Attendre quelqu'un vs s'attendre à quelque chose = to wait vs to expect

It is interesting to notice the difference of meaning and usage between the active verb attendre (to wait for / to expect) and the reflexive verb s'attendre à (to expect).

To understand their respective usage, it's important to consider the nuances of the English verb to expect: It can mean either simply to wait for [something/someone], but it can also carry a sense of longing, personal expectation towards what's going to happen.

Look at these two sentences:

Ils attendent son arrivée d'une minute à l'autre.
They're waiting for him to arrive any minute now.
[Lit. They're waiting for his arrival.]

 -> Here they're simply stating they're waiting for his arrival, if anything they're actually happy he's coming.

Ils s'attendent à son arrivée d'une minute à l'autre.
They're expecting him to arrive any minute now.
[Lit. They're expecting his arrival.]

 -> Here on the other hand, there's expectation for what his arrival might do, here it's actually apprehension, a slight sense of discomfort or fear at the idea of his arrival.

attendre [quelqu'un] ou [quelque chose]  
=  to expect / to wait for [someone] or [something] 

J'attends mon frère tous les jours à la même heure.
I wait for my brother every day at the same time.

Note that the verb attendre is NOT followed by a preposition in French, and is used with direct object pronouns (le, la, les, nous, vous, me, te).


Attendre can also mean to expect [someone]/[something] in a neutral or positive sense.

Elle les attendra près de la fontaine.
She'll wait for them by the fountain.

Tu l'attends encore ?
Are you still waiting for him/her ?


ATTENTION: when talking about pregnancy, you use attendre:

Nous attendons un heureux événement.
We're expecting.
[Lit. We're waiting for a happy event.]

Ma sœur attend un bébé.
My sister is expecting.
[Lit. My sister is waiting for a baby.]

 

attendre [quelque chose] de [quelqu'un]   
=  to expect [something] of [someone] 

J'attends plus de mes parents.
I expect more of my parents.

On attendait mieux de vous.
We expected better of you.

Elle n'attend pas grand-chose de lui.
She doesn't expect much of him.

Note that the preposition de would be followed by stress pronouns (moi, toi ...) to express of me, you....

 

s'attendre à [quelque chose]  
=  to expect [something] (to happen) 

On s'attend à tout de sa part.
We expect anything from him.

Tu t'attends toujours au pire.
You always expect the worst.

Les marchés s'attendent à une hausse de l'inflation.
The markets expect a rise of inflation.

To say to expect something in the sense of putting expectations on what follows, you will use the reflexive verb s'attendre à + [something].

Note that s'attendre à is often (but not always!) used for negative expectations (i.e. I expect bad consequences).

ATTENTION:
You cannot use s'attendre + a person to say to expect someone.
You will instead use the simple attendre or a longer sentence (e.g., to expect to see someone):

Nous ne nous attendions pas à te voir.
We didn't expect you.
[We didn't expect to see you.]

To avoid repetition, you can use the adverbial pronoun y (à + noun).

Je ne m'y attendais pas.
I didn't expect it.

 

attendre que + Subjonctif clause
= to wait for [something to happen] / [someone] to do [something]

Il attend que je fasse le dîner.
He's waiting for me to make dinner.

Nous avons attendu que ça s'arrête.
We waited for it to stop.

This structure is used when you wait for [someone/something else] to do something. Here the waiting is neutral, carrying no connotation of dread or expectation. 

You use the simple form attendre + que + person doing + verb in Le Subjonctif 

s'attendre à ce que + Subjonctif clause 
=  to expect (dread) [something to happen] / [someone] doing [something] 

Je m'attendais à ce que tu me demandes en mariage.
I was expecting you to propose to me.

Il ne s'attendait pas à ce que nous venions.
He didn't expect us to come.

Je m'attends toujours à ce qu'il annule.
I always expect him to cancel.

 

This more complex structure is used when you expect someone/something else to do something
Here the waiting is coloured by personal expectations, usually negative ones.

You use the reflexive form s'attendre + à ce que + [person doing] + verb in Le Subjonctif

See also Conjugate regular verbs in Le Subjonctif Présent (subjunctive mood) 

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Il ne s'attendait pas à ce que nous venions.
He didn't expect us to come.


On attendait mieux de vous.
We expected better of you.


Ils attendent son arrivée d'une minute à l'autre.
They're waiting for him to arrive any minute now.
[Lit. They're waiting for his arrival.]


On s'attend à tout de sa part.
We expect anything from him.


Nous ne nous attendions pas à te voir.
We didn't expect you.
[We didn't expect to see you.]


Je ne m'y attendais pas.
I didn't expect it.


Tu t'attends toujours au pire.
You always expect the worst.


Elle n'attend pas grand-chose de lui.
She doesn't expect much of him.


J'attends mon frère tous les jours à la même heure.
I wait for my brother every day at the same time.


