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Laura K. Lawless

French expression: Impossible n'est pas français

By January 13, 2013

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Don't tell me you can't understand the French proverb Impossible n'est pas français - all you have to do is click to learn all about it.
More: French expressions


March 20, 2009 at 7:46 am
(1) Nick says:

That was a light bulb moment. Merci. I used to work with a Frenchman. Whenever I said impossible in French he would always reply that impossible was not a French word. He had me really confused as I knew that it was.

March 20, 2009 at 11:16 am
(2) evelyne Whitman says:

J’ai toujours entendu dire que “impossible n’est pas francais ” a ete cree par Napoleon . Vrai ou faux ???

March 20, 2009 at 12:26 pm
(3) Ron Cann says:

A great proverb, but in my experience of living in Paris for a couple years, if the average Parisian hasn’t done it or heard of it, it is “impossible!” and cannot be done.

March 20, 2009 at 4:19 pm
(4) Robert says:

The expression is frequently associated with Bonaparte, just as Cambronne is associated with certain word, but unclear whether Bonaparte started the expression. The expression is sometimes used in advertisements and I recall seeing one with Napo’s image.

March 20, 2009 at 7:54 pm
(5) Lee says:

This is a new expression for me and I love it! Thanks, Laura.

March 21, 2009 at 12:22 pm
(6) anjli goel says:

hi, laura. thats a great insight into the french mentality.

March 22, 2009 at 8:11 pm
(7) Mike Landau says:

I always thought that the expression was,

” Si ce n’est pas impossible, ce n’est pas francais!” I learned something, but I like my version better than yours!

August 16, 2009 at 1:22 am
(8) Bruno says:

Impossible n’est pas français

Encore une phrase célèbre dans la mémoire collective des Français! Pourtant, elle n’a pas été exactement prononcée ainsi; la lettre et l’esprit…

Jean Léonard, comte Le Marois, était un Normand de Bricquebec (où il vit le jour en 1776) dans la Manche; brave devenu général, il prit part aux guerres du Consulat et de l’Empire, mais resta dans l’ombre de plus grands que lui. Un jour, il « buta » sur un problème et crut bon de s’ouvrir à Napoléon de ce qu’il ne croyait pas possible de réaliser.

L’Empereur lui répondit dans une lettre : « Ce n’est pas possible, m’écrivez-vous : cela n’est pas français. »

La postérité retint seulement l’effet positif de la phrase, qui est devenue pour certains une composante du tempérament français.

Gilles Henry
Petit dictionnaire des expressions nées de l’histoire
Tallandier, 1993, p. 259

April 17, 2010 at 4:50 pm
(9) Klaatou says:

So in english it means that nothing is impossible for a frenchman ! we will always find a way to do it ! 8-)

July 12, 2010 at 5:56 am
(10) Sylvie says:

Very interesting. (I want to express my little Frech here)
Je suis anglaise et j’apprends francais.
Avant, j’ai pense c’est impossible d’apprendre et parler francais mais maintenant je comprends que “impossible n’est pas francias”.
Merci, Madame Lawless

May 13, 2011 at 1:46 pm
(11) Henri says:

Bruno has reason, its coming from an imperative injunction of Bonaparte to a general saying :”je vous ai donné un ordre,vous me dites que c’est impossible,or,impossible n’est pas français et mon ordre sera exécuté!”

May 13, 2011 at 1:48 pm
(12) Henri says:

Analogy with the american moot
“The failure is not an option”

May 13, 2011 at 1:56 pm
(13) Henri says:

To Robert : I have my own theory on purpose to the word attributed to Cambronne.
At the injunction “Rendez-vous”, he would have reply in english something as “You have to murder us” and the ponétic similarity make confusion with a french popular expression.
So as are making the historicals words.

March 20, 2012 at 9:27 am
(14) François says:

A comment from a French guy…

The beauty of this expression is obviously the double-entendre. You can either take “pas français” as “not part of the French language” (meaning, the language in which the expression is written, which would translate in different languages as “is not English”, “no es Español”, etc.), or as “not a word for a Frenchman”. Interestingly, as a French native speaker and French citizen, I tend to “hear it” in its second sense, equating boldness with the French citizenry. I always wondered how Belgians, Swiss or Canadian French speaking natives thought about it and whether they ever used that expression.

This, in turn, introduces a nice level of irony. Modern French people tend to be viewed as quite fatalistic, pusillanimous and selfish – the usual French shrug being well known to countless visiting foreigners. But this phrase takes us back to a distant past where audacity and Frenchness were actually far from antinomic. Napoleon Bonaparte coined the term and is himself the epitomy of success through sheer audacity. French people use this beautiful expression quite often, still under the impression that we can genuinely be perceived as bold people. While most non French will disagree that this is the case, history demonstrates that French people have this capacity to surprise the World at large by their boldness and entrepreneurship, and I hope to live to the day when, again, “Impossible ne sera plus français.”

In the same vein, here are a few nice expressions:

La chance sourit aux audacieux
Il n’est pas nécessaire d’espérer pour entreprendre ni de réussir pour persévérer

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