Partir, sortir, quitter, laisser.
paar-TEER, sore-TEER, kee-TAY, less-SAY. Today’s sound file is all the way at the bottom of the post. Click below to get there!
Uh-oh, you know we’re in trouble when there are four verbs in the title and only one in the translation. Help!
That’s what I’m here for!
The fact is, they all mean leave, in one sense or another. The difference is in the nuances of meaning, as well as in the grammar. One at a time, now, and keep reading to the bottom of the post for examples that you can compare with each other:
Partir is used when you are departing from a place. When you want to specify where you are leaving from, you say partir de, and if you want to specify where you are headed, you say partir pour. In the past tense, use être to conjugate.
Sortir is used when you are going out of a place. This is the one you see on the exit side of a door: SORTIE. That’s why military people make sorties: they are going outside of the relative safety of camp (back in history, “camp” was actually a fortified enclave) to explore, to go on a mission, to make a rescue. Again, to specify the from and the to, you use de and pour, respectively. Also takes être in the passé composé, like partir.
Quitter is also used when you are departing from a place, like partir. Its main meaning is to go out of or come out of. The difference from partir is in the grammar: quitter takes a direct object, which means that when you want to say you are leaving from a place, there’s no from (de); that’s already included in the meaning. You can use quitter about a person, but you can’t use partir that way. And you can’t use quitter to indicate a destination. That will require a different verb. Quitter is conjugated with avoir in the past tense.
Laisser refers more often to objects than to places or people. It’s used when you want to talk about forgetting something, or leaving something behind. It is also a synonym for the English word let (as in allow). Like laisser, this is a regular verb that takes avoir in the passé composé.
If that sounds like a lot of grammatical gobbledy-gook, here are some sentences that you can memorize as models of use, if you need them. Pay attention to the way the sentences are constructed, as well as to the meanings:
Je pars pour Paris. I’m leaving for Paris. (I wish!)
Tu pars déjà? You’re leaving already?
Il est sorti pour faire les commissions. He went out to run the errands.
Elle est sortie de la cuisine. She came out of the kitchen. (With cake, I hope?)
Il m’a quittée! He left me! (A sad story, no doubt…)
Elle a quitté la Belgique. She left Belgium.
Laisse-moi tranquille! Leave me alone!
Laissez-nous. Leave us. (You can use this if you are royalty. Try to sound imperious.)
Oh, j’ai laissé mon cellulaire dans le magasin! Oh, I left my phone in the store!
Laisse ça! Drop it! (Speaking to your dog, who is tearing apart your sofa pillows. Sound angry. That works even better than the words themselves.)
Naturally, that’s less than the whole story, but this should give you a head-start on distinguishing among these easily-confused verbs.