Seul(e)(s) = adjectif, ensemble = adverbe - pourquoi??

J'ai vu pas mal de phrases comme:

La grand-mère vit seule. Beaucoup de personnes voyagent seules.


Nous voyageons ensemble. Ils travaillent ensemble.

J'ai du mal à comprendre pourquoi "seul" est un adjectif (et alors on fait l'accord avec le sujet) lorsque "ensemble" est un adverbe (et alors on ne fait pas l'accord). Les dictionnaires les catégorisent ainsi, et il doit y avoir une bonne raison pour cela, mais il me semble que les deux mots devraient être considérés comme des adverbes parce qu'ils expliquent la manière dont l'action est réalisée. Comment vit-elle? Comment voyageons-nous? Etc.

Y a-t-il quelqu'un qui puisse m'aider SVP?

[en anglais]

I have seen quite a few sentences like:

La grand-mère vit seule. Beaucoup de personnes voyagent seules.


Nous voyageons ensemble. Ils travaillent ensemble.

I am having trouble understanding why "seul" is an adjective (and therefore one makes the agreement with the subject) while "ensemble" is an adverb (and therefore one does not make the agreement). Dictionaries categorize them that way, and there must be a good reason for that, but it seems to me that both words should be considered adverbs because they describe the manner in which the action is being carried out. How does she live? How do we travel? Etc.

Is there someone who can help me please?

February 28, 2019


This doesn't address your question, at all, but are you aware that when you want to use "seul" as an adverb you can use "seulement". I realise that the adverb doesn't cover the same level of meaning as the adjective (alone, only).

There are many adverbs that can be formed from adjectives. "Ensemble" however isn't one of them. It's part of a group that have no adjectival root. It's also worth remembering it's also a noun.

Sorry I can't be more help.

February 28, 2019

Quite so re: seulement - although as you point out, that wouldn't work for the sentences I'm seeing! And good point about ensemble not having an adjectival root.

February 28, 2019

"Seul" does seem to be a very popular word though. I'm in France/French speaking countries a lot these days, and I'm often asked "Voyagez-vous seul" or more often "Tu voyages seul". And with the occasional look of dismay "Tu es dans le gîte tout seul" and "Tu es monté la montagne tout seul".

February 28, 2019

Oh dear. Introverts need not apply? :-)

February 28, 2019

Note that ensemble (in French) and the English word simultaneously share the same Latin root, simul, which means "at the same time" or "together" In English, it is immediately recognizable as an adverb because it ends in -ly. We will call simultaneously an adverb because it can modify a verb, just as we will call ensemble an adverb because it can modify a verb.

Building on Relox84's point--or perhaps contradicting it--I add that there's no reason that the French need to classify seul as an adverb per se, just as there's no reason we need to classify the word alone as one. In fact, a quick reference to Mirriam-Webster's dictionary confirms that there are more definitions of "alone" as an adjective than as an adverb. In the case of "she lives alone" the very first entry (which is an adjective) fits well: "separated from others: isolated" This is an adjective. You can also diagram that sentence, "she lives alone," appropriately to show that it is an adjective, modifying "she" and not "lives" (so long as you're okay with dotted lines). To feel that, think of saying, "I feel good" or "it is good." Good is always an adjective, even though it comes after the verb. All of which supports the idea that in languages in which the adjective must agree with the noun in number and gender, the word for alone should be so modified.

March 1, 2019

I never learned to diagram sentences, but I did learn that an adverb modifies a verb and an adjective cannot. So the reason I've been having difficulty with this is that "alone" (taking the example "she lives alone") really appears to modify how she lives, not the pronoun "she." If English dictionaries call "alone" an adjective, then I have the same confusion about it as I do in French. It's modifying the verb, just like "together" does. But we are using one as an adjective and another as an adverb even though they are IMO doing the same job. In English, as we do not need to make the adjectival agreements, it just isn't glaringly obvious and therefore hasn't raised the question in my mind.

Also, I have always thought that "I feel good" is technically incorrect although of course very widely in use. It's like saying "You did that good." No, you did it WELL. You played well. You gave your speech well. Etc. But I do see upon investigation that "I feel good" is (nowadays) considered grammatically acceptable, probably due at least in part to widespread usage and resulting normalization, and that "good" modifies the pronoun in that case.

