The phrase c’est la vie is one of the most popular in the French language and perhaps the most widely used French expression in the world. It means “that’s life” and is used to express resignation to certain events that occur in life.
About the French language
French is one of the Romance languages that stem from spoken Latin, just like Italian and Spanish. It is the official language of France and other European countries, including Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Monaco and Canada. It is also spoken in several African countries such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and the Ivory Coast, while in the Americas and the Caribbean it is spoken in the French overseas territories of Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guyana, as well as in Haiti, among others.
Currently, an estimated 300 million people speak French, making it the ninth language in terms of the number of native speakers, and the fifth most widely spoken in the world.
In addition, French is the second official language, after English, in the European Union, the United Nations and other international organizations.
Meaning of the expression c’est la vie
As mentioned above, the meaning of the French expression c’est la vie , is “such is life”. It is formed by c’est : which in turn is a contraction of ce and est . Ce is a pronoun that indicates something that is not determined and in Spanish it can be translated as “that”. The closest correlation is the English pronoun it .
Attached to c’ is the verb est , which is the conjugated form, according to the third person singular, of the verb être , which means to be. Later, the phrase includes the feminine article la , whose meaning is the same as the article la in Spanish. Finally, the expression includes the noun vie , which means “life”. This expression is pronounced something like: ce-la-ví, and it is a phrase that is used quite frequently in Spanish and English-speaking countries.
C’est la vie refers to something that cannot be changed, and therefore must be accepted as it is and move on. Somehow, it is a fatalistic phrase that shows resignation, justification or acceptance of what happens; it is usually followed by something bad or with negative connotations.
Depending on the context, you can also emphasize something or a particular feature, making use of the c’est word introduction or presentation function . For example, to introduce yourself when talking on the phone: C’est Marie . / “Is Maria”. This can be clearly seen in the following example: L’eau, c’est la vie . / Whose literal translation would be “water is life” but in Spanish it would be correctly translated as “water is life”.
When is the expression c’est la vie used?
In France, the phrase c’est la vie is used as a fatalistic expression in situations where there is nothing left to do. C’est la vie is also used to comfort someone or express resignation when something bad happens. It is often said using different tones of voice, shrugging the shoulders or adopting other body language expressions such as raising the eyebrows, showing the palms of the hands or pursing the lips.
You can use the phrase alone: c’est la vie ! or also use it as a complement to other phrases. For example:
- Je sais que c’est épuisant, mais c’est la vie. / “I know it’s exhausting, but that’s life.”
- C’est frustrating, mais c’est la vie. / “It’s frustrating, but that’s life.”
- C’est la vie, mon pauvre vieux! / That’s life, dude!
- Alors il n’y a rien à faire. C’est la vie! / “There’s nothing to do then. This is life!”
- C’est la vie, c’est joyeux et parfois triste. / “That’s life, sometimes it’s happy and sometimes sad.”
- Bref, c’est la vie! / “Ultimately, that’s life!”
In other contexts, c’est la vie can be used non-fatalistically to talk about something that is essential to life or different lifestyles. For example:
- C’est la vie des nomades . / “It is the life of nomads”.
- C’est la vie sans responsabilités qui me manque . / What I miss is life without responsibilities”.
- Être actif sur les réseaux sociaux c’est la vie des nouvelles générations. / “Being active on social networks is the life of the new generations”.
- C’est la vie de château . / Literally, it means “It is the life of the palace”. It translates as “This is the good life” and refers to a luxurious life.
Other similar expressions
In addition to the expressions mentioned, there are many more phrases similar to c’est la vie . These include:
- C’est la belle vie! / “Life is beautiful!”
- Life is hard! / “Life is hard!”
- I saw her in rose. / “Life seen from a positive perspective”, an expression that is commonly associated with the Édith Piaf song of the same name.
- C’est la guerre. / “This is war.”
- C’est l’amour. / “That is the love”.
In addition to its meaning and usage, there are other interesting facts about c’est la vie :
- Although c’est la vie belongs to the French language, it is actually used more in English-speaking and Spanish-speaking countries.
- This expression became popular in 2012 when the Algerian singer Cheb Khaled released his song “ C’est la vie ” with verses in French and Arabic.
- The American singer Marc Anthony contributed to further popularize this phrase from 2013, when he covered the song ” C’est la vie ” in Spanish with the title “Vivir mi vida”.
- Schmidt, D.; Williams, M.; Wenzel, D. French Phrases for Dummies. (2017). Spain. For dummies.
- Anaya Touring. French for traveling (2016). Spain. Anaya Touring.
- Espasa Calpe. Easy French: The easiest and most effective course to learn French at your own pace. (2019). Spain. Planet.