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Voilà

French expressions analyzed and explained

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Expression: Voilà

Pronunciation: [vwa la]

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Notes: Even though voilà is just one word, it has so many possible meanings - most of which require multiple words in the English equivalents - that I've decided to treat it as an expression.

The first thing to know about voilà is that it's spelled voilà. Please note that the grave accent on the a is obligatory. (See common misspellings at the end of this article.)

Secondly, voilà, which is a contraction of vois là (literally, "see there"), has varied uses and meanings, which are hard to define precisely, so I've provided numerous examples to help make the distinctions clear.

1. Voilà can be a presentative which introduces a visible noun or group of nouns and can mean any of the following: here is, here are, there is, there are. Technically, voilà only refers to things that are farther away (there is/are), while voici is used for close things (here is/are), but in reality voilà tends to be used for all of the above, except when a distinction between two objects is required.

   Voilà la voiture que je veux acheter.
   Here / There is the car I want to buy.

   Me voilà !
   Here I am!

   Le voilà !
   Here it / he is! There it / he is!

   Voici mon livre et voilà le tien.
   Here's my book and there's yours.


2. When followed by an interrogative adverb or indefinite relative pronoun, voilà means "this/that is":

   Voilà où il habite maintenant.
   This is where he lives now.

   Voilà pourquoi je suis parti.
   That's why I left / That is the reason (why) I left.

   Voilà ce que nous devons faire.
   This is what we have to do.

   Voilà ce qu'ils m'ont dit.
   That's what they told me.


3. Voilà is commonly used as a sort of summing up expression at the end of a statement. This is usually just a filler and doesn't have a simple English equivalent. In some cases, you could say "you know," "OK," or "there you have it," but in general I just leave it out of the English translation.

   Nous avons décidé d'acheter une nouvelle voiture et de donner l'ancienne à notre fils, voilà.
   We decided to buy a new car and give the old one to our son.

   On va commencer avec ma présentation, suivie d'une visite du jardin et puis le déjeuner, voilà.
   We're going to start with my presentation, followed by a visit to the garden and then lunch.


4. Voilà can be an informal replacement for depuis or il y a when talking about how long something has been going on or how long ago something happened.

   Voilà 20 minutes que je suis ici.
   I've been here for 20 minutes.

   Nous avons mangé voilà trois heures.
   We ate three hours ago.


5. Voilà can be used to agree with what someone just said, along the lines of "that's right" or "that's it exactly." (Synonym: en effet)

   - Alors, si j'ai bien compris, vous voulez acheter sept cartes postales mais seulement quatre timbres.
   - Voilà.


   - So if I've understood correctly, you want to buy seven postcards but only four stamps.
   - That's right.


6. Et voilà is commonly used, especially when talking to children, after you've warned them about something and they do it anyway, causing the very problem you tried to prevent. Not quite as mocking as "I told you so," but along those lines: I warned you, you should have listened, etc.

   Non, arrête, c'est trop lourd pour toi, tu vas le faire tomber... et voilà.
   No, stop, that's too heavy for you, you're going to drop it... and you did / I warned you.


Spelling notes: Voilà is sometimes used in English, and for this reason it's often written voila. This is acceptable in English, which tends to lose accents on words borrowed from other languages, but it's not acceptable in French. There are several other common misspellings:
  1. "Voilá" has the wrong accent. The only letter that ever has an acute accent in French is e, as in été (summer).
     
  2. "Viola" is a word, though not a French one: a viola is a musical instrument slightly larger than a violin; the French translation is alto.
     
  3. "Vwala" is an Anglicized spelling of voilà.
     
  4. "Walla"? Not even close. Please, use voilà.
 
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