Friday’s French – se promener, marcher

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Anglosaxons do a lot of walking – well, at least in theory!

Lors d'une promenade le dimanche à Chouzy avec nos amis
Lors d’une promenade le dimanche à Chouzy avec des amis – During a Sunday walk in Chouzy with friends

We walk to the bakery. We go for a little walk. We walk in the country. We do a 10 kilometer walk. We take the dog for a walk. We walk someone home. We go on a long walk to see a castle. We walk home in the dark.

So, with all this walking, many people look for a verb in French which will be just as handy. Only there isn’t one!

On va à la boulangerie à pied. On fait un petit tour. On se promène à la campagne. On fait une promenade de 10 kilomètres. On promène le chien. On accompagne quelqu’un chez lui. On fait une excursion à pied pour visiter un château. On rentre à pied avec la nuit.

Note that unless you’re walking the dog (or someone else, such as a child or your aged grandmother), se promener is always reflexive.

And have you noticed that, so far, we haven’t used marcher which is what we all learn at school to mean “walk”!

So when do we use marcher?

Let’s go back to the bakery. If I were to say, “I walked right to the bakery”, I could use marcher: j’ai marché jusqu’à la boulangerie. I could also say Je suis allé jusqu’à la boulangerie à pied.

You can use promenade for 10 kilometers if you went at a leisurely pace, but you’d say J’ai fait une marche de trois heures if you want to convey the idea that you were getting a lot of exercise. A 6-hour walk becomes a randonnée. I’m not quite sure though what the cut-off point is!

J’ai les jambes lourdes, je vais marcher un peu. My legs feel heavy. I’m going to walk for a bit.

Il marchait sans but. He walked aimlessly.

Elle marche en boîtant. She limps. You can also say Elle boîte but that would be a general statement and give the idea that it’s something permanent. Subtle, huh?

Il marche toujours à grands pas. He always strides along.

Le bébé marchait à quatre pattes. The baby was crawling. Now that’s a good one! And when baby takes her first steps, elle prend ses premiers pas. She walked at 9 months (yes, one of my did!) = Elle a marché à 9 mois.

Avec elle, il marche sur des oeufs. Literally, “with her, he walks on eggs” but we’d be more likely to say something like “He always treats her with great caution” or “He always skirts around her”.

And here’s an interesting proverb to finish up: C’est marche ou crève! It’s sink or swim (literally “it’s walk or die”).

I’m sure you have some other examples to share.

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11 thoughts on “Friday’s French – se promener, marcher”

  1. So interesting. Like the “walking on eggs” – very similar to the English expression, only we’d probably say “walking on egg shells”. Problem is I’ll never remember it all.

    Have you ever done a Friday French on memory/forgetting? And, is there a French expression for “having a grey moment”?

    Have a good weekend! Best wishes, Pamela

    1. I thought there was an expression in English with eggs!

      No I haven’t done a Friday’s French on memory yet. I don’t actually know the expression “having a grey moment” but maybe it means that you’re forgetting things?

      Enjoy your weekend too. Ours looks as though it might be reasonably sunny. Have to catch up in June BTW.

      1. Probably more common is: “having a senior moment”, ie forgetting something because of effects of age on memory. Also there’s “having a blond moment” too, which generally is an excuse for saying or doing something a bit silly, or possibly forgetting something too, but for younger people.
        After the intense heat (around 40+ some days) we ‘ve had storms and heavy rain. The average rainfall for a month fell in a few hours. Now it’s sunny and cooler and last couple of early mornings here in Canberra there’s been a slight feel of autumn in the air.
        Yes it would be nice to catch up in June. Cheers, Pamela

  2. Thanks for all this. I’ll struggle to remember it, but it is useful to see it all laid out. You forgot to include balader — I guess that comes somewhere between se promener and randonner.

  3. Quand tout va bien, on peut dire “ça marche !”, familier certes, remplacé par “c’est ok !”. Certains matins quand j’allume la radio, je me dis que le monde “marche sur la tête!” tellement les nouvelles sont désastreuses. Qui veut aller trop vite peut vouloir faire les choses à “marche forcée”, expression qui trouve son origine dans le langage militaire pour dire se presser, se dépêcher. Ce qui me fait penser d’ailleurs penser à la
    ” marche militaire” mais là nous passons dans le registre musical…
    Bravo pour ton Friday’s French !

    1. Merci Elisabeth, pour tous ces exemples. J’ai remarqué depuis quelque temps que certaines personnes disent “ça marche” d’une façon particulière. A: “Je viens à 10 heures.” B: “Ca marche”. Alors que “d’accord” m’aurait semblé une réponse plus appropriée. Je crois que pour le monde “marche sur la tête” on dirait quelque chose du type “The world’s gone crazy!” Tes exemples de “marche forcée” et de “marche militaire” correspondent à l’utilisation du mot “march” en anglais : forced march and military marching.

  4. Hello Rosemary
    I’m becoming a big fan of your Friday French. It’s these subtle distinctions and nuances that give the language its enduring fascination (voire frustration). This morning I’m enjoying a double dose: a catch-up on walking, then a plunge into the mondaine and the banal.
    Words for walking are, of course, right up my street. Here in Florac, the Parc National des Cevennes likes to make rules for our lives wherever possible. Even in the linguistic field. So it’s the Parc that tells us, for example, what to call our walks. A “promenade” is probably too urban to be considered. But, the Parc says firmly :
    “L’appellation « balade » est gardée pour des randonnées égales ou de moins de 3
    Either, of course, can be with a donkey. Or on horseback….
    I hope you will do a Friday French on memory. I do struggle with la mémoire – mémoriser, penser à, se souvenir de, se rappeler, and remembering which was which…
    Best wishes
    Roger at

    1. Hi, Roger, so glad you like Friday’s French! How wonderful that the Parc National des Cevennes actually gives such a definite definition of balade! Thank you for suggestion for “memory”. I’ve added it to my list. Pamela also asked about it. And writing “definite definition” has suggested another – définitif. Enjoy your walks!

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