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French Essays Topics

Submitted by FrenchNotes.ie’s director Elizabeth Hayes:

Elizabeth Hayes holds a first class honours degree in French Literature from the University of Limerick. She was the recipient of the College Medal for achieving first place overall in the University.
She has also lived in France for 10 years.
She is a registered member of the teaching council in Ireland, and works in The CBS Sexton Street, Limerick.



There was huge interest in our article on Predictions for the French Leaving Certificate Exam, 2016. We then considered the questions which came from that, and are looking today at showing you how to write a simple, yet grammatically accurate opinion piece for the exam. Here at French Notes.ie, we are very much against the idea of trying to learn essays off by heart. This is very tiring, and not very effective. I would much prefer seeing a student learning in a structured manner. In my last article, I advised students to use topic-based learning as a model. You decide on about 10 main topics and learn relevant vocabulary. You then have a stock of grammatical constructions, proverbs, and subjunctive sentences.

I won’t be going into opening or concluding phrases, as there are so many of them in your books already. I will concentrate on what you write after you have given the formulaic opening phrase.

We have looked at Q4 from the Leaving Cert paper in 2009. The theme or topic was the Environment, and the question specifically looked at the question of Global warming.

The question was: Le réchauffement global? Ne t’inquiète pas. Ce n’est pas encore un problème sérieux.Donnez vos réactions.

Global warming? Don’t worry. It is still not a serious problem. Give your reaction.

Ok. That is your question. Look at it closely. Global warming is not a serious problem yet. This question will require that you envisage a little bit into the future and assess whether Global warming will be a serious problem.

Firstly you must open your essay in a strong manner. An example of the type of opening sentence here would be:


Je suis de l’avis qu’il faut que nous soyons tous d’accord sur la préservation de notre planète et le problème du réchauffement global, car ceci est vraiment une priorité mondiale.

I am of the opinion that it is necessary that we are all in agreement about the preservation of our planet and the problem of global warming, as this is really a global priority.

After the opening you have about 2-3 points and a conclusion.


Afin de réduire ce problème il nous incombe tous d’utiliser les énergies renouvelables Les activités exercées par des agriculteurs et l’exploitation des combustibles fossiles émettent une grande quantité de ces gaz qui, de l’avis général des scientifiques, font partie des causes du réchauffement planétaire et des changements climatiques. Ceci peut être très dangereux pour l’humanité dans l’avenir.

In order to reduce this problem, it is up to all of us to use renewable energy. Work done by farmers and the use of fossil fuels emit a huge quantity of this gas, which according to the general opinion of scientists, is partly to blame for planetary warming and climate change. This could be very dangerous for mankind in the future.


Le réchauffement global est une priorité et il faut que tout le monde réfléchisse aux coûts environnementaux. Il est clair que la fonte des glaciers représente une réelle menace qui, si elle se concretise, dévastera dans la pratique l’ensemble de la culture et de l’économi européennes.

Global warming is a priority and it is necessary that everyone thinks about the environmental costs. It is obvious that the melting of the ice caps implies a likely threat, which, if it were to become a reality, would in practice totally devastate Europe’s culture and economy.


Je crois que le réchauffement global est une menace de nos jours, et j’ai peur pour l’avenir. Il y avait une conférence à Paris au mois de novembre, et j’espère que cela résoudra le problème.

I believe that global warming is a threat today, and I am afraid for the future. There was a conference in Paris in the month of November, and I hope that this will resolve the problem.


En conclusion, après mûres réflexions,je suis de l’avis que la question du réchuffement global est très inquiètante, et il faut vraiment lutter contre ce problème. Il ne faudra pas attendre qu’il soit trop tard. Sinon, on risque de tuer un âne à coups de figues molles !

In conclusion, after careful consideration, I am of the opinion that this question is very important, and we really need to fight against this problem. We must not wait until it is too late. If we do, we risk trying to attack the impossible!


  • Il faut que je réfléchisse aux coûts environnementaux
  • I need to think about the environmental costs
  • Il faut que nous puissions dire que certaines choses ne peuvent pas être acceptées dans notre société
  • We need to be able to say that some things cannot be accepted in our society
  • Il faut que nous travaillions ensemble pour adopter des lois qui sont bonnes pour l’ensemble de notre pays
  • We need to work together in order to adopt legislation which is good for the country as a whole.
  • Je suis ravi(e) que nous ayons réussi à trouver une solution
  • I am pleased that we have managed to find a solution.
  • Il faut que nous prêtions attention à la santé et à la sécurité de nos enfants.
  • Children’s health and security demand our attention.
  • Il faut que nous attaquions ensemble à ce problème
  • We must tackle this problem together. 
  • Il faut que je fasse de mon mieux
  • I must do my best
  • Il faut que nous fassions avancer ce projet avec énergie
  • This needs to be pursued with great vigour



