FR 151
Advanced French Grammar & Writing


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It may be modified over the course of the semester. Always refer to the latest on-line version.

Advanced French Grammar & Writing
Grammaire avancée: de la phrase au texte

Introduction: Grammar and Texts
    Whereas formal language study is often focused on "grammar" (which can be defined in many different ways—see below), there is often little coherence between the grammar being learned and its eventual applications. Indeed, students may wonder why exactly one needs to attain a higher level of grammatical knowledge beyond what gets taught in a typical academic "language sequence"; is it a case of learning for its own sake?
    The most obvious justification for "advanced" grammar is the capacity to produce more complex language, so as to express more complex ideas, notions and propositions. Complexity, however, is relative: what appears complex for a non-native learner of a particular linguistic background is not necessarily so for another non-native learner of a different linguistic background, and for a native speaker.

What is Grammar?
    Whenever someone learns a language—as a mother tongue or a foreign language—s/he inevitably learns some grammar, even without being aware of it. Language is governed by rules of various kinds that must somehow be mastered to some degree for any communication to occur: even understanding everyday speech or reading a simple text cannot be achieved without an implicit understanding of some of these rules.
  The fact is that most native speakers of a language never reach a very high mastery of its grammar: even "educated" people know just enough to function, orally and in writing, at a level appropriate to their socio-professional standing. Much of this knowledge is acquired inductively through communicative experience, early on in life; only a small part of it comes from explicit instruction in an academic setting, and most speakers are not able to explain the rules that they apply correctly. Frequently, they need to resort to a reference book (dozens are in print for French) in order to clarify certain points.

    There is a lingering confusion about the exact nature of "grammar," which can mean

1) a set of laws that account for the way language operates in general—in which case it is virtually synonymous with "linguistics"
2) a set of laws governing the morphology of a specific language—how linguistic units are formed—and its syntax—how linguistic units are arranged in linear sequences in speech.
3) a set of rules and recipes on how to produce "correct" forms.

Grammar in language instruction
    In naturalistic acquisition, grammatical mastery is initially limited to recognition and comprehension, before proceeding to production and, possibly, to the ability to analyze and explicate grammatical forms.
    Educational theories have not always respected this inductive progression: "traditional" language pedagogy, in fact, follows a deductive process that begins with formulating rules that students must learn, then "apply" in exercices, before moving on to progresssively more divergent expression. Since the late 1970s, "functional" and "communicative" approaches have strived to change this status, sometimes by proscribing explicit grammar instruction altogether, in other cases by respecting the natural acquisition process in which rule-stating comes after recognition and comprehension.
    Unfortunately, the problem of grammar in language instruction has not, for the most part, been satisfactorily addressed. Language instruction methods overwhelmingly rely on "traditional grammar" (type 3), even when they seek to cast grammar in a supporting role, or present it inductively. However, such grammar does not always reflect a coherent, scientific vision of how language operates: its rules, which admit many exceptions, are really ad hoc prescriptions that do not explain linguistic mechanisms, and tend to focus on correctness rather than meaning. Even language teachers who devote a great deal of time and effort to grammar instruction do not always understand exactly how language works: they teach and use the rules they have learned but would be hard pressed to explain why these rules exist.
    Moreover, Language instruction methods tend to focus on grammar and ignore usage, i.e., how grammar rules are really applied in specific contexts. Because rules of usage are based on what natives actually do, rather than on theoretical prescription, they sometimes contradict grammatical rules, and sometimes qualify or restrict them.
    Adopting a "scientific" grammar thus appears as an indispensable first step towards more productive learning: its rules must suffer no exceptions, and it must begin by carefully defining notions beyond commonly held (mis)conceptions. Anyone with a modicum of formal education has some idea of what a "sentence," a "text," a "verb" are; yes these terms remain imprecise, and are often used inappropriately.
    In fact, the very notion of "grammatical knowledge" is at issue, since it can refer to several types of competencies.

