Impressive French Essay Phrases In French

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When it comes to expressing your thoughts in French, there’s nothing better than the essay.

It is, after all, the favorite form of such famed French thinkers as Montaigne, Chateaubriand, Houellebecq and Simone de Beauvoir.

But writing an essay in French is not the same as those typical 5-paragraph essays you’ve probably written in English.

In fact, there’s a whole other logic that has to be used to ensure that your essay meets French format standards and structure. It’s not merely writing your ideas in another language.

And that’s because the French use Cartesian logic, developed by René Descartes, which requires a writer to begin with what is known and then lead the reader through to the logical conclusion: a paragraph that contains the thesis.

Sound intriguing? The French essay will soon have no secrets from you!

We’ve outlined the four most common types of essays in French, ranked from easiest to most difficult, to help you get to know this concept better. Even if you’re not headed to a French high school or university, it’s still pretty interesting to learn about another culture’s basic essay!
 

 

Must-have French Phrases for Writing Essays

Before we get to the four types of essays, here are a few French phrases that will be especially helpful as you delve into essay-writing in French:

Introductory phrases, which help you present new ideas.

  • tout d’abord– firstly
  • premièrement– firstly

Connecting phrases, which help you connect ideas and sections.

  • et – and
  • de plus – in addition
  • également – also
  • ensuite – next
  • deuxièmement– secondly
  • or – so
  • ainsi que – as well as
  • lorsque– when, while

Contrasting phrases, which help you juxtapose two ideas.

  • en revanche– on the other hand
  • pourtant – however
  • néanmoins– meanwhile, however

Concluding phrases, which help you to introduce your conclusion.

  • enfin– finally
  • finalement– finally
  • pour conclure – to conclude
  • en conclusion – in conclusion

4 Types of French Essays and How to Write Them

1. Text Summary (Synthèse de texte)

The text summary or synthèse de texte is one of the easiest French writing exercises to get a handle on. It essentially involves reading a text and then summarizing it in an established number of words, while repeating no phrases that are in the original text. No analysis is called for.

synthèse de texte should follow the same format as the text that is being synthesized. The arguments should be presented in the same way, and no major element of the original text should be left out of the synthèse.

Here is a great guide to writing a successful synthèse de texte, written for French speakers.

The text summary is a great exercise for exploring the following French language elements:

  • Synonyms, as you will need to find other words to describe what is said in the original text.
  • Nominalization, which involves turning verbs into nouns and generally cuts down on word count.
  • Vocabulary, as the knowledge of more exact terms will allow you to avoid periphrases and cut down on word count.

While beginners may wish to work with only one text, advanced learners can synthesize as many as three texts in one text summary. The concours exam for entry into the École Supérieure de Commerce de Paris calls for a 300-word synthesis of three texts, ranging from 750 to 1500 words, with a tolerance of more or less 10 percent.

Since a text summary is simple in its essence, it’s a great writing exercise that can accompany you through your entire learning process.

2. Text Commentary (Commentaire de texte)

A text commentary or commentaire de texteis the first writing exercise where the student is asked to present analysis of the materials at hand, not just a summary.

That said, a commentaire de texte is not a reaction piece. It involves a very delicate balance of summary and opinion, the latter of which must be presented as impersonally as possible. This can be done either by using the third person (on) or the general first person plural (nous). The singular first person (je) should never be used in a commentaire de texte.

A commentaire de texte should be written in three parts:

  • An introduction, where the text is presented.
  • An argument, where the text is analyzed.
  • A conclusion, where the analysis is summarized and elevated.

Here is a handy guide to writing a successful commentaire de texte, written for French speakers.

Unlike with the synthesis, you will not be able to address all elements of a text in a commentary. You should not summarize the text in a commentary, at least not for the sake of summarizing. Every element of the text that you speak about in your commentary must be analyzed.

To successfully analyze a text, you will need to brush up on your figurative language. Here are some great resources to get you started:

  • This guide, intended for high school students preparing for the BAC—the exam all French high school students take, which they’re required to pass to go to university—is great for learning how to integrate figurative language into your commentaries.

3. Dialectic Dissertation (Thèse, Antithèse, Synthèse)

The French answer to the 5-paragraph essay is known as the dissertationLike the American 5-paragraph essay, it has an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion. The stream of logic, however, is distinct.

There are actually two kinds of dissertation, each of which has its own rules.

