Faire is probably one of the first verbs that a student should learn in French, being that it means "to do" or "to make."
- J'ai fait un gâteau (I made a cake).
- Un cadeau fait à la main (a handmade present).
Faire is also a major asset when talking about the weather. Most phenomenon (except rain and snow, mostly!) can be described with it, but only using the 3rd person singular il. Here are few examples in the present tense, but you can conjugate this verb in any tense you like.
- Il fait beau (it's nice).
- il fait froid (it's cold).
- il fait ... degrés (it's ... degrees).
It's also useful to know that we use the verb faire when asking about someone's profession. It's less direct and does not focus on money, which is ideal if you are a housewife, a volunteer or a retiree for example.
- Que faites-vous dans la vie ? (what do you do for a living?)
But, what's cool about this verb is all the expressions, idioms and phrases that use it. Put faire with other words and it will transform into a totally new beast! Let's see some examples. You will notice that I grouped them according to their basic form. Don't read too much into it: it's just an arbitrary way to break the data in to manageable chunks, to highlight the little subtleties and (hopefully) to help you remember them better.
Faire + verb:
- faire chanter: to blackmail (it's funny, as we literally say "to make someone sing").
- faire marcher: to pull someone's leg (to joke, to pretend) OR to make something work.
- faire chier: to get on someone's nerve (vulgar).
- faire faire: to have something done by someone else (a professional, usually).
- Laisser faire: to let something be / to drop the subject / to forget about it / never mind.
Faire + noun:
- faire attention / faire gaffe: to be careful ("watch out!!").
- faire confiance: to trust.
- faire peur: to scare.
- faire mal: to hurt.
- faire plaisir: to please (to do a favour, to treat someone).
- faire semblant: to pretend.
- faire exprès: to do something on purpose.
- faire pitié: to be heartbreakingly pitiful.
- faire rage: to be all the rage (to be popular, intense or dominating).
- faire sensation: to create a sensation / to impress.
- faire suite: to follow up.
- faire effet: to take effect.
- faire rien (ça ne fait rien): it doesn't matter / never mind.
- faire abstraction de…: to not take something into account.
- faire demi-tour: to do a u-turn.
- faire marche arrière: to reverse (to backpedal).
Faire + article + noun
- faire l'affaire: to be adequate.
- faire la grasse matinée: to sleep in.
- faire la gueule: to be cross, to sulk.
- faire le beau: to sit and beg (command for dogs).
- faire le plein: to fill up, to refill.
- faire la cour: to court, to seduce.
- faire l'amour: to make love.
- faire le trottoir: to prostitute onself (literally: to wait for clients on the side of the road).
- faire le tour: to walk around something, to cover something.
- faire un tour en…: to take a ride in….
- faire un clin d'oeil: to wink.
- faire une croix sur...: to give up on something.
- faire des pieds et des mains: to go through a lot of trouble for something.
- faire des petits: to create a (positive) chain reaction.
- faire son possible: to do one's best.
- faire ses valises: literally to pack one's bag. By extension, to leave for good.
Se + faire
Adding the pronoun se means the action is reflexive (done on oneself). When you build sentences with a pronoun, don't forget to "conjugate" it or, in other words, make it match the subject (je me..., tu te..., il se..., on se..., elle se..., nous nous..., vous vous..., ils se…).
- se faire du souci / du mauvais sang: to worry about something.
- se faire des cheveux blancs: to make someone go grey.
- se faire à l'idée / s'y faire: to get used to something.
- se faire vieux: to become old.
- se faire couper les cheveux: to have a hair cut.
- se faire des idées: to fool oneself.
- se faire une raison: to resign oneself.
On top of those examples, you can put se in front of many of the other examples in the sections above. For example, faire mal (to hurt) becomes se faire mal (to hurt oneself).
By the way, this article is far from a comprehensive guide. There are so many expressions, I fear it may bore you to death. Plus, lots of them are rarely used or are specific to one country, so why worry about learning them all? Just keep in mind that if a sentence involves the word faire and also happens to be hard to understand, it might be an idiom. Just ask Linguee. If you haven’t heard of it, it's an online dictionary coupled with a search engine. It put words into context and allows you to compare real translations.