Nous avons attendu que ça s'arrête.
We waited for it to stop.


Tu l'attends encore ?
Are you still waiting for him/her ?


Ils s'attendent à son arrivée d'une minute à l'autre.
They're expecting him to arrive any minute now.
[Lit. They're expecting his arrival.]


J'attends plus de mes parents.
I expect more of my parents.


Il a attendu Yvette pendant trois heures.
He waited for Yvette for three hours.


Il attend que je fasse le dîner.
He's waiting for me to make dinner.


Elle les attendra près de la fontaine.
She'll wait for them by the fountain.


Ma sœur attend un bébé.
My sister is expecting.
[Lit. My sister is waiting for a baby.]


Je m'attends toujours à ce qu'il annule.
I always expect him to cancel.


Les marchés s'attendent à une hausse de l'inflation.
The markets expect a rise of inflation.


Je m'attendais à ce que tu me demandes en mariage.
I was expecting you to propose to me.


Nous attendons un heureux événement.
We're expecting.
[Lit. We're waiting for a happy event.]


Q&A

Michael

Kwiziq community member

13 November 2018

1 reply

attendre vs. sáttendre à

In one of the 10 question quizzes:

How would you say "Alain expected this situation to resolve itself." ?

J'ai repondu "Alain attendait que cette situation se résolve d'elle-même."

Mais la réponse correcte était: "Alain s'attendait à ce que cette situation se résolve d'elle-même."

Pourquoi? Où est la sense de souci ? L'anglais etait "expected this situation to resolve itself" qui indique une manque de souci.

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

20 November 2018

20/11/18

Hi Michael,

1. Alain attendait que cette situation se résolve d'elle même Alain was waiting for this situation to resolve itself 

2. Alain s'attendait à ce que cette situation se résolve d'elle même = Alain was expecting  this situation to resolve itself

The two sentences have different meanings and implications -

In the first one, it implies that Alain would wait before he intervened.

In the second one, it implies he would not need to do anything as he fully expected it to be resolved by itself.

Hope this helps!

diane

Kwiziq community member

12 October 2018

2 replies

s'attendre a ce que

Could you please explain on this page why the above expression is used?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

15 October 2018

15/10/18

J'attends  Anne. -- I wait for Anne.
Je m'attends à ce qu'Anne viennes. -- I expect that Anne arrives.

S'attendre à ce que... -- to expect that...

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

16 October 2018

16/10/18

Hi Diane,

'Attendre quelqu'un/quelque chose' is simply to 'wait for someone/something':

J'attends qu'il parte et j'arrive =  I am waiting for him to leave and I come

J'attends Brigitte à la gare I am waiting for Brigitte at the station

Nous attendons leur réponse avec impatience = We are waiting impatiently for their answer  

'S'attendre à quelque chose'  is 'to expect something':

Je m'attends à ce que ce soit une réponse négative = I am expecting a negative answer

Ne t'attends pas à ce qu'il soit heureux de ta visite Don't expect him to be happy with your visit

Please note that 'attendre que' and 's'attendre à ce que' is followed by the subjunctive in French and is explained in the lesson.

Hope this helps!

Eric

Kwiziq community member

22 July 2018

1 reply

confusion over s'attendre à ce que

I am currently reading a book, "Comment avoir une orthographe qui mène au succès", written by Pr Robert Tocquet.  He claims s'attendre à ce que is not correct, rather it is a barbarism.  Here is what he wrote: S'attendre, consentir à ce que. (S'attendre, consentir que.)
Il y a quatre verbes qui se construisent avec que (et non à ce que) : aimer, s’attendre, consentir et demander.

You can download for free a copy of this great book here:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4bdN-sQj8mOU1ZSYXB0aGVSVDQ/edit

However, any comments from the Kwiziq community about this.

Tom

Kwiziq community member

15 August 2018

15/08/18

The 9th edition  of the dictionary of L’Académie française gives the following definition of s’attendre à :  S'attendre à, escompter, tenir quelque chose pour probable ou assuré, (i.e. to expect).

It gives the same definition for s’attendre que, noting that this a more elegant literary use and  further indicates that s’attendre que takes the indicative in the affirmative but the subjunctive in the negative.

Unfortunately the dictionary has nothing to say on s’attendre à ce que but I did find this usage in the declaration issued by the Académie entitled, “Feminisation des titres et des fonctions” dated 14 June 1984 by Georges Dumézil et Claude Lévi-Strauss which contains the following sentence : “On peut s’attendre à ce que d’autres créations non moins artificielles subissent le même sort, et que le résultat aille directement à l’encontre du but visé. »

This would lead me to believe that the phrase is neither a « barabarism » nor is its use deprecated.

