Mon petit-fils aura bientôt deux ans.

Mon petit-fils aura bientôt deux ans.

maw puh-tee-FEESS oh-rah byaa-TOH duh ZAH.  Click below to hear this!  

My grandson will soon be two.

Isn’t he beautiful? That was about a year ago; Il avait un an (He was a year old).

In French, age is something you have, not something you are. You are friendly, tall, smart, or artistic. You have a certain number of years, which keeps changing (much to the glee of some people and the chagrin of others).

And you have to say an or ans after the number. Chances are you have one nose, ten fingers,  two feet, all of which are countable, too. As Mrs. Kershaw, my old math teacher, used to say, “Ten what? Giraffes?”

And just so we avoid confusion: mon fils is my son. Mon petit-fils is my grandson. Mon petit fils is my little son. Punctuation matters!

Were you wondering why we pronounce the /s/ on the end of fils? Or why the /l/ is silent? Go back to 1066. William of Normandy (nicknamed Guillaume le Conquérant on one side of the English Channel, and Guillaume le Bâtard–because he was born out of wedlock–on the other) conquers England, bringing the French language with him. (Side note: The Normans were of Viking descent, and their name derives from Norsemen, or men from the North.)

Before inherited surnames became the rule, people were identified as “son of” this person or “daughter of” that one, usually the father. The pronunciation, and the designation, stuck in some families, even after many people began to adopt surnames based on their trade, place of origin, or a physical characteristic instead of their family tree.

So the Latin word filius (son) gave the French the word fils. In Norman French, this was spelled filz or fiz, and was pronounced /fitz/…hence names like Fitz William, Fitz Henry, and so on.

And don’t confuse any of this with un fil, which is a thread or a wire. The plural is des fils, pronounced day FEEL. Not the same thing at all!

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2 responses to “Mon petit-fils aura bientôt deux ans.

  1. Oui, ton petit-fils est tres beau.
    Bienvenu a son pere, sa mere, et sa soeur quand ils arriveraient chez toi et Miles.
    Again, no accents because I’m not at home, where my “cheat-sheet” is. Sorry for the mutilated French, but I feel moved to try.

  2. Merci, Maman! Don’t worry about the accents. Lots of people don’t know how to find them on their computer. Maybe someday I should post a key for people to refer to. And no apologies permitted for “mutilated” French! I hope other readers will be motivated to comment when they see your remarks. I promise not to correct anyone publicly!

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