Elle a gardé son sang-froid. Il a perdu la tête.
el lah gaar-DAY saw sah-FRWAH. ee lah pair-DEW lah TETT. Click below to hear the sound file!
She kept her head. He lost his head.
Nope, not talking about kings and queens of France! Though one or the other statement is true of most of them.
This is about composure. She’s got it, he hasn’t. But isn’t it interesting that the negative statement is a completely different expression from the positive one? Different verbs, and different objects. And the change in objects even compels a change in the way the possessive is expressed!
Il a perdu la tête: Quite literally, He lost his head. And because he can’t possibly lose someone else’s head, we don’t use the possessive adjective in French, sa tête (his head). We say la tête (the head).
But she’s a different matter. You don’t say, Elle a gardé la tête, unless you really are writing a story about la guillotine (lah ghee-yo-TEEN). What she really kept is her sang-froid, literally her cold blood. In other words, she stayed cool, she didn’t panic. But le sang-froid isn’t a real body part, even if blood does run through our veins and arteries. So we say son sang-froid, her “cold blood”, her cool.
But don’t accuse her of being cold-blooded. That’s another story altogether.