1. Receptive competency :
- recognition, comprehension and understanding of langage forms from authentic documents
2. Evaluative competency :
- Normative judgement : ability to distinguish between correct and incorrect forms
- Register judgement : ability to distinguish between formal, standard and colloquial forms
- Authenticity judgement : ability to distinguish between grammatical forms (which are possible, even though they may not be correct) and agrammatical forms (which are never produced by a native speaker)
3. Productive competence :
- Mechanical (convergent) production, of a single, specific form or structure: in an exercice or in response to a direct prompt from a teacher, for example.
- Directed (semi-convergent) production of a range of forms or structures: in an exercice or in response to a direct prompt from a teacher, for example, but also in writing a text with explicit constraints.
- Autonomous (divergent) production, in an activity where generic formal constraints may exist, but are less determinant than the (free writing, composition, essay, description, narration)
4. Metalinguistic competence :
- Ability to identify forms by name (knowledge of technical vocabulary);
- Ability to state a grammatical rule or principle in a coherent, economical manner;
- Ability to develop explanations (analysis of sentence components, linguistic commentary)

   These competencies mostly pertain to morphology and syntax, at the sentence level. They must be set apart from discursive and textual competence (sentence arrangement, "text grammar"), from rhetorical (or stylistic) competence, or lexical competence (vocabulary knowledge), which must be evaluated separately. They must also be set apart from oral competencies, which involve a different hierarchical structure, and allow for a wider usage of colloquial forms.
   Although it is often used in the singular, "communicative competence" thus appears as a complex set of competencies, some of which are only activated in oral communication (such as gestural or proxemic competencies) while others pertain to both oral and written expression/reception, while not always overlapping completely.

   The forms themselves can be grouped into three main categories : elementary, intermediate and advanced (which, depending on circumstances, involve learning phases of varying lengths, corresponding to various academic divisions). Such a double hierarchy of forms is founded less on intrinsic "difficulty" than on the level distinction between standard and formal writing (in French, advanced competencies almost always involve a mastery of formal speech).
   Learning can thus be conceived as a "spiraling" progression beginning with recognition and comprehension of forms at the elementary level, and concluding (insomuch that it can ever be "completed") with the ability to explain more advanced forms.
    >> Download the scale of grammatical knowledge (échelle des acquis grammaticaux en français écrit) from BlackBoard.

   Therefore, "Advanced grammar" does not mean learning more rules, or more complicated rules, but gaining a better understanding of how language works, in order to make sense of what you already know and to keep refining your knowledge.
     The goal of this course is to reinforce your knowledge, understanding and functional mastery of French syntax, morphology and stylistics, with the specific purpose of increasing your reading and writing proficiency. At each stage, we will not just review and apply rules, but figure out why these rules exist in the first place.
     A second major aspect of this course involves working with text types, in order to develop your writing proficiency beyond the sentence level.
     Note: although they are not the focus of this course, your listening and speaking proficiency will be greatly enhanced as well, if only by the intensive practice you will get through class participation.

Methods / Méthodologie

     The principle of this course is that any point of grammar must be approached from a quadruple perspective:

  • observing a particular linguistic reality in an authentic text;
  • comprehending this linguistic reality;
  • learning about the rule that governs this reality;
  • understanding the principles behind the rule - how language works;
  • demonstrating understanding through application in actual writing.

     Each session will include, in varying proportions and order:

  • problem-solving tasks based on authentic texts;
  • a series of explanations and clarifications by the instructor (to complement readings assigned as homework);
  • students' questions, leading to further explanations;
  • exercises in grammar and writing, from Grammaire progressive or handed out by the instructor.

     Your responsibilities in preparing for class are to

  • read very attentively the assigned chapter(s) and materials for each unit;
  • prepare questions to clarify what you do not fully understand in the readings and/or exercises;
  • complete all assigned exercices as best as you can, even if you find it difficult. We will go over these exercises together in class, but it is crucial that you have completed them on your own beforehand.

     Exercises et activities come in three main types:

  • Application exercises, generally focusing on a specific aspect of syntax and/or morphology;
  • Writing activities requiring that you craft short texts according to specific formal criteria;
  • Correcting/rewriting activities requiring that you remodel sentences or short texts so as to first eliminate errors, improprieties and awkward turns of phrases, then improve them (i.e., increase their efficacy).

