15 Most Common French Phrasal Verbs

Have you come across something untranslatable between French and English yet? I bet you have!

Well, I’m about to add one more to the pot: French phrasal verbs. This is one of those times when French is actually easier than English!

All you need is someone in the know to be your guide and I’ve got it from here. By the end of this post, you’ll know French phrasal verbs backward and forwards.

Check out the 15 most common phrasal verbs in French so you can get using them like a champ.


What’s a Phrasal Verb?

In English, phrasal verbs are very common. In fact, if you’re an English speaker, then you use them all the time without even noticing it!

A phrasal verb is a group of words—most commonly two words—that contribute to a combined meaning. In English, the first word is most commonly a verb, and a second word follows to add more meaning or context to that action. Commonly, the second word is a preposition, but it can also be an adverb or occasionally something else.

In English, instances of a phrasal verb are “to breathe in” or “to breathe out.” Sure, the verb “to breathe” works well enough on its own, but adding the prepositions “in” and “out” gives us more context for the type of breathing. The addition of a preposition changes the meaning.

Let’s look at how they work in French. Actually, they work pretty much the same as in English. A phrasal verb in French starts with a verb and another word is added to change its meaning or add more context.

Funny enough, though, French has a very limited amount of phrasal verbs compared to the vast quantity of English ones—there’s really only a handful. So, get learning, learner!

The 15 Most Common French Phrasal Verbs

1. To give birth — Mettre bas

The phrasal verb mettre bas in French means “to give birth.”

This is a drastically different meaning from that of the verb mettre on its own, which simply means “to put.” And with bas meaning “bottom” or “low,” the combination literally translates to “to put low” which seems like an odd way to say “to give birth.” In any case, check out this phrasal verb in action.

Elle va mettre bas Samedi.
She will give birth on Saturday.

2.  To disregard — Passer outre

Another phrasal verb that has a meaning that isn’t quite the sum of its parts is passer outre. When put together, these two words have the literal translation of “to pass beyond,” but in fact, this combination means “to disregard.”

Je passe outre aux affirmations des enfants.
I disregard the children’s claims.

3. To run after — Courir après

And now: A literal phrasal verb. When put together, the words courir après mean “to run after,” and that’s exactly what they’re intended to mean.

Il court après le chien.
He chases after the dog.

4. To go toward/to go around — Aller vers

And the simplicity stops here.

The phrasal verb aller vers has the literal meaning “to go toward,” as in heading toward a certain place, but it can also mean “to go around,” as in going somewhere at a certain time. Check out these examples to learn the differences.

Tu vas vers la bibliothèque.
You go toward the library.

Nous allons (à la bibliothèque) vers 4 heures.
We are going to the library around 4 o’clock.

5. To succeed by — Arriver par

The phrasal verb arriver par has another figurative meaning. Instead of meaning “to arrive by,” it actually means “to succeed by.”

Il arrive par étudiant avant d’écrire le test.
He succeeds by studying before writing the test.

6. To have need of — Avoir besoin de

Unlike in English, the verb “to need” isn’t a single verb in French. In fact, it’s a whole three words that translate literally to “to have need of.” If you think about it that way when you speak, things make a lot more sense.

Nous avons besoin d’aide.
We need help.

This one isn’t technically a phrasal verb, but it’s a very common verb + noun combo that you’ll need to know. The next two phrasal verbs on the list follow suit!

7. To be afraid of — Avoir peur de

Another three-word phrasal verb that’s only one single word in French is avoir peur de and it means “to fear” or “to be afraid of.” Check it out in action!

J’ai peur des serpents.
I fear/am afraid of snakes.

8. To be hungry/to be thirsty — Avoir faim / Avoir soif

More phrasal verbs to do with states of being are avoir faim and avoir soifAvoir faim means “to be hungry” and the verb avoir soif means “to be thirsty.”

Note, however, that in French, you aren’t hungry or thirsty. Rather, you have hunger or thirst.

Elle a faim après son voyage.
She is hungry after her trip.

Il a soif après l’exercice.
He is thirsty after exercise.

9. To look out on — Donner sur

This verb literally translates to “to give on,” but donner sur actually means “to look out on.” Check it out in a phrase!

Les chambres donnent sur la mer.
The rooms look out over the ocean.

10. To join — Entrer dans

Yes, entrer dans. Nope, it doesn’t mean “to enter into.” In fact, this phrasal verb means “to join.” Check it out in a sentence.

J’entre dans la danse.
I join the party.

11. To end up__ — Finir par

Instead of meaning, “to finish by,” finir par means “to end up ___ing.” Check out this example for clarification.

Samedis, nous finissons par aller au cinéma.
On Saturdays, we end up going to the movies.

12. To look through (one’s pockets) — Fouiller dans (les poches)

This phrasal verb is a little particular. Fouiller dans means “to look through” and it’s most often followed by les poches to give the meaning “to look through one’s pockets”.

Elle fouille dans les poches et elle trouve un stylo.
She looks through her pockets and she finds a pen.

13. To swear by — Jurer par

A return to straightforwardness. The phrase jurer par means exactly what you think it would mean: “to swear by.”

Ils jurent par ce restaurant-là.
They swear by that restaurant.

14. To leave for — Partir pour

Partir pour is another phrasal verb that means exactly what you think it would mean because it’s the sum of its parts. The words together mean “to leave for.”

Je pars pour Provence demain.
I leave for Provence tomorrow.

15. To visit — Rendre visite

And for your last verb, I offer to you rendre visite. Two words, yes, but its meaning is simply one. It’s literally translated to mean “to render visit” but it actually just means “to visit.” In fact, it has a synonym that’s just one word: visiter.

Elle rend visite à moi aujourd’hui.
She visits me today.


To continue practicing phrasal verbs along with their conjugations, I suggest Conjugator-FR or WordReference. If you come across any phrasal verb conjugations that you find confusing, check these websites out.

Make sure you practice over and over so that you can confidently use these phrasal verbs in conversation!

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