Easy Learning French

Some common difficulties - Easy Learning Grammar French

General problems

  • You can’t always translate French into English and English into French word for word. While occasionally it is possible to do this, often it is not. For example:
  • English phrasal verbs (verbs followed by a preposition or adverb), for example, to run away, to fall down, are often translated by ONE word in French.
continuerto go on
tomberto fall down
rendreto give back
  • For more information on Verbs, see Verbs
  • Sentences which contain a verb and preposition in English, might NOT contain a preposition in French.
payer quelque choseto pay for something
regarder quelqu’un/quelque choseto look at somebody/something
écouter quelqu’un/quelque choseto listen to somebody/something
  • Similarly, sentences which contain a verb and preposition in French, might NOT contain a preposition in English.
obéir à quelqu’un/quelque choseto obey somebody/something
changer de quelque choseto change something
manquer de quelque choseto lack something
  • The same French preposition may be translated into English in different ways.
parler de quelque choseto talk about something
sûr de quelque chosesure of something
voler quelque chose à quelqu’unto steal something from someone
croire à quelque choseto believe in something
  • A word which is singular in English may not be in French.
les bagagesluggage
ses cheveuxhis/her hair
  • Similarly, a word which is singular in French may not be in English.
un shortshorts
mon pantalonmy trousers
  • For more information on Nouns, see Nouns.
  • In English, you can use ’s to show who or what something belongs to; in French, you have to use de.
la voiture de mon frèremy brother’s car
la chambre des enfantsthe children’s bedroom

Specific problems

1 -ing

  • The -ing ending in English is translated in a number of different ways in French:
  • to be …-ing is translated by a verb consisting of one word.
Il part demain.He’s leaving tomorrow.
Je lisais un roman.I was reading a book.
  • For more information on Verbs, see Verbs.
  • Note that when you are talking about somebody’s or something’s physical position, you use a past participle.
Elle est assise là-bas.She’s sitting over there.
Il était couché par terre.He was lying on the ground.
  • -ing can also be translated by:
  • an infinitive
J’aime aller au cinéma.I like going to the cinema.
Arrêtez de vous disputer!Stop arguing!
Avant de partirBefore leaving
  • a present participle
Étant plus timide que moi, elle…Being shyer than me, she…
  • a noun
Le ski me maintient en forme.Skiing keeps me fit.
  • For more information on Nouns, see Nouns.

2 to be

  • The verb to be is generally translated by être.
Il est tard.It’s late.
Ce n’est pas possible!It’s not possible!
  • When you are talking about the physical position of something, se trouver may be used.
se trouve la gare?Where’s the station?
  • In certain set phrases which describe how you are feeling or a state you are in, the verb avoir is used.
avoir chaudto be warm
avoir froidto be cold
avoir faimto be hungry
avoir soifto be thirsty
avoir peurto be afraid
avoir tortto be wrong
avoir raisonto be right
  • When you are describing what the weather is like, use the verb faire.
Quel temps fait-il?What’s the weather like?
Il fait beau.It’s lovely.
Il fait mauvais.It’s miserable.
Il fait du vent.It’s windy.
  • When you are talking about someone’s age, use the verb avoir.
Quel âge as-tu?How old are you?
J’ai quinze ans.I’m fifteen.
  • When talking about your health, use the verb aller.
Comment allez-vous?How are you?
Je vais très bien.I’m very well.

3 it is, it’s

  • it is and it’s are usually translated by il est or elle est when referring to a noun.
‘Où est mon parapluie?’ – ‘Il est là, dans le coin.’Where’s my umbrella?’ – ‘It’s there, in the corner.’
Descends la valise si elle n’est pas trop lourde.Bring the case down if it isn’t too heavy.
  • When you are talking about the time, use il est.
‘Quelle heure est-il?’ – ‘Il est sept heures et demie.’What time is it?’ – It’s half past seven.’
  • When you are describing what the weather is like, use the verb faire.
Il fait beau.It’s lovely.
Il fait mauvais.It’s miserable.
Il fait du vent.It’s windy.
  • If you want to say, for example, it is difficult to do something or it is easy to do something, use il est.
Il est difficile de répondre à cette question.It is difficult to answer this question.
  • In ALL other phrases and constructions, use c’est.
C’est moi qui ne l’aime pas.It’s me who doesn’t like him.
C’est Charles qui l’a dit.It’s Charles who said so.
C’est ici que je les ai achetés.It’s here that I bought them.
C’est parce que la poste est fermée que… It’s because the post office is closed that…

4 there is, there are

  • Both there is and there are are translated by il y a.
Il y a quelqu’un à la porte.There is someone at the door.
Il y a cinq livres sur la table.There are five books on the table.

5 can, to be able

  • If you want to talk about someone’s physical ability to do something, use pouvoir.
Pouvez-vous faire dix kilomètres à pied?Can you walk ten kilometres?
  • If you want to say that you know how to do something, use savoir.
Elle ne sait pas nager.She can’t swim.
  • When can is used with verbs to do with what you can see or hear, you do NOT use pouvoir in French.
Je ne vois rien.I can’t see anything.
Il les entendait.He could hear them.

6 to

  • The preposition to is generally translated by à.
Donne le livre à Patrick.Give the book to Patrick.
  • When you are talking about the time, use moins.
dix heures moins cinqfive to ten
à sept heures moins le quartat a quarter to seven
  • If you want to say (in order) to, use pour.
Je l’ai fait pour vous aider.I did it to help you.
Il va en ville pour acheter un cadeau.He’s going into town to buy a present.

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