FR: acheter qqch à/pour/de qqn

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by vivian10, Mar 24, 2009.

  1. vivian10 New Member

    English - U.S.
    According to a French textbook for American high school students, the expression "acheter quelque chose à quelqu'un" simply means "to buy something for someone". However, according to WordReference, the same expression can also mean "to buy something from someone". Is this accurate - can the expression in French mean two different things in English? And second, is there a difference between "acheter quelque chose à quelqu'un" and "acheter quelque chose pour quelqu'un"? Is one more acceptable than the other?

    Merci d'avance.

    Moderator note: Multiple threads have been merged to create this one. This thread is about French usage.
    If you are interested in the English prepositions, please see
    EN: acheter à - buy from/at/for - preposition.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 22, 2013
  2. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    Acheter qqch à qq'un can mean both yes, and only the context could help making the difference.
    The problem is that acheter qqch pour qq'un is ambiguous too, because it could mean you're making this person a gift, or that you're just buying the thing on behalf of him/her. Once again, only context makes it all.

    Thus, I wouldn't say a form is more acceptable than the other. They're just equivalent, in my opinion, when meaning the same.
  3. geostan

    geostan Senior Member

    English Canada
    I am surprised that a textbook designed for English speaking students would suggest that acheter qqch à qqn typically means to buy something for someone.

    Since it very often means to buy from, the book should compare the possible meanings.

    As an anglophone, I would say that as long as the meaning is clear, à could mean either from or for. But if it could go either way, I would use pour (for) and à (from).

    Jean devait sortir sa petite amie ce soir. Alors, il est passé chez le marchand de fleurs lui acheter un bouquet. (Clearly the meaning is for)

    Mon ami Jacques m'a acheté ma bagnole. (Clearly the meaning is from)

    Je voudrais acheter une voiture à mon père. (Personally, and without further clarification, I would assume the meaning is from. To clarify, I would use pour if I meant the other.)

    This is just my opinion.;)
  4. itka Senior Member

    I don't agree with you for the last one :
    Je voudrais acheter une voiture à mon père.
    The first meaning I'd think would be for my father otherwise the sentence would be : Je voudrais acheter sa voiture à mon père.

    I think most of the times acheter à is understood as "to buy for sb".
    Anyway this verb makes always ambiguous sentences.
    That's why it is often replaced by "offrir" or even, in colloquial french "payer".
    "Il a offert un manteau de fourrure à sa femme"
    "Il a payé un manteau de fourrure à sa femme"
  5. Lezert

    Lezert Senior Member

    french, France
    This sentence would mean, for many people, that you would make a gift to your father.

    To express that I woud buy a car from my father, using the same construction, I would say: Je voudrais acheter sa voiture à mon père. (= Je voudrais acheter la voiture de mon père )
  6. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    But what about your father owning several cars? :D
    You might say Je voudrais acheter l'une de ses voitures à mon père, but Geostan's sentence can fit as well.

    That said, I agree that à is most of the time understood as for.
  7. geostan

    geostan Senior Member

    English Canada
    If that is so, how would you express the idea of buying from someone.
    You cannot use de as in J'ai acheté une voiture de mon père, which means to me: I bought a car belonging to my father. I may have bought it from someone else, acting on my father's behalf.
  8. no_cre0 Senior Member

    American English
    As said before, it all depends on context. Very rarely would you just out of the blue say "Je voudrais acheter un voiture à mon père". You would have been discussing buying cars/where you were going to buy a car. Therefore, it would be understood that you would be buying it FROM your father and not FOR your father.
  9. itka Senior Member

    We'd mostly say : "Monsieur X m'a vendu une voiture !" ;)
    Or we would explain : "J'ai acheté une voiture à Monsieur X" ---> no doubt because of the context
    "Ma nouvelle voiture ? Je l'ai achetée à mon père !" ---> just create a context !
  10. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Français, Québec ♀

    This thread reminded me of another one

    If I heard for instance j'ai acheté une voiture à mon frère, I would think the person is very generous with his/her brother. Not that the brother sells cars.

    In my vocabulary, acheter à means for/pour.
  11. no_cre0 Senior Member

    American English
    Toutefois, si vous êtes en train de parler avec un pote qui chercher quelqu'un à qui il peut acheter une char, vous comprendriez la différence, n'est-ce pas? C'est ce que je veux dire - il faut faire attention au contexte pour savoir.
  12. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Français, Québec ♀
    Oui... mais ce « chum », s'il est québécois, ne le dirait pas ainsi. Il me demanderait sans doute :

    Familier : « sais-tu qui aurait un char à vendre pas cher » ?
    Moins familier : « sais-tu où je pourrais trouver une auto, à bon prix? »

    Il cherche plus la voiture ou l'endroit où l'acheter que la personne qui en a une à vendre.
    Et il va l'acheter de cette personne. Ce de est sans doute fautif, mais bon... c'est ainsi.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2009
  13. vivian10 New Member

    English - U.S.
    Thank you for the lively discussion on this matter! I have an follow-up question...This was posed by my high school students and I am not quite sure how to respond.

