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The Ropes


To Allow or Not to Allow? Permettre and Similar Expressions

by Barbara McClintock, Certified Translator

Se rappeler and permettre are commonly used verbs in French, e.g., il faut se rappeler que and il permet de. But should they be translated into English? A recent article by Dominique Jonkers (published in René Meerten’s blog, Traduction anglais-français) criticized the overuse of permettre in French.

Surprisingly, Jonkers blames English writers for the overabundant use of the verbs allow and enable. On a positive note, she encourages French writers to choose more precise verbs. The following is an example from the author’s blog post:

  • Le dictionnaire des synonymes permet de trouver des termes plus adaptés.
    Non. Le dictionnaire des synonymes facilite la recherche de termes plus adaptés.
  • L’application permet de télécharger des films.
    Non, elle sert à télécharger des films - ou elle les télécharge.

In most cases, you can avoid translating the overworked formulation permet(tent) de followed by a verb in English, and your sentence will read better without it. The same is true for il faut se rappeler que and il est à noter que. Ask yourself if the expression really adds something to the meaning of the sentence and, if not, drop it.

You may want to translate il faut se rappeler que by “rememberorit should be rememberedbecause you need a transition in your paragraph. However, when this phrase does not add anything to the meaning, it does not need to be translated, in my opinion. By way of illustration, why not drop Il faut se rappeler que or il est à noter que in the translation of the following sentences.

  • Il faut se rappeler que la prise de photos est interdite.
    “No photography is permitted.” or “Photo-taking is prohibited.”
  • Il est à noter que la prise de photos est interdite.
    “No photography is permitted.” or “Photo-taking is prohibited.”

Some people think that the English text has to reflect the French in more than just meaning by translating every word and preserving every comma. When Betty Howell, C. Tr., was involved in mentoring, her mantra was always “you’re supposed to translate meaning, not words, but find the words that have the same effect on the English reader as the original did on the French reader.” Thanks, Betty!

N.B. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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