- August 25, 2020
- Classic Mistakes, French Conversation, French Culture, French Lifestyle, Insider Tips for Francophiles, , Speaking French,
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The translation of “Let’s” is a big and common mistake in French. And while it’s okay to make mistakes, because it means you’re trying, I’m here to help you get better at speaking and understanding everyday French — bit by bit. So, today, we’ll look at the right way to say “let’s” in French.
You might know to use the imperative tense. You might also know that “Let” in French is “Laisser.” So, when you put those two pieces of information together, “Let’s” should be something like “Laissons”… right?
Well, no, sorry. It’s a common mistake!
Today, we’ll learn the real rules for using “Let’s” in French, and some important exceptions you should be aware of. Spoiler: it’s not always the imperative 🙂
Bonjour I’m Géraldine, your French teacher.
Welcome to Comme une Française.
Today, like every Tuesday, I’ll help you get better at speaking and understanding everyday French.
C’est parti !
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1) “Let’s” in French: The imperative for “We”
Let’s in English → gives an order or a suggestion for “we” or “us.”
For example: “Let’s dance!”
In English grammar, we use the imperative to make commands, requests and suggestions — so, when we say “let’s” we’re actually using the imperative mood for the first person plural (“we”) and the verb after it (“dance.”)
In French, it’s quite similar: you can translate your suggestion or request using the imperative for “nous” (the French equivalent of “we”) for the verb in question. It uses the same conjugation as the present, but without the pronoun!
Learn more the French imperative tense in this lesson: L’impératif – Give Orders and Advice with the French Imperative
As you can see, we DON’T need to translate the “Let’s” part of the verb in French: we actually don’t use “Laissons” for the imperative with “Nous”. Instead, we conjugate the more important action verb.
Now, it’s not a bad mistake. You’re only trying to apply what you already know to a new situation. It’s a great mindset to have!
If you did say “Laissons”, many French people would understand what you mean anyway. It’s OK to make mistakes… and it’s better than not trying anything ever. But, I want to help you make better and more interesting mistakes! 😉
So that’s it. That’s the rule! …But of course there are exceptions. This is French grammar, after all.
2) Exceptions: Verbs
The first exception to the rule is, of course, if you do want to say “Laissons.”
It’s the imperative for “to let / to leave (something or someone).”
If you want to use “Leave” on its own (as in, “leaving a place”) you can use the verb partir, or better yet: s’en aller.
Three irregular verbs have an irregular imperative with “Nous.” They are:
3) “Let’s not” : negative imperative (with expressions)
“Let’s not…” is the imperative in the negative.
In French, we add “ne… pas” around a verb to turn it to the negative.
Dansons ! → Ne dansons pas !
Let’s dance! → Let’s not dance!
To make it more informal, you can:
Drop the “ne” → Dansons pas.
Use “Évitons de…” (= Let’s avoid…) → Évitons de danser. (= Let’s avoid dancing / Let’s not dance.)
But these alternatives still use “Nous,” which can’t help being formal.
If you want to be less formal, you can also use a roundabout expression, the informal “On” (which, sadly, doesn’t have an imperative), or even the informal “Tu.”
Pas la peine de danser. = It’s not worth it to dance.
Danse pas. = Don’t dance.
Et si on dansait ? = What if we danced?
Allez, on danse. = Come on, let’s dance.
→ “On” + verb in the present is a good, general way to translate an informal “Let’s”
4) “Let’s go” : French expressions
For “Let’s go!” specifically, in French you can use:
- Allons-y !
- On y va !
- C’est parti !
It’s a good way to cheer someone on or encourage your group. These three expressions can also generally be used for “Let’s do it!”
5) “Let’s” on its own, in French: “Oui!”
Finally, sometimes “Let’s” on its own is an answer. For example:
– We could go dancing.
For that situation, you can use the French:
- Oui, super !
- Bonne idée ! (= Good idea!)
- Ça marche ! (= It’s working / Works for me / I agree with that plan!)
- Faisons comme ça ! (= Let’s do it this way then!)
- A previous expression for “Let’s go.”
– Et si on allait dîner ?
– Oui, super !
– What if we had dinner?
Your turn now:
Can you come up with an English sentence that uses “Let’s…”, and a possible French translation? Write it down in the comments!
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Allez, salut 🙂
Join the conversation!
oh, c’est vraiment super.
C’est coool merci pour votre support !
Lets not fight about it! Disputons pas? ou se disputons pas? ou evitons pas disputer?
