How to use and conjugate prendre

Prendre means “to take” in French. It’s usually used just as “take” would be in English, including in more abstract ways, like “take a photo” or “take a bath”.

That might make you take prendre for an easy verb to use, but beware: in some cases, its meaning can change dramatically.

Let’s take a look at the verb prendre and its many variants.

How to conjugate prendre

Prendre is an irregular verb, which means you’ll have to memorize certain conjugations. But it’s conjugate with avoir , which makes things a bit easier, since you don’t have to agree its participle with the subject.

Here’s how to conjugate prendre in its most common tenses:

Present simplePassé ComposéPassé Imparfait
je prendsj’ai prisje prenais
tu prendstu as pristu prenais
il/elle/on prendil/elle/on a prisil/elle/on prenait
nous prenonsnous avons prisnous prenions
vous prenezvous avez prisvous preniez
ils/elles prennentils/elles ont prisils/elles prenaient
FutureConditionalSubjunctive
je prendraije prendraisque je prenne
tu prendrastu prendraisque tu prennes
il/elle/on prendrail/elle/on prendraitqu’ il/elle/on prenne
nous prendronsnous prendrionsque nous prenions
vous prendrezvous prendriezque vous preniez
ils/elles prendrontils/elles prendraientqu’ils/elles prennent
Imperative
Prends (tu)
Prenons (nous)
Prenez (vous)

You can use this conjugation webpage to find the conjugations of prendre in its less common tenses.

What does prendre mean?

A person's hand reaches out towards the top of an elegant-looking ceramic jar whose lid is topped by a golden frog sculpture. Are they stealing the frog or what's inside the jar, or does it already belong to them?

Essentially, prendre means “to take” in French.

Like “take” in English, prendre  has a few subtle shades of meaning.

For instance:

to pick something up

Example: J’ai pris les clés sur la table. (I took the keys that were on the table.)

to steal something

Example: Quelqu’un m’a pris mes AirPods ! (Someone took/stole my AirPods!)

to take/bring something with you

Example: N’oublie pas de prendre le cadeau pour Louise. (Don’t forget to bring the gift for Louise.)

to use transportation or to choose a particular way of getting somewhere.

For example:

Pour aller en banlieue il vaut mieux prendre le bus, car le RER peut être imprévisible. (To go to the suburbs, it’s better to take the bus because the RER Suburban Train can be unpredictable.)

Prenez cette rue jusqu’au feu, puis tournez à gauche. (Take this street until you reach the traffic light, then turn left.)

Some unexpected meanings of prendre

A little boy wearing a gray hoodie holds up a film camera and prepares to take a photo.

As we’ve just seen, prendre means “take” and is used with both the actions of taking/bringing something, as well as transportation.

But there are a few common meanings of prendre that are a bit more abstract. These include:

to catch or get

This can be used in a neutral way – for example : Le survivaliste a pris un écureil dans le piège qu’il a fabriqué. (The survivalist caught a squirrel in the trap he made.)

But you’ll most often hear it used to express something unexpected or negative.

For instance: Quand sa copine a su qu’il a téléphoné à son ex, il a pris une claque. (When his girlfriend found out that he called his ex, he got a slap/got slapped.)

to gain/put on weight

Example: Oh là là, j’ai pris deux kilos pendant mes vacances ! (Oh no, I gained two kilos during my vacation!)

to order/ have a drink or food

Examples:

Viens, on va prendre un verre ! (Come on, let’s go have a drink!). Note that “have a drink” in French literally translates to “have a glass”.

Pour le déjeuner, j’ai pris un sandwich et Paul a pris une salade. (For lunch, I got a sandwich and Paul got a salad.)

In a restaurant, you may hear someone say Je vais prendre… followed by an item on the menu. But this is fairly informal, kind of like “I’ll have the…”, as opposed to the very formal Je voudrais… (I would like) or even [Menu item] + s’il vous plait (The ___, please.)

to take/have a bath or shower

Examples:

Le samedi matin, Claire aime prendre un long bain. (Saturday mornings, Claire likes to take a long bath.)

Va prendre ta douche, puis on mangera le diner. (Go take your shower, then we’ll have dinner.)

to take a photograph

Examples:

Sophie a pris beaucoup de photos de notre après-midi ensemble. (Sophie took lots of photos of our afternoon together.)

Samuel prend toujours des selfies. Ça m’enerve ! (Samuel is always taking selfies. It’s so annoying!)


There are a number of other variants of the meaning of prendre.  You can find these listed on Word Reference’s prendre page.

What does se prendre mean?

A black chihuahua with white markings near its legs and on its muzzle stands in a backyard and stares at the viewer. It may be trying to make an intimidating squint, or maybe it just has the sun in its eyes.

Like most verbs in French, prendre can be made reflexive.  But while many verbs’ reflexive version stays relatively close to their original meaning, se prendre is all over the place!

The most common meanings of se prendre are:

to get hit by

Example: Attention aux forts vents ! Il y a quelques années, ma tante s’est pris un panneau que le vent a arraché d’un magasin. Elle a dû aller a l’hôpital! (Be careful when it’s really windy!  A few years ago, my aunt got hit by a sign that the wind blew from a storefront. She had to go to the hospital!)

to get caught/tangled in

Example: Tu devrais t’occuper un peu de ton jardin ! Je me suis pris dans des épines en marchant vers ta porte ! (You should look after your garden a little! I got caught in some thorns as I walked to your door.)

