Friday’s French – normalement, normal & norme

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In a very amusing post, Abby from Paris Weekender talks about her new pet peeve as opposed to her previous one which is normalement that got me thinking about how it is used in French.

Totally irrelevant photo taken in Rue Tiquetonne. I wish my geraniums would grow like that!

Totally irrelevant photo taken in Rue Tiquetonne. I wish my geraniums would grow like that!

Abby gives the example of normalement meaning that something should happen :

Le magasin est ouvert demain ? Normalement, oui. – The store is open tomorrow?  It should be, yes.

Another context you’ll frequently find is normalement il vient jeudi – he normally/usually/generally comes on Thursday. Alternatives are d’habitude il vient le jeudi and en général il vient le jeudi.

C’est normal and ce n’est pas normal are also common expressions. The first means “it’s only natural” while the second means “there must be something wrong”.

Merci de m’avoir aidé ! C’est normal. – Thank you for helping me. It’s only natural. Or in Australian parlance “No worries, mate!”

Il est en retard. C’est pas normal. – He’s late. Something must be wrong/that’s not like him.

Ce n’est pas normal qu’ils soient libérés de prison si tôt. – It’s not right that they’ve been let out of jail so soon.

Note the use of the subjunctive soient and not sont (not that everyone uses it!)

Sometimes you can avoid the subjunctive without ambiguity, but it’s not always possible.

Il n’est pas normal d’attendre trois semaines pour avoir un RdV chez l’ophthalmo – You shouldn’t have to wait three weeks to get an appointment with the eye specialist.

(Unfortunately in France it always seems to be the case particularly in the country. Same for gynaecologists, I might add.)

So when would we say “normal” in English and not in French ?

He got there at the normal time : Il est arrivé à l’heure habituelle if you mean he got there at the time he usually does and il est arrivé à l’heure précisée/réglementaire if you mean that he got there at the time he was supposed to.

To get back to normal is revenir à la normale and not revenir à normal.

Which makes me think of norm. It’s the norm = C’est la norme.

Norme also has the meaning of standard e.g. normes de fabrication = manufacturing standards

Ce produit n’est pas conforme aux normes françaises : This product does not comply with/conform to French standards.

Have you heard normal or normalement used in other contexts ?

And, normalement, this blog will be back to it’s usual format next week!

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12 Responses to Friday’s French – normalement, normal & norme

  1. Susan Walter says:

    Thank you for writing about normalement etc. I’ve been thinking of writing something to try and put my finger on the subtle difference in its usage in French, but you’ve done it much better than I could. And lucky you — only a 3 week wait for the ophthalmo — more like 3 months for me!

    • Rosemary Kneipp says:

      I’m so glad it’s useful!
      I actually needed an emergency visit because I thought I might have a detached retina and was initially told to go to the emergency service at the hospital but in the end they rang me back and gave me an appointment the next day. I don’t have a detached retina, fortunately! Is 3 months in Tours? I might end up coming to Paris for doctor’s appointments …

      • Susan Walter says:

        My ophthalmo’s in Chatellerault. I don’t know what the waiting time in Tours would be. Anyway, for an emergency, I know I’d get an appointment very quickly, like you did.

  2. It’s been a long while since I’ve taken French classes!

  3. Pamela McDonald says:

    Dear Rosemary
    Another interesting lesson. But would you please explain when it’s not necessary to use the full negative of ne with pas. I’m thinking of the one above where it says “Il est en retard. C’est pas normal.” I would have wanted to say “Ce n’est pas normal.” When can you use it without ne (or n’) and why?
    Also, agree you’re very lucky only to have a wait of three weeks for an eye specialist or gynaecologist. Here in Canberra we would wait at least three months, usually more. It takes about 4-6 months to get into see our eye specialist unless it’s an emergency. It generally takes around 8-10 days just to see our GP unless you tell them it’s urgent. And it really has to be urgent or you get told off by the dragon receptionist. G had to go twice to see a doctor while we were in France and we were so impressed. In one case it was same day, the other the it was the next. And both doctors were so thorough and careful and helpful. Both times they spent at least 20 minutes with him, as they seemed to do with the other patients. It was also much cheaper than here. Cheers, Pamela

    • Rosemary Kneipp says:

      Hi Pamela,

      I purposely chose to use the “pas” in one case and not in the other in the hope that someone would pick it up and ask! You score 10 points. It is always correct to use the full negative but in spoken French it is often not used, especially when there is no ambiguity. So keep using the full negative!

      Actually I’d say it takes 2 or 3 months to see my gynaeocologist unless it’s an emergency. Eye specialists are usually much worse but this woman opened her practice here fairly recently. Initially I could see her very quickly. I was surprised this time to have a three-week wait. However, if I phone my GP at 9 am, I can usually get an appointment that day or the next. I’m glad you had such positive experiences while you were here.

  4. Pamela McDonald says:

    Many thanks Rosemary. I seem to remember when I was in 1st year French at Q’ld Uni our tutor used to assign 3 or 4x errors for really shocking mistakes (I got lots) in our written work. I think this was the sort of thing she would back in those have considered a terrible mistake (like non-agreement of subject and verb, adjectives with nouns etc). Perhaps nowadays that’s considered pedantic? It’s interesting that it’s OK now in speech to use only part of the negative. Probably will continue to use the full negative as the tutor drummed it into us.
    Yes we were very pleased with the French medical appointment system. The only thing I didn’t like is that in both cases the patients had to sit in what was pretty much a narrow corridor facing the doors to the doctors’ rooms. No pictures on the walls just a blank wall only a few feet from our noses. I suffer a bit from claustrophobia so it wasn’t a pleasant experience especially as there was no access to windows or natural light in that corridor. Totally different when we entered the doctor’s enormous surgery. Huge windows with a fabulous view looking down the rue de Rivoli to the Hotel de Ville. She even let me take a photo of the view and the surgery itself. Best wishes, Pamela

    • Rosemary Kneipp says:

      Yes, you should definitely keep using the full negative. It’s much better to use correct French. Certainly not pedantic. The imperfect subjunctive would be but not the full negative.
      Prime property for the doctors’ surgeries obviously, so you really were in a corridor. Most unpleasant, I agree. I hope you didn’t have to wait too long. My doctor in Paris has a proper waiting room and a receptionist but there are several doctors in the same building. My new doctor near Blois has a proper waiting room too and no receptionist but he’s on his own in a little village. My ophthalmologist has a proper waiting room. She shares a receptionist with another eye specialist. My osteopath, also in the 1st, has a minute waiting room, but at least it’s not a corridor.

  5. Frederic says:

    Interesting article, again.
    I think you have said it all.
    I am native French speaker, can’t think of any other context in which they’re used.

  6. Khourshem says:

    This was really enjoyable to read. Having read this there seem to be some wonderful places to visit.Had a quick look at your blog and love it already. Have subscribed. Looks like you’ve spent time in many of the places listed in this post.

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