It would be:
Ne nous disputons pas ! (= Let’s not fight!) (a bit formal)
Évitons de nous disputer ! (= Let’s avoid fighting!)
On va pas se disputer là-dessus ! (= “We won’t fight about it” literally – a more ‘everyday French’ formulation)
“Disputer” is pronominal so you need to add a pronoun that relate to the subject (“nous” as a complement pronoun) BUT you still take out the “nous” subject –> So there’s only one “nous” + “ne… pas”.
en matière de goût, il n’y a pas à discuter
Bonjour Madame Géraldine et merci beaucoup pour le leçon ! As always, another excellent and very useful lesson. 😊 May I please ask how you would say in French, “Let’s agree to disagree” please? As in, (we’re not going to see eye to eye on this matter so) “let’s agree to disagree.” Merci beaucoup Madame et bonne journée ! 😊
Short answer : “On peut en rester là, alors.”
There’s no real direct, common translation for the expression…
(Maybe because French people just love debates and don’t like to close them peacefully? Maybe because debates naturally end with “Santé !” [= cheers!] and a glass of wine? But I’m just riffing here.)
A direct, grammatically correct translation would be “Disons que l’on est pas d’accord” (= Let’s say we disagree) or “Acceptons notre désaccord (à ce sujet)” (= Let’s accept that we disagree (on this topic)) but they’re quite formal and don’t really roll off the tongue.
A more colloquial expression would be “Chacun son truc” (= to each its own), with the colloquial “truc” (= thingy). It sounds much more natural; but it’s more about “let’s agree we like different thing” rather than “let’s agree we have different beliefs about the world.”
Finally, you could also use “Restons-en là” (= “Let’s stay here” = Let’s not dive further into discussion here, it wouldn’t be worth it). It’s correct and it doesn’t sound clunky!
But the “nous” imperative, to be honest, is a little bit formal, so you can use “On + futur proche” instead. Variations on the expression (all sound like real everyday French with friends) :
“On va en rester là.” = “We’ll close the topic here.”
“On va en rester là, alors.” = “We’ll close the topic here, then.”
“Bon, on peut en rester là.” = “OK, so, we can close the topic.”
“Bon, parlons d’autre chose.” = “OK, well, let’s speak about something else / let’s change the conversation.”
“On peut parler d’autre chose ?” = “Can we change topic?”
Have a great day,
– Arthur, writer for Comme une Française
we love Geraldine
We listen to you every week with pleasure, and learning all the time.THANKS
Merci Géraldine c’est très utile
In casual English we use “lets” but in fact it is “let’s” and the apostrophe indicates that a letter has been lost, in this case a “u” so really it is, “let us” – this is important, because in French “us” (which indicates a group of people including myself) = “nous” in French and hence this is the reason that we must use the “nous” form of the verb – so as Geraldine says “Let’s dance” = (drop the let) “us dance” (or in better English “we dance”) = nous dansons then drop the “nous” in the imperative form so we have just “dansons”. So in summary, for a an expression like “Lets sing”, drop the let, use the “nous” form with the verb, so we get “chansons” (we sing -> let’s sing) ! Ce n’est pas difficile de comprendre, n’est pas ? The above is great but here “let” is followed by a verb (let’s dance), I suggest others also consider videos on let followed by a noun, the most obvious being from Star Wars, “Luke let the force (hence a noun) be with you” (which is French can also by “May the force be with you”) and how in French the verb after the noun is managed by the subjunctive rather than using the verb laisser (which is often better used as to “leave something behind” rather than let)
A great explanation Lloyd thanks
That’s exactly right, thank you for expanding on the topic 🙂
1 – “Let’s sing” would actually be “Chantons !” – as the verb is “chanter” (with a t.) But your reasoning is exactly correct.
“Une chanson / Des chansons” = Song(s)
2 – Yes, “Let + noun” is weird in French. We would use “Que + noun + subjunctive.” Kind of like “May the Force be with you” become “Que la Force soit avec toi” (“soit” = subjunctive for “être”). Or “Let the party begin!” = “Que la fête commence !”
EXCEPTION: When “Let + noun…” really does mean the imperative “Let,” as in “You have the power to [let]…” / “Please, [you specifically], let…” Example: “Let the sun shine in.” = “Laissez entrer le soleil” (implicit : “because you’re currently preventing it from shining in.”) // “Let my people go.” = “Laissez partir mon peuple” (implicit: “because you’re currently keeping them in.”)
(We could translate it to “Que le soleil entre.” or “Que mon peuple parte !” if you think the original sentence meant implicitely “We are ourselves preventing this.”)
