Laundry, fresh starts, mistakes: 8 phrases using tourner in French

This word appears in a number of different contexts – many of which can be employed in daily French conversation

This word appears in a number of different contexts – many of which can be employed in daily French conversation

French is well-known to be a language full of colourful idioms, and one word can often crop up in a number of different expressions or phrases. 

However, depending on the exact turn of phrase, it can give a whole host of meanings.

Tourner (to turn) is a prime example. It features in many French phrases that you can use in your everyday life. 

From putting on your washing to describing something going wrong, here are some phrases that incorporate tourner

Faire tourner quelque chose - to get something running

Faire tourner quelque chose means to get something up and running. Literally it translates as to make something turn, which creates the idea of getting the cogs turning in something.

You might hear it if someone is installing an electrical appliance, or setting up their TV for the first time.

If you hear faire tourner quelqu’un en bourrique on the other hand, it means to drive someone nuts. Bourrique means donkey or ass.

Faire tourner une machine - to put on a load of washing

Leading on from faire tourner quelque chose, there is faire tourner une machine

Faire tourner une machine is an expression used to describe putting on a load of washing in your washing machine (or at the laundrette).

Tourner autour du pot - to beat around the bush

To beat around the bush is always a useful phrase to have up your sleeve, regardless of the language. 

Ne tourne pas autour du pot - dis-moi direct ! (Don’t beat around the bush - just tell me!).

It is particularly useful for Britons, with the French believing we are less confrontational – particularly in the workplace – and tend to tourne autour du pot when attempting to give negative feedback or express ourselves.

Tourner autour de quelque chose can mean to circle around something in certain contexts, so tourner autour du pot literally translates to circle the pot. 

However, it should be noted that tourner autour de often means to involve or to be about something. 

Read more: English-speakers share the funny mistakes they have made in French

Tourner en rond - to go round in circles 

Tourner en rond means to go round and round in circles, suggesting that you are not making any headway with a situation. 

It can also imply someone is pacing around, for example when someone is nervous they may tourne en rond.

You may hear talk of un empêcheur de tourner en rond which describes a deadweight or killjoy. 

Mal tourner - to go wrong/be led astray

Mal tourner can be translated in two different ways depending on the context.

For example, if talking about an event, it means to go wrong or to take a turn for the worse.

Malheureusement la cascade a mal tourné et il s’est cassé la jambe en tombant ! (Unfortunately the stunt went wrong and he broke his leg!).

Similarly, you can also say la situation a tourné au vinaigre which suggests the situation has gone sour.

On the other hand, if you are talking about a person, mal tourner suggests being led astray or to go off the straight and narrow 

Il a eu des mauvaises fréquentations et il a mal tourné. (He kept bad company and he was led astray). 

Meanwhile, if you hear someone talking about un esprit mal tourné it suggests having a dirty mind. 

Read more: Why you may be struggling with French - and what you can do about it

Tourner un film - to shoot a film 

This one you may be familiar with: tourner un film simply means to shoot a film. 

Tournage is the word for the shooting period for a film or TV.

Tourner la page - to turn the page 

This is perhaps a good one to use when talking about starting a new life in France. Like in English, tourner la page means to turn the page in the sense of moving forward with your life and leaving the past behind. 

Je suis finalement prête à tourner la page (I am finally ready to turn the page). 

Tourner le dos à quelqu'un/quelque chose – to turn your back on someone

Once again, having the same meaning as in English, this describes the act of leaving someone or something behind.

Tourner le dos à quelqu'un/quelque chose can be both literal and figurative; it can describe physically turning away from someone or in a more figurative sense the idea of giving up on someone or something. 

Read more: 7 French phrases that sound bizarre when translated