Francophones du monde, aidez moi!

Or in English: HELP!

In this thread French names for countries have come up, and when I started thinking about it, I came up with a peculiarity. The definite article of a singular French word is le or la, depending on the gender. However, if the word starts with a vowel or with a silent ‘h’, the article is l’. For instance: le table (m), la voiture (f, car), l’homme (m, man), l’éviction (f).

Not so with country names.

If the country name starts with a vowel, no problem: l’Angleterre (England), l’Écosse (Scotland), l’Irlande. But if the country name starts with a silent ‘h’…

La Hollande, la Hongrie (Hungary). :confused:


Or in English: WHY?

Because, as with all things français, it has a certain je ne sais quoi aspect to it.

First of all, it’s la table: table is feminine.
Secondly, in french, there is a difference between h muet and h aspiré.
h muet: l’homme; l’héroïne; l’huissier.
h aspiré : la hache; le handicapé; le haricot; la hernie; le héros.

Country names have the h aspiré.

The only way to tell (if you don’t have it memorized) which kind of h starts the word is to consult a dictionary.

N.B. examples taken from this page, «FAQ: H muet et h aspiré», which page also mentions the rule about names of countries.

P.S. There is no real difference in pronunciation of the h between the h muet and the h aspiré, the only difference is that with the h muet you use liaison and élision.

Liaison example:
h muet - les hommes pronounced as lay zom.
h aspiré - les haricots pronounced as lay ariko.

Elision example:
h muet - l’homme.
h aspiré - le héros.

I believe the english grammatical terms for liaison and élision are, not surprisingly, liaison and elision.

Arnold, thanks for the link.

So if my French holds up, the page says that proper and geographical names from just about any country other than France have aspirated h’s.
In Germanic languages the ‘h’ is AFAIK always aspirated, so maybe that’s the trick: in the original Holland the ‘h’ is aspirated, so the French kept it that way. Still leaves Hungary as a problem, because IIRC the Hungarians themselves call it something like Magyar.

The real problem is of course that, as you said, there is no difference in pronunciation. So the only way to get this right is to know which is which. (And since I don’t use French on a regular basis, it’s very unlikely that this will happen for me.)

I would pronounce les haricots as lézariko. Wrong.

So: the h muet is the ‘h’ that is glued to the article. (Simplified reverse definition for my own benefit.)

Sorry about that table. :frowning:

Well, SkinnyGuy, the exact translation of what they’re saying would be - geographical and personal names from countries with germanic languages (german, english, dutch) as well as spanish-language countries and arabic and oriental countries use the h aspiré.

As far as saying «lay zarico» for les haricots or other mistakes concerning the starting h, don’t feel bad, that’s a common error even amongst frenchmen. There is a famous comic song by french comedian Bourvil titled Les Haricots where, for comic effect, he pronounces it (incorrectly) as «lay zariko».


Would that song start “J’ai un haricot dans l’oraille?”

Great, now it’s stuck in my head and I don’t even know all the words. Hmph.

As Arnold mentioned, this would be wrong if you were following proper French grammar, however dialects and regional differences have altered pronounciation so much that a lot of situations like this go by mostly unnoticed (in Québec, anyways!). I mean, chu isn’t exactly proper French either, but its much more common to hear than “je suis” and tsé more than “tu sais”!!!

andygirl, I don’t know the song to which you are referring, but it’s not the song I mentioned. My song is from the 1950s or 1960s. It relates the tale of the green beans from their birth in the sun to their tragic end on the dinner table. The song ends «C’est la fin des haricots», “That’s the end of the beans”, which is also a french expression meaning something like “the fat lady has sung” or “that’s all she wrote”.

You can see the lyrics here:
Chansons de tout temps…
and do a Find… for «LA CHANSON DES HARICOTS»