In all circumstances, your work will never simply amount to mechanically learning, memorizing and applying "rules"; it will also involve understanding the purpose of these rules, and figuring out why a given form is "faulty", whereas another is "correct." Finally, we will go beyond "correcting" to the next stage, where the issue is making a text more efficacious (at whatever effect it is supposed to have on its reader), not just grammatically sound.

     Ce cours se fonde sur le principe que tout point de grammaire doit s'aborder d'une quadruple perspective:

  • observer un fait de langue dans le cadre d'un texte authentique;
  • s'informer sur la règle;
  • comprendre les principes qui justifient la règle - comment le langage fonctionne;
  • démontrer sa compréhension par l'application dans un travail d'écriture.

     Chaque séance de ce cours comportera

  • des explications et éclaircissements fournis par le professeur (à partir des lectures faites à la maison et des questions posées par les étudiants)
  • des questions posées par les étudiants
  • des exercices d'analyse et d'écriture.

     Votre responsabilité pour vous préparer consistera à

  • lire très attentivement les chapitres et les pages donnés comme devoir pour chaque cours;
  • préparer des questions pour éclairicir ce que vous ne comprenez pas dans les explications et/ou les exercices donnés;
  • faire tous les exercices demandés du mieux possible, même si vous rencontrez des difficultés. Ces exercices seront corrigés en classe, mais il est essentiel de les avoir fait au préalable.

     Les exercices et activités proposées sont de trois types principaux:

  • les exercices d'application impliquant des manipulations linguistiques focalisées sur un aspect précis de syntaxe et/ou de morphologie;
  • les activités d'écriture consistant à produire de courts textes selon des critères de forme bien définis;
  • les exercices de correction/réécriture consistant à retravailler des phrases ou de courts textes pour en éliminer les erreurs, les maladresses et les faiblesses dans un premier temps, et dans un deuxième temps pour les améliorer, c'est-à-dire pour en accroître l'efficacité (c'est-à-dire l'effet escompté sur le lecteur).

Dans tous les cas, il ne s'agira jamais de se limiter à apprendre et appliquer mécaniquement des «règles», mais il faudra aussi de se demander quelle est leur finalité, et surtout comprendre pourquoi telle forme est «fautive» et telle autre «correcte», et comment, au-delà de la simple «correction», on peut rendre l'expression plus efficace.


Texts to be purchased /Manuels à acheter

  • Y. Delatour, D. Jennepin, M. Leon-Dufour, et B. Tessier. Nouvelle Grammaire du Français. Cours de Civilisation Française de la Sorbonne. Paris, Hachette FLE, 2004. ISBN 2-01-0155271-0
    This is a general reference book. The assigned readings cover some material that you already know, and some that you probably do not know—since knowledge levels vary within a single class, however, it is of course impossible to predict how much each students knows.
  • M. Boularès & J.-L. Frérot, Grammaire progressive du français avec 400 exercices, niveau avancé. Paris, CLE International, 1997. ISBN 2-09-033862-5
    This book includes simplified recapitulations of grammar rules, and targeted exercises. It is your responsibility to complete the assigned exercises as indicated below. We will go over some of these exercises in class (though not all of them for every unit) and some may be used for pop quizzes.

Complementary Readings/Lectures complémentaires

  • C. Cichella & S. Ratto, Ecrire et s'exprimer: grammaire/ expression/ vocabulaire, Nathan, 1997.
    On Reserve at the Lauinger Library. This book also includes explanations and exercises. Although it will not be used in class, the assigned readings are meant as reinforcement, to be used as your discretion.

Supplementary Readings/Lectures supplémentaires
      These titles provide more in-depth coverage of French grammar, in some cases focusing on a particular point. They will not be used in class.

