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French phrase of the Day: Couteau suisse

Not all of these will fit in your rucksack.

French phrase of the Day: Couteau suisse
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know couteau suisse?

Because it’s an interesting way to describe a person, and a metaphor that the French media seem to be becoming increasingly fond of. 

What does it mean?

couteau suisse is a Swiss army knife – that handy multi-purpose tool you might take on a hiking trip.

Quite logically, you can use couteau suisse as a metaphor to describe people who are particularly adaptable and skilled across the board. It’s the opposite of the English expression ‘one-trick pony’: someone who is a couteau suisse is a real all-rounder. 

It’s important to note, however, that the expression can have both positive and negative connotations. Government appointments, for example, may be criticised for favouring the same adaptable individuals rather than seeking real specialists. In this case, a post occupied by a couteau suisse might – to take the metaphor further – be better served by a more refined or more precisely-targeted tool.

Although the expression is masculine, it can apply to any gender. There’s absolutely no problem with saying elle est un couteau suisse to talk about a versatile woman, for example.

Use it like this

Il est un véritable couteau suisse – He’s a real all-rounder.

Ses qualités de « couteau-suisse » lui ont permis de réussir – His versatile qualities enabled him to succeed.


polyvalent – versatile

aux multiples talents – multi-talented

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For members


French Word of the Day: T’inquiète

This is a good example of something you won't find in your French textbook, but will nonetheless hear all the time in France.

French Word of the Day: T’inquiète

Why do I need to know t’inquiète?

Because you might be wondering why people keep telling you to worry all the time.

What does it mean?

T’inquiète – usually pronounced tan-kee-ett – literally means ‘you worry’ but in actuality it means ‘don’t worry.’

It’s a good example of the difference between spoken and written French.

It is the ‘tu’ conjugation of the verb ‘S’inquieter’ which means to worry.

The command “don’t worry,” which is reflexive in French, should actually be written as “ne t’inquiète pas” (do not worry yourself).

But in colloquial speech this is often shortened it to t’inquiète pas or simply t’inquiète.

It’s one of many examples where the ne of the ne . . pas negative form disappears in spoken French. 

This is in the ‘tu’ form, meaning it is informal, it’s not rude but you might not want to tell your boss to t’inquiete.

Use it like this

Vous vous en sortirez bien à l’examen de langue, votre français est excellent. T’inquiète. – You will do fine on the language exam, your French is great. Don’t worry.

Non, non, t’inquiète ! Tout le monde a adoré ton idée. – No, no don’t worry! Everyone loved your idea.


If you want the more formal version of telling someone not to worry it’s Ne vous inquiétez pas

If you want a ‘no problem/don’t worry about it’ type response, especially if someone has apologised for something, you could say Ce n’est pas grave (it’s not serious)

While you can also use Pas de soucis to say ‘no worries’, although that is slightly controversial and more often used by younger people.