Numbers are an essential feature of every language, and learning them usually just involves a good amount of memorization. In his latest video, Lionel provides an excellent and comprehensive review of numbers in French and explains how some of the more complicated ones are constructed. This lesson will supplement Lionel’s expert counting knowledge with some additional number facts. We won’t spend time going over the basic French numbers, since Lionel did such a great job with that. Instead, we’ll focus on the big numbers (above 100) and on decimals.
Although there are quite a few numbers above 100 (cent), you really only need to know a few of them for the rest to fall into place. Besides cent, there’s mille (a thousand), un million (a million), and un milliard (a billion).
When dealing with the word cent, the most important thing to consider is whether or not it takes an s at the end (and thus becomes plural). It never does in the 100s, since you only have one hundred: cent un (101), cent vingt (120), cent quatre-vingts (180), etc.
Cent vingt-huit personnes ont été relogées ce soir.
One hundred twenty-eight people were rehoused this evening.
Once you get into the multiple hundreds, however, you do need an s after cent, except when cent is followed by another number. So if your rent is neuf cents dollars ($900) and your landlord is nice enough to raise it by only $50, your new rent will be neuf cent cinquante dollars ($950).
You won’t have to worry about adding an extra s to the word mille, which always stays singular:
En France, huit cent cinquante mille personnes sont atteintes de la maladie d'Alzheimer.
In France, eight hundred fifty thousand people are affected by Alzheimer's disease.
But once you reach the millions, things get a bit trickier. Once again, an s is required when you’re talking about multiple millions (deux millions vs. un million). But unlike cent and mille, when you’re talking about one million, you need to say un million. That is, the word million never stands alone, yet you never say un cent or un mille as we would say "one hundred" or "one thousand" in English:
Si j’avais un million de dollars, je parcourrais le monde.
If I had a million dollars, I would travel the world.
You might be wondering why there is a de in un million de dollars but there isn’t one in neuf cents dollars. That’s another rule for million: when the word is followed by a noun, you need a de in between. Note that all three of these million rules are also true for un milliard (a billion).
Numbers aren’t always as neat as 1,000,000 and 950. How do you deal with more unwieldy quantities like 950.23 or 3.6 in French? Take a look at this sentence from our video on the booming number of film shoots near the small town of Saint-Cyr-du-Gault:
En deux mille onze, la région a consacré deux virgule deux millions d'euros
In two thousand eleven, the area devoted two point two million euros
Cap. 22, TV Tours: Hollywood sur Loire!
You may know that virgule means “comma.” So why is it translated as “point” here? The answer is that French deals with decimals in a slightly different way than English does. While the above number would be written 2.2 million in English, in French it would be 2,2 millions.
The general rule is that where English uses a period when writing numbers, French uses a comma, and vice versa. So while “one million” in English is 1,000,000, in French it’s 1.000.000. Alternately, un million can also be written 1 000 000, where the periods are replaced by single spaces.
What would you do with un million de dollars or deux virgule deux millions d’euros? Even if you aren’t a millionaire at this point in time, at least you now have the vocabulary to count to a billion in French!
When learning to speak a language, we mostly focus on words. But when learning to write that language, it’s equally important to think about what goes on between the words—that is, how they’re punctuated. While there are many similarities between English and French punctuation, there are some important differences that you’ll need to know when writing your next brilliant essay in French
The major French punctuation marks are easily recognizable: there’s le point (period), la virgule (comma), les deux-points (colon), le point-virgule (semicolon), le point d’exclamation (exclamation point), and le point d’interrogation (question mark).
Speaking of what goes on between words, one of the major differences between French and English punctuation has to do with spacing. Generally, colons, semicolons, exclamation points, and question marks are all preceded by a space:
Lesquelles préférez-vous : les pommes ou les oranges ? -Les pommes !
Which do you prefer: apples or oranges? -Apples!
There is one set of French punctuation that might not look very familiar to English readers. This sentence alludes to them using an idiom:
C'est la "morale du film", entre guillemets.
