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"Mon oncle a fait fortune en Amérique."

Translation:My uncle made a fortune in America.

April 1, 2013



I believe that "made a fortune" and "made his fortune" have slightly different meanings in spoken English. The first suggests great wealth, while the second suggests a lucky (fortunate) life that would include sufficient wealth. Every language has subtleties that are untranslatable.

  • 1680

I agree with this... furthermore, "made his fortune in America" implies his vast wealth is only attributable to America, but "made a fortune" implies he made a lot of money there, but does not mean he didn't go on to make just as much money in other countries. I'm guessing the French translating is more closely aligned to only one of these? :)


i agree with Wobjam, "my uncle made a fortune in america" is the best translation. His fortune suggests exclusivity to america, while the french sentence only really tells you that me made a lot of money in america. he also might have made a lot of money else where.


In French, you have two pieces of information in parallel.

  • il a fait fortune: he made a lot of money
  • in America: the event took place there.

There is no other link between the two.

  • 1680

I had a look back at this one and found a definition for "to make one's fortune" on WordReference. As well as "faire fortune", it also gives "bâtir sa fortune" and Googling the context gives "construire sa fortune". I think this is interesting, as these construction have the possessive 'sa'.

The example it gives is "Ils ont bâti leur (immense) fortune en vendant des tapis d'orient." In French, is this identical in meaning to "Ils ont fait (immense) fortune en vendant des tapis d'orient"?

--- ~ * ~ ---

In English, "they made their fortune selling oriental rugs" and "they made a fortune selling oriental rugs" are different. The first implies they have made a lot of money over their lifetime, which was made only by selling oriental rugs. In contrast, the second implies they made at least one major profit from selling oriental rugs at some point in time, but they have made more money by other means too.

Can this difference be seen between the two French sentences I gave above? If so, then this supports the idea that "My uncle made his fortune in America"

--- ~ * ~ ---

Extra Explanation:

I think this is because: a) 'fortune' is a word you expect there to only be one of unless stated otherwise b) the word 'fortune' can be viewed as collective of all the smaller 'fortunes' made in a lifetime.

So when you add 'his' in front of fortune', 'his' implies 'his lifetime's fortune'. In contrast, 'a fortune', given it is not 'his' just means 'a large profit'. Similarly, in other expressions such as "made his living" vs. "made a living" or "lived his life" vs. "lived a life", you only expect to live once, but when 'a' is added in front, the meaning is changed completely.

You could say: "He lived his life to the fullest" ✔ "He lived a life of crime before turning his life around and becoming a priest." ✔

If you flip 'his' and 'a' around, it sounds completely wrong: "He lived a life to the fullest" ✘ "He lived his life of crime before turning a life around and becoming a priest." ✘


French is pretty much consistent with what you describe about "fortune":

"ils ont fait fortune": if you want to add an adjective, you'll have to also add an article : "ils ont fait une immense fortune".

"ils ont fait leur fortune en vendant des tapis" = their whole wealth has been entirely built on rugs' profits.

"ils ont bâti/construit leur fortune en vendant des tapis" = their "first fortune" was made on selling rugs, but they might have further built their fortune later on with other activities.

"ils ont fait une fortune..." = selling rugs brought them a fortune, but they might have made other "fortunes" in other activities as well, before, in parallel or after this one.

"ils ont fait des fortunes" is also used to emphasize the amount of money made.

About "life", French have various phrases with different determiners (pls check on my translations!):

  • il a fait sa vie au Brésil = he has lived his life in Brasil
  • il a gagné sa vie comme vendeur de tapis = he made a/his living as a rug seller
  • il a mené une vie de bâton de chaise = he's had a riotous life
  • il a refait sa vie = he remade his life
  • il a eu la vie qu'il a choisie = he lived the life he chose


Thank you very much for this exhaustive review!

  • 1680
  • He has lived his(✔) life in Brazil - this means he still lives in Brazil (if you used 'a' this would mean he has lived at least once in Brazil)

  • He made a(✔)/his(✔?) living as a rug seller - the former is much more common and explains the job he chose to earn enough money to survive; the second seems to imply a job that he chose for most of his life or his preferred lifestyle

  • He's had/lead a(✔) riotous life ('Lead' is more active and implies he was responsible for his life being riotous. 'Had' is more passive: his riotous life may have been caused by other people/external factors. "Lead a riotous life" = "lead a lifestyle that is riotous"; "lead his riotous life... e.g. motor racing in Monte Carlo" = "his life has been riotous, and he spent his life...")

  • He redid his(✔) life (I prefer 'redid' to 'remade' - actually 'He made a new life' might be better if the French sentence can mean this)

  • He lived the life he chose (to lead) ✔

--- ~ * ~ ---

Very interesting summary you provided there - so it seems:

  • Mon oncle a fait une/des fortune(s) en Amerique ≡ My uncle made a fortune/millions in America

  • Mon oncle a fait sa fortune en Amerique ≡ My uncle made his fortune in America

  • Mon oncle a bâti/construit leur fortune en Amerique = My uncle made his first fortune in America/He found his fortune in America (the former implies he made subsequent fortunes; the latter implies this was the one fortune he lived off for a significant portion of his life)

  • Mon oncle a fait fortune en Amerique = ...?

You mentioned it just means he made a lot of money, and it happened to be in America. Which means it seems to be closer in meaning to "Mon oncle a fait une/des fortune(s) en Amerique" - is that correct? This would be equally ambiguous, have no additional implications and still could mean it is the only one fortune, whereas 'his' or 'sa' makes it definitely the case.

