French expression of the day: Coude-à-coude

French expression of the day: Coude-à-coude
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
In French, elbows are a key feature of any kind of tense contest.

Why do I need to know coude-à-coude?

Because it’s pretty key to discuss politics in France, which, if you've visited the country, you will know happens quite a lot, or certain types of sport.

What does it mean?

Coude means ‘elbow’ in French, so coude-à-coude translates to ‘elbow-to-elbow’.

Sometimes spelled coude à coude, this expression is a figurative way of saying that two contestants are ‘neck and neck’ or very close.


Coude-à-coude can be used about sports races (you will undoubtedly hear it during Tour de France), about politics – really any competition where the race is close.

If you’ve been following French media this week, you will undoubtedly have seen the expression used in articles about the US presidential elections, such as this Le Monde headline:

Elections américaines 2020 : Donald Trump et Joe Biden au coude-à-coude, les Etats-Unis se déchirent. – American 2020 elections: Donald Trump and Joe Biden are neck and neck, the US is tearing apart.

Use it like this

C'est très serré en tête de la course, les Français et les Anglais sont au coude-a-coude pour la victoire – It's really tight at the head of the race, the French and English are neck and neck for victory.

Je n'aime pas trop le fait qu'ils soient autant au coude-à-coude.. Je crains qu'il y aura des gens qui ne respectent pas le resultat. – I don't really like the fact that the race is so close. I fear that some people won't respect the result.

Oui, merci, on a bien compris que Biden et Trump sont au coude-à-coude. On peut parler d'autre chose d'ici le résultat définitif ? – Yes, thanks, we've understood that Biden and Trump are head-to-head. Can we talk about something else until we have the final result?

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