Overused Verbs

Overused French verbs

Verbes galvaudés

If you learned French in a classroom, odds are that you overuse certain French verbs, because you were taught a somewhat generic word but not the sometimes subtle distinctions between it and its synonym. Here are 5 French verbs that are useful but often overused.

To drive: Conduire > Rouler

Conduire means “to drive,” but only transitively (with a direct object), as in

Je dois conduire ma sœur à l’école.   I have to drive my sister to school.
Qui va conduire le camion ?   Who’s going to drive the truck?

When talking about driving intransitively, the verb you need is rouler:

La voiture roulait sur l’accotement.   The car was driving on the shoulder.
Il roule à 120 km à l’heure.   He’s driving at 120 km per hour.

To write: Écrire > Rédiger

Écrire refers to the physical act of writing:

Il m’a écrit une lettre.   He wrote me a letter.
Je vais écrire l’adresse.   I’m going to write down the address.

A more elegant verb that references the creative process rather than the physical act of writing is rédiger. While it is commonly translated by “to write,” rédiger is more like “to compose”:

J’ai rédigé deux articles de journal ce matin.   I wrote two newspaper articles this morning.
Il va rédiger un testament.   He’s going to write a will.

To swim: Nager > Se baigner

Nager simply means “to swim” and hints at a serious sort of activity, such as swimming laps:

Sais-tu nager ?   Do you know how to swim?
J’aime bien nager en mer.   I really like swimming in the sea.

Se baigner is less straightforward, it’s more like “to play in the water” and is much more commonly used:

Je vais me baigner cette après-midi.   I’m going swimming this afternoon.
Il aurait voulu qu’elle sache bien nager pour se baigner avec lui dans la mer.
(Marguerite Duras, Un barrage contre le Pacifique)
  He would have preferred that she know how to swim in order to play in the sea with him.

To seem: Sembler > Paraître

Sembler means “to seem”:

Elle me semble fatiguée.   She seems (looks) tired to me.
Il nous semble trop compliqué.   That seems too complicated to us.

Paraître literally means “to appear.” Impersonally, however, it is used far more than sembler to mean “it seems”:

Il paraît que oui.   So it seems, That seems to be the case.
Suzanne amène son copain, paraît-il.   Suzanne is bringing her boyfriend, it seems.

To come: Venir > Arriver

Venir means “to come”:

Qui vient à la fête ?   Who’s coming to the party?
Venez avec moi.   Come with me.

When referring to someone or something that is coming (arriving) right now, the verb arriver is more idiomatic:

Le voilà, le train arrive.   There it is, the train’s coming.
J’arrive !   I’m coming, I’m on my way, I’ll be right there!

 On a somewhat related note…

To be: Être > Avoir / Faire

These verbs are different from the above, as the overuse of être is an actual mistake, as opposed to a difference in style or nuance.

Être of course means “to be.”

Je suis fatigué.   I’m tired.
Tu es prêt ?   Are you ready?

But there are a number of English expressions with “to be” that can only be translated into French with the verb avoir:

J’ai faim.   I’m hungry.
Il a froid.   He is cold.

And others that need faire:

Il fait nuit.   It’s nighttime.
Il faisait froid.   It was cold out.

 Related lessons

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Overused French verbs
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2 Responses

  1. Tamara Ingram 3 March 2017 / 10:43

    Another overused verb (at least by newbies) is manger.
    It’s tempting to say “manger dîner, manger mon petit déjeuner”, etc
    instead of precise verbs “dîner, déjeuner” or “prendre”