10 Confusing French Word Pairs - Talk in French
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10 Confusing French Word Pairs

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confusing french word pairs

The French Language: sophisticated, elegant...difficult!  Confusing French word pairs are something you’ll have to conquer if you want to speak like a true Frenchie.  

We’re here to help! 

Whether it be homophones or synonyms, we’ve broken everything down to make your learning easy peasy.

1 . À Vs De

They may be among the smallest words in the French dictionary, but they cause plenty of problems nevertheless!  In theory, the prepositions À means to, at or it, whilst De translates as, of or from.  Here are some of the most common use:

À:De:
Location Or Destination:
Je vais aller à Paris cet été - I’m going to Paris this Summer.
Je suis au supermarché - I’m at the supermarket.
Starting Point Or Origin:
Je viens de Paris - I come from Paris.
Je pars de Londres - I’m leaving from London.
Object Name:
Une cuillère à café - A tea spoon.
Object Contents/Description:
Une cuillère de café - A spoonful of coffee.
Manner, Style or Characteristic:
Un thé à l’anglaise - English Tea
La soupe à la tomate - Tomato Soup
Defining Feature:
Une salle de bain - Bathroom
Un magazine de mode - Fashion Magazine

Distance/Time

With Distance and Time, both prepositions are used in combination:

Distance (à is used before the distance, de follows):

Les Galeries Lafayettes est à 15 minutes à pied d’ici - Galeries Lafayettes is 15 minutes walk from here.

Time (De is used before to mean ‘from’ and à follows, meaning ‘to’):

Tu dois travailler de 8h à 16h30 chaque jour - You have to work from 8am to 4:30pm every day.

2. Amener, Apporter and Emporter/ Emmener

What a mouthful indeed! These four verbs mean to bring and to take respectively, each serving a different specific purpose:

Apporter/Amener - To bring

Apporter - used solely with objects you can carry:

Je vais apporter mes propres sandwiches au pique-nique - I’m going to take my own sandwiches to the picnic.

Amener - used with people, animals and vehicles: 

Je vais amener mon frère au pique-nique - I’m going to bring my brother to the picnic.

Emporter/Emmener - To take

Emporter - used solely with objects you can carry:

J’ai emporté mes CDs à la fête. - I took my CDs to the party.

Emmener - used with people, animals and vehicles:

J’ai emmené ma petite soeur à la fête - I took my little sister to the party.

3. An/Année, Jour/Journée, Matin/Matinée, Soir/Soirée

The words for year, day, morning and evening each have two equivalents in the puzzle that is the French language!

Here’s how to know when to use what:

An, Jour, Matin, Soir - usually used to define a specific point in time:

J’habite à Paris depuis un an - I’ve lived in Paris for a year.

Elle est de bonne humeur ce matin! - She’s in a good mood this morning!

Année, Journée, Matinée, Soirée - emphasize a period of (usually lasting) time:

Il pleuvait toute l’année - It rained for the whole year.

Qu’est-ce que j’adore les soirées d’été - How I love Summer evenings!

To conclude, use An, Jour, Matin and Soir with

Numbers (when not followed by an adjective):

Un femme de 45 ans - A 45 year old Woman.

Dans trois jours, je partirai pour L’Angleterre - I’ll leave for England in three days.

Temporal Adjectives:

Demain matin - Tomorrow morning

Hier soir - Last night

Use Année, Journée, Matinée and Soirée with

Nearly all adjectives:

L’année prochaine - Next year

Quelle matinée ? - Which morning ?

Ma journée - My day

De + descriptive noun:

Une journée d’été - A Summer’s day

Une soirée de repos - A night off

4. Bise Vs Bisous

It’s no surprise that the language of love has numerous ways of kissing your friends, loved ones or anyone you fancy, really!  Here’s the difference between the two most popular expressions:

La Bise

The classic air-kiss put into words, La bise is strictly platonic with no romantic undertones.  Appropriate for use between close friends of any gender, the phrase ‘Faire la bise’ is common when greeting/leaving company.

Un Bisou 

Slightly more personal, un bisou can refer to a kiss on the cheek, or lips, giving it a more romantic meaning; Perfect to use between family on leaving, good friends, or your amoureux.

5. Bon Vs Bien

Even the most advanced of linguists still trip up over distinguishing these devils!  Like most things, practice makes perfect!  Here are the principle theories behind their uses:

Bon

Usually an adjective and modifies a noun to mean good, suitable, efficient, correct, useful etc:

Un bon étudiant - A good student.

Bien 

Normally an adverb and modifies a verb to mean well and can be used to emphasize something:

Il dessine bien - He draws well.

