Tutelary gods and how to use “tout”

Statue of Michel de Montaigne on the rue des Ecoles. It makes me all warm and gooey inside to know that my grandfather probably visited this statue for the same reason that I did. Picture source: me.

I’m a big believer in tutelary gods.  These are the local deities that rule over or protect a place.  You could make a good case that part of the reason that Judiasm was able to survive its exile from its place of origin was that the original idea of its typically Fertile Crescent god–he lived on top of a particular hill, and in order to really worship him properly, you had to go there–changed to an idea of an immanent god who was everywhere, in all things.  (Yes, he is transcendent in Judaism, too, as far as I know–it’s complicated.)  And yet: the old tutelary gods live on.  It’s worth paying attention to the kami when you’re in Japan, and Pele in Hawaii.

Montaigne’s right foot, polished by generations of students touching it for luck with their tests. Picture source: me.

As far as I can tell, the only relevant deity in the Paris region is Montaigne.  Also known as Eyquem, Michel de Montaigne was a writer who is widely considered to be the father of the modern essay and the grandfather of all magazine writers.  There’s a statue of him on the rue des Ecoles.  I passed by it on my way home today expressly to engage in the rites of Montaigne-worship, which consist of rubbing the toe of his right foot for luck before a test.  The reason: I had just finished the first of four days of language-testing that I’ll be doing this week and next week, and I was not feeling happy about the valuable insight that I’d gotten into my weak points.

A lot of what I struggled with on today’s exams didn’t bother me that much–a super-fast speaker, mostly.  But, I was pretty down on myself when I still found myself struggling with the A2-level issue of tout/tous/toute/toutes.  In theory, these four words all mean all of, but it gets a bit more complicated than that, and there is also a pronunciation issue: tous is pronounced as tou most of the time, but tousse on occasion.  Throw in there the fact that I was never sure how to spell some of the stuff that I know how to say, like tout ce que je veux…, and you see how I might still be struggling with this–despite the fact that a class that I attended last winter spent an hour on it one day!

I’ll lay this out a bit differently than other explanations that I’ve seen: I’m going to put the idiomatic expressions first.  These get used a lot, and if you can remember that they’re (almost) all the same form, tout, that might make it easier to digest the complexity that follows.

Here are some idiomatic expressions with tout.   I took them from Eli Blume and Gail Stein’s French: Three years review text, just because that’s the one reference for English speakers that I happen to have lying around my apartment:

  • en tout cas: in any case, at any rate
  • pas du tout: not at all
  • tout à coup: all of a sudden, suddenly (see also tout d’un coup, below)
  • tout à fait: indeed
  • tout à l’heure: just now; in a little bit
  • tout de même: nevertheless
  • tout de suite: immediately
  • tout le monde: everybody, everyone
  • tout le temps: all the time

Some others that you’re likely to run into:

  • tout doucement: slowly
  • malgré tout: despite everything, in spite of everything
  • tout droit: straight ahead
  • tout d’un coup: all of a sudden, suddenly (see also tout à coup above)

…and now the only fixed expressions that I know of with a form other than tout:

  • toute la journée: all day
  • tous les jours: every day
  • toutes les nuits: every night
  • tous les quatre: all the time, often
  • tous les deux, toutes les deux: both

With that out of the way, let’s talk about what people usually talk about first: using tout to mean “all (of).”  Something important to remember here that might be difficult to remember if you’re an English-speaker: you do not follow this tout with de.  Don’t, don’t, don’t.

When used in this way, tout agrees in number and gender with the noun that it’s modifying, the forms being:

  • tout: masculine singular (tout le gateau all of the cake, the whole cake)
  • tous: masculine plural (tous ces amis all (of) his friends)
  • toute: feminine singular (toute la durée de vie all of the life cycle)
  • toutes: feminine plural (toutes les peintures all (of) the paintings

You probably noticed that all of those examples were followed by a definite article (i.e., some form of the word the).  You can also use it before a noun without an article to mean every or any.  In this case, it agrees with the gender of the noun, but the number is always singular:

  • Tout tatou est poète !  Every armadillo is a poet!  (Tex’s French Grammar web site)
  • Je contredirai ceux et celles qui croient que toute femme prend la décision de mettre fin à sa grossesse le cœur léger…  I would contradict those people who believe that any woman takes the decision to terminate a pregnancy lightly… (Linguee.fr web site)

You could think of the preceding examples as quantifiers–they specify how many or how much of something specified.  All of his friends, all of the cake.  Every armadillo, any woman.  Tout can also function as a pronoun, not quantifying something, but replacing something.  In this case, you’re either going to have tout to mean something like “everything,” or you’re going to have one of the two plural forms–tous, or toutes, depending on the gender of what’s being replaced.  Here is the one case (that I know of) where you pronounce tous as tousse (I don’t know whether or not you have liaison to touze):

  • Tout s’est bien goupillé.  Everything came together well (said by a friend of some slides that she put together for a PowerPoint presentation).
  • Ils partageront tout.  They will share everything.  (Blume and Stein)
  • Tout ce qu’il dit est la vérité.  Everything he says is the truth.  (Blume and Stein)
  • Mes amis sont venus et tous étaient contents.  My friends came and they all were happy.  (Kwiziq French web site) (Liaison?  I don’t know.  Native speakers?)
  • Les filles sont allées aux toilettes toutes ensemble.  The girls all went to the bathroom together.  (Transparent Language French blog)
  • Ils sont tous invités They’re all invited (my tutor)
  • Tous sont malades Everybody’s sick (my tutor)

Now: tout as an adverb.  We’ll call it an adverb when it modifies an adjective.  In this case, it means something like completely or entirely.

