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French Expression of the Day: En roue libre

This phrase is not just for cyclists

French Expression of the Day: En roue libre
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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.

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French phrase of the Day: Etre en PLS

This one can actually save someone's life.

French phrase of the Day: Etre en PLS

Why do I need to know être en PLS? 

Because it’s not quite as life-threatening as it sounds.

What does it mean 

Être en PLS or je suis en PLS – roughly pronounced zhe swee en pay el ess – literally means ‘I am in the PLS (Position Latérale de Sécurité)’, which is the medical position you put an unconscious victim in. In English you would usually say ‘the recovery position’.

However it’s real meaning is ‘I am tired’ or ‘I am disappointed in a situation’ or sometimes ‘I have a terrible hangover’ – it’s roughly equivalent to saying in English ‘I’m knackered’, ‘I’m broken’ or ‘I’m destroyed’ – but crucially it’s not used for really serious situations that might genuinely destroy your life. It’s an exaggerated complaint. 

This is a phrase common among young people. ‘En PLS‘ is used in its original form by rescue teams trying to save lives, but has recently entered Gen Z’s vocabulary to emphasise a complaint.

Use it like this 

Après cette réunion, je suis en PLS – I’m knackered [British English] after that meeting

J’ai trop bu hier soir, je suis en PLS – I drank too much last night, I’m broken

J’ai perdu mes clés de voiture, je suis en PLS – I lost my car keys, I’m so pissed off. 

You can also say 

Je suis au fond du gouffre – I am at the bottom of the abyss (another dramatic one, it means being disappointed)

Je suis dans le mal – I’m in trouble

Je ne me sens pas bien – I don’t feel good

Je suis KO – I’m exhausted [from the English sporting term KO – knock out]