How to use a foreign language dictionary

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A guide for students following a course in Higher and Advanced Higher French

This guide is designed to show senior pupils doing H or AH how to use a dictionary for producing material in French.

 

 

Aims

 

1.      To explain dictionary abbreviations.

2.    Explore some common words as examples and show how to avoid making mistakes in the  French

3.    Cross referencing and dictionary based mistakes

4.    To explore other resources in the dictionary viz. grammar and extension material

5.    To list common errors and  false friends

 

 

Advice

o       Remember that there are two parts to the dictionary

o       Clearly you must check the actual spelling of the word you are looking up

o       Use headwords for ease of reference

o       Do not simply take the meaning of the first word you find. You may frequently find expressions buried within the entry for that word e.g. funeral service, military service

o       Always cross reference (check the expression in both ends) to establish the correct sense of the expression, bearing in mind its context. This is crucial.

 

 

 

 

 

1.    To explain dictionary abbreviations.

 

There are many codes and symbols in a dictionary.  You will find below a list of the more common codes that you will need to recognise and understand.

CODE

MEANING

EXPLANATION

EXAMPLE

n

noun

 

The name of something or someone

(must be masculine or feminine)

chien

arbre

Tunisie

table

absence

 

nm

 

 

 

 

nmpl

noun  masculine

 

 

 

noun masculine plural

 - a naming word in the     masculine

 - use with ‘le’ or ‘un’

 

 

Use with ‘les’ or ‘des’

Le chien

Un chien

L’arbre

Un arbre

 

Les ciseaux

Des ciseaux

nf

 

 

 

 

nfpl

 

noun feminine

 

 

 

 

noun feminine

plural

 

 

 - a naming word in the feminine

 - use with ‘la’ or ‘une’

 

 

Use with ‘les’ or ‘des’

La table

Une table

La Tunisie

L’absence

 

Les menottes

Des menottes

adj

adjective

 

a word to describe or give extra information about a noun

bon - good

grand - big

The entry will usually be masculine singular

 

vt

 

 

 

 

 vi

 

 

Verb transitive

 

 

 

Verb intransitive

a doing word with an object

 

 

 

a doing word without an object

quitter (la maison)

to leave (the house)

 

 

partir to leave

reg

regular

A verb which usually follows a pattern and may be largely predictable

 

parler

finir

battre

irreg

irregular

A verb which does not follow a pattern and may be unpredicatble

aller

être

avoir

 

adv

adverb

 

a word to describe how something is down

 

Rapidement - quickly

pron

pronoun

 

a word that replaces a noun

il- he

ceci - this

le / la – it

les - them

 

prep

 

preposition

 

A preposition usually tells you where someone or something is

 

On / in / under / with / except / before /  in without / for /

conj

conjunction

This joins two similar idea or constructions

And / or / but / however / although

 

 

pej

 

 

col

 

 

fam

pejorative

 

 

colloquial

 

 

familiar

 

This means that this particular word is insulting and impolite.

This means the word is in common use but may be impolite

This means the word is in common use but should not be used in polite company or in your writing

 

 

!?*@**%!!!

 

 

 

Remember

 

o      NOUNS will be singular

o      ADJECTIVES will be masculine singular

o      VERBS will be in the infinitive. Tenses will be in the grammar section of the dictionary and not in the body of the dictionary itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

W

HAT WILL YOU FIND IN A FRENCH / ENGLISH DICTIONARY?

 

In a bilingual dictionary, once you have found the word you are looking up, you will see beside it the translation in the other language.  Please see the example below which shows the word ‘gâteau’ which is French for ‘cake’.  As you will notice, before you find the word ‘cake’, there is quite a lot of other coded information.  The meaning of the codes is explained below.

 

 

Text Box: ; indicates the end of a particular section/explanation so that after the ;  we will find the start of another section/ explanation.

 

Text Box: nm tells us that this word is a noun (n), that is, a naming word and that it is a masculine (m) word which therefore must be used with ‘un’ or ‘le’.

