Tag Archives: faux amis

Friday’s French – consommer

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

It’s the next day after a wedding. Everyone’s having a late breakfast, including the groom who’s just joined us. The bride is still upstairs in their bedroom. This, of course, wouldn’t have happened in the olden days. They would have already been off on their honeymoon.


As-tu consommé?” asks one of the guests. “Yes”, he replies, and everyone laughs. I am shocked! Fancy using the term consommer (to consume) in that context. How vulgar can you get. Then I realise that it must mean “consumate” as well.

I might add that it also means to perpetrate a crime …

It’s one of those French verbs that needs a different translation nearly every time in English. You could conceivably say “consume” in English when talking about food or petrol consumption, for example, but it certainly wouldn’t be natural.

On consomme beaucoup de fruits chez nous – we eat a lot of fruit in our family.

Cette machine consomme beaucoup d’eau – this machine uses up a lot of water

Le lot a été consommé par cette opération – the batch was entirely consumed by this operation

In fact, in English, we usually use the word consumption rather than consume, a typical case of a verb being replaced by a noun.

La voiture consomme 8 litres au 100 km – the gas/petrol consumption is 8 litres per 100 k.

La France est le pays où l’on consomme le plus de vin – France is the country with the highest wine consumption.

Another typical example is à consommer de préférence avant le 10/09/2013 – best before 10/09/2013.

On the opposite end of consummating a marriage, you can say la rupture est consommée, meaning the break-up is complete.

Do you have any other examples?

Friday’s French – offrir

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

You’ve probably heard of faux amis, literally “false friends” or “false cognates”, which are words that look the same in two languages but have different meanings. The word blocage which I talked about last week is an excellent example. Sometimes the meaning is totally different while in other cases, it’s quite subtle.

Take offrir and “offer”. Maybe you think they mean the same thing, but they are really not interchangeable at all.

We’re walking along, looking at the market stalls. I see something I like, but hesitate to buy it. Je te l’offre, says my husband. That means that he’s going to pay. We wouldn’t say in English “I’ll offer it to you”, but something more along the lines of “Why don’t I get it for you?” or “My treat”.

If I want to tell someone that my husband bought me a watch for my birthday, I’d say, Mon mari m’a offert une montre pour mon anniversaire rather than Mon mari m’a acheté une montre pour mon anniversaire which is perfectly correct but not nearly as elegant. Jean Michel would certainly not say it!

If I were to say, “my husband offered me a watch for my birthday”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s what he ended up buying. What it really means is that he “offered to buy me a watch” and I could say yes or no.


In English, we talk about offering flowers and it’s the same in French : il m’a offert des fleurs.

We also offer someone a drink in English; in French we would say proposer à boire or offrir à boire when there is no danger of confusion. When there is a possibility of refusal, proposer is usually the appropriate  term. Note the use of boire (to drink) for “a drink”. Even a toddler will say à boire if he’s thirsty or à manger if he’s hungry and not boisson or nourriture.

“Il m’a proposé deux vins différents” is quite different from “il m’a offert deux vins différents”. In the first case, he gave me a choice of two different wines while in the second case he gave them to me as a present.

“I offered to help him” = J’ai proposé de l’aider whereas Je lui ai proposé de l’aide could mean that I offered him financial help.

And here’s another time we say “offer” in English but not offrir in French. “I’ll raise the subject when a suitable occasion offers itself” = Je lui en parlerai lorsque l’occasion se présentera. And there’s that very annoying future tense that you have to use in French when we use the present in English. Remember the rule: when future is implied, future must be used and especially with quand and lorsque.

To offer one’s sympathy is faire/présenter/offrir ses condoléances. And while we’re on the subject, an American friend asked me recently what she should say to her neighbour whose wife had just died. The answer is very simple. You shake the person’s hand and simply say Toutes mes condoléances or Je vous/te présente toutes mes condoléances. In English, we would say “I’m very sorry about your wife”,”You and your family are in my thoughts”, “I am sorry for your loss” “You have my deepest sympathy” and so on.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...