Asking Directions in French

If you’re wandering in the streets of Paris looking for a shop and you need to ask for directions, 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.

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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!

Much more coming soon…

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Say Il faut Instead of C’est nécessaire

If you live or have travelled in France, you’ve probably heard French people use the phrase “Il faut” in numerous contexts, especially when someone is telling you how to do something, or how to get to a place, or how you shouldn’t do something…  It is a very popular short phrase and used widely in the everyday language.  Il faut can be expressed in an impersonal or personal way.  Instinctively, foreigners tend to translate literally and say C’est nécessaire de… each time they want to express “It’s necessary to…”.  It is not wrong but not very French; they will almost always say “il faut”!  Try to do the same when you wish to give directions, orders and very strong suggestions.

There are two ways to use “Il faut”: impersonal and general, or personal and specific to the person you are talking to.

1) If you are giving an impersonal order or a suggestion, meaning that you’re not pointing your finger at anyone, but you’re just stating how something needs to be done, or how to get somewhere, then using Il faut is perfect.  Not only do the French use it all the time, but it’s easy to express it verbally with a simple sentence structure.  You don’t need to add a subject and a verb, but just a verb in the infinitive form.  The impersonal form “It’s necessary to” in French is simply:

Il faut + verb in the infinitive form.
Easy, right?

For giving directions: Il faut aller à gauche ! = It’s necessary to go (turn to the) left!

For giving orders: Il faut arriver au travail tous les jours à 9 heures. = It’s necessary to get to work every day at 09:00am.

For making strong suggestions: Il faut prendre son temps dans la vie… = It’s necessary to take one’s time in life…

Note: you can see that the second verbs aller, arriver and prendre are not conjugated.

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2) If you are making it personal, meaning that you’re telling a specific person what to do, how to get to a place, or you’re giving a strong suggestion, then you change the structure somewhat and add que, plus a subject and a conjugated verb.  You’ll have to learn how to conjugate the 2nd verb in the subjunctive form.

Here is the structure of the personal form with Il faut:

Il faut que + subject + verb in the subjonctive form.

The subjunctive conjugation of verbs ending by er is not difficult, it’s the same as conjugating the verb in the present tense except with the vous and nous subjects where you’ll need to add an i to the ending of the verb.

Example: conjugation in the subjunctive form of parler:
Je parle
Tu parles
Il/elle/on parle
Nous parlions
Vous parliez
Ils parlent

However, the other groups of verbs are a bit trickier as some verbs change completely, especially the irregular ones.
For example, the verb être (to be) changes completely:
Je sois
Tu sois
Il/elle/on soit
Nous soyons
Vous soyez
Ils soient

Note: For a more detailed discussion of the subjunctive, see our article: “How I learned to love the subjunctive” in issue Nr 41, February-March 2013, of French Accent Magazine.

Personal – using the above examples:
For giving directions: Il faut que vous alliez (subjonctif) à gauche = You must/have to go left.

For giving orders: Il faut que vous arriviez (subjonctif) au bureau tous les jours à 9 heures = You must/have to get to the office everyday at 09:00am.

For making strong suggestions: Il faut que tu soies plus concentré en général… = You have to be more concentrated in general…

Note: Il faut is the present conjugation of the verb falloir – it is a very unusual, verb because you can only conjugate the verb with il.  You CANNOT say je faut, vous fallez, etc.

The negative form of Il faut is quite straightforward, you just need to place ne + pas around faut: Il ne faut pas.

However, the translation of Il ne faut pas is NOT: “You don’t have to”; it actually means: “One mustn’t”.

Il ne faut pas faire de bruit après 22h. = One must not make any noise after 10pm.
Il ne faut pas que tu t’inquiètes pour lui. = You mustn’t worry about him.
Now, if you wish to say “You don’t have to”, then you’ll want to use ne pas obliger de.

Tu n’es pas obligé d’aller à la fête ce soir. = You don’t have to go to the party tonight.

