Friday’s French: confondre is confusing!

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Confusing is a word we use quite a bit in English to mean that something is unclear and difficult to understand. e.g. “The information he gave me is confusing.” If I confuse John and Paul, it means that I wrongly think that John is Paul and Paul is John. Now I hope I’m not confusing you too much!

Un champignon qu'il ne faut jamais confondre !
Un champignon qu’il ne faut jamais confondre ! The fly agaric – reputed poisonous and hallucinatory – but also said to be edible if cooked the right way.

Now, to say the same thing in French is a little bit complicated. The verb confondre does exist and can be used in the second example: Je confonds toujours John avec Paul. That’s easy. It can also be used without avec as in the caption above where it’s understood that you mustn’t confuse the fly agaric with any other mushrooms (not that you can – it’s very distinctive).

However, to say that “information is confusing” requires a slightly different approach. Les informations sont confuses is not quite the same meaning. [Note the plural in French and the singular in English]. In the first case, the information has not been presented correctly, while in the second, it may be the person’s lack of knowledge of the subject that prevents them from understanding. A bit confusing, huh?

Les informations ne sont pas claires is probably the most usual way of expressing the idea. You may already have noticed that French often uses a negative when a positive would be used in English.

So how are we going to translate “a bit confusing”? I would tend to say difficile à comprendre or  pas vraiment clair but you might have some other ideas.

Now if you say to someone, je suis confuse, it doesn’t mean you are confused at all, but that you are embarrassed about something you’ve said or done! It’s actually a veiled apology.

How about “You’re only confusing the issue”?  Vous compliquez tout! Vous ne faites qu’embrouiller les choses. In fact embrouiller which means obscurcir, compliquer une question, une affaire, y mettre la confusion often conveys the same meaning as the English verb confuse. Tu ne fais que m’embrouiller: you’re confusing me. Il s’embrouille: he gets muddled, he gets confused. We could say les informations sont embrouillées to mean that the information is not presented clearly.

Now it’s over to you. Let’s have some suggestions on how to translate the following sentences:

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

2) I was confused when nothing happened.

3) Imminent and eminent are easily confused words.

Are there any other examples of confuse that you don’t know how to say in French?

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17 thoughts on “Friday’s French: confondre is confusing!”

  1. Thanks for this post ..I always get confused with ‘confuse’. I much prefer all these alternatives…trick is to learn them and be able to pluck them from my brain when needed!

    1. Yes, it’s all very well knowing them – it’s putting them into practice which is the hard bit!

  2. Thank you so much for this lesson – I enjoyed it immensely and would love you to do more – even one each day would be great! I visit France each year – and learning French here in Australia – every little bit helps to improve my use of the language. I will certainly pass this on to my friends who join me in class and they too can join your newsletter.

    1. Hi Fiona and welcome to Aussie in France. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post. It’s fun writing them. Thank you for recommending me to your friends! You might like to have a look to my other blog because it has short bilingual comments you may be interested in. Don’t forget to look at the readers’ comments as well.

  3. Bloody hell! Homework!! 🙂 Here goes:

    1. Es-tu toujours t’embrouillé au sujet de comment on utilise confondre en français.
    2. J’étais m’embrouillé quand rien se passer.
    3. Il est très facile de confondre les mots imminent et eminent.

    We have an art and food festival in a nearby village called L’Art et Lard, which I assume comes from the saying ‘Il ne faut pas confondre l’art et lard’.

    1. The verb “embrouiller” can be used in either sentences. I’ll do a post on reflexive verbs but I need to think about how to explain how they’re used.

      I didn’t know the saying “Il ne faut pas confondre l’art et lard” but I love the name of the art and food festival!

  4. Bravo Susan for being the first to give it a go. This is embarrassing – but here goes:

    1. Etes-vous clair comment employer “confondre” en français ?
    2. Je m’embrouillais quand rien s’est passé.
    3. On confonde facilement le mot imminent avec eminent.

    1. 1. I guess inEnglish we would say, “are you clear about …”. However, in French, only the negative is used “il n’était pas clair” means he was drunk or on drugs. You can say “la réponse n’est pas claire” or “c’est clair et net”.
      2. I’ll use this example in my next Friday’s French!

  5. FF – thanks 🙂 I’m happy to make everyone else who is brave enough to give it a go look good 🙂

    Thanks to Rosemary too. I got a chance to use embrouiller yesterday. Our mechanic used a word that sounded like ‘suze’ and I had to ask him what it meant. He said ‘well, not the drink!’ and explained it was from the verb ‘user’. Of course I then realised it was inflexive and all was clear.

  6. Thank you, Susan and Femme Francophile! I didn’t realise the sentences were so difficult. It reminds me of when I set papers at ESIT. It was only when I saw the students answers that the difficulty became obvious.

    You both got the third one right, even though your solutions are different. But I can see that next Friday’s French should be about s’embrouiller and the next on reflexive verbs.
    For the first sentence, I suggest something like:
    Avez-vous toujours du mal à savoir comment utiliser le verbe “to confuse” en français ?
    For the second:
    J’étais perplexe lorsque rien se n’est passé.

  7. Wow, I seem to have stayed up all night reading masses of your blog! It’s awesome. I love all things french, but especially Paris. We are going again in a week. I am having french lessons as well, so love your articles. I speak german so I’m fascinated at how french works. I also teach english as a foreign language when I get the chance, which isn’t often these days. Keep up the fab work, I’ll be back!

  8. Great explanation. I’ve been “confused” about how to say that “I’m confused” in French. Thank you!

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