Je gagerais qu’il n’y ira pas.

Je gagerais qu’il n’y ira pas.

zhuh gaa-zhray keel nee ee-rah PAH. Click below to hear this. 

I bet he won’t go.

Go where? We would need a context to know that. That one-letter word y stands for à + a noun, and the noun stands for a place. It could be au musée, à la bibliothèque, à la fête, au rendez-vous, or anyplace else you have just been talking about. Note that you would say il n’ira pas au rendez-vous–with the location after the verb–but il n’y ira pas, with y before the verb.

Now for gager. Would you believe that it is the same word as the English wager?  Historically, in northern France, there was confusion between g and w. Which means that a warden is the same as a guardian or a gardien, a wasp is the same as a guêpe (a guespe in Old French), and a warrior is the same as a guerrier (a guerrëor  in Old French). Many other words have a similar parallel development, and it is interesting to note that many of the words (in both English and French) have their roots in both German and Latin.

Finally, the sequence of tenses. You may wonder why je gagerais, literally I would bet or wager, is not followed by the subjunctive. After all, it’s not certain that he won’t come, or there would be no reason to lay a bet, right? But the fact is that your statement expresses a high degree of certainty. Why would  you place a bet that you thought you would lose? 

By the way, I can’t tell you how many times I have looked too quickly at this verb and misread it. My eyes see the letters, but my brain reads gagnerais instead of gagerais. The  difference? I would win vs. I would bet. Maybe you’re not a betting person–hence the conditional mood–but in this case, you are sure you would win. There is, after all, a completely accidental but deeply intuitive connection between gager and gagner.

Alternate audio file link: je-gagerais-quil-ny-ira-pas

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