French word of the week: sous

We’re back again with our French word of the week blog. This time we’ll be learning about a preposition, the word sous.

Before we start getting into what it means and how we use it, listen to the pronunciation in the audio clip below:

Let’s start with its English translation. In most cases, you can translate sous as under or beneath. As we mentioned, this word is a preposition, meaning a word that links a noun, adjective or verb to other words in the sentence. It might sound complicated, but we use prepositions in English in the same way. Some examples include above, on, by, at, from, into, and of course under or beneath.

You’ll come across plenty of prepositions as you keep studying the language, but our Easy Learning French Grammar page lists some of the most common prepositions in French.

So, how does it work with sous? Let’s look at some examples:

Il est où le chaton ? – Il s’est caché sous le lit. Where’s the kitten? – He’s hiding under the bed.

A cette époque-là, notre pays était sous Louis XIV. At that time, our country was under the rule of Louis XIV.

Vous pouvez laisser vos sacs sous la table. You can leave your bags beneath the table.

Pendant sept heures, je travaillais sous la pluie. I was out working in the rain for seven hours.

sous l’influence de… under the influence of…

être libéré sous caution to be released on bail

être sous antibiotiques to be on antibiotics

sous vide vacuum-packed

livraison sous 24 heures 24-hour shipping; delivered within 24 hours

Sometimes you might see sous used as a prefix. We add a prefix to the start of a word to create a new word. For example:

sous-représenté under-represented

sous-branche sub-branch 

un sous-sol a cellar or basement

There’s one last thing to note – a homonym of sous it might come up in informal, spoken French. It’s a noun, and it appears in phrases to do with money, sometimes in the same way we might say penny.

For a bit of history, before the euro came the franc, and before the franc came the sou. It was worth about the same as 1/20th of a franc. While it’s been a long time since France had this currency, the term is still used as a slang word for “money”, particularly when referring to small change. You’ll usually come across the plural form sous in common phrases like those given below:

Je n’ai pas de sous ! I’m skint!; I don’t have a penny to my name!

Fatima a commencé son nouveau travail. Elle va gagner des gros sous. Fatima started her new job. She’s going to earn big bucks!

une machine à sous slot machine

quelque chose à deux sous something worthless

Congratulations on learning yet another French word. Under your weekly word-learning regime, you’ll have a rich vocabulary in no time!

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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