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Is there a difference in how these terms should be used? What is the standard translation of "to bury," as in "My dog buried his bone" ? It seems ensevelir is particular to avalanches, which seems slightly odd to me-- why is there a special term for that? Can it really not be used in other contexts? Does it particularly imply a large amount of matter coming down on top of something, thus describing a particular manner of being buried?

  • Dans la même veine, est-ce que tous les trois peuvent s'employer de façon figurée pour « tuer » ? (à comparer avec « bury » en anglais) – Luke Sawczak Aug 13 '17 at 13:15
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    @LukeSawczak Hi. I'm pretty sure none of the three gets the job done in that respect, unlike "descendre" (which I've heard in casual conversation several times before) with the meaning of "tuer / vaincre" or "mettre à terre", not "mettre en terre". Speaking of a figurative use of "bury", "enterrer / enfouir / ensevelir" can be used to mean "bury one's feelings", though. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Aug 13 '17 at 13:59
  • @Alone-zee Hmm... alors je dois retourner à la case départ pour mon interprétation de ces paroles ! – Luke Sawczak Aug 13 '17 at 16:36
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    @LukeSawczak If you say "enterrer qn", it will mostly carry a literal meaning of "inhumer qn" for a dead person, or "enterrer qn vivant". In the latter case, it's not a stretch to argue that "enterrer" means "tuer", but it will still be in a literal sense of the word. ;) – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Aug 14 '17 at 2:00
  • "Ensevelir qqch": You are at the point of view of qqch, meaning some snow, sand, ground is going above the qqch and potentially recovering it totally. Enfouir has a connotation of hiding. – Larme Aug 17 '17 at 14:53
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Enfouir signifie « Mettre sous un tas de terre, de déchets ou d'autres objets ». Enterrer signifie « Mettre sous la terre ».

On peut dire « Mon chien a enterré son os » ou « Mon chien a enfoui son os sous un tas de terre ».

Ensevelir signifie « Recouvrir d'un tas [de terre ou autre] ». Une avalanche ensevelit (elle recouvre les victimes).

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Listing up all possible uses of enfouir, enterrer and ensevelir, including figurative ones, would be beyond the scope of an answer here. You can get a taste of just how many meanings one of them can have at http://www.cnrtl.fr/definition/ensevelir for instance.

What we can say for sure is :

  • No, ensevelir isn't only used for avalanches - then again, words with such a specialized meaning are very rare.
  • Ensevelir does not always imply a large amount of matter coming down on top of something, but if you want to emphasize the fact that the object or person gets completely covered under a large quantity of fluid matter, yes, chances are you will pick ensevelir.
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  • "ensevelir" means that you are on the ground, and something is falling on you. That is why you can be "enseveli" under an avalanche, but also e.g. under a wall.

  • "enterrer" means to put under the ground.

  • "enfouir" means to put in the ground with the intention of hiding it.

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« Ensevelir / enfouir » appartiennent au registre plus élevé qu'« enterrer ». D’un autre côté, ils s’emploient aussi tous les trois (surtout les deux premiers) au sens figuré : « enfouir / ensevelir / enterrer mes sentiments ».

Avec « enfouir / ensevelir », l'accent est mis sur l'idée de mettre un mouchoir sur quelque chose, le plongeant assez profondément pour qu’il n'apparaisse pas.

Pour ce qui est des os qu’un chien met en terre ou d’autres petits objets physiques – quitte à être déterrés – « enterrer » est mon choix préféré.

... me semble-t-il.

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  • Is it actually grammatically correct in French to have punctuation written like qu'« enterrer »? Such a situation would not arise in English so I have no intuition for it. I can see how it's correct but it also seems odd. – temporary_user_name Oct 28 '17 at 19:29
  • @Aerovistae Ah, yes! As odd as it may seem from an English speaker's perspective, qu'« enterrer » is indeed the way to go. :) And even if the part enclosed with a quotation mark is more than one word long, the same rule applies. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Oct 28 '17 at 19:48

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