Supporter and soutenir both translate into to support in English, but are not always interchangeable in French.
- Le père soutient la bicyclette et il soutient son fils moralement. Il ne supporte pas l’idée qu’il puisse tomber.
The father holds the bike and supports his son. He cannot stand the idea that he may fall.
1 – Supporter and Soutenir With Things – to Support as in to Hold Together
With things, both verbs have the idea to help a structure, to hold it in some sort.
- Il a mis un morceau de bois sous la branche pleine de pommes pour la soutenir.
He put a piece of wood under the branch full of apples to support it.
Supporter is a bit stronger than soutenir since the root verb is porter= to carry, versus tenir = to hold… But they are almost similar in that meaning, and more or less interchangeable.
- Cette poutre supporte tout le poids de la baignoire.
This beam supports all the weight of the bathtub.
2 – Supporter and Soutenir With People – to Support Someone ≠ to (not) stand someone
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Soutenir has a positive meaning: it’s to support someone as in to encourage someone, or help them mentally, physically and often financially.
- Je soutiens l’équipe de France
I support the French team
- C’est son père qui le soutient financièrement
His Dad supports him financially.
Supporter has a negative meaning: we use it mostly to say “I can’t stand it”
- Il ne supporte plus son voisin
He can no longer stand his neighbor
- La douleur n’est pas supportable
The pain is unbearable
3 – Un Soutien is For Moral / School Help in French
Un soutien is the noun derived from soutenir.
- Sa présence m’est d’un grand soutien
His presence is a huge moral help to me.
- Il a besoin d’un soutien scolaire
He needs help with school
That’s where the word “un soutien-gorge”, a bras comes from. The gorge in old French was not just the throat, but the whole chest area. So it literally meant “hold the chest”.
Watch out with the word “un souteneur” which is a used for a pimp in French!
4 – How do You Say Fan and Supporter in French?
As far as I know, there is no French word for fan. We use English terms :
- un fan, une fan (no e, the spelling doesn’t change)
- un supporter (always in the masculine)
- un supporteur, une supportrice (which comes directly for supporter and to support, and made into a French word. But we don’t use it very often)
5 – Supporter – A Common Anglicism
Unfortunately, it’s a common anglicism to nowadays use “supporter” + team, because of the word “un supporter de foot” – a soccer fan… So you’ll hear French people say “je supporte l’équipe des Bleus”… But it’s a mistake.
The correct French verb to use here would be “soutenir”, or “encourager”: “je soutiens / j’encourage l’équipe des Bleus”.
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