That's the quote-unquote "moral of the film."
Cap. 27, Télé Grenoble: La famille Maudru
The phrase entre guillemets literally means "between guillemets." Guillemets are the French version of quotation marks, and they look like this: « ». So the above sentence could be more accurately written: C’est la « morale du film », entre guillemets.
Notice that the comma is placed outside the guillemets, as are all other punctuation marks. Also, there is always a space after the first guillemet and another one before the second.
Written French looks different on the page than it does in Yabla captions. Manon and Clémentine have already given us a thorough lesson on book-related vocabulary—now we’ll take an excerpt from one of their helpful skits and show you what it might look like in book form. Here’s the original, from their video on visiting the doctor:
Bonjour! j'ai pris un rendez-vous pour cet après-midi avec le docteur Séléno-Gomez, mais j'ai un empêchement. -Bien. C'est à quel nom? -C'est au nom de Manon Maddie. -Ah oui. Madame Maddie à dix-sept heures quarante-cinq
Hi! I made an appointment for this afternoon with Doctor Séléno-Gomez, but I have an engagement. -Fine. It's under what name? -It's under the name Manon Maddie. -Oh yes. Ms. Maddie at five forty-five.
Cap. 42-45, Manon et Clémentine: Rendez-vous chez le médecin
And here’s how that might look as dialogue in a novel:
« Bonjour ! dit Manon. J’ai pris un rendez-vous pour cet après-midi avec le docteur Séléno-Gomez, mais j'ai un empêchement.
—Bien. C'est à quel nom ? répond Florence.
—C'est au nom de Manon Maddie.
—Ah oui. Madame Maddie à dix-sept heures quarante-cinq ».
This is certainly different from what you would find in an English-language novel! The major difference is that, unlike quotation marks, guillemets are used to mark off the entire dialogue, not a change of speaker, which is instead indicated by a dash (un tiret).
You won’t have to worry too much about punctuation here at Yabla. We use a special style tailored to work well with the Yabla Player. But it’s always good to know proper punctuation when writing in any language, whether you’re fluent in it or just learning it. If you’re looking for something to inspire you to write in French, here are the first few lines of Marcel Proust’s classic novel À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), as presented by Manon and Clémentine:
"Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure. Parfois, à peine ma bougie éteinte, mes yeux se fermaient si vite que je n'avais pas le temps de me dire: 'Je m'endors'."
"For a long time, I used to go to bed early. Sometimes, my candle barely put out, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not even time to say to myself, 'I am falling asleep.'"
Cap. 81-83, Manon et Clémentine: Vocabulaire du livre
You may recall our previous lesson on three adverbs that were false cognates, or words that look similar in two languages but mean different things. In French, these are called faux amis (literally, “false friends”), and there are too many French-English ones to count. In this lesson, we’ll just focus on four more, all from our most recent videos
We’ve been learning a lot about Galileo lately in the Il était une fois (Once Upon a Time) series, the third installment of which deals with the scientist’s experiments with pendulums, which move in a very specific way:
Vous allez voir que cet instrument va se balancer de moins en moins fort!
You'll see that this instrument is going to swing less and less intensely!
You may have expected se balancer to mean “to balance,” but it actually means “to swing.” “To balance” is tenir en équilibre (literally, “to hold in equilibrium”).
In part four of the series, we finally get to the revolutionary idea that made Galileo famous and ultimately cost him his life
Vous vous rendez compte, mon cher, qu'ils se trouvent des savants pour prétendre que la Terre n'est pas le centre de l'univers!
You realize, my dear friend, that there are scientists claiming that the earth is not the center of the universe!
Galileo didn’t “pretend” that the earth revolved around the sun—on the contrary, he was pretty sure of it! So sure, in fact, that he boldly “claimed” it. “To pretend” is faire semblant or feindre.
Prétendre is followed by que when you're making a claim ("to claim that..."), but when you're claiming a specific thing for yourself, you use prétendre à:
Il peut prétendre à une allocation chômage.
He can claim unemployment benefits.
