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French phrase of the day: Faire le plein

French phrase of the day: Faire le plein
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
This has become a lot more expensive lately.

Why do I need to know faire le plein?

If you’re planning on driving in France you should know this phrase, but it can also be applied to a wide range of other everyday activities.

What does it mean?

Plein means “full”, and so faire le plein means to fill up. If your car is running low on fuel, you might prendre de l’essence / du gasoil – get petrol / diesel – but it’s more common to say you’re going to faire le plein – fill up the tank. Which makes this the perfect phrase for complaining about soaring fuel prices.

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Fuel isn’t the only thing you can fill up on in French, though. If you’re having people over for example you might faire le plein de chips – stock up on crisps.

Or maybe you’re from the UK and will want to take advantage of the return of duty free to faire le plein d’alcool (stock up on alcohol) in Calais.

And, when the weather is good, you might look to make the most of it by faire le plein de soleil – getting your fill of sunshine.

Exercise caution when using the word plein in other contexts, though. If you’ve eaten too much, you might be tempted to declare Je suis plein(e), but this can easily be misinterpreted – in France, this doesn’t mean you’re full, but either drunk or pregnant. And in the latter case, it’s usually used for animals, not humans, and so it would be doubly embarrassing.

If you’re at the in-laws’ and want to politely decline an extra serving, it’s safer to say something like, C’était très bon mais je n’ai plus faim – It was very good, but I’m no longer hungry.

Use it like this

Faire le plein d’essence n’a jamais coûté aussi cher – Filling up on petrol has never been so expensive

Il a fait le plein de bière pour la soirée – He stocked up on beer for the party

On va en Italie pour faire le plein de soleil – We’re going to Italy to get a good dose of sunshine


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