À peine

Essential French Expression

À peine
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Meaning barely, hardly
Literally to pain / effort
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Pronunciation French sound files [ah pehn]
IPA   [a pɛn]

Usage notes: À peine is a very common French expression, equivalent to the English adverbs "barely, hardly."

The literal translation can seem odd, but there is a certain logic to it. Peine has two meanings, both of which lend themselves to the idea of doing something with difficulty. Peine meaning "pain" hints at a reluctance to do more than is absolutely necessary, since it’s painful, while the other meaning of peine highlights the effort required for the task.

Par exemple…

J’avais à peine terminé quand il est arrivé.   I’d barely finished when he arrived.
Ce chiot a à peine deux mois.   This puppy is barely two months old.
À peine savons-nous ce qui s’est passé.   We barely know what happened.

Somewhat synonymous: ne … guère

 À peine can also be used informally, as an interjection to express disbelief.

– Je l’ai fait moi-même.   – I did it myself.
– À peine !   – Yeah, right!

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À peine

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