On a different note, there’s no pretending that the angora rabbits on the Croix de Pierre Farm aren’t adorable, or that their breeder doesn’t take the utmost care to make sure that they’re warm and cozy:
Le plus galère pour eux c'est quand tu les épiles et que le temps n'est pas très au beau ou qu'il gèle très fort.
The toughest time for them is when you shear them and that the weather is not very nice or that there is a very hard frost.
Cap. 19-20, Ferme de la Croix de Pierre: Les lapins
Il gèle is an impersonal expression (more on those in this lesson) meaning “it’s freezing” or “there’s a frost,” and it comes from the verb geler. That may look like it might mean “to gel”—and indeed, the noun le gel means both “frost” and “gel”—but “to gel” is more like prendre forme (to take shape).
Finally, we’ll leave the French countryside for Montreal, where Geneviève Morissette has been making waves on the music scene as a singer-songwriter and as the host of the “Rendez-Vous de la Chanson Vivante” (Meetings of the Living Song) festival:
Ça fait deux ans que je les anime.
I've been hosting them for two years.
Geneviève certainly animates the festival with her impassioned lyrics and powerful voice (and animer can in fact mean “to animate” or “enliven”), but in this context the verb means “to host” or “present.” We could also say that Geneviève is l’animatrice (“host” or “presenter”) of the festival.
Faux amis can be tricky (not to mention a bit sneaky), so be on the lookout for them when watching Yabla videos. Whenever you spot one you don’t know, you can just click on it to add it to your flashcards list. Then, once you review your flashcards, you’ll have it mastered in no time! Bonne chance (“good luck,” not “good chance”)!
In our last lesson, we talked about the word plus (more) and how its different pronunciations affect its meaning. Now let’s take a look at the opposite of plus—moins (fewer, less)—which only has one pronunciation, but no fewer meanings!
Like plus, moins is an adverb of comparison, and can modify both adjectives and nouns. When it modifies an adjective, it’s usually followed by que to form the comparative phrase “less than.” In his video on French breakfast customs, Éric observes that cereal is less popular in France than it is in English-speaking countries:
Et puis les céréales, mais c'est moins commun que chez vous, qu'aux États-Unis, qu'en Angleterre.
And then cereal, but that's less common than where you come from, than in the United States, than in England.
Cap. 37-38, Arles: Le petit déjeuner
When modifying a noun, moins is usually followed by de:
Il y a moins de bêtes à chasser.
There are fewer animals to hunt.
You can even make moins a noun by putting le in front of it, in which case it means “the least”:
C’est le moins que je puisse faire.
That’s the least that I can do.
When you put an adjective after le moins, the adjective becomes superlative:
C'est le livre le moins cher et presque tous les éditeurs ont une collection de poche.
This is the cheapest book, and almost all publishers have a paperback collection.
Moins is also the basis for several common expressions. There’s the phrase à moins que (unless), which Adonis uses when singing about what he believes is the only acceptable reason for cutting down trees:
À moins que ce soit pour faire mes jolis calendriers
Unless it’s to make my pretty calendars
Cap. 4-5, Nouveaux Talents: Adonis chante
Try not to confuse à moins que with au moins, which means “at least”:
Tout le monde connaît le Père Noël, tout le monde lui a écrit au moins une fois..
Everybody knows Santa Claus, everybody's written him at least once...
Finally, there’s de moins en moins (“fewer and fewer” or “less and less”):
Ça peut aider aussi à sauver les animaux, à ce qu'ils soient de moins en moins abandonnés.
That can also help save animals so that fewer and fewer are abandoned.
Since moins is a quantitative word like plus, it makes sense that it can be used with numbers as well. You’ll hear it the most often as a number modifier in expressions involving temperature, time, and basic arithmetic:
Et voilà, me voilà parée pour sortir par moins zéro, moins quinze degrés.
And there we have it, here I am dressed to go out in below zero, negative fifteen degrees.
Il est dix heures moins le quart.
It’s a quarter to ten.
