French Verbs – To Take, To Learn, To Understand Posted by Tim Hildreth 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.
Prendre / to 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!).
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.
Apprendre / to 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).
Comprendre / to 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?).
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Photo credit https://pixabay.com/en/classroom-lecture-hall-college-1699745/ (CC0 License).