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Passing Time with Passer

In the latest installment of Le Jour où tout a basculé, we find two very different uses of the verb passer. The first is a direct cognate of the English verb "to pass," referring to time passing:

 

Quatre mois ont passé.

Four months have passed.

Caption 30, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon père s'oppose à ma passion - Part 6

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The second, referring to taking an exam, is a false cognate. You might assume that passer son bac means "to pass one's baccalaureate exam." But that's wrong! Passer in this context actually means "to take":  

 

J'ai passé mon bac.

I took my baccalaureate.

Caption 41, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon père s'oppose à ma passion - Part 6

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If you want to talk about passing an exam, use the verb réussir (to succeed):

 

Demain il réussira son examen.

Tomorrow he will pass his exam.

Caption 27, Le saviez-vous? - Conjugaison des verbes du 2ème groupe au futur simple

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Passer's other meanings are more predictable. You can use it transitively (i.e., with an object) to to talk about passing something to someone:

 

Passe le micro.

Pass the mic.

Caption 54, Arles - Le marché d'Arles

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Or you can use it intransitively (without an object) to describe someone passing by or passing from one place to another:

 

Tous les ans, effectivement, nous demandons à Saint-Nicolas de passer.

Every year, in fact, we ask Saint Nicholas to pass by.

Caption 44, Grand Lille TV - Focus: la tradition de Saint-Nicolas

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Et maintenant on va passer en cuisine avec le chef.

And now we'll go into the kitchen with the chef.

Caption 33, Parigot - Le bistrot

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Just as you can "pass time" (or "spend time") in English, you can passer du temps in French: 

 

Et puis ça permet de passer un bon petit moment ensemble.

And then it allows us to spend a good bit of time together.

Caption 47, Actus Quartier - Fête de quartier Python-Duvernois - Part 2

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The expression passer pour means "to pass for," as in "to be taken for" or "seem like":

 

La maîtrise des synonymes vous permettra donc d'élargir votre vocabulaire, mais aussi, de ne pas passer pour un psychopathe.

Mastering synonyms will therefore allow you to broaden your vocabulary, but also to not be taken for a psychopath.

Captions 23-24, Le saviez-vous? - Les synonymes

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As passer is such a versatile verb, it's no surprise that it's used in many, many common expressions. We'll pass along a handful of them to you:

 

passer à autre chose - to move on to something else
passer à l'acte - to take action
passer à la caisse - to pay/checkout
passer à la télévision - to be on TV
passer à table - to sit down for a meal (also has the figurative meaning "to snitch" or "spill the beans")
passer un coup de fil - to make a phone call
passer de la musique - to put on some music
passer au bloc - to go under the knife/have surgery
passer au peigne fin - to go over with a fine-tooth comb
passer à côté de - to miss/miss out on
laisser passer sa chance - to miss one's chance

 

You can find even more expressions on this WordReference page.

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And to learn about the reflexive form of passerse passer, check out our lesson Se Passer: To Bypass and Pass By.

Vocabulary

Discovering and Retrieving

In French, there are two different verbs meaning “to find”: trouver and retrouver. Although the two verbs are often interchangeable, the major difference between them has to do with the difference between discovering and retrieving: while trouver usually refers to finding something new, retrouver (which is related to “retrieve”) usually refers to finding something you’ve lost. 

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If you go to the fantastic food market in Arles, you’ll be overwhelmed by the incredible amount of fresh cheeses you’ll find there: 

 

On trouve les meilleurs fromages de toutes les régions.

We find the best cheeses from all the regions.

Caption 17, Arles - Le marché d'Arles

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On a more emotional note, you might be determined to find a lost love, like the subject of this music video: 

 

Elle a juré de vous retrouver vite

She swore to find you again fast

Caption 11, Yaaz - La place des anges

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“To find” doesn’t only refer to finding a person or a thing. You can also find something intangible, like a concept, feeling, or physical state:

 

Comme il trouve pas la solution

Since he can't find a solution

Caption 26, Oldelaf - Le monde est beau

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J'ai fait un cauchemar et ne pouvais pas retrouver le sommeil. 
I had a nightmare and could not get back to sleep. 

 

In English, "to find" can also be a synonym for “to think,” when expressing an opinion. Likewise, trouver can be a synonym for the standard French words for "to think," penser and croire. Like the person in this video, we at Yabla find foreign language learning to be very important: 

 

Je trouve que c'est très important de... étudier les langues étrangères.

I think it's very important to... study foreign languages.

Caption 1, Allons en France - Pourquoi apprendre le français?

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When you make trouver and retrouver reflexive, their meanings become less straightforward. Take a look at this sentence, in which the explorer James Bruce expresses his certainty about the location of the source of the Nile: 

 

Et elle se trouve sûrement là-bas!