Deux plus cinq moins trois égale quatre.
Two plus five minus three equals four.
We hope you are plus ou moins satisfait(e) (more or less satisfied) with our presentation of plus and moins! And for any math whizzes out there, here’s an informative article on French math vocabulary beyond addition and subtraction. Why not try learning (or relearning) geometry in French?
If you listen to Jean-Marc’s description of Mediterranean beaches versus those in western France and the eastern United States, you might be struck by the way he pronounces the word plus (more):
Les plages sont beaucoup plus petites, avec beaucoup plus de gens.
The beaches are a lot smaller, with a lot more people.
Cap. 8, Jean-Marc: La plage - Part 1
Did you notice that he didn’t pronounce the “s” in the first instance of plus, but did pronounce it in the second? That’s no inconsistency on his part—Jean-Marc is actually obeying the tricky pronunciation rules of this common little adverb.
The general rule of thumb for plus is fairly easy to remember: when it’s used to mean more of something (plus de...), the “s” is pronounced; when it’s used in a negative sense (ne… plus [no more], non plus [neither]), the “s” is not pronounced:
Je ne savais plus qui j'étais.
I didn't know who I was anymore.
Mais toi non plus tu n'as pas changé.
But you, you have not changed either.
This becomes especially important in informal conversation, when a lot of French speakers tend to drop the ne in negative constructions. So if someone says je veux plus de pain and they don’t pronounce the “s,” you can tell that they don’t want any more bread even though they left out the ne. If they do pronounce the “s,” you can pass them the bread basket!
A different rule applies when plus is used comparatively, i.e., when it’s followed by an adjective. In that case, the “s” is usually not pronounced (like when Jean-Marc says plus petites in the first example), unless the adjective begins with a vowel:
Voici celle qui est sans doute la maison la plus illuminée d'Alsace.
Here is what is without a doubt the most illuminated house in Alsace.
If the adjective begins with a vowel, the “s” of plus is pronounced like a “z” to follow the rules of liaison, which you can learn about in our previous lesson on that subject.
The “s” is also pronounced when plus is used at the end of a sentence to mean “more” and when it is used as a noun (le plus):
Du coup, ils ont commencé à être plus proches de moi et à me parler plus.
So they started to be closer to me and to talk to me more.
Cap. 33, B-Girl Frak: Limoges
Qui peut le plus peut le moins.
He who can do more can do less.
So to sum up, here’s a general breakdown of the pronunciation of plus:
The “s” is pronounced:
-in the expression plus de....
-when plus is followed by an adjective beginning with a vowel.
-when plus is at the end of a sentence and means “more.”
-when plus is used as a noun.
The “s” is not pronounced:
-in negative plus constructions (ne… plus, non plus).
-when plus is followed by an adjective beginning with a consonant.
Nous espérons que c'est un peu plus clair maintenant! (We hope that this is a bit clearer now!) Since it’s such a common word, plus appears in quite a large number of Yabla videos—you can find a list of them here. And stay tuned for a lesson on the opposite of plus—moins (less)—coming soon to Yabla.
Thanks to subscriber Felicity S. for suggesting this lesson topic!
Given that (étant donné que) it's the season of Thanksgiving (or Le Jour de l’Action de Grâce in Canadian French), let’s commemorate the act of giving by exploring the French verb for “to give,” donner. Besides thanks, there is an infinite number of things you can give, so we’ll focus on some specific expressions with donner that are featured in our videos.
Let’s start by giving some thanks to our favorite tour guide, Daniel Benchimol, who likes to close his always informative travel videos with the phrase donner rendez-vous:
Je vous donne rendez-vous très rapidement pour d’autres découvertes.
I’ll meet you very soon for some other discoveries.
Daniel is literally “giving you a rendezvous,” and you can accept his gift by watching his latest tour, which will take you around Paris’s beautiful Bastille neighborhood.
It’s also good to give thanks for the rights (les droits) that we’re granted every day, whether our human rights or the occasional promotional perk:
Une place de concert achetée donne droit également à une entrée gratuite au château
A purchased concert seat also entitles you to a free entry to the castle.
