Boiling broth and breaking heads – 13 French ways to say ‘it’s not worth it’

Boiling broth and breaking heads - 13 French ways to say 'it's not worth it'
Photo: Jason Strull on Unsplash
Foreigners in France encounter a multitude of challenges, from confusing bureaucracy to intricate grammar rules. But sometimes it's just not worth the effort, so here is the linguistic equivalent of the famous Gallic shrug.

1. Ça ne vaut pas la peine 

This is one of the most common ways to say ‘it’s not worth it’ in French. Ça ne vaut pas la peine translates as ‘it’s not worth not the pain’ and is one of the many French equivalents to ‘it’s not worth the effort’. You can scratch the beginning and say vaut pas la peine (not worth the pain), or merely pas la peine.

Pas la peine de venir à l’heure, ils sont toujours au moins 10 minutes en retard. – No use being on time, they are always at least 10 minutes late.

2. Ça ne vaut pas le coup

This is another version of the same expression, just with le coup instead of la peine. Coup here refers to the ‘attempt’, so basically you’re telling someone that there’s no use in trying something. You can also say ça ne vaut pas le coût, which means ‘it’s not worth the cost’.

3. Laisse tomber

Laisse tomber directly translates as ‘let (it) fall’ and is the French version of ‘drop it’. It means that it’s no use in trying, it’s already too late – like running after the bus when it’s already started driving: laisse tomber, ça ne sert a rien – forget it, it’s no use.

4. T’inquiète pas

T’inquiète pas is short for ne t’inquiète pas, which means ‘don’t worry’.

People frequently drop the ne when speaking in France, and with this particular expression you can also drop the pas. T’inquiète and t’inquiète pas are actually the same expression, which can seem confusing seeing as the first alternative actually looks like you’re telling someone ‘DO worry’, instead of ‘don’t worry’.

T’inquiète pas is extremely common in France. If your partner is running late for dinner, you can tell them t’inquiète pas, je t’addends, which here means ‘don’t worry, i’ll wait for you’. But if they respond, non non, t’inquiète, je mange en rentrant, they’re telling you ‘no no, don’t bother, I’ll eat when I come home’. 

(Normally you would conjugate the verb s’inquièter as tu t’inquiètes, but seeing as this is an interjection you drop the s at the end.)

READ ALSO: Six culture clashes foreigners should prepare for when visiting French families

5. Te casse pas la tête

This one is a pretty literal way of telling someone they shouldn’t fret over something. Se casser la tête literally translates as ‘breaking one’s head’, so if you tell someone (ne) te casse pas la tête you’re telling them ‘don’t break your head’. Another version is te prends pas la tête (don’t take your head).

6. Ça ne vaut pas le jus

If something isn’t worth it, you can also say that ça ne vaut pas le jus – it’s not worth the juice. Jus is a versatile term in the French language: tenir au jus is the same as tenir au courant (keep someone updated).

But if something isn’t worth the jus, it’s not worth the effort. (The jus could be a reference to bodily fluids lost during strenuous efforts, similar to the English expression ‘don’t sweat it’.) 

7. Ça ne vaut pas le détour 

If something vaut pas le détour, it’s ‘not worth the detour’. It’s pretty straightforward, implying that in order to accomplish something you need to walk an extra stretch (and that it’s not worth it).

8. T’en fais pas 

T’en fais pas – short for ne t’en fais pas – also means ‘don’t bother’, and comes from the expression se faire du souci (going through trouble). In the s’en faire, the en refers to souci, so telling someone ne t’en fais pas is like telling them, ne te fais pas du souci – don’t go to the trouble.

If you’re having your friend over for wine and she starts cleaning up afterwards, you can tell her: t’en fais pas, je le ferai toute à l’heure – don’t worry about it, I’ll do that afterwards.

9. Te tracasse pas 

Te tracasse pas means ‘don’t worry’ or ‘don’t bother’, although tracasser can mean ‘harass’ in French. Here the harassment is figurative and self-inflicted, so telling someone to (ne) te tracasse pas is similar to saying ‘don’t fret’.

10. Te mets pas la rate au court-bouillon

You may not have heard this one, but it’s an old classic. It literally translates as ‘don’t put your spleen in the court-bouillon’, the court-bouillon referring to a specific kind of broth (it doesn’t get more French than this.)

It’s a figurative way of saying, ‘don’t beat yourself up’, referring to the without doubt highly painful action of dropping your poor spleen into a boiling broth.

READ ALSO: Language dilemmas: Why can’t I understand what French people say?

11. Oublie

Oublie means ‘forget’, and can be used to say ‘forget about it’, as in ce n’est pas grave – it’s doesn’t matter. It’s an interjection, so you drop the s at the end here too, even if you’re addressing someone directly. You can also say on oublie – let’s forget about it.

12. Ça ne sert à rien

If something ne sert à rien, ‘it’s no use’. Use this the next time your friend is fretting over some impossible French bureaucratic task that you know doesn’t serve any real purpose: ça ne sert strictement à rien – it doesn’t really make any difference.

READ ALSO: The A-Z of French bureaucracy

13. C’est inutile

This is one of the queen of linguistic uselessness. When all hope is lost, c’est inutile – it’s useless, futile, pointless. Inutile d’essayer, on a déjà perdu – no use in trying, we’ve already lost.

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