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French Word of the Day: se débrouiller

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French Word of the Day: se débrouiller
Photo: Deposit photos
11:13 CET+01:00
This verb doesn't have an exact translation in English as you'll hear it used in all kinds of ways in French conversation, meaning sometimes completely different things.

Why do I need to know se débrouiller?

This verb doesn't have an exact translation in English as you'll hear it used in all kinds of ways in French conversation, meaning sometimes completely different things. 

What does it mean?

Se débrouiller is the opposite of brouiller which means to ‘mess something up’, or to ‘confuse’, ‘muddle’ or ‘cloud over’ something. 

Normally when de is stuck on the front of a verb in French it gives the verb the opposite meaning, but se débrouiller doesn't quite mean the opposite of muddle.

The most common meaning of se débrouiller is to ‘fend for yourself’, ‘get by’ or ‘manage’ for example Je n'ai pas beaucoup d'argent, mais je me débrouille. (I don't have much money, but I get by). 

In a similar sense, it can also mean to ‘make do’ because you don’t have enough of something, like, pour le dîner on va se débrouiller avec les restes de hier soir. (For dinner we’ll make do with leftovers from last night.)

In this way, it means to manage with something or a situation that's not ideal. 

But adding a positive tone to this verb can change the implications entirely. Elle se débrouille bien ! means ‘She's doing great!.’

And if someone really impresses you, you might say they se débrouiller comme un chef, or literally ‘handle something like a boss’. For example, c’était la première fois qu’il a fait du ski et il s’est débrouillé comme un chef! (It was the first time he went skiing and he handled it beautifully!)

Finally, Se débrouiller can also mean untangle or sort out things out. 

This could be in a relationship, for example Débrouille-toi avec ton frère avant son anniversaire. (Sort things out with your brother before his birthday.) 

Or, removing the se before the verb means it could be in a physical way, such as il débrouille ses papiers pour les classer. (He's sorting out his papers so he can file them.)

How can I use se débrouiller?

Je me débrouille en français.

I get by in French. 

Je vais me débrouiller pour venir lundi.

I’ll take care of things so that I can come on Monday.

Je ne demande rien à personne. Je me débrouille seule.

I don’t ask anything of anyone. I manage by myself.

(The examples above are from wordreference.com)

 

 

 

 

 
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