Coming back to obligations or directions, you can either say Il faut or another well known verb called devoir.  The conjugation of devoir is: je dois, tu dois, il/elle/on doit, nous devons, vous devez, ils/elles doivent.  Devoir implies a stronger obligation – almost a moral imperative – than il faut.  The meaning is really “must”.

Vous devez finir votre travail ce soir. = You must/have to finish your work tonight (no choice).

Elle doit partir. = She must leave.

What about when you want to suggest something?  This is where it can get a bit tricky.  As you know, devoir means “must” or “have to” in the present tense, BUT when devoir is conjugated in the conditional (equivalent of “would” in English), then this verb changes its meaning and it becomes “should”!  This is how it works when devoir is used in the conditional:

Je devrais, tu devrais, il/elle/on devrait, nous devrions, vous devriez, ils/elles devraient = I should, you should. etc.

Je devrais aller chez le coiffeur, mes cheveux sont vraiment trop longs ! = I should go to the hairdresser, my hair is really too long!
Vous devriez acheter une nouvelle bagnole, car celle-ci est vraiment vieille ! = You ought to buy a new car, since this one is really old!

At this point, it is no longer an obligation but something that should eventually be done.

To summarize this article:

– When you wish to give general directions or tell someone how something is to be done, use the form Il faut + verb at the infinitive form:
Il faut un CV pour trouver un travail = one needs a résumé when looking for a job.

– When you wish to give a suggestion, use devoir in the conditional form:
C’est un petit restaurant, vous devriez réserver une table. = it’s a small restaurant, you should reserve a table.

– When you wish to give a strong order, use devoir in the present form:
Vous devez finir le ménage ce soir ! = you have to finish the cleaning this evening!

– When you are giving specific directions or orders to a person, use il faut que + subjonctif:
Il faut que tu sois à l’heure pour ton rendez-vous demain matin ! = You must be on time for your appointment tomorrow morning!

-When you want to tell someone that they mustn’t do something in particular, then use Il ne faut pas:
Il ne faut pas pleurer = one mustn’t cry.

-When you wish to tell someone that they don’t have to do something, then use pas obliger de:
Vous n’êtes pas tous obligés de travailler demain. = You don’t all have to work tomorrow.

Much more coming soon…

Thank you to write your comments, questions… And do not forget to register to receive our next articles full of tips about the French language!

Céline Anthonioz

A bientôt – French lessons via Skype – French learning e-magazine with audio – French language learning materials

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Learn how to Communicate Your Contact Details

Are you planning a trip to France anytime soon? If so, don’t forget that while you’re there, you might need to clearly communicate your personal contact information. If you have been studying French, you should be able to do so without too much effort.  However, it’s not always as easy as one thinks. We’ve noticed with our students at Learn French at Home that many French learners who can already express themselves in different situations in French have a difficult time spelling their names or their email address! For example, if a person asks for your email address, would you be able to give it to her/him with confidence?

Take time to review these basics :

1) Your name (votre nom)

When someone asks Quel est votre nom ? (What’s your name?), you can assume that the person is asking for your last name: Nom de famille.

Mon nom de famille est Johnson. = My last name is Johnson.

Quel est votre prénom ? = What’s your first name?

Mon prénom est Julie. = My first name is Julie.

Mon nom de jeune fille est Wilson. = My maiden name is Wilson.

You might hear French persons asking you to spell your full name (nom).  They might ask:

Comment épelez-vous votre nom ? = How do you spell your name?

OR: Comment écrivez-vous votre nom ? = How do you write your name?

Of course, to be able to spell, you have to be comfortable with the French alphabet.  If you’re not, then we suggest that you listen to it, get familiar with communicating the letters of your name, home address and email.  Repeat it as many times as you need to:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y ZHotel

2) Your address (votre adresse)

You might have to give your full address over the phone or during check-in at a hotel, for example.  If someone wants to ask for your address, she/he will ask you:

Quelle est votre adresse ?

