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French Expression of the Day: En fait

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French Expression of the Day: En fait
File image: Depositphotos
11:24 CEST+02:00
En fait, you probably hear this expression all the time if you live in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. But how do you use it?
Why do I need to know en fait?
 
This is one of those expressions that will help your French to sound more natural and fluid, as well as adding a little bit of rhetorical flair to your arguments.
 
What does it mean?
 
En fait (‘ɑ̃ fɛt’ - the ‘t’ in fait is always pronounced) can be translated literally as ‘in fact’, though it can also mean ‘actually’ or ‘in reality’.
 
For example, Il devient tard. En fait, je crains qu’il soit trop tard pour rien changer, means ‘It’s getting late. In fact, I’m afraid that it’s too late to change anything.’
 
The expression en fait is most frequently used to contradict a previously made statement or assumption and set the record straight, as in the following example: 
 
J’avais pensé qu’il serait là ce soir, mais en fait il travaille demain. - ‘I thought he was going to be there this evening, but he’s actually working tomorrow.’
 
Or Est-ce que ça veut dire que tu ne viens pas ? - En fait, si, je viens.
‘Does that mean that you’re not coming? - Actually, yes, I am coming.’
 
And, in the case of a common misperception,
 
Tout le monde pense qu’elle est antipathique. En fait, elle est simplement timide.
‘Everybody thinks she’s unfriendly. In reality, she’s just shy.’
 
Not to be confused with…
 
...en effet or au fait. These expressions sound similar to en fait, but have different meanings.
 
En effet is used solely to confirm a previous supposition (whereas en fait implies a contradiction), a function often carried out by the English word ‘indeed’. As in, Il n’est pas trop tard, alors ? - En effet, vous arrivez juste à temps. ‘It’s not too late, then? Indeed, you’ve arrived just in time.’ 
 
And au fait actually is used like ‘by the way’, as in, Au fait, peux-tu acheter du lait quand tu passeras par le supermarché, s’il te plaît ? - ‘By the way, can you please buy some milk when you stop by the supermarket?’
 
Master the difference between the three expressions, and your French will become even more natural and nuanced. 
 

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