Even after nearly a decade of French classes and numerous visits to France, there were some verbs that I didn't use until I moved here and was immersed in the language and culture. Some I had never learned, while others just seemed unusual or unnecessary. In case you're in the same boat, here are a dozen French verbs that I find essential in France, even if my French teachers didn't seem to think so.
To be fair, assumer is not a verb that I use every day, but I sure 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 responsbility" 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!
Conjugating assumer | Using assumer
It's funny that I only learned this verb after I'd 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.
Conjugating débrouiller | Using débrouiller
I love the verb faillir, 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.
Conjugating faillir | Using faillir
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?
Conjugating ficher | Using ficher
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.
Conjugating ignorer | Using ignorer
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.
Conjugating installer | Using installer
Ranger means "to arrange, tidy, put away" - any sort of action related to putting things where they belong. (Please, no comments on why I didn't know this verb.)
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.
Conjugating ranger | Using ranger
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.
Conjugating régaler | Using régaler
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.
Conjugating risquer | Using risquer
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.
Conjugating tenir | Using tenir
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).
Conjugating trier | Using trier
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.
Conjugating tutoyer | Using tutoyer
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