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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 Word of the Day: Blasé

Even though this French word has made its way into English, in French it has an extra emphasis. Here is how to use it in both languages.

French Word of the Day: Blasé

Why do I need to know blasé ?

Because you you can use this word in both English and French, although its strength is slightly different. 

What does it mean?

Blasé – roughly pronounced blah-zay –  is a word that English speakers might be familiar with already, as it has entered our vocabulary.

In French, the official definition of blasé is a bit more harsh than what English-speakers might be used to. It is defined by La Rousse dictionary as “a person who thinks he has exhausted the human experience and is disgusted with everything.” 

In contrast, English dictionaries define blasé simply as ‘bored’ and ‘jaded’ and it’s common to use is quite casually such as “I do so many work presentations that I’m a bit blasé about them now”. 

Overall, blasé denotes a level of apathy in both languages but in French it’s less flippant – oftentimes describing a person who is not easily impressed or someone who is disengaged with the world. Keep in mind that when you use this word in French, you will have to gender it based on who you are referring to – so if the word is describing a woman, then it would be blasée.

A common French expression you might hear using this word would be “blasé de la vie” – which means to be in a general state of apathy, or to be simply disengaged from daily life.

The word comes from the French past participle of the verb blaser – which means ‘to satiate.’ However, English-speakers might be surprised that blasé’s true origins are likely more Dutch than French. 

Use it like this

J’ai fait une blague mais il est tellement blasé ces jours-ci qu’il n’a pas rigolé. – I made a joke but he has been so apathetic lately that he didn’t laugh.

Elle n’a pas souri ni ri pendant l’entretien, alors qu’il s’agissait de l’emploi de ses rêves. Je ne sais pas pourquoi elle était si blasée. – She did not smile or laugh during the interview, even though it was for her dream job. I don’t know why she was so disengaged about it.