French idioms in your conversation
When learning to speak French, one of the greatest pleasures is to hear a new idiomatic expression and suddenly realize that you understand it perfectly. In fact, one actually happens is that you have probably heard it many times before but never really understood what it meant. Now you start to hear it everywhere. And the next step, of course, is to make that new expression part of your own French conversation repertoire.
In this post, I want to draw your attention to two common idioms that you most likely have heard many times.
The summer 2012 Olympic games London got under way on July 27 and are in full swing as I write this post. (Note that in French “les jeux olympiques d’été 2012 à Londres” requires the liaison jeux-z-olympiques. Note also that the year is said “deux mille douze” and not “vingt douze” as we tend to do in English.)
On the day of the opening ceremonies, I must have heard the following phrase at least ten times on the radio:
Ça y est. C’est parti !
These two short sentences are the epitome of what spoken French is like. Short punchy phrases. Simple grammatical structure. Commonly used and highly idiomatic. And difficult to translate.
Let’s first look at a literal translation:
Ça y est. C’est parti !
It there is. It is gone.
The translation is nearly meaningless and illustrates how idiomatic these phrases are. A more meaningful translation would be something like
“This is it. We’re off.”
The idiom “ça y est”
Interestingly enough, this very common idiom can be used in two opposing ways. It can indicate the start of something, as in, “Ça y est. Je pars en vacances ce soir” This is it. I’m leaving on vacation this evening.
It can also mean the end of a process. Here it is often teamed with “voilà,” At the end of a run of performances, a performer could say:
Voilà, ça y est. (Finally, it’s over)
At the end of a meal in a restaurant, the server may wish to remove the dishes. She might ask:
Ça y est ? Est-ce que je peux débarrasser ? (Are you done? Can I take the dishes away?)
Basically, “ça y est” can be used in any sort of situation where a process comes to a stop or starts.
A parent who has finally been able to put the children to sleep could say:
Enfin, ça y est. Ils sont en train de dormir. (Finally, I got them to sleep.)
Let’s take this idiom apart although in theory an idionmcannot be dissected. In “ça y est,” the “ça” is an abbreviation of “cela” and here means “it.” I should point out that “ça’ is extremely common in the spoken language and should be studied.
The “y” would usually be used as a pronoun to refer to a place that has already been mentioned. But that is not the case here. The “y” is just part of the idiom and fits in between “ça” and “est.”
The past forms “ça y a été” and “ça y était” can be heard but the future form “ça y sera” is very rare.
The idiom “c’est parti”
One could argue that this is not really an idiom because it can be decomposed into “c’est” or “ça and the third person present tense of “ëtre” and the past participle “parti” from the verb “partir” (to leave.)
I like to call it an idiom because this is a fixed form that is only used in this tense and very often with “ça y est.”
It means something like, “we’re off” or “let’s go.” Here are some examples:
Tout le monde est prêt ? Prêts pas prêts, on y va. C’est parti. (Everybody ready? Ready or not, off we go. Let’s go.)
Courage. Ne vous inquiétez pas. Tout ira bien. Voilà, c’est parti. (Be brave, Don’t worry. Everything will work out. There you go. Off you go.)
There is also a form that is used for the fun sounds:
C’est parti, mon kiki (We’re off to the races, buddy)
This structure of “c’est” + past participle is widespread in the spoken language. Here are some common forms:
c’est fait (it’s done)
c’est fini (it’s finished)
c’est terminé (it’s over)
c’est donné (it’s a gift)
c’est pris (it’s stuck)
c’est oublié (it’s forgotten)
c’est dit (it’s said)
c’est vendu (it’s sold)
Here are some examples of these forms:
C’est fini, les desserts. Je suis maintenant au régime. (No more desserts. I’m on a diet as of now.)
Vraiment, à ce prix, c’est donné. (Really, at that price, it’s nearly free.)
La maison, c’est vendu. On n’en parle plus. (The house is sold. I don’t want to talk about it any more.)
Notice in the last example that “vendu” agrees with the masculine gender of “c” of “c’est” and not with “la maison.”
These forms can be combined with “ça y est” to create add more punch to the sentence. The meaning will depend heavily on the context. Here are some examples.
Bon, ça y est. C’est parti, mon kiki. On ne peut plus revenir en arrière. (OK, this is it. It’s a go. There’s no turning back.)
Bien, allons-y. Les jeux sont faits. C’est parti. (OK, let’s go for it. The die is cast. Away we go)
Ça y est. C’est terminé pour la saison. (This is it. It’s a wrap.)
Putting it all together
“Ça y est” and “c’est parti” are two wonderful French idioms that you should be able to use every day. As with all new forms, they should be used intensively for a few days until they become part of your French conversation skills.
For “ça y est,” you should have no problem finding at least a dozen uses daily. At the end of a meal, a meeting, doing the dishes, any kind of activity, just say “ça y est” and it will fit right in.
Then try to work “c’est parti” or one of the other forms in. Even if you don’t use it yourself, you will certainly hear it a lot. They are great additions to your speaking vocabulary and will go a long way to making your French conversation flow and sound very fluent.