English Grammar DifﬁcultiesFrom the Perspective of a Francophone. Created By: Madeline Bermes Ling 466 July 20, 2011
FrenchStudents that speak French as their native language havedifﬁculties in mastering various forms found in Englishgrammar due to the direct grammatical differences betweenthe two languages.Five particular areas of difﬁculty in English grammar arediscussed in this presentation.
Five Areas of Grammatical Differences: 1. Possessive Pronouns 2. Questions 3. Negation 4. Adverb Placement 5. Tense/Aspect
Possessive PronounsIn French, possessive pronouns agree in gender and numberwith the direct object. La ﬁlle aime son vélo. [The girl likes her(masculine) bike.] vélo is masculine: le vélo. Therefore, the masculine possessive pronoun is used: son.
Possessive PronounsHowever, in English the possessive pronoun agrees with thesubject of the sentence rather than the direct object. The girl likes her bike. ‘The girl’ is feminine so the feminine possessive pronoun is used: her.
Possessive PronounsLearning the agreement of possessive pronouns in English ischallenging for Francophones because in their nativelanguage, the agreement is based on a different part of thesentence. Therefore, learning to create agreement with thesubject rather than the direct object goes against theirnatural instinct in regard to possessive pronouns.
Questions (Formation in the present simple is considered here.)In French, questions can be formed in one of four ways inthe simple present.For the following examples, consider this statement: Vous chantez. (You sing.)1. Inversion. Chantez-vous? [Sing you?(Do you sing?)]
French Questions2. N’est-ce pas formation. Vous chantez, n’est-ce pas? [You sing, right?]3. Est-ce que formation. Est-ce que vous chantez? [Is it that you sing?]4. Rising intonation. Vous chantez? [(Do) You sing?] Voice is used to signify a question. Similar to asking in English “Take a walk?”
English QuestionsHowever, in English questions are formed by inserting theauxiliary ‘do’ in the simple present tense.For example: Do you sing? (From: You sing.) Do you dance? (From: You dance.)
English QuestionsAdditionally, the auxiliary must agree with the subject.For example: Do you sing? Does he sing? Do they sing?Do is used for every form except the third person singular which uses ‘does.’
QuestionsFor Francophones, forming questions in the simple presentcan be difﬁcult due to the fact that in French the speaker isgiven all the tools to create a question in the statement.Whereas in English, one must insert a separate word andmake sure that the auxiliary added agrees with the rest ofthe sentence.
QuestionsHowever, since French can have added auxiliaries used inquestion formation rather than inversion such as the est-ceque and n’est-ce pas forms, it may help to relate the ‘do’auxiliary’s insertion with these forms to help the students toremember to add the auxiliary into the question.
NegationIn French, negation is marked by ‘ne...pas.’For example, consider again the statement “Vous Chantez” [You sing.]To form the negative form ‘ne..pas’ is inserted: Vous ne chantez pas. [You sing not. (You don’t sing.)]
English Negation (Formation in the present simple is considered here.)However, in English the auxiliary ‘do’ is again added similarto what was seen in question formation.Only this time, ‘do’ is paired with ‘not’ to form the negative. You do not sing. You do not dance. Again, the auxiliary must agree with the subject: He does not sing.
NegationForming the negative in English can be challenging for Francophones due tothe fact that the additional auxiliary ‘do’ paired with ‘not’ need to be addedto the sentence to make it negative. Additionally, the items added to thesentence appear together before the verb which contrasts with Frenchnegation where the ne...pas is found surrounding the verb.Finally, confusion may be found when contractions appear in the negativeform in English- as they often do. Therefore, the appearance of “don’t” maycause confusion for ESL/EFL learners. You do not sing. / You don’t sing.
Adverb PlacementIn French, the adverb is placed after the verb. Jean mange toujours. [Jean eats always.] S V Adv Jean chante bien. [Jean sings well.] S V Adv Jean lire lentement. [Jean reads slowly.] S V Adv
English AdverbsIn English, the adverb’s placement is more ﬂexible.DeCapua (2008) states, “Unlike nouns and adjectives, the position of [these]adverbs is ﬂexible. . . In verb phrases, [these] adverbs can occur between theauxiliary verb (helping verb) and the main verb. Generally, the sentenceposition of an adverb depends on what the speaker wants to stress oremphasize.” The different positions that an adverb may occupy give way to the adverb modifying different parts of the sentence which can alter the interpretation.
English AdverbsFor example: Sweetly, she recited the poem. She sweetly recited the poem.In each sentence, emphasis is different due to the position of the adverb.However, each sentence is grammatically correct. For instance, in the ﬁrst sentence sweetly seems to describe her demeanor and personality more than the way she articulated the poem. In the second sentence, sweetly seems to refer to the actual articulation of the words in the poem.
Adverb PlacementDue to the ﬂexible placement of adverbs in English, a nativeFrench speaker may encounter problems regarding where toplace an adverb. Since most explanations refer to theabstract idea of stress and emphasis from the differentplacements, as DeCapua (2008) does, the form may be hardto master by Francophone students.
Tense/AspectAccording Ayoun and Salaberry (2008), “The purpose oftense is thus to order events along a time line—in otherwords, to situate events in reference to other events—whereasaspect reﬂects the speakers internal perspective on a givensituation.”
Tense/AspectDeﬁnite and Indeﬁnite PastIn French, both the deﬁnite and indeﬁnite past are conveyed by the use of thepassé composé.For example: Il a écrit une lettre. [ He wrote a letter.] The use of the passé composé expresses the deﬁnite (he sat down, wrote, and ﬁnished a letter on Tuesday at 3pm) and indeﬁnite (he wrote a letter at some point, it may be unﬁnished, it is uncertain when) past aspects.
Tense/AspectIn English, there is a difference in the way that the deﬁnite and indeﬁnite pastare conveyed: Present Perfect [Indeﬁnite] Simple Past [Deﬁnite]
Tense/AspectFor example: a) I have walked through the park. b) I walked through the park.In sentence (a) the present perfect is used and an indeﬁnite aspect isexpressed. I was in the park and walked the paths, possibly numerous times, at some point or points in my life.
Tense/Aspect b) I walked through the park.In sentence (b) the simple past is used to express a deﬁnite aspect. I went to the park, I started my walk on one path and I completed the walk, on Sunday afternoon.
Tense/AspectSince the passé composé is used for the expression of bothdeﬁnite and indeﬁnite aspects in French, an ESL/EFL studentmay have difﬁculties understanding when to use the presentperfect or simple past.Additionally, since the passé composé is formed by an auxiliary (être or avoir)+ past participle, students may tend to over use the present perfect due to itssimilarity in form.
ReviewFor Francophones, there are areas in English grammar thatare bound to cause confusion. The ﬁve areas addressed herewere: 1. Possessive Pronouns 2. Questions 3. Negation 4. Adverb Placement 5. Tense/Aspect
ReviewOnce an instructor is aware of these difﬁcult areas of Englishgrammar, and understand why the challenges arise forFrancophones, they can successfully address the forms in away that brings light to the confusing areas and hopefullyaide the students through learning English grammar.
SourcesJansma, K. (2011). Motifs: an introduction to french. Boston; Heinle CengageLearning.Kelton, k. (2011, February 02). Français interactif. Retrieved from: http://www.laits.utexas.edu/ﬁ/home.DeCapua, A. (2008). Grammar for teachers: A guide to American English fornative and non-native speakers. New York; Springer.Ayoun, D. and Salaberry, M. R. (2008), Acquisition of English Tense-AspectMorphology by Advanced French Instructed Learners. Language Learning,58: 555–595.