French Prefixes: Understanding “Re” in French

The prefix re- appears in many French verbs: recommencer, reprendre, regarder… But it doesn’t always mean the same thing!

Here’s how you can use it in your own French sentences.

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1) Re- = again

a) Re + [verb] = [verb] again

Most times, re- means “again.”

More importantly, you can add re- in front of any random verb and it will mean “doing that again.”

Faire = to do → Refaire = doing again.
Cuire = to cook, to heat → Recuire = to cook / to heat again
Manger = to eat → Remanger = to eat again
Jouer = to play → Rejouer = to play again…

There are other ways to say “again” too. For example, with “jouer,” again:

  • Tu joues encore. (“again”, though encore is complicated.)
  • Tu joues encore une fois. (“one time again” literally)
  • Tu joues une deuxième fois. (“a second time” literally)
  • Tu joues à nouveau. (“anew” literally)

Informally, you can even add re- again: Tu rerejoues. = You play again, for a third time.

So, for example:
Je reprends de la soupe.
= Je prends de la soupe à nouveau.
= “I’m taking some soup once again” (literally)
= I’m getting some more soup.

b) Re in expressions

You can also find the prefix in some expression, such as:

  • C’est reparti ! =“Here we go again.” (repartir = going again.)
  • Rebonjour !, “Hello again!”

We use “Rebonjour !” when meeting someone we’ve already seen today. Because you shouldn’t say Bonjour twice to the same person in the same day.

(Warning: that lesson on “Rebonjour” is from 2013, I changed a lot since then!)

Same thing with Resalut, recoucou (= both informal “Hi again!”, rebonsoir (= “Good evening again,” less informal.)

Even more informally, instead of all of these you can simply say:
Re ! = Hi again!

c) Other spellings of re-

Sometimes, re + [vowel] = ré : réapprendre (= to learn again), réélire (= to elect again)

Sometimes, re + [vowel] = r [+ vowel] : rajouter = to add again, renvoyer = to send again / to send back.

From la belote (a card game), we also have the common expression: Rebelote ! (= Yet again! Once again!)

2) Re- = back

a) Common verbs

Yes, Renvoyer can mean “to send back.

Sometimes, re- means “back” – especially in the meaning of “going back” somewhere, or to the way it was before.

That’s why we have:
Je reprends le parapluie que je t’avais donné.
= I take back the umbrella that I gave you. → Going back to the earlier situation where I was the one with that umbrella / Bringing back the umbrella to where it was, in my hand.

Elle se lève. / Elle se relève. = She gets up. / She gets back up.

Ils s’habillent le matin. Ils se rhabillent après nager. = They get dressed in the morning. They get dressed “back” (they put their clothes back on) after swimming.

b) Revenir / Rentrer / Retourner

Re- also means back in three close verbs:

  • Revenir = to come back (to where you are now, or to someone)
  • Retourner = to go back (to a place where you are not right now)
  • Rentrer = to go back (home, or at least somewhere “safer”)

For example:
Revenir → Je reviens
Je reviens très vite. = I’m coming back very soon. (to the same place)
Je reviens vers vous dès que possible. = I get back to you as soon as possible.

Retourner → Je retourne
J’ai oublié la bière, je dois retourner au supermarché. = I forgot to buy some beer, I have to return to the supermarket.

Rentrer → Je rentre
Il est tard, je rentre. = It’s getting late, I’m going home.
Tu rentres à l’hôtel ? = Are you going back to the hotel?
Non, je rentre chez moi. = No, I’m going back to my place.

Un revenant is someone who came back (and/or a ghost).
Le retour is a return.
La rentrée is the start of a school year, where students go back to school.

3) Re- = nothing in particular

Sometimes, re- just doesn’t have an explicit meaning by itself.

For example between:
sentir = to smell / to feel something external,
Je sens des mauvaises odeurs. Je sens des mauvaises vibrations.
= I smell bad smells. I feel bad vibrations.

ressentir = to feel an emotion, or something internal
Je ressens de l’anxiété. Je ressens une grande sérénité.
= I feel anxiety. I feel a great calm.

But in verbs like regretter (= to regret), re- is barely a prefix. (The verb “gretan” was old English for “crying,” but it’s been lost in time.)

Same thing in regarder = to look, or refuser = to refuse, to decline. Here the verbs garder (= to keep) and fuser (= to burst forth, to fly with speed) do exist, but there’s no link (anymore) with their re- counterparts.

For one example:
Je refuser de regarder, je garde mon chapeau même si les plaisanteries fusent ! = I refuse to look, I keep my hat even if jokes fly!

Nothing is simple in French, so you can understand more and more, and that’s fun!
For example, you can dive into the differences between:

Click on any link to find the full lesson!

À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!

Fun fact: la révolution and le revolver both come from the latin “re + volvere” = re + venir = to come back again… So both revolution and revolver are like un revenant!)

And now:

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Join the conversation!

  • Beaucoup d’information dans cette leçon
    Géraldine, et voici .. ♫

    Je ne laisse aucun regret
    Personne ici ne m’aimait
    J’entends des rires derrière moi
    Je ne me retournerai pas …………..

    Oui, ce sont les paroles d’une chanson
    Et le chanteur ?
    Eddy Mitchell
    Et la chanson ?
    Je ne me retournerai pas

    Ce n’est pas une nouvelle chanson,
    mais ça vaut la peine ~

    Allez chercher ..

  • Salut Géraldine
    The one verb that I cannot understand is rejoindre, which means to join and not to “rejoin”…

    • Bonjour Brian,

      Oui, le verbe « rejoindre » a plusieurs sens :
      1. aller retrouver quelqu’un (Je te rejoins en face de la mairie.)
      2. rattraper (Ils sont partis il y a 5 minutes mais on va les rattraper.)
      3. atteindre (Je peux rejoindre ma maison en moins de 10 minutes.)
      4. être d’accord avec quelqu’un (Je rejoins ton avis.)

      Comme Une Française Team

  • A propos de “regretter” & “gretan”. Dans les dialects Ecossaises & du Nord d’Angleterre on utilise toujours “greet”, to cry ….

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