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Discovering and Retrieving

In French, there are two different verbs meaning “to find”: trouver and retrouver. Although the two verbs are often interchangeable, the major difference between them has to do with the difference between discovering and retrieving: while trouver usually refers to finding something new, retrouver (which is related to “retrieve”) usually refers to finding something you’ve lost. 

 

If you go to the fantastic food market in Arles, you’ll be overwhelmed by the incredible amount of fresh cheeses you’ll find there: 

On trouve les meilleurs fromages de toutes les régions
We find the best cheeses from all the regions
Cap. 17, Arles: Le marché d’Arles

On a more emotional note, you might be determined to find a lost love, like the subject of this music video: 

Elle a juré de vous retrouver vite.
She swore to find you again fast. 
Cap. 9, Yaaz: La place des anges 

“To find” doesn’t only refer to finding a person or a thing. You can also find something intangible, like a concept, feeling, or physical state:

Comme il trouve pas la solution
Since he can't find a solution
Cap. 26, Oldelaf: Le monde est beau
 

J'ai fait un cauchemar et ne pouvais pas retrouver le sommeil. 
I had a nightmare and could not get back to sleep. 

 

In English, "to find" can also be a synonym for “to think,” when expressing an opinion. Likewise, trouver can be a synonym for the standard French words for "to think," penser and croire. Like the person in this video, we at Yabla find foreign language learning to be very important: 

Je trouve que c'est très important de... étudier les langues étrangères.
I think it's very important to... study foreign languages.
Cap. 1, Allons en France: Pourquoi apprendre le français? 

When you make trouver and retrouver reflexive, their meanings become less straightforward. Take a look at this sentence, in which the explorer James Bruce expresses his certainty about the location of the source of the Nile: 

Et elle se trouve sûrement là-bas!
And it is certainly over there!
Cap. 9, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs: 15. Bruce et les sources du Nil - Part 5

Elle se trouve literally means “it is found,” but se trouver can also be translated as “to be located” or simply “to be.” Don’t confuse this with the set expression il se trouve que..., which means “it just so happens that…” or “it turns out that…”:

Il se trouve que j’ai une autre paire de gants. 
It just so happens that I have another pair of gloves. 

When you make retrouver reflexive, it has the sense of being somewhere again or meeting again: 

Les Marseillais ne cachent pas le plaisir de se retrouver.
The Marseille residents are not hiding the pleasure of getting together again.
Cap. 32, Alsace 20: Rencontre avec les membres d’IAM

On se retrouve au café après l'école?
Shall we meet at the café after school? 

Se retrouver can also refer to finding oneself in a particular situation: 

Je me suis retrouvé le bec dans l'eau.
found myself with my beak in the water. [I was left high and dry.]

We hope you’ve found this lesson helpful and that you find everything you may have lost! 

Vocabulary

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