Is there any difference of meaning/usualness between the two sentences below?

  • Tu rentrais quand tu m'as appelé.
  • Tu rentrais chez toi quand tu m'as appelé.
  • 3
    The second is just more precise in that it tells where. tu rentres. (chez toi et non dans le château, dans la pièce ou dans les détails) If the context makes the place obvious then the first is preferred. Otherwise the second will be preferred.
    – MC68020
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 14:54
  • @jlliagre : I prefer delaying it. The difference between the two sentences (as well as in their translation in english and german) being so obvious that I suspect I missed something in OP's question.
    – MC68020
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 16:32
  • @aCOSwt As French uses "rentrer" (without chez) much more often than English uses "to come back" (without home), the difference between the two sentences was not obvious to me. Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 16:39
  • Any French person would fill in the contextual blank: Tu rentrais [à la maison, chez toi, chez nous, au bureau, aux anges [joke]. And that is not come back in English.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 23:04
  • @Lambie it can be "to go back" or "to come back", it depends where the speaker is Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 23:08

1 Answer 1


From some OP's comment, I understand the question being more about the use of rentrer in French compared to the use of come back in English.

When tu rentres as well as when you come back, you physically always rentres quelque part and come back somewhere

quelque part and somewhere are not necessarily explicited. The location will then be inferred from the context.

If the context does'nt help then, one will resort on defaults. And here is the difference between to come back and rentrer : Their default implicit locations differ.

When you use to come back (without any precise location) the implicit location defaults to : Where you are now! So, if you mean anywhere else, you are forced to be explicit. Therefore, if you go home, you are somewhere else and can't just come back but must come back home.

In that precise meaning of come back (without home), french would prefer using revenir or retourner to rentrer.

With rentrer, The default location is : the place where you usually live / have your habits. (TLF A.2.)

Which implies that when the context mentions any entrance of anything else than your home, or if there is a fair level of uncertainty regarding the place you live in (chez toi / moi / tes parents / à l'hôtel...) you should prevent potential ambiguities and be explicit about the location : rentrer chez toi. If there is no potential ambiguity, then, you can resort to default and only say rentrer

This explains the difference observed in the frequency ratios [come back home / come back] vs [rentrer chez moi / rentrer] in the meaning of to come back home : The default implicit location of come back very logically rarely fits when the default implicit location for rentrer often fits.

  • I agree, there is an implicit location which the speakers know. So, they don't always have to state it explicitly. It can be anywhere basically. It could even be: Tu rentrais [au bureau] quand tu m'as appelé.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 23:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.