French word of the week: défendre

Our French word of the week is the verb défendre.

Défendre follows the conjugation of regular -re verbs in French. To hear how to pronounce it, listen to the audio:

At first, you might be thinking that it’s similar to the word defend in English – you would be correct. As you’d expect, défendre can indeed mean to defend. It’s used in the context of defending or protecting something or someone:

Cette avocate a défendu la victime la semaine dernière. This lawyer defended the victim last week.

Je peux bien défendre le ballon de foot mais je ne peux pas le frapper. I can defend the football well, but I can’t kick it.

Les soldats défendaient le château pendant toute la nuit. The soldiers were defending the castle all night long.

Its second meaning is quite different – défendre can mean to forbid or to prohibit. Look out for the preposition à followed by an object:

défendre quelque chose à quelqu’un to forbid somebody something

défendre à quelqu’un de faire quelque chose to forbid somebody to do something

Ma mère défend le chocolat à ma petite sœur – elle en mange trop ! My mum forbids my little sister chocolate – she eats too much of it!

Notre professeur nous a défendu d’utiliser les portables en cours. Our teacher forbade us to use phones in class.

Our Easy Learning French Grammar page can tell you more about verbs with prepositions followed by objects.

You might see the verb in a passive sentence for this meaning too. Look out for the preposition de:

Il est défendu de faire un feu. Bonfires are prohibited.

A similar structure appears often on warning signs – the related noun défense followed by the preposition de:

« Défense de fumer. » “No smoking.”

The verb défendre can also be used reflexively if you’re talking about defending or protecting yourself. The infinitive is se défendre:

Je fais de la boxe pour apprendre me défendre. I box to learn how to defend myself.

The reflexive verb can have another meaning when followed by de and a verb. It means to deny doing something:

Il se défend d’avoir partagé les mots de passe. He denies having shared the passwords.

You can’t deny it – you’re really looking forward to coming back next week for our next French word of the week blog, right?

Written by Holly Tarbet, freelance copywriter and editor.

All opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of Collins, or its parent company, HarperCollins.

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