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
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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.

Member comments

  1. If using the pleural i.e. the families are modest then the meaning in English is the same as in French when I speak to my contemporaries. So an individual described as modest is likely to be regarded as self-effacing. The population of an area or district may be modest in the life style or financial sense.

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For members


French Expression of the Day: En roue libre

This phrase is not just for cyclists

French Expression of the Day: En roue libre

Why do I need to know en roue libre ?

Because there are two meanings for this expression, and you’ll want to understand the difference.

What does it mean?

En roue libre – roughly pronounced ahn roo lee-bruh –  translates to “in freewheel mode.” Officially, this phrase refers to riding a bicycle with the pedals at rest, and it is often used to describe coasting downhill.

Outside of cycling, however, the phrase has two other figurative meanings, and these are the more likely scenarios you would hear the phrase. 

The first is “freewheeling,” which has a similar meaning to the English term. Someone might say the phrase “partir en roue libre” (to go in freewheel mode) if they are describing a person who has gone off the beaten track or who has gone adrift from the official plan. Other similar terms in English might be ‘a loose cannon’ or ‘off-piste’. This is the version of the expression you are more likely to hear.

When used in this way, the phrase conjures up a mental image more akin to someone who has lost control of the (metaphorical) bicycle and is barrelling down the hill at high speeds. You might hear the expression used in this way when describing a politician who has gone off-script (often in a negative sense). 

The second way en roue libre can be used is to describe a person who is ‘coasting’ – or putting in little effort. You might hear someone describe a coworker who has put in their notice to quit as “rouler en roue libre” – simply coasting by, not straining themselves to do any extra work.

Use it like this

Daniel a donné son préavis pour quitter l’entreprise, et depuis, il se contente de rouler en roue libre, sans faire trop d’efforts. – Daniel gave his notice to leave the company, and since then he has been happy to coast along, not putting in too much effort.

L’homme politique controversé est souvent en roue libre lors des entretiens avec la presse. Il est difficile de suivre le fil de sa pensée car il passe d’une déclaration scandaleuse à une autre. – The controversial politician is often going off-piste during press interviews. It is difficult to follow his train of thought because he jumps from one outrageous statement to the next.

Il est en roue libre depuis qu’il a gagné au loto. – He has been coasting since he won the lottery.