12 October 2011

A Good French Word To Know

When I first moved to France nearly 12 years ago and began learning the language, one word in particular caught my attention: si.

I noticed that si (pronounced see) was used liberally by everyone. Even if I didn't understand the context, its strategic placement left me with the feeling that a debate or argument had just gotten underway.

And that wasn't too far off.  Because in French, the word si means "yes" in a remarkably useful way, one that doesn't exist in English.

It's very simple: if someone says "no", either in a statement or question, and you want to contradict what they've just said, you say si.

"You don't like vanilla ice-cream?"

"Si" (yes I do).


"You're not wearing THAT dress tonight, are you?"

"Si" (yes I am). That's when the conversation gets interesting.


"You'll never get into Polytechnique if you don't study more!"

"Mais si" (of course I will). Which leaves us to believe this person is brilliant beyond measure, has rich parents, or is the mastermind of an illicit entrance strategy. But one thing's for sure - they're convinced they're getting in.

Si wields a power that effectively undercuts the staunchest, most well-thought out negation. In just one unassuming syllable.

So the next time you're conversing in French and want to turn someone's negative into a positive, give si a try. Just be ready to back up what you've said and you're good to go.