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I am reading a nineteenth French medical text in which a patient is being described. Here are a few lines:

On lui a avancé de quoi acheter une livre de pain d'épice, on lui a prêté une table et une chaise. Avec cela, elle s'est établie marchande sur le pont derrière l'Hôtel-Dieu. On ne peut sans en être ému, lui entendre raconter les chances de son petit commerce. Pour gagner huit sous, il fallait qu'elle vendît une livre de son pain d'épice; 

They gave her what she she needed to buy "une livre de pain d'épice", They lent her a table and a chair. With that, she established a stall on the bridge behind the Hôtel-Dieu. One cannot but be moved to hear her recount her fortunes in her small business. To earn eight sous she had to sell "une livre de son pain d'épice";

Pain d'épice translates as gingerbread, but livre seems to translate only as book. In this case it seems to mean loaf. Any comments on this alternate meaning for livre.

Thanks for your consideration


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well "une livre" is the weight, the equivalent of a pound (it's rather half a kilo in France), you can still hear it on markets when people buy vegetables for instance.

Just the same for the money: 1 pound :1 livre sterling

Thank you that is very helpful. Sad to say she seldom sold her pound of gingerbread and often went hungry herself.


"une livre" is a pound = 500 grammes = half a kilo

Are you sure Chantal? I know that  it is sometimes called that here also  but do you have no  use for the  definition that 1 pound = 454  grams?

Is the" livre  " no longer used  in France except in a descriptive way? You would never say ,for example "une livre et demi(e?) "?

By the way "gram" seems to be correct in English rather than "gramme" .

Une livre is 489  GRAMS

And a "pain dépice"  is a gingerbread.

Is "une livre"  in France not exactly the same  as "a pound" in England ?

A "pound "  in English is definitely 454 grams.

I think perhaps "une livre" is now used in France  as a "demi kilo" and 489 grams is an ancient French measure.

From Wikepedia I have found that" Au Moyen Âge, sa valeur en France variait suivant les provinces entre 380 g et 552 g"

Hello George.

Now in France, "une livre" = 500 grammes. When I want "une livre de farine" the seller put 500 grammes de farine.

I don't know in England, what is exactly a pound but I think it's not the same thing than "une livre" (in fact I am pretty sure because people from England have measures that NEVER mismatch with French's ones.) But to be friendly, theses two measures are the closest.

Excuse this detour-
Is "On ne peut sans en être ..." a common pattern?

Can you say this?- to mean 'One can not help inhaling the smells of Paris.
On ne peut sans sentir l'arôme de Paris.


no it would rather be:

on ne peut s'empêcher de sentir les odeurs de Paris


on ne peut pas ne pas sentir.....(double négation)


on ne peut échapper aux....

"On ne peut sans en être ému ..."  (lui entendre raconter les chances de son petit commerce...)

It's a literary way to write. In the today life,  we don't hear that. But in literary it's not surprising,  it's quite common.

A more single way for this sentence could be "On ne peut (we can't)  /  lui entendre raconter les chances de son petit commerce (doing something)  /   sans en être ému  (without a feeling)". 

So the single way   is " we can't  / doing something  /  without a feeling"  (I have cut  the sentence to understand the parts)

and in literary form "we can't  /  without a feeling  / doing something"

so your sentence, sorry I don't understand finely the english sentence, but I don't think there is a feeling expressed, and the way of this sentence requires a feeling.

but in french to draw a parralel with the first sentence it would be :

On ne peut   (we can't) /    sentir l'arôme de Paris  (doing something)  /     sans en être ému. (feeling)

On ne peut   /  sans en être ému    (feeling)   /   sentir l'arôme de Paris. (doing something)

(I am not sure it' clear ;-))

Are you sure that "On ne peut sans en être ému."  cannot be used as a standalone (complete)  expression?

If it could, I would like it  -and I thought it was possible to  say this.

We have the expression in English "I could not but be moved." - maybe  that is why I thought the expression I have just given would work in French.

That's what I thought too - 'can not help doing...'
But the way Chantal breaks up the parts of the sentence is very illucidating, so that now I believe this is how things stand :

'Sans en être ému' - adverbial phrase to the verb 'entendre.'
'Entendre' - main verb to subject 'On.'
'Peut' - auxiliary verb to verb 'entendre.'

But if I was mistaken in thinking of 'can not help doing...', it was a 'learning' mistake, because Vedas had suggested above the French equivalence to that: (or near equivalence anyway)

On ne peut s'empêcher de sentir les odeurs de Paris.
On ne peut s'empêcher de être ému. (Now this one is my 'invention,' not Vedas', so I am not so sure about it)

So it is good to make mistakes sometimes.


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