 

 

Text Box: This symbol separates different categories of words e.g. noun, adjective, verb

 

 

 

 

 


 

gâteau, x [gato] nm cake;  ~ sec biscuit

Text Box: ~  instead of repeating the word we originally looked for, this is simply replaced by the ~ symbol.. ‘ ~ sec’ therefore means ‘gâteau sec’ which is ‘biscuit’ in English.
Text Box: This is the translation (the English version) of the word we looked for – note that it is not in bold. 
Text Box: Between [  ] we find what is known as the phonetic transcription –this explains how a word sounds.  (This is very similar to text messaging language.)  You will learn more about this later.
Text Box: This indicates that the plural form of this word (that is many cakes) is ‘gâteaux.’ This is unusual as most words take an ‘s’ in the plural – this is why the plural forn is pointed out in this case as it takes an ‘x’.
Text Box: This is the word we are looking for and it is always in bold. 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Exercise

What kind of words are these? Use the codes from page 2.

e.g. est / ferme / fermé / vite / les / je l’ai vue

2.  Explore some common words as examples and show how to avoid making mistakes in the  FL

 

A  Look at page 560 in the Collins French dictionary.

We are looking at the word ‘do’

 

Text Box: Do [du:] (pt did, pp done) n (inf: party etc) soirée f, fête f; (: formal gathering) réception f
♦vb 1. (in negative constructions) non traduit; I don't understand je ne comprends pas
2. (to form questions) non traduit; didn't you know? vous ne le saviez pas?; why didn't you come? pourquoi n'êtes-vous pas venu?
3. (for emphasis, in polite expressions): she does seem rather late je trouve qu'elle est bien en retard; do sit down/help yourself asseyez-vous/servez-vous je vous en prie; I do wish I could go j'aimerais tant y aller; but I DO like it! mais si, je l'aime!
4. (used to avoid repeating vb): she swims better than I do elle nage mieux que moi; do you agree? — yes, I do/no, I don't vous êtes d'accord? — oui/non; she lives in Glasgow — so do I elle habite Glasgow — moi aussi; who broke it? — I did qui l'a cassé? — c'est moi
5. (in question tags): he laughed, didn't he? il a ri, n'est-ce pas?; I don't know him, do I? je ne crois pas le connaître
♦vt (gen: carry out, perform etc) faire; (visit: city, museum) faire, visiter; what are you doing tonight? qu'est-ce que vous faites ce soir?; what did he do with the cat? qu'a t'il fait du chat?; to do the cooking/washing-up faire la cuisine/la vaisselle; to do one's teeth/hair/nails se brosser les dents/se coiffer/se faire les ongles; the car was doing 100 la voiture faisait du 100 (à l'heure)
♦vi 1. (act, behave) faire; do as I do faites comme moi
2. (get on, fare) marcher; the firm is doing well l'entreprise marche bien; how do you do? comment allez-vous?; (on being introduced) enchanté(e)!
3. (suit) aller; will it do? est-ce que ça ira?
4. (be sufficient) suffire, aller; will £10 do? est-ce que 10 livres suffiront?; that'll do ça suffit, ça ira; that'll do! (in annoyance) ça va or suffit comme ça!; to make do (with) se contenter (de)
►do away with vt fus abolir; (kill) supprimer
►do for vt fus (BRIT col: clean for) faire le ménage chez
►do up vt (laces, dress) attacher; (buttons) boutonner; (zip) fermer; (renovate: room) refaire; (: house) remettre à neuf; to do oneself up se faire beau(belle)
►do with vt fus (need): I could do with a drink/some help quelque chose à boire/un peu d'aide ne serait pas de refus; it could do with a wash ça ne lui ferait pas de mal d'être lavé; (be connected): that has nothing to do with you cela ne vous concerne pas; I won't have anything to do with it je ne veux pas m'en mêler; what has that got to do with it? quel est le rapport?, qu'est-ce que cela vient faire là-dedans?
► do without vi s'en passer < vt fus se passer de

 

 

 

 


 

Exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How would you translate the following?

 

 

o      A wedding do

 

 

o      Do help yourself

 

 

o      She speaks French better than I do

 

 

o      How do you do?

 

 

o      Will it do?

 

 

o      To make do with

 

 

o      To do up your bedroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B  Next we will explore the word ‘look’ on page 668.

