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French Vocabulary

To Leave, to Exit… Quitter, Sortir, Partir, Laisser, S’en Aller

Camille Chevalier-Karfis By Camille Chevalier-Karfis on April 28, 2014

We have many verbs in French to translate the notion of “to leave” based on the context, and they are, unfortunately, not interchangeable.

1 – Quitter – to Leave Forever + Break up With Someone

“Quitter” is followed by a direct object.

Quitter is used mostly in 3 specific situations:

  1. quitter son mari = to leave (break up with) your husband, your lover.
    Je te quitte = I am breaking up with you.
  2. you can also quit a job, or quit a place forever = “quitter un travail, quitter un pays”.
  3. in the phone expression “ne quittez pas” to say ‘hold on’.

But watch out, we say “arrĂȘter de fumer” (to quit smoking) – not “quitter”.

2 – Sortir (de, dans, sur…) –  to Leave as in to Exit a Place.

Sortir is usually followed by a preposition of place and complement of place (not a direct object as in English).

  • Je sors DE la maison. I am exiting the house – in French, you need a “de”.
  • Je sors DANS la rue. I am going out in the street.

The focus in on the motion : so it’s more a description of your whereabouts, and when you exited a place to go in another one, and often both places are going to be specified.

With this meaning, “sortir” will take “ĂȘtre” in passĂ© composĂ©.

Je suis sortie DE ma chambre pour aller dans la cuisine. (I left/ exited/got out of my room to go in the kitchen)


3 – Sortir + Direct Object = to Take Something Outside

In this meaning, “sortir” will take “avoir” in passĂ© composĂ©.

  • Je sors les chiens = I’m taking the dogs out
  • J’ai sorti les poubelles – I took the garbage outside

4 – Sortir avec Quelqu’un: to go out (Socially – Romantic or not)

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It will take “ĂȘtre” in passĂ© composĂ©

  • Ce soir, je sors = I’m going out (socially) tonight
  • Il sort avec Anne = he is Anne’s boyfriend
  • Il sort avec Anne = he is going out (to the movies) with Anne – the context will hopefully tell you the difference.
  • Je suis sortie au cinĂ©ma = I went out to the movies.

Note the difference “je suis sortie DU cinĂ©ma” I left the movies / “je suis sortie AU cinĂ©ma” I went out to the movies.

On a related topic, you may enjoy my article on how to ask someone out on a date in French.

5 – Partir = to Leave Behind, to Depart

Partir is never followed by a direct object. It’s usually used alone, or with a complement of place (like a destination) or a complement of time.

Partir expresses the idea of leaving a situation to enter another one, rather than exiting a place to enter another one (in which case we would use sortir).

Partir also expresses the action of departing. It often involves a feeling,

Watch out! The verb is “partir”, not dĂ©partir which doesn’t exist in French. The noun however is “le dĂ©part” = the departure. I know, it’s confusing…

And Partir takes “ĂȘtre” in passĂ© composĂ©.

  • Je pars = I am leaving
  • Je pars en voyage = I am leaving on a trip
  • Je pars Ă  6h = I am leaving at 6 PM
  • Je pars DE Paris: I’m leaving (from) Paris.

6 – S’en Aller = to Leave (Focusing on the Action).

“S’en aller” is a bit older. Before, it was used a lot and could be followed by a destination.

  • Veux-tu nous en aller sous les arbres profonds (from a Victor Hugo’s poem) – We would NEVER say that nowadays.

Nowadays, the focus is on the action, sort of “I must be going” and can only be followed by a complement of time, never of place. We usually say “je pars” instead of “je m’en vais”.

  • Je m’en vais = I am leaving. (or je pars)

7 – Contrast “Partir” and “Sortir”

  • Demain, je vais partir de Paris pour aller Ă  Nice. Tomorrow, I’ll leave Paris to go to Nice.
  • C’est difficile de sortir de Paris le vendredi soir en voiture. It’s hard to leave (to exit) Paris on friday night by car.
  • Demain, je sors = tomorrow, I have plans (to go out with my friends)
  • Demain, je pars = tomorrow, I am leaving (leaving for how long, the sentence doesn’t say…)
  • Il est sorti de sa chambre pour aller dans la cuisine = he went out of his room to go in the kitchen…

How to say to leave in French

8 – Laisser – to Leave Behind/With Someone/ to let (allow)

In grammar, Laisser is followed by a direct object, not a complement of place introduced by a preposition… The direct object can be a place however!

Laisser takes avoir in passé composé.

  • Je laisse ma voiture dans le garage – I am leaving my car in the garage
  • Je laisse ma chienne Ă  mon amie – I’m leaving my dog with my friend
  • Je laisse ma chienne dormir dans mon lit – I let (allow) my dog sleep in my bed
  • Je te laisse dĂ©cider – I let you decide, I leave the decision up to you

9 – Exercise: Check if you can Understand and Then Translate

Aujourd’hui, j’ai laissĂ© la cuisine en dĂ©sordre (je n’ai pas sorti la poubelle) parce que je devais partir immĂ©diatement. J’avais des projets pour sortir avec Pierre. Je suis sortie de la cuisine, j’ai mis mon manteau et puis je suis partie. J’ai passĂ© une mauvaise soirĂ©e avec Pierre, et ce soir–lĂ , j’ai dĂ©cidĂ© de le quitter.

Today, I left the kitchen in a mess (I didn’t take the garbage out) because I had to leave right away. I had some plans to go out with Pierre. I came out of the kitchen, I put my coat on and I left. I had a bad evening with Pierre, and that evening, I decided to break up with him.

VoilĂ , I hope this is clearer. I’ve written many articles like this one – check out the tabs French Grammar and French Vocabulary!

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