All About “Mettre”, One of the Most Underrated French Verbs

As French verbs go, mettre isn’t the most exciting. It’s got practical definitions, it isn’t living a double life, and it doesn’t immediately evoke big, thrilling feelings like inspiration

But mettre might also be one of the most underrated verbs in French. It’s used in so many ways and in so many expressions that it’s sort of like a younger sibling to juggernauts être and avoir.

Let’s take a look at this important but often underappreciated French verb.

What does mettre mean?

female clothes hanging on rack

The verb mettre has a few different meanings:

1. to put or place

This can be in a physical or more abstract sense.

Example 1: Chaque fois que je rentre chez moi, je mets mes clés sur le buffet près de la porte. (Whenever I come home, I put my keys on the dresser by the door). 

Example 2 : Ça me met en colère (That makes me angry.) (literally “That puts me into anger”)

2. to put on clothing

Example: Aujourd’hui j’ai mis mon t-shirt porte-bonheur – je vais en avoir besoin! ! (Today I put on my lucky t-shirt – I’m going to need it!)

3. to start up/turn on electronics/machines 

This probably comes from the expression mettre en marche  (to make something start working). 

Example: Ce soir c’est l’Eurovision! Mets la télé!  (Tonight is the Eurovision finals ! Turn on the TV !)

4. to bring something

Usually this is related to feelings or energy, not an actual object.

Example: J’espère que tu aimeras cet article – j’y ai mis tout mon cœur. (I hope you’ll like this article – I put my heart into it.)

This list shows even more specific ways mettre can be used, in addition to (or, rather, jumping off from) the four main meanings above.

As you might have guessed, due to its broad definitions, there are countless ways mettre can be used and make sense.

You might also have guessed that, often, mettre is similar to “put” or “put on” in English. Even when it comes to electronics, you could say “put on the TV” instead of “turn on”, although this usage is less common and a bit old-fashioned in some cases.

The bottom line is that once you know the basic meanings and uses of mettre, you’ll probably feel comfortable using it – and that’s an especially good thing, since it’s one of the most frequently used French verbs.

What does se mettre mean ?

Man looking out of train window

You may have come across the reflexive verb se mettre. This verb is similar to mettre but used slightly differently.

Before I go any farther, though, it’s important to make sure that what you’re seeing in a sentence isn’t just mettre with a reflexive verb.

For example, in the sentence Le serveur m’a mis à côté de la fenêtre (The waiter seated me beside the window.), the waiter is the subject and the pronoun indicates an object. This means that the verb being used here is simply mettre.

If the verb se mettre were used, the sentence would change: Je me suis mis à côté de la fenêtre (I placed/seated myself next to the window.)  Note that if the person in the sentence is female, the verb would have to agree with the subject: Je me suis mise à côté de la fenêtre.

Here are the main meanings of se mettre:

1. to suddenly start doing something

Example: Il s’est mis à chanter. (He (suddenly) started singing.)

2. to dress oneself (literally, to put on oneself)

In our article about clothes and clothes-related vocabulary in French, I wrote: This seems a bit redundant when you see that mettre already means “to put on”. But se mettre tends to be used when there’s no direct object. For example, you’ll often see/hear the phrase  Je n’ai rien à me mettre. (I have nothing to wear.). The verb is reflexive here for clarification reasons. If you said Je n’ai rien à mettre, there’s this sort of lingering question of “Put what, where?” 

On the other hand, if you (or a wolf in a French children’s song) have a specific article of clothing you’re putting on, you’d just use mettre. For example: Je mets mon pantalon.

3. to position oneself

Example: Elle s’est mise à côté de son frère (She placed herself/settled down/came to stand next to her brother.)

4. to group/gather together

Example: On s’est mis à trois pour organiser la fête surprise d’Alain. (The three of us got together to plan Alain’s surprise party.)

5. to move in together (as a romantic couple)

This is a fairly informal expression and is always followed by avec.

Example:  Sam et Thomas se sont mis ensemble.

How to conjugate the verb mettre

pencil and sharpener on notebook page

When reading the example sentences, you may have noticed that mettre is an irregular verb. Fortunately, as with most irregular verbs that you’ll use often, you’ll probably get used to its quirks fairly quickly.

