12 Useful French Verbs You Might Not Be Using

Friends walking together in park

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Even after years of French classes and numerous visits to France, there are some verbs that you might not use until moving to France and being immersed in the language and culture. Perhaps you never learned them at all, or maybe they just seemed unusual or unnecessary at the time. Here are a dozen French verbs that are essential in France, even if most French teachers didn't seem to think so.

Assumer

To be fair, assumer is not a verb that you'll use every day, but you do hear it a lot, especially in movies and TV shows. It doesn't mean "to assume" as in to take something for granted (the French translation of that meaning is présumer), but rather "to assume / take on responsibility" for something. So it's very common in dramatic scenarios, like when one character does something wrong and another character tells him to accept the consequences.

  • Après son accident, j'ai dû assumer le rôle de mon collègue. --> After his accident, I had to take on / assume my colleague's role.
  • C'est toi qui l'as fait, alors assume ! --> You did it, so accept the consequences!

Se Débrouiller

It's funny to learn this verb after been studying French for many years, because se débrouiller is perfect for describing less than perfect language skills. Possible translations include "to get by, to manage, to cope." Se débrouiller can also refer to getting by in non-language situations, and the non-reflexive débrouiller means "to untangle, to sort out."

  • Il se débrouille bien en français. --> He gets by fairly well in French, He speaks fairly good French.
  • Tu te débrouilles très bien. --> You do very well for yourself, You make a good living.

Faillir

The verb faillir is fun partly because it's not equivalent to a verb in English, but rather an adverb: "to almost (do something)."

  • J'ai failli manquer l'autobus. --> I almost missed the bus.
  • Elle a failli tomber ce matin. --> She nearly fell this morning.

Ficher

Ficher has a number of different meanings and uses. In the normal register, ficher means "to file" or "to stick/drive (something) into (something)." Informally, ficher means to do, to give, to put, and more.

  • Il a déjà fiché les documents. --> He already filed the documents.
  • Mais qu'est-ce que tu fiches, là ? --> What the heck are you doing?

Ignorer

Ignorer is another great French verb that needs an adverb in the English translation: "to not know." Sure, you can also say ne pas savoir, but ignorer is shorter and somehow more elegant.

  • J'ignore comment elle l'a fait. --> I don't know how she did it.
  • Il prétend ignorer pourquoi. --> He claims not to know why.

Installer

You know installer means "to install, put in, set up," but it has additional meanings: to put up (e.g., curtains) and to furnish (a room). S'installer means to settle (into a lodging), to set oneself up, to sit down, or to take hold.

  • Tu as bien installé ton appartement. --> You've furnished your apartment nicely.
  • Nous nous sommes enfin installés dans la nouvelle maison. --> We're finally settled in the new home.

Ranger

Ranger means "to arrange, tidy, put away" - any sort of action related to putting things where they belong.

  • Peux-tu m'aider à ranger la cuisine ? --> Could you help me tidy up the kitchen?
  • Il a rangé les documents dans le tiroir. --> He put the documents away in the drawer.

Se Régaler

It's not surprising that the French have a verb, se régaler, for talking about how delicious something is, but what is unusual is that the subject of the verb in the English translation can be different. Note that se régaler can also mean "to have a good time," and that régaler means either "to treat someone to a meal" or "to regale someone with a story."

  • Je me suis régalé ! --> It was delicious! I had a delicious meal!
  • On s'est bien régalé à la fête. --> We had a great time at the party.

Risquer

You likely use risquer to talk about risks, but what you might not know is that it can also be used for positive possibilities.

  • Attention, tu risques de tomber. --> Careful, you might fall.
  • Je pense vraiment que notre équipe risque de gagner. --> I really think our team might win.

Tenir

Tenir is another verb with a whole host of meanings that you might not be aware of: "to hold, keep, run (a business), take up (space)," and more.

  • Peux-tu tenir mon sac ? --> Can you hold my bag?
  • Ses affaires tiennent pas mal de place. --> His things take up a fair amount of space.

Trier

The verb trier is used to talk about sorting everything from recyclables to baskets of fruit.

  • Il faut trier avant de recycler. --> You have to sort (your garbage) before recycling (it).
  • Beaucoup de ces framboises sont pourries - aide-moi à les trier. --> A lot of these raspberries are rotten - help me sort them (separate the good and bad ones).

Tutoyer

The quintessential French verb, you can use tutoyer only when you think it's time to take your relationships to the next level: switching from vous to tu. (And don't forget about its antonym vouvoyer.)

  • On peut se tutoyer ? --> Can we use tu?
  • Normalement, on tutoie ses parents. --> Normally, people use tu with their parents.