1 - Porter ≠ mener : things ≠ people/animals
The verb “porter” means to carry, so it’s used with inanimate objects.
- Je porte ma valise – I carry my suitcase.
- J’emporte mon parapluie en voyage – I’m taking my umbrella on my trip.
- J’apporte une bouteille chez mon ami – I’m bringing a bottle to my friend’s house.
The verb “mener” means to lead, so it’s used with animate beings: people and animals.
- Napoléon mène ses armées – Napoleon leads his armies.
- J’emmène mon bébé au restaurant – I’m bringing my infant to the restaurant.
- J’amène ma fille à l’école – I’m taking my daughter to school.
2 - To leave at a destination or to stay with = the prefixes "A" and "Em"
Then, the question to ask is whether you are accompanying, staying with the person, or keeping the thing with you, OR if you are just dropping it/him/her, leaving it/him/her at destination.
- The prefix “A” in French means that you are going to leave the thing/person there. This is the idea behind “amener” and “apporter”.
- The prefix “Em” in French means you are staying with the thing/person. This is the idea behind “emmener” and “emporter”.
3 - Contrast
- J’emporte mon parapluie en voyage – I’m taking my umbrella on my trip. (It’s a thing and it's staying with me)
- J’emmène mon bébé au restaurant – I’m taking my infant to the restaurant. (He/she is a person and I am staying with him/her)
- J’apporte une bouteille chez mon ami – I’m bringing a bottle to my friend’s house . (It's a thing and I'm leaving it there)
- J’amène ma fille à l’école – I’m taking my daughter to school. (She's a person and I am dropping her there)
4 - Remark...
Unfortunately, just like in English with "bring" and "take", you will hear many mistakes... "amener, emmener" tend to be used more and more for people (as they should) AND things.
5 - More expressions
- Remporter – to win a competition.
Il a remporté la finale. He won the final match.
- Rapporter – to bring something back, to return something.
Je dois rapporter le livre à la bibliothèque. I have to return the book at the library.
- La nourriture à emporter – take-out food
Il vend des pizzas à emporter. He sells take-out pizzas.
- Ramener – to take someone to their home/hotel, to give someone a ride home.
Tu veux que je te ramène ? Would you like me to give you a ride home?
- Porter – to wear + clothing.
Je porte une jupe. I am wearing a skirt.
- Tu t’amènes ? – slang – Are you coming?
On se casse, tu t’amènes ? We’re leaving, are you coming with us?