Furthermore, CNRTL offers the following :  [Certain dictionaries]… « discutent du degré d'inélégance de s'attendre que et s'attendre à ce que. L'un et l'autre sont corrects; le 1erest prôné par les puristes, le second s'emploie plus couramment. »

Although these august bodies have nothing against s'attendre à ce que it would seem that the battle still rages in some sections of the intelligentsia.

Hope this helps,

Tom

Theresa-Marie

Kwiziq community member

21 July 2018

2 replies

There are so many variances in relation to this verb, I suggest tests be made that cover JUST the nuances herein.

Scott

Kwiziq community member

15 August 2018

15/08/18

I am struggling with this lesson a bit. I think one problem is that it's too "fat". My feeling is that it covers about twice the material of most other lessons. Due to the complexity, I would suggest breaking it up into three pieces:  "attendre", "s'attendre", and "attendre vs s'attendre". It would be easier to digest - for me at least.

regards, Scott

Theresa-Marie

Kwiziq community member

14 December 2018

14/12/18

Agreed!

Paul

Kwiziq community member

17 June 2018

5 replies

Muriel is expecting.

In this quiz "Muriel is expecting" can only be translated as "Muriel attend un bébé". Can you please explain why "Muriel attend" is not acceptable French?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

18 June 2018

18/06/18

Hi Paul, such things are difficult to explain logically. This isn't a grammatical issue.

Muriel attend means Muriel is waiting.
Muriel attend un bébé. -- Muriel is waiting for a baby. Or, as we would say in English, Muriel is expecting a baby.

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Paul

Kwiziq community member

18 June 2018

18/06/18

Thanks for your answer Chris, but that is not what I am asking. If I say to you in English, my wife is expecting, you would understand that she is expecting a baby. If I say to a French person ma femme attend, will the French person understand that my wife is expecting a baby?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

18 June 2018

18/06/18

No. I thought I had addressed that point by saying the Muriel attend means Muriel is waiting. I guess I wasn't clear enough. 

Paul

Kwiziq community member

18 June 2018

18/06/18

Thanks Chris. So I understand now that your advice is that a French person would not understand that my wife is expecting if I say ma femme attend. 

Chris

Kwiziq community member

18 June 2018

18/06/18

Yes, exactly. 

Robert

Kwiziq community member

10 May 2018

3 replies

A more basic question:

In the example "Ils attendent son arrivée d'une minute à l'autre" would the wording be different if the person awaited is female?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

10 May 2018

10/05/18

Hi Robert,

in the example, "ils" refers to an all male or mixed sex group of people. If those waiting were all women, you'd simply say "elles" instead of "ils".

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Alan

Kwiziq community member

10 May 2018

10/05/18

No, son arrivée can mean his arrival or her arrival, so there would be no change in wording.

Chris

Kwiziq community member

12 May 2018

12/05/18

Oh, sorry, you are speaking about the person AWAITING, not the persons WAITING. Alan is correct.

-- Chris.

DeAnna

Kwiziq community member

7 May 2018

1 reply

Je m'attendais à ce que tu me demandes en mariage.

According to the lesson as I understand it, this has a negative connotation.  As in, I was afraid/nervous/apprehensive you would ask me to marry you. Do I have that right?  Also, if one wanted to say, “I was waiting (with excitement) for you to ask me to marry you”, would it be J'attendais que tu me demandes en marriage.?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

8 May 2018

8/05/18

S'attendre à quelque chose means to expect something. I know that in the lesson it is stated that this has a negative connotation in French. However, either this isn't very strong or it is a regional variation, because neither someone from Bordeaux nor from two people from Paris thought that there was a negative subtone to it. It simply means to expect something.

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Cathy

Kwiziq community member

15 March 2018

1 reply

Please actually use "dread" in the translations where applicable

Chris

Kwiziq community member

15 March 2018

15/03/18

Unfortunately I have no idea what you are referring to.

-- Chris.

William

Kwiziq community member

3 January 2018

1 reply

Subjunctive = Indicative (er verbs) Ist/ 2nd and 3rd person Singular

The question is translate "You are waiting for the bus to arrive" The answer given is "Vous attendez que le bus arrive", Maybe better to change the question to '"You are waiting for the bus to LEAVE" which gives "Vous attendez que le bus parte (subjunctive). Here the verb is different from the indicative (le bus part)

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

28 February 2018

28/02/18

Hi William,

This is a good point , as indeed, in the case of regular verbs ending in ER , most forms will ressemble those of the Present indicative. I will pass on your comments.

Jennifer

Kwiziq community member

9 July 2017

1 reply

Simon m'attend à la gare." can mean expects me at the station?

I thought that only with the reflexive s'attendre à, would it be translated as expect. Is that an incorrect understanding on my part?

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

14 July 2017

14/07/17

Bonjour Jennifer !

You use "s'attendre à" with something, an event, but to express "to expect [someone]", you can only use the verb "attendre [quelqu'un]".

I hope that's helpful!
À bientôt !
Thinking...