If you’ve studied our recent lesson on French numbers, you should theoretically be able to count to a billion (compter jusqu’à un milliard) in French. But since no one has time to do that, let’s focus on some other, more practical uses of the verb compter.
Counting doesn’t always involve numbers. For example, if you’re relying on someone to do something, you’re counting on (compter sur) them, as this Parisian chef is counting on us to visit his restaurant:
À vous aussi de venir ici, on compte sur vous.
Up to you to come here too, we're counting on you.
You can also count on a future event to happen (or not happen). Bertrand Pierre is an extremely talented singer-songwriter, but for some reason he doesn’t expect to make it big. He expresses his pragmatism with the construction “compter + infinitive”:
Je compte pas devenir une star internationale, c'est pas ça que je veux dire.
I'm not expecting to become an international star, that's not what I mean.
Cap. 22, Bertrand Pierre: Autre Chose
Sometimes compter refers not to counting numbers, but containing them. If the subject of the verb compter is an inanimate object, it’s most likely describing contents:
Après un peu de lecture, dans une bibliothèque qui compte quarante mille volumes...
After a bit of reading, in a library that contains forty thousand volumes…
Quite a few expressions are based on the noun form of compter, compte, which can mean “count,” “total,” or “account.” If you’re a Yabla subscriber, for example, you have un compte (an account) with us. Un compte can also mean “account” in a more figurative sense, as in the expression prendre en compte (to take into account):
Tous ces éléments-là sont importants aussi à prendre en compte...
All those elements there are also important to take into account...
Cap. 19, Le Journal: Grands prématurés
A very common expression with compte is se rendre compte, which means “to realize” or “become aware” (literally, “to give an account to oneself”). In the latest installment of our Il était une fois episode on Scottish explorer James Bruce, a shipmate reflects on the crew's recent discovery of Abyssinia:
Tu te rends compte, Luigi, nous repoussons les limites de l'inconnu.
You realize, Luigi, we're pushing the limits of the unknown.
Don’t forget that se rendre compte is a reflexive expression, and its meaning changes completely when you remove the se: instead of giving an account to yourself, you’re giving an account to someone else, i.e., reporting to them:
On y va? -Oui, mais d'abord, on rend compte à Oméga.
Shall we go? -Yes, but first we report to Omega.
We’ll end with a compte expression that deals with endings: en fin de compte (literally, “at the end of the account”), which can be translated as “ultimately,” “at the end of the day,” or “when all is said and done”:
En fin de compte, un bateau qui est propulsé par une motorisation cent pour cent électrique.
Ultimately, a boat that's propelled by one hundred percent electric power.
Compte tenu de (taking into account) all of the different ways of using compter and compte, you might feel overwhelmed when trying to remember them all. But don’t worry if you can’t master them right away: c’est l’intention qui compte (it’s the thought that counts)!