  • Il me parle tout bas He talks all Barry White to me (Edith Piaf, La vie en rose–technically it’s modifying another adverb here, but we’ll let that go)
  • Il est tout pâle He’s totally pale (my tutor)
  • Tout simplement simply put, simply, just (Linguee.fr–again we’re modifying another adverb)
  • Tout comme just like; il est grand, tout comme ses parents He’s big, just like his parents (WordReference.com)
  • C’est tout comme “same difference,” “it’s close enough” Il ne m’a pas insulté mais c’est tout comme !  He didn’t insult me, but he might as well have!  (WordReference.com)

…and now it gets tough.  You’ll notice that in all cases, we had tout in the same form.  But, there’s an exception.  If the adjective:

  1. …is feminine, and…
  2. …starts with a consonant or with h aspiré…

then it becomes toute or toutes.  For example:

  •  Diane a mangé la pizza tout entière.  Diane ate the whole pizza.  (Transparent Language French web site)  The adjective entière is feminine, since pizza is feminine–but, it starts with a vowel, so we have tout, not toute.
  • C’est une fille toute petite, mais elle peut tout faire! She’s a small girl, but she can do it all!  (Transparent Language French web site)  The adjective petite is feminine AND it starts with a consonant, so we have toute.
  • En outre, vu ses propriétés en matière de construction, elle est tout indiquée pour les hauts murs non porteurs…     In addition, because of its constructional properties, it is particularly suitable for high, non-load-bearing walls… (Linguee.fr)  The adjective indiqée is feminine, but it doesn’t start with a vowel or h aspiré, so we have tout.
  • Elles sont tout autant africaines qu’européennes.  They are African just as much as they are European.  (Linguee.frAfricaines and européennes are feminine and plural, but they (or maybe the relevant thing here is autant) don’t start with a consonant or h aspiré, so we have tout.
  • (Sorry, I haven’t been able to find good examples of a consonant-initial feminine plural adjective to show you (and myself) the contrast.  Native speakers??)
Tout ce que vous voulez: Everything you want. Picture source: me, on my way home this evening.

Feel like trying this out?  You’re now ready for this quiz on the Français Facile web site.  You can find a bunch more of them here.  Want another take on all of this?  See the Tex’s French Grammar site, which also has a nice little exercise at the end: https://www.laits.utexas.edu/tex/gr/det9.html.  As the cartoons of my childhood would have put it: Th-th-th-th-that’s all, folks!  Off to bed now, ’cause testing starts again first thing in the morning…


10 thoughts on “Tutelary gods and how to use “tout””

  1. You are right, this “tout(e-es)” is not satisfying, I don’t like when French grammar lacks of logic . Used as an adverb, before an adjective, tout shouldn’t change, ever .
    But for a reason I would have opposed if I had belonged to the French Academy in the time, it agrees, becoming toute and toutes before a feminine adjective starting with a consonant . There is no rectitude in this fantasy, especially as it doesn’t work for the masculine, tout remains tout even for the plural : Ils sont tout mouillés – they are completely wet . This is logical since if you write “ils sont tous mouillés” we understand “all of them are wet”, not “they are completely wet” . And this confusion is not avoided at the feminine because of this idiot fantasy .

    About your question here is an example, : “elles étaient toutes tristes” or “elles sont toutes petites” . It hurts me to collaborate with this stupidity . And about pronunciation, “tous” is said touss when it is a pronoun and the liaison for “touz” and “toutez” must be made every time before a vowel (or h muet) . Some people forget it but they are wrong .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to say: I never expect any language to be logical in any normal sense of that word. In part, this is simply a heuristic, based on never having come across a language that could be described that way. In part, it’s theoretically motivated–language structures, as far as I know, are dynamic, and changing all the time. So, there’s a historical reason why you wouldn’t expect consistency–it’s often the case that the whole system doesn’t change at once. (Probably the norm that it doesn’t, but I don’t have the relevant data at my fingertips.) Also, a lot of what happens with language in practice is probabilistic, and a lot of it is probably a balancing of conflicting constraints, so whatever you’re looking at in a language, it’s probably not going to be the same in all contexts–hence, not consistent–hence, in some sense, not logical.


      1. I agree with all that, “what happens with language in practice is probabilistic”, but it shouldn’t work with French, this deliberately man made language with the double goal of beauty and clarity . French people love rules, and they love to infringe them but there MUST be rules . This “toutes” case is not one of those free creations of which the French are so fond . It looks like a complete disparition of any logic – and this is quite un-French .


  2. Speaking of Montaigne, the name of his family was Eyquem, a rich merchants family from Bordeaux . When they bought the castle of Saint-Michel de Montaigne, a village close from site of the last battle of the 100 years war, Castillon-la-Bataille, they added “de Montaigne” to Eyquem . Among his FaceBook/selfies innovation, Montaigne wrote maybe the earliest European literature pages about friendship . The essays in which he speaks about his friend La Boétie, and about friendship, are very touching and endearing .
    I live not far from their region .
    Montaigne hated to have to get up when he was still sleepy . We all hate this, but this guy was of a special kind : he asked his valet to wake him up very early on days when he had nothing to do, so he could delight himself of being allowed to fall asleep again, unlike the hatred days when he couldn’t, and savor the difference . That’s the kind of guys we are in the South-West, heart of French rugby !

    Liked by 2 people

  3. His most famous quote is about his friend, and above friendship actually . When asked about the reasons of his love for La Boetie, all he could eventually find was :”Parce que c’était lui, parce que c’était moi” . For friendship love as well as for couples love that’s a pretty good answer for all of us, don’t you think so ?

    Liked by 2 people

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