What C'est La Vie Means and How to Use it [Complete Guide] (2023)

For one reason or another c’est la vie is one of the most well-known French expressions among English speakers. In fact, most people who are familiar with c’est la vie don’t even speak French and only know what the expression as a whole means and not what each individual word means.

If you haven’t figured it out already, the correct way to spell this phrase is c’est la vie. This means that all other spellings including ce la vie, se la vie, say la vie, ce est la vie, cie la vie and sa la vie are all incorrect.

The best and most obvious translation of c’est la vie is “that’s life” (c’est = that’s, la vie = life) and the expression is most often used when confronting something unfortunate that you just have to accept.

There are a handful of good English translations for c’est la vie including “that’s how it is”, “that’s the way it is”, “that’s just how it is”, “it is what it is”, “oh well”, “such is life” and of course “that’s life”.

For example if you’re at work and don’t get the promotion that you thought you were going to get someone might say c’est la vie because, although unfortunate, it’s something that a lot of go through throughout the course of our lives.

Believe it or not, even though you can totally use c’est la vie with French speakers it’s actually used more in English which is sort of funny when you think about it. It’s not exactly clear as to why exactly this is, but some guesses for this are English speakers’ desire to sound classy (as French is stereotypically) and the fact that the French themselves have many more other ways to express the same idea than just c’est la vie.

Other uses for c'est la vie

We’ve already gone over that c’est la vie is typically used for unfortunate, but often just things that we just have to deal with in life. However that doesn’t always have to be the case. There are instances where you would use c’est la vie and you don’t have to be speaking about anything negative. For example you can say c’est la vie de (that’s the life of..) and then whatever thing that you’re referring to. In order to explain this better let’s just look at a few examples below.

Étudier 24h/24, c’est la vie d’étudiant – Studying 24/7, That’s student life (that’s the life of a student)

Être célèbre et gagner beaucoup d’argent, c’est la vie de footballeur – Being famous and making lots of money, that’s footballer life (that’s the life of a footballer)

(Video) How to Pronounce C'est la vie? (CORRECTLY, FRENCH)

Dormir et se faire caresser, c’est la vie de chat – Sleeping and getting pet, that’s cat life (that’s the life of a cat)

Using C'est La vie to express your passion about something

In some instances you are so passionate about something that you describe it as your life. If you haven’t already guessed, c’est la vie can be used in this case. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Le foot, c’est la vie – Football (soccer) is life

La musique, c’est la vie – Music is life

(Video) How to Pronounce C’est la Vie

It may go without saying, but you would really only use c’est la vie in this circumstance if you are really into something.

Expressions using C'est la vie

C’est la vie de château – That’s the life (literally that’s castle life)

C’est la vie de château, pourvu que ça dure – That’s the life, as long as it lasts

There are a couple of expressions that use c’est la vie that we should go over. The first, and more useful one is c’est la vie de château. You may or may not recognize the word château as castle which makes the expression as a whole read as “It’s castle life”. This may seem a little bizarre and not mean much, but it really means to live “thelife” or to live a life of luxury. Although it doesn’t change the meaning of the expression in the slightest, some people say c’est la vie au château instead.

There’s actually a somewhat famous French song that’s titled C’est la vie d’château avec toi which, although it’s difficult to pin down an exact translation, means that being with you is like living a life of luxury. Some people say c’est la vie de château, pourvu que ça dure which means “that’s the life / life of luxury as long as it lasts”.

The other expression that we should go over is definitely a strange one. To be honest, although this one is technically in French the French themselves don’t ever use it. Not only do they never use it they don’t even know what it is! The expression is c’est la vie, c’est la guerre, c’est la pomme de terre which, when translated literally, means “that’s life, that’s war, that’s the potato”. This is just a longer way of saying c’est la vie.

The origin of such a silly expression is likely hard to trace, but it probably has something to do with the fact that guerreand “terre” rhyme. Like I said, this surprisingly isn’t used by the French although if you have the chance you should tell it to your French friend for a good laugh.

Other ways to say c'est la vie in French

By now we know what c’est la vie means and how to use it in a sentence, however there are other ways to express the same idea. Let’s take a look at a few of them here.

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Using c'est comme ça as an alternative to c'est la vie

This is a must-have for all aspiring French learners, because it’s used quite often and is also really easy for learners to understand. Literally translated as “It’s like that” (c’est = it is / this is / that is, comme = like, ça = that) its real translation is closer to “that’s the way it is” or even “that’s just the way it is”. As you can see, this is basically the same thing as c’est la vie.

One thing that should be noted is that c’est comme ça doesn’t HAVE to be used in the same way as c’est la vie. You are totally free to use it like we would use it like we would use “it’s like that” in English. For example you could say…

C’est comme ça parce que c’est ce qu’il voulait – It’s like that because it’s what he wanted

Using c'est la guerre as an alternative to c'est la vie

C’est la guerre – That’s life (that’s war)

C’est la guerre (literally “that’s war”) is more or less another way to say c’est la vie. If it wasn’t already obvious, saying “that’s war” sounds much harsher than just “that’s life” which causes some to believe that c’est la guerre can be used for more purposeful actions rather than accidental ones. This isn’t a hard rule however and both of these can be interchangeable.

