French Expression of the Day: En plein

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
French Expression of the Day: En plein
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

This French expression might help you set the scene when telling a story.


Why do I need to know en plein?

Because it's a good one to help with dramatic effect. 

What does it mean?

En plein roughly pronounced ohn plehn technically translates ‘in full’ or ‘in the middle of’.

While you might use the word plein to describe a car’s fuel tank being full, the expression en plein is used differently. 

It will be used to describe someone being in the middle of doing something, or in the middle of a certain space or area. Usually, the term en plein before a place or an adverb is used to exaggerate or give some dramatic effect to the scene that the speaker is trying to describe.


For example, you might hear someone say that an incident occurred en pleine rue - which would mean ‘right in the middle of the street’. The meaning is the same as dans la rue (in the street) but adds more emphasis and drama.

When setting the scene, a French person might say something happened in broad daylight (en plein jour) or in the middle of the night (en plein nuit). 

The most common instance where you will hear en plein is when discussing an open-air event, which is referred to as en plein air in French. As such, you could have a concert or théâtre en plein air (open-air concert or theatre). 

Similarly, you might hear someone describe a person as being en plein délire, which means to be completely delusional or mad. 

You'll also see it on egg cartons - oeufs en plein air, or more correctly Les œufs de poules élevées en plein air, means eggs produced by free-range chickens.

Use it like this

En plein match, nous avons dû nous arrêter parce qu'un spectateur est tombé. – We had to stop in the middle of the match because a spectator fell down.

Le conducteur a heurté le piéton en plein jour. Il n'avait aucune excuse pour ne pas avoir vu l'homme. – The driver hit the pedestrian in broad daylight. He had no excuse for not seeing the man. 

Veux-tu aller au concert en plein air ce week-end ? – Do you want to go to the outdoor concert this weekend?


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also