French Language

Discuss and learn French: French vocabulary, French grammar, French culture etc.

French Vocab Games app for iPhone/iPad French-English dictionary French grammar French vocab/phrases

For the latest updates, follow @FrenchUpdates on Twitter!

What is the difference between "I am not working", "I don't work"?

If I say Je ne travaille pas and do not add an adjunct adverbial phrase is there anyway just using the verb to express the different forms (in English) of the present tense. There is a huge difference in English in meaning between "I am not studying" and "I do not study." Thanks  in advance!

Views: 7371

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Depending on exactly your interpretation of "using the verb", the answer is basically: no.


Unlike English, French doesn't as a matter of course encode this difference in the choice of verb construction. You can obviously, through choice of words, make the distinction when the speaker deems it necessary to do so. But as I say, it's not systematically made in the same way as English.


In English, it seems like there's a "huge" difference because the language has evolved in such a way that, in order to create a grammatical sentence in the present tense, we have no choice but to make this distinction. But arguably, we as English speakers think of it as a "huge" difference precisely because the grammar of our particular language happens to force us to make it.


To a native French speaker, the difference between "tu" and "vous" is also a "huge" difference, whereas to a native English speaker it's completely superfluous in many cases. But that also doesn't mean that English is incapable of differentiating between an informal and honorific form of address where necessary.

Good post Neil, thank you. Time to look at modal and subjuntive constructions maybe? Doesn't French tend to rely on vocabulary to construct these differences? That's all that I can add from my last three hour research - so travaille vs. chômage would identify what I don't work means - shame there's no verb chômager. ;-/

The verb chômer exists.
does it mean to be unemployed or to be on the dole (if you get what I mean)?

It means to be unemployed.

Here are some examples of use :

Dimanche est un jour chômé : Sunday is a day off

Aujourd'hui je n'ai pas chômé : Today I've been working hard

Just a small point: I think "unoccupied" might explain the concept slightly better to an English speaker. "Unemployed" tends to strongly suggest "sans emploi", "au chômage".

By the way, you probably know it but you can translate "to be on the dole" by être au chomage.

A slang version exists : être sur le carreau . You can use it for loosing a job, a girlfriend/boyfriend

Didn't see that even that in my Oxford Hachette - nice idiom - I guess literally I've put her/him on the "diamond dole", for chucking s.o. - bit harsh! ;-/

Modal constructions are very roughly similar in English to French. In a strict syntactic sense, there's essentially no such thing as a modal verb in French. But, French has a few "ordinary" verbs which map quite closely on to some of the English modal verbs (so for example, pouvoir, while possibly not a "modal" verb in a strict sense, nontheless covers quite closely the functions of English modals "can", "may", "might").


Unlike English, French does have subjunctive forms, but they don't really have anything per se to do with the "he works"/"he is working" distinction.

Right. I am coming back to French for the first time since school and need to get to beyond A-level fairly fast - I am drilling paradigms and I can see that modal constrctions are included in the conditional (and I've got the general idea of the subjunctive etc;) - I don't remember semantics being this difficult 30 years ago! ;-/


Follow BitterCoffey on Twitter

© 2022   Created by Neil Coffey.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service