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French phrase of the day: N’empêche

Another one of those French phrases which seem to be missing a few words.

French phrase of the day: N’empêche
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know n’empêche?

It can be hard to wrap your head around the grammar in this phrase, but it’s worth the effort, because it’s a succinct way of hinting at a contrast.

What does it mean?

N’empêche is a shortened version of the phrase il n’empêche que, which means “nevertheless”, or “be that as it may”.

Even the longer phrase can be confusing for French learners since it’s missing the word pas, which usually signals a negative construction, but an easier way of spelling it out would be Cela n’empêche pas que…, meaning literally, “This doesn’t prevent that…”

N’empêche is a staple of spoken French, although it’s rather informal so you won’t often see it written down.

It’s most often used at the beginning of a sentence – in a similar way to “still” or “yet” – to introduce a phrase which slightly contradicts what has come before. It means you have taken everything into consideration, but this one thing you’re about to say remains true.

Sometimes you might hear somebody begin a sentence by saying, “N’empêche que…”, while other times the que is omitted as well.

So while it may sound like a floating verb, you have to imagine the words which aren’t there in order to grasp its meaning.

Use it like this

N’empêche, ça aurait été bien de la revoir – Still, it would have been nice to see her again

N’empêche, cette victoire est bien méritée – That being said, this victory is well-deserved

N’empêche que j’aurais bien aimé qu’il me le dise plus tôt – Regardless, I would have liked it if he had told me sooner


Néanmoins – nevertheless

Malgré tout – despite everything

Cela dit – that being said

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For members


French Expression of the Day: De bonne heure

Surprisingly, this French phrase does not mean ‘on time’.

French Expression of the Day:  De bonne heure

Why do I need to know de bonne heure?

Because someone might tell you to arrive at this time, and you’ll want to know what they mean.

What does it mean?

De bonne heure – usually pronounced “duh bohn urr” – literally translates to “the good hour,” which you might think would mean “to be on time.” However, in practice, the phrase actually means to be early or to be in advance. The most common French synonym of this phrase would simply be “tôt” which means early.

It can also be used to describe something that happens early in the morning or early in the day more generally. 

Interestingly enough, when the phrase started being used in the 14th century, it did mean to be on time, but its meaning shifted over time, the reason for which remains unclear. 

Up for a pun? Say this phrase three times fast to feel happy (if you didn’t get the joke, it’s because bonne heure sounds like bonheur, French for happiness).

Use it like this

Nous avons commencé la réunion de bonne heure, vers 7h30, avant l’ouverture des marchés boursiers. – We started the meeting early, around 7:30am, before the markets opened.

Je n’avais même pas encore commencé à cuisiner quand il est arrivé de bonne heure. Je n’étais pas préparée à le recevoir. – I hadn’t even started cooking when he arrived early. I wasn’t ready to have him over.