Simple French: Can You Tell If We Translated These Phrases Correctly?

By: Olivia Cantor

When we say “Excusez-moi,” are we saying sorry?

“Excusez-moi” is the phrase for “excuse me” which has the same context in French as it does in English. You say this when you want to call someone’s attention, for example if you’re buying in a store, or you can also use it to excuse yourself from the company of people. It’s also used as a polite way of saying that you want to pass through.

When we ask “Ça va?” are we asking for the time?

When you greet someone “Bonjour,” the second greeting is oftentimes “Ça va,” which means how are things, or a shortened form of asking how are you doing. If you’re doing great, you answer “Bien.”

When we ask “Parlez-vous Anglais?” are we asking someone to translate for us in English?

Asking a French speaker “Parlez-vous Anglais” means you’re asking if the person can speak in English. While it may be a formal and polite way of asking, remember that not all French people are keen on speaking English, so gauge this accordingly.

When we say “s’il vous plaît,” are we being polite?

It is always a nice gesture to add “s’il vous plaît” when you’re talking to French-speaking people, because this is the magic word: please. If you’re in a foreign land, it’s always helpful to be humble and respectful that way.

When they refer to a tennis player as an “enfant terrible,” is that a negative thing?

Anyone referred to as “l’enfant terrible” is someone who exhibits such controversial behavior, short of saying someone is having tantrums like a crybaby. "Enfant" is infant or baby, and "terrible" is obviously about being terrible.

Do they use “monsieur et madame” to refer to a man and a woman?

The phrase “Monsieur et Madame” is an honorific title that refers to a man and a woman, when called out or introduced by their names. It’s like saying “Mr. and Mrs.” and it usually addresses a husband and wife tandem.

Does “crème de la crème” apply to people?

Technically speaking, "crème de la crème" literally translates to “cream of the cream,” but it’s actually a kind of idiomatic expression that translates to “the best of the best.” It refers to a group of people who are supposedly the best in what they do, and it is used as a term of high distinction or regard.

Is “Je t’aime” referring to a person’s aim?

“Je t’aime” is perhaps the most universal French phrase ever, because it means “I love you.” Many songs and movies have been using this phrase for centuries.

Do we say “merci beaucoup” if we want to express deep gratitude?

Saying “Merci” is simply saying “thanks” or “thank you” in French. But if you add the word “beaucoup” in there, you’re essentially saying “thank you very much” or “thanks a lot,” which means you’re really very thankful to the person you’re addressing.

When we greet someone “Bon anniversaire,” are we referring to their wedding anniversary?

“Bon anniversaire” is the French way of wishing someone a “Happy birthday.” The male form of "bon" is used because the gender of birthday or "anniversaire" is male.

Are we referring to something great when we say “par excellence?

To refer to something using the phrase “par excellence” means that something is described as being ultimate, and in a good or positive way. It’s another way of saying being the quintessential something or other, and it can also refer to people or people’s deeds, actions or achievements.

Does the phrase “un homme et une femme” refer to a woman and man?

A man is the “homme” while a woman is the “femme,” and just put the proper gendered article in front of them: “un” for male, and “une” for female. Meanwhile, the word “et” is French for “and.” This phase is also the title of a popular French film.

Is “Au revoir” the proper way of saying goodbye?

The French have several ways of bidding someone goodbye, the most commonly recognizable term of which is “Au revoir.” But sometimes, they also say “Adieu!” If they add “A bientôt,” that means “See you soon.”

If we want to pass on any trouble, do we say “pas de problème?”

When we say “pas de problème,” what we’re actually saying is “No problem” which implies the same thing in English as it does in French. It’s more like saying we don’t have a problem about something presented to us, so it’s not directly saying something about being in trouble.

Is “Bon appétit” a nice way to greet someone after they have eaten?

You utter “Bon appétit” when you want to say “Enjoy your meal” to someone. So naturally, you would say this phrase before they actually eat the meal, not after they have consumed it. If you interrupted someone eating to talk for a while, you can also say this as a way of saying goodbye, so they can continue enjoying their meal.

When we say “un peu," do we mean "a lot?"

“Un peu” is actually a phrase that means “a little,” like if someone asks you if you speak French, you can definitely say this if you only know a little of the language. If you want to say “a little bit,” you can say “un petit peu” and if you mean “a lot,” you say “beaucoup.”

“Faux pas” means “false moves,” right?

"Faux pas" actually means “false step,” so it literally pertains to an actual specific movement, not just to a general one. This French expression actually pertains to making the wrong decisions, usually disregarding prescribed etiquette, and the phrase is also used in English in the same manner.

Does saying “c’est la vie” equate to “throwing caution to the wind?”

When one says “C’est la vie!” they’re essentially saying “That’s life!” as an interjection, and it’s like shrugging off something that happened, because that’s how life is. Depending on the situation, the phrase could be uttered in earnest, as a fleeting expression or even a sarcastic one.

When we see the labels “chaud ou froid,” does it mean “cold or frozen?”

It’s very useful to know what “chaud ou froid” means when you’re traveling, because this means “hot or cold.” You can see this in restrooms, on sinks where there is a water temperature controller like in hotels, or even when ordering drinks in a menu. Don’t make the mistake of switching the meanings, as that could spell disaster!

“Qu’est-ce que c’est” is a question that asks about something, right?

