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French Vocabulary – Time to Take Off Posted by on Jul 10, 2018 in Vocabulary

In just under a month, my son and I are going to décoller vers la France (take off for France) for a sort of father-son pilgrimage. We had such a great time last year that we’re going back!

Décoller is the French verb for un avion (an airplane) that is taking off. The actual moment of lift off is called le décollage* and it got me thinking about other ways in French to say ‘to take off’.

décollerto take off (either to unstick; or to take off as an airplane)
décollagelift off
ôterto take off/to remove
enleverto take off/to lift off
retirerto take off/to retrieve

The verbs ôter, enlever, and retirer are all basically synonyms and can be used (more or less) interchangeably. But each carries it’s own nuance of meaning.

Ôter is perhaps the most direct translation of the English to take off, while enlever (with it’s roots in the verb lever / to lift) carries an air of ‘to pick up’, ‘to lift off’, ‘to take away’, and  retirer (from tirer / to pull, tug, or yank) has shades of ‘to take back’, ‘to pull out’, and ‘to remove’.

Let’s look at some examples of these verbs in action that might help distinguish them.


Ôte tes livres de la table pour que je puisse mettre la table, s’il te plaît.

Take your books off the table please so I can set the table.

Ôtez vos lunettes, Monsieur, s’il vous plaît.

Take off your glasses, Sir, please.


Les huissiers ont enlevé les meubles du vieil immeuble.

The bailiffs took all the furniture from the old building.

Enlève tes jambes de la table, s’il te plaît!

Take your legs off the table, please!


Je retire ce que je viens de dire.

I take back what I said.

N’oublie pas de retirer tes billets du distributeur.

Don’t forget to take your bills from the ATM.

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* Not to be confused with le décalage which also relates to air travel, but only because it shows up in the expression décalage horaire / time difference … that often leads to jet lag. 
** Watch out for the difference between this example and Ôtez vos mains, Monsieur, s’il vous plaît. which literally means Take your hands off, Sir, please. but would mean to remove your hands from touching someone … not to literally take your hands off of your body!
*** This verb gives us the French word enlevement which can mean a kidnapping!

Image of airplane from www.pexels.com [CC0 license].

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About the Author:Tim Hildreth

Lise: Maybe not always. Paris has ways of making people forget. / Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It's too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way. / An American in Paris