Top 4 des verbes mal traduits en anglais

Welcome to our series “10 Typical Mistakes the French Make”.
For this first episode, we’re going to talk about four misused verbs when translating between French and English.

Here is a video that explains our top 4 choice of verbs mistranslated by the French in english. Don’t worry, you can find the explanations below ! Also, we have prepared a little exercise for you just below. Please give us your answers, and we’ll send you the corrections !



Now it’s your time to shine!
Here are some sentences that we kindly invite you to translate! Write your translation below, and we’ll send you our corrections!

  • Je fais de mon mieux pour être une bonne personne 
  • Ma fille m’a fait un plat lorsque je suis rentré à la maison 
  • J’ai gagné énormément de temps grâce à ce téléphone. J’ai besoin de te dire quelque chose d’important.
  • Mon père a gagné du poids durant les vacances de Noël. 
  • J’ai réussi mes examens! 
  • Je me suis dit que c’était le bon moment pour acheter un chien.
  • Ça me prenait beaucoup de temps pour venir ici. 


#1 : To say / to tell
→ MISTAKE : He said me I was late for work (Correction : He told me I was late for work)

  • Reason of that mistake : In French, the verb to express the idea of sharing an idea with someone is the verb “dire”. And that verb “dire” translates into multiple ways in English !
  • Explanation : We use “to say something” and we use “to tell” to be able to “tell someone something
    When using “to say”, you don’t need a receiving audience
    → Whereas when using “to tell”, you do need a receiving audience.
  • Example
    • “Obama said that he would change the country” (no receiving audience) → “Obama a dit qu’il allait changer le pays”
    • Obama told the people of the USA that he was going to change the country (receiving audience = the people of the USA) → “Obama a dit au peuple des Etats-unis qu’il allait changer le pays.”

#2 : to do / to make
→ MISTAKE : I do a phone call (Correction : I make a phone call)
→ MISTAKE : “C’est moi qui l’ai fait” (contributing to someone’s success) → I have done him (Correction : I have made him)
→ MISTAKE : “Je fais la vaisselle” → I make the dishes (Correction : I do the dishes). However, if you want to say “Faire un plat” → To make a/the dish/es, but the meaning is then completely different!

  • Reason : There is only one equivalent in french for those 2 verbs, which is the verb “faire”
  • Explanation
    • the verb “to do” is usually used for actions, obligations or repetitive tasks → It refers to the action itself. 
    • whereas “to make” is for producing, creating something → It refers to the result
  • Example
    • If you use the expression “I do the dishes”, you are actually referring to the action itself that is implied.
    • If you say “I make breakfast”, the result of that is you have breakfast all cooked and ready to eat!

#3 : to earn / to win / to gain
→ MISTAKE : to gain money (Correction : to earn money, gagner de l’argent)
→ MISTAKE : to win time (Correction : to gain time, gagner du temps)
→ MISTAKE : to take weight (Correction : to gain weight / prendre du poids)

  • Reason : 1 word in French translated into 3 words in English
  • Examples
    • “I earn money while I work” → “Je gagne de l’argent en travaillant”
    • “I will win!” (when it comes to the context of a game or a competition) →  “Je vais gagner!”
    • “I gained weight” → “J’ai pris du poids”

#4 : to spend / to take / to pass
→ MISTAKE : I passed a test yesterday (Correction : I took a test yesterday)
→ MISTAKE : I took weight. (Correction : I gained weight)
→ MISTAKE : We passed the afternoon with our dog (Correction : We spent the afternoon with our dog)

  • Reason : 1 word in French (passer) is translated into 3 words in English
  • Examples
    • “J’ai passé un peu de temps avec mon frère ce week-end”
      → “I spent some time with my brother this weekend.” 
    • “J’ai passé un partiel hier soir”
      → “I took an exam yesterday evening” (to sit an exam if you’re learning British English) 
    • “Je suis passé devant chez toi mais tu n’étais pas là”
      → “I passed by your house but you weren’t home.”

Et voilà pour aujourd’hui ! On compte sur vous pour recevoir vos traductions et on est impatients de les corriger ! A bientôt !

François Fourmentin