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De quoi s'agit-il dans cette leçon?

In the latest segment of his tour of L'Isle-Adam, Daniel makes repeated use of the common expression il s'agit de:

 

Il s’agit tout simplement de la plus grande piscine fluviale de France.
Quite simply, it is the largest river pool in France.
Cap. 7, Voyage en France: L'Isle-Adam - Part 3 of 4

 

Il s’agissait du Tarzan de l'époque, le célèbre Johnny Weissmuller.
It was the Tarzan of the time, the famous Johnny Weissmuller.
Cap. 13, Voyage en France: L'Isle-Adam - Part 3 of 4

 

We could rewrite the above sentences with the expression c'est/c'était: C'est tout simplement la plus grande piscine fluviale..., C'était le Tarzan de l'époque.... But whereas c'est simply means "it is," il s'agit de can also mean "it's about" or "it's a question of." You can use it to specify something you just mentioned:

 

Il s’agit de voir où sont les abus.
It’s a question of seeing where the abuses are.
Cap. 12, Le Journal: Contrôle des prix alimentaires - Part 1

 

La seule prison qui se trouve dans Paris intra-muros, il s’agit de la prison de la Santé...
The only prison located within Paris itself, namely, the Santé [Health] Prison...
Cap. 19, Voyage dans Paris: Le Treizième arrondissement de Paris - Part 1
 


Or you can use it to describe the content of something, for example a movie. Here's a very basic synopsis of the movie Jaws

 

Dans ce film, il s'agit des attaques de requin.
This movie is about shark attacks [literally: "In this film, it's about/it's a question of shark attacks"]. 

 

S'agir is an impersonal verb, which means it can only be conjugated with the pronoun il. So you couldn't say, Ce film s'agit des attaques de requin, even though that might seem like a more direct translation of the English. 
 

The best way to understand the nuances of il s'agit de is to hear it in context. You can do a Yabla search to find all the videos containing this extremely common expression. 
 

Stay tuned for our next lesson and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com!

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Cette leçon est à vous!

In her latest video series, Patricia talks about the different ways of expressing possession in French. Though she mainly focuses on possessive adjectives (which correspond to "my," "your," "his/her," etc.) and possessive pronouns (which correspond to "mine," "yours," "his/hers," etc.), Patricia also uses another possessive construction throughout the videos. It's the expression à + stressed pronoun (moi, toi, lui, elle, nous, vous, eux, elles), which can be used as an alternative to a possessive pronoun: 

 

Si cette tasse est à moi... je dis: c'est la mienne.
If this cup is mine... I say: it's mine
Cap. 27-30, Le saviez-vous? - Les pronoms possessifs - Part 1

 

This expression usually follows the verb être, as in the example above, but you'll also find it in other contexts: 

 

J'ai trouvé une robe à elle dans le grenier. 
I found a dress of hers in the attic. 

 

Unlike possessive adjectives and pronouns, which change depending on the gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural) of the possessed object, this construction corresponds to the gender and number of the possessor:

 

Et si je veux dire que cette chaussure est à lui... je vais dire: c'est sa chaussure. 
And if I want to say that this shoe is his... I'm going to say: it's his shoe. 
Cap. 55-59, Le saviez-vous? - Les adjectifs possessifs - Part 1

 

Since chaussure is feminine and singular, the possessive adjective modifying it also needs to be feminine and singular (sa). But sa chaussure can either mean "his shoe" or "her shoe" depending on context. We know that Patricia means "his shoe" here because she says cette chaussure est à lui (this shoe is his). If she had said cette chaussure est à elle (this shoe is hers), then sa chaussure would mean "her shoe." 

 

You'll often find this construction in combination with a possessive adjective. Let's say you're at a dog park and you're telling someone whose dog is whose. If you say c'est mon chien (that's my dog), they'll immediately know that the dog in question belongs to you. But if you say c'est son chien (that's his or her dog), they might not know who you're referring to. You can specify by saying: 

 

C'est son chien à elle. / C'est son chien à lui
That's her dog. / That's his dog. 