  • Arrivé, Michel, Françoise Gadet et Michel Galmiche. La Grammaire d'aujourd'hui : guide alphabétique de linguistique française. Paris, Flammarion, 1986. Lauinger PC2112 .A77 1986
  • Cellard, Jacques. Le subjonctif : comment l'écrire? Quand l'employer? Paris, Duculot, 1978. Lauinger Library PC2290 .C44 1978
  • Grevisse, Maurice. Le Bon Usage: grammaire française, avec des remarques sur la langue française d'aujourd'hui. Paris, Duculot, 1980. Lauinger PC2112 .G84 1980
  • Klein-Lataud, Christine. Précis des figures de style. Toronto, Éditions du GREF, 1991. Lauinger PC2440 .K44 1991.
  • Lacarra, Marcel. Les Temps des verbes: Lesquels utiliser? Comment les écrire? Paris, Duculot, 1979. Lauinger PC2301 .L26
  • Simard, Jean Paul. Guide du savoir-écrire. Montréal, Éditions Ville-Marie, 1984.
    Lauinger PC2420 .S54 1984
  • Timbal-Duclaux, Louis. L'Expression écrite: écrire pour communiquer: connaissance du problème. Paris, ESF/Librairies techniques, 1983. Lauinger P211 .T55 1983

Assignments / Devoirs

     For each unit, you must read the assigned chapters and prepare in writing the activities and exercises (handed out by the instructor or found in Grammaire Progressive—marked by
Ex.). You are also advised to complete the suggested complementary readings, and, in orderto reinforce your understanding of key notions, some supplementary readings from the works listed above.

     Pour chaque unité, il vous faudra lire les chapitres indiqués dans les manuels au programme, et préparer par écrit des activités et des exercices (donnés par le professeur, ou que vous trouverez dans dans Grammaire Progressive—signalés par Ex.). Il est également conseillé de faire des lectures complémentaires suggérées (dans Ecrire et s'exprimer), et, pour renforcer votre compréhension des notions fondamentales, quelques lectures supplémentaires dans les ouvrages de la liste ci-dessus.

Readings/exercises from books
Lectures / exercices dans un livre
Materials available on line only
Documents disponibles en ligne seulement

Plan / Outline

0. Introduction: What is grammar? What is a text? / Introduction: Qu'est-ce que la grammaire? Qu'est-ce qu'un texte? (Sessions 0-1-2)

     Advanced knowledge of a language extends beyond purely technical ability to express oneself orally and in writing. One also needs to understand its workings and master some basic notions and concepts in order to reach expert use both in terms of reception (comprehension) and of production (writing, speech), that is, grasping the complexity of language use and its nuances.

  • Communication
  • Grammar (morphology and syntax)
  • Sentence - Clause
  • Énoncé (utterance)
  • Topic/Comment - Subject/Predicate
  • Discourse/Text/Narrative
  • Discourse and text types

     La connaissance approfondie d'une langue dépasse les capacités purement techniques à s'exprimer à l'oral et à l'écrit. Il faut aussi en comprendre le fonctionnement et maîtriser quelques notions et concepts de base pour parvenir à une utilisation experte tant sur le plan de la réception (lecture) que de la production (écriture, discours oral), c'est-à-dire à une saisie de la complexité des faits de langue et des nuances.

  • La Communication
  • La Grammaire, la morpho-syntaxe
  • La Phrase - la Proposition
  • L'énoncé - l'énonciation
  • Thème/Rhème - Sujet/Prédicat
  • Discours/Texte/Récit
  • Les Types discursifs et textuels

I. The Sentence and its Components / La Phrase et ses constituants (Sessions 3-4-5)

     The simple sentence is the basic unit of linguistic and grammatical analysis. Therefore it is important to understand what its components are (nominal and predicative group, and their sub-componants), and to be able to identify word caregories (the "parts of speech") so as to employ them efficaciously.
     A complex sentence results from the combination of two or more simple sentences, then called clauses, by juxtaposition, coordination and subordination.
     In this unit, we will learn to analyze sentences in order to understand how they are constructed, and make their structure explicit.

     Model texts: News Releases

     La phrase simple est l'unité de base de l'analyse grammaticale et linguistique. Il est important de comprendre quels sont ses constituants (syntagme nominal et syntagme prédicatif et leurs composantes), ainsi que de pouvoir identifier les catégories de mots (les «parties du discours») afin de les réutiliser efficacement.

     La phrase complexe provient de la combinaison de deux ou plusieurs phrases simples, appelées propositions, par juxtaposition, coordination ou subordination.
     Dans cette unité nous apprendrons à analyser les phrases pour en comprendre la construction et mettre en évidence leur structure.

     Textes de référence: Dépêches d'agence de presse.