You’ll probably need to know the following phrases:

J’habite aux Etats-Unis, au 32 Oakpark Avenue… = I live in the USA, at 32 Oakpark Avenue…

La ville est Ventura. = The city is Ventura.

Le code postal est 93001. = The area code is 93001.

This means that you should know your numbers, both single digits and double digits.

Do you need to refresh your memory on how to say the double digits? 

11 to 20 = onze; douze; treize; quatorze; quinze; seize; dix-sept; dix-huit; dix-neuf; vingt; vingt et un.

30; 40; 50 = trente; quarante; cinquante.

Note: When we add the number “one” to “twenty”, “thirty”, “forty”, “fifty” and “sixty”, you’ll also need to add et (and).  Not for the other numbers!

31 = trente et un; 41 = quarante et un.

32 = trente-deux; 42 = quarante-deux.

3) Your cell phone number
(votre numéro de mobile/portable)

Now that you’ve reviewed the numbers, you should be able to communicate your cell phone number.  You might hear Quel est votre numéro de portable ? Or Quel est votre numéro de mobile ?  The French have the tendency to say the numbers 2 digits at a time.  However, if you’re more comfortable with 1 digit, that’s fine.

Example: Mon numéro de portable est le 04-50-40-61-23.

Note: To give the country code, this is how you say it:

L’indicatif du pays est… = The country code is…

4) Your email address
(votre adresse email, or mail)

Expressing with ease and accuracy your email address has become crucial in today’s connected world.  The French will either say:

Quelle est votre adresse email ?
Quel est votre mail ?
(Note how the e is dropped in front of mail)

To express your email  address clearly, the best way to do so is by using a word starting with that letter (like the system used in the military). For example, if you wish to say the letter T, it would be best to associate it with a proper noun, like a first name or a city/country.


T comme Tom = T as in Tom.
A comme Amsterdam
B comme Brigitte
N comme New York

Important translations:
The @ symbol = arobase

A dot = un point

A hyhen = un tiret

A capital letter = une lettre majuscule

A lower case = une lettre minuscule

Listen how the following email address is said:

“j” comme “Jack”
“u” comme  “Ursula”
“l” comme “Lucie”
“i” comme “Italie”

If you’re in France and you wish to connect to the wifi of your hotel or at a restaurant, this is how you would ask for the code: Quel est le code wifi ?

A few useful words and expressions:
Mon ordinateur portable. = My portable computer.

La connexion internet ne marche pas. = The internet connection doesn’t work.

L’adaptateur pour une prise américaine. = The adaptor for an American plug.

5) Your credit card information
(votre carte bancaire or carte bleue)

Over the phone, you might need to give your credit card information and perhaps the French person will ask for your carte bleue or carte bancaire.  What does this mean?  They’re asking for an Visa or MC debit/credit card.

he type of questions you could hear:

Quel est le numéro de votre VISA ? = What’s the number of your VISA?

Quelle est la date d’expiration ? = What’s the expiration date?

Quel est le code sécuritaire au dos de votre carte ? OR :

Quels sont les trois chiffres au dos de votre carte ? = What is the security code on the back of your card?

Let’s review all of this information in context by listening to the following scenario.  And you’ll just need to the time to practice a little before your next trip to France!

Bon voyage et à bientôt!
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French essential key expressions, idioms and verbs

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.

3) Complete

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.

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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

CoquillagesWe 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.

6) Evidence

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…
Thank you to write your comments, questions… And do not forget
to register to receive our next articles full of tips about the French language!

Céline Anthonioz

A bientôt – French lessons via Skype – French learning e-magazine with audio – French language learning materials

Can You Speak French… Like A French Person?

This is the third in our series of lists of expressions (published in French Accent Magazine) that one should and should not say if one wants to speak like a French person and be understood immediately by the French.  Many of the typical mistakes made by non-native speakers are the result of translating everyday English expressions directly and literally into French.  It doesn’t always work, and these common errors are what differentiate a native French speaker from a foreign French speaker.  Like last time, we have carefully chosen the expressions we hear most often and that will make a difference to a French native’s ear.

