Ménage is a confusing, interesting French word. Non-French speaking people and tourists often only know it from the overrated, clichéd French expression “ménage à trois” – but it’s more than that!
Today, let’s learn some useful French vocabulary and expressions related to the word “ménage”
Use new fun expressions to sound more French, even to the French!
Bonjour c’est Géraldine.
Bienvenue sur Comme une Française. C’est parti !
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1) Le ménage
The most common meaning for Le ménage is housework / cleaning.
French people mostly use it in the expression Faire le ménage (= to clean, to clean up a room).
Je fais le ménage toutes les semaines.
I clean my house every week.
But, the word can also become a noun, such as in les ordures ménagères (= household trash), as in “taking out the trash” (sortir les ordures).
This is part of Les tâches ménagères (= household tasks), which also include faire la vaisselle (= cleaning the dishes), faire la lessive (= doing your laundry)…
Some people also hire une femme de ménage (= a cleaning lady) to take care of their household tasks. Of course, it’s also possible to find un homme de ménage (= a cleaning man), but that expression is less commonly used, for better or worse.
A gender-neutral, but less natural-sounding designation is le personnel d’entretien (= cleaning employees).
Spring is a special cleaning season!
It’s time to make Le grand ménage de printemps (= spring cleaning.)
2) Un ménage
When you hear the term un ménage (instead of “le”), then it usually means “a household.” It means “a family or a couple living in the same home.”
It’s mostly used in administration or statistics nowadays, but we find that same meaning in some French expressions too.
Such as une scène de ménage (= a domestic quarrel), or Faire bon ménage (= to get along well, to go together well. For anyone and anything, not necessarily a couple!)
Ah oui, le miel et le fromage de chèvre font bon ménage !
Oh yes, honey and goat cheese go together very well!
Finally, un remue-ménage (= a household-disturber, literally) is a French expression that refers to an agitation, a noisy mess, a chaotic disturbance, or a big shake-out.
Vous allez arrêter tout ce remue-ménage?
Will you stop all this fuss?
Scènes de ménage (= domestic quarrels) is also the title of a semi-famous French TV show. It has short, comedic episodes showing the lives of different fictional couples and families.
If you like the show, it can help you practice your French oral comprehension – be ready though, they do talk fast.
Ménage can also be a verb: ménager (= to spare, to handle gently)
For instance, you can say Ménager quelqu’un (= to protect someone’s feelings in a difficult situation)
On ne peut pas annoncer maintenant à Pierre qu’il est renvoyé ! Il faut le ménager.
We can’t tell Pierre he’s fired right now! We need to spare his feelings at least.
Se ménager is “to take care of oneself, to stop making unnecessary efforts as preparation for later.”
Je dois me ménager avant le marathon de Paris.
I need to take care of myself before the Paris marathon.
It also created the French expression sans ménagement = “without care for feelings”, bluntly = brutalement
Nowadays, though, you can mostly find the verb “Ménager” in un proverbe (= a proverb):
Qui voyage loin, ménage sa monture. (= “He who travels far, spares his horse.” = Slow and steady wins the race.)
Another version of the French proverb is: “Qui veut voyager loin, ménage sa monture.” (= “He who wants to travel far, spares his horse.” )
This French expression actually comes from a play: Les plaideurs (= The Litigants) by Jean Racine.
Racine is one of the great French tragedians from the 17th century, alongside Corneille and Molière.
French people also use ménager un espace / ménager un moment / ménager une occasion… (= to create a space / to create a moment / to create an opportunity.)
Il faudra qu’on se ménage un moment pour discuter, demain.
We’ll have to take some time to talk, tomorrow.
4) Emménager /Déménager
Now this is where things get complicated 🙂
Un ménage is a household. From that comes two verbs:
Emménager (= to move in)
On a emménagé le mois dernier.
We moved in last month.
Un emménagement is the act of moving in, or the date you finally start living in the house.
The opposite is, of course:
Déménager (= to move (out))
Dimanche, je vais aider un ami à déménager.
On Sunday, I’ll go help a friend move out.
The act of moving out is Un déménagement
Colloquially, you can use the French expression: Ça déménage !
It’s (a bit) outdated, but it means “Things are getting heated, it’s escalating”… Or “It rocks, it’s wild, it’s awesome – it’s making a lot of noise and fuss in an engaging way.”
Technically, “moving in together with someone” is se mettre en ménage. It’s a quaint, old-fashioned expression though. We’d rather say emménager ensemble (= “to move in together” literally).
Un emménagement is an opportunity for having une pendaison de crémaillère (= a housewarming party.)
Un déménagement is the opportunity for having une dépendaison de crémaillère (= a house leaving party)
Aménager means “to convert a space, to adjust, to rearrange.” It sounds like “Emménager”, that we’ve seen in the last section. The pronunciation difference is subtle.
(And even though Aménager looks a bit “to manage,” there’s no connection there! In French, “to manage” is réussir (= to suceed) or gérer (= to deal with, to be responsible for the organisation of) )
J’ai aménagé le grenier en nouvelle chambre.
I converted the attic into a new bedroom.
For clarity, it’s easier to use réaménager (= to reorganize a space) instead, in most situations.
J’ai réaménagé le salon, c’est beaucoup plus lumineux maintenant !
I reorganized the living room, it’s much brighter now!
Let’s have a little quiz to “fix” what you just learned!
– What’s the French verb that means “To convert a space” ?
– What’s the French proverb that uses the verb “ménager” ?
– What’s French for “to clean (a house)” ?
(Answers: “aménager”, “Qui veut voyager loin, ménage sa monture.” “faire le ménage”)
Et toi ?
What’s your favorite new word or French expression from the lesson?
For example, you can write: “J’aime bien “Ça déménage !” car j’ai enfin compris cette expression.” (“I like “Ça déménage !” because I finally understand this expression.”)
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Allez, salut 🙂