The French They Never Taught You 1: Connaître means more than you know!

February 2, 2015

Students of French spend hours and sometimes weeks learning to distinguish the verbs savoir and connaître, both of which mean "to know."  Thus, for example, they do fill-in-the-blank exercises with sentences like Je connais Jacques (I know Jacques) and Je sais le nom de son frère (I know his brother's name).

 

What they don't learn, though, is that connaître has a second meaning: literally "to experience." However, "to experience" is rarely the right translation. Instead, connaître is used in French along with a noun to express action that would be expressed by a verb and an adverb in English.

Consider these examples:

 

  • connaître une bonne progression

    • to post a healthy rise / to gain ground, etc.

  • connaître une augmentation forte

    • to jump, surge, shoot up, head higher

  • connaître une forte croissance = connaître une progression vertigineuse

    •   to post vigorous growth / to soar, shoot up, etc.

  • connaître une activité satisfaisante

    •   to turn in a satisfactory performance

  • connaître une période assez mouvementée

    •   to go through a series of ups and downs

  • Aux États-Unis, le Groupe a connu un bon premier semestre en forte croissance.

    •  In the US, the Group reported vigorous growth in the first half.

  • Lamarche a connu une activité en forte amélioration au premier semestre.

    •  Lamarche revenues improved significantly in the first half...

 

These examples show that French writers often use connaître + a noun instead of a verb. Although the verb augmenter exists in French, writers frequently use the expression connaître une augmentation instead. In English, on the other hand, "experience an increase" is weak; it is much better to use strong action verbs and write "increase."

 

Translators of financial press releases should study these patterns and learn to imitate them.

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