Word of the Week: ‘prendre’

Word of the Week: ‘prendre’

A verb that can indicate quite peculiar behavior. To follow the call of the open road, fine, but why try to bite the moon? Let’s take the word ‘ take by the horns.

Mostly we can count on the verb take to translate quite comfortably into the English equivalent “take”, as in take the train , or take a shower .

“He contented himself with tilting his whole body (…) without taking with his suede-gloved hand the hand the doctor had extended to him.” (Proust, Sodom: He merely bowed with his whole body, without taking in his hand the suede-gloved hand that the doctor had offered.)

Take is a verb, so therefore we must conjugate:


I take – I take, I am taking
Tu take – you take, you are taking (sing.fam.)
He takes – he / it takes, he / it is taking
Elle takes – she / it takes, she / it is taking
We take – we take, we are taking
You take – you take, you are taking (pl.pol.)
They take – they take, they are taking (m.)
They take – they take, they are taking (f.)

Do not be discouraged if you do not get the verbs right every time, in order to learn a language must take its time!

Take can also mean have as in take a coffee or be arrested as in being caught by the police, or to be in mourning “When in Isle-en-Rigault, a young girl dies, for fifteen days, the young girls mourn, don’t dance. It’s the same with young boys. ” (Goncourt, Journal: When a young girl dies in l’Isle-en-Rigault for fifteen days young rils go into mourning and to not dance. It’s not the same with young boys.)

In other usages, around the end of November, gardeners in France get planting because the saying goes that everything takes root (takes root), and on your first visit to Paris you are likely to take a pose in front of the Eiffel Tower to take a photo, in brazen disregard of the flâneur code. (It is understandable, it’s your first time, you’re forgiven –just don’t do it again.)

In common usage, the verb prendre can take liberties and give the phrase some wings. Reading Jack Kerouac you may be tempted to prendre le large (to escape, to heed the call of the open road), and if the urge increases or keeps looming larger you can say that it prends de l’ampleur.

Faced with a difficulty or confrontation, you can choose to prends le taureau par les cornes (take the bull by the horns) or go for the often wiser alternative and prendre ses jambes dans son cou (lit: wrap your legs around your neck, to skedaddle).

If you are ever inclined to prendre le lune avec vos dents or attempt the impossible, it’s better to take with a pinch of salt or prendre avec des pincettes any advice that promises to help you fêter Noël sans prendre des kilos (indulge at Christmas without gaining weight) and even worse if they tell you comment tromper votre conjoint sans vous faire prendre (how to cheat without getting caught). You’d do well to remember the French proverb: “tel est pris qui croyez prendre” (the hunter becomes the hunted).


Find more French verbs here

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Sylvia is a freelance journalist based in France, focusing on business and culture. A valued member of the France Media editorial team, Sylvia is a regular contributor to our publication.

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  • French Word of the Week: “méprise” | The FrenchEntrée blog
    2014-01-09 09:21:43
    French Word of the Week: “méprise” | The FrenchEntrée blog
    […] it’s otherwise a mistake or misapprehension. The root of the word méprise comes from “prendre” or take, and it could be translated as “taken the wrong […]