Daughter of the King in a personals ad

“Arrival of the Brides,” a painting of the Filles du Roi by English artist Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale.

When I started studying French last winter, I fell in love with a song from Quebec called Petite annonce amoureuse (“Personals ad”–for those of you who are too young to remember, personals ads were the precedents of Match.com; they were short advertisements that ran in newspapers, from people looking for love).  The song was originally recorded by Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and recently re-recorded by Chloé Sainte-Marie.  The song begins with these words:

Je cherche un homme qui a cinq pieds trois I’m looking for a man who is 5 foot three
Moi, je ne suis pas fille du roi Me, I’m not a daughter of the king

In French, trois (“three”) and roi (“king”) rhyme–no big deal.  Just a quirky line in a song, right?

Fast forward two years, and I’m now reading The story of French, a book about the history of the French language by the always-interesting Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlowe. The book tells the story of the population of French Canada. While the population of the English colonies was booming in the 1600s, the French Canadian population most definitely was not, with a ratio of six men to every female. The administration tried to address the situation by sending marriageable young women, mostly from orphanages, from France to the New World. These women were accompanied by dowries provided by the Crown, and were known as filles du roi (filles du roy, in the orthography of the time)–“daughters of the King.”  The King’s Daughters feature strongly in the creation myth of Canada, and various and sundry people of whom you would have heard are descended from filles du roi, including Hillary Clinton, Angelina Jolie, and Madonna, according to Wikipedia.  Here are some words related to the filles du roi:

  • l’orphelin, l’orpheline: orphan
  • l’orphelinat (masc.): orphanage
  • le foyer de l’enfance: orphanage (more current term, according to the French Wikipedia entry)

Irregular IR-class verbs, or why I’m not losing weight

Exploring group III French verbs through my failure to lose weight.

So embarrassing–I had a great opportunity to use an obscure IR-class verb (mincir, meaning to lose weight or to make you look thin) yesterday, but in the first person singular present tense, not the third person plural present tense that we worked on last time–and I blew it.  Attempting to explain the connection between the delicious French-Canadian dish called poutine–fries covered with cheese curds and gravy–and why I’m not losing weight, I conjugated it as an ER verb, not IR.  !@#$%$!  I guess I just gotta work on those IR-class verbs some more.  So, for the moment let’s just point out that there’s a Montréal restaurant, La Banquise, that serves 25 different kinds of poutine, agree amongst ourselves that I’ll go there this week when I visit our neighbors under the Big Red Maple Leaf, and focus on irregular IR verbs.

In that spirit, let’s look at the present tense of some irregular IR verbs.  In the singular forms, the final written consonant is the same, but where the regular IR verbs have the vowel i in front of that consonant, the irregular IR verbs do not. We’ll use finir (to finish) as our prototype of a regular IR verb–all of the other verbs in these tables are irregular IR verbs:

finir courir dormir partir sortir
je finis cours dors pars sors
tu finis cours dors pars sors
on finit court dort part sort

In the plural forms, the regular IR verbs (like finir) and the irregular verbs (all of the other verbs in this post) are quite different, and actually look a lot like ER verbs:

finir courir dormir partir sortir
nous finissons courons dormons partons sors
vous finissez courez dormez partez sortez
ils/elles finissent courent dorment partent sortent

Similar verbs include mentir (to lie), sentir (to smell), and compounds of all of these.

How many verbs like this are there? It’s surprisingly difficult to say. It’s even unclear what exactly “this” means. The traditional answer would be “the set of third-conjugation verbs,” but “third-conjugation verbs” include a number of verbs of entirely different classes. Just looking at the example verbs on this page, there’s a clear difference between verbs like courir and verbs like dormir–they share the same endings, sure, but the stem of the verbs like dormir lose a consonant in the singular forms.  Would you count mourir?  The endings are the same, but there’s a change in the stem vowel.  How about démentir (to deny)?  It’s conjugated like mentir,  but while the past participle menti is invariable, the past participle of démentir can be inflected for gender, and be démenti or démentie.  Does it count as like “this”?  And, there are words related to the words that I’ve used as examples here.  For example, related to courir (to run), we have (from the web site L’Obs–la conjugaison):


Counting word types is always an ugly business–this shows you one thing that contributes to that kind of ugliness.  Mincir (to lose weight) is totally regular, by the way, although at this point in my life, for me to lose weight would, unfortunately, be quite irregular.

3rd person plural present tense of regular IR-class verbs: anonymous sex in the Tuileries Garden

The Tuileries Garden today. Source:
The Tuileries Garden today. Source: “Tuileries gardenview” by User:Munford – Own work (Taken by me). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tuileries_gardenview.jpg#/media/File:Tuileries_gardenview.jpg

There’s good evidence that men have been jumping the walls of the Tuileries Garden (built in 1564) to have sex with each other at night since at least the 17th century.  We know about this because although France has no laws forbidding sex or marriage between consenting adults today, it wasn’t always so enlightened.  At one time, the police paid men called mouches (flies) to entrap gay men into making sexual propositions and then have them arrested.  The police reports of the mouches give quite a bit of insight into gay cruising culture in the decades before the French Revolution (1789).  In 1791, the new French penal code decriminalized homosexuality.

Now that I’ve got your attention, it’s time to get back to the basics.  I’m preparing for a French certification test (see this post for a description of the oral comprehension portion), and I am realizing that I am woefully out of practice with the conjugations of some verb classes.  About 20% of French verbs end with -ir.  The 3rd person plural present tense of these verbs (they walk, they are walking, etc.) is a weakness for me, so humor me and let’s work on it.

For the 80% or so of French verbs that belong to the ER class, the 3rd person plural present tense is pronounced the same as the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person singular.  For the IR verbs, the stem is pronounced the same as the 1st and 2nd person plurals.  (It’s always written differently from all of the others.)  The ending for the 3rd person plural present tense of regular IR verbs is -issent:

je finis nous finissons
tu finis vous finissez
on finit ils finissent

With that reference in hand, let’s practice. A list of sentences follows. Change the highlighted pronoun and verb to ils, and give the appropriate verb form.

  1. Nous ne choisissons pas notre orientation sexuelle.  We don’t choose our sexual orientation.
  2. Je vomis les “mouches.”  I loathe the “mouches.”
  3. Je suis ravi qu’il abolit les lois contre l’homosexualité.  I’m delighted that he is abolishing the laws against homosexuality.
  4. Est-ce que tu rougis quand je parle de ces affaires?  Do you blush when I talk about these things?
  5. Réfléchissez-vous à ce que j’ai dit?  Are you thinking about what I said?


  1. Ils ne choisissent pas leur orientation sexuelle.
  2. Ils vomissent les mouches.  They loathe the mouches.
  3. Je suis ravi que qu’ils abolissent les lois contre l’homosexualité.
  4. Est-ce que ils rougissent quand je parle de ces affaires?
  5. Réfléchissent-ils à ce que j’ai dit?
Curative Power of Medical Data

JCDL 2020 Workshop on Biomedical Natural Language Processing


Criminal Curiosities


Biomedical natural language processing

Mostly Mammoths

but other things that fascinate me, too


Adventures in natural history collections

Our French Oasis


ACL 2017

PC Chairs Blog

Abby Mullen

A site about history and life

EFL Notes

Random commentary on teaching English as a foreign language

Natural Language Processing

Université Paris-Centrale, Spring 2017

Speak Out in Spanish!

living and loving language




Exploring and venting about quantitative issues