In our last lesson, we talked about the different words for kissing in French, and how the COVID pandemic has affected the French custom of la bise. Now we'll focus on hugging. Yes, French people hug too! However, there are differences. Unlike in Anglo-Saxon countries, where hugging is what la bise is to French people, hugging is not so prevalent in France. A hug is not used as a greeting, as full-body contact may be considered intrusive. Hugging is more of a private affair, a heartfelt show of affection. So, if you’re not comfortable with la bise, don’t think that you can make a compromise by giving a hug instead!
In fact, the word for “hug” doesn’t have a direct translation in French.
Instead, you’ll find a paraphrase: serrer dans ses bras (to squeeze in one's arms) or prendre dans ses bras (to hold in one’s arms).
J'aurais bien voulu, pour passer le temps te serrer dans mes bras amicalement
I really would have liked, to pass the time to squeeze you warmly in my arms
Captions 1-2, Babylon Circus - J'aurais bien vouluPlay Caption
Un câlin is a more familiar hug, more like a cuddle:
Que le mot soit doux comme un câlin
May the word be sweet like a cuddle
Caption 4, Les Nubians - Que le mot soit perlePlay Caption
You can also use the verbal phrase faire un câlin (to hug or cuddle). Sophie and Patrice even use it when talking about hugging their Christmas tree!
Moi, j'aime bien faire des câlins aux arbres. -Allez viens. On va lui faire un petit câlin.
I really like hugging trees. -Come on, we'll go give it a little hug.
Caption 86, Sophie et Patrice - Après NoëlPlay Caption
And you can give bisous, bises, and câlins in writing too, with no fear of contamination! It's equivalent to "kisses and hugs" at the end of a letter, text message, or email:
Bisous, câlins, Maman.
Kisses and hugs, Mom.
Caption 40, Extr@ Ep. 1 - L'arrivée de Sam - Part 1Play Caption
Finally, there's the more formal une étreinte, which is "an embrace," and its verbal form étreindre (to embrace):
J'aurais voulu que cette étreinte avec mon père dure éternellement.
I would have liked this embrace with my father to last forever.Play Caption
Le soir, on s'étreint, les deux pieds dans l'eau
In the evening, we embrace, both feet in the water
Caption 21, Duel - CaramelPlay Caption
The word embrasser is cognate with "embrace," but don't let that confuse you: it means "to kiss," not "to hug." See our last lesson for more on that.
The French might not hug each other as much as Americans do, but they have quite a few different ways of saying "hug"!
The adverb surtout is actually two words combined: sur (over, above) and tout (all). Once you know that, its meaning is self-explanatory:
Et surtout n'oubliez rien.
And above all, don't forget anything.
Caption 9, Bande-annonce La Belle et La BêtePlay Caption
There are a couple different ways of saying "above all" in English, all of which are encompassed by surtout. There's "most of all":
Mais surtout c'est toi
But most of all, it's you
Caption 30, Aldebert La vie c'est quoi ?Play Caption
J'ai du mal à mentir, surtout quand c'est pas vrai
I find it hard to lie, especially when it's not true
Caption 29, Babylon Circus J'aurais bien vouluPlay Caption
And "particularly" or "in particular":
J'aime surtout la cuisine japonais.
I particularly like Japanese cuisine. / I like Japanese cuisine in particular.
Note, though, that "especially," "particularly," and "in particular" have more direct equivalents in French as well:
C'est le sujet qui nous intéresse tous spécialement aujourd'hui.
It's the subject that's especially of interest to all of us today.
Caption 62, Uderzo et Goscinny 1968Play Caption
Mais quand on est sensible à la peinture, ici, la lumière est particulièrement belle.
But for one who appreciates painting, the light here is particularly beautiful.
Caption 8, Arles Un Petit Tour d'Arles - Part 3Play Caption
Les plages de la côte atlantique et en particulier de la côte basque sont des plages très étendues.
the beaches on the Atlantic coast and in particular on the Basque coast are very vast beaches.
Caption 31, Voyage en France Saint-Jean-de-LuzPlay Caption
Surtout can also mean "mainly" or "mostly," which isn't quite the same as "above all":
En fait c'est ça surtout.
In fact that's it, mostly.Play Caption
Aujourd'hui j'ai surtout travaillé au bureau.
Today I mainly worked in the office.
In informal speech, surtout is also the equivalent of "whatever you do" or "be sure to":
Surtout, ne rate pas le prochain épisode de "Extra"!
Whatever you do, don't miss the next episode of "Extra"!
Caption 10, Extr@ Ep. 5 - Une étoile est née - Part 1Play Caption
Surtout, regardez les vidéos les plus récentes sur Yabla French!