Cap. 27-28, TV Tours: Ouverture du 3ème festival de Chambord
And let’s not forget about what we can give back to others, even if it’s just a helping hand:
Je viens là et puis je leur donne un petit coup de main.
I come here and then I give them a bit of a helping hand.
If you’re dealing with someone stubborn, you might not want to give them anything or get anything from them—you might just want them to give in (se donner):
Seul face à Beethoven encore et toujours, Beethoven qui résiste et qui se donne et s’enfuit...
Alone in front of Beethoven, as always, Beethoven who resists and who gives in and runs away...
Cap. 18, Le Journal: Gstaad
As a gift to you for being such great Yabla subscribers, here is a list of some other useful expressions with donner. Think of it as a bit of a donnant donnant (give and take) situation. For even more donner-related expressions, see our previous lesson on the word maldonne.
donner de sa personne - to give a lot of oneself, go out of one’s way
donner à penser que - to suggest, lead to believe
donner faim/soif/chaud/froid - to make hungry/thirsty/hot/cold
donner sur - to look out onto
donner dans - to lapse into
se donner à fond - to go all out, give it one’s all
se donner du mal - to go to a lot of trouble
donner du fil à retordre - to give a hard time, give the runaround
se donner en spectacle - to make a spectacle of oneself
s'en donner à cœur joie - to enjoy wholeheartedly
In any language, it’s good to know how to explain the reasons for things. It’s great to say j’aime la langue française (I love the French language), but it’s even better to be able to say why (pourquoi) you love it. This lesson will show you some words that all answer the question, Pourquoi?
The most basic response to "why" is "because," and the most basic translation of "because" in French is parce que. This Frenchman in New York City uses parce que to explain why the Big Apple’s Bastille Day celebration makes him feel at home:
Je pense que c’est bien parce que ça crée une atmosphère française.
I think it’s a good thing because it creates a French atmosphere.
In English, "because" can refer either to the reason behind something or the cause of something. The difference is subtle, but the French might help clear it up. Whenever you want to say "because of" something, use à cause de instead of parce que:
J’ai pourtant passé une nuit horrible et triste à cause de toi!
Yet I spent a horrible and sad night because of you!
It helps that "because" and à cause de both include the word "cause"! Note that à cause de is most often used in negative or neutral situations—its more positive counterpart is grâce à (thanks to):
J'ai passé une nuit merveilleuse grâce à toi!
I spent a marvelous night thanks to you!
"Because" is not the only word that answers "why," nor is parce que (or à cause de) the only phrase that answers pourquoi. There’s also "since," or puisque:
C’est peut-être le temps de se préparer justement, puisque tout arrive très vite.
It may indeed be time to get ready, since everything happens very quickly.
Note that puisque is one word, while parce que is two. Why is that, you may ask? Unfortunately that’s a question that has no real answer!
Another way to give a reason for something is with the word "as," which in this case translates to car:
Je vais au marché, car j’ai repéré une petite robe
I’m going to the market, as I noticed a little dress
You can also translate car more formally as "for" ("I’m going to the market, for I noticed a little dress"). Incidentally, the French word for a car that you drive is une voiture, but attention: un car (or un autocar) is also a vehicle in French—it means "coach," as in the kind of bus you might take on a long journey (a city bus is called un autobus).
The final French expression for giving a reason conveniently includes the word "reason" (raison) within it. The expression is en raison de, usually translated as "due to":
Cette race de géants va disparaître en raison d’une gravité terrestre devenue trop forte
This race of giants was to disappear due to a terrestrial gravity which had grown too powerful
Cap. 40-41, La Conspiration d’Orion: Conspiration 1/4
If you think the idea of a "race of giants" is totally unreasonable, watch the Conspiration d’Orion series and see if its conspiracy theories might convince you otherwise....
We hope that the reason you give when someone asks why your French is so amazing is: parce que j’utilise Yabla tous les jours (because I use Yabla every day)!