The first form of dissertation is the dialectic dissertation, better known as thèse, antithèse, synthèse. In this form, there are actually only two body paragraphs. After the introduction, a thesis is posited. Following the thesis, its opposite, the antithesis, is explored (and hopefully, debunked). The final paragraph, what we know as the conclusion, is the synthesis, which addresses the strengths of the thesis, the strengths and weaknesses of the antithesis, and concludes with the reasons why the original thesis is correct.

For example, imagine that the question was, “Are computers useful to the development of the human brain?” You could begin with a section showing the ways in which computers are useful for the progression of our common intelligence—doing long calculations, creating in-depth models, etc.

Then you would delve into the problems that computers pose to human intelligence, citing examples of the ways in which spelling proficiency has decreased since the invention of spell check, for example. Finally you would synthesize this information and conclude that the “pro” outweighs the “con.”

The key to success with this format is developing an outline before writing. The thesis must be established, with examples, and the antithesis must be supported as well. When all of the information has been organized in the outline, the writing can begin, supported by the tools you have learned from your mastery of the synthesis and commentary.

Here are a few tools to help you get writing:

4. Progressive Dissertation (Plan progressif)

The progressive dissertation is a slightly less common, but no less useful, than the first form.

The progressive form basically consists of examining an idea via multiple points of view—a sort of deepening of the understanding of the notion, starting with a superficial perspective and ending with a deep and profound analysis.

If the dialectic dissertation is like a scale, weighing pros and cons of an idea, the progressive dissertation is like peeling an onion, uncovering more and more layers as you get to the deeper crux of the idea.

Concretely, this means that you will generally follow this layout:

  • A first, elementary exploration of the idea.
  • A second, more philosophical exploration of the idea.
  • A third, more transcendent exploration of the idea.

This format for the dissertation is more commonly used for essays that are written in response to a philosophical question, for example, “What is a person?” or “What is justice?”

Let’s say the question were, “What is war?” In the first part, you would explore dictionary definitions—a basic idea of war, i.e. an armed conflict between two parties, usually nations. You could give examples that back up this definition, and you could narrow down the definition of the subject as much as needed. For example, you might want to make mention that not all conflicts are wars, or you might want to explore whether the “War on Terror” is a war.

In the second part, you would explore a more philosophical look at the topic, using a definition that you provide. You first explain how you plan to analyze the subject, and then you do so. In French, this is known as poser une problématique (establishing a thesis question), and it usually is done by first writing out a question and then exploring it using examples: “Is war a reflection of the base predilection of humans for violence?”

In the third part, you will take a step back and explore this question from a distance, taking the time to construct a natural conclusion and answer for the question.

This form may not be as useful in as many cases as the first type of essay, but it’s a good form to learn, particularly for those interested in philosophy.

Here are a few resources to help you with your progressive dissertation:

As you progress in French and become more and more comfortable with writing, try your hand at each of these types of writing exercises, and even with other forms of the dissertation. You’ll soon be a pro at everything from a synthèse de texte to a dissertation!
 

 

And One More Thing…

Of course, French is a lot more than writing essays.

To cover all your other language bases, there’s always FluentU.

FluentU lets you learn French from real-world content like music videos, commercials, news broadcasts, cartoons and inspiring talks.

Since this video content is stuff that native French speakers actually watch on the regular, you’ll get the opportunity to learn real French—the way it’s spoken in modern life.

One quick look will give you an idea of the diverse content found on FluentU:

Love the thought of learning French with native materials but afraid you won’t understand what’s being said? FluentU brings authentic French videos within reach of any learner. Interactive captions will guide you along the way, so you’ll never miss a word.

Tap on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more. For example, if you tap on the word “suit,” then this is what appears on your screen:

Don’t stop there, though. Use FluentU’s learn mode to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video with vocabulary lists, flashcards, quizzes and fun activities like “fill in the blank.”

As you continue advancing in your French studies, FluentU keeps track of all the grammar and vocabulary that you’ve been learning. It uses your viewed videos and mastered language lessons to recommend more useful videos and give you a 100% personalized experience. 

Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store.

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.

Experience French immersion online!

Choppy French is a recipe for disaster.

Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad…

But nobody wants their French to sound choppy, right?

Luckily, the French language has quite the catalog of transition words to help hold it all together.

And let me tell you, the French love their transition words!

Not only do they keep you from sounding robotic, but they’re also the key to writing effective essays, understanding the literature you’re reading and improving (never stop!) your comprehension and conversation.

They may be little words, and you could ignore them and get the bare gist of things anyway, but you’re not that kind of learner, now, are you?

Let’s get to it and start adding these key ingredients to our nouns, verbs and adjectives.
 

