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French word of the day: Précisions

These are an important part of life in France right now.

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

Why do I need to know précisions?

Because they're a key aspect of daily life and they also don't have quite the same meaning in English.

What does it mean?

It means, as English-speakers would probably guess, a clarification. But whereas in English precision is a quality, in French une précision can be a noun.

Précisions are particularly important right now, but are a regular feature of life in France around rules or regulations.

The lockdown announcements in France have generally followed the same pattern – someone, usually the president, makes an announcement about the broad framework of the new rules and then a couple of days later ministers and/or the prime minister offer fuller details. And it's these more detailed briefings or statements that are known as précisions.

For example 

Macron a annoncé que les magasins pourraient rouvrir, mais nous attendons une précision du premier ministre demain – Macron announced that shops could be able to reopen, but we're expecting fuller details from the prime minister tomorrow. 

Or, as in the headline below 'What to remember about the government's clarifications after Emmanuel Macron's speech'


Because it sounds so similar to the English word and has more-or-less the same meaning, don't be surprised if French people speaking English ask you 'Have you read the precisions on exercise?'

In fact after a while you'll probably start adopting it yourself.

READ ALSO The 9 'English' phrases that will only make sense if you live in France

Précision can also be used in the same way as the English word precision.

La restauration d'images historiques exige une grande précision et une grande dextérité – the restoration of historic pictures requires great precision and dexterity.


Une clarification – a clarification

Une mise au point – an update



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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.