To ask “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” means you’re asking someone “What’s this?” or “What is it?” which alludes to something that’s visible to the both of you at a given time. You could be referring to something specific, like an object, or maybe a concept, such as when you chance upon two people meeting without your prior knowledge, and you want to know what that is about.

To wish someone a Happy New Year is to say “Bonne année,” right?

“Bonne année” is indeed the French term to wish someone a Happy New Year as the years change. Notice that the female term of “bonne” is the one used here, because the word for year or “année” takes on a female gender.

When we say “Je ne sais quoi,” we’re not very sure of something, right?

The French use the expression “Je ne sais quoi” when they want to refer to something they’re not exactly sure of, or something they can’t accurately describe or define. Literally, it means “I don’t know what.” Hoity-toity people sometimes use this phrase in a pretentious manner.

If someone says “comme ci, comme ça,” that’s like a lukewarm response, right?

Literally, “comme” means “like” so “comme ci comme ça” means “like this, like that.” In French cultures, that’s like saying something is so-so, or something is not really good but not really bad.

Are we saying "Good evening" if we’re saying “Bonne nuit?”

“Bonne nuit” actually means “Good night” more than “Good evening.” You use the term when you’re about to leave the venue for the evening. If you just arrived, the proper greeting should be “Bonsoir.”

Are we being offered something to eat when they serve us some "hors d’oeuvres?"

When someone gestures you to a tray and offers some “hors d’oeuvres,” that means the small food items laid out there are yours for the taking, as this is the French term for “appetizers” or any smaller food items they serve prior to the main meal. Sometimes they also serve these when everyone is already seated at the table.

When we say “haute couture,” are we talking about hot clothes?

“Haute” means high while “couture” means sewing or dressmaking, but the combined term of “haute couture” pertains to high fashion of some sort. This means that a piece of clothing is tailor-made to fit a specific person, often designed by the fashion designer to fit just that person.

Is “joie de vivre” pertaining to a happy life?

The expression “joie de vivre” translates to “Joy of life” and is used as such in both the French-speaking and English-speaking worlds. But “vivre” actually means “to live” so it’s also like saying “the joy of living,” pertaining to specific aspects of living that brings joy to a person, or it also describes someone who has a generally happy outlook and approach in life.

Does “carte blanche” merely pertain to a white card?

"Carte blanche" indeed translates to “white card” in English, if we are to take a literal translation of it. But the French also use it as an idiomatic expression to mean “giving someone unlimited access or authority over something.” The phrase is actually used in English, too, and it also bears the same meaning.

Is “Quel dommage” a rather negative thought?

"Dommage" literally translates to "damage," so saying “Quel dommage” is like saying “What a pity,” which is a negative thought. But it can also be used in a sarcastic thought, and the implied thought in that manner of delivery could be construed as not totally negative a thought.

When we say goodbye, can we also say “Bon voyage?”

If you want to just say goodbye, you use the phrase “Au revoir!” If you say “Bon voyage,” you’re essentially saying “Happy trip” to someone, which is also a way of saying goodbye, but only if the person you’re bidding goodbye to will be going on an actual trip – and not just leaving your present company at the moment.

When we say “Joyeux Noël,” are we saying “Merry Christmas?”

Using the phrase” Joyeux Noël” is how French-speaking people greet each other a very Merry Christmas. “Joyeux” translates to happy, and%0D sometimes it also means joyful.

Does “raison d’être” pertain to purpose?

When you are asked about your “raison d’être,” people are asking for your “reason for being,” which is the literal translation of this term. It pertains to our purpose in life, short of asking for your very reason for existing, or asking what gives you meaning in life.

When we say “avec moi” to someone, are we pertaining to them?

“Avec moi” translates to “with me,” so a speaker who mentions this is saying something and referring to himself or herself. You can hear it used playfully in the song with the lyric that goes “Voulez vous coucher avec moi c’est soir?” which means “Do you want to sleep with me tonight?”

Is “savoir-faire” referring to one’s profession?

"Savior-faire" translates to “know do” but what it really wants to say is “know how,” which pertains to a person’s skill or knowledge about something. So yes, it pertains mainly to one’s professional know how, but it can also pertain to artistic or creative skills as well.

When we declare “Je ne comprends pas,” we’re saying we don’t understand fully, right?

“Je ne comprends pas” might be the most common phrase a traveler could learn when touring France or French-speaking countries. That’s because it means “I don’t understand” so it could be good to say that once people start talking to you in French too fast!

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About This Quiz

If there is one European language that people are always curious about, we'll bet it's French. 

And why not? So many movies, works of literature, TV shows and songs have romanticized this language. Sometimes it indeed looks very romantic and sophisticated to have your characters speak a little French from time to time. The audiences end up imitating so many French-laced utterances in popular culture that sometimes, it becomes a hip trademark. 

People also tend to exaggerate whenever they utter such French words, no matter how simple they are. The fact that someone can pronounce these words correctly is already achievement enough for some, and also enough to impress people they want to impress. 

There are also those who want to impress people they date with some French knowledge. After all, French is not considered as one of the Romance languages for nothing. It's still part of romanticizing this language, in a way. And perhaps the world will continue to see it that way for generations to come. 

So, let's see if you can tell: Did we translate some words right? Do you know a handful of simple French terms? Tell us if we hit the mark, then. Have fun!


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