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The Trouble with Trouble

The French word trouble should not give you any trouble, right? After all, it is a direct cognate of “trouble” in English… But don’t let this air of familiarity fool you. Trouble doesn’t always mean “trouble,” exactly. And that’s the trouble. So, let’s go to the trouble of exploring this sometimes troublesome word, trouble.


To determine whether or not we have a cognate is difficult. It all depends on what types of troubles we’re dealing with, and it is best to work on a case-by-case basis. The English cognate “trouble” works perfectly in some circumstances, when talking about le trouble du comportement (behavioral trouble), for example:


Pour l'ensemble de nos résidents qui correspondent au profil de trouble du comportement, Alzheimer, et cætera.

For all of our residents who fit the profile of behavioral trouble, Alzheimer's, et cetera.

Captions 21-22, JT La musicothérapie pour les aînés

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On the other hand, and despite the similar context, we no longer have a cognate in the example below. When dealing with troubles du comportement alimentaire, it's preferable to use the word “disorders” in English:


...voire même des troubles du comportement alimentaire majeurs, type, euh, anorexie.

...perhaps even major eating disorders like, um, anorexia.

Caption 18, Le Journal Publicité anti-calories

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Sometimes trouble is equivalent to “problem” in the general sense. For instance, we talk about troubles moteurs, sensoriels ou cognitifs (motor, sensory, or cognitive problems):


À l'âge de cinq ans, quarante pour cent de ces enfants ont des troubles moteurs, sensoriels ou cognitifs

At the age of five, forty percent of these children have motor, sensory, or cognitive problems

Caption 15, Le Journal Grands prématurés

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As for the term trouble used in the sense of disturbance, it's a cognate again! In times of political unrest, for example, we talk about périodes de trouble:


Aussi même pendant les périodes de trouble comme il y a neuf mois

Even during periods of trouble, such as nine months ago

Caption 25, Le Journal Les Français de Côte d'Ivoire

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And yet, if we combine trouble with an adjective, we may end up with an idiomatic expression like troubles violents (violent unrest):


S'ouvre alors une période de troubles violents

A period of violent unrest then begins

Caption 29, Le Monde Nouvelle-Calédonie : la dernière colonie française - Part 2

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People responsible for such troubles violents might be labeled as fauteurs de trouble (troublemakers): 


La police avait recensé un millier de fauteurs de troubles.

The police had counted about a thousand troublemakers.

Caption 12, Le Journal Manifestations des lycéens - Part 2

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That could spell des ennuis sérieux (serious trouble) for these fauteurs de trouble. In this animated video, the zoo animals also ont des ennuis (are in trouble). Note the French expression is avoir des ennuis (literally, "to have trouble"):


On va toutes avoir des ennuis maintenant.

We're all going to be in trouble now.

Caption 44, Les zooriginaux The Zoo Book - Part 3

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When having trouble or difficulty conducting a task, you will need to use a different expression: avoir du mal à + infinitive (to have trouble doing something):


Le Père Noël a bien du mal à finir à temps son travail.

Santa Claus is having a lot of trouble finishing his work on time.

Caption 16, Les belles histoires de Pomme d'Api Les Chaussettes du Père Noël

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Not being able to cope might mean that vous n’êtes pas au bout de vos peines (your troubles are far from over, or literally, "you're not at the end of your troubles"):


Mais bon, j'étais pas au bout de mes peines.

But, well, my troubles were far from over.

Caption 38, Le Jour où tout a basculé Mes grands-parents sont infidèles - Part 7

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When in difficulty, it’s always good to call on someone pour vous sortir d’affaires (to get you out of trouble):


On a tous besoin d’aide pour se sortir d’affaires de temps en temps

We all need help from time to time to get out of trouble.


In any event, it always pays to se donner la peine (to take the trouble) to do things right in the first place, even if it takes effort. In this example, though, se donner la peine is just a very formal way of inviting someone to take a seat (literally, "to take the trouble to sit down"):


Si madame veut bien se donner la peine.

If Madam cares to take the trouble [to go sit down].

Caption 53, Le Jour où tout a basculé Mon fils est amoureux de ma copine - Part 1

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In contrast, here is a more clearcut example where “trouble” in English is synonymous with la peine in French. Barbara wants to reward her mother for her hard work on the plumbing repair:


Pour la peine, je t'invite au restaurant.

For the trouble, I'm taking you out to the restaurant.

Caption 42, Mère & Fille C'est le plombier!

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Finally, the word trouble can also be an adjective meaning “unclear.” Such difficulty could be caused by bad eyesight, for example, as in voir trouble, which doesn’t mean “to see trouble," but “to be unable to see clearly.” Trouble is also the first-person singular indicative of the verb troubler (to trouble):


Je vois trouble et cela me trouble.

I can’t see clearly and it troubles me.


In conclusion, thank you for vous être donné/donnée la peine (taking the trouble) to read this lesson. As you may have noticed, the word trouble can be used in a variety of ways that are not always consistent. So let Yabla help you vous sortir d’affaires (get you out of trouble) with our wide range of videos featuring the word



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