6. En Vs Dans

Whilst en and dans both translate as ‘in’, they are not interchangeable.  Here are some (more) rules to get you using the two like a pro!

Use En With:

A Length of Time (verb usually in present/past):

J’ai préparé le dîner en une demi-heure - It took me half an hour to make the diner.

Month/Season/Year:

Il fait beau en Juillet - It’s nice weather in July.

  • Location (Followed by noun that doesn't need an article):

Il est en vacances - He is on Holiday.

Some States/Provinces/Countries

On passera les vacances en Italie - We’ll spend our Holidays in Italy.

Use Dans With:

Time before an action will occur (verb usually in present/future):

On va déjeuner dans 10 minutes - We’re going to have lunch in 10 minutes.

Something that occurs during a decade:

Dans les années soixante, les femmes étaient très libérées - In the 60s, the moments were        liberated.

A Location (When followed by an article + noun):

Il y a quoi dans le placard ? - What’s in the cupboard ?

Some States/Provinces:

Je vais dans le Nevada - I’m going to Nevada.

7. Depuis Vs Il y a

How long have we been looking at French Pair Words ?  Depuis too long!  Do you know the difference between the two?  Here’s how to distinguish them, once and for all!

Depuis

Translates as ‘since’ or ‘for’ and references to a time in which the action describe was not yet completed, in the past or present. Here’s how to use it:

Have been + -ing + for/since:

Il construit sa maison depuis un an/l’année dernière - He’s been building his house for a year/since last year.

Il y a

Translates as ‘ago’ and is used for actions that have already reached completion.  It must be incorporated into a sentence in past tense and followed by some reference to time:

J’ai emménagé en France il y a trois ans - I moved to France three years ago.

8. Meilleur Vs Mieux

From ‘bon’ and ‘bien’ come ‘meilleur’ and ‘mieux’.  Get your head around both pairs and you’ll be speaking like the meilleur linguist in the world!

Meilleur

Replaces ‘bon’ to form a comparative/superlative, usually modifying a noun:

Comparative:

Cette soupe est très bonne —> Ma soupe est meilleure que la tienne - My soup is better than yours.

Superlative:

Ce restaurant est très bon —> Le meilleur resto du monde - The best restaurant in the world.

Mieux

Replaces ‘bien’ to form a comparative/superlative, usually modifying a verb:

Comparative:

Il court très bien —> Il court mieux  que les autres - He runs better than the others.

Superlative:

Elle chante super bien! —> Elle chante la mieux - She sings the best.

9. Savoir Vs Connaître

Do you know your stuff ? Whilst both Savoir and Connaître mean ‘to know’, knowing the difference isn't always as easy!  Here’s a handy breakdown:

Use Savoir for

‘Knowing how’ to do something:

Je sais tricoter - I know how to knit.

To know (plus a subordinate clause):

Je sais où il est caché - I know where he’s hiding.

NB: In the passé composé, Savoir takes on the meaning of ‘to find out’ or ‘to learn’:

J’ai su ce qu’il m’a acheté pour mon anniversaire - I found out what he bought me for my birthday.

Use Connaitre

To know a person:

Oui, je connais Paul - Yes, I know Paul.

To be familiar with a person/thing:

Je connais cette chanson!  - I know this song!

10. Encore Vs Toujours

It seems like we’ve been doing these word pairs for ‘toujours’, doesn’t it?  Let’s look at the differences between encore and toujours, then you’re all done, promise!

Encore

An adverb which translates as yet, again, still, even only/just.  As it has many uses, it’s advisable to look at it in more detail, but here are a few helpful examples:

J’ai encore vu ta soeur hier - I saw your sister again yesterday.

J’ai encore trop de vêtements! - I’ve still got too many clothes!

Toujours

Marginally easier, toujours can means still, always or anyhow:

J’adore toujours ton style - I always like your style.  

Vous me devez toujours une bière! - You still owe me a beer!

Conclusion

You did it! That wasn’t too hard, was it?! Remember to consult this list often to refresh your memory and keep your French progressing nicely.

For more related articles, check out the following:

22 Embarrassingly Awkward French-English Translation and Pronunciation Mistakes

30 French Words that French Learners Have Trouble Pronouncing

You can also take this quiz on confusing French word pairs:

Can You Pick the Correct Words in this Confusing French Word Pairs Quiz?

If you want more simple breakdowns of French lessons just like this one, check out the grammar books in the Talk in French Store. Fun, short lessons that simplify French grammar---just the way you like it! 

About the Author Frederic

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +

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