 

The expression c'est à + stressed pronoun also has another meaning that has nothing to do with possession. It's the equivalent of the English expression "it's up to me, you, etc.": 

 

C'est à toi de décider ce que tu veux faire. 
It's up to you to decide what you want to do. 

 

Thanks for reading! Tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

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Getting the Facts Straight

In her new sci-fi series Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones, Patricia imagines a dystopian future in which all credit card companies have merged into one:

 

Du fait de nombreuses fusions, il ne reste plus qu'une société anonyme de cartes de crédit
Because of many mergers, there remains only one limited liability credit card company
Cap. 15, Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones: Part 1 

 

Du fait de is one of several French expressions that mean "because" (you can learn more about these expressions in our past lesson on the topic). It's also one of many expressions featuring the word fait, which you might recognize as a conjugation of the verb faire (to make, to do). But fait is also a noun meaning "fact"—du fait de literally means "from the fact of." In this lesson, we'll review some other "fact"-based expressions in French. 

 

Patricia uses a similar expression to du fait de earlier on in her video—de ce fait(therefore, literally "from this fact"):

 

De ce fait, toutes les procédures de paiement sont réalisées sans argent physique. 
Therefore, all payment procedures are performed without physical money. 
Cap. 13, Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones: Part 1 

 

Now that you know that fait means "fact," you can probably guess what en fait means. Alessandro uses it when interviewing a flea market vendor: 

 

Vous, c'est une véritable passion que vous partagez tous les jours en fait.
For you, it's a true passion that you share every day, in fact.
Cap. 6, Cap 24: Paris - Alessandro fait les Puces! - Part 1

 

The vendor responds in the next caption with another fait expression, tout à fait (exactly):

 

Oui, oui. Tout à fait
Yes, yes. Exactly.  
Cap. 7, Cap 24: Paris - Alessandro fait les Puces! - Part 1

 

Don't confuse en fait with au fait, which means "by the way" or "incidentally":
 

Ah, au fait, j'ai parlé à Vanessa de nos nouveaux voisins.
Oh, by the way, I spoke to Vanessa about our new neighbors.
Cap. 22, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 8 

 

En fait and au fait are easily confused not only because they look similar, but also because the t is pronounced in both of them. In most other instances of the word fait, the t is silent.  

 

If someone has done a good job on something, you can say, Bien fait! (Well done!) In this case fait isn't a noun but the past participle of the verb faire:

 

Oui, chef. Bien fait!
Yes, chief. Well done!
Cap. 6, Il était une fois... L'Espace: 3. La planète verte - Part 2 

 

As a noun, fait doesn't only mean "fact." It can also mean "event" or "occurrence" depending on the context:

 

Cette histoire est inspirée de faits réels.
This story is inspired by real events.
Cap. 29, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 1 

 

This lesson is now a fait accompli (accomplished fact). Thanks for reading! 

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Wild and Crazy

In her latest video, Patricia gives us an overview of French synonyms, or words with the same basic meaning but different nuances and intensities. To demonstrate, she illustrates some examples of synonyms for "happy" and "angry." She repeatedly uses the expressionêtre fou/folle de (to be mad or wild with) to describe the more intense degrees of those emotions:

 

Elles sont folles de bonheur.
They are mad with happiness.
Cap. 17, Le saviez-vous? - Les synonymes

 

You can use this expression to heighten just about any word describing an emotion:

 

Ils sont extatiques, fous de joie, béats.
They are ecstatic, overjoyed, blissful. 
Cap. 17, Le saviez-vous? - Les synonymes

 

Elles sont folles de colèrefolles de rage, horripilées. 
They are wild with angerraging mad, incensed. 
Cap. 52-54, Le saviez-vous? - Les synonymes

 

Or, you can use it with any other noun or pronoun to describe something or someone you're "crazy about": 

 

Non, je ne suis pas fou. Je suis seulement fou de vous!
No, I am not crazy. I'm only crazy about you!
Cap. 6, Charles-Baptiste: Interview

 

...qui montre la vie trépidante des jeunes, fous de voitures dans les années soixante-dix.
...that shows the hectic life of young people who are crazy about cars in the seventies.
Cap. 8, L'auteur: Bernard Colin

 

If you haven't already, check out Patricia's other videos in the Le saviez-vous? series for more of her excellent insights into French language and culture. 