Be sure to check out the most recent Yabla French videos!
In his new travel video on the Parisian suburb of Saint-Mammès, Daniel Benchimol uses the word face quite frequently when giving directions on getting around town:
Face aux péniches de Saint-Mammès, arrêtez-vous quelques instants face au numéro quarante-et-un.
Facing the barges of Saint-Mammès, stop for a few moments in front of number forty-one.
Captions 8-9, Voyage en France - Saint-MammèsPlay Caption
Face à Saint-Mammès, nous sommes à Saint Moret-sur-Loing maintenant.
Opposite Saint-Mammès, we are in Saint Moret-sur-Loing now.
Caption 40, Voyage en France - Saint-MammèsPlay Caption
Face à is a useful expression meaning "facing," "in front of," or "opposite." You can even put the verb faire in front of it to make the verbal expression for "to face," in the sense of both "to be in front of" and "to cope with":
La NASA a dû faire face à une avalanche de données et de preuves embarrassantes.
NASA had to face an avalanche of data and embarrassing evidence.
Caption 7, La Conspiration d'Orion - Conspiration 3/4Play Caption
The word face is used in a number of other directional expressions, such as en face (across, opposite), as the lead singer of Babylon Circus uses it when lamenting the seating arrangement of him and his love interest:
Je suis assis en face, et pas à tes côtés
I'm sitting across from you and not by your side
Caption 23, Babylon Circus - J'aurais bien vouluPlay Caption
They might not be sitting close, but at least they’re maintaining eye contact by sitting face à face (face-to-face)!
Unsurprisingly, the French face is related to the English "face," but it usually doesn’t refer to the front part of your head. French actually has two words for that: la figure and le visage. (To see some incredible French faces, check out our interview with artist and master visage-painter Niko de La Faye.)
Sometimes face can in fact mean "face," mainly in a figurative sense:
Ça change pas la face du monde, mais qui sait?
That doesn't change the face of the world, but who knows?
Caption 26, Le Journal - Laurent VoulzyPlay Caption
Il peut voir la face cachée des choses.
He is able to see the hidden face of things.
If you're particularly concerned about your reputation, you might make a lot of effort to sauver la face (save face) or worry that you might perdre la face (lose face).
By itself, la face generally just means "side" (synonymous with le côté). Chef Wodling Gwennaël uses face in this way when explaining his delicious recipe for fried scallops:
On va les saisir, euh, à peu près une minute sur chaque face.
We're going to sear them, uh, for about one minute on each side.Play Caption
Face also applies to the side of a coin, namely, the "heads" side (that is, the side that usually features someone's face). So whenever you want to settle something in French with a coin toss, you can say:
Pile ou face?
Heads or tails?
Voyons les choses en face (let’s face it): the word face has many faces! In other "face"-related news, make sure to check out our Facebook page for all the latest information from Yabla.
Give up? Start thinking in French. Do you see it now? They're all French homophones! So what are the tricks to distinguishing between mère, maire, and mer
Let’s start off where life itself does—with our proud moms. In French, your mother is your mère.
Annie Chartrand, from Quebec, recalls the limited English ability of her own mère (as well as her père, her father).
Si je pense à mes parents, à mon père et ma mère, ils parlent anglais, mais c'est un peu plus, comme on dit en bon québécois, "baragouiné".
If I think of my parents, my dad or my mom, they speak English, but it's a bit more like, as we say in good Quebecois French, "baragouiné."
Captions 14-16, Annie Chartrand - Grandir bilinguePlay Caption
Charles Baptiste, from Paris, sings of something nobody wants their mother to do (nobody nice anyway) in the song Je sais:
Tandis que ma mère se met à pleurer
Whereas my mother starts crying
Caption 21, Charles-Baptiste - Je saisPlay Caption
Let's move away from such sadness (we hope Charles's mère is feeling better) to our second homophone: maire (mayor).
One way to distinguish this word from its homophones: maire (mayor) is a masculine noun and so is preceded by the masculine article le. But la mère (the mother) and la mer (the sea) are both feminine. Note that more people nowadays are using la maire to refer to a female mayor (see our lesson about the feminization of professions in French), although the officially correct term is la mairesse.
The mayor of Groslay, a town north of Paris, is not very popular… He banned chicken in municipal lunchrooms because of fears of avian flu.
L'interdiction du maire a également déclenché la colère des agriculteurs.
The mayor's ban has also triggered the anger of the farmers.
Caption 9, Le Journal - Le poulet dans les cantinesPlay Caption
However, some mayors are less cautious than others. The mayor of Lille, for example, not only supported protesters who recklessly (and illegally) switched off street lighting in the city center, she joined their rally, French flag in hand!
