For members


French phrase of the Day: Trier sur le volet

This expression goes right back to the Middle Ages and has nothing to do with shutters.

French phrase of the Day: Trier sur le volet
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know trier sur le volet ?

Because if someone says they chose you for the job and adds this expression, you should be flattered.

What does it mean?

Trier sur le volet pronounced tree-ay sir luh voe-lay – literally translates to “to sort on the shutter” but its real meaning is closest to the English expression “to separate the wheat from the chaff” or even “to find the diamond in the rough.” It is simply to be specifically picked or chosen, and it carries a positive connotation.

Based on the idea of filtering through several options and choosing the best, this expression has a very logical origin story.

These days volets almost always refers to shutters, but this phrase goes back to the Middle Ages when the “volet” was the word for a cloth that was used to sort seeds. Gradually over time, this cloth was transformed into a wooden plate that was used to sort peas and beans. 

The expression went on to refer to more than just seeds, but at the time it was used frequently to stress the importance of actually selecting the good seeds.

So trier sur le volet means selecting the best.

Nowadays, you might hear this expression being used by a French employer talking about the different candidates she is choosing from, or maybe you’ll hear it as someone discusses their real estate options.

Use it like this

Les joueurs de l’équipe de France de handball ont été triés sur le volet – The players for France’s handball team were carefully selected for the job. 

J’ai finalement trié sur le volet. Amy sera la parfaite stagiaire d’été. – I’ve finally separated the wheat from the chaff. Amy will be a great summer intern.

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Les plus modestes

Surprisingly, this phrase has nothing to do with provocative dress or bragging about your achievements.

French Expression of the Day: Les plus modestes

Why do I need to know les plus modestes ?

Because you might want to understand why “the most modest” are always called out in government announcements and in articles

What does it mean?

Les plus modestes – roughly pronounced lay ploos moe-dests – literally translates to “the most modest.” 

At first glance, this phrase in French might be misleading for anglophones because “modest” is a bit of a false-friend.

In English, one might think of a Jane Austen character who is very respectable and never shows too much skin, or perhaps just someone who is very self-deprecating about their own achievements.

But in the French phrase, les plus modestes means people who are on low incomes or generally don’t have much money.

You might also see the phrase “les ménages modestes” (low-income households). 

You will often hear this term when the French government or press are discussing subsidy plans or budgeting efforts to assist low-income families.

It’s different to les plus fragiles – which is also often used in government announcements but refers to people who vulnerable for health reasons, such as the elderly or people with long-term medical conditions.

Use it like this

Pour protéger les plus modestes, le gouvernement a annoncé une subvention spécifique pour aider à payer l’énergie. – To protect the most vulnerable households, the government has announced a specific subsidy to help pay for energy.

Même avec les interventions du gouvernement, l’inflation touchera surtout les plus modestes. – Even with government interventions, inflation will impact low-income households the most.