I am of the “write about what you DON’T know” philosophy, and I sure as hell don’t know how to speak French. So: today, here are two words that native speakers of English (say, me) tend to have trouble with in French: emporter and emmener. They both can be translated as to take, but they get used in different contexts.
First, I recommend that you check out this video on the topic from the Learn French with Pascal YouTube series. Pascal’s explanations are always clear, he always has good examples, and he will give you native speaker pronunciations. For example, emmener can be pronounced with or without the medial e, and he demonstrates both of them. Scroll down after you’ve watched the video, and I’ll give you a bunch of examples from the Sketch Engine web site.
Pascal’s take on these two verbs is that you use them as follows:
- emmener in a situation where the thing being taken can move on its own. He lists people and animals as the two kinds of things with which you would use emmener.
- emporter when the thing that is being moved cannot move on its own–for example, a package.
Let’s see how this holds up in practice. As we’ll see, it seems to be the case that these are more like heuristics than absolute rules; more probabilistic than deterministic. In other words: the observations hold true more often than not, but there can be some variability. To find these examples, I went to the Sketch Engine web site. It allows you to search multiple corpora (singular corpus)–that is, collections of language that have been analyzed in some way. I used the DGT French corpus, which is intended to support translations and therefore gives us English equivalents, as well as the frTenTen corpus. It contains 9.9 billion words scraped from the Web. When I got my results back, I randomized their order so that I wouldn’t be biased towards any particular sets of documents.
- Objet: exemption de l’exigence d’ emporter un document de transport et une déclaration du transporteur pour certaines quantités de marchandises dangereuses définies sous 188.8.131.52 (n1).
- Subject:Exemption from the requirement to carry a transport document and a shippers’ declaration for certain quantities of dangerousgoods as defined in 184.108.40.206 (n1).
- Comment: these are documents, therefore not capable of moving themselves, therefore emporter.
- Les voyageurs ne peuvent emporter dans leur bagage à main que des marchandises dangereuses destinées à leur usage personnel ou professionnel.
- Only dangerous goods for personal or own professional use are permitted to be carried in hand luggage.
- Comment: we’re talking about dangerous goods of some sort, and apparently those dangerous goods do not include, say, tigers (which are capable of movement on their own), so: emporter.
- Et au lieu d’ emporter la pizza, j’ai eu envie de manger sur place, pour changer un peu…
- Comment: it’s a pizza that’s being (or not) transported, therefore emporter.
- Où est-ce que je nous ai emmenés ?
- Comment: the object pronoun is “us,” therefore the transportees are animate (alive), therefore they are capable of moving themselves, and therefore the verb is emmener.
- Indique-moi juste le chemin de ta villa, je t’y emmène.
- Comment: the thing being taken somewhere can show something, so it is animate and sentient, so it can move on its own, so the verb is emmener.
- La vie de Caroline est monotone, et sans surprise : chaque matin son père l’ emmène à l’école, et le soir une étudiante pas très sympa vient la chercher.
- Comment: Caroline is human, so she can move on her own, so the verb is emmener.
- Sécuriser les appâts afin qu’ils ne puissent pas être emmenés par les rongeurs.
- Secure bait blocks so that they cannot be dragged away by rodents.
- Comment: I have no clue why this is emmener. By Pascal’s rule, since the things being moved–les appâts–are not capable of moving themselves, this should be emporter.
- Le véhicule est alors emmené au moteur jusqu’à l’enceinte de mesure, en utilisant au minimum la pédale d’accélérateur.
- The vehicle is then driven to the measuring chamber with a minimum use of the accelerator pedal.
- Comment: maybe this is emmener because a vehicle is capable of moving under its own power (so to speak)?
- Dans les 5 minutes qui suivent l’achèvement de l’opération de préconditionnement décrite au paragraphe 5.2.1., le capot-moteur est fermé et le véhicule est emmené hors du banc à rouleaux et est parqué dans la zone d’imprégnation.
- Within five minutes of completing the preconditioning operation specified in paragraph 5.2.1. above the engine bonnetshall be completely closed and the vehicle driven off the chassis dynamometer and parked in the soak area.
- Comment: another example of emmener with a vehicle.
There are other verbs that refer to taking stuff places–apporter, amener, ramener–but this is about all my little head can handle for one day. Native speakers: have at it in the Comments section, please!