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French word of the day: Main-d’œuvre

Don't confuse this with a yummy dish or a handmade piece of art.

French word of the day: Main-d'œuvre
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know main-d'œuvre?

Because there are several versions of œuvre in the French language, but they mean very different things.

What does it mean?

Many English speakers will be familiar with hors d'œuvres, the term used to describe the small dishes ('nibbles', if you will) served with the apértif before a meal. 

Take out the hors and you have just œuvre, which means 'piece of work', usually an artistic work such as a collection of poetry, a novel or an œuvre d'art (artwork).

You could therefore be forgiven to think that main-d'œuvre means a 'handmade' something, seeing as main is French for 'hand'.

It's not far out, main-d'œuvre means for 'workers' or 'workforce', and the term itself refers to 'the hands behind the work'.

It's a common French expression that today is mostly used to describe 'manual labour'. Sometimes it is even contrasted with cerveau-d'œuvre, a newer concept that means 'intellectual work' or basically anything that you can do at a desk.

You will spot main-d'œuvre in French headlines and news articles, so it's good to know that the meaning depends on the context. Sometimes it can refer to 'manpower', other times 'manual labour' or just 'workers' or a company's workforce.


De la main d'œuvre au cerveau d’œuvre – From manual labour to intellectual labour.

Kylian, 18 ans, un bac techno en poche : « à un mois de la rentrée, les professionnels ne savent pas s’ils auront besoin de main-d’œuvre – Kylian, 18 years old, has a technical high school degree: “One month before the holiday is over businesses don't know whether they'll need manpower”


Dans un pays qui vieillit et où la pénurie de main-d’œuvre est chronique, le recours à des travailleurs étrangers ne fait pas débat. – In an aging country chronically lacking of workers, turning to foreign manpower is not spurring a debate.



Ouvriers – workers

Travailleurs – workers

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Chanter faux

This is definitely not lip synching.

French Expression of the Day: Chanter faux

Why do I need to know Chanter faux ?

Because if you were not blessed with a beautiful singing voice, then this might be a good phrase to know. 

What does it mean?

Chanter faux – pronounced shahn-tay foe – literally means to ‘fake sing.’ You might assume this expression would mean ‘lip sync’ in French, but its true meaning is to sing out of tune. (Lip synching is chanter en playback).

It joins a chorus of other French expressions about bad singing, like chanter comme une casserole (to sing like a saucepan) or chanter comme une seringue (to sing like a siren).  

Chanter faux is actually the most correct way to describe someone being off key, so it might be a better option than comparing another’s voice to a cooking utensil. 

You might have seen this expression pop up recently amid the drought, as people call for rain dances and rain singing (where there is no shame in singing badly).

Use it like this

Pendant l’audition pour la pièce, Sarah a chanté faux. Malheureusement, elle n’a pas obtenu le rôle. – During her audition for the play, Sarah sang out of tune. Sadly, she did not get a role.

Si on fait un karaoké, tu verras comme je chante mal. Je chante vraiment faux, mais je m’en fiche. Il s’agit de s’amuser. – If we do karaoke you will see how badly I sing. I am really out of tune, but I don’t care. It’s all about having fun.