For members


French expression of the day: Au fait

This phrase is widely used in English - but has a totally different meaning in France and is helpful in making your conversation sound more natural.

French expression of the day: Au fait

Why do I need to know au fait?

Well first of all, as an English speaker you may need to unlearn it. In English being au fait with something means being familiar with it or up to date with something. For example 'I spent my summers working as a lifeguard on Blackpool beach, so I'm completely au fait with the rules around safe swimming'.

In France however, you need to say you rester au fait de if you want to say that you've stayed up to date with something, or you could use au courant de to say you are familiar with something.

Au fait on its own has a different meaning.

So what does it mean in French?

It means by the way, or incidentally and is a nice little phrase to drop into conversation if you want to sound a little less formal.

So you could say Au fait, j'aime bien ta nouvelle coupe de cheveux – By the way, I really like your new haircut.

Or Au fait, j'ai déjà ajouté du sucre à ça – Incidentally, I already put sugar in that.

It can go at the end of a sentence too – Je te drague, au fait – I'm flirting with you, by the way. (Although if you need to inform someone you are flirting you may not be doing it right, but that's a whole other article.)

And when you're saying fait the 't' is always pronounced.

Don't confuse it with

Similar sounding, but with a different meaning is en fait, which means in fact.

Tout le monde pense qu'elle est antipathique. En fait, elle est simplement timide – Everybody thinks she's unfriendly. In reality, she's just shy.
En fait is usually, although not always, used as a contradiction while another similar sounding phrase – en effet – is used to confirm something.
En effet means indeed or in actual fact.
Il n'est pas trop tard, alors? En effet, vous arrivez juste à temps – It's not too late, then? In actual fact, you've arrived just in time.
For more French words and expressions, check out our French word of the Day section.


Member comments

  1. It means “by the way” or “incidentally” and is a nice little phrase to drop into conversation if you want to sound a little less formal.

    Try the quote marks when offering translations . . .

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For members


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.