  1. C’est agaçant à la fin! = it really annoys me
  2. un temps fou = a crazy amount of time
  3. prendre un temps fou de + infinitive = to take a lot of time to do something
  4. je suis censé = I am meant to+ infinitive eg. Je suis censé nettoyer = I am meant to be cleaning.
  5. L’internet me permet de = The internet allows me to. Use a verb or a noun in front of this construction and for example you can say: Reading allows me to escape = La lecture me permet de m’évader.
  6. Donc= so
  7. En fonction de = depending on. I will go to town depending on the weather. J’irai en ville en function du temps qu’il fera.
  8. Fonctionner comme un/une/des = to work like a …
  9. C’est également = it is also or equally
  10. Tant que = while


  1. Être collet monté – To be uptight
  2. Numéroter ses abattis – To check whether you are injured after a fall or a fight/ to be ready for combat or a dangerous activity.
  3. Rabattre le caquet – to force someone to be less cheeky, to put someone back in their place
  4. Rabaisser le caquet – to force someone to be less cheeky, to put someone back in their place
  5. Attendre quelqu’un au tournant – to avenge someone
  6. Avoir quelqu’un au tournant – to get someone back for something.
  7. Changer de crèmerie – to go somewhere else
  8. Une querelle d’Allemand – a ridiculous argument.
  9. À l’eau de rose – sentimental (normally used to describe soppy films or books).
  10. Tuer un âne à coups de figues molles – to attack something impossible.

I would suggest at this point, learning as much vocabulary on topics as possible. French Notes.ie has sample essays available on its website, with each essay written in both English and French. There is a key to the grammatical constructions used, together with a list of important vocabulary.

Essay Writing in French

Essay Writing in French

In citing electronic resources, you should in the first instance follow the same general rules as for printed sources, as the following example of a reference to an item contained on the (vast) Gallica site of the Bibliothèque nationale de France indicates:

  • the name of the author and of the text cited should be given in full, e.g. Louis de Bonald, Économie politique, p. x.
  • next, you should cite the name of the webpage or web service that provides the source, e.g. Website: BNF Gallica
  • next, you should cite the URL of the source itself
  • finally, you should give the date on which you last accessed this URL

A complete reference would thus look something like this:

Louis de Bonald, Économie politique (Paris, J.-P. Migne, 1859), p. x. Website: BNF Gallica.
URL: http://gallica.bnf.fr/scripts/ConsultationTout.exe?O=N023496&T=0. Last consulted: 12 December 2001.

Your bibliography should also record this information, together with the full publication details of any published work cited. Here is a further example:

Website: Calendrier des spectacles sous l'Ancien Régime (Barry Russell, Oxford Brookes University). URL: http://foires.net/cal/cal.shtml. Last consulted: 12 December 2001.

For further information, consult the following sources.


Your bibliography should figure at the end of your essay, and should give information concerning authors, titles and publication details for all primary and secondary works used:

Primary sources

Baudelaire, Charles, Les Fleurs du mal, ed. by C. Pichois (Paris, Gallimard, 1996)

   ------, Le Spleen de Paris, ed. by D. Scott and B. Wright (Paris, Garnier-Flammarion, 1987)

Secondary sources

Auerbach, Erich, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, tr. by W. Trask (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1953)

Bersani, Leo, Baudelaire and Freud (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1977)

Laforgue, Pierre, 'Baudelaire, Hugo et la royauté du poète: le romantisme en 1860', Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France, 96 (1996), 966--82

Pichois, Claude, Baudelaire, tr. by Graham Robb (London, Hamish Hamilton, 1989)

Thélot, Jérôme, Baudelaire: violence et poésie (Paris, Gallimard, 1993)

The following points should be noted:

  • in the case of any item published as a book, the place of publication, publisher and date should be given;
  • where a text is cited, the name of the editor should be given, as in the examples of texts by Baudelaire above;
  • the titles of books or of journals are generally printed in italics (or simply underlined, if your essay is written by hand);
  • where an article is cited, its title should be given in single quotation marks, and the volume number, year of publication and precise page references should all be given.



Work must be submitted on the stated deadline. Under certain circumstances (e.g. certified illness) an extension may be granted by the lecturer concerned. Your essay should have a cover-sheet:

Name: A. N. Other

Student number: 99999999

Language and Cultural Studies French II

FR2202: Literary seminar I

Lecturer: Dr Untel

Date of submission: 30 January 2002

Note the following points:

  • you should write your name, your degree programme and year and your student number clearly on your essay;
  • you should also write the name and the course code of the module of which the essay forms part (e.g. FR2501: French thought and the history of ideas I: Political thought);
  • you are required to submit two copies of each essay (one of which may be a photocopy); one copy of the essay will be returned to you.



One of the key features of the study of French is writing: in each year of the programme, you have the opportunity to work on seminar presentations and essays, developing an account of a specific theme or topic --- and you can thus develop skills in argument and in the effective organization and communication of your ideas.



An essay is based on your own thinking and writing, and involves close discussion of the texts and other materials on which you have been working. All essays are written with a specific question or topic in mind and relevance to the topic is a primary requirement of a successful essay. If the topic requires you to write, say, about the dramatic impact of Racine's Athalie, don't deal at length with the theme of courtly corruption; if the essay titles specifies, say, that you should write about word-order as a feature of French syntax, you will probably stray from the topic if you start to write at length about regional variations in the use of French.