 

 

Text Box: look [luk] vi regarder; (seem) sembler, paraître, avoir l'air; (building etc): to look south/on to the sea donner au sud/sur la mer ♦ n regard m; (appearance) air m, allure f, aspect m; looks npl physique m, beauté f; to look like ressembler à; it looks like him on dirait que c'est lui; it looks about 4 metres long je dirais que ça fait 4 mètres de long, à vue de nez, ça fait 4 mètres de long; it looks all right to me ça me paraît bien; to have a look at sth jeter un coup d'œil à qch; to have a look for sth chercher qch; to look ahead regarder devant soi; (fig) envisager l'avenir.
► look after vt fus s'occuper de, prendre soin de; (luggage etc: watch over) garder, surveiller.
► look around vi regarder autour de soi.
► look at vt fus regarder.
► look back vi: to look back at sth/sb se retourner pour regarder qch/qn; to look back on (event, period) évoquer, repenser à.
► look down on vt fus (fig) regarder de haut, dédaigner.
► look for vt fus chercher.
► look forward to vt fus attendre avec impatience; I'm not looking forward to it cette perspective ne me réjouit guère; looking forward to hearing from you (in letter) dans l'attente de vous lire.
► look in vi: to look in on sb passer voir qn.
► look into vt fus (matter, possibility) examiner, étudier.
► look on vi regarder (en spectateur).
► look out vi (beware): to look out (for) prendre garde (à), faire attention (à).
► look out for vt fus être à la recherche de; guetter.
► look over vt (essay) jeter un coup d'œil à; (town, building) visiter (rapidement); (person) jeter un coup d'œil à; examiner de la tête aux pieds.
► look round vi (turn) regarder derrière soi, se retourner; to look round for sth chercher qch.
► look through vt fus (papers, book) examiner; (: briefly) parcourir; (telescope) regarder à travers.
► look to vt fus veiller à; (rely on) compter sur.
► look up vi lever les yeux; (improve) s'améliorer ♦ vt (word) chercher; (friend) passer voir.
► look up to vt fus avoir du respect pour.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

How would you translate these?

 

 

o       He looks sad

 

 

o       My room looks out onto the garden

 

 

o       Looks are not everything

 

 

o       She looks like her mum

 

 

o       I look after my little sister

 

 

o       I’m looking forward to going to France

 

 

o       He looked through the binoculars

 

 

o       He looked through the book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     C. Avoiding  mistakes

 

We are going to look at the French part of the dictionary.

 

Think about how you would translate this :

 

Je l’ai considéré sous un jour nouveau

 

You know all the words in this expression yet the word ‘jour’ would not translate as ‘day’ in this instance. How would you translate the sentence?

 

 

    How would you translate

 

I get on with my parents

 

The choices are :

 

·        se débrouiller

 

·        s’entendre avec

 

·        ça va

 

·        monter sur

 

Which one would you use and why?

 

Now write the French for

 

I get on with my parents

 

 

 

3.  Cross referencing and dictionary based mistakes

Using both ends of the dictionary can help to avoid silly mistakes. For example in this phrase

 

Une confiture de trafic

 

the writer was trying  to say ‘traffic jam’.

 

Why is it wrong? What is the correct expression.

 

Here are some more interesting examples of dictionary mistakes.

 

Can you work out what they were trying to say and where they went wrong?

 

What was said

What they were trying to say

Where they went wrong

Je bidon voir

 

 

Il ne fait pas matière

 

 

Le voisin capot

 

 

Puits je ne jamais

 

 

Un vaisselier fâché

 

 

Je suis allé duvet la rue

 

 

C’est bon pour portion vous à dormir

 

 

J’ai marché dos

 

 

 

4.  To explore other resources in the dictionary, including grammar and extension material.

 

Quick reference pages

 

French verbs                             pages xii – x111

French numbers                         pages xiv – xv

Times / dates / time phrases      pages xvi – xvii

 

Cultural references

 

These appear in boxes in the main body of the dictionary.

 

e.g.       page 272 tells you about the French Minitel system

            page 668 tells you about Lollipop ladies

 

The blue section at the back has grammar notes for extra reading and clarification

 

There is an index on pages 4 and 5.

 

Of PARTICULAR note is the section on IRREGULAR VERBS starting on page 74. These contain all the tenses you are likely to need.

