When you imagine a word that has no direct translation into another language, it’s easy to imagine the existence of some exotic, complex word.
For example, take the French verb “entarter.” This means, “to hit someone in the face with a pie”. Somehow that seems like exactly the kind of word that would have no direct translation into English (or possibly any other language).
But how about the verb “to kick?” “To hug”?
Seemingly basic English verbs such as these have no direct counterpart in French. The concept exists in French, of course, but there is no single French verb that covers the meaning in the same way as in English.
Because there’s no single word equivalent of these verbs, their French meanings sometimes don’t appear on standard vocabulary lists. In fact, you might not realize you can’t express these concepts until you’re halted mid-tracks in your conversation, racking your brains for a word that you feel must exist, but doesn’t.
To save you the trouble, here are 7 commonly used English verbs that have no direct equivalent in French – and the French phrases you need to express them properly.
- To kick = “donner un coup de pied.” (to make a blow with the foot).
Example: Je n’aime pas Marc. Il donne des coups de pied à son chien.
I don’t like Marc. He kicks his dog.
- To drop (something) = “laisser tomber.” (to let something fall)
Example: Ne laissez pas tomber cette vase! Elle est très chère!
Don’t drop that vase! It’s very expensive.
Note: A drop in value translates to “baisser” (lower) “diminuer” (diminish) or “chuter” (plunge).
- To hug = “prendre quelqu’un dans ses bras” or “serrer dans ses bras”
Example: Après son retour de l’étranger, il a serré sa petite amie dans ses bras étroitement.
After returning from abroad, he hugged his girlfriend tightly.
Note: Many people think that “calîner” (calîn, noun) is the equivalent of to hug, but it’s actually “to cuddle.” Embrasser is also often mistakenly believed to be the translation of “to hug” but it means “to kiss.”
While there’s no single word for the verb “to hug,” as a noun, “a hug” is translated as “accolade.” (e.g. Après son retour de l’etranger, il a donné une accolade à sa petite amie = after his return from abroad, he gave his girlfriend a hug.)
As hugging is not the cultural norm in France, “hug” as a verb or noun isn’t frequently employed.
- To hurt = “faire mal” (to make bad)
Faire mal is used to indicate when someone has hurt you emotionally or physically.
Example 1: Il me fait mal quand je déplace mon bras comme ça.
It hurts when I move my arm like this.
Example 2: Ça m’a fait mal quand elle a cessé de me parler.
It hurt me when she stopped speaking to me.
Note: If you want to say that someone caused you a physical wound or injury then use the verbs “blesser” or “injurer.”
- To trust = faire confiance / avoir confiance (to make/ have confidence)
Faire confiance and avoir confiance are used to express your confidence in a person.
Faire confiance usually requires use of the preposition “à”, while avoir confiance requires use of the preposition “en”.
Example 1: Je fais confiance à mon copain
I trust my friend.
Example 2: Je te fais confiance
I trust you.
Example 3: Ils ont confiance en toi
They trust you. / They have confidence in you.
Note: When you want to express trust of something that’s not a person, you’d use the verb phrase: “pouvoir compter sur” (“to be able to count on”)
Paul peut compter sur sa voiture même si elle est très vieille.
Paul can trust his car even though it’s very old.
- To retire = prendre sa retraite (to take one’s retirement)
Example: Elle n’a que 50 ans mais elle a déjà pris sa retraite.
She’s only 50 but she’s already retired.
- To care = various French verbs, depending on your intended meaning.
There’s no single word in French that covers all the various meaning that “to care” does in English. You have to learn the right verb or verb phrase in the right context to express yourself properly.
To care about someone = avoir de l’affection (pour quelqu’un)
Example: Elle n’est pas amoureuse de lui mais elle a de l’affection pour lui.
She isn’t in love with him but she cares for him.
To take care of someone = prendre soin de qulequ’un
Example: Quand Marie était dans l’hôpital Paul a pris soin de ses enfants.
When Marie was in the hospital Paul took care of her children.
To care about a cause = se sentir concerné
Example: Si vous vous sentez concerné par les baleines, vous ferez un don à la cause.
If you care about whales, you will donate to the cause.
Can you think of any other verbs that have no direct translation? Share them below!