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Finding the Right Place

The word place is very common in French and poses few problems when it's a direct cognate of the English "place." Other times, however, the meanings diverge, and the word place will translate in a variety of ways depending on context. So, let’s go places and explore the similarities and differences in the use of the word place in this lesson.


As we just mentioned, the word place can be used in a similar way in English and in French in some situations. For example, "a place to stay" is une place d’accueil (literally "a place of welcome"). In the video below, welcome centers around France offer des places d’accueil (places to stay) for refugees:


C'est près de deux cents places d'accueil...

It's nearly two hundred welcoming places...

Caption 35, Réfugiés de Calais L’accueil des migrants en Finistère

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Une place does not only refer to a physical place, but also to a figurative one, like the place where you belong in life. That's a tough question for this lost soul in Yaaz’s sad song "La Place des anges," who muses over an uncertain future and wonders where angels truly belong:


Mais la place des anges n'est pas ici

But the angels' place is not here

Caption 7, Yaaz La place des anges

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Sometimes finding the right place is simply a practical matter. In this well-organized restaurant, the staff is ready to se mettre en place (take their places) before the rush of diners:  


Eh ben, on se met en place et on fait tout ça.

Well then, we'll take our places and we'll do all that.

Caption 76, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano Médaillon de Homard - Part 2

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The expression remettre à sa place, though, is not so kind, as it means to put someone back in their place:


Le patron l’a remis à sa place.

The boss put him back in his place.


So far, we’ve looked at examples of true cognates. Unfortunately, these only work in a limited context, as une place often means something other than “a place.” But it doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, to book a table, a room, seats, or buy concert tickets, just say réserver une place! In the following video, une place means “a ticket” to a concert:


Dix mille places se sont arrachées en deux jours.

Ten thousand tickets were snapped up in two days.

Caption 13, Alsace 20 Rammstein à Strasbourg

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Une place can also refer to the seating capacity or number of seats in a venue:


Mercredi je joue au Sin-é et... C'est trois cents places

On Wednesday I'm performing at Sin-é and... It's three hundred seats.

Caption 9, Charles-Baptiste Interview

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Or to the seating capacity in a car, or even the sleeping capacity in a bed:


On dit un lit à deux places et une voiture à cinq places en français.

We say a double bed and a five-seater car in French.


La place can also simply describe the amount of space available for comfort—in other words, “space” or “room”:


Qu'à tes côtés y a plus de place et que je ne peux pas rester

That there's no room left by your side and that I can't stay

Caption 24, Babylon Circus J'aurais bien voulu

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And when there is not enough place (room) because something or someone takes up too much space, you can use the expression prendre toute la place (to take up all the space), like the naughty cat in this video:


Et en plus, elle prenait... et toi, prenez toute la place dans le lit.

And in addition, she took... and you, [you both] take up all the space in bed.

Captions 27-28, Marie & Jeremy Le chat

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Now that we’ve looked at the various uses of the French word place, let’s look at its English counterpart. Again, you will encounter a variety of translations. When referring to a geographical “place” or location, you can’t use the French place anymore. Instead, use un endroit or un lieu (a place). If that place happens to be your home, or “your place," use chez moi (my place). In their video on Parc de la Villette, Amal and Caroline use all three. First, they talk about un endroit:


Je crois que c'est aussi un endroit assez culturel...

II think it's also a pretty cultural place...

Caption 37, Amal et Caroline Le Parc de la Villette

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Then they use a synonym, un lieu:


Ce qui est vraiment intéressant, c'est que tu as plein de lieux pour faire la fête.

What's really interesting is that you have plenty of places to party.

Captions 53-55, Amal et Caroline Le Parc de la Villette

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And earlier on, one of them mentions how close they are to her place: 


On est même pas à cinq, dix minutes à pied de chez moi.

We're not even five, ten minutes away by foot from my place.

Caption 7, Amal et Caroline Le Parc de la Villette

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(For more information on chez moi, check out our lesson Chez moi, c’est chez toi.)


Just to confuse matters further, your “place” or “home” might be located on une place, "a square." In the video below, Joanna and Caroline invite us to visit la place Stanislas (Stanislas Square). Note that there is no need to capitalize place in an address:


On a décidé de vous faire visiter la place Stanislas.

We've decided to show you around Stanislas Square.

Caption 4, Joanna La Place Stanislas

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Instead of visiter une place, you may prefer to rester sur place (to stay/remain on site). These refugees are fortunate in that they can stay in the same spot for a few months:


Ces groupes devraient rester quelques mois sur place

These groups should stay on site for a few months

Caption 37, Réfugiés de Calais L’accueil des migrants en Finistère

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Or you may seek another kind of place that has nothing to do with location. Une place can also be "a position” or “a job"—whether an everyday occupation or the prestigious position of honorary president of the Cannes Film Festival:


Madame de Havilland... on vous a proposé en tout cas pour la place de présidente d'honneur à vie de ce festival.

Ms. de Havilland... you were nominated in any case for the position of honorary president of this festival [jury] for life.

Captions 31-33, Interviews au Festival de Cannes Olivia de Havilland

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La place also means "position" in general in expressions such as se mettre à la place de quelqu’un (to put oneself in another person’s position/place):


Faut se mettre à la place d'Obama ; pendant trois ans, il s'était farci...

You need to put yourself in Obama's position; for three years, he had been putting up with...

Caption 26, Alsace 20 Laurent Chandemerle, l'homme aux 100 voix

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On the flip side, the French word une position can mean "rank" or "place." In her video, Nelly ranks her favorite places (lieux or endroits) to visit in France:


En septième position, nous avons les gorges du Verdon.

In seventh place, we have the gorges of Verdon.

Caption 20, Français avec Nelly 10 Places to Visit in France - Part 2

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The word place has so many meanings that il n’y a pas assez de place (there is not enough space) in this lesson to mention them all. Just remember that context is key and feel free to browse through our Yabla videos and notice how often the word place comes up! 


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