French Word of the Day: tiens

"Tiens, tiens, tiens" -- it's impossible to avoid this five letter word when you're in France - but be careful, it has more than one (very common) meaning.

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

Tiens is said all the time in France, particularly when someone is serving you food and drink, and while in certain situations it can be easy to guess what people mean when they say it, that isn't always the case. 

So, what does tiens mean?

One of the meanings of tiens is 'here you go' or 'there you go'. For example: Tu me pretes un stylo? – Tiens — Can I borrow a pen? – Here you go.

You'll hear this use of tiens, along with the plural form tenez, very frequently in places like cafes and bars as the server hands you your order. 

The plural form works in exactly the same way: Tenez, je vous ai acheté des fraises – 'Here, I bought you some strawberries.'

However tiens can also be used to indicate surprise. 

In this situation it would be the equivalent of someone saying 'damn', 'blast', 'well' or else 'darn' or shoot' in American English. 

For example, Tiens, je me suis encore trompé! (Damn, I got it wrong again!).

On top of that it can also be used to draw attention to something. 

So, for example, if you hear someone say Tiens, prends ce vase et pose-le là-bas. (Hey, take this vase and put it over there). 

All uses of tiens are very colloquial so it's important to avoid using it when you're in a formal environment. 



Here's a handy YouTube video to help you get the right pronunciation of tiens.


For more French Expressions and French Words of the Day you can CLICK HERE to see our full list.

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French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

This expression is more than just your last order at the boulangerie.

French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

Why do I need to know tarte à la crème ?

Because if someone uses this phrase to describe you, you should probably be a bit offended.

What does it mean?

Tarte à la crème – pronounced tart ah lah krem – literally refers to a cream filled tart, or a custard tart, in English. However, this expression has more to do than just baking. It is another way of describing something that is boring, predictable or commonplace.

This expression comes straight from Moliere himself. In the 17th century, there was a popular rhyming game called “Corbillon.” The phrase “Je vous passe mon corbillon” (I pass you by corbillon) is said, and then it is followed by “Qu’y met-on?” (What does one put on it?) To keep the rhyme up, people must respond with something ending in an -ON sound.

In the play, “L’Ecole des Femmes” (The School of Wives), one character says the ideal woman would respond to the question with “tarte à la crème” which is obviously the wrong answer. The right answer would be tarte à la citron (lemon tart). Molière did this on purpose to poke fun at the fact that disgruntled fans would send poor actors cream tarts to express their frustration.

It was a way of ridiculing his critics and showing he was unimpressed by their method of showing discontentment at his plays. Over time, the phrase went on to describe things that are commonplace or boring. It is often used to describe entertainment related topics, such as books, movies, or plays.

A synonym for this phrase in French might be banal and in English you might say something is ‘vanilla’ to describe something that is fairly unexciting.

Use it like this

Le film était vraiment tarte à la crème. Je ne recommande pas d’aller le voir au cinéma, vous pouvez attendre de le voir une fois qu’il sera gratuit en ligne. – The movie was really boring. I don’t recommend going to see it at the movies, you can simply wait to see it once it is free online.

Je pense que l’album est tarte à la crème. Elle a pris tellement d’idées d’autres artistes que ce n’est vraiment pas original du tout. – I think the album is predictable. She really took plenty of ideas from other artists and it was not original at all.