Spielmann, Introduction à la communication.
Spielmann, Texte et type textuels.
  Nouvelle Grammaire, Introduction, p. 10-14.
Guy Spielmann, La Phrase complexe
Annick Leveau, La Phrase
Ecrire et s'exprimer, Ch. 1, p. 8-11 (communication). 

     >> TEST 1 -
Session 6 (Thursday, January 31)

II. Description - The Nominal Group: Nouns, Pronouns, Determiners, Adjectives / La Description - Le Groupe nominal: noms, pronoms, déterminants, adjectifs (Sessions 7-8-9-10)

   In this unit, we will work on description (places, people, sentiments), focusing on the use of nouns and their complements in the nominal group.
    Model Texts: Excerpts from novels and short stories

   Dans cette partie du cours, nous allons travailler sur la description (lieux, personnes, sentiments), en nous concentrant sur le nom et ses compléments dans le syntagme nominal.

    Textes de référence: Extraits de romans et de nouvelles.

Nouvelle Grammaire, Ch. 1, p. 18-24 (Le Nom); Ch. 2, p. 25-35 (L'Adjectif), Ch. 3, p. 36-47 (Les Articles); Ch. 4, p. 48-54 (Les Pronoms et adjectifs démonstratifs); Ch. 5, p. 55-58 (Les Pronoms et adjectifs possessifs); Ch. 6, p. 59-72 (Les Pronoms et adjectifs indéfinis); Ch. 7, p. 73-89 (Pronoms personnels).
Grammaire progressive, Ch. 1 (Articles) Ex. p. 13, #4; p. 15, #1; p. 17, #1,2,4; p. 19, #3; - Ch. 2 (Adjectif) Ex. p. 27, #3; p. 29, #30 - Ch. 10, Ex. p. 83, #1,2,3,4 - Ch. 14 (Pronoms au discours indirect) Ex. p. 95, #3 - Ch. 18 (Pronoms compléments) Ex. p. 127, #2,3,4; p. 129, #3 - Ch. 19 (pronoms indéfinis) Ex. p. 131, #2,3,4
Ecrire et s'exprimer, Ch. 12-13 (Les Déterminants); Ch. 20 - 21, p. 76-79 (L'Adjectif qualificatif); Ch. 28, p. 104-107 (Le Texte descriptif) 
BEPP Laval - Carte des Pronoms - Carte des Déterminants

TEST 2 - session 13 (Tuesday, February 26) >Turn in draft 1 of description

III. Narration - The Verb System (mood, tense, aspect) - Adverbs and Adverbial Phrases / La Narration - Le Système verbal (mode, temps, aspect) - Adverbes et locutions adverbiales (sessions 14-15-16-17-18)

   In this unit, we will work on narration (the recounting of sequences of events), focusing on the verb system and the nuances of expression that can be obtained by variations in mood, tense and aspect.
    Model Texts: Excerpts from novels and short stories

   Dans cette partie du cours, nous allons travailler sur la narration (la relation de séquences d'événements), en nous concentrant sur le système verbal et les nuances expressives que permettent les variations de mode, de temps et d'aspect.

    Textes de référence: Extraits de romans et de nouvelles.

