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French phrase of the day: Se plier en quatre

If you really want to show someone you care in France, there's a very acrobatic way of doing so (figuratively).

French phrase of the day: Se plier en quatre
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know se plier en quatre ?

Because translating it directly from English doesn't really make any sense. Plus, this expression is easily confused with a similar one that means something very different.

What does it mean?

Se plier en quatre directly translates as 'to fold oneself into four', which sounds like an awfully dangerous thing to do unless you are a circus performer.

But se plier en quatre is a mere figure of speech, a metaphor for going through an enormous effort – literally bending one's body four times – to please someone.

Another way of saying it is se mettre en quatre, directly translated as 'putting oneself into four'. It means the same, but seems to be the original version. According to French online dictionary l'Internaute, se mettre en quatre originated sometime in the middle of the 17th century.

A good English equivalent to se plier en quatre is 'to bend over backwards' – although the French version seems even more strenuous. Another alternative is 'to spare no effort' or 'going out of one's way'.

Just don't confuse se plier en quatre with être plié en deux (to be folded in half), which means to be doubled up with laughter.

Use it like this

Je me plie en quatre sans arrêt pour toi. – I'm always bending over backwards for you.


Lorsqu'elle est revenue de l'hôpital toute sa famille s'est pliée en quatre pour s'assurer qu'elle ait tout ce qu'il lui fallait. – When she came back from the hospital her whole family went out of their way to ensure that she had everything she needed.

Ses parents se plient constamment en quatre pour lui. C'est vraiment un enfant gaté. – His parents constantly bend over backwards for him. He really is a spoiled child


Se donner du mal – trying hard/going through trouble 



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For members


French phrase of the Day: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines

Being patronised by a Frenchman? Roll out this phrase.

French phrase of the Day: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines

Why do I need to know ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines?

Because someone might be trying to take you for a fool.

What does it mean?

Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines – pronounced ne me pren pah pour un lapan de see sem-enn – translates as ‘don’t take me for a six-week-old rabbit’, and is a go-to phrase to warn people not to mistake you for a fool, someone who doesn’t understand what’s going on.

The podcast Hit West from French regional newspaper Ouest-France suggests that the ‘six weeks’ comes from the age a rabbit is weaned at, and must therefore be ready to survive on its own.

And why a rabbit at all? Well no-one really seems very sure. Rabbits don’t get a good rap in the French language though, to stand someone up is poser un lapin in French.

English-language metaphor equivalents may be, “I didn’t come down in the last shower”, “I wasn’t born yesterday”, or, as Line of Duty’s DCI Hastings might say, “I didn’t float up the Lagan in a bubble”.

Use it like this

Honestly, keep it simple. If someone’s speaking to you in a patronising manner, simply say: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines.

Ouest France suggests that this is the ‘more elegant’ way to request that people don’t take you for a fool. It’s not offensive, but it might be a little old-fashioned. 


You can use the more basic version of this phrase – Ne me prends pas pour une idiote (don’t take me for a fool) or the slightly more punchy Ne me prends pas pour un con (don’t take me for a moron).