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French word of the day: Mortel

This expression can be a double-edged sword, but chances are the person exclaiming it isn't commenting on their own mortality.

French word of the day: Mortel
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know mortel?

Because it's an expression with very different meanings depending on the context and you don't want to confuse them.

What does it mean?

Mortel means mortal, as in nous sommes tous mortels – we're all mortal – means the opposite of being immortel – immortal.

It can also mean fatal or deadly, such as un accident mortel sur l'autoroute – a fatal accident on the motorway.

But if used as an exclamation, mortel can be a way of saying that something is 'really cool' or simply 'amazing'.

Use it like this

C'était comment le concert ? C'était vraiment mortel ! – How was the concert? It was really amazing!

On mange des pizzas ce soir ? Mortel ! – Shall we have pizzas tonight? Awesome!

J'ai croisé Kylian Mbappé hier par hasard au resto, on a fait un selfie, regarde. Wouah, trop mortel ! – I ran into Kylian Mbappe yesterday randomly at the restaurant, we did a selfie, look. Wow, that's mad cool!

There is an English equivalent but it's far more common in Ireland than elsewhere in the anglophone world, so a younger Irish person might say 'you're looking deadly tonight' if someone is looking really good.

Be aware of this..

Mortel as in 'awesome' is however an expression mostly used by young people and it's pretty slangy.

If you're talking to an older French person who tells you something was mortel – especially if they don't sound very enthusiastic  – chances are they are meaning the very opposite.

Mortel can be used to state something is ennuyeux à mort – 'dead boring'.

Quel discours mortel ! – What a boring speech!

C'etait un diner mortel. – It was a deadly boring dinner.


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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.