French Language Blog

French Verbs – To Take, To Learn, To Understand Posted by on May 1, 2018 in Grammar, Vocabulary

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m hoping – despite the challenges – to one day  teach French full time. In order to be ready for that eventuality, I have gone back to school myself to get a Master’s degree in Education. A recent assignment on learning and understanding got me thinking about those verbs in French… and their connection to a third French verb.

Prendre, apprendre, comprendre

The English word to take might not seem to have much to do with learning or understanding, but the related to grasp certainly does. And both to take and to grasp can be translated in French as prendre.

And prendre (to take, to grasp)apprendre (to learn), and comprendre (to understand) all share a common ancestor in the Latin prehendere (to lay hold of) – as do, by the way, the English words apprehend and comprehend. 

As you might imagine, the words are related in other ways. Due to their common ancestry, they all share a common pattern of conjugation. Once you can conjugate one, you can conjugate them all! All three are also very useful, particularly prendre, which shows up in all sorts of useful places.

Prendreto take, to grasp

You can, for example, say “Prends ma main.” (Take my hand.)

Or you can prendre un bain (ou une douche) (to take a bath (or a shower)).

You can prendre des médicaments (to take medications).

And of course, you can prendre des cours, des cours de français*, par exemple, pour apprendre le français! (to take courses/lessons, French lessons, for example, to learn French!).

* Remember that when the word français refers to the language or is used as an adjective to describe something (une jeune femme française / a young French woman) it takes a lower case f. Français is only capitalized when used to refer to a citizen of France (or when it comes at the start of a sentence as it does here!). See this post for more.

Another useful expression is: Ça me (ou tu me) prend/s la tête! (That (or you) drive(s) me crazy!).

It’s a handy way to say that something (or someone) is bothering you, annoying, or preoccupying you.

Apprendreto learn

Apprendre most commonly means to learn as in:
Marie apprends à jouer du piano (Mary learns/is learning to play piano).

Nous apprenons le français (We learn/are learning French).


But apprendre can also mean to teach when it shows up in the construction apprendre quelque chose à quelqu’un (to teach something to someone):
Marie apprends à jouer du piano à son fils (Mary teaches/is teaching her son to play piano).

Nous apprenons le français à nos enfants (We are teaching our kids French).


Comprendreto understand

One of the most useful phrases when you’re first learning French is “Je ne comprends pas.” (I don’t understand.).


Useful phrases that can go along with it include:
Je suis désolé(e) (I’m sorry),

Est-ce que tu peux/vous pouvez répéter, s’il te/vous plaît? (Can you repeat that, please?)

Peux-tu/Pouvez-vous parler plus lentement, s’il te/vous plaît? (Can you speak more slowly, please?).

Remember that French has two forms for the English word you. Find out more here.

Photo credit (CC0 License).

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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Since my first trip to France at 16, I have been a passionate francophile. I love the language, food, music, art, people, and more that make France and la Francophonie in general such an amazing part of our global community. Having lived in France and studied the language and culture for over 35 years, it is my great pleasure to be able to share a little bit of my deep love with you through this blog.


  1. santosh:

    hello my self santosh my problem is if i make one sentence always i m forget article adjective means i have make wrong sentence because my english also week i don’t know correct english grammer what i do

  2. Billy:

    I think there is a typo error in the example sentence above: Nous apprenons le français à nous enfants (We are teaching our kids French). The possessive pronoun should be “nos” and not “nous”, i.e. Nous apprenons le français à nos enfants.

    • Tim Hildreth:

      @Billy Merci, Billy! You are absolutely right. I’ve updated the copy.

  3. Elizabeth Hill:

    Hi Tim. My question doesn’t relate to this topic but I don’t know where it should go. I’m hoping you can clear something up for me. I am a volunteer writer/editor on a classical music magazine and was ignored when I said that L’Academie francaise was spelled with a lower case ‘f’. They insisted on using a capital ‘f’. Can you please clarify the rules for capitals for adjectives such as these?

  4. Elizabeth Hill:

    Thank you Tim. That is very helpful.