Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Word Of The Week


This verb is a difficult one for me, and I'm not sure that I'm going to get it right in this post. But I'll give it a shot.

The other day, while exchanging coins for bread with the Bread Lady, she and I talked about the weather. We often do. It was overcast and not particularly cold, but there was a steady wind blowing from the north that made it feel cold. When I mentioned this, she agreed it felt cold. "Ça se sent," I said, intending to mean that you could feel it. She responded immediately with, "Oui, on le ressent." I felt as if she were correcting me. I know I've had this trouble with sentir and ressentir before.

Sentir means to feel. Both physically and perception-wise, as far as I can tell from the dictionary. You can feel the book in your hand. You can feel threatened. It can also mean to smell, as you do with your nose. So did I say I could feel the cold or did I say I could smell the cold?

When you put the "se" in front of sentir, it means that whatever your talking about can be felt. Like the cold. Ça se sent.

So, did Roselyne's response correct me because ressentir makes it clear that I could feel the cold as opposed to smell it? Or was she just doing the typical French thing of agreeing with me by saying the same thing I just said in a different way?

Ressentir means to experience a sensation, to feel it. Like feeling the effects of a hard workout, feeling pain, love, or outrage. Or, I suppose, the effect of the cold wind.

So does one have to do with the physical, while the other is more about the emotional? If so, why did the Bread Lady use ressentir? Do both words mean the same thing; can you use them interchangeably?

There's a old song by the French group Téléphone called "Ça, c'est vraiment toi" that includes the line, "Ça se sent que c'est toi." I never know if it means, "I can tell that it's you," or "I can smell that it's you."

Another song, by Johnny Hallyday, called "Ce que je sais," includes these lyrics:

Ce que je sais, ce que je sens
Non jamais, non personne
N'a su pour moi
Ce que je sais, ce que je ressens
Ça je le sais, je le sais maintenant

What I know, what I feel (sentir)
No one ever knew it for me
What I know, what I feel (ressentir)
I know it, I know it now.

What's the meaning of using both forms of "feel?" Does it just make the song work better lyrically or is there a difference in meaning? This is probably one of those things that people who have really studied French learn and retain.

As for me, I remain confused. Maybe one of my readers can help.


  1. Man, if you have to ask you'll never understand.

    Not that I know what the hell you're talking about. Sounds like the difference between the approval form of "dude" and "awesome."

  2. A moment ago, I wrote a long and, if I do say so myself, a brilliant comment on the differences between sentir and ressentir. Unfortunately, Blogger gave me an error message when I clicked Publish Your Comment and ate it. It's lost. I'm as disappointed as you are in the whole situation.

  3. Drat, Ken! Why does Blogger do that when we need to know these things. I have a lot of questions about appeller, rappeller- entrer, rentrer, etc. I think you know the answers, but Blogger doesn't want you to share them with your viewing audience;-)

    Maybe copying before you hit the publish button would work. Getting out my dictionary would also work. I think I'll try that.

  4. May be this will help ( I did some search :-) ):

    sentir peut vouloir dire :
    - avoir la sensation de qqch (avec le nez, la langue ou la peau) : Je sens une humidité ici. J'ai senti l'air dans mes cheveux. / Je sens sur tes lèvres une odeur de fièvre (paroles de la chanson "La complainte de la butte")
    - pressentir, avoir conscience de qqch par intuition (Il sentait le danger. Je sens que tu me caches quelque chose !)
    - apprécier, aimer qqch en raison de sa beauté (Elle sentait (la beauté de) sa vie.)
    - le sens 1 de ressentir (voir ci-dessus)

    ressentir peut vouloir dire :
    - éprouver vivement l'effet d'une chose abstraite (Il ressentait la punition.)
    -- éprouver consciemment l'état d'un sentiment en soi (ne riez pas à cause de cette formulation !!! - par ex. : Je ressens une sympathie pour les Suisses au mondial...(JUSTE un example !!! ))
    - éprouver une sensation physique et en avoir plus ou moins exactement conscience. (Je ressens une douleur piquante derrière mon clavicule droit. Ressentir la faim.)

    Just trying to help since I use the word " feel" in both cases most of the times.

  5. Thanks Beaver!

  6. That's funny, I just realized the other day that that song was saying "ça se sent" and not "ça c'est ça"!

  7. I give up! I wrote a comment about sentir and ressentir, clicked "publier commentaire", it looked like it got sent! And as I was getting out, I remembered I wanted to tell you how gorgeous that prunus tree was! And now I see that my comment has not gone through.
    I am too lazy to start over ;)

  8. OK, this is my third attempt. Another of my comments was deleted a few minutes ago. I had copied it, but then I accidently copied something else and obliterated it. It's a comedy of errors.

  9. bill, dude! I feel I may never know how to feel.

    ken & claude, yeah, the dog ate your homework. I'm waiting for CHM to tell me his long explanation got zapped, then I'll have to look up the word for conspiracy.

    evelyn, the dictionary is helpful, but I can't ask it questions...

    beaver, merci. That helps! If you use both, interchangeably, maybe that's the answer. But there must be instances where one is used "instinctively" instead of the other. That's the key...

    sam, don't get me started. I misinterpret French lyrics all the time. ;)

  10. I thought I would try to explain the respective meanings of sentir and ressentir which in my opinion are synonymous depending of the context but gave up remenbering that my comment on grève flew away in cyberspace.CHM

  11. CHM, eh bien, c'est par ce que ton comment "on grève" était "en grève" qu'il s'est envolé...

    Et ton chien a bien bouffé ta réponse... n'est ce pas?

  12. Oui! Mon chien mange n'importe quoi!

  13. I think your blog comments were on strike, last night! ;)


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