Have you ever wondered how to say “to bring” or “to take” in the middle of a French conversation, and you just couldn’t find the right word for it? Lost between emporter, apporter, emmener and amener, aren’t you? These two common verbs in English are usually easy to master in other languages. This includes Portuguese, my native language which, like English, has only two verbs to express it.
In French, however, things are a little bit different. To begin with, there are four main verbs that are used to express the idea of “taking” and “bringing” (two for each verb) and four additional ones that express repetition of this same action. Does this sound weird? Well, it actually isn’t once you understand the logic behind it.
Many French students and teachers, and even some native French speakers themselves, simply can’t figure out which verb to use from all those options. Therefore, they just end up using one of the four main verbs without thinking much about whether it's correct or not.
- Je dois l’amener à l’aéroport (incorrect).
The example above represents a typical sentence that is incorrect. Amener, as we will see, is only used for people.
I myself had issues with these verbs for a long time, until I found an explanation that made it incredibly simple for me to understand. And that's what I want to share it with you today.
The first step is to memorize this: whenever we talk about an object (or things in general), the verb will include the suffix -porter. And when we speak of people, we use the suffix -mener.
Secondly, think about the type of movement that each of these two verbs convey: “to bring” makes you think about coming to a place with something or someone (so think of the French verb venir) and “to take” makes you think that you are going somewhere with something or someone (French verb aller).
So, let's start with the verbs “to bring” and “to take” when talking about things and objects (suffix -porter)
But first, let’s review these two French verbs for movement:
- Aller (to go): We use the prefix -em before the suffix mentioned above.
- Venir (to come): We use the prefix -ap before the suffix mentioned above.
So, it works like this:
- Emporter: To take (going with something from here to another place).
- Apporter: To bring (coming with something from another place to here).
So, remember -em goes with aller and -ap goes with venir.
And now, let's see what happens when we talk about people.
The same rules regarding aller and venir apply:
- Aller (to go): -em (prefix)
- Venir (to come): -ap (prefix)
- Emmener: To take (going with someone from here to another place).
- Amener: To bring (coming with someone from another place to here).
- Il pleut, tu dois emporter ton parapluie. It is raining, you need to take your umbrella (thing).
- Tu peux apporter du vin quand tu rentres à la maison? Can you bring wine when you come back home? (thing).
- Il a emmene sa soeur à l'aéroport. He took his sister to the airport (person).
- J'ai amene un ami pour passer le week-end chez moi. I brought a friend who will spend the weekend at my house (person).
So, in a nutshell:
- -porter: Used with things, objects.
- -mener: Used with people.
- The prefix -em added to porter or to mener transforms it into “to take.”
- The prefix -am added to porter or to mener transforms it into “to bring.”
Both verbs have two different meanings with regards to the direction of the action: while verbs with -em have to do with “going somewhere” (aller), verbs with -am have to do with “coming from somewhere” (venir). Whether you are talking about things or people depends on the suffix you use.
In French traiteurs, it is common for you to hear the phrase sur place ou à emporter? after you order. Here, emporter refers to taking your food home with you, while sur place refers to eating your food there.
I hope this has helped you. Go through this text once more and you'll see it's easier than it seems!! You just have keep these four word fragments in mind (-porter, -mener, -em and -am) and remember to associate them with things, people and directions. In my case, I made a post-it with all four word fragments written on it, and I quickly was able to memorize all of them.
And last but not least, do you remember the additional four verbs that I mentioned? These are remporter, rapporter, remmener, ramener. Well, the -r at the beginning of these verbs only adds the idea of repeating the action in question, and doesn’t change the rules that we have already learned. So, no need for details, right?
Before we finish, let me just give you one last example:
- Je dois remporter ces livres à la bibliothèque. I have to take these books back to the library.