Useful French Idioms – How To Use “quitte à”

The hallmark of really proficient spoken French is the accurate use of idiomatic expressions and constructions. This is often what we mean by thinking directly in French as opposed to translating from our native language.

I’m sure many readers here are familiar with the basic French idioms like expresssions with avoir: avoir faim (to be hungry), avoir soif (to be thirsty) or elle a quinze ans (she is 15 years old). Or expressions with faire: quel temps fait-il ? (what is the weather like?), faire attention (pay attention), faire l’idiot (act the fool), etc..

But how about  something more sophisticated?  In a series of posts, I would like to introduce some  useful expressions and constructions that are widely used by native speakers but less so by non-natives because they can be a bit tricky. If you ever want to impress with your knowledge of French, this will be up your alley.

One of my favourite expressions is quitte à as used in:

Je veux absolument avoir ce tableau, quitte à payer le double du prix demandé.
I really want to get this painting, even if it means paying double the asking price.

Quitte à me répéter, je tiens à dire que ceci est une occasion en or.
At the risk of repeating myself, I want to say that this is a golden opportunity.

I love how quitte à is such a compact and concise way of introducing a secondary idea in a sentence. Here are some more examples:

Nous allons examiner toutes les propositions, quitte à repousser la date butoir.
We are going to review all the proposals, and maybe even change the deadline if necessary.

Il dit tout haut ce qu’il pense, quitte à froisser des sensibilités.
He says out loud what he thinks, at the risk of ruffling some feathers.

As we see, quitte à translates into:  even though it means, and then, even at the risk of, even if it entails, thereby, though it may mean, maybe.

In the following example, notice how quitte à is a simple way of avoiding an si (if) construction in French.

Quitte à travailler fort, j’aime autant avoir du plaisir et faire de l’argent.
If I have to work hard, I like to enjoy what I do and make money.

Now that you know how quitte à works, you will certainly hear it if you listen to a lot of French, especially at a more sophisticated level.  The next step is to use it. Copy or make up some examples and make a point of using them every day until you feel comfortable using quitte à spontaneously.

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