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"Ne coupons pas les cheveux en quatre !"

Translation:Let's not split hairs!

March 12, 2015


  • 2378

Please explain for no native English.


"Split hairs" and "couper les cheveux en quatre" both mean to do something with too much care.


In English, to split hairs means to argue about unimportant details, not to do something with too much care. Is this what you meant? I can't be sure. If you said "You are just splitting hairs" then you would be accusing someone of disagreeing with you about a very trivial detail, something that doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. But to do something with too much care is not the same thing at all. Does the French phrase mean to do something with too much care? Or to quibble about petty distinctions? Or both?


I think you're now splitting hairs...


I dunno...I think rebekasto has a point: it seems to me that making unimportant distinctions is not the same as doing something with an inordinate amount of care (even if they have overlap in some cases). But I think sloggo has a point too, since it could be that what is "hair-splitting" to one person is, to another person, of fundamental importance in not holding muddled views (differentiates experts (and geeks!) from those with casual interest). The point is that "splitting hairs" definitely means making unimportant distinctions as its primary meaning; the question is whether the French idiom has the same meaning as "splitting hairs."


Yes it has.


You forgot a space between the "dunno..."and the "I"

This is an example of spliting hairs (assuming ClassiDuo will complain back)


I think that was the point of it


Thank you very much, but I do not understand sitll. Can you fix it in a context please, for example:

-il y a une bombe là-bas -ne coupons pas les cheveux en quatre.


This is your sentence:

-il y a une bombe là-bas

There would need a space after the sign [-] and you should capitalize "il" to "Il". And, maybe you might add a full stop at the end, then a blank line for clarity in reading.

What I have just done is "couper les cheveux en quatre": going into unnecessary details, since I have perfectly understood your sentence.


Merci une fois de plus.


Ne cepidlači. To ask to much in details.


*too much Da ispravim brata i cepidlačim i ja malo :)


Hvala! :)

Edit: Sad kad razmislim, značenje našeg "Ne cepidlači" je bukvalno isto kao francusko!


Sviđa mi se tvoja slika, impresionizam je najlepši! Pozz :)


Imagine that you are at a community meeting. The topic before the town Safety Committee is that some residents want a traffic light at a busy intersection. Imagine that you are one of the concerned residents. You are explaining to the Safety Committee how the traffic light will be paid for without costing too much. One of your neighbors interrupts and expresses concern. He wants to call it a "stop and go light" and not a traffic light. You turn to him and say, "Let's not split hairs."

It's unimportant what it's called at the moment. THE GOAL IS TO GET THE LIGHT to control traffic and enable residents to cross the street safely.

At this point what the neighbor wants to call the light isn't as important as getting the light. It really isn't on topic either.

Once the residents have the light your neighbor can call it whatever he wants.


I sometimes confuse cheveux and chevaux. That leads to a bit of strange imagery.


It's embarrassing that this still happens to me. All I could think of is "why would they draw and quarter a horse?"


and that's exactly what I thought! lol


For the irony of it, it would seem


good ol dyslexia strikes again


I cannot see all of the suggested words to help me learn. This is happening a lot and it can't just be on my phone. Please fix this Duolingo, so I can learn quicker without having to completeky guess.


Try rotating your phone to view the page sideways. That worked on mine. :)

  • 1981

I just checked on that and the length of the hint is limited. I.e., there is not enough space to enter the whole idiom. Now that we have been exposed to it, perhaps we will remember the expression: Ne coupons pas les cheveux en quatre (or this alternative) "Ne cherchons pas la petite bête". http://www.wordreference.com/enfr/split%20hairs


Why is 'don't split hairs' not accepted??

  • 1981

Because it is not the "vous" form of the imperative, it is the "nous" form which is translated as "let's + verb". The speaker is included.


Merci. That makes sense.


It should be. Report it.


No the form of "cut" / coupons is the "we" / nous form, therefore it has to be "us".


It depends if the goal is a literal or natural translation. If literal, then "Don't split hairs" should not be accepted. However, for many people the phrase "Don't split hairs" is more natural, and therefore should be accepted

  • 1981

Except that "don't" is an imperative to another person (or persons). Whereas, "let's" includes the speaker. So they really are different.


FWIW, I see what you mean, but en-gb usage would be to say to someone else ... "don't split hairs" as "let's not split hairs" is quite formal. Indeed if I saw two translations, one using the former and the other the latter then I'd assume the latter were a non-native speaker or a much older person.

This is curious though, is the French phrase using "ne coupons pas" really not being imperative, or is it styled as seeking a agreement but actually trying to demand compliance? Is this a nicety, a polite turn, or is the French phrase really seeking agreement. When used in English this is used to say "don't be a jerk about it!", not "perhaps we should agree not to get involved in the minutiae, what do you think?".

/Plus intéressant./


To Portuguese speakers, "let's not look for hairs in eggs". (Não procure pelo em ovo!)


In Spanish we use “No le busques pelos al huevo” too and also “No le busques la quinta pata al gato”.