 

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or comments, please write to us at newsletter@yabla.com or tweet us @yabla.

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Expressions with "En"

In part three of "Le Jour où tout a basculé: Nos bébés ont été échangés," one of our new videos this week, Anne-Sophie and Frédéric receive some shocking paternity test results that throw a wrench into their already troubled marriage. Less scandalously, the video also features three common set phrases featuring the pronoun en. Though en usually replaces de + a noun, it doesn't really translate to anything in these three idioms. It's just along for the ride. 

 

Anne-Sophie uses the first expression, ne pas en croire ses yeux (to not believe one's eyes), when describing her reaction to the unbelievable test results: 

 

Je n'en croyais pas mes yeux.
couldn't believe my eyes.
Cap. 5, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Nos bébés ont été échangés... - Part 3

 

Later, when she calls Frédéric to tell him the news, she says: 

 

Rappelle-moi de toute urgence. Je t'en supplie!
Call me back urgently. I beg you!
Cap. 12, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Nos bébés ont été échangés... - Part 3

 

Je t'en supplie (or je vous en supplie in formal speech) is an impassioned, urgent way of saying "please" (just like "I beg you" or "I implore you" in English). It's very similar to another en idiom, je t'en prie, which can mean the same thing:

 

Je t'en prie, arrête, arrête
I'm begging you, stop, stop
Cap. 30, Indila: Love Story 

 

But unlike je t'en supplie, je t'en prie can also mean "you're welcome": 

 

Oh, je t'en prie, y a pas de quoi, hein.
Oh, you're welcome. Don't mention it, OK?
Cap. 15, Plus belle la vie: 2772 - Part 5

 

The narrator uses the most idiomatic of these expressions when describing Frédéric's state of mind: 

 

Il lui en veut toujours mais la donne va bientôt changer.
He is still mad at her, but the situation will soon change. 
Cap. 16, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Nos bébés ont été échangés... - Part 3

 

Vouloir means "to want," but en vouloir à means "to be mad at." The en makes quite a difference here! Note the indirect object pronoun lui in this example, which stands for à + elle, as we mentioned in a previous lesson.

 

When you make this expression reflexive (s'en vouloir), it doesn't mean "to be mad at oneself," but rather "to feel guilty": 

 

Je m'en veux vraiment de ne pas t'avoir cru; je suis vraiment désolée.
I feel really guilty for not having believed you; I'm really sorry.
Cap. 3, Plus belle la vie: 2773 - Part 7

 

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or comments, please write to us at newsletter@yabla.com or tweet us @yabla.

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"Être en train de": Process and Progress

Être en train de is a handy French expression that describes an event in progress. It's always followed by an infinitive and is often translated as "to be in the process of" or "to be in the middle of":

 

Donc, je suis en deuxième année là; je suis en train d'achever ma formation.
So, I'm in my second year now; I'm in the process of completing my training.
Cap. 19, 4 Mains Pour 1 Piano: Médaillon de Homard - Part 1

 

Là je suis en train de régler les meules pour que le grain soit correctement écrasé.
Here I am in the middle of setting the millstones so that the grain is crushed correctly.
Cap. 4, Télé Lyon Métropole: Chaillé-les-Marais - Une biscuiterie 100 % familiale 

 

But just as often, être en train de can simply be translated with the present progressive tense ("to be doing," "to be making," etc.):

 

Donc, en ce moment, on est en train de faire des truffes cacao.
So, right now, we're making cocoa truffles.
Cap. 7, Canadian Chocolate Seller: Chocolats

 

In French, there is no difference between the present tense and the present progressive tense: on fait can mean both "we make" and "we are making." So the above example could also be written:

 

Donc, en ce moment, on fait des truffes cacao.
So, right now, we're making cocoa truffles. 

