In a previous post we provided a list of “Say’s” and “Don’t say’s” of typical French language mistakes that are the result of translating directly and literally from English to French.
These common errors are what differentiate a French native speaker from a foreign French speaker. In this post, we continue with a second list of some of these useful verbs and expressions (published in French Accent Magazine n°28). As it was the case last time, we carefully chose those we hear most often which make a difference to the French native’s ear.
Here is a tricky one! When you wish to express that something feels good, we cannot use the reflexive verb se sentir. We use instead the verb faire followed with du bien.
Taking a nap feels good = Faire la sieste fait du bien.
That feels good = Ça fait du bien.
When you wish to tell someone how you feel, then you can use the verb se sentir:
I feel good = Je me sens bien.
I feel sad = Je me sens triste.
If you wish to express your feeling about a situation you’ve seen or experienced, then you will mostly hear avoir l’impression (to have the impression that) or penser (to think).
1.- I have the feeling that Jill will leave tomorrow = Je pense que Jill partira demain.
In this example, it’s a feeling which comes from analyzing the situation – perhaps Jill is looking into train schedules. It’s a thought more than a feeling.
2.- I have a feeling that you don’t like this picture = J’ai l’impression que tu n’aimes pas cette photo.
In this example, it’s a feeling triggered from an image – perhaps the person who was looking at the picture made a face.
2) Looks good/looks bad
Another one which cannot be literally translated; in this situation, the French will use the phrase avoir l’air.
This picture looks good on this wall = Cette photo a l’air bien sur ce mur.
The film doesn’t looks interesting = Le film n’a pas l’air intéressant.
Note that the verb regarder is used when you are looking at something.
3) To attend something
This is a typical false friend. Depending on the situation, the verb “to attend” in French is assister or aller. Let me remind you that the verb attendre in French means to wait.
I attended La Sorbonne for one year in 1985 = Je suis allé à la Sorbonne pendant un an en 1996.
The Manager attended the staff meeting = Le directeur a assisté à la réunion des employés.
In these 2 examples, the first one expresses a place a person has been to for a certain period of time, therefore the French will automatically use aller. The second one informs us that the Manager attended a punctual event which calls for a more specific verb such as assister.
Another big false friend – it is an easy mistake to make.
Actuellement means “currently” (next point on this list) and “actually” is translated into the following small phrase:
En fait (make sure you pronounce the ‘t’).
Actually, I was not born in Lyon, I was raised there but I was born in Paris = En fait, je ne suis pas né à Lyon, j’ai grandi là-bas mais je suis né à Paris.
If you’ve read point number 4, at this point you already know that actuellement means “currently”.
Currently, I am not working but I am looking for a job = Actuellement, je ne travaille pas mais je cherche un travail.
6) Driving/going to a place
In English, we use the verb “to drive” more often and for more situations than we do in French. Yes, conduire is the verb “to drive” but we only say it when we want to specifically express that the mode of transportation we took to go to a place is a car. Otherwise, we just use the verb aller or the verb faire when speaking about the distance we’ve travelled.
This week-end, we’re going up to Paris = Ce week-end nous allons à Paris.
Really? How are you getting there? = Vraiment ? Vous y allez comment ?
We’re going to drive ; it’s long because we’ll drive for 7 hours= On va conduire; c’est long car on va faire 7 heures de route.
In this example, the English person would have most probably said “this week-end, we’re driving up to Paris” as the French would use the verb aller.
Same idea with driving someone to a place; the French would use the verb amener (to bring).
Example: I am driving my daughter to school = J’amène ma fille à l’école.
7) Best wishes
A quick clarification needs to be given on how to end a letter or an email, we have often read Meilleurs voeux or even Félicitations from our English speaking students, expressions which don’t translate into “Best wishes”.
Meilleurs voeux = is written only around Christmas Season in Christmas Cards or different advertisements around that time of the year.
Félicitations = Congratulations.
What can we say at the end of a letter? It’s best to write:
Cordialement (quite formal) or:
Amicalement (if you’ve had a few friendly exchanges with this person).
8) Having an affair
This one definitely needs clarification! If someone is having an affair, we don’t use the word “affaires” but we use the word un amant ou une maîtresse which really means a lover.
The word affaires does exist but it is used in 2 completely different contexts such as:
– one’s personal belongings.
Patrick, my neighbour, is having an affair = Patrick, mon voisin, a une maît-resse.
Don’t take my personal belongings! = Ne prends pas mes affaires !
I do business with the French = Je fais des affaires avec les Français.
9) Having an argument, not a discussion
Here is another interesting false friend. If two French people are having an argument, they’re having a dispute; the verb is se disputer.
Not to confuse with the French word argument which is used very differently, it means “making a good case” or “deciding factors”.
Last night, I argued with my sister = Hier soir, je me suis disputée avec ma sœur.
What are the deciding factors to change the retirement age? = Quels sont les bons arguments pour changer l’âge de la retraite ?
10) To earn money
This last one on the list also deserves clarification, as you’ve probably heard the French verb “gagner” when speaking about earning money! Indeed, the French will use 2 verbs in money making situations: gagner or faire (to make).
At Siemen’s, I earn more than (I did) at IBM’s = Chez Siemens, je gagne plus que chez IBM.
At the moment, I don’t make much money = En ce moment, je ne fais pas beaucoup d’argent.
Note that the verb gagner is also used for winning a game or at a lottery:
Séville won the game against Paris Saint-Germain = Séville a gagné le match contre Paris Saint-Germain.