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Laura K. Lawless

French expression: Un ange passe

By December 22, 2012

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If you find yourself in the middle of a suddenly silent room, you'll be glad you took a moment to learn about the idiomatic French expression Un ange passe.
More: French expressions


October 5, 2007 at 7:47 am
(1) William says:

This phrase reminded me more of the old ‘ball of hay passing by’ when someone tells a bad joke. Maybe the room is suddenly so ‘dead’ that an actual angel is passing through! Just my idea of course!

October 5, 2007 at 7:58 am
(2) dominic says:

Yes, one’s conversation is silenced because the participants are left in awe over the “appearance” of this being. I recall hearing my old professor comment with great irony when no student would reply to a question:
Quel silence, mes amis, est-ce-qu’un ange passe?

October 5, 2007 at 9:06 am
(3) Maria Dolores de Paula says:

Quelle expression poétique ! Seulement le Français pour décriver si bellement comme on rétient le souffle et n´ose pas parler en attendant la suite des évenements!

August 29, 2011 at 9:09 am
(4) Diego says:

As a matter of fact, the expression exists in spanish too. There’s a song by cuban Silvio Rodríguez that goes:

Cuentan que cuando un silencio
aparecía entre dos,
era que pasaba un ángel
que les robaba la voz.

(They say that, when there’s a sudden silence among two, it is because an angel went by and stole their voices)

I was surprised to see all possible meanings for ‘passer’ are also valid for spanish ‘pasar’, with little to no variations. Makes it really easy to understand this lesson hehe.

October 5, 2007 at 9:39 am
(5) Chuck says:

L’expression n’est pas Francais a l’origine.

L’auteur grec Plutarque l’emploie avec le nom de dieu Hermes remplacant “ange.”

October 5, 2007 at 10:21 am
(6) Carol says:

What a pleasant thought when such an awkward moment happens.

October 5, 2007 at 10:51 am
(7) mia says:

if there is a lull in conversation, it often happens 20 minutes to the hour or 20 past. This is when the angel is said to pass….

October 5, 2007 at 9:54 am
(8) Anela ki'a'i'po says:

un ange passe au quebec comme ici au hilo quand personne parle ou se taire c’est que la silence reigne au dessus les gens reste muets car trop de souci fait des espaces invisibles chasses par les inconnus qui ressemble les anges la vide est la forme et la forme est vide

October 5, 2007 at 12:01 pm
(9) Charles says:

>This phrase reminded me more of the old ‘ball of hay passing by’ when someone tells a bad joke.

They’re called “tumbleweeds”… and don’t forget to add the sound of crickets! ;-)

October 6, 2007 at 10:41 am
(10) daniel schouten says:


In Dutch we say:Er gaat een domonee voorbij. (A vicar is passing)


October 10, 2007 at 8:35 am
(11) Lee says:

It is wonderful to see this phrase acknowledged here. It appears in Truffaut’s classic film ‘Jules et Jim’. When Jim goes to visit Jules and Catherine after a long absence the atmosphere is tense, and during a long silence, Jules’ narrative notes that ‘Un ange passe’ It stuck with me the first time i saw the film, as it is such a beautiful and poetic phrase.

October 10, 2007 at 7:21 pm
(12) Paul Messelink says:

Indeed a vicker is passing: the awkwardness of the company discussing the commonnest of subjects as peaople tend to do causes the conversation to drop in the presence of an honourable person.

October 29, 2007 at 6:55 pm
(13) Calum says:

I’d always wondered about this expression after hearing it in a noir désir song, Cheers!


November 15, 2007 at 5:20 pm
(14) Chris says:

I beg to differ. It can just as easily be a comfortable or intimate silence as an awkward one. The phrase is used to break the silence.

