For members


French expression of the day: Pot-de-vin

Don't get too excited, this rarely has anything to do with delicious French wine.

French expression of the day: Pot-de-vin
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know pot-de-vin?

Because it's common and you might, if you don't know its meaning, confuse it with a nice gift.

What does it mean?

Directly translated, pot-de-vin becomes ‘pot-of-wine’ in English, so you might get excited the first time you hear someone talk about it in France.

However this has nothing to do with actual jugs of wine. Pot-de-wine actually is the French term for ‘bribe’.

In French, payer (pay), donner (give), verser (pay) un pot-de-vin all mean to illegally bribe someone.

Similarly, recevoir (receive), toucher (get) or accepter (accept) un pot-de-vin means 'taking a bribe'.

Un pot-de-vin can be a gifts offered in secret to a government official, illegal payments or money transfers – anything that goes under the broad term 'bribe'.

Pots-de-vin is plural for 'bribes'.


Pot-de-vin originated back in the 16th Century, when verser un pot de vin referred to donner un pourboire (to tip someone), according to French online dictionary l'Internaute.

In those days, actually offering a waiter a drink was common in French culture, a gesture that acknowledged the receiver as equally privileged in that they too were allowed to relax with a drink.

Back then, there was nothing illegal about a pot-de-vin, but the expression later changed meaning and today it means that something dodgy is or has been going on under the counter.

Use it like this

Il semble qu’on lui a versé des pots-de-vin depuis plusieurs années. – It looks like he’s been receiving bribes for several years.

C'est dommage pour l'equipe de foot. Leur meilleur joueur est accusé d'avoir touché un pot-de-vin en échange de se prendre volontairement un carton jaune lors du dernier match. – It's a shame for the football team. Their best player is accused of having taken a bribe to voluntarily get a yellow card during the last match.

Ceci est clairement une affaire de pot-de-vin. – This is clearly a bribery case.


Dessous-de-table – under-the-table (bribe)

Cadeau illégal – illegal gift

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For members


French Expression of the Day: À la traîne

Procrastinators might be used to this expression.

French Expression of the Day: À la traîne

Why do I need to know à la traîne ?

Because you probably would prefer to be the opposite of this expression

What does it mean?

À la traîne – roughly pronounced ah lah trahynn – is actually nothing to do with trains.

It means to “lag behind” or to be “at the end” or “at the bottom of the class”. 

It is the opposite of the expression “en avance” which is used to describe the person or group ‘in the front’ or ‘at the top.’

The expression is likely derived from the verb ‘traîner’ in French means ‘to drag’ – usually used when a physical item is trailing behind.

You might see French media make use of this phrase when discussing a topic or theme that has been on the back-burner or less of a priority, as it is often ‘lagging behind’ other items.

Not to be confused with

This sounds similar to the phrase “en train de,” which has a totally different meaning – it means “in the process of” or “in the course of”.

Use it like this

Elle était à la traîne par rapport au reste de la classe dans l’apprentissage de la table de multiplication. – She is lagging behind the rest of the class in learning the multiplication table.

L’article explique que les salaires des enseignants sont toujours à la traîne par rapport à ceux des autres professions, notamment en ce qui concerne les augmentations de salaire. – The article explains that teachers’ salaries are always trailing behind those of other professions, particularly concerning pay raises.