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French Expression of the Day: Devoir une fière chandelle

The Local France
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French Expression of the Day: Devoir une fière chandelle
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

This French expression is handy for expressing gratitude.

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Why do I need to know devoir une fière chandelle?

Because if someone saves you from a tricky situation, you could use this expression.

What does it mean?

Devoir une fière chandelle - roughly pronounced deh-vwar oon fee-air shan-dell - might translate precisely as ‘to owe a proud candle’. These days no one is actually talking about candles, and definitely not the scented kind you would find in someone’s living room (that would be a bougie).

The expression really means ‘to owe someone a debt of gratitude’. It’s a way to express thankfulness, especially if someone does an important favour for you.

The expression has been used in France for quite some time, and its usage is more common among older people than young folks. It originally comes from France’s Catholic tradition.

Historically, it was common for French people to say that they owe God ‘une fière chandelle’ after escaping from a dangerous situation or having a prayer answered, they would go to church and light a candle in gratitude. 

Over time, it went on to generally describe feeling thankful or indebted to someone for having helped you. 

As for the ‘proud’ (fière) part, it does not have to do with the candle being egotistical. Instead, fière refers to the size of the candle, so a larger candle would be fière - to show the size of one’s gratitude toward God.

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Use it like this

Il me doit une fière chandelle pour l'avoir aidé à déménager. - He really owes me for having helped him move house.

J'ai failli me faire renverser par une voiture, mais la femme à côté de moi m'a ramené en arrière, je lui dois une fière chandelle. - I almost got hit by a car, but the woman next to me pulled me back, I owe her a debt of gratitude.

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