La langue française me rend folle.

Sometimes there are certain aspects of the French language that drive me crazy. Verbs of movement is one example.

French does not use adverbs of motion the same way that English does, so it is not possible to translate literally “He ran across the street” into French. Sure, you can say il a couru for he ran and à travers la rue for across the street. But if you put them together in one sentence, it doesn’t make much sense. It’s the same for “I drive to school.” You cannot put je conduis and à l’école together in one sentence.

Instead, you must use a general verb of motion, then specify the place, and then use a gerund or prepositional phrase that describes the “manner” of movement. And this constantly confuses me because the literal English translation is so awkward.

He ran across the street. = Il a traversé la rue en courant. = He crossed the street by running.
I drive to school. = Je viens à l’école en voiture. = I come to school by car.

I never know how to say up or down or through or away, or which verb of movement I should use. I’ve been trying to think of examples, and having David check them to make sure I’m getting the hang of this. Here are some of my sentences:

He limps up the stairs. = Il monte l’escalier en boitant.

The children crawl down the hill. = Les enfants descendent la colline en rampant.
The man hops toward the window. = L’homme se dirige vers la fenêtre en sautillant.
We tip-toed out of the room. = Nous sommes sorties de la pièce sur la pointe des pieds.
She swam across the lake. = Elle a traversé le lac à la nage.
I’m flying to Berlin. = Je vais à Berlin en avion.

But now here’s a sentence I’m not sure how to translate: The car rushed towards me. I spotted this on an exam for some seconde students, and David wasn’t even sure how to translate it correctly. Should I use en fonçant as the gerund at the end? Then what’s the regular verb? So so confused. I know I’d lose those 2 points it was worth…

And this has nothing to do with learning French, but it pertains to French culture. I get really annoyed that French people close the door to a room that no one is in, especially the bathroom. Americans tend to leave the door open so that you know there is no one in there and you can enter without having to awkwardly/slowly turn the handle to see if it’s locked (or even more awkwardly, it is unlocked but someone is in the bathroom and they forgot/didn’t want to lock it!) To me, a closed door = a locked door, which would fit perfectly in French since fermé can mean both closed and locked. But oh no. A closed door in France certainly does not mean it’s locked or that you cannot enter.

I asked David why the French leave the door closed, and his response was “If the door is closed, that means that no one is in there.” Umm, ok, but when someone is in there, he or she closes the door too. So a closed door means that someone is in the room AND someone is not in the room. See?? It makes no sense!!

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  • Justin

    Thanks for the French lesson… I think I just got to that chapter so I am struggling through all of that at the same time.And I do not get the door closed thing. I noticed it too and it drives me nuts. Mainly because I will go to a friend’s house and I always end up opening every door to find which one the bathroom is. Come to my place and you can tell I am American since every door is open. Heck the kitchen door (yes American readers there is a door for the kitchen!) is blocked so you cannot close it. I close the toilet room (WC) door in the winter because it is always freezing and sucks the heat out of my apartment… and because I have a cat who loves toilet water.

  • Justin

    Thanks for the French lesson… I think I just got to that chapter so I am struggling through all of that at the same time.

    And I do not get the door closed thing. I noticed it too and it drives me nuts. Mainly because I will go to a friend’s house and I always end up opening every door to find which one the bathroom is. Come to my place and you can tell I am American since every door is open. Heck the kitchen door (yes American readers there is a door for the kitchen!) is blocked so you cannot close it. I close the toilet room (WC) door in the winter because it is always freezing and sucks the heat out of my apartment… and because I have a cat who loves toilet water.

  • Linda

    We have five doors in our entry way and they are all always closed. Mostly, this is to keep the cat out of our bed. I keep the door to the toilet closed because it is good feng shue(sp) but my French husband wants to add even another door because cold air enters our living room from the entry-there are no heat vents there. I am told that the French like doors for the kitchen because it keeps food smells out of the rest of the house. I did talk my husband into an open, American type kitchen.

  • Linda

    We have five doors in our entry way and they are all always closed. Mostly, this is to keep the cat out of our bed. I keep the door to the toilet closed because it is good feng shue(sp) but my French husband wants to add even another door because cold air enters our living room from the entry-there are no heat vents there. I am told that the French like doors for the kitchen because it keeps food smells out of the rest of the house. I did talk my husband into an open, American type kitchen.

  • wcs

    Yes, being american we, too, leave all our doors open. Even the wc, even if it’s just ajar.I got a little wc sign at a sign shop in Paris for the door, since it’s one of three doors in a hallway.I think the French close doors to rooms primarily to keep the heat in the main room and to prevent the dreaded courants d’air.

