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French Expression of the Day: Entre guillemets

It might sound like someone giving you directions, but in fact in-between guillemets is not a place.

French Expression of the Day: Entre guillemets
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know Entre guillemets?

Because you might want to quote someone while speaking French at some point.

What does it mean?

Entre guillemets – pronounced ahn-truh ghee-may – literally means ‘in or between quotation marks,’ because the word ‘guillemet’ in French refers to this punctuation symbol ” known in English as the quotation mark.

It is used in the same way the English word “allegedly” or “quote, unquote” might be, as it is meant to assign a part of your oral sentence to someone else. You might also use this interchangeably with the English term “so-called” to shed some doubt on a situation or to distance yourself from a quote that is not your own.

You probably will not see the phrase entre guillemets written, as it is almost exclusively used for spoken language.

In the sense that entre guillemets, depending on the context, could be used to express doubt or distance the speaker from the next phrase, you might hear someone use this expression to subtly express disagreement.

If you’re still a bit lost for when to use this expression, just think about when you feel tempted to add air quotes to something you want to say, and then go from there.

Use it like this

Oui, “on a le droit à un compte bancaire,” entre guillemets, mais il est en fait très difficile d’obtenir qu’une banque vous accepte en tant qu’Américain en France. – Yes, we have ‘the right to a bank account’ allegedly, but in reality it is quite difficult to get a bank to accept you as an American in France. 

Il est, entre guillemets, “interdit de se baigner dans le canal,” mais les gens le font assez souvent. –  It is allegedly forbidden ‘to swim in the canal,’ but people do it often.

You can find a full explanation of French punctuation terms here.

Member comments

  1. I thought that guillemets referred to the punctuation symbols «quote» not “quote” or ‘quote’.

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For members


French Expression of the Day: À la traîne

Procrastinators might be used to this expression.

French Expression of the Day: À la traîne

Why do I need to know à la traîne ?

Because you probably would prefer to be the opposite of this expression

What does it mean?

À la traîne – roughly pronounced ah lah trahynn – is actually nothing to do with trains.

It means to “lag behind” or to be “at the end” or “at the bottom of the class”. 

It is the opposite of the expression “en avance” which is used to describe the person or group ‘in the front’ or ‘at the top.’

The expression is likely derived from the verb ‘traîner’ in French means ‘to drag’ – usually used when a physical item is trailing behind.

You might see French media make use of this phrase when discussing a topic or theme that has been on the back-burner or less of a priority, as it is often ‘lagging behind’ other items.

Not to be confused with

This sounds similar to the phrase “en train de,” which has a totally different meaning – it means “in the process of” or “in the course of”.

Use it like this

Elle était à la traîne par rapport au reste de la classe dans l’apprentissage de la table de multiplication. – She is lagging behind the rest of the class in learning the multiplication table.

L’article explique que les salaires des enseignants sont toujours à la traîne par rapport à ceux des autres professions, notamment en ce qui concerne les augmentations de salaire. – The article explains that teachers’ salaries are always trailing behind those of other professions, particularly concerning pay raises.