French Word of the Day: se débrouiller

This verb doesn't have an exact translation in English as you'll hear it used in all kinds of ways in French conversation, meaning sometimes completely different things.

French Word of the Day: se débrouiller
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Why do I need to know se débrouiller?

This verb doesn't have an exact translation in English as you'll hear it used in all kinds of ways in French conversation, meaning sometimes completely different things. 

What does it mean?

Se débrouiller is the opposite of brouiller which means to ‘mess something up’, or to ‘confuse’, ‘muddle’ or ‘cloud over’ something. 

Normally when de is stuck on the front of a verb in French it gives the verb the opposite meaning, but se débrouiller doesn't quite mean the opposite of muddle.

The most common meaning of se débrouiller is to ‘fend for yourself’, ‘get by’ or ‘manage’ for example Je n'ai pas beaucoup d'argent, mais je me débrouille. (I don't have much money, but I get by). 

In a similar sense, it can also mean to ‘make do’ because you don’t have enough of something, like, pour le dîner on va se débrouiller avec les restes de hier soir. (For dinner we’ll make do with leftovers from last night.)

In this way, it means to manage with something or a situation that's not ideal. 

But adding a positive tone to this verb can change the implications entirely. Elle se débrouille bien ! means ‘She's doing great!.’

And if someone really impresses you, you might say they se débrouiller comme un chef, or literally ‘handle something like a boss’. For example, c’était la première fois qu’il a fait du ski et il s’est débrouillé comme un chef! (It was the first time he went skiing and he handled it beautifully!)

Finally, Se débrouiller can also mean untangle or sort out things out. 

This could be in a relationship, for example Débrouille-toi avec ton frère avant son anniversaire. (Sort things out with your brother before his birthday.) 

Or, removing the se before the verb means it could be in a physical way, such as il débrouille ses papiers pour les classer. (He's sorting out his papers so he can file them.)

How can I use se débrouiller?

Je me débrouille en français.

I get by in French. 

Je vais me débrouiller pour venir lundi.

I’ll take care of things so that I can come on Monday.

Je ne demande rien à personne. Je me débrouille seule.

I don’t ask anything of anyone. I manage by myself.

(The examples above are from





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French Expression of the Day: C’est le box

This French expression has little to do with storage devices.

French Expression of the Day: C’est le box

Why do I need to know c’est le box?

Because you might have described your adolescent bedroom this way.

What does it mean?

C’est le box roughly pronounced say luh box – comes from the longer expression c’est le boxon, and does not have to do with a container to store things. In reality, c’est le box means either literally or figuratively that something is a mess or disaster.

It is a synonym for the more commonly used French expression c’est le bordel

Both are slang terms that border on being vulgar, are originally references to brothels, and describe disorder or disarray.

The word boxon first appeared in the early 1800s in the form of bocson, which meant cabaret and later “house of tolerance”. Its origins are disputed, but over the past two centuries it has come to be synonymous with a “place of debauchery” and later messiness and disorder.

You can also say “Quel box!” or “Quel Boxon!” to mean “What a mess!” or “What a disaster!”

If you are looking for a less vulgar way to describe a mess, you could instead say “c’est le bazar”.

Use it like this

C’est quand la dernière fois que tu as nettoyé ta chambre ? C’est le box ici. – When was the last time you cleaned your room? It is a disaster in here.

Je ne suis pas la seule personne qui pense que c’est le boxon dans cette ville en ce moment. – I’m not the only person who thinks this city is a mess right now.