In keeping with the Yabla French tradition of presenting three words that look or sound the same but mean different things (see our lessons on des, dés, and dès and si, si, and si), here are three more: quand, quant, and qu’en.
Of the three words, quand is the one you might be the most familiar with. It means “when,” both as an interrogative adverb (e.g. When are you going?) and as a conjunction (e.g. I’m going when I get off work).
In their discussion on multiculturalism, the R&B sister duo Les Nubians use quand as an adverb to speculate on a sort of global passport that would allow us all to become “universal citizens”:
Quand est-ce qu’on invente le passeport?
When will they invent the passport?
Cap. 25, Les Nubians: Le multiculturalisme
As an interrogative adverb, quand can sometimes be replaced with à quel moment... or à quelle heure... (at what time…?).
While Les Nubians are looking to the future, Axel reflects on the past in his tour of Paris’s Luxembourg Gardens, using quand as a conjunction:
Je me rappelle quand j’étais petit, quand j’étais avec mes copains.
I remember when I was little, when I was with my friends.
The other adverbial form of “when” is lorsque:
Lorsque je vous vois, je tressaille
When I see you, I quiver
Quand is also used fairly often in the expression quand même, which means “still,” “even though,” or “all the same”:
Pas mal de nuages mais quand même des éclaircies
Quite a few clouds but still some sunny spells
Cap. 9, Alsace 20: Météo des Maquilleurs
The words quand and quant are only off by one letter, so make sure not to confuse them in writing. Quant is always followed by à or one of its variants (à la, au, aux) and means “as for” or “regarding”:
Quant à l’adresse du destinataire, il s’agit du Père Noël.
As for the recipient’s address, it’s Santa Claus.
An expression to replace quant à is en ce qui concerne (concerning): En ce qui concerne l'adresse du destinataire, il s'agit du Père Noël.
Less confusable in writing is qu’en, which nevertheless sounds the same as quand and quant. Qu’en is a contraction of the relative pronoun que and the indefinite pronoun en and is used in phrases like:
What do you think about that?
As you may know, en replaces phrases beginning with de (or de la, du, des), so the above sentence could also be written as: Que penses-tu de cela?
So what do you think about these three homonyms? (Quant à vous, qu'en pensez-vous?) We hope this lesson helped clear up any confusion you may have had!
The French words encore and toujours have a few different meanings, but they share one in common: "still." Because of this shared meaning, it’s easy to confuse these two very common words. Let’s take an in-depth look at both of them to see where they merge and diverge.
In general, when you're using "still" in the sense of continuity (i.e. "to still be doing something"), encore and toujours are interchangeable. For example, "he is still on the phone" could be both il est encore au téléphone and il est toujours au téléphone.
Besides "still," the basic meanings of encore and toujours are:
encore: more/another, again, yet
toujours: always, anyway/anyhow
Let’s start with encore. In their video for "La place des anges" (The Angels’ Place), the Belgian band Yaaz manages to fit two of encore’s meanings into one sad little line:
Elle a encore peur, elle a encore pleuré
She is still afraid, she has cried again
Cap. 13, Yaaz: La place des anges
Hopefully she’ll be feeling better soon! On a different note, encore can also mean "another" or "more" (as in "one more," "two more," etc.), as the band Dahlia uses it in this song lyric:
Encore une fois, encore une autre, et encore une voix, encore un manque
One more time, another one, and one more voice, another lack
Cap. 25, Dahlia: Contre courant
So now do you see why a band’s return to the stage is called an "encore"? It’s because the audience wants to see them once again!
Along these same lines, encore + a noun usually means "more of something," like food at the dinner table:
Vous voulez encore du pain?
Do you want some more bread?
Encore can also mean "yet," usually in the sense of "not yet" (pas encore):
Donc elle est pas encore prête pour la ferme.
So it’s not ready for the farm yet.
Now let’s explore toujours. Daniel Benchimol uses it as "still" when orienting us on his tour of the Normandy town of Honfleur:
Toujours à Honfleur, nous sommes maintenant sur la place Sainte-Catherine.
