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(Level A2 here, so will ask in English, hoping that's fine.)

I'd like to say "we pack our backpacks as heavy as we wish them to be" (in response to the correspondent's backpack having ended up being "trop plein", as always). DeepL and Google Translate put out various suggestions, also depending on what source language I choose. Some of these suggestions include "autant", which is new vocabulary to me and seems to come in two variants: "autant que" or "autant de ... que".

With the newfound knowledge, I tried to phrase a sentence myself:

On faisait nos sacs autant qu'on voulait les porter.

Unfortunately, feeding that back into the translation machines, it looks like it's not what I intended it to be, instead yielding "we packed our bags as much as we wanted to carry them" from both websites.

  • What is the actual, idiomatic way of expressing what I want to say?
  • May "autant" be used for both "as heavy as" as well as "as often as"?

As an aside:

  • In German, "to carry a heavy backpack" is often used as a metaphor for "to have had a difficult life with many hardships". Is the same true for French, or, if not, what is the commonly used figure of speech?
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  • as heavy as we wish them to be is very stilted in English. Pack a bag is faire une valise, not a sac. If they are grocery bags, or shopping bags, we fill them. Then, they are sacs we'd fill them up as much as possible.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 17:07
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    @Lambie "fais ton sac" means "pack your bag", no doubt there.
    – njzk2
    Commented Jul 13, 2023 at 18:03
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    @Lambie "Pack a bag is faire une valise, not a sac" you're ignoring that this is not true, because pack one's bag also means faire son sac. As I indicated, there are bags in English that are used for travel, and that can be packed as well as a suitcase.
    – njzk2
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 16:33
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    @Lambie in French, une valise is a square box in which you put stuff for travel. In English it is called a suitcase. Packing a bag in English means packing stuff in a container suitable for traveling, which can be a suitcase, a duffel bag, or a backpack (for example, carry-on bags are often backpacks). I know that one doesn't pack a grocery bag.
    – njzk2
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 16:47
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    @Lambie why do you not consider a backpack as a piece of luggage? How would you say in English "faire son sac" when referring to a backpack, in a context of imminent travel?
    – njzk2
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 20:06

2 Answers 2

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What is the actual, idiomatic way of expressing what I want to say?

  • Nous faisons/remplissons nos sacs comme nous le souhaitons.
  • On fait nos sacs aussi lourds qu' on le souhaite.
  • Nous remplissons nos sacs d'autant d'affaires que nous le souhaitons.
  • On met autant d'affaires dans nos sacs qu' on le souhaite.

These are only a few examples, I can add more if needed. By the way, I believe the most accurate way to say litterally what you mean would be :

  • Nous faisons nos sacs de telle manière à ce qu'ils soient aussi lourds que nous le voulons.
  • Nous remplissons nos sacs d'autant d'affaires que nous souhaitons qu'ils soient lourds.

But it really does not feel right to me : the first one is fine in a written conversation and okay orally speaking (but still not heard much), but the second one sounds like a dissonance to me (i.e. it sounds wrong even though it is grammatically correct).


May "autant" be used for both "as heavy as" as well as "as often as"?

No it cannot. "Autant" can be used for an enumerable quantity, "affaires" in this case :

  • J'ai autant d'affaires que toi. ("I have as much things as you.")
  • Je prends autant de pâtes que lui. ("I'll have as much pasta as him.")
  • Nous aurons autant de temps que vous pour terminer le défi. ("We have as much time to complete the challenge as you.")

But for an adjective, "lourd" here, it is not grammatically correct to use it. We would use "aussi" or "comme" (for the most common cases) :

  • Mon sac est aussi lourd que le tien. ("My bag is as heavy as yours.")
  • Mon frère est aussi grand que moi. ("My brother is as tall as you.")
  • Vous n'êtes pas riches comme eux le sont. ("You are not as rich as they are.")
  • Prenez autant de temps que vous voulez. ("Take as much time as you need.")