And it is certainly over there!

Caption 10, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 15. Bruce et les sources du Nil

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Elle se trouve literally means “it is found,” but se trouver can also be translated as “to be located” or simply “to be.” Don’t confuse this with the set expression il se trouve que..., which means “it just so happens that…” or “it turns out that…”:

Il se trouve que j’ai une autre paire de gants. 
It just so happens that I have another pair of gloves. 

When you make retrouver reflexive, it has the sense of being somewhere again or meeting again: 

 

Les Marseillais ne cachent pas le plaisir de se retrouver.

The Marseille residents are not hiding the pleasure of getting together again.

Caption 32, Alsace 20 - Rencontre avec les membres d'IAM

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On se retrouve au café après l'école?
Shall we meet at the café after school? 

 

Se retrouver can also refer to finding oneself in a particular situation: 

Je me suis retrouvé le bec dans l'eau.
found myself with my beak in the water. [I was left high and dry.]

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We hope you’ve found this lesson helpful and that you find everything you may have lost! 

Vocabulary

See here, see there!

Voilà is a very common word in French, and depending on the context, it can take a number of different meanings, the most general of which is "there/here it is." In grammatical terms, voilà is categorized as a presentative, or a word that is used to introduce something. Voilà comes from the imperative phrase vois là (see there), which makes the presentative nature of the word even more apparent. At its most basic, voilà is used to present a specific object or person

 

Donc voilà mon super falafel, avec de l'aubergine grillée...

So here is my super falafel, with grilled eggplant...

Caption 9, Mon Lieu Préféré - Rue des Rosiers

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Ah! Ben tiens, voilà Socrate.

Oh! Well look, here comes Socrates.

Caption 9, Il était une fois... l’Homme - 6. Le siècle de Périclès

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In these two examples, we see how voilà can be used to direct our attention to both an object (Caroline's "super falafel") and a person (Socrates). But when voilà isn't literally presenting us with something, it is often used as a way of emphasizing a statement:

 

La poésie c'est comme l'amour: c'est le plus court chemin entre deux êtres. Voilà.

Poetry is like love: it's the shortest path between two people. There.

Caption 39, Marché de la Poésie - Des poètes en tout genre

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In a sense, you could say that voilà is "presenting" us here with the metaphor on poetry that precedes it. But on a slightly less articulate note, when voilà is used for emphasis, it often acts as a sort of filler word, used when someone wants to end one topic and move on to another:

 

Euh... voilà. Après, l'inspiration, elle... elle vient de plein de sources diverses et variées.

Uh... there you are. Well, inspiration, it... it comes from a lot of different and varied sources.

Caption 48, Niko de La Faye - "Visages"

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You can also use voilà to affirm another person's statement:

 

Voilà, vous pouvez même voir le petit bateau en photo, euh, ici.

That's right, you can even see the little boat in the photo, uh, here.

Caption 50, Arles - Le marché d'Arles

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Or you can use it to express a period of time:

 

Voilà près de sept ans que les professionnels du bois attendaient ça.

For nearly seven years, the lumber business has been waiting for this.

Caption 5, Le Journal - Firewood

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Because voilà can be used in so many different situations, it is often tricky to translate ("there," "here," "there you go," "there you have it," "that's it," "there you are," and so on). And since no English word can really capture voilà's breadth of meaning, sometimes it's best not to translate it at all. In fact, the difficulty of translating voilà might be why it's become an (often humorous) English exclamation as well.

Now let's take a look at voilà's sister word, voici (from vois ici, "see here"). Like voilà, voici is also a presentative, but whereas voilà can either mean "there it is" or "here it is," voici usually just means "here it is." And unlike voilà, voici isn't used for emphatic or filler purposes, but almost exclusively for introducing or presenting a specific person or thing:

 

Nous voici devant une des quatre Statues de la Liberté que l'on peut trouver dans la ville de Paris.

Here we are in front of one of the four Statues of Liberty that you can find in the city of Paris.

Captions 24-25, Voyage dans Paris - Jardin du Luxembourg

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You can get a better sense of the difference between voici and voilà when they are both used in the same sentence:

Voici ma maison et voilà celle de mon ami.

Here is my house and there is my friend's.

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As you can see, voilà is used to point out something at a distance, whereas voici indicates something close by. The difference between voici and voilà is similar to the difference between ceci (this) and cela (that). In fact, another way of translating the sentence above would be, "this is my house and that is my friend's."

You've probably heard voilà used in English before, but voici hasn't really managed to make the crossover. Besides the fact that voilà is often hard to translate (voici is much more straightforward), this could also be because voilà often acts as a standalone phrase (Voilà!), whereas voici generally doesn't. But don't underestimate a good voici when speaking French: if you want people to notice something that's right in front of them, it's the word to use!

Vocabulary

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