Nouvelle Grammaire, Ch. 14, p. 117-134 (Indicatif); Ch. 15, p. 135-140 (Subjonctif); Ch. 16, p. 141-144 (Conditionnel); Ch. 145-147 (Impératif); Ch. 18, p. 148-151 (Infinitif); Ch. 19, p. 152-159 (participe); Ch. 21, p. 169-179.
Grammaire progressive, Ch. 4 (Indicatif), Ex. p. 45, #2,5; p. 47, #1; p. 51, #1,5; p. 53, #1 - Ch. 5 (Subjonctif), Ex. p. 57, #3,4; p. 59, #6; p. 61, #1,2; p. 63, #2,3; p. 65, #2 - Ch. 6 (Conditionnel), Ex. p. 67, #3; p. 69, #5; p. 71, #3 - Ch. 7 (Infinitif), Ex. p. 77, #5 - Ch. 8 (Participe présent), Ex. p. 79; #1,2,4 - Ch. 9 (Gérondif), Ex. p. 81, #2,3 - Ch. 11 (La Forme passive), Ex. p. 85, #1,2,4; p. 87, #1,2,3,4 - Ch. 12 (La Forme pronominale), Ex. p. 89, #2,4,5 - Ch. 15 (L'adverbe), Ex. p. 101, #5,6; p. 105, #1; p. 107, #1,2,4 Ch. 20 (Situation dans le temps), Ex. p. 137, #1,4,5,6
Ecrire et s'exprimer, Ch. 24, p. 92-93 (Le Verbe); Ch. 25, p. 94-95 (Temps simples) - Ch. 26, p. 96-97 (Temps composés) - Ch. 38, p. 138-139 (Subjonctif) - Ch. 42, p. 152-153 (L'Impératif) - Ch. 51, p. 192-193 (Concordance des temps) - Ch. 59, p. 220-221 (Le Conditionnel).Ch. 50, p. 190-191 (L'Expression du temps); Ch. 51, p. 192-193 (La Concordance des temps); Ch. 52, p. 194-197 (Les Indicateurs d'espace et de temps).
BEPP Laval - Carte des Adverbes

     >> TEST 3 -
session 19 (April 3) >
Turn in draft 1 of story

IV. Building Complex Sentences: Text Connectors and Organizers; indicators of purpose, of cause/consequence, of concession, of hypothesis, of comparison- La construction de la phrase complexe: Les Connecteurs et organisateurs; expression du but, de la cause/conséquence, de la concession, de l'hypothèse, de la comparaison (Sessions 20-21-22-24-25)

   In this unit, we will work on your ability to build complex sentences through the practice of summarizing texts to about 1/4 of their original length—an extremely useful skill that is also a common exercise in French academe.
   Model Texts: Journalistic articles

   Dans cette partie du cours, nous allons travailler votre capacité à élaborer des phrases complexes à travers la pratique du résumé, c'est-à-dire la concentration d'un texte à environ un quart de sa longueur originale.
   Textes de référence: Articles de presse
Nouvelle Grammaire, Ch 20, p. 160-168 (Prépositions); Ch. 26, p. 204-211 (Propositions relatives); Ch. 29, p. 230-238 (Cause); Ch. 30, p. 239-246 (Conséquence); Ch. 31, p. 247-251 (but); Ch. 32, p. 252-269 (Temps); Ch. 33, p. 270-280 (Opposition); Ch. 34, p. 281-290 (Condition et Hypothèse); Ch. 35, p. 291-300 (Comparaison).
Grammaire progressive, Ch. 16 (Prépositions), Ex. p. 113, #2; p. 115, #3 - Ch. 17 (Relatifs), Ex. p. 119, #2,3,4; p. 121, #2-3; p. 123, #1; p. 124, #2 - Ch. 21 (Cause), Ex. p. 139, #4; p. 141, #2 - Ch. 22 (Conséquence), Ex. p. 143, #2,3,4; p. 145, #3 - Ch. 23 (Comparaison), Ex. p. 147, #2,3 - Ch. 24 (Opposition/Concession), Ex. p. 153, #1,2,3 - Ch. 25 (But), Ex. p. 155, #1,2,3 - Ch. 26 (Condition/hypothèse), Ex. p. 157, #2,3 - Ch. 27 (La Modalisation) Ex. p. 159, #1,2,3,4; p. 163, #1,2,4; p. 165, #1,3
Ecrire et s'exprimer, Ch. 17 (Relatifs), p. 64-65 - Ch. 29, p. 108-109 (Propositions relatives) - Ch. 33, p. 122-123 (Cause) - Ch. 34, p. 124-125 (Conséquence) - Ch. 37, p. 136-137 (Opposition) - Ch. 41, p. 150-151 (But) - Ch. 54 - 55.

    >> Turn in draft 1 of résumé on Tuesday, April 15
    >> Test 4 - session 25 (April 24)


  • 1. Home assignments: Two compositions (description and narration) and a résumé, each to be revised at least once. 15% each (45%)

  • 2. Four Tests (90 mins each). They include the same type of exercises and activities as those done in class. 10% each (40% total)

  • 2. Presence, preparedness and participation + pop quizzzes : 15%