“Sentir” vs “ressentir”: big headache to make the difference

“Sentir” vs “ressentir”: big headache to make the difference

The other day, during a session with Iva, one of my students, we happened to talk about two french verbs with very close meaning: “sentir” and “ressentir”. Iva asked me the difference between them and I was like…

So I told to myself: “why not write an article about it?

Not only these two look alike when you write them but their meaning is very close! As French natives, we just k-n-o-w when to use one rather than the other

Let’s talk first about the writing. As you can see, there is this “re” in “ressentir” which is the only visual difference. Most of the time, this prefix means that we emphasize on something which will be repeated or a return on a first action.

Examples:

commencer (start) ; recommencer (do again)

partir (leave) ; repartir (go back, set off again)


BUT here it is not the case with “ressentir” so be careful…

Sentir

These are the most common meanings of “sentir” nowadays (sources: CNRTL & Littré):

1) Percevoir (perceive)

  • with the sense of smell

example: “ça sent les crêpes !” it smells crepes!

sentir bon = smell good

  • with other senses (taste, touch)

Examples: “je sens le goût du citron dans la salade” I can feel lemon in the salad

“ils sentent le vent dans leurs cheveux”  They can feel the wind in their hair

  • with intuition

Example: “il sentait que sa mort était proche” He knew his death was coming

Extract of a poem by Guy de Maupassant, “Terreur” (Terror)

Ce soir-là j’avais lu fort longtemps quelque auteur.
Il était bien minuit, et tout à coup j’eus peur.
Peur de quoi ? je ne sais, mais une peur horrible.
Je compris, haletant et frissonnant d’effroi,
Qu’il allait se passer une chose terrible…
[Alors il me sembla sentir derrière moi
Quelqu’un qui se tenait debout]*, dont la figure
Riait d’un rire atroce, immobile et nerveux (...)

*Suddenly I felt like there was someone standing behind me

2) Avoir la sensation de (feel)

Se sentir + adjectif

“Je me sens toujours jeune” I still feel young

“Il se sent vraiment fatigué” It feels really tired

3) Faire comprendre (make something more or less clear)

Faire sentir quelque chose

“Tu lui as fait sentir qu’elle n’était plus la bienvenue” You made it clear for her that she was not welcome anymore

➨ here you can replace “sentir” by “ressentir”: “Tu lui as fait ressentir qu’elle n’était plus la bienvenue”

4) Other meanings in frequent idiomatic expressions

  • supporter (tolerate) : “je ne peux plus les sentir” I can’t stand them anymore

⚠ “ne pas / plus sentir quelqu’un” is only used with negative

  • se faire des illusions sur soi-même (delude yourself like to be full of yourself) : “Tout à coup, tu t’es senti pousser des ailes !” Suddenly, you felt ten feet tall!
  • s’attendre à un résultat (see something coming)

“Ça sent…”

“Ça sent le vécu !” It has a ring of truth about it

“Ça sent l’arnaque, cette histoire !” It looks like a scam to me

“Ça ne sent pas bon, ne fais pas ça !” It doesn’t look good, don’t you do it! (= it’s not a good idea)

Ressentir

These are the most common meanings of “ressentir” nowadays (sources: CNRTL & Littré):

1) Sentir ou éprouver un sentiment profond et / ou dont on se sent conscient (feel something deep and / or you are aware of)

“Je ressens de la colère quand j’entends ce qui se passe là-bas” I feel angry when I hear what happens there

“Elles ressentent tout le bien-être de la thalassothérapie” They experience the feeling of well-being of the thalassotherapy

➨ here you can replace “ressentir” by “sentir”: “je sens de la colère quand j’entends ce qui se passe là-bas” ; “elles sentent tout le bien-être de la thalassothérapie”

Le plus grand plaisir qu'un honnête homme puisse ressentir est celui de faire plaisir à ses amis.”  
The greatest pleasure of an honorable man is to please his friends

Voltaire, Les pensées philosophiques (1862)

2) Aimer (love) ❤

“Dis-lui ce que tu ressens pour elle !” Tell her how you feel about her!

3) Percevoir un sentiment chez une personne (feel something in someone’s talk or in something)

“On ressent le regret dans tes paroles” Anyone can feel the regret when you talk

➨ here you can replace “ressentir” by “sentir”: “on sent le regret dans tes paroles”

“ça se ressent…”

“Ça se ressent dans ta façon d’en parler, que tu es à bout !” (fam.)

➨ here you can replace “ressentir” by “sentir”: “ça se sent dans ta façon de parler, que tu es à bout !” (fam.)

4) Éprouver une impression en raison d’une cause extérieure (feel something from an external cause)

avoir un ressenti sur quelque chose (sense something)

“J’ai eu un très bon ressenti pendant mon entretien avec le DRH” I had a very good feeling during the job interview with the HR Manager

Are there such big headaches in your langage? Share with us below!