"Prendre l'air"

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

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

“Il se contenta d’une inclinaison de tout le corps (…) sans prendre avec sa main gantée de suède la main que le docteur lui avait tendue.” (Proust, Sodome: He merely bowed with his whole body, without taking in his hand the suede-gloved hand that the doctor had offered.)

Prendre is a verb, so therefore we must conjugate:


Je prends – I take, I am taking
Tu prends – you take, you are taking (sing.fam.)
Il prend – he/it takes, he/it is taking
Elle prend – she/it takes, she/it is taking
Nous prenons – we take, we are taking
Vous prenez – you take, you are taking (pl.pol.)
Ils prennent – they take, they are taking (m.)
Elles prennent – they take, they are taking (f.)

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the verbs right every time, in order to learn a language il faut prendre son temps!

Prendre can also mean have as in prendre un café or be arrested as in se faire prendre par la police, or to be in mourning “Quand dans l’Isle-en-Rigault, une jeune fille meurt, pendant quinze jours, les jeunes filles prennent le deuil, ne dansent pas. Il en est de même pour les jeunes garçons.” (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 prends racine (takes root), and on your first visit to Paris you are likely to prendre un pose in front of the Tour Eiffel to prendre une 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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