These French verbs are confusing for English speakers because they cannot be translated from their English counterpart: to bring and to take.
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-“.
1 – To Bring and To Take in French – Selecting the Base Verbs
A – 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 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.
B – 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
Unfortunately, just like in English with “bring” and “take”, you will hear many mistakes… The verbs based on “mener” tend to be used more and more for people (as they should) AND things. It’s a very common mistake, most people don’t know that rule, so it’s an “accepted” mistake.
2 – 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.
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.
3 – Examples for Bring and Take in French
- J’emporte mon parapluie en voyage – I’m bringing my umbrella on my trip. (It’s a thing and it’s staying with me)
- J’emmène mon bébé au restaurant – I’m 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)
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)…
4 – More French Expressions With Amener, Emmener, Apporter, Emporter, Rapporter
- 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.
- 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.
5 – 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.
6 – 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 :-)