The Real Meaning Of C'est La Vie In French

  • Adrien Renault
    Written byAdrien Renault
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The Real Meaning Of C'est La Vie In French

While some people may get stressed in complex situations, others just use a French phrase like c’est la vie to accept what’s happening.

It’s a famous French phrase (thanks to movies and so on) that many people use, and you’ll hear it in many situations.

What does c’est la vie actually mean?

If you want to know the meaning of this phrase, read on for an accurate definition and usage examples.

What does c’est la vie mean?

When we translate it to English, c’est la vie means “that’s life”.

We can understand the phrase in more detail if we look at the individual words in the phrase c’est la vie.

C’est means “it is” or “this/that is”.

It combines the demonstrative adjective ce and the present tense verb est.

La is a definite feminine article that means “the”, and vie means “life”.

When we translate la vie to English, we don’t use the article, which is the case for French nouns when we speak about them in general.

It’s incorrect to translate c’est la vie as “that’s the life”, so ensure you omit the definite article when translating this saying.

Alternate, less literal translations are “such is life” or “that’s how life is”, which imply that we sometimes have no control over some events that happen in life.

How do you pronounce c’est la vie?

Since French is not a phonetic language, you may find it difficult to pronounce c’est la vie if you’re new to the language - here’s how you should pronounce this phrase:

  • Seh-lah-vee
  • s‿ɛ la vi (phonetic spelling)

When you say c’est la vie, remember that the st in c’est is silent and that you should pronounce the word la shortly and succinctly.

Is c’est la vie a negative phrase?

If you’ve heard people suggesting that c’est la vie is a negative phrase, this can be true in some circumstances.

Most people use c’est la vie when a negative event happens, and they cannot change it.

For example, if you fail to get a new job when you move to a new country, you might say:

Listen to audio

Je n’ai pas obtenu le poste. C’est la vie.

I didn't get the job. That's life.

Or if your car breaks down and you cannot get to work on time, you might say to yourself:

Listen to audio

Je serai en retard aujourd’hui. C’est la vie.

I will be late today. That's life.

In some situations, the phrase might seem empowering.

For instance, an older, wiser French speaker may try to make you feel better by telling you to accept things you cannot change and move on simply by saying c’est la vie.

Therefore, c’est la vie can be negative, but sometimes just an observational phrase (similar in tone to French proverbs) that helps you handle difficult situations.

What are some common synonyms of c’est la vie?

You have several other options or variations of c’est la vie.

Here are a few alternative phrases you can use if you want to increase your French vocabulary and vary your sentences:

English PhraseFrench PhraseExample Sentence
That’s the way it isC’est comme çaMalheureusement, c’est comme ça que ça fonctionne.
Unfortunately, this is how it works.
Come what mayAdvienne que pourraVous ne devez pas interférer, advienne que pourra.
You mustn’t interfere, come what may.
So be itAinsi soit-ilSi c’est comme ça, qu’il en soit ainsi.
If that’s how things are, so be it.
These are things that happenCe sont des choses qui arriventCes choses arrivent et nous devons l’accepter.
These things happen, and we have to accept them.
What do you wantQue veux-tuJe veux faire du sport et perdre du poids, mais que veux-tu. Mon mari est boulanger.
I want to exercise and lose weight, but what can you do? My husband is a baker
There’s nothing we can do about itOn n’y peut rienMa mère est malade. C’est triste mais on n’y peut rien.
My mum is ill. It’s sad, but there’s nothing we can do about it.
That’s how life goesAinsi va la vieElle vieillit. Mais ainsi va la vie.
She’s getting old. But that’s how life goes.
Life is like that / Life is lifeLa vie est ainsi faiteLa vie est ainsi faite. Nous ne pouvons pas faire grand-chose à propos de la situation.
Life is like that. We can’t do much about the situation.

Mistakes to avoid when writing c’est la vie

Since c’est la vie is popular among non-French-speaking countries, it’s unsurprising that many incorrect variations of this phrase exist.

If you want to write this phrase correctly, it’s worth avoiding a few of the following incorrect phrases:

  • Se la vie
  • Say la vie
  • Cie la vie
  • She la vie
  • Ce la vie

Examples of c’est la vie variations by famous philosophers and writers

Unsurprisingly, many philosophers, writers, and famous thinkers use c’est la vie in their ideas and theories.

Here is a selection of expressions from famous people that feature this phrase:

Author of the PhraseEnglish PhraseFrench Phrase
Victor Hugo - French writerDreaming is happiness. Waiting, that’s life.Rêver, c’est le bonheur. Attendre, c’est la vie.
Alfred Hitchcock - British filmmakerTheatre, that’s life; less boredom.Le théâtre, c’est la vie; ses moments d’ennui en moins.
Paul Valéry - French poetIt’s life not death that separates the soul from the body.C’est la vie et non la mort qui sépare l’âme du corps.

Now you know what c’est la vie means

C’est la vie is a famous and very common phrase, so it’s a good one to learn.

Listen to French native speakers and note which contexts they use this phrase in.

The more you hear it, the more you’ll know when it’s appropriate.

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