Get better with the verbs rentrer, retourner, revenir

French is a beautiful language that seems to have many lovely words to describe any idea. However, that means there are many nuances in conversation in French. As a result, learning to navigate these particularities can get learners down.

To really sound like a native speaker, you need to get better with the verbs retourner, revenir and rentrer. Since they all can be used as ‘come back’ and ‘return’ in English, you will find below the key distinctions. And by breaking them down to their core elements, understanding them becomes less intimidating.

rentrer, retourner, revenir

Summary :

  1. Retourner
  2. The verb revenir
  3. Rentrer
  4. Repartir and other verbs starting with -re


First, retourner can be intransitive, transitive or reflexive. As a reminder, a verb is transitive or intransitive whether it requires an object to express a complete thought or not.

Retourner as a intransitive verb

  • To go back to a place you’ve been before
    • Je retourne chaque été à St Tropez = I go back to St Tropez every summer
    • Elle retourne vivre chez ses parents = She goes back to live with her parents
  • Return to where you left from, return to your home or the place you left
    • Est-ce que tu es retourné à Sydney ? = Have you been back to Sydney ?
    • Tu peux retourner à la boulangerie pour me prendre un croissant ? = Can you go back to the bakery to take me a croissant ?

The transitive verb retourner

  • To turn something upside down, to rotate
    • Il a retourné la crêpe = He turned the pancake over
    • Nous retournons le matelas au printemps = We rotate the mattress each spring
  • Return something where it belongs
    • Vous devez retourner les livres avant mardi prochain = You must return the books before next Tuesday
  • Disturb someone deeply, to shake
    • La nouvelle de cet accident m’a vraiment retourné = The news of this accident deeply shook me

A reflexive verb se retourner

  • To turn over
    • Il se retourne souvent dans son lit = He often turns over in his bed
  • Look back
    • Mon ami est parti sans se retourner = My friend took off and didn’t look back
  • Turn against someone
    • Les propriétaires se sont retournés contre lui = The owners turned against him

In order to better conjugate these verbs, feel free to practice and check the website Comment Conjuguer.

the verbs retourner, rentrer

The verb revenir

Then, the verb revenir is a bit easier than retourner. Indeed, this verb is mainly intransitive. We’re going to see the differences :

  • To come again, another time somewhere
    • Les oiseaux migrateurs reviennent ici tous les ans = The migrating birds come back every year

The synonym here is repasser.

  • Return to the place where we usually are
    • Vous devez revenir à votre place après l’entracte = You must return to your seat after the intermission

A synonym in French would be rentrer.

  • To show up again
    • La canicule est revenue = the heat wave has returned

At last, you can use réapparaitre or se reproduire as a synonym.

Attention : Revenir à means to cost.

ex : Cela vous revient à 150 euros = It costs you 150 euros.

retourner ou revenir


Next, the verb rentrer is translated as entrer de nouveau (to enter again) :

  • To come back or to return to your usual place
    • Les enfants, rentrez à la maison. Il commence à pleuvoir ! = Children, come home. It’s starts to rain !
    • Chéri, je rentre à 8 heures ce soir = Honey, I come home at 8pm tonight
    • Elle rentre des Etats-Unis = She’s coming back from the United States

Be careful as we can use different prepositions of place :
rentrer de (come back from), rentrer à (return to) and
rentrer chez (go to someone’s place)


Repartir and verbs starting with -re

Finally, another similar verb in French is repartir.


  • To leave again
    • Je rêve de repartir en Thaïlande = I dream of going back to Thailand
    • Tu repars déjà ? Tu viens d’arriver ! = You’re already leaving ? You just arrived
  • Getting back to moving, walking, functioning, unfolding
    • Après une heure d’arrêt, le train est reparti = After une hour’s stop, the train departed

Additional verbs starting with the prefix -re

This prefix generally means to do something again. However, sometimes it can modify completely the meaning of the verb. As often in French, there are exceptions :

  • Réapparaitre = to reappear
  • Redécorer = to redecorate
  • Redémarrer = to restart
  • Redire = to reiterate
  • Refaire = to redo
  • Rejouer = to replay
  • (Se) remarier = to remarry
  • Repeindre = to repaint

And some exceptions :

  • Recevoir = to receive
  • Refroidir = to cool down
  • Refuser = to refuse
  • Rejoindre = to go find someone
  • (Se) relaxer = to relax
  • Reprendre = to resume / to take back

We have over 700 French verbs starting with the prefix -re !


In conclusion, I hope you’ve found the reading useful ! Would you like to learn favorite French idioms ? Bring a little fun into your learning by contacting me today ! Great French courses are available for all levels.

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