Another bit of good news is that mettre is conjugated with avoir, which means that you don’t have to make any agreement with a participle and subject.

Here’s how to conjugate mettre in the most common French verb tenses:

Present simplePassé ComposéPassé Imparfait
je metsj’ai misje mettais
tu metstu as mistu mettais
il/elle/on metil/elle/on a misil/elle/on mettait
nous mettonsnous avons misnous mettions
vous mettezvous avez misvous mettiez
ils/elles mettentils/elles ont misils/elles mettaient
je mettraije mettraisque je mette
tu mettrastu mettraisque tu mettes
il/elle/on mettrail/elle/on mettraitqu’ il/elle/on mette
nous mettronsnous mettrionsque nous mettions
vous mettrezvous mettriezque vous mettiez
ils/elles mettrontils/elles mettraientqu’ils/elles mettent
Mets (toi)
Mettons (nous)
Mettez (vous)

To conjugate mettre in additional tenses, here’s a helpful conjugation chart.

How to conjugate se mettre

Mettre and se mettre are made up of the same basic word, but since se mettre is a reflexive verb, it’s conjugated with être instead of avoir.

This means you’ll have to make the subject and participle agree when necessary.

For example: Elles se sont mises à pleurer (The girls started to cry.) vs. Ils se sont mis à pleurer (The boys/mixed group started to cry.)

Here’s how to conjugate se mettre in the most common French verb tenses.

Present simplePassé ComposéPassé Imparfait
je me metsje me suis mis(e)je me mettais
tu te metstu t’es mis(e)tu te mettais
il/elle/on se metil s’est mis/elle s’est mise/on s’est mis/il/elle/on se mettait
nous nous mettonsnous nous sommes mis(es)nous nous mettions
vous vous mettezvous vous êtes mis(e)/(es)vous vous mettez
ils/elles se mettentils se sont mis/elles se sont misesils/elles se mettaient
je me mettraije me mettraisque je me mette
tu te mettrastu te mettraisque tu te mettes
il/elle/on se mettrail/elle/on se mettraitqu’ il/elle/on se mette
nous nous mettronsnous nous mettrionsque nous nous mettions
vous vous mettrezvous vous mettriezque vous vous mettiez
ils/elles se mettrontils/elles se mettraientqu’ils/elles se mettent

To conjugate se mettre in other tenses, here’s a helpful conjugation chart for a masculine subject and here’s one for a feminine subject.

Expressions with mettre

cat sleeping on plank
Le chat s’est mis à l’aise.

In addition to being a standalone verb, mettre appears in many everyday phrases and expressions in French. Here are some of the most common:

mettre du temps (à faire quelque chose)/mettre [unité de temps] pour faire quelque chose – To show that it’s taken a long time for someone to do something, go somewhere, etc.

These expressions are very useful, and you’ll hear them very often in France.

Examples: Ah, tu as enfin fini de ranger ta chambre ! Tu en as mis du temps ! (Ah, you finally finished cleaning your room! That took a while!)

Je ne veux pas essayer de me déplacer à Rosny ; avec la grêve des transports, on mettra au moins deux heures pour y aller. (I don’t want to try to go to Rosny ; with the transport strike, it will take us at least two hours to get there.)

mettre quelque chose/quelqu’un à disposition de qqn/se mettre à la disposition de quelqu’un to give someone easy access to/allow someone to use something

This expression is fairly formal and is often used in professional situations.

Examples: Nous mettrons la salle à votre disposition. (We’ll make the room available to you.)  The most common way you’ll see this expression used is in this phrase: Je me mets à votre disposition. (I’m entirely at your service.)

mettre à jour – to update

As in English, you can update a person on something or you can update software, etc.

(se) mettre à l’aise – to put someone at ease or to settle in and get comfortable, oneself

Example: Monsieur Dupont sera à vous dans quelques instants. En attendant, mettez-vous à l’aise. (Monsieur Dupont will be with you in a short while. While you wait, please make yourself comfortable.).

mettre à l’écart/ mettre à part – to separate someone/something from a group

mettre à l’épreuve/mettre [quelqu’un/quelque chose] à rude épreuve – to put someone/something to the test.

