French Word of the Day: comment

It's one of the most commonly spoken French words... but do you know all of its meanings?

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

It's hard to escape the word comment in France… and it's a particularly useful one for language learners. 

So, what does it mean?

It's hard to underestimate the ubiquity of the French adverb comment.

One of the main ways it is used is to mean 'how' or 'in what way'. 

For example, Comment vas-tu? – 'How are you?'

Or, Comment as-tu retiré cette vis du mur? – 'How did you get that screw out of the wall?'

It can also mean, 'what', 'sorry', 'excuse me' and 'pardon'. 

So, particularly as a language learner in France, you might find the following phrase useful: Comment? Pouvez-vous répéter? Je n'ai pas bien compris. – Sorry? Could you repeat that? I didn't quite understand.

You could also say: Comment ça?   which means 'What's that?' or ''Excuse me?'  

You can also use comment in an exclamative tone. 

For example, Comment donc! – 'Of course! By all means!'

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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.