A while back, there was some discussion in Pens as to whether it’s ‘an hotel’ or ‘a hotel’.
This prompted me to muse about the French language. The ‘h’ is always silent in French, even when preceded by ‘t’. Thus my wife’s name is pronounced ‘Caterine’. It also explains why the French can’t say ‘th’ in English.
French nouns are masculine or feminine and in the singular, the possessive pronoun takes its gender from the parent noun. My/your/his/her is either mon/ton/son or ma/ta/sa. The problem comes with the feminine when the noun starts with a vowel. You can’t run two vowels together, so for ‘his or her ear’, ‘sa oreille’ is a no-no. In such cases, the pronoun reverts to the masculine. Plurals of multiple masculine and feminine nouns together are treated as masculine. Of late, feminists have been pressing for nouns to retain their gender in the plural, on the grounds that current practice fosters male superiority. Quite how this would work escapes me!
I did, however, find one odd exception, where the plural changes gender from the singular. Le Pâques is Easter and masculine; les Pâques is the festival of Easter and this plural is feminine. It’s always ‘Joyeuses Pâques’ for Happy Easter. And therein lies an amusing story.
I was chairman of our village shop, but because I was working, always did my shift on a Sunday morning. On one occasion, this was Easter Sunday. The shop had an A-board, placed outside to show we were open and used to display news of bargains or a seasonal message. I wrote ‘Joyeuses Pâques’ and several non-French-speaking customers asked me its meaning.
One of our weekend regulars was a barrister with a second home in the village. He came in early on, bought croissants and departed. Around 11 o’clock, he returned clutching his wallet in one hand and a book in the other.
‘Forgot to buy the cranberry jelly.’ ‘And by the way,’ he said, waving the book, ‘I looked it up in the dictionary and you’re quite right. Pâques is feminine in the plural!’
Such is the legal mind……..