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French phrase of the day: Le jeu n’en vaut pas la chandelle

French phrase of the day: Le jeu n'en vaut pas la chandelle
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
How stingy tippers in France became a widely used French expression.

Why do I need to know le jeu n’en vaut pas la chandelle?

Because it’s easy when you learn it, but pretty confusing when you don’t.

What does it mean?

Le jeu n’en vaut pas la chandelle directly translates as ‘the game is not worth the candle’, which means ‘it’s not worth it’ or ‘the stakes are too high’.

Jeu is French for ‘game’, vaut is the conjugated present tense of the verb valoir (to be worth) and la chandelle means ‘the candle’.

You may be familiar with the French expression ça ne vaut pas le coup or ça n’en vaut pas la peine. Both of these are versions of le jeu n’en vaut pas la chandelle.

‘The game is not worth the candle’ is an expression in English too, but it’s pretty old-fashioned and these days not much used, with people more likely to simply say something is ‘not worth it’.

Origins

This expression dates back to the 16th century, according to French online dictionary l’Internaute, which explains that, back then, people would meet to play cards in rooms “lit up by candlelight, a luxury item at the time.”

Just like we sometimes leave tips in restaurants today, people in the 16th Century would leave money to compensate for the candle lighting. But sometimes they left too little to cover the price of the candle, so le jeu n’en valait pas la chandelle – the game was not worth the candle.

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Sometimes le jeu n’en vaut pas la chandelle is shortened to ça n’en vaut pas la chandelle.

Use it like this

Je sais combien tu l’aimes, mais le jeu n’en vaut pas la chandelle. – I know how much you love her, but it’s not worth it.

Aller au clash avec son patron en cette période de crise ne me paraît pas une bonne idée, le jeu n’en vaut pas la chandelle. – Clashing with your boss during this period of crisis doesn’t seem like a good idea to me, the stakes are too high.

Faire cinq heures de route pour passer une journée à la plage au mois de février, le jeu n’en vaut vraiment pas la chandelle. – Driving for five hours to spend a day at the beach in February, it really isn’t worth it.

Don’t confuse it with..

Tenir la chandelle (holding the candle), which means ‘third-wheeling’ or ‘playing the gooseberry’.

Synonyms

Cela n’en vaut pas la peine – it’s not worth it

Ça ne vaut pas le coup – it’s not worth it


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