Forum Rocket French French Grammar un café avec du lait écrémé

un café avec du lait écrémé





I assume that, un café avec du lait écrémé, means, coffee with some skim milk, but can't imagine why it would be stated that way.

Is there something wrong with, un café avec lait écrémé, which would presumably mean the milk is to be on the side. Or, if not, just, un café au lait écrémé ?


Does avec need the du here, since the du certainly seems inappropriate without the avec ?






Bonjour Robert,


Café au lait obviously means ‘coffee with milk’, but it is more of a set phrase, like many other food and beverage items in France: soupe à l’oignon, coq au vin, confit de canard etc. With these set phrases we tend not to play around with them, because it hits the ear wrong. 

  1. Un café avec lait écrémé does not work without the ‘du’. In English it is fine to omit the ‘some’ from the sentence, but in French that doesn't work.
  2. Un café au lait écrémé also doesn't work due to it being a set phrase. It's not common to play around with set phrases and when we do, it either hits the ear wrong or the extra qualifier (or whatever is being changed) confuses or clouds the meaning; it makes it sound like the whole coffee with milk is supposed to be skim, instead of just the milk.

I'm trying to think of an apt food or beverage item in English to show you how it can hit the ear wrong, but I'll just have to go with a random set phrase. Imagine you ask someone if they've heard of a name and they reply, “That name rings a big bell.” (Something I've heard foreigners say before.) We know the set phrase as, ‘to ring a bell’ and while we would probably understand that the addition of ‘big’ means ‘very’ (familiar) in this sense, it just hits the ear wrong. 

So to recap, phrase 2 a) hits the ear wrong and b) sounds like the adjective of skim is being used to describe the entire coffee, not just the milk because it is a set phrase.

This is why we have to rephrase the request slightly, by saying, un café avec du lait écrémé.

I hope this helps,

   -   Mitchell





Merci, Mitchell.

I was thinking something similar in regards to the notion of a set phrase. That is, since the new phrase doesn't conform to the “general rules” for references to ingredients, then it must mean something quite different. But, apparently, the need for du after avec, and the unwelcome sound of, un café au lait écrémé, takes precedence over the idea that one refers to ingredients such as milk, with à (au), rather than de (du). So, to my untrained ear, and according to the rules, it sounds like the café would now be nothing without the lait écrémé. That was the cause for my confusion.



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