One problem I often notice with beginning A1-A2 level students is this one: they want to translate every word, preferably in the same order. Sadly, it doesn't work like that. Soon you will discover “empty” words (words that have no counterparts in French, because they are virtually meaningless) and "can-of-worms" words (small, simple words for you that seem to have just about a million counterparts in French).


Empty Words

One word I had in mind, when I mentioned empty words, was the word "do".

Usually, it's simple to translate with the verb faire, but when it's used in sentences like "I do love sports", it's not the verb "to do" anymore. As a French speaker, my way of understanding this meaning is to replace it by "really" or "a lot", but I find it works just as well if you skip the word, but stress the verb. So, in my example “I do love sports”, in French, it would become "J'aime vraiment le sport" or, if you skip the “do” and stress the “love”, simply "J'aiMMMMe le sport!" (cue strong eye contact and nodding!).

Another example, "I do tend to do that" would become "Oui, c'est vrai, j'ai l'habitude de faire ça" (Yes, I admit it, I tend to do that). As you can see, it's not a word for word translation, but the meaning is kept.

On the whole, keeping the meaning, rather than the wording, should always be your goal. It's preferable to speak like a native even if it sounds a bit funny in your head, rather than translate your thoughts word-for-word and attract a lot of puzzled looks.


Can-of-Worms Words

The word “about” belongs to this second category.

"About" is a word with many meanings, and is therefore hard to translate. The best tip I can give you in such situations is to replace the difficult word with a synonym more easily translatable. That's what synonyms are for, isn't it? You can use this tip in any situation where you struggle to translate your thoughts: simplify it to the core in order to clarify what you want to say. How you are going to say it should follow suit.

So, when using the word "about", do you mean…?
on the verge of
here and there
….. or something else?

Let me give a list of these examples with suggested translations (and the important words in bold)

Approximately, roughly 
(as in "My house is about 5 min from here.")

  • Ma maison est à à peu près 5 min d’ici.
  • Ma maison est à environ 5 min d’ici.
  • Ma maison est à 5 min d’ici approximativement.

(as in "This book is about spirituality.")

  • Ce livre est à propos de la spiritualité.
  • Ce livre est au sujet de la spiritualité.
  • Ce livre est sur la spiritualité.

What is going on? 
(as in "What’s all this about?")

  • Qu’est-ce qui ce passe?
  • De quoi s’agit-il?
  • Pourquoi tout ce raffut ? (Why all this racket?)

On the verge of 
(as in "I’m about to take a plane.")

  • Je suis sur le point de prendre un vol.

What if 
(as in "How about we meet at the restaurant?")

  • Et si on se donnait rendez-vous au restaurant?

(as in "I’ve just about finished.")

  • J’ai presque fini.

Around here 
(as in "Have you seen Tom about?" or "Are you about this weekend?")

  • Est-ce que Tom est dans les parages? / As-tu vu Tom (ce matin)?
  • Seras-tu dans les parages ce week-end?

Here and there 
(as in "We went to the park to let the dog run about.")

  • Nous sommes allés au parc pour laisser le chien courir ici et là.

And you? 
(as is "How about you?")

  • Et toi, qu'est-ce que tu en penses ?

A round-about 
(as in "At the round-about, take the first exit.")

  • Au rond-point, prend la première sortie.

Now, last but not least:

It’s about time!

  • C'est / Il est à peu près temps!



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