 

Être en train de emphasizes the fact that the activity is currently in progress (further emphasized above by en ce moment). In fact, "currently" is another possible translation of être en train de:

 

...je suis en train de travailler avec celui qui a fait "Pulp Fiction" 
...I'm currently working with the person who made "Pulp Fiction"
Cap. 7, Melissa Mars: From Paris With Love

 

You can also use être en train de to describe a continuing event in the past. In this case, it's synonymous with the imperfect tense: 

 

Quand j'ai fait cette photo, la baleine était en train de dormir.
When I took this picture, the whale was sleeping.
Cap. 25, Le Journal: Sillonner & photographier les océans

 

Quand j'ai fait cette photo, la baleine dormait.
When I took this picture, the whale was sleeping.

 

Here again, être en train de stresses the continuousness of the action: the whale was "in the process of" sleeping when the speaker took the picture. 

 

Être en cours de has the same meaning and function as être en train de, except it's usually followed by a noun instead of an infinitive:

 

Un immense chantier est en cours d'achèvement.
A huge construction project is being completed.
Cap. 23, Voyage dans Paris: Cour de l'Industrie - Part 1 

 

A final note: Make sure not to confuse en train with entrain, a noun meaning "enthusiasm" or "liveliness." Nous espérons que vous êtes en train d'étudier le français avec entrain! (We hope you're in the process of studying French with enthusiasm!)

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Se Passer: To Bypass and Pass By

The subject of Lionel's latest video is Article 49-3 of the French Constitution, which gives the prime minister the power to push through legislation without a parliamentary vote. The government most recently invoked Article 49-3 to push through a labor reform bill that has sparked much controversy in France. Public outcry over the bill culminated in the Nuit Debout protest movement, which Lionel has also been covering for Yabla. 

 

In his video, Lionel uses the verb phrase se passer de (to bypass, to do without) to describe the government's action: 

 

Au final le gouvernement a décidé de passer en force, et s'est passé du vote de l'Assemblée Nationale et du Sénat.
In the end, the government decided to force its passage, and bypassed the vote of the National Assembly and the Senate.
Cap. 7-8, Lionel L: Le 49-3

 

The de in se passer de is crucial. If you remove it, you'll get a completely different expression, as Lionel demonstrates later on in the video: 

 

…et que d'ores et déjà nous pouvons comparer à ce qui s'est passé en France
…and that already we can compare it to what happened in France
Cap. 19, Lionel L: Le 49-3


By itself, se passer means "to happen" or "occur," as in the expression, Qu'est-ce qui se passe? (What's happening?/What's going on?) You'll also hear it in the impersonal expression il s'est passé...: 
 

Et il s'est passé quelque chose de complètement inédit pour moi…
And something happened that was completely new for me…
Cap. 45, Watt’s In: Indila - Dernière Danse Interview Exclu


But that's not all! Se passer can also mean "to pass" or "pass by" when referring to a period of time:

 

Six mois se sont passés depuis ma dernière visite. 
Six months have passed since my last visit.


Stay tuned to Yabla to learn more about ce qui se passe (what's happening) throughout the French-speaking world!

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Cette leçon a l'air très instructive!

In this lesson, we'll introduce three different ways of saying "to look like" in French. 

 

The first expression is ressembler à, which looks a lot like the English word "resemble" (but note the extra s) and is used in much the same way: 

 

Chacun de tes gestes ressemble aux miens
Each of your gestures looks like mine
Cap. 2, Ina-Ich: Âme armée 

 

Ressembler is always followed by à, except when à is replaced by an indirect object pronoun: 

 

Elle me ressemble.
She looks like me
Cap. 31, Le saviez-vous? - La conjugaison au au présent, au passé et au futur 

 

The second expression, avoir l'air de, is more informal and figurative than ressembler à. Its literal translation is "to have the air/appearance of," but it generally means "to look like" or "to seem": 

 

Tu n'as pas l'air de trouver ça suffisant, Psi.
You don't seem to think that's sufficient, Psi. 
Cap. 41, Il était une fois... L'Espace: 6. La révolte des robots - Part 7

 

Ce chien a l'air d'un loup. 
That dog looks like a wolf.

