Friday’s French – s’embrouiller

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Well, when I left some homework at the end of last week’s post about “confusing”, I didn’t realise it was so difficult. My apologies.

The last hollyhocks of the season

The last hollyhocks of the season which have nothing to do with s’embrouiller ou confusion!

Two brave souls did, however, take up the challenge. Both found a good solution for the third sentence i.e.

3) Imminent and eminent are easily confused words.

Il est très facile de confondre les mots imminent et éminent.

On confond facilement le mot imminent avec éminent.

But the other two sentences caused a lot of confusion to say the least.

1) Are you still confused about how to use confuse in French?

2) I was confused when nothing happened.

Now, I asked a couple of Frenchies for help and the best we seem to have come up with are the following:

1) Avez-vous toujours du mal à savoir utiliser le verbe “to confuse” en français?

2) J’étais étonné qu’il ne se soit rien passé.

If nothing, it proves that “confusing” can rarely be translated literally.

Both my contributors attempted to use the verb s’embrouiller and I realised that my explications musn’t have been very clear.

The past participle “embrouillé” cannot apply to a person. You can have “une histoire embrouillée”, “des idées embrouillées”, “les paroles embrouillées”, but neither you nor anyone else can be “embrouillé”.

If you want to say you got confused about something or muddled up, you have to use the reflexive verb: je me suis embrouillée en voulant suivre ses explications – I got confused trying to follow his explanations. Il s’est embrouillé dans ses réponses. He got his answers muddled up. It’s all confused in my mind.

François Hollande s’est embrouillé sur la baisse de la TVA pendant de son discours: François Hollande got confused about the drop in VAT/GST during his speech.

Another slightly different meaning can be seen in the following sentence: Autour de vous, tout s’embrouille, les images deviennent floues ou semblent irréelles. All around you, there is confusion, the images became fuzzy or seemed unreal. Tout s’embrouille dans ma mémoire. It’s all mixed up in my memory.

Sometimes people confuse s’embrouiller et se brouiller which can mean to have an argument: je me suis brouillé hier avec ma copine: my girlfriend and I had a fight yesterday.

It can, however, be used to mean “confuse”: tout se brouilla dans sa tête:  everything became confused or muddled in his mind. And guess how you say “scrambled eggs” in French? Oeufs brouillés!

All very confusing, isn’t it?

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4 Responses to Friday’s French – s’embrouiller

  1. Susan Walter says:

    Thank you. My use of reflexive verbs is always fairly hit and miss. I can just about remember ‘je me suis embrouillée’ though — it strikes me as a very useful phrase!

  2. Rosemary Kneipp says:

    Yes, “je me suis embrouillée” could be very useful indeed. What is it exactly that poses the problem with the reflexive verbs so that I can write a useful post?

  3. Oliver Arend says:

    There is an expression that in my opinion translates pretty well to “I’m confused”, which is “je suis à la rue”, but that’s very colloquial. I lived in France for more than three years and I have no idea how to say “I’m confused” in proper French …

    • Rosemary Kneipp says:

      Hi Oliver I didn’t know that expression, only it’s literal use. If ever you find an equivalent in proper French let me know!

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