English Sentences Focusing on Words and Their Word Families
The Word "Homework" in Example Sentences
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Salut c’est Géraldine, bienvenue sur Comme une Française TV, Sound French, even to the French!
Some concepts and vocabulary are subtle in the French language, and sometimes it’s difficult to use them properly in another language. Today we’ll try to explain some differences and nuances behind three notions : must, need, and want. They’re often intertwined too. Do we need what we want? Must you do what you want? Do I need what I think I must? Doobeedoobeedoo? Let’s dive in!
The main translation of the modal verb must in French is the irregular verb devoir . It deals mostly with une obligation, an obligation.
Tu dois payer tes impôts avant mardi.
You must pay your taxes before tuesday.
It’s also actually about an unavoidable cause for a desired effect. We don’t notice it when it’s implicit, but it can be explicit too.
Pour gagner le match, l’équipe doit marquer deux buts. To win this game, the team must score two goals.
Nous devons nous lever tôt si nous voulons être à l’heure. We must get up early if we want to be on time.
But at the conditional, devoir means “should.” Conditional in French is usually a way to “soften up” a verb a little.
Tu devrais mettre une autre robe ce soir. You should wear another dress tonight.
Devoir can also be a noun though. Le devoir means duty. As in Tu dois faire ton devoir, you must do your duty. However, in its plural form, les devoirs means homework. Tu dois faire tes devoirs, you must do your homework.
Of course, the verb devoir is also the translation of “have to-infinitive.” Je dois partir, I have to go.
“Have to” is sometimes translated literally though, but mostly in negative form. It raises up the fact that most obligations are actually guidelines, and you can break if you’re ready to face the consequences. Or more simply put, it’s about a non-obligation, rather than a strict interdiction.
J’ai pas à lui dire bonjour si j’en ai pas envie !
I don’t have to say hello to him if I don’t want to!
There’s also a third translation of must, which is il faut que... Il faut que tu dormes maintenant ! You must sleep now!
We’ll come back to it, but I’ve talked about this construction in a previous episode about impersonal verbs, and you’ll find a link to it as usual in the video description on the blog.
Finally, French people have a strange grasp on the English language sometimes, so you might hear another expression that sounds weird and almost ugly: c’est le must ! In this case, it’s supposed to mean “the best,” as in “this is the best.” Mostly it is only found in some advertisements, though.
“Need” is, in French, avoir besoin, or more rarely, nécessiter.
For example, we’d say: J’ai besoin d’un autre indice pour résoudre cette énigme. I need another clue to solve this riddle.
When it’s placed before another verb, however, we can also use devoir. There’s a small difference in meaning. Devoir seems to be mostly for needs that come from outside influences; such as time, schedules, and social obligations.
For instance, we’d say: Désolé j’ai un rendez-vous, je dois partir. I’m sorry, I have a meeting, I need to go.
But here, before the verb, avoir besoin would mean an influence from inside ourselves, something more important, perhaps emotional and more urgent. Je n’arrive pas à respirer, j’ai besoin de partir. I can’t breathe, I need to go.
It ties up with les besoins, the needs, something vital.
There’s no common translation for needy in French, the closest would be nécessiteux, but it’s old-fashioned and mostly used for people in deep poverty. We’d rather use dans le besoin, in need.
Je travaille dans une association pour aider les nécessiteux, les gens dans le besoin. I’m working for an association that helps needy people, those in need.
“Dans le besoin” is mostly about money, but it can be about other problems as well.
Je vais t’aider à déménager, je donne toujours un coup de main à un ami dans le besoin. I’ll help you move, I always give a helping hand to a friend in need.
Finally, once again, we can use “il faut.” It’s impersonal enough that it can be used both for must and need. Since need is more personal, we often need to add a personal pronoun to this construction. Let’s see an example:
J’ai besoin d’eau means “I need water,” but we’d rather use il faut here, with the personal pronoun me to say precisely who needs it. Giving us: Il me faut de l’eau ! (I need water!)
Finally, “to want” is in French, the irregular verb vouloir.
It has a different but close meaning to the others, in day-to-day situations.
Je veux partir. Je dois partir. I want to go. I have to go.
You can soften it again with the conditional, for instance when you’re buying or ordering something.
Bonjour, je voudrais une baguette s’il vous plaît. Good morning, I would like a baguette please.
Another version is Avoir envie, it’s a synonym but it’s also is somewhat more personal, and something you can live without. It’s close to “I feel like.”
J’ai envie d’un gâteau. Et j’aurais aussi envie d’une glace. I feel like having a cake. And I’d like an ice cream as well.
The difference is sharper with nouns: “vouloir” is the root of la volonté, the will. While “avoir envie” uses the word l’envie, the desire. “My wants” would also translate into “Mes envies.”
And I can’t leave you now without giving you the link to a beautiful French song, L’envie, written by famous songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman. You’ll find a link in the video description on the blog as well!
Et toi ?
Did you have trouble with these verbs before? Which other close concepts would you like to hear more about? What was the last thing you wanted but didn’t need?
Tell me in the comments section, I want to hear from you!
If you’re on Youtube, you’ll find a link below this video to the blog CommeUneFrançaise.com: on the site I read all the comments and answer all your questions too!
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Bonus Material: Download the Transcript