Les USA ont gagné neuf médailles d’or, quinze d’argent, et treize de bronze.
lay zew-ess-AH aw gaa-NYAY NUHF may-DAH-yuh dore, KAAZ daar-ZHAH, ay TREZZ duh BRAWZ.
The USA has won 9 gold medals, 15 silver, and 13 bronze.
I know, I know, in school you learned that the French name for the United States of America is les États-Unis d’Amérique (lay zay-TAH zew-NEE daa-may-REEK). And that’s true.
But in casual conversation, you’re at least as likely to hear les USA. What happened to the perfectly good French words?
Most probably, it’s because Europeans have gotten used to seeing MADE IN USA stamped on products from blue jeans to kitchen appliances. In fact, there was an older generation in France who were less familiar with the English language, who used to pronounce mah-deen EW-ESS-AH. You won’t hear that much from the linguistically-sophisticated younger generations!
But back to the medals. French learners often stumble on the combo of one vowel (or a couple of them) plus il or ille. How to pronounce this combination?
Here’s a rule that you’re not likely to forget. I call it the “Yuck Rule”.
Start by taking the word apart. Médaille.
m + é = may.
d + a = dah.
The e on the end of the word is silent, so cross it out: mé-da-ill-e.
See what’s left? ill.
How do you feel when you are ill? Yucky. The letter combination ill (or il) spells just one sound: the “yuck” sound, a strong Y sound.
So: may-DAH-yuh. And that’s the “Yuck Rule”! You can use it in French whenever you see a word with the ill combination. (There are a few exceptions. Tell me a rule that doesn’t have exceptions!)
Did you notice that in English, we usually say the US has… But in French, you say les USA ont… In English, we think of the US as a single country–so we use a singular verb. In French, the grammar requires a plural verb. The fact that the states are united does not change the fact that there are many states!