To add to our previous lists of expressions published in French Accent Magazine where we provided some “do’s” and “don’ts” of typical mistakes that frequently result from making a direct and literal translation from English to French, we have come up with an additional list. These common errors are what differentiate a French native speaker from a foreign French speaker. As was the case last time, we carefully chose those we hear most often and which will make a difference to the French native’s ear.
1) The opportunity
There is a direct translation for the word opportunity which is l’opportunité but it is used mostly in a professional context.
Example: Chez Siemens, j’ai eu l’opportunité de lancer un nouveau projet = At Siemens, I had the opportunity to launch a new project.
However, when you wish to express the word opportunity in a social or casual context; then it will sound a bit awkward to use l’opportunité. Best would be to say la possibilité or l’occasion.
J’ai eu l’occasion de rencontrer la femme de Laurent = I had the opportunity to meet Laurent’s wife.
Avec mon voisin, j’ai l’occcasion (ou j’ai la possibilité) de parler en français =With my neighbor, I have the opportunity to speak French.
L’occasion will be used when referring to a lucky type of opportunity while la possibilité communicates that you have a distinct and possible opportunity in a professional sense.
Don’t Say: J’ai eu l’opportunité d’aller faire du ski dans les Alpes françaises.
Say: J’ai eu l’occasion/la possibilité de faire du ski dans les Alpes françaises = I had the opportunity to go skiing in the French Alps.
2) Second hand/ used
It’s only natural to move on to this topic as this is giving us the occasion (the opportunity) to elaborate about the word occasion!
We learned in point 1 above that occasion can be used to replace the word opportunité. You will also notice that this same word is also used for second hand or used things.
Example: J’ai acheté une voiture d’occasion = I bought a used car.
Idem with used books: des livres d’occasion; used furniture: des meubles d’occasion, etc.
If you are in France, you’ve probably seen it many times on signs. Notice also that we do not use the word usé for old or second hand because that would give the object a negative connotation. Usé means that is has been used a lot and it is no longer in a good shape or worn out.
Don’t Say: J’ai acheté une voiture usée.
Say: J’ai acheté une voiture d’occasion.
During our French lessons, we often hear the word complet used in many contexts from our students. It’s understandable that it sounds a bit awkward to the French ear, especially after hearing it so often.
So when do we use the word complet?
Mostly to indicate that a hotel is full or a concert hall is sold out.
Example: L’hôtel est complet = The hotel is full.
In regards to the French verb compléter, we can use it when filling out documents, even though we use the verb remplir even more… You can hear either: Pouvez-vous compléter ce document? or: Pouvez-vous remplir ce document?
We mostly use compléter when we’re adding something for improvement.
Je complète ma formation avec un stage en cuisine = I’m completing (rounding off or supplementing) my training with a an internship in cooking (this tells you that you’re adding more training to improve your overall abilities).
Je complète ce livre avec des photos = I’m completing this book with pictures. In other words, I’m adding pictures to this book.
Otherwise, each time you want to say that you’ve completed something in a context that you’ve finished it, you should use the verb terminer.
J’ai terminé mes études à Paris il y a 5 ans = I completed my studies in Paris 5 years ago.
On a terminé le projet hier soir = We completed the project last night.
Don’t say: J’ai complété mes études.
Say: J’ai terminé mes études.
4) To bring someone to a place
Are you picking up or taking a friend to the airport? The verbe prendre can mislead you. We cannot use the verb prendre when telling someone that you’re taking them to a place. You need to use the verb amener which means to bring.
Important: If you use the verb prendre, you’re saying that you’re picking up this person! Therefore, you could be communicating the opposite action. Think that you’re bringing someone to a place (instead of taking), and you’ll be safe.
J’amène mon fils à l’école = I’m bringing my son to school (in English, we often say “we drive our kids to school” as in French, once more, we really use the verb amener and not so much the verb conduire).
Don’t say: Je prends mon père à l’aéroport = I’m picking up my father at the airport.
Say: J’amène mon père à l’aéroport = I’m bringing my father to the airport.
Note: The verb amener is mostly used to bringing people to a place but you will also hear the French say it for bringing things.
Example: J’amène le vin ce soir = I’m bringing the wine tonight.
Many French students ask the difference between amener and apporter: in general, we use amener for bringing people and apporter for bringing things.
5) To pick up someone vs to pick up things
We want to clarify the usage of two French verbs which both mean “to pick up”: ramasser et aller chercher.
First, ramasser means to pick up or gather things from the ground such as mushrooms in the forest, clothes on the floor, leaves on the lawn, etc… We cannot use ramasser to pick up someone.
Thierry a ramassé beaucoup de coquillages sur la plage = Thierry picked up lots of shells on the beach.
If you need to pick up someone, then you should use aller chercher (to go pick up). Note that it’s important to add the verb aller; if you forget to add it , then you are changing the meaning of the action since the verb chercher by itself means “to look for”.
Example: Je vais chercher mon fils à l’école = I’m going to pick up my son at school.
Don’t say: Je ramasse mon mari au travail.
Say: Je vais chercher mon mari au travail.
We need more evidence before judging someone! The French word évidence is a false friend and cannot be used in this context.
Evidence in English = une preuve, which really means “a proof”.
Nous ne pouvons pas juger cette personne correctement, nous n’avons pas assez de preuves = We cannot judge this person rightfully, we don’t have enough evidence.
So what is the meaning of évidence in French? We use it when something is obvious.
Example: C’est une évidence qu’il est innocent = it’s an obviousness that he is innocent.
Evident which is the adjective form, is widely used in France:
C’est évident = it’s obvious!
Don’t say: Il me faut plus d’évidences.
Say: Il me faut plus de preuves = it’s necessary to have more evidence.
Much more coming soon…
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