If you’re wandering in the streets of Paris looking for a shop and you need to ask for directions in French, how will you ask? And even better, what if someone asks you for directions to a place you know, how will you help them? Let’s take a look at the verbs and expressions most commonly used to give simple and yet efficient directions in French.
If you’re lost and cannot find La FNAC (a famous bookstore in Paris), you could go up to someone and simply ask: Excusez-moi, savez-vous où est la FNAC ? = Excuse-me, do you know where La FNAC is?
Now that the question has been put, the trick is to understand the directions. Let’s first look at the useful words/expressions:
à droite = right; à gauche = left; tout droit = straight ahead; faire demi-tour = turn around/make a U-turn ; traverser = to cross; monter = to go up; descendre = to go down; rez-de-chaussée = ground floor; étage = floor; le rayon = department (in a store); passer = to go by; le carrefour = intersection; au feu = at the stop light; jusqu’à = up to.
When giving directions, just like in English we use the ordinal numbers:
premier (1st), second/deuxième (2nd), troisième (3rd), quatrième (4th), cinquième (5th), dernier (last).
Now let’s look at some useful verbs which you can interchange easily when giving directions:
Aller = to go
You will need to conjugate this verb in the imperative which is the tense that we use to give commands/orders and directions: Allez ! = Go!
A couple of examples using this verb:
Allez tout droit = Go straight.
Allez jusqu’au carrefour = Go to the intersection.
Prendre = to take
You can interchange prendre with aller and you will need to use the imperative as well: prenez.
Prenez la première rue à gauche = Take the first street on the left.
Prenez l’ascenceur pour monter au 2ème étage au rayon vêtements = take the elevator to go up to the 2nd floor (remember that le 2 ème étage in France is the same as the third floor in England and the US) to the clothes department.
Tourner = to turn
Continuer = to continue
These two verbs are often used in giving directions, again in the imperative. Tourner and prendre are interchangeable in many situations.
Tournez (prenez) à droite au feu et puis continuez tout droit jusqu’au prochain carrefour = Turn right at the stop light, then go straight ahead until the next intersection.
Il faut = one must, it is necessary
The French use il faut constantly for anything that needs to be done but also for giving directions. It literally means “one must” but you are really saying “you must”. The positive side of il faut is its easy construction: you just need to keep il faut in the present tense and add a second verb in the infinitive form (unconjugated).
Instead of using aller or prendre, you can use il faut. Let’s take the examples above and change them with il faut:
Il faut aller tout droit
Il faut aller jusqu’à l’intersection
Il faut prendre la première rue à gauche
Il faut prendre l’ascenseur pour monter au 2ème étage.
Repeat and practice again and again and be ready for your next trip to France. Try to speak French as much as you can and forget about Google maps, the easy solution… but it will not help you to progress in the language of Molière!