 

Pay PARTICULAR ATTENTION to how you access the information for the Perfect Tense. There is an auxiliary at the top right and the past participle is at the top left below the infinitive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.  To list common errors and false friends

 

French word

What it is not

What it is

Car

 

 

Chariot

 

 

Course

 

 

Direction

 

 

Librairie

 

 

Location

 

 

Mince

 

 

Pensio

 

 

Pièce

 

 

Rester

 

 

Slip

 

 

Stage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French-English False Friends

 

"False friends" are words that seem to be the same but in fact have different meanings to what looks like the obvious one. Listed here are some of the most common false friends for French and English, as well as a few other words that give particular problems.

French

English translation

Comments and Examples

actuel

present

in the present situation

actuellement

at present

I am studying English at present

réel

actual

his actual words were...

réellement

actually

 

air

air

fresh air

air

look, appearance, air, manner

an air of luxury

air

air, melody, tune, aria

he sung an air

aire

area

vast area

ancien, ex-

former

ancien professeur  a former teacher

ancien, de jadis

ancient

La Grèce ancienne  ancient Greece

assister à

to attend

to attend a meeting, conference

assister (aider)

to assist

to assist sb in doing sth

attendre

to wait (for)

 

commander, diriger

to command

to command an army

commander

to order

to order a meal

complet

comprehensive

a comprehensive price-list

compréhensif

understanding

an understanding friend

conseils

advice

 

conseil

a piece of advice

 

contrée

surrounding territory

people from the region

pays

country

people from all the countries

contrôler

to check

to check passengers' tickets

maîtriser

to control

to control yourself!

crier

to shout

 

pleurer

to cry

 

demander

to ask

to ask sby for sth

exiger, réclamer

to demand

to demand a refund

démissioner

to resign

he resigned from the company

licencier

to dismiss

he was dismissed without notice

se résigner (à)

resign oneself (to)

she resigned herself to her fate

divertissement

entertainment

 

entrainement

training

 

état

state

the American states

état

estate

real estate; the third estate

état

status

civil status

éventuel, possible

possible

one possible result

éventuellement

possibly

he could possibly arrive

final(ement)

eventual(ly)

eventually he surrendered

expérience

experiment

a scientific experiment

expérience

experience

experience of life

experimenté

experienced

an experienced teacher

fait

fact

 

haut faits, exploit

feat, exploit

 

frère

brother

they were brother and sister

moine, frère

friar, monk

the friars of the Franciscan order

ignorer, ne pas connaître

not to know, to be unaware of

I know nothing about the matter

ignorant [adj]

ignorant

ignorant of the rule, he

ignorant [mf]

ignoramus

what an ignoramus you are!

ne tenir aucun compte de

to ignore

I shall ignore your impertinence

important

important

(quality) an important event, fact, question, meeting, decision; a VIP

important

big, sizeable

(quantity) a big house, a sizeable turnover

informations

news

 

renseignements

information

 

intéressant, captivant

interesting

an interesting book or person

intéressant, avantageux

attractive, worthwhile

an attractive price or offer

journée

day; day's work

he worked all the day

voyage

journey, voyage

a journey through the country

labeur, travail

labor, toil

 

labour, labourage

ploughing

 

location

rent, hire

car hire, a hire-car

situation

location

a suitable location for a car factory, filmed on location

noise

quarrel

 

bruit

noise

 

occasion, circonstance

occasion

on the first occasion that it happened

occasion, conjoncture favorable

opportunity, chance

to jump at the chance

occasion

second-hand buy

a second-hand or used car

bargain

a real bargain at €100

offrir, proposer

to offer

to offer to help, how much do you offer for it?

offrir, donner

to give

to give sby a birthday present

politique [adj]

political

a political campaign, speech

politique [nf]

policy

it is not company policy

politique [nm]

politician

an honest politician

préciser

to specify, to make clear

the verb "to precise" does not exist in English

prix

prize

to win first prize

prix

price

the price is €10

retrouvailles

reunion

a school reunion every year

réunion

meeting

a meeting with clients

meeting

meeting

a sports or political meeting

se retirer

to withdraw

to withdraw from a race

prendre sa retraite

to retire

to retire at 60

travail

work

a work to be done

torture

travail, torture

 

voyage

travel

 

 

 

Check list

 

 

Do I know how to … ?

 

 

explain dictionary abbreviations

 

avoid making mistakes in French

 

cross reference entries

 

find other resources in the dictionary

 

avoid common errors and  false friends