 

How to Integrate French Transition Words into Your Diet

Get your feet wet with quizzes

How much do you really know about these words, anyway? Gauging your knowledge with a few quizzes before you delve into any topic is always a good idea. You may even get a little confidence boost when you realize that you already know a sizable handful of transition words!

If your knowledge is looking kind of rough, make sure to study away using the methods below.

Extract transition words from your reading

Transition words are sprinkled all over your French texts (you’re doing your reading, right?). In order to fully understand what you’re reading, knowing transition words is the final frontier. The clarity will be unreal! With this in mind, use the words around transition words to try and guess from context if you’re unsure. If you still aren’t positive as to what a word means, highlight it for later and look it up in one of your French dictionaries.

You’ll find these fun tie-in words in every type of French literature, from children’s books to young adult fiction to classic literary masterpieces. Once you know the bulk of them, you can revel in the wonderful feeling of understanding that much more French text.

Write your own beautiful sentences

I didn’t want to say it, but here it is…practice makes perfect, guys. So get out your pens and paper, and start on those French sentences! Try writing a paragraph that uses four or five transition words.

If you’re more into immersion-based learning, make sure to include appropriate transition words when writing emails to your pen pals, writing entries in your French journal or even in text messages with another French-speaking friend. You’ll sound oh-so-sophisticated.

Use transition words with the subjunctive

The subjunctive is nothing to fear, but sometimes it can be difficult to integrate into the French you actually use. The tendency of some learners is to avoid it (we’ve all been there). Lucky for you, I’ve noted which of the transitional words and phrases below take the subjunctive. It shall be ignored no longer! This will give you some French to use right away while practicing both your transitions and the subjunctive.

If you’re still a beginner, no worries here. Many of these words and phrases don’t require the subjunctive mood. On the other hand, you always could take the opportunity to learn about this ultra-useful and fun French staple.

Tying It All Together: 23 Transition Words for Seamless French

1. D’abord

Translation: First of all

D’abord, il faut réchauffer le four. (First of all, you must preheat the oven.)

When you think “transition word,” this may be what you’re thinking. To start with the basics, here’s one of the first transition words you likely learned in French class. It’s best at the beginning of sentences, when giving directions or when recounting a series of events.

Subjunctive-friendly? Nah.

2. Ensuite

Translation: Next

Ensuite, je prépare la tarte aux cerises. (Next, I prepare the cherry pie.)

An easy way to remember this one (yet another in the series of your basic transition words), is that la suiteis the sequel or “the next one” in French. It’s a useful piece of vocab when delving into French book series and films, and this transition word is obviously useful for continuing a series of events or directions you may be giving.

Subjunctive-friendly? Nuh-uh.

3. Puis

Translation: Then

Puis, je coupe les pêches. (Then, I cut the peaches.)

Then, you’ve got puisIf you’re unfamiliar with this one, just know that it’ll come up a lot in literature and conversation. It’s a very useful transition word to have under your belt. Puis proves to be a good fallback word to have when some of the more specific transition words slip your mind.

Subjunctive-friendly? Not this one, either.

4. Enfin

Translation: Finally

Enfin, on mange tout. (Finally, we eat everything.)

In our d’abord, ensuite, puis sequence, we end with enfinThis useful word is not only used as a transition to mark la fin(the end) of something, but is also an interjection—a filler word, if you will. It can mean “well,” “all in all,” “I mean” or “at least.” It’s a multi-edged sword. Use it as a transition to an end or to make your conversational French more authentic.

Subjunctive-friendly? Pas du tout (not at all).

5. Ainsi que

Translation: As well as

Je voudrais une tarte aux pommes ainsi que deux boules de glace. (I would like apple pie as well as two scoops of ice cream.)

Getting into some more advanced vocabulary now, this means “just as.” This conjunction is useful when elaborating on something you’re already discussing. It can also be used with a different meaning of “just as,” as in “It went just as I thought.”

Subjunctive-friendly? Nope!

6. Après que

Translation: After/when

Je vais dormir après que je mange toute cette tarte. (I’m going to sleep after I eat all this pie.)

Bet you’re wondering what the difference is between après queand that old favorite après. Après is a preposition, and après que is a compound conjunction. All that means is you use the latter when it’s followed by a verb (like in the example). If you wanted to start a sentence with “after,” then you would use the preposition:

Après, on va partir. (After, we’re going to leave.)

Remember that the quehelps link the clauses, and you should be good to link the night away.

Subjunctive-friendly? Technically, no, but French speakers tend to use the subjunctive after it regardless. So go ahead and get the extra practice.

