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  5. "Ses lettres étaient lues par…

"Ses lettres étaient lues par toute la famille."

Translation:His letters used to be read by all the family.

November 14, 2015



the fast audio is clearly not an example of good pronunciation. We should hear the "z" before "étaient", being the result of the ligature, and "étaient" should sound like "étè" and not "éta".


That's the least that can be said about the pronunciation here, verging the 'ghastly grating' range on too many occasions. Main grief: lack of ar-ti-cu-la-tion. I've been moaning at it quite systematically in the "report a problem". A few days ago I was doing the "English from French" tree. Comes a sentence : "I will lose my job", spoken any old how. My mate's comment (he's English) : "she will, talking like that...". Gosh, I wish she does. Either that or they both, lad and lassie, get to darn well Ar-Ti-Cu-La-Te!!! Just opening the mouth wider (wider than it's done while speaking English, that is) will do the trick for French, mind. You can't swallow letters when the mouth is open wide enough. Right now it's bloody hopeless. "me" sounding as "m' ", like an aborted cow moo. No audible difference between "chat" and "chien" even in slow mode. Missing ligatures. And many of the same vein. I love you, Dl, but that side needs changing, definitely.

ventilation, ventilation...


So thid poster practically wrote a book about the terrible ar.tic.u.la.tion. And he was totally wrong. I bet he's embarrassed!


Actually, liaisons are forbidden after plural nouns. So you can't pronounce a "z" after "étaient".


The complaint was lack of "s" BEFORE "étaient." It's improved on the exercise, but the audio on this page is still pretty awful


Plural pronouns (nous, vous, ils, elles) do liaise with their verb starting with a vowel sound; not plural nouns.


Selma-Ibrahim mispoke with "after étaient", but was otherwise on point. "After a plural noun" and "before étaient" are the same thing in this sentence. The liaison is forbidden. From Wikipedia:

Impossible Liaison

There are other contexts where speakers produce liaison only erratically (e.g. due to interference from orthography while reading aloud), and perceive liaison to be ungrammatical.

  • between a non-pronominal noun phrase (e.g. a non-pronominal subject) and the verb: Mes amis arrivent /me.z‿a.mi (.z‿) a.ʁiv/ ("My friends are arriving.")



I used "Ce lettre était lu par toute la famille." Isn't this sentence pronounced the same way?


if it was singular it would be "cette lettre était lue...", fem. pour "lettre".

And yes, possible and even likely (because of no context) confusion with the possessive. I almost wrote that, "ces (lettres étaient lues...", and seeing that there is no oral difference DL should accept it. I don't know if it does.


It does not as of Jan '17.


Acceptable by 24th April 2017


I think I missed something. Why is it "lues" and not just "lu"?


Because "lu" acts like an adjective here. And it describes "lettres", which are plural and feminine.


I'm not sure that I understand how "read" here is being conjugated as an adjective. I understand that in English, past participles can be used as adjectives (e.g. "I was bored by the lecture" > "The bored student fell asleep in class"). And I can imagine that other languages might do something like this (though I don't know if French has a similar allowance like the example I showed for English). But what I'm confused about is "lu" being conjugated this way. Isn't "lu" a participle here ("The book was read by many fan"), and not an adjective ("the much-read book")?


Past participles have an adjectival quality (and, indeed, often act as adjectives plain and simple) in both English and French, and for French that does partly explain the necessary accord between subject and participle when the participle is linked to the subject with "être".

It's an accurate and helpful link to make, and a deeper explanation than simply quoting a bare rule, but you can also simply remember that when a past participle is connected to the subject of a clause by "être", it accords with the subject in gender and number.

Picking up on one of your examples, we can further elucidate the adjectival connection: "I was bored. I was a student. I was a bored student. I was bored by the lecture. I was a student bored by the lecture." "Bored" is more of a verbal in the last two sentences, but in all of these cases it's the same word with the same derivation, i.e. the past participle of "to bore", used passively. This is especially obvious if you compare the first of these sentences with the last two. It becomes apparent, then, that the grammatical distinctions we make between verbal participle and participial adjective are really just contextual.

(And as for basicdesign1's comment below on invariable adjectives, they are the exception, not the rule, so that's not a particularly relevant comment on the matter at hand.)


Thank you! I've been struggling with this for a while, your explanation cleared it up for me.


huh, adjective???!! It's the conjugation of "lire" in passive form. http://leconjugueur.lefigaro.fr/conjugaison/verbe/lire_voix-passive.html. Donc participe passé. Accordé au sujet car conjugué avec l'auxiliaire être.


I have written "acts like an adjective here". ACTS LIKE. Not "it is".


I don't see the point, since there's a perfectly good conjugation for it, the explanation of why it's 'lues' and not 'lu' (aux. 'être' before it), and even a link to the lot. I'd have thought that was better than misguiding people into thinking that all adjectives agree with the subject (here https://fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/Cat%C3%A9gorie:Adjectifs_invariables_en_fran%C3%A7ais a list of those that don't, add to that those numeral adjectives that don't either). But I'm through arguing, say what you want. And no point shouting, I ain't the deaf one here.


What do I want? Spend your time in a more productive way and stop making a fuss about comments written by people you don't even know. And think twice before saying stuff about being deaf, deaf people use the Internet too. Honestly, no offense intended.


wait, how do we know whether it is ces or ses. It is audio and is not written.


you can't hear the difference between ces and ses in a recording


Yeah, I just searched for difference in pronunciation in Google Translate. If you say 'ses lettres' or 'ces lettres' you'll always hear the same: cé


yeah it's so hard to differentiate between, ces ses ce and c'est


"ce" is pronounced "suh", but the others are homophones.


I used ces rather than ses. Since both are similar pronunciations, shouldn't my answer be accepted?