Rude means that the test is especially difficult. Example: Être parent me met à rude épreuve presque tous les jours. (Being a parent puts me to the test just about every day)

mettre qqn à la porte/mettre qqn à la rue – to kick someone out of where they’re living

mettre à sac – to sack (completely turn upside down and destroy) a place

Example: La ville a été mise à sac par les barbares. (The city was sacked by the barbarians.)

mettre quelqu’un au courant – to get someone up to speed

Example: Nous savons que Danielle et Florent ne sont plus ensemble ; Sandra nous a mis au courant. (We know that Danielle and Florent aren’t together anymore ; Sandra brought us up to speed.)

mettre quelque chose au goût du jour – to update/refresh something, usually décor- or style -related

Example: C’est une belle maison; il faut juste la mettre au goût du jour. (It’s a pretty house ; you just have to update the interior.)

mettre quelqu’un au lit – to put someone to bed

2 businessmen shaking hands
Ils se sont mis d’accord.

se mettre d’accord – to come to an agreement

Example: Ton père et moi nous sommes mis d’accord pour que tu ailles à la fête vendredi soir. (Your father and I have come to an agreement – you can go to the party Friday night.)

mettre quelqu’un dans l’embarras – to put someone in a difficult/awkward situation

This expression is a bit formal.

mettre quelqu’un dans sa poche – to have someone wrapped around your finger or to like you/support your opinions. Literally: “to put someone in your pocket”.

mettre de mauvaise humeur – to put in a bad mood

Example: Regarder les infos me met de mauvaise humeur. (Watching the news puts me in a bad mood.)

mettre du beurre dans les épinards – To earn a little extra money

Literally, “to put butter in the spinach” – that is, to be able to afford a little luxury to make something better.

mettre du cœur/mettre tout son cœur à quelque chose – to put one’s heart into something.

Example : Son gâteau était loin d’être délicieux, mais au moins elle y a mis du cœur. (Her cake was far from delicious, but at least she put her heart into it.)

se mettre en avant/ mettre en evidence/se  mettre en evidence/ (se) mettre en valeur – All of these expressions refer to putting oneself or something/someone else in a favorable light/the best position.

Example: Cette couleur met en valeur ton teint. (This color compliments your skin tone.) 

Example : Au bal, les belles-sœurs de Cendrillon ont tout fait pour se mettre en avant. (At the ball, Cinderella’s stepsisters did everything they could to get noticed.)

mettre en cause – to blame

mettre en liberté – to free someone/something

Example: Quatre ans après avoir été mis en prison, Joe a été remis en liberté. (Four years after having been put in prison, Joe was released.)

(se) mettre en question – to question someone

Example : Il pensait ne plus avoir de sentiments pour Jeanne, mais après cette soirée inattendue, il a dû se remettre en question. (He didn’t think he still had feelings for Jeanne, but after that unexpected evening, he had to ask himself if that was really true.)

mettre en cloque – to knock someone up (a vulgar way to say “get someone pregnant”)

The French title of the Judd Apatow/Seth Rogan comedy “Knocked up” is “En cloque: mode d’emploi”.

mettre quelqu’un en communication/relation avec quelqu’un – to connect someone.  These are two variants of a very formal phrase you’ll hear if you speak to a secretary or switchboard operator.

Example: Je vous mets en relation avec Madame Blair. (I’ll connect you to Madame Blair.)

mettre en danger – to put someone/something in danger

mettre en marche – to get something to start working

This can be a machine, electronic device, a plan, etc.

mettre en scène – to direct a movie or play

If you’re a film or theater buff, you may have heard or read this phrase or two others related to it: la mise en scène (staging/directing/blocking) and metteur en scène (director of a play – this is a masculine title even if the director is a woman).

mettre en veille – to put an electronic device or machine in sleep mode/standby

Example: Avant de partir pour le déjeuner, tout le monde au bureau met son ordinateur en veille. (Before going to lunch, everyone in the office puts their computers in sleep mode.)