7. Avant que

Translation: Before

Je vais finir la tarte avant que je nettoie la cuisine. (I’m going to finish the pie before I clean the kitchen.)

Similar to après que, this conjunction is not to be confused with its definition without que. The same distinction can be made—avantbeing the preposition in this case and avant quethe compound conjunction.

Subjunctive-friendly? Yes, and don’t you forget it!

8. Bien que 

Translation: Although/even though

Il m’a donné une tarte aux pêches bien que j’aie commandé une tarte aux pommes ! (He gave me peach pie even though I ordered an apple pie!)

Careful not translate this one to “good that.” This conjunctive phrase is great for showing contrast and adding “conditions” to things, even though you have to know your subjunctive to use it.

Subjunctive-friendly? Oh, most definitely.

9. Dès que

Translation: As soon as

Dès que la tarte arrive, je vais la détruire. (As soon as the pie arrives, I will destroy it.)

This is usually followed by not the subjunctive, but by a future tense! Makes sense considering the context. This is a great conjunctive phrase to use when making threats, lofty goals and uncertain plans. Très useful.

Subjunctive-friendly? Never, ever.

10. Parce que/car

Translation: Because

J’aime les tartes plus que les gâteaux parce que (car) la croûte est magnifique. (I like pies more than cakes because the crust is magnificent.)

You’re likely familiar with parce queand maybe less so with carThere are some slight distinctions to keep in mind for you nit-picky French speakers out there: Car leans slightly more towards “since” or “for.” Parce que is a little stronger when used in speech. They both mean essentially the same thing, but it’s good to know both of them to add variety to your French conversation.

Subjunctive-friendly? No.

11. Pour que

Translation: So that

Je fais une tarte pour que tu aies quelque chose à manger ce soir. (I’m making a pie so that you have something to eat tonight.)

Oh, isn’t it great when such a useful conjunction takes the subjunctive? Well, sure it is! That’s how you get practice. Pourmeans for, but for translation purposes, “so that”makes more sense when using this phrase.

Subjunctive-friendly? You better believe it!

12. Quoi que

Translation: No matter what

Quoi que ma mère fasse en cuisine, c’est délicieux. (No matter what my mom makes in the kitchen, it’s delicious.)

I bet your mind is reeling with how much better your French will sound once you get this one down. No matter what the medium is, it’s useful. But you may be noticing an interesting trend: A word that you’re well-versed in (bien, quoi, pour), whenadded to our favorite little word que, can bring out a completely different definition. Keep this in your mental notebook when you read these phrases or hear them spoken!

Subjunctive-friendly? Yes…yet again!

13. Tant que

Translation: As long as

Tant que cette tarte est là, je serai tenté de la manger. (As long as this pie is here, I will be tempted to eat it.)

What’s tantmean anyway? Funny you should ask, because this here is yet another example of fun words being transformed by their trusty sidekick que. Tant by itself means “so much or many,” or can be used to express an indefinite quantity. If you apply that definition back to this transitional phrase, then you can see something of a rough translation that matches “as long as.” But as long as you remember the definition, you’ll be good to go.

Subjunctive-friendly? No, you’re safe on this one.

14. Comme/puisque

Translation: Since

Comme j’ai mangé trop de tarte, je ne peux pas manger mes légumes. (Since I ate too much of the pie, I can’t eat my vegetables.)

Puisque je l’ai fait, je goûte en premier. (Since I made it, I’ll taste [it] first.)

Even though the definition is the same on these two, there is a slight distinction. Comme is useful for showing both the cause and result in a sentence, whereas puisque just gives an explanation. Comme also likes to hang around at the beginning of sentences, whereas puisque can go in the middle if it so pleases. This distinction will help you sound extra-super pro!

Subjunctive-friendly? No and no.

15. Lorsque/quand

Translation: When

Je cuisinais quand/lorsquetu es arrivé. (I was cooking when you arrived.)

These are interchangeable when talking about time, though lorsque is a formal upgrade of quand. Gauge the situation when you pick. They both have their own special purpose as well: Quand can mean “whenever,” and lorsque can mean “whereas.”

Subjunctive-friendly? Sadly, no.

16. Quoique

Translation: Even though

Je mangerai une autre tranche quoique je n’aie pas faim. (I will eat another slice even though I’m not hungry.)

