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À rebours

French expressions analyzed and explained


Expression: À rebours

Pronunciation: [ah r(eu) boor]

Meaning: against the nap, wrong way, backwards

Register: normal

Notes: The old French word rebours has no equivalent noun in English; it refers to the opposite direction of a fabric's nap. Today rebours survives only in the expression à rebours, which literally means "against the nap," but is also used figuratively to mean "backwards, wrong way."


   Quelqu'un a dû lisser le tissu à rebours.
   Someone must have rubbed the fabric against the nap.

   Peux-tu compter à rebours ?
   Can you count backwards?

   Il feuillette le livre à rebours.
   He's flipping through the book backwards.


   comprendre à rebours
   to misunderstand, get the wrong idea

   un compte à rebours

   faire tout à rebours
   to do everything the wrong way around

   prendre l'ennemi à rebours
   to sneak up behind the enemy

   prendre quelqu'un à rebours
   to rub someone the wrong way

   prendre une rue en sens unique à rebours
   to go the wrong way up a one-way street

À rebours de is a figurative expression meaning "against":

   aller à rebours de la nature
   to go against nature

   C'est à rebours du bon sens.
   It goes against common sense.

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