If you answered with the verb “visiter,” you are wrong. This is part of my top 10 most common vocabulary mistakes , so read up to learn the true meaning and uses of the verb “visiter” in French.
1 – Visiter in French = To Take A (Guided) Tour
In French, the verb “visiter” means to take a (guided) tour. You do that to a museum, or a house, but that’s about it.
- À Paris, j’ai visité le Louvre.
In Paris, I visited the Louvre.
- Marie m’a fait visiter sa nouvelle maison.
Marie gave me a tour of her new house.
2 – Une Visite = a Visit / a Tour
Following the same logic, the noun “une visite” can mean the exact same thing as in English, “a visit”, but also “a tour” as in when visiting a place…
- La visite guidée du Louvre était très intéressante – the guided tour of the Louvre was very interesting.
- Je suis allée chez ma grand-mère pour une visite surprise – I went to my grandma for a surprise visit.
3 – Don’t Use Visiter + Part of France
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To say “I visited Paris”, “I visited France”… as in you went there, well, we use the verb “aller” (“to go”). Not “visiter”, because it would imply you took a tour and saw everything. So it’s possible to use “visiter” + a tiny city that you actually toured with a guide, but not with a whole city. Well, it’s not so much that it is not possible, just that we don’t speak like that! We’d use aller.
- Je suis allée à Paris – I visited/ went to Paris
- À Paris, nous avons acheté un guide et nous avons visité les monuments historiques. – In Paris, we bought a guidebook and we toured the historical monuments.
4 – Visit + Person in French
Now, an even bigger problem, since this is so much used in English.
How would you say “I visited my friend,” or “my friend visited me?” in French?
Well, it’s not “visiter”. At least, not any longer. I’ve seen “l’ange Gabriel visita Marie” in the Bible… but we don’t use it in modern French.
This sounds particularly bad in French since “visiter” really brings up an exploration image… When a student tells me “J‘ai visité ma grand-mère” I have a flash of “Fantastic Voyage” where Raquel Welch and her team were shrunk to explore a patient’s body…
5 – Use Aller Voir + People to Say to Visit + People in French
So what do we use to say “to visit someone” in French?
Same answer as above: “aller” (or “venir” if the person is coming to you)
- Je suis allée (voir or chez) mon amie – I visited my friend.
- Mon amie est venue (me voir or chez moi) – My friend visited me.
You’d use “chez” here if the visit happens at your/your friend’s house.
6 – To Pay a Visit = Rendre Visite à Quelqu’un
Now, I can hear you saying: “What about rendre visite à quelqu’un ?”
And you are right, this is an expression we use from time to time. We use it as often as an English speaker would use “pay a visit to someone”.
My experience shows, however, that this expression doesn’t work for most students. Basically, the idea of “visiter + people” kind of stays in their head, and they soon forget the correct expression and revert to saying “J’ai visité mon amie” (which is a mistake).
So to say “I visited someone” in French, your grandmother for example, say “Je suis allée voir ma grand-mère” or “Je suis allée chez ma grand-mère“.
7 – How Do You Say “Come and Visit” in French?
This is a common expression in English, that doesn’t really have an equivalent in French however… Here, the notion of “visit” in English is not the one of taking a tour, but rather “visit us”, spend time with us, maybe it’s an invitation to sleep over : come see us, and you can stay with us (you don’t have to go to a hotel) kind of idea.
In France, we don’t have any expression like that. You cannot say: “venez et visitez”, that would make no sense at all in French. You could say “venez nous rendre visite” = “come pay us a visit”, that would be the closest translation.
I would probably say : “venez et restez chez nous quelques temps” : “come over and stay at our place for some time”.
In French, as in any language, there are many expressions such as this one that you cannot translate literally. The best is to learn the language in the context of a level appropriate story, so that you really get a feel for the expression and when to use them.
Furthermore, learning in a story makes you remember the words longer, since your brain remembers the story. I strongly suggest you check out my downloadable French audiobooks for all levels, available exclusively on French Today.