For members


French Expression of the Day: Ligne de crête

This is a good word to know because everyone in life faces difficult decisions at one point or another.

French Expression of the Day: Ligne de crête
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know ligne de crête? 

Because in the midst of the Covid pandemic, governments around the world are doing their best to find it.

What does it mean? 

Ligne de crête, pronounced “leen de cret”, literally means the “ridge line” and is often used to describe a series of peaks along a mountain range. In this sense, you would use it like this: 

Cette vallée est parallèle à la ligne de crête des Alpes bernoises au nord et des Alpes valaisannes au sud – This valley is parallel to the ridge of the Bernese alps to the north and the Valais alps to the south

Il s’agit d’une ligne de crête de sept kilomètres – It is a 7km mountain ridge

The word is often used in non-geological contexts too, often to talk about a difficult balance or compromise between two oppositional factors.

It is typically employed in the media to describe policy-making of one kind or another. It can also be used to describe a situation as being on a “knife edge”, implying precariousness. 

Le gouvernement tente de trouver une ligne de crête entre nécessité pour les Français de recouvrer des libertés et l’éradication du virus – The government is trying to find a balance between the need for French people to regain their freedoms and the eradication of the virus

Sur l’immigration, le chef de l’Etat évolue sur une ligne de crête entre fermeté et humanité – The head of state is walking a fine line between closing borders and humanity on immigration  

Les Paradise Papers nous parlent de l’art de surfer sur la ligne de crête de la légalitéThe Paradise Papers tell us about the art of surfing on a legal knife edge


Être sur le fil du rasoir – To be on a knife edge

Tout repose sur le tranchant de couteau – Everything is on a knife edge

Tout se joue à un fil – Everything is hanging by a thread

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For members


French Expression of the Day: La Première ministre

A brand new coinage in the French language that reflects the changing times.

French Expression of the Day: La Première ministre

Why do I need to know la Première ministre?

Because France has one now.

What does it mean?

La Première ministre – usually pronounced lah prem-ee-air mean-east-ruh– translates as “the prime minister,” but this spelling is different from what you might be used to seeing.

This title is feminised, indicating that the prime minister in question is a woman. Under former PMs such as Jean Castex, the masculine title Le Premier ministre was used.

Élisabeth Borne made headlines on May 16th not only because she was appointed as France’s second female prime minister, but also because she will be the first to use the feminisation of the work title: Madame la Première ministre. The female prime minister who held the position before her, Edith Cresson, used the masculine version of the title.

Feminising work titles has been controversial in France, and most titles like “le Premier ministre” have been automatically put in masculine form.

But in 2019, France’s infamous Academie Francaise, which polices the French language and typically resists any sweeping changes to it, changed their stance and said there was “no obstacle in principle” to the wholesale feminisation of job titles. 

Use it like this

Le Président Emmanuel Macron a fait une annonce importante. Élisabeth Borne est la Première ministre. – President Emmanuel Macron made an important announcement: Élisabeth Borne is the prime minister.

“Madame la Première ministre, qui avez-vous choisi pour diriger votre nouveau gouvernement ?” a demandé le journaliste. – “Madame Prime Minister, who have you chosen to lead your new government?” asked the journalist.