C’est la vie

Fatalistic French Expression

C'est la vie !
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Meaning That’s life, Such is life
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Pronunciation French sound files [say lah vee]
IPA   [se la vi]

Usage notes: Ask 10 people if they know any French phrases, and probably 9 of them will say c’est la vie. Funnily enough, this fatalistic expression is used far more in English than in its native French, though the meaning is the same in both: c’est la vie acknowledges a less-than-ideal situation even as it accepts it.

Par exemple…

J’ai vu Peter Mayle mais je n’avais pas le courage de demander son autographe. C’est la vie !   I saw Peter Mayle but didn’t have the courage to ask for his autograph. That’s life!


  • say la vie, say la vee
  • se la vie, se la vee
  • cie la vie, cie la vee

Variation: C’est la guerre – That’s war (for you), Such is war

  English variation: C’est la vie, c’est la guerre, c’est la pomme de terre – literally, “That’s life, that’s war, that’s the potato” (French speakers have no idea about this one)

English equivalents: stuff happens, (vulgar slang) s*** happens

Other uses: In French, c’est la vie isn’t always a fatalistic expression. It can also be used to talk about a necessity of life or a way of life.

Par exemple…

Le pain, c’est la vie.   Bread is life.
C’est la vie conjugale.   That’s married life (for you).
Simplicité, c’est la vie de moine.   Simplicity is the life of a monk.

Related expressions

  • c’est – it is, this is, that is
  • C’est la vie de château (pourvu que ça dure) – The good life, This is the life, Live it up (while you can)

 Related lessons

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C'est la vie !

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1 Response

  1. VV 21 December 2017 / 3:39

    It doesn’t quite have the same meaning in French as it does in English. We say it in a more light-hearted way, where as for my French friends it means something is really bad that you must endure. My French friends tell me off for saying it as to me it is a throw away line but for them it is more serious. They worry when I say it that something is very wrong. Subtle but important difference.

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