Why do I need to know grosso modo?
This expression can help you to add nuance when making a point or explaining something. Plus, it comes from Latin, so it will make you sound smart.
What does it mean?
With its roots in medieval Latin, grosso modo means ‘roughly speaking’, ‘more or less’, or ‘in broad terms’.
The benefit of using grosso modo is that it serves as kind of a disclaimer that allows the speaker to admit that they’re being a little bit less precise, while still presenting information or making an argument.
So grosso modo can allow you to give a quick explanation of something by making an approximation, as in: Elle a répété grosso modo ce qu’il avait dit hier. (She repeated more or less what he had said yesterday).
When making an estimate, using grosso modo lets the listener know that the information you’re giving is in the ballpark, not exact. For example, C’est grosso modo un tiers de mon salaire. (That’s roughly a third of my salary).
And if you want to emphasize that you’re not going into minute detail on a subject, grosso modo is also appropriate: Je vais expliquer grosso modo comment ça fonctionne. (I’m going to explain in broad terms how it works).
Grosso modo comes from the medieval latin grossus modus, meaning ‘in a rough way’. It’s use has been established as early as the XIVth century, according to Reverso.
French is a romance language, and the use of latin expressions is quite common; examples include a contrario (on the contrary’), a priori (‘in principle’), and alea jacta est (‘the die is cast’) – and that’s just starting with the letter ‘A’.
Since grosso modo comes from Latin and thus carries a scholarly connotation, it’s great for formal situations (unlike a much of the vocabulary we explain here), as well as informal ones.
If French is the language of diplomacy, it’s not surprising that there are lots of ways to add nuance to one’s arguments. Simple French options for communicating the same ideas as grosso modo include environ and à peu près (‘around’/’about’), or sans entrer dans le détail (‘without going into detail’).
There is also grosso merdo and mosso grodo, which are just humorous ways of distorting the original phrase by blending in the word merde (assuming you know what that means already) or switching the first letters around.