  • wcs

    Yes, being american we, too, leave all our doors open. Even the wc, even if it’s just ajar.

    I got a little wc sign at a sign shop in Paris for the door, since it’s one of three doors in a hallway.

    I think the French close doors to rooms primarily to keep the heat in the main room and to prevent the dreaded courants d’air.

  • Karina

    The boy said: “la voiture me fonca dessus”maybe you should try locking the door when you go pee…

  • Karina

    The boy said: “la voiture me fonca dessus”

    maybe you should try locking the door when you go pee…

  • Dedene

    Very funny and so true!I especially enjoy how one refers to one’s own body; example, “Je me suis cassée la jambe.”I broke myself the leg. ???!!!Oh well, we will learn. Bon courage et bonne chance,

  • Dedene

    Very funny and so true!
    I especially enjoy how one refers to one’s own body; example, “Je me suis cassée la jambe.”
    I broke myself the leg. ???!!!

    Oh well, we will learn.
    Bon courage et bonne chance,

  • Jennie

    I’ve heard the reasoning about heat/courants d’air before, but I still hate it. I prefer my bathroom to NOT be zero degrees when I need to be in there…David translated it similar to that sentence, Karina, but the teacher who wrote the test wanted it translated with the gerund/prep. phrase at the end. That’s what I can’t figure out. It seems to work without the prepositional phrase though.I always lock the bathroom door bcause I’m super paranoid about people walking in on me. I just hate it when other people aren’t so paranoid and don’t care if someone opens the door on them… especially since that someone is usually me. awkward. lolOh man, Dedene, don’t get me started on reflexive verbs. They’re worse than the subjunctive mood!!!

  • Jennie

    I’ve heard the reasoning about heat/courants d’air before, but I still hate it. I prefer my bathroom to NOT be zero degrees when I need to be in there…

    David translated it similar to that sentence, Karina, but the teacher who wrote the test wanted it translated with the gerund/prep. phrase at the end. That’s what I can’t figure out. It seems to work without the prepositional phrase though.

    I always lock the bathroom door bcause I’m super paranoid about people walking in on me. I just hate it when other people aren’t so paranoid and don’t care if someone opens the door on them… especially since that someone is usually me. awkward. lol

    Oh man, Dedene, don’t get me started on reflexive verbs. They’re worse than the subjunctive mood!!!

  • Mandy & John

    What about, “La voiture s’est precipitee vers moi”…C’est correcte?And the door thing is very French. I think it represents a non-waste mentality that seems to characterize the French. French seem to pay more attention to conserving at various levels from electricity (turning out lights in unused rooms), to heat (closing doors), to food (not cooking/buying excess quantities)…I love natural light in the house, particularly in winter, so I leave all doors open with the exception of the WC door, which I leave cracked open just a little.

  • Mandy & John

    What about, “La voiture s’est precipitee vers moi”…C’est correcte?

    And the door thing is very French. I think it represents a non-waste mentality that seems to characterize the French. French seem to pay more attention to conserving at various levels from electricity (turning out lights in unused rooms), to heat (closing doors), to food (not cooking/buying excess quantities)…

    I love natural light in the house, particularly in winter, so I leave all doors open with the exception of the WC door, which I leave cracked open just a little.

  • Lady Iphigenia

    What about: je me suis fait écrabouiller par un tank. ;-) Just kidding!My father (French) used to “forget” to close the door of the bathroom… It would drive me nuts to open the door on him! I prefer to keep the doors open as well when there is no one there.

  • Lady Iphigenia

    What about: je me suis fait écrabouiller par un tank. ;-) Just kidding!

    My father (French) used to “forget” to close the door of the bathroom… It would drive me nuts to open the door on him! I prefer to keep the doors open as well when there is no one there.

  • Andromeda

    I get so embarrassed when I try to open the door to the bathroom and it’s locked! Overreaction perhaps, but to avoid this, I am constantly ducking down to see if the light is on. Having the door closed helps a lot with smells though, so I am happy with the compromise.

  • Andromeda

    I get so embarrassed when I try to open the door to the bathroom and it’s locked! Overreaction perhaps, but to avoid this, I am constantly ducking down to see if the light is on. Having the door closed helps a lot with smells though, so I am happy with the compromise.