 

When the expression is in front of an adjective, the de is dropped: 

 

Ça a l'air délicieux, mais j'ai des crampes à l'estomac, je peux rien avaler.
It looks delicious, but I have stomach cramps, I can't swallow anything.
Cap. 4, Plus belle la vie: 2772 - Part 3

 

Avoir l'air (de) can often be replaced with the verb sembler (to seem): 

 

Tu ne sembles pas trouver ça suffisant, Psi. 
You don't seem to think that's sufficient, Psi. 

 

Ça semble délicieux, mais j'ai des crampes à l'estomac, je peux rien avaler.
It looks delicious, but I have stomach cramps, I can't swallow anything.

 

Finally, there's on dirait, which literally means "one would say," but is often used idiomatically to mean "it looks like":  

 

À première vue, on dirait une pharmacie, mais non...
At first glance, it looks like a pharmacy, but no...
Cap. 1, Le Journal: Chocolats

 

On dirait qu'il va neiger. 
It looks like it's going to snow. 

 

The main difference between these expressions is that ressembler à is only used to compare similar things, whereas avoir l'air de/sembler and on dirait can also be used to convey an impression of something. 

 

We hope this lesson lived up to its title! Feel free to tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

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D'ailleurs, je vais ailleurs

Ailleurs is an adverb with a few different meanings. By itself, ailleurs means “elsewhere,” in both a literal and figurative sense:  

On te souhaite, ben, beaucoup de réussite, su tu vas en Australie ou ailleurs

We wish you, well, a great deal of success, whether you go to Australia, or elsewhere.

Cap. 80, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano: Médaillon de Homard - Part 3

Désolé, je n’ai pas entendu la question. J’avais la tête ailleurs.

Sorry, I didn’t hear the question. My mind was elsewhere. 

You can also find ailleurs in the more absolute phrases nulle part ailleurs (nowhere else) and partout ailleurs (everywhere else):

...et des poissons qu'on ne trouve nulle part ailleurs.

...and fish that one cannot find anywhere else.

Cap. 15, Le Journal: L’île de Pâques

La situation s’améliore partout ailleurs.

The situation is improving everywhere else.

Ailleurs can also be found in two common phrases that are used to add extra information to a topic. The first of these is par ailleurs (otherwise, additionally): 

La préfecture du Rhône a par ailleurs mis en place un centre d'appel 

Additionally, the Rhône Prefecture has set up a call center

Cap. 28, Le Journal: La grippe aviaire - Part 2

The second phrase, d’ailleurs, has a wide range of meanings: 

C'est un très bon vin et d'ailleurs je vous conseille de le boire.

It's a very good wine and I recommend that you drink it, for that matter.

Cap. 4, Actu Vingtième: Vendanges parisiennes

C'est d'ailleurs lui qui préface le livre.​

He's the one who prefaces the book, by the way.

Cap. 10, Alsace 20: 100 recettes pour 100 vins

Un très beau lieu d’ailleurs.

A very beautiful place, incidentally.

Cap. 66, LCM - Concert: La Folia à l’abbaye Saint-Victor

Both d’ailleurs and par ailleurs can be placed pretty much anywhere in a sentence. For instance, we could easily move the phrases from the middle of the sentence to the beginning in the examples above: 

Par ailleurs, la préfecture du Rhône a mis en place un centre d’appel

D’ailleurs, c’est lui qui préface le livre.

An easy way to learn the difference between these very similar phrases is to learn synonyms for them. Par ailleurs is generally synonymous with d’autre part and d’un autre côté (otherwise, on the other hand), while d’ailleurs is synonymous with du reste (furthermore), en outre (besides), and de plus (moreover). In other words, while d’ailleurs tends to be used to confirm what was previously said, par ailleurs is more often used to contradict it or provide an alternative. 

That pretty much covers all the uses of this word, but if you’re interested in looking ailleurs for some more translations and example sentences, this Larousse entry is a handy summary of everything we mentioned above.