1) Too much…
Too many…

The French love to share a good meal and good wine, but at times you might have to stop them from giving you too much and this is where this four-letter word comes in handy: trop

As a teacher, I often hear c’est très beaucoup which really means “it’s very a lot” or I might hear c’est trop beaucoup – neither works in French, as you cannot follow trop with beaucoup.

Don’t say: C’est trop beaucoup !
Say: C’est trop !

J’ai trop mangé ! = I ate too much!
Il y a trop d’étudiants dans cette classe = There are too many students in this class.

2) I’m full!

Again, you’ve eaten trop and you wish to communicate politely that you’re full -what will you say? You cannot literally translate it as je suis plein – it just doesn’t work.  The only time we hear that a living being is plein, is when used for an animal which is pregnant!  For example, you could hear ma chienne est pleine which means that “my dog is pregnant”.

This is what French people will say:
J’ai bien mangé, merci ; je n’ai plus faim = I ate a lot, thank you; I’m not hungry anymore.
Or at times you will hear je n’en peux plus which means = I can’t eat anymore of it.
The more elegant choice is the first one, indicating that you ate well shows that you’re very satisfied.

Don’t say: Je suis plein(e).
Say: J’ai bien mangé, merci, je n’ai plus faim !


3) Can you help/assist me…?

I would like to clarify the use of the 2 verbs: assister and aider. The English may use the verb “to assist” when wanting to help someone but in French the verb assister really means to attend something like a meeting, a conference…

Therefore, in French you should only use the verb aider in this situation.

Don’t say: Est-ce que vous pouvez m’assister ?
Say: Est-ce que vous pouvez m’aider ?

Excusez-moi Monsieur, pouvez-vous m’aider à remplir ce formulaire ? = Excuse me, Sir, could you help me fill out this form?
Oui, bien sûr, je serais heureux de vous aider = Yes, of course, I would be happy to help you.
Again, assister would be used in a completely different context such as: Voulez-vous assister à la réunion d’information ? = would you like to attend the information session?

4) That’s right!

This is a difficult one as you have quite a few choices. I do hear at times c’est d’accord from our students and such an expression just may leave your French friends scratching their heads.

Here are a few different ways to express “that’s right” depending on the circumstances:
1. If  you agree with someone about something, you can say:
C’est ça ! Exactement !
C’est vrai !

Je trouve qu’il y a trop de chefs dans cette cuisine ! = I think there are too many cooks in this kitchen!
Exactement, il y en a trop ! = That’s right, there are too many of them!
Or you could hear:
C’est ça, il y en a trop !
C’est vrai, il y en a trop !

2. If  you reply to someone’s question positively, you have a few choices:
C’est juste ! En effet ! C’est correct !  

Avez-vous vérifié le calcul ? = Have you checked the calculation?
Oui, il est juste ! = Yes, it is right! Note:  You can also say: Oui, il est correct !
au cinéma ce soir ? = Are you going to the movies this evening?
Oui, en effet ! = Yes, that’s right! (it can also be translated as “Yes, indeed!”).

Don’t say: C’est d’accord.
Say: Depending on the context: C’est vrai !
C’est ça ! Exactement ! C’est juste ! C’est correct ! En effet !

5) To support

The verb supporter is a typical false friend; the meaning is completely different from the English verb. Supporter means “to stand something, a situation or a person.”

To  support someone, an idea or a project, the verb you would need to use is soutenir.  It is conjugated in the present tense the same way as tenir: je soutiens, tu soutiens, il soutient, nous soutenons, etc.

Don’t say: Je supporte ton initiative.
Say: Je soutiens ton initiative.
Je ne supporte pas la fumée de cigarette = I can’t stand cigarette smoke.
Elle n’a pas supporté la grosse chaleur = She couldn’t stand the heatwave.
Je soutiens mon mari dans son choix = I support my husband in his choice.
Nous soutenons l’équipe de football de Lille = We support the Lille football team.

