When it comes to using to Bring and to Take in French, you cannot just translate. The logic is a bit different in French, so you need to think as a French person would, therefore you need to really understand the meanings of the verb, or in this case, the meaning of the “base verbs” porter and mener.
The key is to understand the meanings of the base verbs “porter” and “mener” and the meaning of their prefixes “a-“, “em-“, “ra-” and “rem-“.
“Amener” Is The New Norm
Before I dig into detailed explanations of how to translate “to bring” and “to take” in French, please not that the verb “amener” is used more and more in any situations nowadays.
For example, you’ll commonly here “Qu’est-ce que tu veux que j’amène ?” (What shall I bring?). It’s a mistake. It should be: “Qu’est-ce que tu veux que j’apporte ?”
“Qui t’amène à l’aéroport” (who is taking you to the airport?) should be “qui te conduit à l’aéroport ?” (who drives you to the airport?)
So if the French themselves make mistakes, how is a foreigner to learn…
Well, hopefully, my explanations will help:
To Bring and To Take in French – Selecting the Base Verbs
Porter ≠ Mener : Things ≠ People/Animals
The French 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 bringing 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.
Everyday Spoken French
Now, this being said, the French tend to no longer care about using the right verb. You’ll hear “amener” in many situations, including when “apporter” would be appropriate.
For example, it’s common for a waiter to say:
- “je vous amène ça tout de suite”
I’ll bring it right away
When obviously he’s not leading the food but carrying it…
But back to the formal rules.
The Prefixes a-, em-, ra- and rem-
Adding these prefixes to the “base verbs” porter and mener, we get:
- From porter: apporter, emporter, rapporter and remporter.
- From mener: amener, emmener, ramener and remmener.
As explained in section 1:
- Prefix + porter is used with things and inanimate objects.
Ex: emporter – to bring things
- Prefix + mener is used with people and animals.
Ex: amener – to bring a person
Again, just like in English with “bring” and “take”, you will hear many mistakes, more and more widely common and “accepted” mistake. Unless you have to ace your French exam!
To Bring and To Take in French – Choosing the Right Prefix
Once you have selected your correct “base verb”, 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.
Then, selecting the correct prefix will translate the notion of bring or take in French.
- 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”.
- The prefixes “ra-” and “rem-” in French can mean either:
– the repetition of an action
– the return to a point of departure
– the return of something to its normal place.
Take and Bring in English
Frederica, in the Disqus comments says: “In English, we “take” something/someone from here to there, and we “bring” something/someone with us”. So I guess there is a bit of a similarity here.
Daniel, in an email to me says: Bring and take are about the perspective of the speaker.
Merriam Webster says: bring is to convey, lead, carry, or cause to come along with one toward the place from which the action is being regarded…
4 Examples for Bring and Take in French
Here are four examples : maybe remembering the examples will work better for you than trying to remember the rule? I find it’s often the case.
- J’emporte mon parapluie en voyage.
I’m taking/bringing my umbrella on my trip.
(It’s a thing and it’s staying with me)
- J’emmène mon bébé au restaurant.
I’m taking/bringing 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 taking a bottle to my friend’s house .
(It’s a thing and I’m leaving it there – whether I help drinking it or not is not the point!)
- J’amène ma fille à l’école.
I’m taking my daughter to school.
(She’s a person and I am dropping her there)
More verbs for Bring & Take in French
Now, if you are super finicky, there are even more precise verbs that could be used:
- “(re)conduire” if you are driving and not walking,
- “(r)accompagner” if you are just accompanying someone (for the pleasure of their company)…
Someone once corrected my French when I said : “c’est moi qui amène Leyla à l’école le matin” using “amener” (to take) instead of “conduire” (to drive)…
6 French Expressions With Amener, Emmener, Apporter, Emporter, Rapporter
And then, there are idiomatic use of these verbs. The meaning is a bit stretched.
- 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.
I’m carrying this book, and then leaving it at the library.
- La nourriture à emporter – take-out food
Il vend des pizzas à emporter.
He sells take-out pizzas.
So, although English uses “take” here, you are actually bringing this pizza home with you. The pizza stays with you.
- 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?
It’s a person, and you are leaving them at their place.
- Se la ramener – French slang – to show off
Pierre se la ramène toujours… Je ne le supporte pas !
Pierre is constantly showing off… I can’t stand him!
- 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? – More French slang expressions.
The French Verb Prendre
The irregular French verb “prendre” is usually translated by “to take”, as in to take a train, to take something in your hand…
It can be a synonym of “apporter” or “emporter”.
Unfortunately, translating “prendre” is not always easy since French and English don’t always match and there are many expressions with that very common French verb.
- Je prends mon parapluie = j’emporte mon parapluie = I’m taking my umbrella
- J’ai pris sa main dans ma main = I took her hand in my hand
- Je prends une decision = I’m making a decision (! French and English don’t use the same verb here…)
- Prendre son pied = idiom, a bit slang but very common. Literally “to take one’s foot”. It means to have a blast.
Avoid An Embarrassing Mistake With Prendre
Watch out that in French “prendre quelqu’un” has a sexual meaning, just like it can have in English.
Unfortunately, it’s a mistake I hear too often. A student who wants to say “he takes me home” may say “il me prend chez moi” and this has a sexual meaning in French. You should say “il me ramène”.
I hope I made things a bit clearer – it’s not an easy lesson. I suggest you remember the examples and learn them by heart since remembering the reasoning may be more tedious than just learning by heart in this case :-)