Translating phrasal verbs into French (2)

On the previous page, we said that to translate phrasal verbs such as walked out, ran in, we need to "turn things round" in French:

  • a verb translates the direction;
  • another expression translates manner (not always necessary).

Common direction verbs

For the direction verb, some very familiar verbs are generally used to translate phrasal verbs:

           ahead>continuer, avancer
           along>avancer, continuer, traverser
           away>(faire) partir, chasser
           by>passer (devant)
           down>descendre; faire tomber
           on>continuer, repartir
           out (of)>sortir
           past>passer (devant)
           through>percer, traverser
           up>monter; (in sense of towards) arriver, venir

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Translating the manner

Alongside the "direction" verbs above, manner can be expressed in French using different types of expression:

  • an adverb: rapidement, lentement ...
  • a verbal phrase involving en plus the present participle (en courant, en rampant...)
  • a phrase (sometimes equivalent to an adverb) such as à toute vitesse, à quatre pattes...

Some common verbs that generally use the en ...ant construction include:

to dance           >en dansant, en sautillant
to run            >en courant
to skip            >en sautillant
to walk            >en marchant

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Forms of transport

Some verbs in English relate to vehicles or mode of transport, translated by en/par/à plus the vehicle name in French (note that walk fits into both this and the previous category). So we can often translate verbs such as drive down, cycle over, walk across with one of the above verbs plus one of the following expressions:

to drive            >en voiture etc
to fly            >en avion
to ride            >à bicyclette, à cheval
to sail            >en bateau
to ski            >à skis
to walk            >à pied

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More "figurative" expressions

Beyond the most common verbs, there are a large number of verbs, often derived directly from nouns, with more figurative uses. These are often translated with an appropriate adverb or other expression in French. Notice how with verbs based on nouns such as thunder, hammer, speed, we can try to find an expression that involves the corresponding noun in French.

to crash, thunder           >dans un bruit de tonnerre
to crawl            >en rampant, à quatre pattes
to creep           >lentement; sans un bruit, à pas de loup
to dash, dart, rush           >précipitamment, en flèche
to force, push           >en forçant, de/avec force
to hammer           >au marteau, à coups de marteau
to saunter           >d'un pas nonchalant
to shudder           >par secousses
to slink           >à pas de loup
to speed           >à toute vitesse
to stride           >à grands pas
to tiptoe           >à petits pas, sur la pointe de pieds

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When the manner is obvious

When the manner is either obvious or uninteresting, the corresponding phrase may not be expressed in French, leaving simply the verb denoting direction. Consider, for example:

he got in the car and drove down the street
the bird flew up into the tree
the wind blew the tree over

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In the first case, translating drove down as descendre en voiture would lead to voiture twice in the sentence; we can thus opt for something like:

une fois monté dans sa voiture, il a descendu la rue
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In the next two cases, translating flew up and blew over as est monté en volant or a renversé en soufflant is unnecessary. We can simply say:

l'oiseau est monté dans l'arbre
le vent a renversé l'arbre
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It is understood that the bird flew rather than taking the number 9 bus, and that the wind's means of knocking over the tree was probably to blow rather than using a hand grenade...

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This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2017. All rights reserved.