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I struggle for quite some time now with the French translation of the English "to stand" and "to sit". Different translations tools propose very different translations. Is it correct to translate "to stand" and "to sit" into French as "se tenir debout" and "s'asseoir"? Or are there better "pairs", assuming it should be very general?

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    I know you ask for something "general" but better to translate whole sentences. Translating an English verb by a French verb without any context might not be the right approach.
    – jlliagre
    Jul 1 at 20:45
  • Translating sentences is something the tools are quite good at. Here I am especially interested in this very basic pair of opposites. Maybe there is no good answer and/or solution, this fact would also be appreciated.
    – UweD
    Jul 1 at 20:52
  • Stand seems to be rarely used without being followed by something else: stand up, stand by, stand for, stand out, or to have specific meanings like I can't stand the rain where se tenir debout would be quite off the mark.
    – jlliagre
    Jul 1 at 20:55
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    Sorry, but that is simply not true: Standing for hours on end can be tiring. Do the children stand or sit during the meeting? Where should I stand when you take my picture? We were standing in the hall when the president arrived. stand is used all the time on its own in English.
    – Lambie
    Jul 1 at 22:29
  • @Lambie Okay but I didn't wrote it's never used on its own, just that is seems to be more often followed by a preposition. That was just an impression. In any case, my point was about the importance of context when translating something and I guess you agree with that. Je ne peux pas me tenir debout la pluie...
    – jlliagre
    Jul 1 at 23:10
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If you really want a pair of verbs, that might be s'asseoir and se lever. Se tenir debout is not incorrect but a little too "technical".

Otherwise, adjectives instead of verbs would probably better suit as an opposite pair: assis / debout.

Here is how some English sentences (From Lambie's comment) can be translated to French:

Do the children stand or sit during the meeting?
Les enfants sont assis ou debout pendant la réunion ?

Where should I stand when you take my picture?
Où est-ce que je dois me mettre quand tu me prends en photo ?

We were standing in the hall when the president arrived.
On était debout dans le hall quand le président est arrivé.

We would likely drop debout in the last sentence unless that's a detail that really needs to be expressed.

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    se lever is to stand up, not stand.
    – Lambie
    Jul 1 at 22:31
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    @Lambie Precisely, and s'asseoir is to sit down. The OP is looking for "pairs", the reason why I picked verbs and adjectives that match together.
    – jlliagre
    Jul 1 at 23:15
  • +1 But don't you think it would be useful to also point out that "être debout" is much more literal than "to stand" ? Regarding the recent trend of taking a knee during sports events that spread to countries besides the US, I was kinda feeling that something was lost in translation (because i was under the impression that it meant "i litteraly won't stand for this") Jul 2 at 15:15
  • @JeremyGrand The verb to stand is indeed polysemous.
    – jlliagre
    Jul 2 at 16:27
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    @Lambie That's a groundless allegation. Please don't start pestering me again.
    – jlliagre
    Jul 3 at 8:10
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You have two basic meaning connected with the verb "to sit".

The first is that of a STANCE verb, that is a verb that confers no idea of ACTION (DYNAMIC verb) and no idea as that conferred by a STATIVE verb;

(CoGEL 4.32) Type C stance
In addition to the stative verbs noted above, there is a small but important class of verbs which express the situation type we will call STANCE, and which are intermediate between the stative and dynamic categories. The main stance verbs are live, stand, sit and lie, and they are characterized by their ability to be used both (a) with the nonprogressive to express a permanent state, and (b) with the progressive to express a temporary state:
♦ James lives in Copenhagen. [permanent residence]
♦ James is living in Copenhagen. [temporary residence]
♦ The city lies on the coast. [permanent position]
♦ People were lying on the beach. [temporary posture]
♦ His statue stands in the city square. [permanent position]
♦ He is standing over there. [temporary posture]

Similar possibilities exist with the perfective aspect: the perfective progressive, as well as the simple perfective, can be used to refer to a state leading up to the present:
♦ [1] I have sat here for over two hours.
♦ [2] I have been sitting here for over two hours.

Speakers differ, however, in judging how to choose between the constructions of [l] and [2]. Some speakers feel that [2] suggests a more temporary state, whereas others feel there is little to choose between the two variants. There is also sometimes a feeling that [l] is different from [2] in implying that the 'sitting' is concluded at the present moment, while [2] implies that the posture may well continue into the future. Because of its intermediate status, the stance action type illustrates an element of gradience (cf 2.60) in the stative dynamic contrast. At one end of the stative/dynamic scale, as Fig 4.27 shows, there are acts which lack appreciable duration, such as nod and arrive; at the other end, there are permanent qualities such as be tall. To some extent, the stative/dynamic dichotomy is an artificial division of this continuum.

With respect to that meaning the English verb is "to sit"; its translation in French is the verb "asseoir" in the passive form ("être assis") or verbal expressions such as "rester assis", .

  • He is sitting on this chair all day long.
    (Il est assis sur cette chaise toute la journée.)

  • He does nothing but sit all day long.
    (Il ne fait rien d'autre de la journée que rester assis.)

"To stand" is in the same category, and is translated into French by"être debout".

  • He is standing in the hall.
    (Il est debout dans le couloir.)

The second meaning is that of an action verb. The form of the English verb is again "sit"; however, it is used differently: it is used in combination with the particle "down" to form the phrasal verb "to sit down". The translation of that verb in French is again based on the same form, "asseoir"; however this time it is the pronominal variant that is used: "s'asseoir".

  • I sit down when I am tired.
    (Je m'asseois quand je suis fatigué.)

  • There is nothing to sit on.
    (Il n'y a rien pour s'asseoir.)

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  • He sits in that chair all day long. Not sitting. I fail to see how the CGEL helps here.
    – Lambie
    Jul 1 at 22:19
  • @Lambie That is where CoGEL comes in (found in my answer as CoGEL's explanation): "ability to be used both (a) with the non progressive to express a permanent state, and (b) with the progressive to express a temporary state. Plenty of examples: google.com/… A specific one: "(“he sits in that chair all day, every day”)". The CoGEL explains the particular type of verb that is involved.
    – LPH
    Jul 1 at 22:40
  • There are very limited times that you would use "sitting" instead of "sit" there. If you want to use the continuous, you'd say: "He's always sitting in that chair all day long." But in any event, that usage has no bearing on the translation into French. Simple or continuous in English is just present tense in French, and exceptionally: en train de, which definitely would not work here.
    – Lambie
    Jul 1 at 22:50

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