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French word of the Day: Déjà

French word of the Day: Déjà
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
You may have heard this one already, but possibly not used like this.

Why do I need to know déjà?

Because it’s a lot more versatile than you might think.

What does it mean?

Even people who have never studied French are likely to know that déjà means “already”, thanks to the English loan word déjà-vu.

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This is its most common use eg J’ai déjà commandé, merci – I already ordered, thanks.

But did you know that it can also be used as a tag word, with a very different meaning?

If you hear somebody say déjà at the end of a sentence, it can mean one of two things.

If it’s used as part of a question, it can be translated as “again”, and means you are asking somebody to remind you of a fact that’s escaping you. So if a celebrity you vaguely recognise appears on TV, you may ask: Elle s’appelle comment, déjà ? – What’s her name again?

On the other hand, when déjà is the first or last word in a declarative sentence, it means “for a start”. It’s often used to put someone in his or her place.

So if you attempt to start a conversation with a stranger without the obligatory bonjour, they might take offence, and begin by saying: Alors, bonjour, déjà – So, hello, for a start. Of course, the incredulous tone makes all the difference.

We don’t recommend you use it this way unless your goal is to make the other person feel bad, in which case, go right ahead!

Use it like this

Je n’ai pas faim, j’ai déjà mangé – I’m not hungry, I’ve already eaten

Ça veut dire quoi, déjà ? – What does it mean, again?

Déjà, je ne suis pas ton pote, donc tu ne devrais pas me parler comme ça – For starters, I’m not your mate, so don’t speak to me that way.


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