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Five Frequently Mixed-Up French Verbs

French has many ways a nonnative speaker can mix up verbs or use them incorrectly. The mix-ups are a result of these three problems:

  • These verbs sound like or are spelled similarly to English verbs. An example is rester. This verb doesn't mean to rest; it means to stay. (See "Waiting or attending," later in this article.)
  • These verbs have the same meaning in English but are used differently in French. For example, the verb visiter means (you guessed it) to visit, but you don't use it to say that you're visiting friends. (Refer to "Visiting a place or visiting a person" in this article.)
  • Other verbs change their meanings by changing the preposition that follows them. This happens quite often in English, too; consider the difference between living in a house and living through a disaster. One common French example is the verb jouer (to play). It can take the preposition à or de, depending on what you're playing. (Check out "Playing a game or playing an instrument," later in this article.)

This article shows you how to use these verbs correctly and explains the nuances that they may entail.

Visiting a place or visiting a person

French has two different verbs that mean to visit. One is visiter, which is a regular -er verb conjugated just like parler (to speak). Use the verb visiter to visit places, such as cities, countries, museums, and so on.

  • Nous avons visité le Louvre l'année dernière. (We visited the Louvre last year.)
  • Ils visiteront le Tibet au printemps. (They will visit Tibet in the spring.)

To visit a person, use the verbal construction rendre visite à, which translates as to pay a visit to someone. You conjugate the verb rendre, which is a regular -re verb, and keep visite the way it is. Just remember to add the preposition à before the person or people you're visiting. The person or people to whom you're paying a visit are always the indirect object of this verb.

  • Il rend visite à ses grands-parents chaque été. (He visits his grandparents every summer.)
  • Est-ce que tu as rendu visite à tes amis hier? (Did you visit your friends yesterday?)

Playing a game or playing an instrument

To play a game, a sport, or an instrument, use the verb jouer (to play), which is a regular -er verb. That's not so confusing, but the preposition that follows this verb makes all the difference. Use jouer with the preposition à when playing sports or a game:

  • Les enfants jouent au football le samedi. (The children play soccer on Saturdays.)
  • Nous jouons aux échecs. (We play chess.)

When playing a musical instrument, use jouer with the preposition de.

  • Mes filles jouent du violon. (My daughters play violin.)
  • Il aime jouer de la batterie. (He likes to play the drums.)

Leading, bringing, or taking someone

The verbs amener, ramener, emmener, and remmener are all compounds of the verb mener (to lead).

Amener means to bring someone somewhere, and ramener means to bring someone back.

  • Elle amène ses enfants à l'école. (She brings her children to school.)
  • Elle ramène ses enfants de l'école. (She brings back her children from school.)

Emmener means to take someone along, and remmener means to take someone back.

  • Quand nous allons en vacances, nous emmenons notre fille. (When we go on vacation, we take our daughter along.)
  • Il doit remmener sa petite amie. (He has to take his girlfriend back.)

Thinking or thinking about

In French, the verb penser (to think) is a regular -er verb. However, you can follow this verb with either the preposition à or the preposition de. How do you choose between these two prepositions? Well, if you want to say that you're thinking about someone or something, use the preposition à:

  • Il pense à ses enfants. (He's thinking of/about his children.)
  • Nous pensons à notre avenir. (We're thinking about our future.)

You use penser de to ask the question What do you think about someone or something?

  • Qu'est-ce que tu penses de ton patron? (What do you think of your boss?)
  • Que pensent-ils du film? (What do they think about the film?)

Don't use the preposition de to answer these questions. Instead, use penser que in your response.

  • Qu'est-ce que tu penses de ton patron? (What do you think of your boss?)
  • You answer: Je pense qu'il est gentil. (I think he is nice.)

Waiting or attending

French has many false friends, or faux amis. These false friends are words that may look the same as a word in English but have a different meaning. This is the case with the verbs attendre and assister à. Keep in mind that attendre doesn't mean to attend, and assister à doesn't mean to assist. In fact, assister à means to attend. Don't forget to use the preposition à after this verb.

  • Nous assisterons à la conference. (We will attend the lecture/conference.)
  • Ils assistent au match. (They are attending the game.)

Attendre means to wait for and is a transitive verb that's followed by a direct object.

  • Elle attend ses amies. (She's waiting for her friends.)
  • J'attends les résultats. (I'm waiting for the results.)
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