Confusing French Pairs

Once you’ve acquired vocabulary and reached a certain familiarity with French grammar, one of the more difficult aspects of speaking and writing becomes ‘which words do I use and when?’ Many French verbs, adverbs, expressions, etc. have similar (if not identical) meanings with subtle differences that can be hard to pick up on.

The following confusing French pairs are some of the most commonly misused; my hope is that his list will help you to be more precise in your self-expression and address the more nuanced applications of these similarly-defined terms.

Image Credit:


Amener / Emmener – used with people, animals, and vehicles

Ex. J’ai amené mon frère à la fête.
Ex. J’ai emmené mon frère à la fête.

Apporter / Emporter – used only with things you carry

Ex. J’ai apporté mon livre à la fête.
Ex. J’ai emporté mon livre à la fête.

Amener tends to be used in colloquial French for all of the above situations.
As a little trick, remember that the options for ‘to take’ and ‘to bring’ that deal with people contains the word ‘men’ – amener and emmenner.


The literal meanings of ‘apprendre’ and ‘enseigner’ are ‘to learn’ and ‘to teach,’ respectively, however their practical application differs from this in that both verbs can and do mean ‘to teach.’

APPRENDRE – to teach someone something (apprendre quelque chose à quelqu’un)
 to teach in general/teach a subject

Ex. Chantal apprend la guitare à mon fils.
Ex. Il apprend aux enfants à skier.
Ex. Professeur Maréchal enseigne l’anthropologie.


AVANT – (prep/adv) before

Ex. Je veux bien écouter l’histoire, mais cherchons une boisson avant.

AUPARAVANT – (adv) beforehand, previously

Ex. Il avait déja fini le travail une semaine auparavant.

Avant is used in simple present/past constructions whereas auparavant is used to emphasize that the thing happened before the current situation. In general, auparavant is very formal and rarely used in everyday speech.



Length of time an action takes (present/past tense)
‘in’ or ‘to’ when followed by a noun that doesn’t need an article

Ex. Il a lu le livre en une heure.
Ex. Nous voyageons en avril.
Ex. Il est en classe.


Amount of time before an action will occur (present/future tense)
Something that occurs within/during a decade
‘in’ a location when followed by an article plus noun

Ex. Nous partons dans dix minutes.
Ex. Dans les années soixantes…
Ex. Il est dans la maison.


DEPUIS – (for, since) Indicates an action that began in the past and continues to the present

Ex. J’étudie le français depuis 3 ans. (I’ve studied French for 3 years [and still do].)
Ex. T’étudies le français depuis quand ? (How long have you studied French?)

Indicates something was occurring in the past when it was interrupted by some other action (imparfait + passé composé)

Ex. Tu dormais depuis combien de temps quand je suis arrivé?
(How long had you been sleeping when I arrived?)

PENDANT – (for) Refers to entire duration of an action in past or future with no relation to the present

Ex. J’ai étudié le français pendant 3 ans.
(I studied French for 3 years [and then stopped].)
Ex. T’as étudié le français pendant combien de temps ?
(How long did you study French ?)


DEPUIS – (for, since) Used in present/past to express an action that began in the past and continues to the present or a point in time referenced by the context. This implies that the actions are also incomplete at the referenced time.

When followed by period of time, ‘depuis’ indicates the duration of an action
When followed by an event/point in time, indicates the start time of an action

Ex. Nous attendons depuis une heure.
(We’ve been waiting for an hour [and are still waiting])
Ex. Il parle depuis 5 minutes. (He’s been speaking for 5 minutes.)
Ex. Je suis malade depuis mon arrivée. (I’ve been sick since I got here.)

IL Y A – (ago) Only used for things that are already completed. The verb must be in the past and il y a must be followed by a reference to time.

Ex. Je suis arrivé il y a une heure.
Ex. J’étais malade il y a une semaine. (I was sick a week ago.)


DEVOIR – Expresses obligation, probability, or supposition when followed by an infinitive

Je dois – have to/must/supposed to
Je devais – had to/was supposed to
Je devrai – will have to
Je devrais – would have to/should
J’ai dû – had to/must have
J’aurais dû – should have

Devoir also means ‘to owe’ when followed by a noun

Ex. Je dois 5 dollars.

FALLOIR – Expresses necessity (stronger and more formal than devoir)

Ex. Il faut travailler / Il me faut travailler / Il faut que je travaille

Falloir also means ‘to need’ when used with a noun

Ex. Qu’est-ce qu’il te faut ? (What do you need ?)
Ex. Il me faut un stylo. (I need a pen.)