Yes, for the listening exercise, assuming the rest of your sentence was correct.


Isn't "étaient lues" the pluperfect tense? I.e. why is "had been read" not accepted?


No, it's a passive construction ("were read"), in the imparfait (so I think it also translates to "were being read"). Pluperfect, in the passive, would be "avaient été lues", which follows exactly the same pattern as "had been read".

The active pluperfect would be "avait lu", but you'd have to change the sentence around so that the subject was correct: "Toute la famille avait lu ses lettres."

And you may be aware, but just to confuse things a bit, if you used the pronoun "les" as a stand-in for "ses lettres", you'd see the accord in the active construction (because of the direct object preceding the participle in the sentence): "Toute la famille les avait lues."


Why is "have been read" not correct?


Because it's in the imparfait, which gives you the options "were read" or "were being read". The passé composé, "ont été lues", could be translated as "were read" or "have been read".


Why does toute come before la? It's the only adjective that seems to act this way in french.


This is an interesting question. I think a helpful thing to consider is that "tout" (or any form of it) can act as a pronoun on its own, and we can say that in a sense it retains its pronominal character here, even if we do call it an adjective. In other words, in a sense the expression "toute la famille" is an appositional phrase, with a pronoun and a noun side by side, each retaining its own weight.

An example of a true appositional construction that can help to clarify this idea is "my friend the baker", "mon ami le boulanger". In "toute la famille" then, "toute" acts something like "mon ami" and "la famille" acts like "le boulanger".

Another thing to remember is that "tout" means "all". In English, if we want to use "all", we don't say "the all family", we say "all (of) the family" (even though we do say "the whole family", which is "la famille [tout] entière", where "tout" is an adverb).

If nothing else, I hope this will seem a helpful way of looking at it.


I didn't include "all" because it didn't sound right in English and my answer was wrong for that reason. "The entire family" seems like a more appropriate tranlation of "toute la famille" than "all the family" in my opinion. Perhaps the answer should be reworded to avoid confusion. Does anyone else think the same thing?


According to Google's Ngram Viewer, "the whole family" is most common (at least in books), followed in order by "the entire family", "all the family", and "all of the family".


His letters were read by the whole family. Accepted :)


The 's' of lettres didn't make 'z'- How could I know that it is plural?


because of "ses" which is a plural possessive pronoun, singular would be "sa lettre était lue par toute la famille"


It wasn't my question, I was talking about the audio.


This "s" should indeed be pronounced, because it stands between two vowels, but it has little effect on the comprehension of wether it's singular or plural since the difference is already clear in the pronouns themselves i.e. "ses" (plural) and "sa" (singular)


I don't think we need a liaison because the e at the end of lettre is mute (and for once the male voice is not sounding the mute e). My question is how do we know it isn't "ces lettres"?


ces or ses can't be distinguished only by hearing... that's just the way it is. As for the mute "e", well, every "e" at the end of a word in french is semi-mute. The e itself is not pronounced but often affects the pronunciation of its surrounding. If the word ends with "es" then the "e" is slightly pronounced along with the "s" (sounding z) when the following word starts with a vowel.

  • sa lettre était lue par toute la famille (e mute) = sa lètr étè
  • ses lettres_étaient lues par toute la famille = sè lètre zétè (very short e between "r" and "s" because of the following ligature) In this case, the absence of "e" would sound like mispronounced french.

To be honest, that's the rule, but I admit that most of french speakers don't pronounce them all correctly... But as a general rule, the more you pronounce the ligatures in french, the more your language is elevated and sophisticated. So DL stands on the slang side of the language in this example... Please note that I'm french


so hard to know if its c'est or ses


It's not c'est because that would mean "it is" (or this is or that is, but you get the point). While they sound the same, it just isn't a logical sentence. Even given that the plural and singular are largely indistinguishable and easily confused without more context, out would still read, "it is letter was read by all the family." Logic dictates that it must be "ses" or "ces", though deciding between those two just on sound is beyond my ability to distinguish or logic out.


it sounds like "ce lettre" t o me and should then use etait??


Well, "lettre" is feminine, so the singular is "cette lettre".

If you're having difficulty hearing the difference between "ces/ses" and "ce", then it's likely that you need more listening practice. To begin with, you can try the slow-play option, and you can also try putting all of the words together into Google Translate and playing the sound over and over, to get more used to the difference.


The English translation, 'by all the family', sounds awkward in English. We would more likely say: the whole family, or the entire family, or by all the family members. (Agree with Adetoun5).


his letters were read by the WHOLE family. sounds more natural to me


By the whole family was not accepted? Its better than my all the family ....


"By the whole family" is accepted if the rest of your sentence is correct as well.


Could it not also be her letters?


Yes, of course, if the rest of the sentence is correct.


MOD: In the absence of a context, when the voice asks to transcribe what is said, HOW is one to differentiate between "ses" and "ces." In the stand-alone sentence, in the absence of an antecedent sentence, "Ces lettres étaient lues" (THESE letters were read. . .) and "SES letters. . ." sound alike.


"Ses" and "ces" (and "s'est", "sait", "sais", "c'est") are homophones. The system is unable to disambiguate them and accept correct homophones because it compares your sentence with the original, written sentence which happens to have "ses". We are still expecting Duolingo's developer to find a solution.


Why isn't "were read" acceptable ?


"Were read" is acceptable if the rest is correct as well.


Could I use "ses lettres ont été"?


Yes, "ses lettres ont été" is the translation for "his/her letter were read" or "... have been read".


Why not "his letters would be read by the whole family," referring to an ongoing trend on letter-reading on the part of this family?


Usually, when you refer to a past repeated action or habit with "would", there is another piece of language to clarify it is in the past (in those days...). But technically, you are right since the French tells you it is a past habit.

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