Unlocking French language: quand the French use quand même

Katerina Forrester - Speak like a local: quand the French use quand même - My French Life - Ma Vie Francaise - www.myfrenchlife.org.jpg

Quand même. Quand même… Quand même!

It’s a phrase that stops a nation, or more so, a young girl at the ripe age of 16 on her first trip to France.  This common French expression would continue to stump me for years to come, and I’m ashamed to add that the first time I heard this phrase, I transcribed it as ‘comme même’

However, I shouldn’t be disheartened by my cultural linguistic naivety.  This typical French expression, quand même, may be easily translated into English, but the translation changes drastically depending upon the context!

So let’s identify and explore quand même on the dissecting table…through hypothetical situations.

6 ways to use ‘quand même

1. You’re out buying clothes and see a silk top that you just have to have. Unfortunately, it’s not in your size on the rack, so you ask the shop assistant for help who disappears out the back to check. She returns, only to tell you the bad news that they’re out of your size, so you say…

“Merci quand même” – Thanks anyhow.

8386266452_1816157f742. It’s been a long and hard day at work.  You trudge home on the train and slouch straight on the couch.  You’re absolutely exhausted!  Only problem, it’s nearly dinner time and you have to cook for the kids, so…

Tu le fais quand même – You do it anyway/nevertheless.

3. Your best friend from France is complaining about the distance from London to Paris, and you reply…

“C’est quand même pas si loin!” – It’s really not that far!

4. Your mother is struggling with modern-day technology again. She’s trying to type an email, but can’t access the internet.  Actually, she can’t even turn on the computer, so you get a call…

“Mais, quand même! Maman!” – Really!


5. You line up to view the chapel that all your friends told you to see in Paris, Sainte-Chapelle. An hour passes shuffling in line and you finally enter the bottom chamber. It’s nice but nothing fancy.

You and your partner eventually make the climb up the winding, narrow staircase which suddenly reveals a room of never ending stained glass. You turn to your partner and say…

“C’est quand même impressionnant!” – That’s really amazing/ stunning!

6. You meet your friend’s son after so many years, and he’s really grown up… and up!

“Il est grand, quand même” – He’s tall isn’t he?  (Rhetorical)

You’re on the way to French fluency!

The above sentences are not the only examples of this fine expression, given that it goes far beyond just words, and seems to be affected by other qualities such as prosody.

I feel that quand même is one of those expressions, that when mastered, you’re really on the way to speaking fluent French.

What are your quand même experiences?

Image credits:
1. Gribouilleendlire via blogspot
2. Healthy Professor via timesunion.
3. Sainte Chappelle, by randihausken on Flickr

About the Contributor

Katerina Forrester

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  1. Rosemary Kneipp Feb 5, 2013 at 12:07 AM - Reply

    Excellent. I’m a translator and I sometimes have to educate my clients about the fact that the same expression is not always translated in the same way. When I first moved to France, I loved using local expressions and unconsciously adopted “ouais” for “oui”. You should have heard the laughter in the Town Hall when I answered “ouais” at my wedding! I’ve steered clear of it since …

    Another interpretation of “quand même” is when it’s done with a shrug of the shoulders “You gotta be kidding”.

  2. Katerina Forrester Feb 5, 2013 at 6:18 PM - Reply

    Thank you for your comment Rosemary. I love your story. Only yesterday I was explaining to a student when it’s appropriate to use ‘ouais’ instead of ‘oui’. What a beautiful example!

  3. francois roland Feb 5, 2013 at 11:54 PM - Reply

    Hi Katerina,

    It’s not for the pleasure to upset you but you know what? You forgot one of the most French of all! 🙂
    So oki let me give it to you with context and translation 🙂
    You where given an appointement by your bf in front of a cinema where you’re supposed to see a film together. The film will soon begin and he’s not here yet. And when he finally arrives, making you miss the 5 first mn of the film, you say: “Ah! Quand même!” We say that all the time and it means “It was about time!” 🙂

  4. Judy MacMahon May 15, 2013 at 2:09 PM - Reply

    Katarina, I love articles like yours which help us non-native French speakers understand daily usage. More please… After reading your article all I hear people say these days is, Quand même !

    • Katerina Forrester May 15, 2013 at 7:49 PM - Reply

      Judy, it is such a pleasure to receive such nice words from yourself. I must thank you for creating such a wonderful francophile/francophone community which gives us all the opportunity to communicate and explore ideas together. I am thoroughly enjoying the experience of writing for My French Life, and it has introduced me to a new world!

  5. Alex Mealey Jun 3, 2013 at 9:15 PM - Reply

    Thanks Katerina! I never felt I understood what ‘quand meme’ meant becuase it always seemed to be used in different ways. Now I understand why i didn’t understand! And now I also know how to use it 🙂

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