FR: acheter qqch à/pour/de qqn - buy something for/from someone

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.
 
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  • tilt

    Senior Member
    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.
     

    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.;)
     

    itka

    Senior Member
    français
    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"
     

    Lezert

    Senior Member
    french, France
    Je voudrais acheter une voiture à mon père.
    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 )
     

    tilt

    Senior Member
    French French
    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.
    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.
     

    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.
     

    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.
     

    itka

    Senior Member
    français
    how would you express the idea of buying from someone.
    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 !
     

    Nicomon

    Senior Member
    Langue française ♀
    Hello,

    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.
     

    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.
     

    Nicomon

    Senior Member
    Langue française ♀
    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.
     
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    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?
     

    snarkhunter

    Senior Member
    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.
     

    itka

    Senior Member
    français
    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...
     

    NotSo

    Member
    French
    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.
     

    FreddieFirebird

    Senior Member
    USA
    English
    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.)
     

    garoto36

    New Member
    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."
     
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    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    […] note the difference between acheter qqch pour qqn (= to buy sth for the use of sb / on behalf of sb) and acheter qqch à qqn (= to buy sth for sb). The preposition changes the meaning of the phrase.
    I don't quite understand you, MC. The TLFI indicates we can use both acheter à and acheter pour when the indirect object is the beneficiary of the purchase.
    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.
     
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    drhex

    Member
    Swedish - Sweden
    In the Lucky Luke album "Le bandit manchot", p. 18, a one-armed bandit has just been tested by Emma, who liked it. So she says to its constructors:

    - Je voudrais vous acheter cette machine pour la mettre à notre local de la ligue des femmes contre .. euh .. pour les jeux de hasard.

    It is clear from the context that she wants the buy the machine from the constructors, I had however expected "Je voudrais vous acheter cette machine" to mean "I would like to buy you this machine". Is the sentence I quoted normal french or a bit odd? How do you express the difference between buying from someone and buying for someone in french?
     

    OLN

    Senior Member
    French - France, ♀
    Hi drhex.

    We use the same pronoun " te/lui/vous/leur acheter quelque chose" to mean buy something from someone and buy something for someone.
    It's clear from the context that the woman is addressing the machine's owner and that she would like to buy the machine from him and put it in her league's premises.

    If the context is not clear (who's the owner, whom you buy it for, where it will go), and to mean you'd like to buy the machine for the person:
    - simply use the verb offrir instead of acheter (and maybe aimer instead of vouloir) : Je voudrais/j'aimerais vous offrir cette machine.
    -
    add sufficient context: Je voudrais/j'aimerais vous acheter cette machine et la mettre dans votre local or pour que vous puissiez la mettre dans votre local.

    […]
     
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