Now here's a treat: to prove how useful and versatile the verb faire is, I wrote an entire dialogue with at least one faire per line. Reading this (and translating it in your head as you go) would be an excellent revision. You may want to review the sections above first, but it's up to you.
- Fais-moi plaisir et ferme les yeux !
- Tu me fais peur !
- Allons, fais-moi confiance ! J'ai quelque chose à te donner. Faites attention ! C'est délicat ! Si ça ne te plaît pas, fais semblant d'aimer.
- Oh, mais c'est une robe magnifique ! Ce modèle fait rage en ce moment ! J'ai fait des pieds et des mains pour en trouver une pareille.
- Tu vas faire sensation à la fête. Essaye-la. Maintenant, fais demi-tour. Oui, c'est parfait. J'espère qu'elle n'est pas trop grande, je l'ai fait faire par une amie.
- Ne te fais pas de souci, elle est géniale. Est-ce que tu m'accompagneras, demain ?
- Non, je me fais trop vieux pour ce genre de soirée!
- Combien je te dois pour la robe ?
- Laisse faire, c'est un cadeau.
- Tu me fais marcher ? C'est trop beau pour être vrai !
- Mais non, ce n'est rien. Fais-toi à l'idée.
- Tu me sauves la vie. J'étais sur le point de faire une croix sur cette soirée !
- Il est tard. Va te coucher, fais la grasse matinée demain, va à cette fête, et raconte-moi tous les détails ensuite.
- Je dois me lever tôt car je vais me faire couper les cheveux. On fera le tour des potins ensemble plus tard, promis !
Caption: Along with the Transformers, this was another classic that had the ability to CHANGE APPEARANCE in the 80s. Who remembers it?
Have you had a good go at translating this dialogue? (If not, don't go any further! SPOILER ALERT!)
OK, are you ready to check if you got it all right now?
Here's my loose translation:
- Do me a favour, close your eyes.
- You are scaring me!
- Come on, trust me. I have something to give you. Be careful, it's delicate. If you don't like it, just pretend you like it.
- Oh, it's a magnificent dress! This design is all the rage at the moment. I've gone to a lot of trouble to find one like that.
- You will be sensational at the party. Try it. Now, turn around. Yes, it's perfect. I hope it's not too big. I had it made by a friend.
- Don't worry, it's great. Will you come with me, tomorrow?
- No, I'm getting too old for that sort of party!
- How much do I owe you for the dress?
- Don’t worry about it, it's a present.
- You are kidding me! It's too good to be true.
- No, no, it's nothing. Get used to the idea.
- You saved my life. I was about to give up on that party!
- It's getting late. Go to bed, sleep in tomorrow, go to the party and tell me all the details afterwards.
- I have to get up early, I'm going to have my hair cut. We'll go over all the gossip together later, I promise!
If you got it all right, give yourself three cheers. If your translation is slightly different, but it more or less means the same thing, don't get hung up on the small details. There are many ways to skin a cat!
Now, how about writing your own sentences using your favourite phrases involving the verb faire? Repetition is your friend!
A Word of Advice on Idioms
If you just love idioms, be careful. You need to learn all the words and say them in the right order, or it will be weird. For example, laisser faire is in the opposite order of all the other examples. Get it wrong and it won't make sense at all. Native speakers will probably be too puzzled to realise that your mistake is just a simple inversion.
As a student of the English language, I just love idioms. However, I admit to mixing them up. As a student I mostly shrug it off, but when I wear the “teacher hat,” I think these little mix ups are terrible. It breaks the natural flow of the conversation as it forces native speakers to analyse what you have said and replace it (at least in their head) with the correct word(s).
My final piece of advice is "less is more." Keep in mind that it's more interesting to talk to someone who uses simple but correct sentences, than to someone who strings idioms together nonstop (correctly or not!).
All images by the author