The French verbs partir, sortir, quitter, and laisser are all synonyms for the English verb “to leave,” but each has its own distinct ways to use it. The choice between these verbs depends on the context and the intended meaning.
Partir and sortir are intransitive verbs. They don’t take a direct object, but they can be followed by a prepositional phrase.
Intransitive verbs use être as a helping verb in the passé composé. Sortir sometimes takes a direct object (so it sometimes uses avoir as a helping verb), but not when it means “to leave”.
Quitter and laisser are transitive. They require a direct object in a sentence.
Transitive verbs use avoir as a helping verb in the passé composé.
Partir – to leave with the sense of going away from a place
Je pars en vacances. (prepositional phrase)
I’m leaving on vacation tomorrow.
Elle est partie de chez elle à six heures. (être as a helping verb)
She left home at six o’clock.
Sortir – to leave with the sense of leaving a place to go somewhere else
Les enfants sortent de l’école à trois heures. (prepositional phrase)
The children leave school at three o’clock.
Je suis sorti(e) (pour) faire les courses. (être as a helping verb)
I went out to do some shopping.
Quitter – to leave with the sense of leaving a person, situation or job
Nous allons bientôt quitter notre appartement. (direct object)
We’re going to leave our apartment soon.
Elle a quitté son mari. (avoir as a helping verb)
She left her husband.
Laisser – to leave with the sense of leaving something or someone behind
J’ai laissé mon livre chez toi hier soir. (direct object)
I left my book at your place last night.
Il a laissé tomber ses études pour travailler. (avoir as a helping verb)
He gave up his studies to work.
Sortir can also be a transitive verb
The verb sortir can sometimes take a direct object, meaning it can be transitive verb that uses avoir as a helping verb in the passé composé.
When sortir is transitive, it no longer means “to leave”. Notice some of the different meanings in the examples below.
Je sors le chien tous les soirs. (direct object)
I take the dog out every evening.
Elle sort les poubelles le mardi soir. (direct object)
She takes out the garbage on Tuesday evenings.
Nous avons sorti les livres de la bibliothèque pour les ranger. (avoir as a helping verb)
We took the books out of the bookcase to put them away.