BUT: anwyay, “Que + noun + subjunctive” is actually quite formal / old-fashioned. Maybe because we don’t really like to use the subjunctive. So we would find another roundabout way to express the same idea, but it depends on the context and situation.
…And that’s why we didn’t cover that case in the short video lesson. But thank you for reminding us of it!
Have a great day,
– Arthur, writer for Comme une Française
In Louisiana there are signs everywhere saying “Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler” and translating it as “Let the good times roll!” I understand Cajun French is a different dialect and it might be fine in it; but is this considered proper French? And if not, how should it be expressed?
Great question, and the answer can go deep.
Short answer: No, we wouldn’t say that in France.
(Very) long answer:
Cajun French is fascinating and wonderful, with a rich history and practice.
“Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler” would not be something we say in France, for several reasons.
0 – We don’t say “Le Bon Temps” often in French (from France), but we never say “Les Bons Temps”, so the singular version is a bit more “correct.”
1 – Good times don’t “roll” in French, here. We could say “se payer du bon temps” (= buying yourself some good time / getting some good time.) Or “Avoir du bon temps” (= having some good time) but it still a bit clunky.
2a – We don’t translate “Let + noun” with “Laissez” – EXCEPT when it’s a specific plea to someone. Like, “Let my people go” = “Laissez partir mon peuple.” (implicit: “…you’re the one preventing my people from going.”) That’s not really the meaning of “Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler,” which is more of an advice / cheering than a specific cry for help.
2b – For “Let + noun” as a wish, we use instead “Que + noun + subjunctive”.
Kind of like how “May the Force be with you” becomes “Que la Force soit avec toi” (“soit” is subjunctive for “être” = to be)
We would say “Que les bons temps roulent !” (the subjunctive for first group verbs like “rouler” is very close to the indicative, simple present), if we wanted to translate “Let the good times roll!” literally.
Like, “Let the party begin!” is “Que la fête commence !”
But to be honest, the “Que + noun + subjunctive” structure is becoming quite formal, as the subjunctive is falling out of fashion in everyday French. So we would try to use another way to express the idea.
3 – All in all, a more natural translation in France for “Let the good times roll!” would be “Amusez-vous bien !” (= Have fun!), which is poorer in tone, admittedly. So I can see why Cajun French wanted to take this anglicism for themselves. But maybe a better translator (or poet) than me could find a better “Parisian” French sentence for that joyful expression.
4 – Of course, the notion of “proper French” is a different discussion, but Cajun French is especially interesting.
a) Because it’s got these heavy influences from anglicisms historically – and Parisian French is itself rapidly transforming now under the influence of American culture, incorporating new anglicisms. Maybe in a few years, “Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler” will become an everyday sentence (or at least easier understood) in Paris.
b) Meanwhile, there’s an argument that Cajun French is actually closer to “original XVIIIth Century French” than modern Parisian French – they kept different traces of the original accent, while these differences got standardized away in modern French.
c) Finally, these points could probably be made about Canadian French, but Cajun is much less well-known in France – while everyone know about Québécois. From my limited experience, Cajun is also way harder to understand to a Parisian ear, than Québécois. So I’d enjoy seeing more discussion about Cajun French in France!
Have a great day,
– Arthur, script writer for Comme une Française
Thank you Geraldine. I also caught a little mistake of yours. You said “less mistakes”. It is, in fact, “fewer mistakes”. Less is used with quantity, such as “less water”. Few, fewer, fewest is used with things that can be counted. I am a teacher of English, you see… 🙂
Yes, but many many English speakers use ‘less’ these days, (sadly). One doesn’t often hear ‘fewer’ used, especially in casual conversation. So Géraldine’s error would probably go unnoticed by many, if not most, I think!
Simona. I agree with you 100 %. It grates on my ears when people use “less” instead of “fewer”. But, for better or worse, languages evolve and this seems to be just evolution of the English language. So you and I and many others, I suspect, will just have to get used to it.
I totally agree Simona – alas I am not an English teacher, but my mother was, and I could feel her turning in her grave as the phrase appeared! (The fact that some English speakers also make the same mistake, would be no excuse in her view!).
Wow! I am learning English here too! thanks!
Super! J’apprends l’anglais ici aussi! Merci!
I am also a pedant! Although this site is really about French we seem to have drifted into English grammar.The common mistake that really grates for me is ” I’m good” (not about behaviour but meaning, I think, I am well or I am happy.) , and the use of ” I” instead of “me” as in , for example “he gave it to you and I”
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