Okay, I’ll admit…it does get a bit confusing here. We just did quoi que, meaning “no matter what,”and now we’ve got the same thing minus the space in between and all of a sudden it means “even though”? These sound the same when spoken, but you should be able to figure it out based on the context. In addition, bien queand quoique can be used interchangeably. Just another opportunity for you to diversify.

Subjunctive-friendly? You better believe it.

17. Donc

Translation: So

Je veux que tu la goûtes, donc je garde une part. (I want for you to taste it, so I’m saving a piece.)

There is so much to say about this little word. Doncis one of the holy grails of French filler words, one of the little idiosyncrasies of French speech that you’ll pick up while in France and carry with you, smiling, forever. They use it both in the “correct” fashion, showing causation, as well as how we use it in English: “So, here’s the thing.” “So, I was heading to the store.” “So… So… So…” Remember donc. Cherish it. Can you tell this is my favorite French transition word?

Subjunctive-friendly? Not even close.

18. En fait

Translation: In fact

En fait, l’année dernière j’ai gagné une competition. (In fact, last year I won a competition.)

You have no excuses for not remembering this one. It’s spelt and sounds similar to the English definition. Use this phrase before emphasizing an important conclusion or key point.

Subjunctive-friendly? No.

19. Cependant

Translation: However, nonetheless

Cependant, j’aime un bon gâteau de temps en temps. (However, I enjoy a nice cake from time to time.)

Cependantis actually an adverb, but it still functions as a transition word. Use it at the beginning of a sentence to point out an opposition or contradiction. Pourtantis a close cousin, but it’s a little more nuanced, as it indicates that one thing happened when another one was expected to.

Subjunctive-friendly? No! No!

20. En revanche/par contre

Translation: On the other hand, in opposition

Une tarte aux pommes est classique. Par contre, une tarte aux tomates est bonne pour le petit-déjeuner, le déjeuner et le dîner. (An apple pie is classic. On the other hand, a tomato pie is good for breakfast, lunch and dinner.)

The definition is close to cependant, but provides a little clearer contrast. Those make for two great transition words when you’re writing essays in French or can’t decide which type of pie is better.

Subjunctive-friendly? Mais non ! 

21. En plus/en outre

Translation: Also

En outre, il faut choisir un bon parfum de glace pour accompagner la tarte. (Also, one must choose a good ice cream flavor to go with the pie.)

Need to add something that you forgot before? These two are good ways to vary your language and avoid using aussi (also) at every turn. En plusis common in conversation, and it, as well as en outreis often a better alternative to aussi in written French.

Subjunctive-friendly? Jamais (never).

22. Pour ma part/pour moi

Translation: For me

Pour moi/ma part, je préfère la tarte au citron. (For me, I prefer lemon pie.)

Here are two phrases to use when you want to put emphasis on “me! me! me!” Pour moiis a good way to order at a restaurant, and pour ma partis best for stating opinions.

Subjunctive-friendly? Stop asking. It’s another “no.”

23. À mon avis

Translation: In my opinion

À mon avis, tous ces phrases sont ridicules ! (In my opinion, all of these sentences are ridiculous!)

But when you really want to make it all about you and your opinions, this is the best phrase. To qualify a statement as an opinion, or before you go on a rant about something you’re passionate about, this is a great transitional phrase to use and abuse!

Subjunctive-friendly? This is the last time I’m saying it…nope.

 

Enfin, you’re well-equipped to speak like a pro, write like an essayist and understand all the details in the French literature you’re devouring.

While there are far more transition words than those listed, knowing the basics will do wonders for your fluency.

Choppy French no more!
 

 

And One More Thing…

If you like learning French with fun, authentic material, then you’ve got to try FluentU.

FluentU lets you learn French from real-world content like music videos, commercials, news broadcasts, cartoons and inspiring talks. Since this video content is stuff that native French speakers actually watch on the regular, you’ll get the opportunity to learn real French—the way it’s spoken in modern life.

One quick look will give you an idea of the diverse content found on FluentU:

Love the thought of learning French with native materials but afraid you won’t understand what’s being said? FluentU brings authentic French videos within reach of any learner. Interactive captions will guide you along the way, so you’ll never miss a word.

Tap on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more. For example, if you tap on the word “suit,” then this is what appears on your screen:

Don’t stop there, though. Use FluentU’s learn mode to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video with vocabulary lists, flashcards, quizzes and fun activities like “fill in the blank.”

As you continue advancing in your French studies, FluentU keeps track of all the grammar and vocabulary that you’ve been learning. It uses your viewed videos and mastered language lessons to recommend more useful videos and give you a 100% personalized experience. 

Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store.

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.

Experience French immersion online!

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