Je n’en reviens pas!’: How to use the verb venir in everyday French

Columnist Annaliza Davis looks at the surprising versatility of venir and why it might confuse English-speakers

If anything truly surprises you in life, you can declare: ‘Je n’en reviens pas!’ (literally, ‘I cannot come back from it’ but meaning ‘I cannot get over it’)

I have just finished a big translation project that included a lot of puns and word play, reminding me how often language cannot be taken literally.

Indeed, the phrase ‘I’ve just finished’ does not become j’ai juste terminé in French, but je viens de terminer (‘I come from finishing’).

‘I get where you are coming from’

This brought to mind other uses of venir that can be confusing to English-speakers, including vouloir en venir

You recognise ‘want’ and ‘come’ but the combination means something else.

If you are explaining an idea and your friend nods, saying, “Oui, je vois où tu veux en venir”, it means that they can see what you are getting at (or where you are coming from).

And if you want someone to be less subtle or to hurry up making their point, you might ask: “Où veux-tu en venir, alors?” (meaning “What are you getting at?”).

Read more: How to use ‘alors’ like a French native speaker

To fetch something

A more common expression that you might already know is faire venir, which means to fetch something, because you make it come to you. 

For example, faites venir les chiens would be ‘fetch the dogs’.

Use venir in the kitchen

Expand this a little and you find yourself with a wonderfully graphic expression you might use when you smell something delicious in the kitchen: la cuisine fait venir l’eau à la bouche! (the cooking is making my mouth water!).

Speaking of cooking, there is one venir phrase that always brings a smile to my face.

If you are following a recipe and it instructs you to faites revenir les oignons, it does not mean that your onions have escaped and you must bring them back. 

It actually requires you to fry the onions until they turn brown. Why browning onions has anything to do with making them come back is a linguistic mystery.

Read more: Five tips for learning to speak French in later life

‘I cannot get over it!’

Finally, if anything truly surprises you in life, you can declare: “Je n’en reviens pas!” (literally, “I cannot come back from it” but meaning “I cannot get over it”).

So, for example, if your neighbour sells a car that she has only just bought, you could say: “Mais elle vient de l’acheter – je n’en reviens pas!

Hopefully, you have learned something new today and next time you are in an appropriate scenario one of these phrases will venir à l’esprit (come to mind).