If you add a word or two to se prendre, its meanings vary even more:

se prendre pour… – to believe (consider) oneself…

Examples :

Son chihuahua se prend pour un pitbull. (His chihuahua thinks he’s a pitbull.)

Tu te prends pour qui ? (Who do you think you are?)

s’en prendre à qqn/qqchose – to take out one’s anger on someone/something

Examples: Dans les dessins animés, les méchants s’en prennent souvent à leurs acolytes quand ils sont frustrés. (In cartoons, the bad guys often take out their frustration on their minions.)

Ta mère était en colère contre toi, mais elle s’en est pris à moi. (Your mother was angry at you, but she took it out on me.)


You can find a few additional meanings of se prendre and its variants via Word Reference.

What does reprendre mean?

Reprendre basically means “to take again”. It can be used in most of the same ways that prendre can.

La reprise is a noun derived from reprendre. It has a few meanings (including one you might know from music), but is most commonly used in everyday life to talk about re-starting a part of your routine or a scheduled activity.

For example : La reprise de l’école après les vacances sera ce lundi, mais je ne reprendrai que mardi. (School starts after the vacation this Monday, but I won’t start again until Tuesday.) 

Expressions and phrases with prendre

A person riding a bicycle jumps from one wooden platform to another.
prendre un risque

There are A LOT of expressions and phrases with prendre, and many of them are used fairly often in French.

The general rule of just one little word changing prendre’s meaning holds true for most of these, so you’ll have to memorize them. Fortunately, they’re used so frequently that you’ll get used to them – I know that was the case with me in my early years in France.

Here are some of the most common expressions and phrases with prendre:

prendre quelqu’un pour __ – to mistake someone for ___.

Example : L’autre jour, j’ai pris un inconnu pour un de mes potes – j’étais si gênée ! (The other day, I mistook a stranger for one of my friends. I was so embarrassed!)

bien prendre/mal prendre qqchose– to take something (news/information/an opinion) well or badly.

Example: Son commentaire était censé être flatteur, mais elle l’a mal pris. (His comment was supposed to be flattering but she took it badly/the wrong way.)

prendre un risque – to take a risk.

se prendre la tête – to argue. Example : Jean et Marine ont mal dormi ; hier soir, ils se sont pris la tête.

prendre qqchose à cœur – to take something to heart

prendre cher – to pay dearly (euphemism for “get beat up” or in other way have someone take out their vengeance).

Example: Tu as insulté ma copine ! Tu vas prendre cher ! (You insulted my friend! You’ll pay dearly for that!)

prendre conscience de – to become aware of.

Example: Grâce à cette photo d’une tortue avec une paille dans la narine, j’ai pris conscience du fait que les pailles en plastique sont dangereuses pour l’environnement. (Thanks to this photo of a turtle with a straw in its nostril, I became aware of the fact that plastic straws are dangerous for the environment.)

prendre la parole – to take the floor.

prendre (de) la place – to take up space.

Example : Tu prends toute la place ! (You’re taking up all the space !).

prendre des nouvelles/de tes/vos nouvelles – to catch up (with someone).

Example : Comment vas-tu ? Je t’ai appelle hier pour prendre de tes nouvelles, mais je suis tombée sur ton répondeur. (How are you doing? I called yesterday to catch up but I got your voicemail.

prendre du temps/prendre son temps – to take time/to take one’s time.

Example: Il faut se lever tôt pour être à l’heure pour l’école, car mon fils prend son temps pour s’habiller. (We have to wake up early to get to school on time, because my son takes his time getting dressed.)

prendre en main – to take charge of something.

prendre fin – to end/to expire.

Example: Votre abonnement prendra fin le mois prochain. (Your subscription will expire next month.)

se faire prendre – to get caught/to get arrested.

Example: Il a essayé de voler le tableau mais il s’est fait prendre. (He tried to steal the painting but he got caught.)

prendre le dessus (sur qqn) – to get the upper hand (over someone).

prendre le large – to sail away or to run away.

Example: Pour elle, tout allait bien dans leur couple, mais tout d’un coup, Claude a pris le large. (For her, everything was going well in their relationship, but suddenly Claude ran away.)

prendre une decision – to make a decision/to decide.

Example: Elle a pris la décision de ne pas partir en vacances cet été. (She made the decision not to go on vacation this summer.)

prendre rendez-vous– to make an appointment/schedule a meeting with someone.

Example : Il a pris rendez-vous chez le médecin. (He made an appointment with his doctor.)

prendre sa journée– to take the day off.

Example: Hélène ne sera pas la aujourd’hui, elle a pris sa journée. (Hélène won’t be here today ; she took the day off.). Note that this expression is somewhat informal.

être un cœur à prendre – to be looking for love.


Believe it or not, this long list features just a small selection of the expressions with prendre that exist in everyday French! This page features many more expressions with prendre, including somewhat rare ones that you might come across in French short stories or books.


Although it has many variants, the most important thing to remember about prendre is that when used on its own, it’s very similar to the way we use the word “take” in English. As for the exceptions to that rule, I hope this article will help you when it comes to using them!

Do you have a favorite expression with prendre – especially one that’s not on our list? Feel free to share it in the comments!

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. She recently published her first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.

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