Caroline L-B
Community Tutor
Learning Article : Empty Words And Cans Of Worms: Translating 'Do' And 'About' Into French

Discuss the Article : Empty Words And Cans Of Worms: Translating 'Do' And 'About' Into French

<a href='/article/122/empty-words-and-cans-of-worms-translating-do-and-about-into-french' target='_blank'>Empty Words And Cans Of Worms: Translating 'Do' And 'About' Into French</a>

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 and "can-of-worms" words. Specifically we will look at ways to translate "do" and "about" into French.

May 13, 2014 12:00 AM
Comments · 29

When you try translating something and you need the dictionary for one word, don't necessarily jump on the first translation. What I'm suggesting is a lot more work, but it should help you understand what you are about to say (and avoid a blunder!).

If you look up a word (for example, the verb "to appear") you should have a bunch of translations like this: "Apparaître", "comparaître", "paraître", "sembler", "sortir", "être publié". If, in turns, you look up those words too, it will give you other English equivalents. This way you will find out that:

"apparaître" mean to be suddently visible (Ex: un lapin apparaît dans le chapeau du magicien).
"comparaître" is to appear before justice. (Ex: le criminel doit comparaître demain).
"paraître" and "sembler" both mean to seem (Ex: il paraît/il semble que Ben Affleck va divorcer.)
"sortir" here means to be released in any medium (Ex : Ce film va sortir demain dans les cinémas).
"être publié" is to be published. (Ex: Cette photo a été publiée sur la couverture du journal).

With all this in mind, you should be able to make a better choice and correctly translate what ever you wanted to translate. Mind, I don't suggest to do that all the time! When speaking, I strongly advice to not use the dictionary at all!! It's a crutch. Instead, try to simplify your thoughts until it sounds like something a 5 years old would say. Built up your vocabulary in your spare time, when you write stuff for fun, like a diary.

May 14, 2014

Yep, there are a lot of nuances that absolutly can not be translated word for word.  Here are two that I have run into while learning.


"Have to" and "do not have to" since have is not always "avoir" and the negative usually requires a totally different structure in French.  "Have to" usually maps to devoir ou fallior because you are expressing an obligation, in lesser terms you can also use «avoir besion».  When speaking in the negative you can't just negate devoir, since «ne pas devoir» is more like "to must not" when you probabbly want to say «ne pas avoir besion» "you don't have the need to".


The other little one that I ran into is attendre ( to wait for ) has a much more immediate meaning than english does.  «je ne peux pas attrendre» would litterally mean "I don't have the ability to wait" which might be useful when waiting for the bathroom.  When talking of in the context of looking forward to doing somthing it would be «J'ai hâte d'y aller» "I can't wait to go".

June 2, 2014

Thanks for another on-target article! It is so common for beginners who are not working with a good teacher to try to translate everything word for word -- this often affects even the most intelligent language learners. Sadly, this huge mistake totally prevents learning the language inside of any reasonable time frame. On the other hand, learning to understand how languages express the same meaning in different ways can help students develop a new appreciation for how their own language works.

March 23, 2015

For the last one (it's about time!), here in France we would say "il est grand temps que..", "il est/était temps !" or even just "enfin !". 

Maybe just once of these small differences between Quebec and France?


Great article anyway, I hope it'll help English speakers to learn our language :-)


May 17, 2014
The best way I've find to avoid this problem is to try to translate concepts not works.
November 11, 2018
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