De rien

When I translated " De rien" to English I put "of nothing" and it said that it meant "For nothing" and of nothing was wrong. But de means of or from so shouldn't it be okay to say it or is it just one of those things that you can't translate it literally

December 13, 2012


It actually means "you're welcome" or "my pleasure".

It means you're welcome but he's asking if it can or cannot be literally translated. It is literally 'of nothing' and cannot be translated into English literally whilst retaining its sense.

You cannot always translate word for word and have to learn equivalent expressions. In France, if you say "vous êtes bienvenu" or "mon plaisir" after receiving a "merci", you will not sound right.

I would say that for every time I hear "de rien" mumbled, and intended to mean the equivalent of "je t'en prie", I hear it with quite a different meaning. That is the equivalent of "it's cheap" or "it's for nothing" or instead of "moins cher".

In "Brico-Marché" last week a friend was being shown a product by an assistant. My friend said: "C'est un peu cher" ... the assistant grinned and said something like... "non non, c'est presque de rien". Then in another store, my friend picks up an expensive tool, on discount and says to me "c'est de rien". And the assistant nearby, thinking he can make a sale chimed in "oui, oui, c'est vraiment de rien".

Before then, examining some work on a project, I pointed out a flaw to the contractor/project manager, and he said something like "Non, non, c'est pas grave, c'est de rien, et après nous avons..."

And I have many similar examples. Now I am not saying this translation is wrong. But I do think it is misleading. When one is learning to listen to French speech , the syllables "rien" are readily identifiable and I think an exercise that focusses on a more popular use would be of more value.

There are alternatives to "de rien" used in this "think nothing of it" context, for example: "Je t'en prie", "je vous en prie", "n'en pense rien", "ne t'inquiète pas" are just a few, and seem to me to be in much more common use in the type of environments that travellers to France are likely to experience.

Addendum: I've now noticed, that when I am asked to translate "you're welcome" I can input "je t'en prie". Excellent... Go Duo...

There must have been some misunderstanding (mishearing?) because none of your example is correct:

  • "non non, c'est presque de rien" should be "non, non, c'est presque pour rien".
  • "c'est de rien". should be "c'est pour rien".
  • "oui, oui, c'est vraiment de rien". should be "oui, oui, c'est vraiment pour rien".
  • "Non, non, c'est pas grave, c'est de rien, et après nous avons..." should be ""Non, non, c'est pas grave, c'est rien, et après nous avons...".

"C'est pour rien" means "it is for an amount of money close to zero, it costs nothing."
"C'est rien", standing for "ce n'est rien" means "it is not important, it does not matter."

Now, "de rien" as a response to "merci" stands for "ne me remerciez de rien" (there is nothing to thank me for), which means that the thing you did was so small it did not deserve "un remerciement". It is indeed felt as very polite to diminish the value of a favor you did.

Thanks Sitesurf...

and thanks for the corrections... yes I was trying to recall from memory what I thought I heard... and yes I'm still at that stage where I'm grabbing at the key words and trying to get the overall sense of what is said so I still, frequently, mistake the "joining" words. But the more I learn what "should" be "joining" the key words together, the better it gets. So this really helps.

And thanks for the explanation of "ne me remerciez de rien". Would it sound pompous to say the whole thing?

... Actually the latest "bizarre" experiences come from hearing a sentence spoken, and recognising every word... but not actually knowing what it means... sometimes because I know the word, but can't recall it's meaning, and other times because they represent some idiom with which I'm not yet familiar.

It may sound pompous, depending on your counterpart, but so charmingly obsolete!

Your bizarre experiences ring a bell in my French mind. There are a lot of things I can hear or read which I can't properly decipher. If I miss a word, I can look it up, but idioms are difficult to find.

haha ... ok... thanks...

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