An essay also provides a reasoned justification of your point of view. Try to present your ideas in an orderly way. You should use relevant examples to justify the points you make. In reaching your conclusion, you should seek to take into account objections to your own argument. You should also think carefully about alternative conclusions: does your conclusion present the most likely explanation?

Be precise in your use of texts to justify your point of view. Make sure that any claims you make about the text are true. If you use quotations, make sure that they help your argument. Avoid retelling the story. An essay is a piece of independent work. It will involve the discovery and use of relevant information. In your essays, you may need to use a wide range of sources, including the texts on which you have been working, other relevant texts, and critical works. As well as quoting from these works, you may need to cite them (in other words, make a brief reference without quoting).

Persuasive writing demands clear and concise expression. Be clear, precise and consistent in your use of the key terms in your argument (e.g. irony, classical, diegetic, popular, metalanguage, determiner).


Sources — and plagiarism

The sources of all quotations and citations should be clearly noted in your essay. Your essay should also include a bibliography, or an alphabetical list of all texts and sources cited. Your essay will be assessed in part according to the relevance and the cogency of your use of your sources. It is therefore most important that you acknowledge all your sources. Systematic failure to do so may lead to plagiarism, or unacknowledged use of the words or ideas of others. Patent plagiarism will justify a fail mark (in extreme cases, a mark of zero).

In the course of your research and your writing, therefore, you need to think carefully about your use of sources. Finding relevant information to support your analysis and argument is one of the key skills which you will acquire in your work --- for further guidance, see the page devoted to French subject and information resources. When reading texts or critical works, you should take care to include in your notes page references for ideas to which you wish to refer, or for passages which you transcribe for later use. When you use an idea or where you quote from another source, you must acknowledge this use by giving the title of the work in question and a precise page reference, which may refer, as in the example below, to a page-range:

Thélot's discussion of the poem, on the other hand, stresses its paradoxical qualities (see Baudelaire: violence et poésie, pp. 378--81), a view that enables us to give a more persuasive account of its opening.

It is not always necessary to quote from a critical source, but in all cases where you make use of another person's ideas, you must acknowledge that you have done so. If you make use of points made in lectures, you should say so by including a reference in a footnote. You must make sure also to provide references for factual statements:

Baudelaire was convicted of offence to public morality and was fined 300 francs (see Pichois, Baudelaire, p. 232).



An essay is a carefully structured piece of writing. Aim to communicate clearly and make sure to use paragraph breaks to enable your reader to follow the flow of your ideas. In your written work, you should strive to be legible. If you use a word processor, it may be helpful to write a first draft of your essay by hand.

Brief quotations from texts or other works should be introduced by a colon and enclosed within quotation marks, as follows: '— Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!'. You should take care to ensure that your quotations (including accentuation and punctuation) are accurate. Longer quotations (i.e. longer than about forty words) may be set off (see how to set quotations off when using a word-processor). In this case, no quotation marks are needed:

Sois sage, ô ma Douleur, et tiens-toi plus tranquille.
Tu réclamais le Soir; il descend; le voici:
Une atmosphère obscure enveloppe la ville,
Aux uns portant la paix, aux autres le souci.

Baudelaire, 'Recueillement', Les Fleurs du mal, ll.1--4

The source of all quotations should be included in your essay, preferably in notes at the foot of the page or the end of the essay (see advice online on how to insert footnotes when using a word-processor). You must take sure to be precise in transcribing quotations from texts (and take special care to include accents in quotations from French --- follow the advice on inserting accents when using a word-processor).

You should take care to present the titles of your sources — full-length works, poems, essays, articles — in as clear a way as possible. You will see in critical works that the title of a work is italicized, so as to distinguish, say, between a character in a text and the text itself: 'Athalie is undoubtedly the most awesome figure in Athalie'. If you write your essay by hand, you should underline the titles of full-length works: Madame Bovary, Phèdre, Les Fleurs du mal, L'Amant. This convention should be used also with critical works and with journals: Mimesis, Modern French Drama, Figures, French Studies. References to any work quoted or cited should include a page reference:

Auerbach argues that styles of representation can point to the fragmentation of reality into reflections of various individual consciousnesses (Mimesis, p. 551).

The titles of shorter works, or parts of a work, or of articles, are given in quotation marks, as in the example from Baudelaire above, or as follows:

'Le voyage' is the closing poem in Les Fleurs du mal.


Citing electronic sources

Useful sources are increasingly available online --- see again the guidance on French subject and information resources. Your use of such sources must be documented, just as your use of books and articles, say, must be.

Now, the citation of materials maintained online presents certain problems, in part because Uniform Resource Locators (or URLs, or typical web 'addresses' in the form http://www.ucc.ie/french/) give information precisely on locations, and not as a rule on what a file may contain, or its title. In general, therefore, you should give the title of the website (as indicated on its home or main page) as well as the name of the page which you are citing, together with the URL. Because URLs are not absolutely persistent (a file may disappear, or the page cited may move to a different location, even without changing its content), you should also give the date on which you last referred to the file or page. In general, the title of a page is what appears in the title bar of your browser:

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