Don't look for the fifth foot of a cat? Ja ja


In Serbian it's ''[Hajde da] Ne tražimo dlaku u jajetu'' Though we say it more commonly Ne traži dlaku u jajetu :)


Though,more closely to this idiom would be ''Ne cepidlači'',as you may have seen in the comments. We actually have a literal verb cepidlačiti-splitting hairs which I guess I'm doing it right now


If "let's not" must be included in the translation, then is there another idiomatic form that is generic? As a native USA speaker I consider this conversational. This is not an idiom. PS and I'm not splitting hairs!

  • 1981

It is an idiom because the sentence means something other than the literal meaning. It's not about hair(s). An idiom: a group of words whose meaning considered as a unit is different from the meanings of each word considered separately. The imperative form of the first-person plural means "let's" + verb. By adding the negative "ne...pas" around the imperative verb, it becomes "let's not" + verb. That part is direct...and needs to be. When adding the reference to cutting hair into quarters, it is no longer literal, but figurative, i.e., an idiom. English speakers don't say "cut hairs into quarters"; we say "split hairs" which is the comparable idiom in English.


Perhaps the French are extending the hyperbole. Instead of just splitting hairs in half, cutting them lengthwise into four makes it an even greater exaggeration of unnecessary detail.


Read any fiction lately?


Don't split hairs rejected... Pourquoi ?


Ne coupons pas = let's not split (we, not you)


I like how its wrong if you include the "into quarters" bit. /s

Sorry for being accurate ...


Accuracy is all well and good except when you are doing the idioms section, which you are...


Could I get a literal translation please? Helps me understand French thinking


Do not cut the hair into quarter (four pieces)


This isn't what it says. It says "let's not..." rather than "do not..."

("Coupons" not "Coupez".)


In German this would be "Sei nicht kleinkariert", which litteraly means don't be someone who makes too little squares/ don't be checked


I typed "Lets not split hairs", without the apostrophe in let's. Let's not split hairs here, Duolingo!


You may not expect a computer will show any leniency: a sign missing is the only thing it can spot.


If I were to split hairs here, and why not, computers can do Levenshtein Distance (loosely, the number of edits needed to move from one word to another); a modification of that to consider punctuation differences to be shorter distances might also be good (as you do for missing accents). Duo does something like this when it says an answer is correct but says there is a typo.


you could say lets split hairs not


`Be careful because the sound is wrong.

It sounds like "Ne coupcons pas les cheveux en quattre" but it should be more like this:


Vriament je ne comprends rien dans cette phrase, pourquoi il manque de sujet? pourquoi pas "Nous ne coupons pas....." pourquoi bien qu'il s'agit d'une negation, on la traduit a l'imperatif?


"Let's cut!" = coupons ! (positive)

"Let us not cut!" = ne coupons pas ! (negative)

Imperative is the only form of verbs in French that do not have a personal pronoun.


Mmmmm.....j'avais mal regardé, merci beaucoup.


Why is it necessary to have "ne coupons pas" instead of just "pas coupons?" It seems like a double negative, but I've seen this before in other phrases. Thank you!


French negatives work in tandems: ne... pas.

They are placed as brackets on either side of the conjugated verb, including in imperative.


if you tell this to one person, can you say < Ne coupes pas ...> instead of < ne coupons pas >?


For one person you can still use "ne coupez pas" (if you use "vous" with him/her), or "ne coupe pas" (if you use "tu" with him/her).

Note that verbs from the 1st group (infinitive in -er) drop the "s" at the end of the singular imperative.


Ha ha I got "lets not split hairs" marked wrong


Yes, because of the spelling of "let's", with an apostrophe.


I am confused by this exercise. Why not simply show us the idiomatic espressions to memorize. This showing me a phrase or sentence then making me try to make sense of it is frustrating!!!


You could easily come across the situation in real life where there is an idiom or phrase which cannot be translated well directly, you'll need to think on your feet in such situations to understand the meaning and translate it well. So for some it is good practice for those situations.


I have no objection to learning idiomatic expressions. My complaint is with the methodology. Why force us to try and parse out colloquial meanings? Please, just give us the terms to memorize. The struggle I, and probably others, have with this instruction method is not necessary. It does not help us in any way comprehend the French language. We would be better served if we were just given the expression with its english correlation and told to memorize them. Free or not, this is not the best way to get someone to learn.


Everyone learns differently, so for you to say it is not the best way to teach someone or get someone to learn simply based on yourself is a bit much.

Duolingo is just a tool, use it as you see fit, use it in whatever way works for you and in conjunction with whatever other tools work for you.


In German: Haarspalterei


Learned basic french language by attempting basic test and had a great experience. Will sure recommend to other writers at CV Folks - https://www.cvfolks.co.uk/ to try this challenge and learn easily multiple language.


ironically "don't split hairs" is an incorrect answer


There is a real reason: the subject is not right "Ne coupons pas" includes the speaker (we) = let's not slit hairs.