6) Par hasard

Here is another false friend! In French the word hasard has nothing to do with the English version of “hazard”. When something is hazardous, we use the word dangereux.

In French, par hasard is often used and it expresses “by chance” or “by accident” when you come across a person you know unexpectedly or if you’re asking someone if they happen to have something you need.

Note that par accident is not expressed in this type of situation like in English. Par accident is used when you did something negative by accident!

Don’t say: J’ai rencontré mon professeur par accident au cinéma.
Say: J’ai rencontré mon professeur par hasard au cinéma.

Durant mon séjour à Paris, j’ai rencontré l’actrice Catherine Deneuve par hasard, dans un magasin ! = During my stay in Paris, I ran into the actress Catherine Deneuve by chance in a shop!
Julie, est-ce que tu as par hasard le numéro de téléphone de Claire ? = Julie, do you happen to have Claire’s telephone number?

7) La monnaie svp !

If a French person comes up to you and asks you: Excusez-moi, mais est-ce que vous avez la monnaie pour un billet de 20 euros ? – don’t misunderstand this person thinking he’s asking or begging for money; he’s asking for some small change for his bill.

The French word monnaie is used for 2 purposes:
-small change;
-money currency.

If  you wish to speak about money in general, then you would use the French word argent (which also means silver).  The verb changer in a money context is only used in the situation where one wishes to exchange currency!
Don’t say: Est-ce que vous avez du change pour 20 euros ?
Say: Est-ce que vous avez de la monnaie de 20 euros ?

Je ne peux pas acheter mon billet de métro avec la machine car je n’ai pas de monnaie ! = I cannot by my metro ticket with the machine because I don’t have any small change!
Quelle est la monnaie utilisée en Malaisie ? Je devrai faire du change quand je serai là-bas = What is the currency used in Malaysia? I will have to change some money when I am there.
Je ne peux pas partir en vacances cette année, je n’ai pas assez d’argent ! = I can’t go on holiday this year, I don’t have enough money!

8) L’endroit, not la place

It is so difficult to stop using la place when we are speaking about places in general.  It seems unfair that we cannot use it the same way we do in English!

Note that la place in French is used mainly:
-to indicate a specific place for an object or a seat on a train, bus, etc.;
-to indicate the square in a city such as la Place du Marché;
-to show a person’s place in society.

The French word for expressing places in general is: endroit.

Don’t say: J’aime ce restaurant, cette place est belle !
Say: J’aime ce restaurant, l’endroit est beau !

La maison est dans un endroit magnifique ! = The house is in a beautiful place!
Quel est ton endroit préféré dans le monde ? = What is your favorite place in the world?
Cette place est occupée, Madame ? = Is that seat taken, Madam?
Voici la place de la télé ! = Here is the place for the TV! Note that you can also use endroit in this example.
Ce n’est pas ta place ici ! = this is not your place here!

9) La librairie

To finish this list (for now), I want to discuss this well known false friend!

Librairie does not mean “library” but it means “bookstore”.

If you wish to say “library”, then you will need to use the word bibliothèque.

Don’t say: J’ai emprunté des livres à la librairie (I borrowed books from the bookstore).
Say: J’ai emprunté des livres à la bibliothèque.

Je vais à la librairie demain matin et je vais acheter un dictionnaire français. = I’m going to the book store tomorrow morning and I will buy a French dictionary.
Je fais mes recherches à la bibliothèque municipale. = I do my research at the city library.

Thank you to write your comments, questions… And do not forget to register to receive our next articles full of tips and information about the French language!

Bonne journée !

French Language Tips

The Essential French Key Phrases, Verbs and Words

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.


1) Feeling

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.

4) Actually

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.

5) Currently

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.
= 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:
– business;
– 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.

