French Lessons


Sports Talk: Jouer (Playing) vs Faire (Doing)

In our previous lesson, we focused on how to convey the concept of “exercise" in French. In this lesson, we’ll talk about jouer (to play) versus faire (to do) in relation to sporting activities. So, when should you use jouer and when should you use faire?


The good news is that the verb faire (to do) covers all your bases. In fact, you can safely use the construction faire plus a noun for any sport:


Elles font du sport.

They [feminine] do/are doing sports.

Caption 15, Farid et Hiziya Aller et faire

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Whether you’re talking about horseback riding, bike riding, or swimming, just use faire!


C'est pas pour faire du cheval, non?

It's not for horseback riding, no?

Caption 56, Lionel Le Musée du sabotier - Part 8

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On va jouer, euh... Peut-être on va faire du vélo, s'il y a.

We're gonna play, uh... We might go bike riding if there are any.

Caption 58, Actus Quartier Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 1

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Elles font... de la natation.

They go... swimming.

Captions 84-85, Lionel & Lahlou Être musulman - Part 2

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As you can see, the use of faire is straightforward. However, you will need to pay attention to the article that follows the verb. The construction is as follows: faire + the partitive articles du, de la, des, or de l’ . Your choice of article will depend on the gender of the sport you’re referring to. So, it pays to remember the gender of each noun.


Use the construction faire du with a masculine noun, as in faire du yoga (to do/practice yoga):


T'as pas besoin de faire comme un chien. Ni comme tu... si tu faisais du yoga.

You don't have to act like a dog. Or as you... [as] if you were doing yoga.

Captions 11-12, Lionel et Automne Le masque

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Use the construction faire de la with a feminine noun, as in faire de la gymastique (to do gymnastics/exercise):


On n'a que la cour et le préau pour faire de la gymnastique

We only have the courtyard and the playground to exercise

Caption 14, Grand Corps Malade Education nationale

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For nouns starting with a vowel, use l’ for both masculine and feminine, as in faire de l’équitation (horseback riding), equivalent to the expression faire du cheval mentioned earlier: 


C'est pas pour faire de l’équitation, non?

It's not for horseback riding, no?


Fortunately, when it comes to sports of foreign origin, especially English loanwords, we always say faire du, as these sports are always masculine. (Be careful, however, as the French meaning may differ. For example, le foot/le football refers to “soccer” in American English; “American football” would be le football américain.)


Mais ces garçons qui ont été recrutés pour faire du football

But these boys who were recruited to play soccer

Caption 31, Lionel Le club de foot de Nancy - Part 1

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As mentioned earlier, you can use faire (to do) with any sport, but you can also use jouer (to play). Indeed, the verbs jouer and faire are somewhat interchangeable. Just keep in mind you can only use jouer (to play) when referring to ball sports, like the most popular French sport, soccer. French people love jouer au foot (to play soccer):


pour jouer au foot, pour se détendre, pour pique-niquer

to play soccer, to relax, to picnic

Caption 17, Lionel L La Place des Vosges

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Note that we say faire du + sport, but jouer à + sport. So again, you will need to remember the gender of those sports names to choose the correct article: jouer + au, à la, à l’, or aux.


For example, the quintessentially French game of la pétanque is feminine, so we say jouer à la pétanque:


Pour jouer à la pétanque il faut au minimum deux joueurs.

To play pétanque, you need at the minimum two players.

Caption 5, Lionel Les nombres

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Like all sport names stemming from English, le tennis is masculine, so we say jouer au tennis (to play tennis), because à + le = au


Si vous voulez jouer au tennis, c'est possible.

If you want to play tennis, that's possible.

Caption 36, Voyage dans Paris Jardin du Luxembourg

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You can also use the verb jouer with board games, as in jouer aux échecs (to play chess). (Note that you can’t use faire with board games.)


On peut jouer aux échecs, au jeu de dames à disposition

You can play chess, checkers at your disposal

Caption 16, Lionel L Les voies sur berges

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All in all, talking about sports is not too difficult in French, since faire applies to most situations. However, pay attention to which preposition you should use in a sentence. In a nutshell, remember that faire goes with du, de la, de l’, des, and jouer goes with au, à la, à l’, aux.


Finally, note that in French you can never say jouer au sport, even though jouer means "to play." Instead, we say faire du sport (to do/play sports). And don’t forget that all sports names of foreign origin are masculine. Thanks for playing along!


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