Learning French: Understand the different words for ‘take’ and ‘bring’

These similar sounding words have opposite meanings, but a clue on using them correctly can be easy to spot

When you bring food to an apéro, which word would you use?
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French – like all other languages – can be beautifully expressive, with a number of different verbs or adjectives that mean essentially the same thing. 

Using these alternative words can elevate a sentence, bringing a poetic twang or touch of native-speaker flair to your French. 

However, there are some cases where these words do portray rather different actions, and this is particularly true with verbs for ‘to bring’ and ‘to take’ in French. 

On top of this, the similarity of the words can lead to an additional layer of confusion.

In these cases, it is important to use the correct version of the word, to make it clear what you are trying to say.

Below, we look at the four main French verbs used for ‘bringing’ and ‘taking’ – amener, emmener, apporter and emporter – and provide useful contextual information on when to use them.

The root verb is a vital clue

Firstly, a good tip to help you remember the difference is to look at the second part of the four words, as all of them contain the root verbs mener or porter

Mener means to lead and suggests directing someone somewhere. 

Porter meanwhile means to carry and suggests taking something in your hands.

Amener and emmener are used with animate objects (such as people and animals) while apporter and emporter are used for inanimate objects (food, toys, etc)

However, in informal French, amener and emmener can be used for all types of objects. 

Read more: The French you learn at school is often not what you hear: 5 examples

Amener - to bring

If you are using amener, the focus is on the destination. 

It is used when talking about bringing a person or people with you to a new place. 

You do not necessarily have to be staying with them in the new location. For example, you would use amener to talk about dropping someone off. 

J'amène mon fils a l'école tous les jours. (I bring my son to school every day).

This is because the idea is that you are bringing a person to a specific place. 

Apporter - to bring

Apporter is used for talking about things that cannot move themselves and must be physically carried or taken.

You would use this if you are taking something somewhere to leave it there or to give to someone.

This is because you are bringing something to a place.

For example, if you are invited to someone’s house for lunch or an apéro, you can ask them: Qu’est-ce que je peux apporter ? (What can I bring?).

Emmener - to take

With emmener, the focus is on the point of departure. 

Emmener is used when talking about making someone leave a place to go somewhere else. 

However, it implies you are also staying in the new location.

It is also used when talking about taking someone with you to do something, and taking someone from one place to another.

For example, j'emmène ma fille en vacances (I’m taking my daughter on holiday).

You may have heard the word used in the Charles Aznavour song Emmenez-Moi, where the protagonist dreams of leaving his hometown and taking to the seas.

Read more: Charles Aznavour: Grit and self-belief made the ‘French Frank Sinatra’

Emporter - to take 

Emporter is used when you are taking an object away from somewhere. 

You may be more familiar with the word as it is often used when talking about takeaways: à emporter means to takeaway, and many restaurants signs that say ‘à emporter’ meaning the food can be purchased in store then taken out.

For example, il a acheté la pizza à emporter parce qu’il est pressé (he bought the pizza to take away because he's in a hurry). 

Read more: How to use the verb venir in everyday French