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Assister: To Witness and Assist

In one of our newest videos, an interviewer asks people on the street to talk about their most beautiful dreams and most terrifying nightmares. One woman describes a particularly unsettling nightmare: 

 

J'assiste à des accidents où y a des gens qui sont très blessés...
I witness accidents where there are people who are badly injured...
Cap. 83-84, Micro-Trottoirs: Rêves et cauchemars

 

She's not saying that she assists with these accidents (which would be even more unsettling!), but that she witnesses themThe phrase assister à doesn't mean "to assist," but rather "to witness" or "to attend":

 

Puisqu'un public assiste à une assemblée générale et à une réunion...
Because a crowd attends a general assembly and a meeting...
Cap. 8, Lionel L: Nuit Debout - Journée internationale - Part 2

 

"To attend" looks a lot like the French verb attendre, but like "to assist" and assister à, these two words are faux amis (false friends)—attendre means "to wait," not "to attend." 

 

But once you take away the àassister has the same meaning as its English cognate:  

 

Le sous-chef assiste le chef dans la cuisine. 
The sous-chef assists the chef in the kitchen. 

 

There are a number of other French verbs meaning "to assist," like aider (to help) and accompagner (to accompany):

 

J'ai aidé ma grand-mère à nettoyer la maison. 
helped my grandmother clean her house. 

 

...qui connaissent les parents et accompagnent les enfants les plus en retard
...who know the parents and assist the students who are the most behind
Cap. 29, Grand Corps Malade: Education nationale

 

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