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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 Word of the Day: Hélas

This French word can be found in old novels, and your friend's dramatic recounting of their most recent administrative hurdle.

French Word of the Day: Hélas

Why do I need to know hélas?

Because despite being quite old-fashioned, you might hear someone slip this word into the middle of their sentence.

What does it mean?

Hélas roughly pronounced ay-lass is an interjection that you are likely to see if you are reading a French novel, or hear, if someone is telling a particularly dramatic story.

Hélas is used in a manner very similar to the English term ‘alas’ – as an interjection in the middle of a sentence or thought, though typically before describing something unfortunate or upsetting. In fact, the English term likely arose from the French one during the Middle Ages.

A French synonym might be malheureusement (unfortunately). 

It’s common in novels, especially historic ones, while in spoken French, you might hear it more sarcastically, as it is a bit old-fashioned. If your friend is feeling a bit theatrical in their storytelling, then they might pop hélas in for dramatic effect. 

Use it like this

J’ai fait le tour à la recherche d’un parking pendant une heure et, hélas, juste au moment où j’ai trouvé ma place, quelqu’un d’autre l’a prise. – I drove around in the parking lot for an hour, and alas, just when I found a spot, someone else took it.

L’écrivain du début du XXe siècle a écrit plus de 20 chefs-d’œuvre, mais hélas, il n’a jamais été reconnu de son vivant. – The early 20th century writer wrote over 20 masterpieces, but alas, he was never recognised in his lifetime.