Faillir – to almost do

Faillir - to almost do
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The almost French verb

I love French words that don’t have straightforward English translations, and the verb faillir is one of the best. This regular -ir verb is most commonly used in the passé composé.*

Faillir + infinitive

Faillir has no direct verbal English equivalent when used as a semi-auxiliary verb; English needs an adverb or a short phrase to capture the meaning:

  • to all but do
  • to almost do
  • to just about do
  • to narrowly miss doing
  • to nearly do
  • to practically do

Par exemple…

J’ai failli pleurer quand je suis parti.   I almost cried when I left.
Elle a failli perdre son boulot.   She nearly lost her job.
Vous avez failli renverser deux piétons !   You narrowly missed running over two pedestrians!

Synonym: manquer à

Faillir à

When followed by a noun, faillir à is a formal way of talking about a failure.

J’ai failli à ma promesse.   I failed to keep my promise.
Tu as failli à ta tâche.   You failed in your task.

Expressions with faillir

  • faillir à sa parole – to break one’s word
  • faillir à la tradition – to break with tradition
  • ne pas faillir à sa parole – to keep, true to one’s word
  • ne pas faillir à sa réputation – to live up to one’s reputation
  • ne pas faillir à la tradition – to keep to tradition
  • résister jusqu’au bout sans faillir – to resist unflinchingly to the end
    archaic expressions
  • le cœur me faillit – my heart skipped a bit
  • le courage me faillit – my courage failed me

 * Faillir has regular conjugations in all tenses and moods, but the only ones you’re likely to encounter are past tenses: passé composé, passé simple, and plus-que-parfait.

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Faillir - to almost do

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1 Response

  1. NJH 25 May 2017 / 14:38

    Merci, Laura. Ce n’était pas un verbe dont je le pensais. Comme trop souvent, il me semble qu’il a beaucoup des complexités.

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