And given there is already a better way to say "He made his fortune in America" ("Il a fait sa fortune en Amerique"), it seems that "My uncle made a fortune in America" should be the primary translation. Perhaps "My uncle made his fortune in America" could tentatively be accepted... if you think there is the possibility that "Il a fait sa fortune en Amerique" could reasonably interpreted as "Il a fait une fortune en Amerique, et cette fortune est la sienne". :)

  • 1680

In which case, 'made his fortune' should no longer be an acceptable translation... :)


I believe we should not get too tied down with nuance here. Context is everything. "Rupert Murdoch is a very wealthy man. He made his fortune in America." I'm pretty sure that could translate to "Rupert Murdoch a fait fortune en Amérique."

  • 1680

I'm not so sure...? In the context you gave, the fortune in the second sentence is very specific (either 'his' or 'that') and I'm guessing would have to be qualified, rather than an arbitrary unspecified fortune that 'fait fortune' would suggest, right?

Definite article and indefinite article seem to be marked importantly in other exercises, so I think here it should be similar... even in cases in French such as 'I wash my hands' (Je me lave les mains) where the owner is obvious, the definite article is still used, rather than the indefinite article or nothing...

  • 1680

For example, here, http://www.thefreedictionary.com/make+fortune , 'fortune' in "to make one's fortune" is not defined as 'wealth' in the normal sense, but specifically 'position in life as determined by wealth'.

That's to say, it's more emphasising a life event that Rupert Murdoch attained (he found his fame and established that social status), rather than 'merely' the fact that he made a lot of money in itself... And if French people were to translate their sentence into this English sentence, they would be adding such connotations that perhaps should not be there... I guess that's why I think the nuances are fairly important? :)


I couldn't reply below (!?). I guess my point is that as a native English speaker, I understand most of these fine points in English, but I don't know what is really meant in the French. I have to take the given translation and hope that as I become more fluent I will understand better. Apparently in French, the expression is used to mean great wealth ie " a fortune", but it is necessarily also "his fortune" since he owns it. The Rupert Murdoch example was to show that if you know of Rupert Murdoch, then you already have the context for the conversation.


'My uncle made a wealth in America'. Although we are told not to report mistakes here, I feel that is a mistake. I've seen elsewhere in discussion that the French Duolingo course is less developed than Spanish or German because there is only staff person on the case. The obvious solution is to crowd source improvements, using the same philosophy that Duolingo was started with. If a lot of people are having similar problems, it should make it easier to spot what is wrong and come up with improvements. I've been struggling with French, often because the given answers are too inflexible, so I have to keep going back over material I have good comprehension of. If most of the users of Duolingo are native English speakers, it should be easy to use them to broaden the range of alternatives that can be used, while the French native monitor ensures that translations are still accurate. To do that, the process has to be out in the open. I have seen recommendations to just rote learn the given answers to progress through the course, but that won't help people following through, especially the many for whom English is not a first language. If repetition is supposed to lock in language skills, repetition of mistakes could cement bad habits into the students' memory.


Ages ago, I learnt "to make a fortune" - do you mean that is not the appropriate English/American expression for "faire fortune" ?


' to make a fortune' is fine; I put ' My uncle did well in America', which is maybe not as impressive-sounding as ' faire fortune'. ' ... made a wealth' is not English as it is spoke ( joke ).


Obviously the feedback system works because the recommended translation is now "made his fortune".


Where did the his come from?


It's just common English usage - we say ' he/she/you made his/her/your fortune', the French just say ' il/elle a fait fortune'.


We (US) also commonly say he made a fortune... Is there a different French phrase for this?


No, the same: "il a fait fortune"


Can one say 'il a fait une fortune' and does it mean the same as 'il a fait fortune'? If one can say both, what does each mean? I was so surprised to find 'fortune' without an article, but I have seen your explanation later.

Having read through this discussion, I think some of the dispute (too strong a word, but you know what I mean) is all down to something that you reminded me of earlier today. English and French grammars do not map each other.


If it is a one-time event, you can say "il a gagné une fortune", which just means that he gained/won a fortune.

"Faire fortune" probably takes more time.


Other ways would be "il est devenu riche" (this suppose he was not rich before), "il a gagné beaucoup d'argent" (more or less suppose he had some money before), "il a fait sa pelote" (a familiar version). Of course "mon oncle d'Amérique" suppose in the French psyché that he is rich now anyway.


En anglais, on ne dit pas "make fortune"?


Presque : il faut ajouter un possessif: my uncle made his fortune


Why is their no article in front of fortune. I can't think of another example where the article is required in English but not in French. Usually it is the other way around.


In many fixed expressions, the French article is dropped.

If there were no exceptions, it would be less funny!


Because I could not see how this could translate as 'made HIS fortune', I wrote 'has been fortunate'. This was not accepted.


Fortune in French generally means money. If it is luck it is generally associated with "bonne" ou "mauvaise". In this case it doesn't have anything to do with luck but rather with money... nothing about being fortunate.


where is "his" in the original sentence, why without it is wrong?


Nowhere, because "faire fortune" is a set phrase which does not need a possessive.


Now this is another picky negative--by missing the contraction uncle's versus uncle has (made)? This deserves better attention.


Please avoid non-required contractions because the system is not good at analysing them.

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