  • Anonymous posters

    You can say:Je m’envole pour Berlin(I mean, Human beings don’t fly right so getting on a plane is implicitly said)

  • Anonymous posters

    You can say:
    Je m’envole pour Berlin

    (I mean, Human beings don’t fly right so getting on a plane is implicitly said)

  • IslandGirl4Ever2

    Hi Jennie…This is a GREAT post.. thanks for the French lesson because it confounds me, as well… I often try to think of the way to translate things from English to French and it just doesn’t work the same and since my French is not fluent, it’s much more difficult for me to translate… I have noticed that I am started to use the French word for something in English, though.. where I would normally say the English word, without thought.. now… I actually say the French word for something (but in English)… it sounds weird to me.. I don’t even know why I started doing this… but I actually think I am starting to lose a handle on my English!!! YIKKKEESS!!! What will happen when I go back to the U.S. next month?Keep posting these grammar points when possible- they are EXTREMELY useful!!Merci beaucoup et bon WE…. Leesa

  • IslandGirl4Ever2

    Hi Jennie…

    This is a GREAT post.. thanks for the French lesson because it confounds me, as well… I often try to think of the way to translate things from English to French and it just doesn’t work the same and since my French is not fluent, it’s much more difficult for me to translate… I have noticed that I am started to use the French word for something in English, though.. where I would normally say the English word, without thought.. now… I actually say the French word for something (but in English)… it sounds weird to me.. I don’t even know why I started doing this… but I actually think I am starting to lose a handle on my English!!! YIKKKEESS!!! What will happen when I go back to the U.S. next month?
    Keep posting these grammar points when possible- they are EXTREMELY useful!!
    Merci beaucoup et bon WE….
    Leesa

  • IslandGirl4Ever2

    Oh.. and P.S. I wanted to say OMG to the French door thing.. I often wondered why they take the time to close the door (completely) I NEVER closed the bathroom door back home… We leave it open to air it out, right?? And also to show that no one is in there? It’s a strange cultural tic, I think.. for the French, that is.. Mais je ne le fait pas chez moi!

  • IslandGirl4Ever2

    Oh.. and P.S. I wanted to say OMG to the French door thing.. I often wondered why they take the time to close the door (completely) I NEVER closed the bathroom door back home… We leave it open to air it out, right?? And also to show that no one is in there? It’s a strange cultural tic, I think.. for the French, that is.. Mais je ne le fait pas chez moi!

  • Daniel

    It seems to me that the French habit of closing the door to the WC is an etiquette thing. I remember one teacher complaining to me about how disgusting it was that some of the others leave the bathroom door open in the teacher’s lounge. She made some comment like, and do you leave the bathroom door open chez vous? Ok, and now I’ve just asked Sophie the mother of the family I live with. She says it’s ugly to have to see into the WC, and on top of that, if someone just made use of it, certain unwanted odors might creep out… In the States it’s less of a problem b/c bathrooms are bigger and usually have good ventilation whereas the WC is literally a closet with no window. Thanks for the grammar lesson, I need it.Dan, asst. in Carpentras

  • Daniel

    It seems to me that the French habit of closing the door to the WC is an etiquette thing. I remember one teacher complaining to me about how disgusting it was that some of the others leave the bathroom door open in the teacher’s lounge. She made some comment like, and do you leave the bathroom door open chez vous? Ok, and now I’ve just asked Sophie the mother of the family I live with. She says it’s ugly to have to see into the WC, and on top of that, if someone just made use of it, certain unwanted odors might creep out… In the States it’s less of a problem b/c bathrooms are bigger and usually have good ventilation whereas the WC is literally a closet with no window. Thanks for the grammar lesson, I need it.
    Dan, asst. in Carpentras

  • Simon

    As a French I agree with Daniel …. French house are sometime old (really old, mainly in big cities) so the closets can be small and not really well ventilated.That’s why you REALLY want to close the door unless you want everybody to know what you have been doing !

  • Simon

    As a French I agree with Daniel ….
    French house are sometime old (really old, mainly in big cities) so the closets can be small and not really well ventilated.
    That’s why you REALLY want to close the door unless you want everybody to know what you have been doing !

  • ALiCe__M

    AHa! if a door is closed, it does not mean no one is in there, it just means it’s closed !
    And about the car that “rushed towards you” I would say “la voiture a foncé sur moi”.
    And this example made me think of how chauffards French drivers can be!!

  • ALiCe__M

    AHa! if a door is closed, it does not mean no one is in there, it just means it’s closed !
    And about the car that “rushed towards you” I would say “la voiture a foncé sur moi”.
    And this example made me think of how chauffards French drivers can be!!

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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