French Expression of the Day: Coup de tonnerre

This French word can be used to describe the weather but it's also perfect for surprises.

French Expression of the Day: Coup de tonnerre
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Why do I need to know coup de tonnerre?

You might have seen this expression used to describe the weather, but did you know it can also be a way to describe surprises?

What does it mean?

Un coup de tonnerre translates as a clap of thunder and the phrase can be used literally to describe the extreme weather phenomenon, for example Il y avait un coup de tonnerre et ensuite une forte pluie. (There was a crack of thunder and then heavy rain.)

But it is also used to describe something that takes you by surprise because it happens unexpectedly.

The expression un coup de tonnerre dans un ciel serein (a clap of thunder in a calm sky) or un coup de tonnerre dans un ciel bleu (a clap of thunder in a blue sky) translates as ‘a lightening bolt from the blue.’ 

This refers to rare instances when even though the sky appears to be clear, thunder and lightning can unexpectedly be seen and heard from far away.

Un coup de tonnerre can also be translated as ‘out of the blue’ or a ‘bombshell.’

You might see this expression used with different verbs. It can be paired with

être (to be) for example, c’était un coup de tonnerre (it was a bolt from the blue).

It can also be used with tomber (to fall) as in Le diagnostic est tombé comme un coup de tonnerre. (the diagnosis came like a bolt from the blue). 

Or, you can use the expression on its own without a verb, as in the headline below which says ‘France v Fiji live: Out of the blue, France loses to Fiji!’


How do I use coup de tonnerre?

Mais voilà que, coup de tonnerre dans un ciel bleu, j'ai appris l'existence de cette proposition-ci au moment où elle a été publiée.

But this simply came right out of the blue and the first time I read about it was when it was published in the book.

Cette affaire surgit comme un coup de tonnerre dans un ciel serein.

These events have come like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky.

(The above examples are from

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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.