Still in Honfleur, we are now in Sainte-Catherine Square.
And Fred uses it as "always" to describe the perpetually perfect weather in Miami:
Il fait toujours chaud, toujours beau, toujours agréable.
It’s always warm, always nice, always pleasant.
You can remember this meaning by breaking the word down: toujours is a combination of the words tous (all) and jours (days), so it literally means "all days."
The final meaning of toujours is "anyway":
Je ne vais probablement pas gagner à la loterie, mais je vais toujours essayer.
I probably won’t win the lottery, but I’m going to try anyway.
Since both of these words have quite a few meanings, context is key when determining which one they’re referring to. So if you receive a text message after a first date that reads, Tu as toujours envie de me voir?, don't freak out! Your potential love interest isn't asking you if you always feel like seeing him or her, but rather if you still feel like seeing him or her. You're just being asked out on a second date! Context is also important when the two words are used in the same sentence:
Il y a encore autre chose que nous t'avons toujours caché!
There is still another thing that we've always hidden from you!
We could rehash this subject encore et toujours (again and again), but maybe it’s best for you to explore these words on your own by looking out for them in the Yabla French videos. They should pop up quite often!
The verbs "to bring" and "to take" are often interchangeable in English, but their French equivalents are much more specific, and knowing when to use them can be a bit tricky. French actually has four different translations of these two simple verbs: amener, emmener, apporter, and emporter.
You can see that each of these verbs begins with a- or em- and ends with mener or porter. Keeping that in mind will help you determine when to use which verb. You can break it down like this:
1. The verbs ending in mener are only used for things that can move (namely people, animals, or vehicles). The verbs ending in porter are only used for inanimate objects. Mener means "to lead" and porter means "to carry"—you’re more likely to "lead" people and animals and "carry" inanimate objects.
2. The verbs beginning with a- refer to bringing something or someone to another place or another person (emphasis on the arrival or destination; remember that à means "to" in French). The verbs beginning with em- refer to taking something or someone with you, away from the original location (emphasis on the departure or the journey).
The first rule is pretty straightforward, but context is key for the second one. Let’s explore them both by looking at these two examples:
Ils avaient emmené avec eux quelques animaux d’élevage
They had brought with them a few farm animals
Ils avaient emporté des tonnes de conserves?
Did they bring tons of canned food?
Farm animals are living, breathing creatures, and canned food is just about as inanimate as you can get, so it makes sense that emmené was used in the first sentence and emporté was used in the second. But why the em-verbs instead of the a-verbs? The words avec eux help us to see where the emphasis lies—not on where they brought the animals and food, but on the fact that they brought things with them.
Now let’s take a look at amener and apporter:
Aujourd’hui notre rendez-vous nous amène dans l’est de Paris
Today our rendezvous brings us to the east of Paris
Cap. 1, Voyage dans Paris: Belleville
Vous voulez que je vous apporte une paire pour que vous puissiez comparer?
Do you want me to bring you a pair so that you can compare?
Our rendezvous with tour guide Daniel Benchimol is "bringing" us to the east of Paris, so amener is used here, since we’re all animate human beings. On the other hand, Manon brings Margaux a pair of inanimate shoes to try on, so she uses apporter. In both cases, the emphasis is on where we and the shoes are being brought—to the east of Paris and to Margaux.
As a final example, let's see how one situation can call for both types of verbs. We already saw that apporter was the right verb to use when Manon asked Margaux if she wanted her to bring her a pair of shoes to try on. But if the shoes don't fit, Margaux could say to Manon:
Emportez-les, elles sont trop petites.
Take them away, they're too small.
She wants Manon to bring the shoes back with her (not necessarily to any particular place), so emporter is the right fit here.
This is a lot to take in, so you might need some time to chew it over. In fact, why not go to a restaurant and review it all over a nice meal? If you decide to amener un ami (bring a friend) you'll want to have it sur place (to stay); if you're alone you might want to take it à emporter (to go)!