French Expression of the Day: C’est pas terrible

This one of the most common -- and confusing -- French expressions around. Here, we take a look at what 'c'est pas terrible' really means.

French Expression of the Day: C'est pas terrible
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Why do I need to know c'est pas terrible?

This expression is one of the more confusing ones you'll hear in France, and trust us when we say you'll hear it all the time. 

So, what does it mean?

It literally means 'It's not terrible' but unfortunately for English speakers the French word 'terrible' is a semi-false friend and it can also mean 'terrific' as well as 'terrible'.

That means that if someone says, C'est terrible they can either mean 'it's terrible' or 'it's terrific'/'it's great'. 

However, getting back to today's expression, when you put the negative pas before it, terrible is always translated into its more positive meanings of 'terrific' or 'great'.

So, that means pas terrible actually means 'not great' rather than 'not terrible' as you would be forgiven for thinking. 


There is also a difference between how you would use it in formal and informal settings.

For example, in a formal setting you would be more likely to say Ce n'est pas terrible (It isn't great) while in an informal one you would drop the ne and say C'est pas terrible

Here are some examples to make it clearer:

Julien adore ce resto, mais à mon avis, ce n'est pas terrible. – Julien loves this restaurant, but I don't think it's that great.
Ce film est pas terrible alors je serais toi, je n'irais pas le voir. – The film's not exactly great, I wouldn't go and see it if I were you.
Qu'est-ce que tu as pensé de ce livre ? – Pas terrible. – What did you think of that book? – (It was) nothing special.


To get a similar meaning across, you could also say: de qualité moyenne (of average quality) or pas très bien (not very good).


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French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

This might look like a mix of Spanish and French, but it is definitely not Franish.

French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

Why do I need to know mettre le holà?

Because you might need to do this if your friends go from laughing with you to laughing at you. 

What does it mean?

Mettre le holà – pronounced meh-truh luh oh-la – literally means to put the ‘holà’ on something. You might be thinking this must be some clever mix of Spanish and French, but ‘holà’ actually has nothing to do with the Spanish greeting. 

This expression is a way to say that’s enough – or to ‘put the brakes on something.’

If a situation appears to be agitated, and you feel the need to intervene in order to help calm things down, then this might be the expression you would use. Another way of saying it in English might be to ‘put the kibosh on it.’

While the origins of ‘kibosh’ appear to be unknown, ‘holà’ goes back to the 14th century in France. Back then, people would shout “Ho! Qui va là?” (Oh, who goes there?) as an interjection to call someone out or challenge them. 

Over time this transformed into the simple holà, which you might hear on the streets, particularly if you engage in some risky jaywalking. 

A French synonym for this expression is ‘freiner’ – which literally means ‘to break’ or ‘put the brakes on,’ and can be used figuratively as well as literally. 

Use it like this

Tu aurais dû mettre le holà tout de suite. Cette conversation a duré bien trop longtemps, et il était si offensif. – You should have put a stop to that immediately. That conversation went on for too long, and he was so offensive. 

J’ai essayé de mettre le holà à la blague sur ma mère, mais ils étaient sans pitié. – I tried to put a stop to the joke about my mother, but they were merciless.