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Essential French Expression

Meaning that is, i.e., meaning
Literally that is to say
Register normal
Pronunciation [seh tah deer]
IPA   [sɛ ta dir]

Usage notes: It’s very rare that we speak perfectly, saying exactly what we want to say in one flawless sentence. When there’s a need to clarify and expand, the French expression c’est-à-dire comes to the rescue.

Par exemple…

On va commencer à l’aube, c’est-à-dire à 6h00.   We’re going to start at dawn, meaning 6am.
Un webmestre, c’est-à-dire une personne qui créé des sites web…   A webmaster, that is, a person who creates websites…

You can also use it to clarify or ask for confirmation of what someone else says:

Par exemple…

– Je dois étudier ce soir.
– C’est-à-dire que tu ne dînes pas avec nous.
  – I have to study tonight.
– Meaning you won’t be having dinner with us.

And you can use c’est-à-dire to request a more explicit explanation.

Par exemple…

– Tu dois faire plus attention à ce que tu dis.
– C’est-à-dire ?
– C’est-à-dire que tu froisses souvent tes amis avec tes remarques irréfléchies.
  – You need to pay more attention to what you say.
– Meaning? / Meaning what? / What’s that supposed to mean?
– Meaning / It means that you often offend your friends with inconsiderate comments.

Informal abbreviations (from most to least correct)

  • c-à-d
  • càd
  • c-a-d
  • cad

Somewhat synonymous

  • à savoir
  • donc
  • en clair
  • en d’autres termes
  • enfin
  • je veux dire
  • plus précisément
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