French language notes – October 2019

Achieve clarity with these words of distinction

25 September 2019
By Connexion journalist

Certain French words or phrases have similar meanings but such subtle distinctions that even the most experienced francophone can get confused, and that includes natives.

One of the most common misappropriations – in the minds of linguistic purists at least – is using gourmand when gourmet is more suitable.

Gourmand, the older of the two, dates from the 15th century and is used to describe a glutton or over-eater.

A gourmet, meanwhile, is someone who appreciates and takes pleasure from the finer things on their plate – and also their wine glass. The latter also serves as an adjective in reference to top quality, expensive, or speciality foods.

Over time the two have become somewhat interchangable by the ill-informed, although gourmand still retains a negative, almost insulting connotation.

Regarder (to watch) and voir (to see) are also tricky to distinguish, as are écouter (to listen, actively) and entendre (to hear, in a passive, effortless manner). To complicate matters further, the latter can also imply understanding – ie. “Tu m’as entendu?” (“Did you understand me?”).

Another decision to make is whether to use apporter or amener when talking about ‘bringing’ or ‘taking’ something.

Put simply, amener stems from mener and is used for ‘leading’ something animate somewhere, such as a person or an animal – ie. “J’amène mon fils à l’école” (“I’m bringing my son to school”).

Apporter is used for inanimate objects, such as: “J’apporte un gâteau chez ma mère” (I’m bringing a cake to my mother’s house”.)

Like all linguistic anomalies, learning by heart is one thing, but using them in real, everyday conversation is even better.

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