French word of the week: bas

This week’s edition of the blog is all about bas, which is a French adjective, adverb and noun. But before we get into the details, you need to learn how to recognise the word by ear. Listen to the audio clips below to hear the masculine and feminine singular forms of the word respectively:

Bas might look a little familiar in English if you know anything about music. The English words that might come to mind are ‘bass’ and ‘base’ – these are quite useful in understanding and memorising the meaning of bas. Most commonly it means low or down but it can also mean bottom.

As we mentioned, bas has three different grammatical functions. We’re going to begin with the adjective, a describing word. Depending on the gender and the number of the noun it’s describing, you might see bas spelled in different ways. This is called adjectival agreement:

  • Bas, its masculine form in both singular and plural
  • Basse, its feminine form
  • Basses its feminine plural form

We’ll continue by looking at examples of the adjective in use. You’ll notice the different forms mentioned above:

parler à voix basse to speak in a low voice; to speak quietly

à bas prix cheap; low-price

la marée basse low tide

Il faut conserver ces ingrédients à basse température. You must store these ingredients at a low temperature.

Nos élèves dans l’école primaire ont besoin des chaises plus basses. Our students in the primary school need lower chairs.

Le pilote avait mal à atterrir l’avion à cause des nuages bas. The pilot was having trouble landing the plane because of the low clouds.

J’aime bien les notes les plus basses du piano. I really like the lowest notes on the piano.

Now some examples showing bas as an adverb:

en bas down there; down; at the bottom

en bas de la rue at the bottom of the street

Tout le monde est en train de dormir – pouvez-vous parler plus bas, s’il vous plaît ? Everyone’s sleeping – can you speak a bit more quietly, please?

J’habite au deuxième étage et ma sœur habite en bas. I live on the second floor and my sister lives downstairs.

The final grammatical function of bas is a masculine noun. It has a few different translations, so it’s important to check the context of your sentence:

avoir des hauts et des bas to have ups and downs

un bas de maillot bikini bottoms

un bas de soie a silk stocking

Lastly, be aware that the feminine noun basse also appears in French. Again, it can have a few different meanings, but it is most often translated by the musical term bass (which also has a few different senses in English):

Mon frère joue de la basse. My brother plays the bass (guitar).

les tenors et les basses the tenors and the basses

Il faut baisser les basses sur l’ampli. You need to turn the bass down on the amp.

Well done, you’ve made it to the bottom of the page! We hope that this week’s blog has sent you down the right path of improving and developing your French vocabulary.

Written by Holly Tarbet, freelance copywriter and editor.

All opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of Collins, or its parent company, HarperCollins.

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