Plus de français, mais plus de fautes: More French, but no more errors

As is the case in English, French spelling only gives you a clue as to the pronunciation.  Recently I ran across two words that are spelt the same, but pronounced differently.  In a real linguistic tour de force, these words are each other’s opposites!  They are plus, with the s pronounced, and plus, with a silent s.  Plus-with-an-s means “more,” while plus-without-an-s means “no more.”  Of course, being French, there are complications that ensue when the following word begins with a vowel, which typically leads to the pronunciation of the final consonant of a preceding word.

Before proceeding, I should point out that (1) I first heard about this phenomenon in William Alexander’s book Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart, and that (2) this blog post is almost entirely taken from one of the excellent “Learn French with Pascal” series of YouTube videos.  Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/wf6LculPOOg.  I should also mention Pascal’s web site, which can be found at http://www.frenchspanishonline.com/.  I’m going to add some occasional phonetic transcriptions (which you can recognize by their being in square brackets []).  (Note that in the International Phonetic Alphabet, the high tense front rounded vowel is transcribed with a [y], and that’s what I’ll be doing.  I would do more transcriptions, but I mostly don’t know how to type IPA on my Mac keyboard.) Let’s get to the details.

If the meaning is “no more:” the s is silent.  Thus:

  • J’en veux plus: I don’t want anymore.
  • T’as plus soif? You’re not thirsty anymore?
  • J’ai plus d’argent: I don’t have any more money.
  • Plus de vin!  No more wine!
  • But: if the next word starts with a vowel, then the s is pronounced, but as a z: Tu n’a plus [plyz] à t’inquiéter “you don’t have to worry anymore.”

Now, let’s consider the word with s pronounced.  It can mean “plus:”

  • Trois plus deux font cinq.  “Three plus two make five.”

…or “more:”

  • J’en veux plus “I want more”

What if there’s a following consonant, though?  Now we DON’T pronounce it, so “more quickly” is plus rapidement [ply rapidmã].  BUT, if there’s a potential for confusion, you can pronounce it.  So, we saw above that plus de vin [ply] means “no more wine,” and “more wine!” would be written the same–plus de vin, but  according to the generalization that even plus meaning “more” is pronounced [ply] (no s) when it precedes a consonant, we would expect them to be pronounced the same, too.  However, to avoid the confusion, you can pronounce the s.

Finally, let’s look at a couple of multi-word expressions.  There’s a distinction between plus que with an s pronounced, and plus que with a silent s.

  • plus que with the s pronounced means “more than.”  Plus que dix minutes with the pronounced is “more than 10 minutes.”
  • plus que with a silent s means “only.”  Plus que dix minutes with a silent s is “only 10 minutes.”  Il n’en reste plus que deux, with a silent s, means “there are only two left.”

So, now you know how to understand the title of this post (which, again, comes from Pascal’s excellent video): Plus de français, mais plus de fautes.  The first plus is [plys]–“more French.”  The second plus is [ply]–“no more errors.”  Bon courage, and don’t forget to visit Pascal’s web site at http://www.frenchspanishonline.com/.

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