 

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Prendre pour acquis - Taking for granted

You can tell from his soulful singing that Corneille is a sweet and sensitive man—but there is one thing we just can’t take for granted: knowing how to express that we are taking something for granted! First, take a look at what Corneille croons:

Et si je prends pour acquis mes chances / Fais-moi peur que plus jamais j’y pense

And if I take my luck for granted / Scare me so that I don't think of it ever again 

Captions 26-27, Corneille: Comme un fils

Corneille says that he doesn’t want to take his chances (his luck) for granted. The infinitive of this verb phrase is prendre pour acquis. As you may have guessed, it literally translates as “to take for acquired,” but what it really means is “to take for granted.” This phrase is popular in French Canada, where Corneille eventually settled after leaving Africa.

Now, if you are a real stickler for grammar, you are probably thinking that, because chances is feminine in gender and plural in number, Corneille should have made the adjective agree, using acquises instead of the masculine and singular acquis. However, in actual practice, French Canadians often don’t make the acquis in prendre pour acquis agree with the noun to which it refers, though some make the argument that they should.

Tenir pour acquis is the more traditional way to express the same sentiment, and is considered more “correct” (if not more popular). In France, both prendre pour acquis and tenir pour acquis are understood, but sound a bit formal and old-fashioned. The French prefer the phrase considérer comme acquis for use in common, everyday speech.

Ne considère pas mon amour comme acquis, ou tu risquerais de me voir partir

Don't take my love for granted, or one day you may find me gone.

So far we have been talking about “to take for granted” in the sense of under-appreciating your blessings. That’s all well and good, but what if you want to talk about “taking something for granted” in its alternate sense, that of “taking something as a given,” or “taking something as self-evident”? Similar to English, prendre pour acquis serves double duty, and can be used to express this meaning of “to take for granted” as well. Once again, this usage is more commonly heard in Canada, while a contemporary French person is more likely to just say that he or she is “sure” of the thing.

J’ai pris pour acquis que le facteur viendrait tous les jours, mais je me suis trompé. [Canada] 

J’étais sûr que le facteur viendrait tous les jours, mais je me suis trompé. [France]

I took for granted that the mailman would come daily, but I was wrong.

Nous prenons pour acquis que le prix de l’essence va augmenter. [Canada]

Nous sommes sûrs que le prix de l’essence va augmenter. [France]

We take for granted that the price of gas will go up.

Allant de soi (literally, “going from itself”) means being “obvious” or “a given.” When we place considérer comme before it, we get considérer comme allant de soi, which literally means “to consider as obvious” or “to consider as a given." This can often be best translated as “to take as self-evident” and is frequently used in scholarly writing.

La plupart des gens acceptent comme allant de soi que chaque ville-région n’ait qu’un seul gouvernement municipal.

Most people seem to regard it as self-evident that every city-region needs a single municipal government.

[from “Globalization Does Not Need Amalgamation” in Policy Options (Nov. 1999), a bilingual Canadian journal of public policy]

A related phrase that means “it's a given” is ça va de soi (literally, "it goes from itself"). This phrase, which is widely used in both France and Canada, is usually translated using the common English phrase “it goes without saying.” There is a more “proper” and formal version, cela va de soi, which is more often used in writing and less in casual conversation.

Sommes-nous heureux avec les résultats de l’élection? Ça va de soi! [Casual]

Sommes-nous heureux avec les résultats de l’élection? Cela va de soi! [Formal]

Are we happy with the election results? It goes without saying!

It is not at all unusual to hear a sentence begin with Ça va de soi que… as we see in the example below, but once again, we find there is a more formal version. Il va de soi que… is considered more “proper” and is therefore the construction you are more likely to see in written texts.

Ça va de soi que les Américains fondent beaucoup d’espoir sur leur nouveau président. [Less formal]

Il va de soi que les Américains fondent beaucoup d’espoir sur leur nouveau président. [More formal]

It goes without saying that Americans are hopeful about their new president.

There are many other ways and variations of expressing both meanings of “to take for granted” in French. If you’d like to learn a few more, read this interesting discussion.

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