    An activity in the book asked them to respond to a question using as many object pronouns as possible. The question was, "Tu as acheté le cadeau pour ta soeur?" And the response would be, naturally, "Oui, je le lui ai acheté" (I suppose we can just ignore the fact that one would normally use "offrir" in this context...). Students learn that indirect object pronouns lui and leur replace à + a person. Obviously, "pour ta soeur" can be replaced by lui - but why is this? Is it because "acheter qqch à qqn" is implied?
  14. no_cre0 Senior Member

    American English
    No, its because "ta soeur" is an indirect object. It can be used to replace pour.
  15. snarkhunter

    snarkhunter Senior Member

    France, Région parisienne
    French - France
    I've just read this topic and now feel it raises a very interesting point. And perhaps not so easy to settle.

    I would tend to consider a very important difference in context between "acheter à" and "acheter pour".

    To me, "acheter pour" means the person the gift was purchased for may have been present at the time... or not (but most often, not).

    Whereas "acheter à" implies the person was there. In the latter case, the purchaser may even never have been handed the gift, which went straight to the hands of the "recipient".

    I'm not 100% sure, though, but it's what experience is telling me right now.
  16. itka Senior Member

    snarkhunter, tu veux dire que, la phrase suivante implique la présence de la sœur ? "J'ai acheté un cadeau à ma sœur pour son anniversaire".

    Je ne suis pas du tout d'accord sur ce point...
  17. snarkhunter

    snarkhunter Senior Member

    France, Région parisienne
    French - France
    I stand corrected! I do agree with you. This was indeed pure speculation from me, and you've proven me wrong there...

    Dura context, sed context

    Sorry about my mistake.
  18. ladan shirali

    ladan shirali Senior Member

    Hello there;
    Is it correct to say:
    Acheter quelquechose pour quelqu'un or shall we say à quelqu'un?
  19. NotSo

    NotSo Member

    Les deux semblent corrects mais on dirait plutôt "acheter quelque chose à quelqu'un".

    Pour moi, la nuance est la suivante :

    J'achète un collier à Anna : Je lui achète le collier et le lui offre tout de suite après l'avoir acheté.
    J'achète un collier pour Anna : Je l'achète, puis je le garde pour lui offrir plus tard, pour une fête d'anniversaire par exemple.
  20. FreddieFirebird Senior Member

    Je veux dire "I buy a suit for my father".
    Est-ce qu'on dit "J'achète un costume pour mon père", ou "J'achète un costume à mon père"?
    (I've seen both of the above as correct, in different sources, so I am confused.)
  21. snarkhunter

    snarkhunter Senior Member

    France, Région parisienne
    French - France
    Both can be used. And it's indeed very confusing since, in such a sentence, "à..." can mean 'for' as well as 'from'.
  22. midoan New Member

    français (France)
    And "pour" can mean "for" as well as "instead of"!
  23. tartopom Senior Member

    I would say that 'acheter à quelqu'un' sounds more colloquial than 'acheter pour quelqu'un'.
    Am I wrong ?
  24. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Well, yes, but in the sense in stead of or in lieu of, not rather than or as an alternative to.

    I wouldn't say that… To me both are good and "neutral" from a register point of view.
  25. garoto36 New Member

    Paris, France
    Portuguese (Brazil)
    Je viens de lire cela au dictionnaire Littré, et je pense qu'il s'agit d'une information très utile sur ce sujet :

    "Je me suis acheté un manchon, c'est-à-dire j'ai acheté un manchon pour moi, est une locution qui peut se dire, puisqu'il n'y a aucune amphibologie. Mais déjà l'amphibologie commence si l'on met : On m'a acheté un manchon, qui peut signifier : on a acheté pour moi, ou de moi, un manchon. On peut voir au n° 5 que Corneille s'en est servi ; mais elle mérite beaucoup d'attention, pour qu'il n'y ait pas d'équivoque.

    Le danger de l'amphibologie augmente dans une phrase comme celle-ci qu'on entend tous les jours et qui est en effet dans le dictionnaire de l'Académie : J'ai acheté une montre à mon fils, avec le sens de pour mon fils ; mais qui peut aussi signifier : J'ai acheté de mon fils une montre, il m'a vendu une montre. On prendra donc bien garde, en s'en servant, à l'amphibologie ; et, en tout cas, on remarquera qu'ici l'emploi de à au lieu de pour est du parler vulgaire et négligé."
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2012
  26. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Although the TLFi doesn't seem to make a difference, to me there is the nuance I indicated above. Besides, acheter à usually implies that you've already given/offered the item/gift to the person, while acheter pour often (but not systematically) implies that you've bought it but haven't given it yet.

    J'ai acheté un tableau à mon frère. Il en est très content.
    J'ai acheté un tableau pour mon frère. J'espère qu'il lui plaira.

    Besides, both acheter à and acheter pour are ambiguous, but in a different way:

    Acheter pour can mean any of "to buy for," "to buy for the use of" or "to buy on behalf of," e.g.:

    J'ai acheté un tableau pour mon frère. Il ne pouvait en effet pas venir l'acheter lui-même.

    Acheter à can mean either "to buy for" or "to buy from," e.g.:

    J'ai acheté un tableau à mon frère. Il n'en voulait plus.

    Note: This post was moved from this thread.
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2013
  27. chiapas249 Member

    Bonjour à tous

    J'ai déjà vu dans le site []

    Acheter quelque chose pour quelqu'un [buy sth for sb]

    et aussi à cette adresse

    J'ai acheté des œufs au fermier. I bought some eggs [from] the farmer


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