Paris Saint-Germain
Thank you to write your comments, questions… And do not forget to register to receive our next articles full of tips about the French language!

A bientôt. Vincent.

How to Speak Like a French Person, Not Like a Foreigner?

Through our experience at Learn French at Home teaching French to adults most of whom have either moved to France or else wish to do so, we regularly hear a number of common and very typical mistakes or what you could also call an unusual turn of phrase that most often results from translating directly and literally from English to French.  These common errors are what differentiate a French native speaker from a foreign French speaker.

Velo France
Since Spring is just around the corner, we have decided to give you a bit of light French work with an easy list of “Say’s”
and “Don’t say’s”.  We have chosen the expressions or words which make a difference to a native French person’s ear!

1) Greetings

Comment vas-tu ? or Comment allez-vous ?…  It’s probably the first question we ask our students before starting a lesson. In English, the reply is “I’m well, I’m fine”, so it is natural for an English speaker to wish to translate the reply as such into French.  It doesn’t work if you translate directly and use the verb “to be”!  The French use aller to indicate how they are, they feel…

Don’t say: Je suis bien when replying to Comment allez-vous ?
SAY:  Je vais bien = I am fine.

2) When speaking about an obligation, or something that must be done

In English, “it’s necessary to…” is a common way to express obligation and the word “necessary” in English is directly translated as nécessaire de, BUT we do not use it as such in French!  Every time a French person hears c’est nécessaire de…, they immediately know the person is not a French native.

How do the French express “it’s necessary to…”, “we must…”?  Well, use and abuse the verb falloir.  It communicates the fact that something needs to be done and this is why it can only be conjugated with the subject pronoun il.

Don’t say: C’est nécessaire de
SAY: Il faut…= It is necessary to…

For things that need to be done:
Il faut appeler le plombier = We must call the plumber, it is necessary to call the plumber.
Il faut apprendre le français = We must learn French, it is necessary/needed to learn French.

For directions:
Pour venir chez moi, il faut aller au centre ville et il faut tourner à droite au grand rond-point, etc… = To get to my place, you must go to the city center, then you have to turn right at the round about, etc.

If you start to listen carefully to a French person speaking, you will be surprised to find out how often they use il faut!  Go ahead and use it!

Important note:  the negative form of il faut : if you hear il ne faut pas…, then it becomes a prohibition!

Il ne faut pas être en retard au travail = One must not be late for work (it’s a prohibition).
map Paris

3) Timetables, making appointments

Again, because of direct translations, the wrong prepositions are used when referring to days of the week:

Don’t say: sur lundi, dans le matin…
SAY: le lundi, le matin = on Mondays, in the morning…

Example: Je suis libre le lundi = I’m free on Mondays.

Note that putting the definite article in front of a day of the week usually expresses something that happens in general every Monday or Saturday.

Je travaille lundi = I work this coming Monday.
Je travaille le lundi = I work on Mondays (every Monday).

Don’t say: Je vous parle à vendredi
SAY: A vendredi ! = I’ll speak to you/see you on Friday!

Note: In French, we don’t say that “I’ll speak, write, see you on …”, we just add the preposition à in front of the day of the week and this automatically indicates that you will either see, write or speak with that person on that day – it’s already planned!

In the following case, the choice of verb and word is not appropriate:

Don’t say: Je voudrais faire un appointement.
SAY: Je voudrais prendre (un) rendez-vous = I would like to make an appointment.

Note that “rendez-vous” in French is not a romantic appointment; it is an appointment for business or at a service place such as a hairdresser, doctor’s office, lawyer’s office, etc…

4) Ordering, drinking, eating

When ordering in a restaurant or telling someone what you’ve had for lunch, in French we use the verb prendre and not “have” like in English:

Don’t say: J’ai un café
SAY: Je prends un café = I’m having coffee (I’ll have a coffee).


5) Shopping for food

This is a tricky one because it doesn’t at all translate directly from English:

Don’t say: J’achète la nourriture.
SAY: Je fais les courses = I buy food (I am shopping for food).

