Jouer

Jouer - to play in French
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French Verb Play

Jouer is a regular -er French verb that can be a bit confusing when it comes time to decide which preposition should follow. Here’s everything you need to know.

Jouer = to play

Generally speaking, jouer is equivalent to "to play" or "to have fun."

Par exemple…

Nous jouons souvent ensemble.   We often play together.
Tu peux jouer après le dîner.   You can have fun after dinner.

With regard to the arts – TV, movies, music, etc. – jouer means "to play" or "to perform":

Je n’aime pas l’actrice qui joue Karine.   I don’t like the actress who plays Karine.
Le groupe qui a joué hier était excellent.   The band that played yesterday was excellent.

Jouer also has some negative meanings. It can mean "to fool around" or "to play around" …

Il ne faut pas jouer en classe.   You shouldn’t fool around in class.
Ne joue pas avec ses sentiments.   Don’t play around with her feelings.

"To bet, gamble" …

Je joue toujours impair.   I always bet on odd numbers.
Il va jouer un cheval.   He’s going to bet on a horse.

And "to deceive, dupe" – though tromper and duper are more common.

Jouer à

Jouer à means to play a game or sport.

Ils jouent aux football.   They’re playing soccer.
Je veux jouer à Scrabble.   I want to play Scrabble.

Jouer de

In comparison, jouer de means to play music or a musical instrument.

Je joue de la musique celtique.   I play Celtic music.
Elle joue du violon.   She plays the violin.

Jouer avec

Jouer avec means "to play (around) with":

J’aime bien jouer avec les mots.   I love playing with words.
Il ne faut jamais jouer avec le feu.   You should never play with fire.

Jouer sur

Jouer sur means "to use, exploit."

Il joue sur la fibre nationaliste.   He’s exploiting nationalist sentiment.
Dans Exercices de style, Raymond Queneau joue sur tous les registres.   In Exercices de style, Raymond Queneau uses (writes with) all styles / registers (of language).

Jouer in expressions

Jouer is found in some idiomatic expressions:

  • faire jouer – to invoke, bring into play
  • jouer franc jeu – to play fair
  • jouer le jeu – to play the game (literally and figuratively)
  • jouer sur velours – to be sitting pretty
  • jouer un mauvais/vilain tour à qqun – to play a dirty trick on someone
  • se la jouer (informal) – to show off

 Related lessons

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Jouer - to play
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