French Expression of the Day: Mon capitaine

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French Expression of the Day: Mon capitaine
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

This might sound like a term of endearment, but it really isn't.


Why do I need to know mon capitaine?

Because you might be confused if you hear this expression outside of a military context.

What does it mean?

Mon capitaine roughly pronounced mohn cah-pi-tehn literally translates as ‘my captain’ but really it just means 'sir', or perhaps 'boss'. 

In the British or American armed forces if an officer gives you an order you respond with a simple 'yes, sir'. In the French army, you would respond oui, mon capitaine (or oui, mon colonel/ oui, mon général depending on the rank of the officer addressing you). It's a standard response and the 'mon' doesn't imply that you know or have any relationship to the person. 

If you were greeting an officer you would say Bonjour mon capitaine (or ma capitaine if the officer is female).


But you might hear someone use this term who is not a member of the armed forces at all - that is because some use ‘mon capitaine’ to simply mean ‘boss’ or ‘sir’. 

For example, if a supervisor were to give an order, the worker could respond ‘Oui, mon capitaine’ (Yes sir). 

In French, adding ‘mon’ (my) usually adds a level of warmth or endearment to a word. For instance, a man might use the expression ‘mon grand’  (similar to ‘my guy’ or ‘my dude’) when speaking to one of his friends - but mon capitaine is an exception.   

Another way to say ‘yes sir’ in French is oui chef, which translates as ‘yes boss’. (In French 'chef' means chief or boss, if you want to refer to a professional cook, you say chef de cuisine or literally 'boss of the kitchen').

Use it like this

J'ai demandé aux hommes de faire 50 pompes et ils ont tous répondu "oui, mon capitaine". – I told the men to do 50 pushups and they all responded ‘yes sir’. 

L'entreprise a connu une période passionnante et lorsque mon patron m'a demandé de travailler plus tard, cela ne m'a pas dérangé. J'ai simplement dit "oui, mon capitaine”. – It has been an exciting period at the company, so when my boss asked me to work late I was not bothered. I just said ‘yes, boss’.


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T 2023/09/13 13:25
The pronunciation guide is wrong again: the last syllable is more like "ehn" because the final E changes the sound of the preceding vowel.

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