islands 

Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.

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