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French Expression of the Day: Il n’y a pas de mal

You might want to use this phrase if someone accidentally knocks into you in a queue.

French Expression of the Day: Il n'y a pas de mal
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know il n’y a pas de mal?

Because when a situation isn’t worth getting worked up about, you need to say so.

What does it mean?

Il n’y a pas de mal – pronounced eel nyah pah de mal – means no harm done. In English, you might say ‘no big deal.’

It’s one of those useful de-escalating stock phrases you can use in situations when mistakes happen – when someone takes the seat in the metro you’d been eyeing, but you’re in no hurry, for example, or to indicate that you have not taken offence at a comment. It demonstrates that there’s no problem, that everything’s fine.

It can also be used to indicate there’s nothing wrong in doing something – the phrase il n’y a pas de mal à se faire du bien is the French version of “a little bit of what you fancy does you good”.

Use it like this

Il n’y a pas de mal – no harm done

Il n’y a pas de mal à cela – there’s nothing wrong with that

Qu’y a-t-il de mal à cela ? – what’s the problem with that?

Similar phrases

ça va aller – it’s going to be okay

il n’y a pas de lézard – no problem

il n’y a pas de souci – no worries

tout va bien – it’s all good

ce n’est pas grave – it’s not serious

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Une vache à lait

This might sound like the cheese for children, but it actually has nothing to do with dairy products.

French Expression of the Day: Une vache à lait

Why do I need to know une vache à lait ?

Because if someone describes a potential investment opportunity like this, you might want to consider it.

What does it mean?

Une vache à lait – roughly pronounced oon vash ah lay – translates precisely to ‘a cow with milk’ or ‘a dairy cow.’ However, this phrase has little to do with farming, cheese, or milk.

In practice, une vache à lait is almost synonymous with the English term “cash cow” – or something or someone that is a moneymaker or source of profit. 

The phrase in French comes from the middle of the 16th century and evokes an image of a cow who is being milked without protest, allowing for the farmer to profit off of it. It was gradually extended to people and business ventures as a way of talking about profitability. 

Sometimes, this expression can have a negative connotation, particularly if a person is being called a vache à lait. This would be akin to saying that they are being financially exploited without realising it. 

Use it like this

L’achat de Snapchat a été une vache à lait pour Mark Zuckerberg et Facebook. – The purchase of Snapchat was a moneymaker for Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.

Les parents ont été accusés d’utiliser leur enfant comme une vache à lait en l’inscrivant à des publicités. Ils ont trouvé cette accusation offensante. – The parents were accused of using their child as a cash cow by signing them up for commercials. They found this accusation offensive.