If you have ever needed to leave a place earlier than your French friends, you may have noticed that there are many different ways to inform them that you have to go. This can be very confusing for people new to the French language. For example, both partir and s’en aller can be used to express that you are leaving. Sortir can be used too, however it instead conveys the idea of exiting a particular situation in order to enter another. Quitter has still another meaning, specifically that you are leaving a person or place, while laisser is used in the context of leaving a person (or a group of people) alone.
This may seem like quite a lot, however, if you are using informal French, there are even more phrases you could say. These are normally spoken and are typically restricted to particular situations and groups of people. These words are:
- se casser
- se barrer
- foutre le camp
- se sauver
With such a variety of words, it’s hard to know when and where to use them. So let’s take a look closer at these words to find out exactly when each one is appropriate.
First, is the verb partir. Conveniently, this verb can be used in many different situations. It mostly expresses the idea of leaving a situation in order to enter another one, rather than exiting a precise place (sortir). It’s the action of departing, and it often involves a feeling. For example we have:
- Demain, je pars: Tomorrow, I am leaving (this does not include information about the reason for leaving, the duration etc.).
- Tu pars quand à Paris ?: When will you go to Paris?
- Je suis parti pour les Etats-Unis: I left for the US.
- Il faut qu’on parte: We have to go.
- Je pars demain a 6 heure to matin: I’m going to leave tomorrow morning at 6am.
The verb aller also means “to leave,” however it is necessary to add en to make it s’en aller. In this case, we do not need to say where we are heading to or precisely when we are leaving. The English translation can be either “leaving,” “going” or “going away.”
- Tu t’en vas quand ?: When are you going to leave?
- Je m’en vais, sault !: I am off. See ya!
Partir and s’en aller are equivalent, though s’en aller is used more often in spoken and informal contexts.
Sortir means “to leave,” as in to leave a location. Sortir is followed by a preposition of location and a complement of place. It mostly conveys the idea of exiting one place in order to go to another one. Below are some examples:
- Je sors dans la rue: I am going out into the street (from somewhere).
- Je suis sortie de la salle de main pour aller dans la cuisine: I left the bathroom to go to the kitchen.
- C’est difficile de sortir de Paris le vendredi soir en voiture: It’s hard to leave (to exit) Paris by car on Friday night.
- Demain, je sors: Tomorrow, I have plans (to go out with my friends).
Quitter is used when leaving a person or a place. It doesn’t necessarily mean leaving forever, but this can be implied.
- Il quitte la France: He is leaving France.
- J’ai quitté mon travail: I quit my job.
- Elle quitte son mari: She left her husband.
Laisser means leaving a person or group of people alone. It is often used in the context of two people talking and instructing a third person to leave so that the first two can speak privately.
- Merci de nous laisser seul: Please leave us alone.
- Je vais vous laisser: I’m going to leave.
Now let’s have a look at the informal ways to express these same ideas in French.
Filer, déguerpir and décamper
These three words are not impolite and can be used in spoken conversation without offending anyone. They convey a sense of emergency. When we say on file it means that we have to hurry up and be quick.
- Il est tard, il faut que je file (il faut que je parte, il faut que j’y aille): It’s late, I have to go.
- On s’ennuie dans cette fête, filons d’ici: It’s boring here, let’s go.
- Il faut déguerpir/décamper sinon on va se faire attraper: We must clear off or we'll get caught.
Se défiller means to leave a location quietly, without being seen and/or heard.
- Cette fête était très ennuyeuse, mais j’ai réussi à me défiler (je suis parti discrètement): The party was boring, we left quietly.
Note: défiler means “pass,” while se défiler means “leaving quietly.”
Se casser, se barrer, tracer and foutre le camp
The following slang words are mainly used by young people to express the verbs “to leave” or “to go.” They indicate that the speaker is leaving because of an unpleasant, disagreeable or annoying situation. All are grouped by their English equivalent:
- Get away. Get the heck out of here:
- Casse toi
- Barre toi
- Fous le camp
- We are going (we left):
- On se casse (on s’est cassé)
- On se barre (on s’est barré)
- On fout le camps (on a foutu le camp)
- I was tired of hearing that crap, so I buggered off:
- J’en avais marre d’entendre ces conneries, alors je me suis cassé
- J’en avais marre d’entendre ces conneries, alors je me suis barré
- J'en avais marre d'entendre ces conneries, alors j’ai foutu le camp
Note: there is no relationship between se casser and casser, which means “to break.”
Some people also use the word trace, which in this context means “to walk fast,” “to leave quickly” or “to run fast.” It is most often used by teenagers.
- Je trace la route: We are leaving quickly.
- Regarde comment il a tracé ?: Look at how fast he left.
Originally used to say “save my life,” French people have turned se sauver into “I have to leave.” It is mostly understood to mean “I have to leave because I have to be somewhere else soon.”
- Aller, il se fait tard, il faut que je me sauve: Folks, It’s late, I have to leave.
There are many words repeated all day long by French people that are not taught in classes. Partir, aller, sortir, quitter and laisser are words that we can find in textbooks. Filler, se casser, se barrer, tracer, foutre le camp, se sauver, déguerpir and décamper, however, are mainly used in speech and are very informal. They are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people.
This article should give you more vocabulary and insight into this particular area of French and help you find the correct word to use the next time you have to leave a place earlier than your French friends.
Now it’s your turn. Are there as many different ways to say “to leave” in the language that you are learning?
- Camille Chevalier-Karfis (2014) To leave, to exit... quitter, sortir, partir, laisser, S'en Aller. Available here.
- Denis (2010) Casse Toi ! 滚蛋吧 Available here.
- Brigitte Murray (NA) DIFFÉRENCE ENTRE « PARTIR » ET « QUITTER ». Available here.