French phrase of the day: Voyons voir

French phrase of the day: Voyons voir
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Although it sounds like a tautology, this is actually a common expression.

Why do I need to know voyons voir?

Because the alliteration and vowel sounds make this phrase fun to say

What does it mean?

This phrase is actually the same verb (voir) repeated twice in different forms – first as an imperative, and then as an infinitive.

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That’s why, to non-native French speakers, it can seem like an unnecessary repetition. It literally means “let’s see to see”, although it’s used in situations where in English you would simply say, “let’s see”.

The repetition adds emphasis, but also a pleasant alliteration, and the final vowel sound can be elongated and said slowly. This means it’s useful for portraying concentration, or a careful, methodical act of looking.

In this sense it’s different from on verra – we’ll see – because it’s not projecting into the future. Voyons voir refers to this very moment, like, “Let’s take a look”.

You can say it when verifying a piece of information, or looking for something. But it is also used for trying to remember something, as in Voyons voir, qu’est-ce qu’on a mangé hier ? – Let’s see, what did we eat yesterday?

Use it like this

Je crois que c’est l’acteur qui a joué dans Friends. Voyons voir… – I think it’s the actor from Friends. Let’s take a look…

Voyons voir, où est-ce que j’ai pu mettre mes lunettes ? – Let’s see, where could I have left my glasses?

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