Because ‘falloir’ is an exclusively impersonal verb (only used with the impersonal subject pronoun ‘il’), we need to rely on personal reflexive pronouns or subjunctive constructions such as ‘il me faut travailler’ or ‘il faut que je travaille’ for context.


‘Encore’ and ‘toujours’ mean both ‘still’ and ‘yet.’ While ‘toujours’ tends be translated as ‘still’ and ‘encore’ as ‘yet,’ the practical use of these two adverbs of time varies depending on context. As ‘toujours’ also means ‘forever,’ ‘encore’ tends to be to go-to term for expressing the English senses of ‘still’ and ‘yet.’

STILL – toujours or encore (toujours is slightly more accurate)
Still is translated by encore when it modifies an adjective

Ex. Je suis toujours là. (I’m still here.)
Ex. Je suis encore là. (‘here again‘)
Ex. Encore mieux (better still/yet)
Ex. Il est encore plus grand. (He’s even taller.)

Note: still is translated by néanmoins when it means nonetheless

YET – when yet is negative and interchangeable with still, use pas encore or toujours pas (pas encore is more accurate)
When yet is affirmative in the sense of already, use déja.

Ex. Il n’est pas encore prêt.
Ex. T’as déjà mangé ?


Both ‘faire’ and ‘rendre’ mean ‘to cause to be/feel a certain way’; ‘faire’ is used when the object is a noun, whereas ‘rendre’ is used for an adjectival object.

When discussing emotions in the sense of ‘x makes me feels sad/happy/etc.,’ you will use ‘rendre.”

Ex. Ça me rend heureux.
Ex. Tu me fais honte.
Ex. Cette pensée fait peur.
Ex. Le poisson m’a rendu malade.


HABITER – Expresses where one lives (to live in, to reside in, to inhabit)

Ex. J’habite (à) Paris.*
Ex. Elle est habitée par la jalousie.

 VIVRE – Expresses how or when one lives (to live, to be alive, to exist)

Ex. Elle vit dans le luxe.
Ex. Voltaire a vécu au 18esiècle.

‘Vivre’ can also express where one lives (but ‘habiter’ is more common): Je vis à Paris.
*’à’ is often left out when using ‘habiter’ – J’habite Paris


SOIR – talking about time when it is late

Ex. T’es dispo ce soir ? On se prend un verre ?

NUIT – talking about outside time when it is dark out

Ex. J’adore me promener la nuit pour regarder les étoiles.


VERS – (literal) ‘toward, around’ – movement, direction, location, time

Ex. Nous allons vers Paris. (dans la direction de Paris)
Ex. Tournez vers la droite. (à droite)
Ex. La fenêtre regarde vers le nord.
Ex. Habites-tu vers ici ? (‘aux alentours d’ici,’ ‘près d’ici’)
Ex. On s’y retrouve vers 18h ? (‘à peu près 18h’)

ENVERS – (figurative) acting on or thinking about something, action toward a person

Ex. Il est cruel envers les chiens.
Ex. Ses pensées envers la politique.


SENTIR – physical feeling

Ex. Je sens les murs avec mes mains.

RESSENTIR – emtional feeling

Ex. Je ressens que c’était une mauvais idée de le faire.

SE SENTIR– the reflexive form of RESSENTIR

Ex. Je ressens la tristesse. – Je me sens triste.


NOUVEAU – new in the sense of new to the owner (something that is new because it’s different than what came before regardless of whether it is brand new from the store or not.) The opposite of nouveau is ancient (former).
Nouveau precedes the noun it modifies and changes to agree in gender/number

Ex. T’as vu ma nouvelle voiture ? (A used car that’s new to the current owner)
Ex. Il a mis une nouvelle chemise. (He put a new shirt on, aka took off the shirt he was wearing and put a different one on in its place. Important thing is that it’s a different shirt.)
Ex. C’est nouveau. (it’s new- I just bought/found/made it)
Ex. Nous avons un nouvel appartement. (We just moved)

NEUF – new in the sense of brand-new/first of its kind. The opposite of neufis vieux (old).
Neuf follows the noun it modifies and changes to agree in gender/number

Ex. Je n’ai jamais acheté une voiture neuve. (I’ve never bought a brand new car.)
Ex. Il a acheté une chemise neuve. (He went to the store and bought a brand-new shirt)
Ex. Comme neuf. (As good as new. Aka it’s fixed so now it’s just like new)
Ex. Nous avons un appartement neuf. (We live in a brand-new building)

*Quoi de neuf of course doesn’t mean ‘what’s nine?’ but is asking for the most new information on what’s happened to someone since seeing them last.

Interested in learning more French?

Schedule a Free Trial Lesson!

One thought on “Confusing French Pairs

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s