mettre fin à ses jours – to commit suicide

Literally, “to put an end to his/her days”, this is a somewhat formal and euphemistic way to express committing suicide. Se suicider is the more straightforward, less formal term, but can be harsh if you’re addressing someone close to the victim, or an audience of people marked by suicide, etc.).

mettre l’ambiance – to liven things up, be the life of the party

Example: Paul est invité ? Ah, super -il met toujours l’ambiance! (Paul’s invited ? Great ! He always livens things up!)

colorful macarons
Miam…ces macarons me mettent l’eau à la bouche!

mettre l’eau à la bouche – to make one’s mouth water

Example: L’odeur qui sort des boulangeries met l’eau à la bouche de tous les passants. (The smell that comes from bakeries makes every passerby’s mouth water.)

mettre la charrue avant les bœufs – to put the cart before the horse (Literally “to put the plow before the oxen”)

mettre la pression à – to put pressure on someone to do something

Example: Sa mère lui met la pression pour qu’elle trouve un mari. (Her mother is pressuring her to find a husband.)

mettre le bazar – to make a mess

mettre le cap sur/vers – to head for/set sail for

A lot of French travel shows or reports like to use this expression.

mettre le couvert – to set the table

Example : Chez nous, chaque soir c’est à un des enfants de mettre la table. (At our house, every night it’s one of the children’s jobs to set the table.)

mettre le paquet – to give one’s all to something; also to spare no expense. Basically, to go all out.

Example: Tu as vu les photos de l’anniversaire de la fille de Kylie Jenner ? Kylie a vraiment mis le paquet ! (Have you seen the photos from Kylie Jenner’s daughter’s first birthday party?  Kylie went all out!)

mettre les points sur les i – to dot the i’s and cross the t’s (pay thorough attention to details and fully accomplish a task)

mettre quelqu’un mal à l’aise – to make someone feel uncomfortable

This expression is less formal and old-fashioned than its exact English counterpart, ‘to make someone feel ill at ease’. Example: Cette maison me met mal à l’aise…tu crois qu’elle est hantée ?  (This house makes me uncomfortable….Do you think it’s haunted?)

mettre son grain de sel – to put in one’s two cents/two pennies(‘) (worth)

In other words, to give one’s opinion, whether or not it was asked for. The literal translation of the French expression is “to put in one’s grain of salt”, which I love because it’s true that whether or not something is salted or seasoned enough is a typical situation where someone would give their opinion!

mettre tous ses œufs dans le meme panier – to put all of one’s eggs in one basket

In other words, to put all of one’s efforts, thoughts, possessions, etc. towards one purpose.  This is generally not a good idea.

mettre un pain à quelqu’un – to hit or punch someone really hard, to sock someone

I love that the literal translation for this is “to put a bread to someone”.

mettre un terme à – to conclude something

This phrase is a bit formal and tends to be used in official announcements and professional correspondence.

Example : Nous mettons un terme à notre partenariat. (We’re concluding our partnership.)

se mettre sur son trente-et-un – to be dressed to the nines (dressed really well/formally)

You can find more French clothes- and fashion -related vocabulary and expressions here.

s’y mettre – to buckle down, get started on something

Example: Si tu t’es toujours dit que tu voulais apprendre le français, c’est l’heure de s’y mettre ! (If you’ve always told yourself you wanted to learn French, now’s the time to get started!)

Believe it or not, these are just a few of the myriad expressions with mettre !  You can find a complete (or as close to complete as possible) list here.

Whether it’s as a standalone verb, or part of a phrase in everyday life, mettre shows up a lot in French, so it’s important to learn and feel comfortable with using it. In other words, Il faut s’y mettre !

Do you have a favorite expression with mettre? Share it in the comments!

Alysa Salzberg
Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.

4 thoughts on “All About “Mettre”, One of the Most Underrated French Verbs”

  1. You forgot “mise en place.” And it should be “this color complements your skin,” not “compliments” (under Se Mettre en Avant, etc.).

    • Bonjour Carolyn, yes, “mise en place” is another good one!
      As for your suggestion, “complements” would mean “completes,” but in the sense of this expression, the meaning is “to flatter” – that would be “compliments”.


Leave a Comment