6) To cook

There is an actual verb cuisiner and you should use it. La cuisine also means “cooking” and “kitchen”.  We rarely ever use la nourriture in this context which means food; we use it mainly to talk about food in general to say how expensive it is or to ask if there are any food stores… but otherwise, you should be using the word la cuisine or the verb cuisiner.

Don’t say: Je fais la nourriture
SAY: Je cuisine/Je fais la cuisine  = I’m cooking.

Don’t say: La nourriture dans le restaurant est bonne.
SAY: La cuisine du restaurant est bonne = The food in the restaurant is good.

7) The weather

The favourite subject when making small talk and for an ice breaker: talking about the weather!  For typical phrases such as “it’s a nice day”, “it’s hot today”, “it’s cold today”, “it’s a bad day”, we don’t use the verb “to be” like in English but the verb faire – a very popular verb indeed…

Don’t Say: Il est beau aujourd’hui.
Say:  Il  fait beau aujourd’hui = It’s nice today.

8) Watching a programme on TV, listening to the radio

Again, because of direct translation of prepositions from English to French, it is easy to add the wrong ones.

Don’t Say: J’ai regardé sur la télé or J’ai écouté sur la radio.
SAY: J’ai regardé cela à la télé ; J’ai écouté une belle chanson à la radio = I watched that on TV; I heard a beautiful song on the radio.

9)  Bank accounts and money

A similar situation exists in choosing the correct preposition for talking about bank accounts.  In English, one says that he/she has a certain amount of money “in” an account.  In French, the preposition to use is sur.

Don’t Say:  J’ai dix mille euros dans mon compte en banque.
SAY: J’ai dix mille euros sur mon compte en banque = I have ten thousand euros in my bank account.

And it should also be noted that “money” cannot be translated as monnaie as we frequently hear. In French, “money” is argent, while monnaie means “small change”.  And change means “currency exchange”; faire du change  = to do currency exchange.

Don’t say: C’est beaucoup de monnaie. Je n’ai plus de monnaie !
SAY: C’est beaucoup d’argent. Je n’ai plus d’argent ! = It’s a lot of money.  I don’t have any more money!

10) Visiting a friend

In French, the verb visiter is used mostly for tourism or discovering a new city and not for visiting a person. When we want to say that we’ve visited someone, a friend, a family member, we need to add another verb in front of visite: rendre =  rendre visite à …

Don’t say: Je visite ma mère.
SAY: Je rends visite à ma mère = I’m visiting my mother.

If you’re visiting a professional service like a doctor or a lawyer, then it would be more appropriate to use aller voir = to go see or aller chez = to go to…

Don’t Say: Je vais visiter le docteur.
SAY: Je vais voir/ je vais chez le docteur = I’m going to see the doctor.

11) Flying

When speaking about flying , we rarely ever use the verb voler which litteraly means “to fly” (and also “to steal”). In French we use voler mostly when speaking about birds or when someone stole something.  As for flying in an airplane, we add prendre in front of the noun vol = prendre un vol.

Don’t say: je vole à New York.
SAY: Je prends un vol pour New York = I’m flying to New York.


12) It’s OK/It’s alright…!

D’accord is used when you agree or accept an invitation/a suggestion/a task which needs to be done.

Example:  Tu veux sortir avec moi ? = Do you want to go out with me ?
Oui d’accord ! Je veux bien! = Yes OK ! I would like that!

But to say that it’s alright, that it’s OK/permitted to do something, we use the verb aller:

Don’t say: C’est d’accord de m’appeler.
SAY: Ça va de m’appeler = It’s alright to call me.

13) Having a good time/bad time

Again, another situation where the verb “to have” is not the appropriate verb in French to ask someone if they had a good time… We would need to use the verb passer or the verb s’amuser.

Don’t Say: As-tu du bon temps ?
SAY: Passes-tu du bon temps ? Est-ce que tu t’amuses bien ? = Are you having a good time? Are you having fun?

