For members


French expression of the day: Mettre un genou à terre

This French expression is much-used these days, but what does it really mean?

French expression of the day: Mettre un genou à terre
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know mettre un genou à terre?

It's a pretty versatile expression, but it can be both a very good sign and a very bad one.

What does it mean?

Mettre un genou à terre means 'placing one knee on the ground', but it is a more symbolically loaded expression than just 'kneeling' (s'agenouiller in French).

It can have several meanings, the oldest one dates back to the Bible: se mettre à la merci de quelqu'un – 'putting oneself at the mercy of someone else' – which is a sign of submission.

During the Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in the United States, French media were filled with explanations such as Que signifie le genou à terre des manifestants ? – What is the meaning of the protesters' kneeling gesture?

Mettre un genou à terre can also be used in an economic context, for example if you have suffered a heavy financial loss.

In a happier context, mettre un genou à terre can refer to the universal gesture of asking someone to marry you, the Anglo equivalent would be 'getting down on one knee'.

Use it like this

On avait déjà un genou à terre après la première vague, s'il y en a une deuxième, on risque vraiment de mettre la clé sous la porte. – We were already on our knees after the fist wave, if there's a second we really risk having to close down for good.

A cause du Covid, notre clientèle a diminué, ça nous a vraiment mis un genou à terre. – Due to Covid we have lost a lot of customers, it's really hit us hard economically.

Après cette defaite on a un genou à terre, mais on va se relever au prochain match. – We suffered a heavy defeat, but we will make a comeback next game.

Il m'a demandée en mariage à la plage en mettant le genou à terre, c'était tellement romantique. – He asked me to marry him at the beach down on one knee, it was so romantic.

Know that

Être à genoux means having both knees on the ground, so it's a step down from mettre un genou à terre.

For example:

La crise du Covid a mis toute la France à genoux. – The Covid crisis had a crushing impact on all of France.


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


French Expression of the Day: Découvrir le pot aux roses

You might do this while gardening or while reading the tabloids.

French Expression of the Day: Découvrir le pot aux roses

Why do I need to know découvrir le pot aux roses?

Because if you enjoy celebrity gossip, then you probably will find good use for this phrase

What does it mean?

Découvrir le pot aux roses – pronounced day-coov-rear le pot-oh rose – literally translates to ‘to discover the pot of roses.’ 

You might use this expression when finding out about some exciting gossip or maybe when discovering what your partner secretly planned for your anniversary, as this phrase in actuality is what you would say when you learn something secret or hidden. 

In English, when discussing secrets, you might say someone has ‘spilled the beans’ or ‘let the cat out of the bag,’ but the French phrase is more about the person who has found out about the hidden item or truth, not the person who told it, as it ‘spill the beans’.

The origins of this French expression are not what you might expect, historically, the phrase has little to do with the flowers.

During the Middle Ages, the verb ‘découvrir’ had the meaning of ‘to lift a lid’ and at the time the phrase ‘pot aux roses’ referred to a small box that wealthy women used to store their perfumes, as well as their makeup. They often used these boxes to keep secrets, letters, or notes that they did not want others to stumble upon.

Use it like this

Pendant l’afterwork, Sarah a raconté à tout le monde les secrets les plus fous sur la vie privée du patron. Je ne comprends pas comment elle a réussi à découvrir le pot aux roses. – During the work happy hour, Sarah told us all about the wildest secrets of our boss’ personal life. I don’t understand how she managed to unearth that gossip.

Il a découvert le pot aux roses lorsqu’il s’est connecté à l’ordinateur de son colocataire pour regarder simplement son mail. – He discovered the secret when he logged onto his roommate’s laptop to just check his email.