It is the same difference between "as many as" and "as much as" : one is for enumerable quantities, the other for non-enumerable quantities :

  • As many people / As many times / As many potatoes
  • As much time / As much soup / As much blood


Point related to the meanings of lourd, and associated expressions :

  • When speaking about someone, Il est aussi lourd que toi. ("He is as heavy as you.") can have several meanings : "You both weight the same." (literal) or "He is as annoying as you." (figurative).
  • Il supporte un gros/lourd bagage émotionnel. ("He carries a heavy emotional baggage."), Elle s'est constituée un solide bagage de compétences pour son travail. ("She accumulated a good amount of skills for her work."), etc. Here, the [adjective + baggage] group means "a whole lot of", and the positive/negative variation depends on the adjective, lourd ("heavy") being then understood as "overwhelming", "exhausting", or even "devastating".
  • Recently, a new use of "lourd" has been observed (amoung the youth, mostly), here are some daily examples : "Ce film est super lourd !" ("This movie is super heavy!"), "Lourd de fou, ton outfit !" ("Your outfit is crazy heavy !"). We could respectively translate those as "This movie is so good!" and "You are so nicely dressed up!". We are looking here at a very positive use of the adjective, to describe something that is very highly appreciated.
  • Il subira une opération chirurgicale assez lourde. ("He will undergo a heavy surgery operation.") where lourd.e can be replaced by important, thus meaning "He will undergo major surgery.".
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  • Thank you, Marck! These are already plenty of examples, especially since two of them are constructed using the word that the question is about in the first place. Both your and KFK's examples will give me something to chew on for a while...
    – Sixtyfive
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 14:52
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    @Marck - Juste une petite note, comme l'anglais mentionne heavy, je pense que mentionner le poids d'une façon ou d'une autre en français préserverait le mieux qu'il s'agit d'une question ... de poids :-) Par exemple, Nous mettons autant d'affaires dans nos sacs que nous le souhaitons perd un peu la notion de poids, à mon avis.
    – Frank
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 16:09
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    « Nous remplissons nos sacs d'autant d'affaires que nous souhaitons qu'ils soient lourds. » : pas une phrase correcte ; on ne dit pas « lourd de ces affaires », « ces sacs sont lourds de beaucoup d'affaires » (par exemple).
    – LPH
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 17:21
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    « Nous aurons autant de temps pour terminer le défi que vous. » : plutôt lourd. « Nous aurons autant de temps que vous pour terminer le défi. »
    – LPH
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 17:24
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    I just noticed there's a thing at play here which I didn't think to include yesterday. In my mother tongue, German, when you say something like: "oof, he's carrying a heavy backpack", it means: "he has a lot to deal with in his life" (often the conversation might be about a difficult childhood where terrible things might have happened). Now I'm wondering if the "heavy backpack" metaphore would work the same way in French...
    – Sixtyfive
    Commented Jul 13, 2023 at 11:33
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I can see two intended meanings in the context you describe:

  • you and I decided to pack our bags as heavy as we can, subject to physical constraints (objects need to fit inside, humans must be able to carry them around, etc.)
  • each person chooses how much they carry, and should only blame themselves if their bag is too heavy

Idiomatic translations of the first meaning would be

  • On remplit / nous remplissons nos sacs au maximum. We fill our bags to capacity.
  • On remplit nos sacs autant qu’on peut. We fill our bags as much as we can. Here, autant refers to an undifferentiated quantity; it probably refers to weight or volume, but in another context it could even refer to frequency (i.e. "we fill our bags as often as possible").
  • On met le maximum de choses dans nos sacs. We put as many things as possible in our bags.

For the second meaning, assuming an indirect approach is needed (i.e. no "tu as choisi..."), I would say

  • Chacun a choisi combien il voulait porter. Everyone chose how much they wished to carry.
  • On a mis chacun dans nos sacs ce qu’on voulait porter. We each put in our bags what we wished to carry. (Slightly convoluted, probably more idiomatic in a text message than orally.)

For either meaning I would use some version of remplir le sac (fill (up) the bag) rather than faire son sac (pack (up) one’s bag). Faire son sac is a fixed expression to describe one step in the process of going on a trip, it does not work well with additional modifiers.

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  • Thank you KFK, especially also for talking about "remplir le sac" vs "faire son sac" as well as dividing the answer up between the two possible meanings. For what it's worth, it was a text conversation and the intention was to use the bag as a metaphore for life. I wish it were possible to accept multiple answers. Only accepted Marck's because before scrolling down, I hadn't seen yours yet, and then couldn't find anything that would have made one answer better than the other in any significant way.
    – Sixtyfive
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 14:56
  • @KFK - Peut-être par préférence, j'aurais tendance à essayer de préserver le problème du poids qui est mentionné dans l'anglais heavy :-)
    – Frank
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 16:11

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