The verb "to be" is always a weird one and I just haven't worried about it. It's not an action so much as a state of being, and it's often treated differently than other verbs (i.e., taking the nominative on both sides of it, in German), so "il est seul" vs. "elle est seule" doesn't seem any odder to me than "il est bleu" vs. "elle est bleue." Clearly the point isn't that the blue is being. He or she or it is descriptively blue.

Clearly I am just going to have to remember that "seul" is considered an adjective even with non-être verbs whether I think it should be or not, and keep "ensemble" out of it even though it looks like the flip side of the same coin to me. :-) And I have milked this enough now, so thanks to all for your input.

March 1, 2019

I think you hit the nail on the head: If you want to say how you feel, then you want to modify "feel" so you say I feel well. If you want to state your condition then you want to modify you, so you say I feel good. I guess if you wanted to emphasize the good you would say I am good.

So if you're saying "Many people voyage alone" then alone can talk about the condition of the people. If you really wanted it to talk about how they were voyaging, then you could call it an adverb. (According to MW, we have that flexibility in English.) Although, again, if you want to be clear that you're referring to the state of the people, you can just say many people are alone.

The chinese have a clever way of avoiding the problem of choosing a verb in many cases. When they greet each other, they just say "Ni Hao" which is quite literally "you" + "good." (although it usually gets translated as Hello or Bonjour or Guten Tag) The response is "Wo Hao" which is "I good" or "Wo hao, ni?" which is "I good, you?"

You good?

I good. You?

I good.

March 1, 2019

Thinking of mode vs. condition does make sense, yes, although then why can't that work for "ensemble" too. Because it just doesn't. Okay, I'll stop now.

March 1, 2019

Because it just doesn't.

I'd say that it's because of the temporal quality of the word. Ensemble finds its roots in the Latin phrase in simul (at the same time, à la fois, en même temps, etc.) It kept its adverbial quality even as it passed from Latin to Vulgar Latin to French and very subtly took on a broader meaning.

It may translate well enough into English as "together" which we think of as an adjective. Cultural and historical bias cannot be avoided. But really, it's best not to try to translate words. Translate sentences instead. Better yet, avoid translating at all. Just stay in French if you're starting in French. I know duolingo doesn't teach that. All they really teach is how to translate back and forth between languages.

I'm trying an experiment. I'm reading Dumas' Compte de Monte Cristo. I have already read L'étranger by Albert Camus and Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. For those books, I stopped and looked words in a French-English dictionary every time I found one I didn't already know.

For Monte Cristo, I'm just pushing on. When I get to a word I didn't know, like matelot, I just keep going. Five pages later, I figure out that it means sailor. Then I go back and try to find the sentence with matelot and see if sailor makes sense there. I avoid the temptation to look it up to see if I'm correct. (Okay, I'm still translating, but I'm weaning myself. Hard to quit, cold turkey.) I'm also learning lots of simple past tense verb forms. Again, I may or may not be correct in my assumptions because I'm avoiding looking anything up. So far, the story makes sense, but I'm only about 40 pages into a several hundred page book. :)

March 1, 2019

Quite true about not trying to translate everything word for word. That is my approach to listening to the French news - if I stop to sort it out, I am behind in no time flat. If I just sort of let it unfold, it makes sense overall.

I do like things to be consistent when it seems like they ought to be, and this is one of those times - I was hoping there would be a relatively easy explanation that seemed logical to me and didn't involve too much in the way of historical linguistics - but sometimes that's not how it works out!

March 1, 2019

The distinction between adjectives and averbs is actually not so clear cut, and this is typically the type of situation where they tend to overlap.

But a lot of languages actually use an adjective for alone and an adverb for together. Russian, Greek, Italian, and a lot of European languages. One exception is Spanish, where juntos can be used as an adjective (or also as an adverb junto).

February 28, 2019

Interesting re: the other languages. I am working on Italian and I had noticed, now you mention it, that he lives "da solo" but she lives "da sola," but with the preposition tossed in there too, it seemed just all-around odd.

And then there's allein vs. alleine in German.

This is starting to feel like going down the rabbit hole! Guess this is just the kind of stuff you have to practice until you've internalized it.

February 28, 2019


March 1, 2019

Ensemble is always plural... ''Ensemble'' est toujours pluriel.

March 3, 2019

L'adjectif se rapporte et s'accorde avec le nom: La grand-mère est seule.

Tandis que l'adverbe se rapporte au verbe, et toujours invariable: Ils travaillent ensemble. Travaillent est le verbe travailler.

March 14, 2019
Learn French in just 5 minutes a day. For free.