What is "à la mode" in French? I am thinking it must be an adjective but wondering how this might be represented in an arbre syntagmatique.

I am new to linguistics and just trying to get a solid grasp on this.

  • I would say it is simply a preposition with an object, just like en vogue and after a fashion?
    – Cerberus
    Commented Sep 29, 2013 at 22:50
  • 2
    Well it's a phrase, a prepositional phrase, and I would say it can act as a unit perhaps as an adverb, perhaps as an adjective. My French is far too basic. Also I assume "arbre syntagmatique" is the French term for "syntax tree"? Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 10:04
  • Both the English and French Wiktionaries have entries for this phrase. The English one calls it an adjective in both languages, the French one calls it an "Locution adjectivale". Now of course as it's a phrase you can also break it down into its parts but as you're talking about syntax trees I'm assuming each node or branch will bear some label as in x-bar theory such as AP or PP. Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 10:18
  • FWIW, the classification as locution adjectivale seems to me to be obviously true from a traditional point of view.
    – Olivier
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 14:06
  • Yes, I assume that's "adjectiv(al) phrase" in English. That would answer the original (vague) question "what is it?" But technically not my new wording as phrases are not parts of speech. Hopefully I didn't mess up the quesiton by rewording it since I think this is pretty much what the OP was asking ... Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 19:13

2 Answers 2


It is very tempting to analyse it as a set phrase, and indeed it is leaning toward being one.

However, it is still possible to break it down, and, for instance, put an adjective before "mode" to qualify it : "à la nouvelle mode", meaning more or less "newly fashionable". Or after it : "à la mode française", meaning "in the french fashion".

Compare this to French set phrase "pour le moment". It is not possible to add an adjective qualifying "moment", either before or after it.

Therefore, I think it is still better to analyse "à la mode" as a full-fledged prepositional phrase.

  • It certainly is, but in American English at least, it's a fixed phrase, meaning 'with ice cream'. Generally spelled without diacritic.
    – jlawler
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 20:23
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    The OP is asking « What is "à la mode" in French », so I gave an answer about its analysis in french grammar. I never heard about that use of the phrase in american english, and I find it surprising.
    – Typhon
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 20:28
  • Entirely correct; I wasn't commenting on the French facts. But the phrase is fixed in American English, where it comes from pie ala mode 'pie with ice cream'. Ask for it in the US wherever pies are on the menu; they may not serve it, but they know what it means.
    – jlawler
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 21:15
  • English Wiktionary gives it two senses in English. The American ice cream one which I'd never heard of but also the sense of fashionable, trendy. In English it's obviously affected and it's a set phrase used as an adjective that can be modified with words such as "very". Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 6:46
  • @Typhon: This answer just makes me want to ask some questions about "setness" of set phrases! "Set phrase" as a concept seems to have a lot of trouble setting in. The Wikipedia article was missing and has been in convulsions since I created it as a stub a few years ago: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Set_phrase Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 6:51

You are correct that it is an adjective in both English and French. It's synonymous with en vogue, haute, trendy, etc.In English, it has additional applications in food, such as topped with ice cream or braised or stewed in vegetables. It literally translates as in the style or fashion.

  • The OP was specifically asking what it is in French. The English stuff is interesting enough to mention in a comment - I think somebody already did. But it's not an answer. Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 10:08
  • I understand that. That's why I included the French translation. It is French for fashionable or stylish and is synonymous with en vogue and haute in French. It's an adjective in both languages. Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 17:28
  • But Typhon has given evidence for why it is not (yet) a set phrase, but a PP, and so does not have a "part of speech".
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 20:26

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