January 10, 2008 at 5:14 am
(15) benjamin says:

i have the phrase tatooed on my forearm..i saw a veru moving performance in paris and i was with my girl n my honeymoon..we were silent and so content after the performance….an angel flew across the stage..the compare indeed was stunned to silence..in this case it was sed in three ways…firstly, literally the angel did pass..2nd it was used to explain her stunned silence to the audience and thirdly…it was the perfect poetic footnote or acccent to one of the most beautiful theatrical devices i have seen…oh yes lol…i have used it in a fourth way to describe a most perfect memory that i share with the one i love…(just thoughts)…does anybody know any great images of angels..i would ike to add one to my transcripted arm :)

March 22, 2008 at 6:43 pm
(16) ChristopheFr says:

When we say “un ange passe” during an embarassing conversation gap, I think that the matter is not to “describe” what is going on, but to ease away or even laugh away the embarassment of the situation, making it clear that nobody around is going to be blamed for the sudden silence, and that there is no embarassment to consider, really nothing to worry about.
Bon, je passe en Français (il est bientôt minuit et je fatigue). C’est comme quand vous êtes dans un ascenseur et que chacun regarde ses chaussures ou fixe les yeux sur le plafond. Ce n’est pas vraiment parceque mes chaussures ou le plafond de l’ascenceur sont devenus soudain des objets passionnants…
De la même façon, dans “Un ange passe”, bien que cela me plairait en tant que chrétien, je ne crois malheureusement pas que l’ange et son action de cause ou d’effet du silence soit une question qui se pose, même si je suis ravi des jolies choses poétiques et spirituelles que vous avez écrites…
Cela veut tout simplement dire “Ce n’est pas grave qu’il y ait un silence. Ce sont des choses qui arrivent. Que personne ne se sente gêné”.
Christophe Brousse

April 2, 2008 at 2:45 pm
(17) André Werlang says:

I’ve seen this expression in the movie Apocalypse Now just this weekend.

A french character explains that during the war, when the french was hungry and the room becomes silent all of sudden, somebody says “un ange passe”, as the other replies: “let’s eat it” (forgot the french saying)

J’ai vu cette expression dans le film Apocalypse Now juste ce dernier weekend.

Un français explique que pendant la guerre les français avaient faim et la pièce (room?) devient silent tout a coup, quelqu’un dit “un ange passe” à ce l’autre réponds: “let’s eat it” (j’ai oublié comment dire en français)

a toute l’heure

December 6, 2008 at 12:41 am
(18) Roger says:

J’aime l’expression “un ange passe”. En anglais c’est comparable à “to hear a pin drop.” Au moins, à mon avis.

February 17, 2009 at 3:32 pm
(19) Maza says:

Many years ago on a visit to Paris I heard the phrase “C’est un ange qui passe…” spoken by an elderly upper class lady. It was translated as a polite comment to make on being caught farting in public, the “ange” being insubstantial but loud enough to cause a momentary lull in an otherwise civilised conversation. Think of the earlier Pink Panther film and a scene with Inspector Closeau (Peter Sellers)in the lift.

December 18, 2009 at 4:19 pm
(20) Anónima says:

The same expression exists in Spanish: “Un ange est passé” -> “Ha pasado un ángel”.

December 19, 2009 at 7:29 am
(21) john says:

The Oxford Hachette says this means, “somebody’s walked over my grave” and in my usage of English that is what we say when someone sneezes.

June 17, 2011 at 12:29 pm
(22) Keith says:

I don’t think the expression is suggesting that the angel is the cause or the effect of the silence per se. I think it’s a consciously willful diversion from the awkwardness or embarrassment of the silence – as if to say, “We haven’t stopped talking because we’re feeling awkward or embarrassed. We’ve stopped talking because we’re allowing an angel to pass/acknowledge that an angel is passing.”

December 26, 2012 at 12:33 pm
(23) Serge says:

I’ve often heard this phrase said pleasantly by one of the guests around the table – e.g. in a restaurant – when everyone had suddenly stopped talking to better relish the exquisite dish they’d just been served.

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