embrasser - to kiss, to hug?


Senior Member
German, Germany
Bonsoir à tous,

Dans 'Je ne t'aime pas, Paulus', je viens de lire: 'Je ne peux pas dire que j'avais envie d'embrasser Paulus; je n'avais même pas envie de lui prendre la main.' Avant, la narratrice décrit ce qui aurait dû se passer, donc qu'ils auraient dû s'approcher l'un de l'autre, comme portés sur un nuage, et s'embrasser bien sûr ... - comme dans le cinéma, quoi.

Bon, ma question est la suivante:

Dans les annotations du manuel scolaire avec lequel nous travaillons, les auteurs ont mis:
s'embrasser = sich umarmen / sich küssen,
c'est-à-dire: to hug / to kiss.

Mais j'ai l'impression que, de nos jours, 'embrasser' n'a pratiquement plus le sens de 'to hug', mais que le verbe veut dire 'to kiss' - de quelque manière que cela se fasse. 'to hug' est, pensais-je, 'prendre qn. dans ses bras'.

Qu'est-ce que vous en pensez?

Merci pour vos réponses!
  • [Marc]

    Senior Member
    French France
    hug, d'expérience, peut aussi vouloir dire accolade... pratique assez rare en France, mais beaucoup plus fréquente outre Atlantique...


    Senior Member
    English - mid-Atlantic
    As I see it, the confusion about kissing and hugging got started in the 17th century. The exquisite preciosity (and hypocrisy) of the Versailles courtisans - who called teeth "the furnishings of the mouth", for example - made it popular among them to describe having sex with someone as "kissing" them. It was less crude, but more ambiguous too, and it soon lost its euphemistic sense and became a word just as rude as f---. The result is that, until today, if you say that a couple is baise-ing, it means they are fucking, et point finale!

    This expropriation, however, created a need for a substitute to describe the simple act of kissing someone, now that “baiser” had been irretrievably expropriated for another purpose. The solution created even more confusion - the verb "embrasser", to embrace, began to be used (or misused) instead.

    The result of all this is that in current French one has to find all sorts of round-about ways of describing these simple acts. For example, to say "I want to kiss you", you can choose between "Je veux t'embrasser" or – curiously - "Je veux te donner un baiser", since the noun did not meet the same fate as the verb.

    “I want to hug you” is even worse, since this gesture is not very French and, what with “embrasser” now meaning “to kiss”, has to be described in detail: "Je veux t'entourer des bras", "Je veux t'enlacer", or still "Je veux te serrer dans mes bras". Curiously again, the noun retains its original meaning – the seldom used “une embrassade” still means “an embrace”.

    It's a lot simpler in English - and in Spanish with "besar", "abrazar" and "abrazo" - but that is the state to which the French mania for "la délicatesse et la discrétion" has led them and their beautiful tongue. It's one of the reasons that immigrants find it so difficult to learn French, and even leads native-born youngsters to butcher their own language and stuff it with English words. The alarming result is not just the much-decried "franglais" but a kind of pidgin which is inexorably forcing out the 17th century form of the language which we, who have laboriously learned it, still speak.

    The proof that this last statement is true, whereas current English has immeasurably evolved over the last few centuries, is that the plays of Racine and Corneille are still clearly understandable to us, while those of Shakespeare are a minefield of misunderstandings that cannot be read without footnotes.
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    Miss Déclic

    Senior Member
    French / France
    That's very interesting!
    Just one thing... In French, I would never say "je veux t'entourer des bras" and I find "Je veux t'enlacer dans mes bras" redondant as for me "enlacer" necessarily means you're using your arms...
    Thank you again for your explanation!


    Senior Member
    English - mid-Atlantic
    You`re quite right about enlacer dans mes bras, it is redundant... mea culpa, I didn't have time to check it before posting the message. Basically I wanted to point out how difficult it is to simply say I want to hug you in French! And all the enlacer and entourer options sound rather artificial, as if people aren't used to performing this very nice action of hugging someone, sweetheart, baby or dog! We English are supposed to be puritanical but sometimes the French seem to be just as inhibited - coincé is the word, I believe...


    Senior Member
    Hi everyone,

    I read every post but lorenzogranada's (I'll read them afterward).

    Okay for

    embrasser (nowadays) = to kiss
    donner l'accolade = to hug
    "donner l'accolade" is very rare in French except in 2 cases:
    - with American friends
    - when official people meet (for example the mayors of 2 twinned cities - when we give an award)
    However our accolade is not as "deep" as in the US. We've that "deep" accolade between old Friends (unseen for decades and decades).

    Be very careful because in informal French, faire un câlin means faire l'amour (to make love)!
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    Senior Member
    Thanks for your post #7 lorenzogranada, they are excellent!

    It's so clear and so true!

    Regarding baiser (verb) and baiser (noun), you are right it is an easy trap for foreigners.

    To kiss on the cheeks, we often say "faire une bise" or, as a joke, "je te bise".

    Take note of my words about "câlin" and "câliner" though here too, it's very ambiguous.
    Le père fait un câlin à sa fille doesn't have the same meaning as Le père fait un câlin a sa femme.

    NB: I think all of these words are completely different in Québec as they kept many meanings of previous centuries.


    Senior Member
    English - mid-Atlantic
    What you say about calin just confirms my statement that the French prefer poetic suggestion to unambiguous precision, as when, back in the 17th century, they stopped using the perfectly good French word for fuck, which is foutre and daintily replaced it with baiser. Nowadays foutre is used only as an exclamation or swear word and has entirely lost its original meaning - stolen from it by baiser.
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