Essential French Expression

Tiens !
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Meaning here, take this; there you are; look, listen, you know…
Literally hold
Register informal
Pronunciation French sound files [tyeh(n)]
IPA   [tjɛ̃]

Usage notes: They may look like just words, but tiens and its plural tenez are extremely common and useful French expressions.

As the imperative of tenir (to hold), their first meaning is "hold this" or "take this," even though you don’t actually say what it is; you just hold it out to the other person:

Par exemple…

J’ai trop de paquets, tiens / tenez.   I have too many packages, here. (as you hand a few to other people)
Tiens, je dois répondre à la porte.   Take this, I need to answer the door. (as you give someone your drink)

Tiens and tenez can also be used for giving a gift or responding to a request:

Par exemple…

Tenez, je vous ai acheté des bonbons.   Here, I bought you some chocolates.
– Tu me prêtes un stylo ?
– Tiens.
  – Can I borrow a pen?
– Here you go.

Somewhat synonymous: voilà

Tiens and tenez are usually used as interjections or fillers, with essentially three different meanings:

1. Upon seeing someone, you can say tiens or tenez to mean something like “there you are” or “there he is.”

Par exemple…

Tiens, Bernard !   Bernard, there you are!
Tenez, voilà Pascal.   Hey, there’s Pascal.

2. Use tiens and tenez to draw attention to what you’re about to say, where in English you might say something like “see,” “look,” or “you know.”

Par exemple…

Tiens, je dois t’expliquer une chose.   Look, I need to explain something to you.
Tenez, c’est plus difficile que ça.   You know, it’s more difficult than that.

3. Express surprise, equivalent to “hey!” or “how about that!”:

Par exemple…

Tiens, c’est Jean Dujardin !   Hey, that’s Jean Dujardin!
– J’ai acheté une nouvelle voiture.
– Tiens !
  – I bought a new car.
– How about that!

Somewhat synonymous

Related expression: Tiens, tiens means “well well” or “how about that.”

Tiens, tiens, le retour du fils prodigue.   Well well, the prodigal son returns.


In addition to being second person imperatives, tiens is also the first and second person singular present tense tenir conjugation (je tiens, tu tiens) and tenez is the second person formal/singular and plural (vous tenez).

Plus, les tiens is the plural of le tien, the tu form of the possessive pronoun.

Je suis en train de faire mes devoirs, as-tu fini les tiens ?   I’m doing my homework, have you finished yours?

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Tiens !

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2 Responses

  1. quacking 28 April 2015 / 18:51

    Merci Laura, très bien comme d’habitude 🙂

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