À rebours

À rebours = against the nap
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French Expression

Meaning against the nap, wrong way, backwards
Literally in opposite direction
Register normal
Pronunciation [ah r(eu) boor]
IPA   [a ʁə buʁ]

Usage notes: The Old French word rebours has no equivalent noun in English; it refers to the opposite direction of a fabric’s nap. Today rebours survives only in the prepositional phrase à rebours, which literally means “against the nap" or "against the way the fur grows":

Par exemple…

Quelqu’un a dû lisser le tissu à rebours.   Someone must have rubbed the fabric against the nap.
Il ne faut pas caresser le chat à rebours.   You shouldn’t pet the cat the wrong way (against the way the fur grows).

À rebours is also used figuratively to mean “backwards, wrong way":

Peux-tu compter à rebours ?   Can you count backwards?
Il feuillette le livre à rebours.   He’s flipping through the book backwards.
prendre une rue en sens unique à rebours   to go the wrong way up a one-way street

À rebours de figuratively means “against”:

aller à rebours de la nature   to go against nature
être à rebours du bon sens   to go against common sense

Expressions with à rebours

comprendre à rebours   to misunderstand, get the wrong idea
un compte à rebours   countdown
faire tout à rebours   to do everything the wrong way around
prendre l’ennemi à rebours   to sneak up behind the enemy
prendre quelqu’un à rebours   to rub someone the wrong way

Synonymous expressions

  • à contre-courant
  • à contrefil
  • à contre-poil
  • à contresens
  • à l’envers
  • à rebrousse-poil
  • de travers

 Related lessons

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À rebours
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