French Lessons


Feeling in French: Sentir, Se sentir, Ressentir

In our last lesson, we looked at three different ways of saying "to look like" in French. We'll continue that pattern in this lesson by introducing the three different ways of saying "to feel": sentirse sentir, and ressentir. Though these verbs all look alike and have the same meaning, each of them is used in a different context. 


Sentir (related to "sense" in English) generally refers to feeling the physical effects of something, such as a post-run stretch or a cool breeze: 


Tu dois sentir une petite tension au niveau, au niveau musculaire.

You should feel a little tension at the level, at the muscular level.

Caption 12, Joanna - La course à pied: Récupération

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J'aime sentir la brise rafraîchissante sur mon visage.

I love feeling the cool breeze on my face.


Besides bodily sensations, sentir can refer to feeling any kind of external pressure: 


Mais cette année on sent la crise, hein.

But this year we're feeling the financial crisis, you know.

Caption 26, Actu Vingtième - Le vide-grenier

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But "feeling" isn't the only sense of sentir. It can also mean "to smell," both in terms of smelling something and giving off a scent: 


Peut-être que vous sentez les odeurs qui sortent des studios de temps en temps.

Maybe you smell the aromas that come out of the studios from time to time.

Non, oh pas vraiment parce que nous, on est derrière les cuisines et puis ça sent!

No, oh not really because us, we're behind the stoves, and so it smells!

Captions 10-11, 4 Mains pour 1 Piano - Médaillon de Homard - Part 1

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When you make sentir reflexive (se sentir), it becomes less about external, physical feelings and more about internal, emotional ones. While sentir usually takes an object, se sentir usually precedes an adjective or adverb to describe a person's condition or state of mind: 


Très vite, elle se sent menacée.

Very soon, she feels threatened.

Caption 5, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 1

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Ah, je me sens mieux!

Ah, I feel better!

Caption 42, Cap 24 - Les bus sont-ils toujours en retard ?

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Finally, there's ressentir, which literally means "to feel again." That might give you a clue about this verb's connotations. Like se sentirressentir also refers to an interior feeling, but it's generally used to describe an intense emotion, something you strongly feel. Like sentir, it usually takes an object: 


Vous voyez cette exigence que je ressentais...

You see this demand that I felt...

Caption 23, Le Journal - Défilé de mode - Part 4

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C'était vraiment quelque chose que je ressentais, qui me rendait vraiment heureuse.

That it was something that I really felt, that made me really happy.

Caption 5, B-Girl Frak - La Danse

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Though ressentir is related to the English verb "to resent," it doesn't have the same meaning. Le ressentiment, however, does mean "resentment." 


Sometimes it's tough to talk about your feelings—no matter what language you're speaking. These three verbs will help you do it in French!


Jamais: Never, Ever, Forever

The French word jamais usually means “never,” in the negative construction ne… jamais:


On nous dit que les bus ne sont jamais à l'heure.

They tell us that the buses are never on time.

Caption 11, Cap 24 - Les bus sont-ils toujours en retard ?

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Technically, jamais only means “never” when it’s attached to a ne (though the ne is sometimes dropped in informal speech). An easy way to remember that the French word for “never” is actually two words is to note that “never” is just another way of saying “not ever,” which is the literal translation of ne jamais. But jamais doesn't always have a negative meaning, and sometimes is better translated as “ever.” In fact, as with the word “ever,” there are plenty of instances in which jamais can be used by itself (without the ne) to have a positive meaning. 


Cyril uses jamais in this way two times while showing us some of his impressive rollerblading skills: 


Le plus gros tricks [sic] que j'aie jamais fait...

The greatest trick that I ever did...

Caption 7, Cap 24 - Démonstration de roller freestyle

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Si jamais on a envie d'aller skater là-bas...

If we ever feel like going to skate over there...

Caption 18, Cap 24 - Démonstration de roller freestyle

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Si jamais is a very common expression that usually is not broken up, like “if ever” is (which is why you have si jamais on a envie instead of si on a jamais envie above, but “if we ever feel” instead of “if ever we feel”).


Another common expression is plus que jamais, “more than ever”: 


Les oiseaux sont plus que jamais sous haute surveillance.

More than ever, the birds are under high surveillance.

Caption 32, Le Journal - La grippe aviaire

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Don’t confuse this with the negative expression ne… plus jamais (never again), which Charles-Baptiste uses extensively (in an inverted form) in his love song “Sale Type” (Dirty Guy):


Plus jamais je ne me couperai les cheveux Depuis que tu as mis tes mains dedans

Never again will I cut my hair Since you put your hands in it

Captions 6-7, Charles-Baptiste - Sale type

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The opposite of ne… jamais is toujours (always, forever), but sometimes jamais can be used as a synonym for toujours in more formal or poetic contexts (just as “ever” can be a synonym of “always”). 

Singer Ina-Ich waxes lyrical with the expression à jamais (forever) in her song “Libre comme l’eau”:


À jamais libre comme le vent

Forever free like the wind

Caption 55, Ina-Ich - Libre comme l'eau

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A similar expression meaning “forever” is pour jamais, which is a more formal version of pour toujours. And if you really want to emphasize eternalness, you can use à tout jamais (forever and ever). 


To summarize, let’s take the old adage “never say never” and apply it to jamaisjamais sometimes “says never,” sometimes says “ever,” and sometimes says “forever.” But it never, ever says anything else!  

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