Et c'est toujours au nom du service public que la maire de Lille soutient les agents d'EDF en grève.
And it is still in the name of the public service that the mayor of Lille supports the EDF agents on strike.
Captions 22-23, Le Journal - Grève de l'EDF à LillePlay Caption
Let's move on to our last homophone: la mer (the sea).
La mer is often a romantic image in popular songs. (Who doesn't love a little Charles Trenet?) Lyon-based ska band Babylon Circus sings about the sea in a song about dreams and lost hopes:
Les rames étaient trop courtes pour atteindre le niveau de la mer
The oars were too short to reach sea level
Caption 12, Babylon Circus - J'aurais bien vouluPlay Caption
So now, no more confusion between la mère (the mother), le maire (the mayor), and la mer (the sea)!
You may have noticed the difference a little accent mark can make. Take the words côté, cote, and côte, for example. It’s the same four letters, but depending on the accents, both the meaning and the pronunciation can change.
Côté is a two-syllable word, while côte and cote are one-syllable words, each with its own unique pronunciation (though in some regions of France there may be little distinction in pronunciation).
In its most straightforward definition, côté means “side.”
Que je suis assis en face, et pas à tes côtés
Over the fact that I'm sitting across from you and not by your side
Caption 23, Babylon Circus - J'aurais bien vouluPlay Caption
It may seem a bit odd that "by your side" is à tes côtés (plural) and not à ton côté (singular), but this is just how it's done in French.
When getting directions, you will often hear du côté droit (on the right hand side) or du côté gauche (on the left hand side). “Next to” (which, if you think about it, could be said “on the side of”) is expressed as à côté:
C'est juste à côté de la voiture.
It's right next to the car.
Côté can also be used to describe an aspect, a quality, or a “side” of something:
Je dirais les ingrédients qu'on a dans cette farce va [sic] donner ce côté savoureux et moelleux à la volaille.
I would say the ingredients in this stuffing will give the bird a savory and tender quality.
Captions 33-34, Le Journal - Gourmet en BretagnePlay Caption
But the word côté is not only used literally. It also appears in expressions like:
D’un côté... D’un autre côté...
On one hand... On the other hand...
Côté can also be used to show someone’s opinion, their “side” on an issue, or their perspective.
De son côté, Nicolas Sarkozy annonce sa volonté de rupture avec la politique africaine de la France.
For his part, Nicolas Sarkozy announces his desire to break away from France's African policies.
Caption 17, Le Journal - Sarkozy en Afrique du Sud - Part 1Play Caption
And we see the same sort of côté in the video on the marché in Rennes:
Bon, du côté de Cocotte, secret défense.
OK, as for Cocotte, it's top secret.
Caption 14, Le Journal - Gourmet en BretagnePlay Caption
But côté is not only used to express the perspective of a person. It can also be translated as “about” or “on the subject of” or “as for.” In the following example, it’s used to distinguish between the main and secondary railway lines:
Côté grandes lignes, la SNCF a depuis longtemps pensé aux voyageurs handicapés.
As for the main lines, the SNCF has kept handicapped travelers in mind for a long time.
Caption 12, Le Journal - Manifestation de paralysésPlay Caption
Just in case that’s not enough to satisfy your curiosity, keep in mind the word côté’s similarly spelled (and hence easy to confuse) counterparts...
For starters, there's côte, one of the primary meanings of which is very similar-sounding to its English equivalent: “coast” (as in "the Pacific coast"). Actually, en français, the French Riviera is called the “Azure Coast.”
Venu de sa Côte d'Azur natale, il est tombé amoureux de l'île et de ses fonds marins.
Having come from his native French Riviera, he fell in love with the island and its sea depths.
Caption 7, Le Journal - L'île de PâquesPlay Caption
Côte can also mean “rib,” as in côte d’Adam or côte d’agneau (what we call a “lamb chop”).
And last but not least, the second video in the series on Sarkozy’s trip to South Africa gives us an example of an entirely different kind of cote, which means “stock.” This can be in the literal sense (stock market) or refer to the general worth/esteem of something or someone, as below.
Alors que sa cote continue de chuter, Nicolas Sarkozy tente un quitte ou double vis-à-vis de l'opinion.
As his stock continues to tumble, Nicolas Sarkozy tries to double down on opinion.
Captions 17-18, Le Journal - Sarkozy en Afrique du Sud - Part 2Play Caption
There’s also a related verb, coter, which means to rate, quote, or list the price of something.
Cette voiture est cotée à 10.000$ dans le journal.
This car is listed at $10,000 in the newspaper.
Whether you’re talking economics, opinions, proximity, food, or geography, you’ll be better equipped knowing the nuances and differences of these similarly spelled words!