In Persian the same idiom (hairsplitting) exists but has a positive connotation, usually used as an adverb meaning meticulously. One of the iduoms with similar negative meaning is "drilling the poppy"!

  • 2378

In Czech we use nit-splitter as negative, punctilious as neutral and careful, constientious as positive. Nothing like hairsplitting or drilling poppy.


This sentence is wrong it should be "ne nous coupons pas les cheveux en quatre"(which still sounds off because it wouldn't be used like that), the verb is "se couper les cheveux" in that case


Why would it be wrong? The idiom does not tell whose hair is being cut (or not cut).


Em portugues creio que seja : "Voce esta procurando pêlo em ovo". Something like: you're seaching for hair in one egg.


Ive never actually heard this phrase in english. Is this a common expression in French? Or is it regional, as it appears to be in English?


I brought this up with a French speaker in Quebec and he looked at me funny... is this a common saying in French? Why the word "quatre" (four) in this phrase?


French in Québec and France are so very different. (Duo is meant to be teaching us the France version.)


First, idioms don't always make sense.

I'd guess the four comes from the old "draw and quarter" punishment where you literally cut a person into four parts.


What was wrong with don't let's split hairs?


"do not let us split hairs" is an order I give a third party to not let me and one or more people split hairs.

"ne coupons pas" is a direct order I give myself + one or more people


The English usually say "Don't split hairs." I have never heard the words 'Let's not' used in this instance


Please focus on how to use the imperative in 1st person plural.


Sorry, but what is 'the imperative in 1st person plural'? I should add that I first learnt French at school in the 1940's! I was taught terms like 'Past Historic' etc so I dont know what the up to date references to grammar mean.


There are 3 forms of imperative in French:

  • 2nd person singular (tu) = coupe !
  • 2nd person plural (formal singular or plural vous) = coupez !
  • 1st person plural (nous) = coupons !


Hi Sitesurf. Hope you can help. Since the switch to the crown system this idiom and about 2 others are the only ones that show up over and over and over when I practice the idiom section. Also now ALL the English to French translation exercises are gone. This is very disheartening. To learn idioms one has to be able to translate in both directions. I tried to leave a new comment on the troubleshooting board but got an error message saying they weren't accepting new comments. I hope you see this and can help! Thanks so much!


Hi Martina. I must confess I haven't tried the crown system yet. I thought that the aim of the game was, on the contrary, to promote less easy sentences and the production of sentences in French from English.

I, therefore, cannot answer you right now, but I'll try to inquire about this issue.


Hi Sitesurf. Thanks so much for responding. Somehow I got placed in Crown Level 1 in the idiom section even though I am at level 24 French overall and I have mastered the idiom section before. And I can't get out of it. I tried doing the idiom exercises at least 20 times with all answers correct and I am still at Crown level 1! This makes no sense and there seems no way to address it.


Hi Martina786815,

I tried to leave a new comment on the troubleshooting board but got an error message

Would it be this discussion?

saying they weren't accepting new comments.

Could you elaborate? I never saw such message.
What sometimes happens when you create a new discussion, is that the system returns you a "404 error" message. In such case it does not mean the discussion has not been published: it has been published but, it then failed to display it this time to you. When it happens, open the forum where you posted it (Troubleshooting forum in your case), open its "New" tab and your discussion will be around the top there.

Also now ALL the English to French translation exercises are gone.

What are your "crown-levels" for each units?
For example, for the idiom skill?

Note that the "crown-levels" are different from your "level" (the "24" next to your French flag on forums, for example).

I ask because the skills for which your have a low "crown-level" will on purpose give easy exercises (so no, or almost none, "answer in the target language" exercises) while, on the other hand, the skills for which your have a high "crown-level" should give you more difficult exercises.

Now, if you have no "answer in the target language" exercises for any skill where you are at high "crown-level", then it sounds like the contrary of what it's suppose to do hence I'd guess for a bug.

EDIT (2min later).

Your extend profile shows that you are "crown-level" 1 for the skill "Idioms and Proverbs". Hence it's normal that, for that skill, you have (almost) none exercice to translate into French. They'll start to appear as you'll increase your crown-level fro that skill.


Being at crown-level 1 makes no sense to me as I've perfected this section many times before. I just tried to get out of crown level 1 by doing the exercises perfectly for 20 times and I am still at crown level 1. Don't see how this makes any sense.

  • 2378

I'm not sure, what you mean exactly, but for me are idioms only one level topic and I got gold mark of it. When would higher lever exist, it would be in green, red, yellow and finaly gold - totaly yellow.


what does splitting hair mean? A way to comb your hair? A way to shave hair??


It is an idiom. If someone splits hairs, they argue about very small details or find very small differences between things which are really very similar.


There is a similar saying in Turkish with "40" instead of "4" and it has a positive meaning.


In french we never use this sentence. But maybe in 1800


Who exactly is "we"?


Does anyone else have trouble getting "quatre" right? Haha.


Don't cut the hair in four.


only yesterday i had no idea hair can be plural in english :)


The plural of hair is hair not hairs


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