14) Excited about doing something or seeing someone

The word excité in French is a bit risky as it can be interpreted as sexually excited, so to avoid any potential misunderstanding, it is best to use the verb se réjouir !

Don’t say: Je suis excitée de te voir !
 SAY: Je me réjouis de te voir ! = I look forward to seeing you!

We hope that these explanations and examples will be useful for you!
Much more are coming up… Register if you want to receive our next articles full of tips about the French language!

Merci et à bientôt!

How to Learn the French language?

Are you fearful about learning French? Put your fears aside!

Some of our new students at Learn French at Home tell us that they are quite intimidated in learning the language of Molière, Voltaire and Rousseau, that they consider to be a very classy and academic language. Find below some explanations on how to learn the French language by putting your fears aside…

Do you know that French is a rather new language?

In reality, French is a rather new language ! It is mainly the result of the chaos that preceded and followed the famous French Revolution, which, beginning in 1789, brought to Paris freedom fighters from all the regions of the country— each of them having its own dialect, called patois.
That severely complicated communication between them. Before the Revolution, 75% of French citizens did not speak French!

“In a free country, the language must be the same for all”

Prise de la Bastille - Painting by Jean-Pierre HouëlIt was the period of the Revolution that really marked the transition from a patchwork of dispersed dialects to a more unified and national language. While they were fighting the monarchy, the révolutionnaires even led, as an integral part of the revolutionary effort, a parallel war against dialects. This effort was spearheaded by Bertrand Barère (1755–1841), a member of the Comité de Salut public (Committee of Public Safety), who was assigned to lead the fight for a national language.
In a report on regional dialects that he presented in 1794, he declared:”The monarchy had reasons for clinging to the Tower of Babel. In a democracy, keeping citizens ignorant of the national language, unable to control power, is a betrayal of the mother land. In a free country, the language must be the same for one and all… Barbaric dialects and coarse idiom serve only fanatics and counter-revolutionaries!”

The French language has not stopped evolving

Since then, the French language has not stopped evolving, continuing to be influenced by the various dialects spoken by its very multicultural population, and more and more by many foreign languages. According to the French expert Laurent Chambon, a specialist in minorities, France, compared to other European countries, is by far the most multicultural of all.

French is not a daunting mountain to climb!

Mont-BlancLearning French is definitely not like climbing as daunting and impressive mountain such as Le Mont Blanc, but more like strolling through in series of small, charming, green and lovely hills of the French countryside such as in the Beaujolais region, that are constantly evolving over the years and the seasons.
And you will find it fascinating, sometimes very funny, to discover how your own language has inspired the French language! Ask your French teacher to go through the many similar words and expressions with you, and you’ll see that he/she will often be surprised and will learn a lot, too, from such an interesting comparison!

Free French lessons

Welcome to Learn French at Home New Blog!

Left to right: Roger Stevenson, Vincent Anthonioz, Annick Stevenson and Céline Anthonioz.


The main objective of this new interactive blog is multiple:

-to motivate those of you who want to learn French;

-to encourage you to set goals and to strive to meet them;

-to convince you that you have no reason to be afraid, and to give you complete confidence;

-to give you a multitude of tips and tricks to make your efforts much more easy;

-to demonstrate to you that learning French can be really fun!

-and to help you overcome any obstacle you might encounter along the way…

Everything you will read in this blog is the direct result of our experiences as language teachers. We are a team of French teachers who give individual, face to face — or, rather, screen to screen — lessons through Skype to students of various ages, origins, backgrounds, living all over the world and who all share the same endeavor: to learn French, and the same wish: to be able to feel comfortable, someday, communicating in this language that they have chosen for whatever personal or professional reason!

Welcome to our blog, and don’t forget to register to make sure not to miss a post!

And we wish you a wonderful year in 2018, full of satisfaction, success and good surprises!

The whole team of Learn French at Home