Using c'est ainsi as an alternative to c'est la vie

C’est ainsi – That’s how it is / That’s just how it is / It is what it is

This one is another great alternative to c’est la vie. The best translation of c’est ainsi is “that’s how it is”, “that’s just how it is” or even “it is what it is”. The word ainsi can sometimes be a hard one for English speakers to wrap their head around but my best advice is to just think of it like “like this” or “this way” making c’est ainsi translate literally as “it’s like this” or “it’s this way”. When you look at it like this becomes a little easier to understand.

Using On n'y peut rien as an alternative to c'est la vie

On n’y peut rien – We can’t do anything about it / Nothing can be done about it

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On n’y peut rien, although useful, can be difficult to English speakers or just young French learners in general to understand. The biggest hang up is with the letter “y” thrown into the mix. If this throws you off as well I recommend not worrying about it for the time being. Just know that on n’y peut rien is best translated as “we can’t do anything about it” or “nothing can be done about it”.

It’s a little different than some of the other ones we’ve already gone over as far as its literal translation, but when you think about it for a minute it’s actually not that far off as far as its actual meaning goes.

Using que veux-tu as an alternative to c'est la vie

Que veux-tu ? – What can you do (about it) ?

Que veux-tu faire ? – What can you do (about it) ?

Moving away from some of the “harder” phrases que veux-tu ? is actually pretty easy to understand for French learners of all levels. Literally translated as “what do you want?” it’s just another way of stating that nothing can be done about a current situation and to just let it go.

Probably the best translation in English for que veux-tu ? would be “what can you do?” or even “what can you do about it?” It may seem obvious, but this one should only be used in informal situations when you are with your friends or family. Also an alternative to que veux-tu ? is que veux-tu faire ? (literally what do you want to do?) which essentially means the same thing.

Using c'est des choses qui arrivent as an alternative to c'est la vie

C’est des choses qui arrivent – These things happen

Ce sont des choses qui arrivent – These things happen

C’est des choses qui arrivent (alternatively said as ce sont des choses qui arrivent) is another really easy phrase to understand as its literal and its real translation are almost the same thing. Literally translated as “It is things that arrive” the real translation is “these things happen”. Just like with the other phrases we’ve gone over in this article this is best used when something unfortunate, but not entirely unheard of happens.

(Video) Grit: the power of passion and perseverance | Angela Lee Duckworth

I hope that with this guide you should now have a good grasp on not only what c’est la vie means and how to use it, but also a handful of alternatives that you can use instead.

Feel free to check out my list of other French vocabulary to help improve your French.


What does c est la vie actually mean? ›

French phrase

se-lä-vē : that's life : that's how things happen.

Do French people say c'est la vie? ›

The French C'est la vie, surprisingly, is preferred in non-French cultures, and C'est la vie is used far more in English than in French. But unlike many expressions that English speakers have borrowed from French, the meaning is the same in both languages.

What is the meaning of C est la? ›

French phrase. : that's life : that's how things happen.

What is La vie in English? ›

La vie is French for "the life", such as found in the phrase "c'est la vie".

How do you use Cest la vie in a sentence? ›

used to say that situations of that type happen in life, and you cannot do anything about them: I can't go to the game on Saturday - I have to work. Oh well, c'est la vie.

How do you use the word vie? ›

  1. vie (with somebody) (for something) She was surrounded by men all vying for her attention.
  2. The boys would vie with each other to impress her.
  3. They are all vying for a place in the team.
  4. a row of restaurants vying with each other for business.
  5. vie (to do something) Screaming fans vied to get closer to their idol.

Is Sacre bleu offensive? ›

Sacrebleu! Sacrebleu is a stereotypical and very old fashioned French curse, which is rarely used by the French these days. An English equivalent would be “My Goodness!” or “Golly Gosh!” It was once considered very offensive.

Can you say Mon Cheri to a man? ›

Mon chéri means “my dear” or “sweetheart” in French. It's an adorable term of endearment for a male person someone is fond of, romantically or platonically.

What is tres bien? ›

very good, very well. excellent.

Why do French say c'est la vie? ›

In French, c'est la vie means “that's life,” borrowed into English as idiom to express acceptance or resignation, much like Oh well.

Is C'est la vie positive or negative? ›

It's interesting to note that the use of “c'est la vie” in both English and French is usually in a more negative context. You'll usually use it to make yourself or someone else feel better about something bad happening by saying that life is filled with negative moments.

What is the opposite of C'est la vie? ›

There are no categorical antonyms for c'est la vie. The phrase c'est la vie is defined as: That's life; such is life.

