I recently started watching the Netflix documentary, “Emmanuel Macron: Behind the Rise,” about the election of France’s current president. The film is in French, naturellement, though I could not help noticing three common mistakes in the French-to-English subtitles, within the first seven minutes of the film. (Note: The mistakes pretty much end there.)
So far, the students that I’ve shared these findings with have seemed happy to see these all-too familiar mistakes in such a formidable and well-produced show. May this post help all non-native speakers on their English journey!
Subtitle: “During 200 days, we followed Emmanuel Macron’s presidential campaign.”
Mistake: The sentence is a French construction that simply translates “during” for the French “pendant.” However, this does not work in English. (See below)
Correct: “For 200 days, we followed Emmanuel Macron’s presidential campaign”
To show any length of time, use “for”: (for a week, for a day, for a moment, etc.) Use “during” to show a particular point in time: during class; during the night; during the movie.
Subtitle: “It’s a long time since I saw him.” (First Lady Brigitte Macron hugs an old friend.)
Mistake: The sentence uses the same construction as in the French, “Ça fait longtemps que je l’ai pas vu.” But “It is a long time since …” is not correct English (see below).
Correct: “It has been a long time since I’ve seen him (OR since I saw him).
Saying, “It is a long time” is using the present tense, which is actually the tense used to express general facts or routine — but which is not what is being expressed in the film. The perfect choice for tense is one that links both past and present: “It has been a long time since …” (present perfect simple), the speaker refers to a moment that started in the past (i.e., the last time Mme. Macron saw her friend) that relates to now (when she greets him). This is the ideal tense for conveying an arc of time that ties the past and present together.
As for “since I saw him,” there is a little more flexibility there: some people would say “saw,” while others might say, “since I’ve seen him.” Both are commonly used, and both are correct.
Subtitle: “I wanted to see you because you were there at the start.” (President Macron is speaking to the core staff that was with him from the beginning to his election.)
Mistake: “there,” as in “there at the start.” It’s confusing to see “there” because he is talking with staffers who are in the room with him. Grammatically, “there” makes sense but “here” is more immediate, implying “with me;” “there” refers to some vague place elsewhere.
Also: Although “at the start” is grammatically correct, “from the start” is stronger, as it implies more passage of time.
Correct: “I wanted to see you because you were here from the start.”
The mistake between a French “there” and English “here” (or vice-versa) is common, perhaps due to each language’s different use and meaning of the two adverbs. English is fairly definite about the meaning of “here” and “there”; the French, on the other hand, have two words for “here” (“ici” and “là”) and two words for “there” (“là and là-bas). Yes — the word, “là,” can mean “here” or “there,” depending on the context — and they use these adverbs with more flexibility and colloquialism than we do. So confusion can be rampant when translating from French to English, or vice-versa.
So there (or here) you have it!