Both chercher and rechercher are commonly-used French verbs whose definitions overlap just enough to make them confusing. Not only this, but even native speakers themselves get them mixed up which makes it all that much harder to understand. Before we dive into the differences between the chercher and rechercher, let’s look at what they both mean and how to use them.
What does chercher mean?
Chercher usually means “to search for”, “to look for” or “to attempt to” do something. The first two definitions are generally pretty easy to understand whereas the last one takes just a little bit of practice to get down. When you are looking for (or searching for) a noun (person, place or thing) then you just place it right after chercher WITHOUT anything in between. Here are some examples…
Je cherche un travail – I’m searching for a job
Il cherche un appartement à Paris – He’s looking for an apartment in Paris
Just to reiterate, you may have noticed that in French there isn’t anything that comes between chercher and the noun. In English we say I’m looking FOR something whereas in French we just say “I’m looking something”. It’s fairly common for English speakers to say something like Je cherche pour un travail (I’m looking for a job), however this is incorrect. Don’t get into the habit of making this mistake.
Chercher with the subjunctive
This point is for the more advanced French speakers so if you consider yourself a beginner then you may just want to skip to the next section. Otherwise, let’s go over how to use chercher with the French subjunctive tense.
If you are looking for something and are certain that it exists then you DON’T need to use the subjunctive.
Je cherche quelqu’un qui l’a connue – I’m looking for someone who knew her
Elle cherche un ordinateur qui a une bonne batterie – She’s looking for a computer that has a good battery
If you are looking for something and are hopeful that it exists then you would also not use the subjunctive, but instead the conditional.
The difference between the first use and this one may be difficult for English speakers to understand, so it’s probably best to avoid using this one until you are certain you understand. At the end of the day, nobody is going to misunderstand you because you used the first way instead of this one.
After all, nobody is going to be able to read your mind and know your intentions. Nevertheless, here is how you use chercher with the conditional tense.
Je cherche quelqu’un qui l’aurait connue – I’m looking for someone who knew her (I’m hopeful that there is someone who knew her)
Elle cherche un ordinateur qui aurait une bonne batterie – She’s looking for a computer with a good battery (She’s hopeful that one exists)
Finally, if you are looking for something and you aren’t sure that it exists then you DO want to use the subjunctive.
Je cherche quelqu’un qui l’ait connue – I’m looking for someone who knew her (I’m not sure if there was anyone who knew her)
Elle cherche un ordinateur qui ait une bonne batterie – She’s looking or a computer with a good battery (She’s not sure one even exists)
Using Chercher + a verb
We’ve already gone over that chercher can also be used to mean “attempt to” or “try to” do something. To do this you need to place chercher à before the verb that you’re trying to perform.
You may know that à typically means “to” or “at” depending on the situation, but in this instance it’s best to simply ignore à and not overthink it. The second that you try to figure out why you have to place à between chercher and the verb you’ll probably end up confusing yourself. Some things just can’t be literally translated between languages.
Je cherche à adopter un chat – I’m trying adopt a cat
Nous cherchons à comprendre – We are trying to understand
What does Rechercher mean?
If you understand the above explanations for chercher then learning how to use rechercher shouldn’t be too difficult.
The main difference between chercher and rechercher is that rechercher is overall stronger and emphasizes that you are looking for something with persistence. What is being looked for is often (but not always) more serious and less defined.
Je recherche la perfection – I’m looking for perfection
Paul recherche quelque chose de sérieux – Paul is looking for something serious
Don’t feel like you can’t use rechercher for instances where you would also use chercher. It’s perfectly normal to say things like Je recherche mon amie (I’m looking for my friend) or Je recherche un chien (I’m looking for a dog).
Rechercher cannot be used to mean “to try” or “to attempt” like chercher can so you won’t see a sentence like Je recherche à comprendre….
Rechercher as a noun
Unlike chercher, rechercher can also be used as a noun. La recherche means “search”, “research”, “investigation” or even “carefulness”. Instead of trying to go into each and every possible way to use la recherche, let’s instead look at as many examples as possible.
La recherche scientifique – Scientific research
Il est habillé avec recherche – He is dressed with care
Elle a été honorée pour sa recherche au Canada – She was honored for her research in Canada
Nous devrions partir à sa recherche – We should go looking for him / her
Les employeurs sont à la recherche de travailleurs* – The employers are looking for workers.
La femme a fait des recherches pour son livre – The woman did research for her book
Ils continueront la recherche de l’enfant perdu – They will continue the search for the lost child
À la recherche de is an expression that just means “looking for” or “seeking”.
If you understand the above explanations for both chercher and rechercher then you should know everything that you need to know about how to use them as well as how to differentiate them from one another. If you’d like to learn more French grammar then head on over to the French grammar page.