What is Bon vie? ›

The phrase is French, meaning "one fond of good living" or "one who lives well," from bon, "good," and vivre, "to live." Definitions of bon vivant. a person devoted to refined sensuous enjoyment (especially good food and drink)

What does La Vie en Rose? ›

Directly translated to "life in pink", "La vie en rose" essentially means seeing life through rose-coloured glasses. Living with an attitude or outlook of positivity, trying to see beauty in the everyday; like you do when you first fall in Love. Source: Wikitionary.org.

How do you use Cest in a sentence? ›

If there is a noun, use “c'est”.
  1. C'est une belle voiture. It's a nice car. ( belle comes before the noun)
  2. C'est sa voiture. It's his car. ( Sa comes before the noun)
  3. C'est cette voiture. ( cette comes before the noun)
Nov 18, 2021

How do you use CEST in French? ›

C'est means 'it is' or 'that is'. c'est + (masculine singular) adjective: C'est génial ! / C'est chaud / C'est cher. That's great! / It's hot / It's expensive.

How do you use La Vie en Rose in a sentence? ›

La Vie en Rose is one of a few exceptions where the level of speech is more standard than casual. In English today, you would probably say 'to look on the bright side of life' or simply 'to think positive', 'to be optimistic'. Je vois la vie en rose. Tu vois la vie en rose.

What is the full form of vie? ›

VIE is an accounting acronym that stands for variable interest entity. If your company is the primary beneficiary of a VIE, you generally must consolidate that VIE into your financial statements.

What is the parts of speech of vie? ›

verb (used without object), vied, vy·ing. to strive in competition or rivalry with another; contend for superiority: Swimmers from many nations were vying for the title. verb (used with object), vied, vy·ing.

How do you remember the word vie? ›

Mnemonics (Memory Aids) for vie

vie sounds like "SYE", which means the challenge nothing but competing.

What is the most vulgar French word? ›

Let's take a look:
  • Putain. 'Putain' is definitely the most commonly used French swear word. ...
  • Merde. 'Merde' is another popular curse word- perhaps not as popular as 'putain' but it is still used a lot. ...
  • Va te faire foutre. ...
  • Je m'en fous. ...
  • Ta gueule. ...
  • Salope/ Salaud. ...
  • Bâtard/ Bâtarde. ...
  • Niquer.
Nov 3, 2022

What is considered rude to French? ›

French people tend not to visit unannounced or uninvited. To do so is considered rude. When invited to a dinner, it is common for guests to ask their hosts if they are required to bring something on the day. Guests may also bring a bottle of wine or dessert.

Why do you say pardon my French? ›

The phrase is uttered in an attempt to excuse the user of profanity, swearing, or curses in the presence of those offended by it, under the pretense of the words being part of a foreign language.

What do French guys call their girlfriends? ›

Ma chérie / Mon chéri

Ma chérie and mon chéri are feminine and masculine forms of the French word that can be translated as "my dear," "my darling," or "my sweetheart." These terms can be used for both friends and romantic partners.

What do French call their lover? ›

Mon amour. The most well-known French endearment term, meaning my love.

What is mon petit chou? ›

mon petit chou sweetheart ⧫ my sweetheart.

How do you respond to Merci? ›

The usual response to merci is de rien (You're welcome – literally, It's nothing) or il n'y a pas de quoi. In a more formal context, you could say Je vous en prie or Je t'en prie.

What does Merci Boku? ›

: thank you very much.

What is bien bonita? ›

estas bien bonita: you're very beautiful/gorgeous/hot/etc.

What is a famous French saying? ›

Mangez bien, riez souvent, aimez beaucoup.

Literal translation: “Eat well, laugh often, love a lot.” Actual meaning: “Live life to the fullest” or carpe diem (“seize the day”). Use this positive French saying to console a friend that is having a hard time.

Why do people say La Vie en Rose? ›

Directly translated to "life in pink", "La vie en rose" essentially means seeing life through rose-coloured glasses. Living with an attitude or outlook of positivity, trying to see beauty in the everyday; like you do when you first fall in Love. So for months I had this phrase whirling around in my mind.

What is the opposite of Cest la vie? ›

There are no categorical antonyms for c'est la vie. The phrase c'est la vie is defined as: That's life; such is life.

What is the most romantic thing to say in French? ›

Je t'aime passionnément – I love you passionately. Je t'aime à la folie – I love you like crazy. Je t'aime d'amour – I love you with true love.

Why do the French say sacre bleu? ›

It literally means “sacred blue,” but it comes from “sacré Dieu” or “sacred God.” “Bleu” was used by people to replace “Dieu” in order to avoid the blasphemy of explicitly using the name of God.

What is the easiest sentence to say in French? ›

Let's dig in!
  1. Bonjour. = Good morning. ...
  2. Bonne après-midi. = Good afternoon. ...
  3. Je m'appelle Mondly. = My name is Mondly. ...
  4. Je suis ravi de vous rencontrer. = I'm pleased to meet you. ...
  5. Comment ça va ? = How are you? ...
  6. Bien, merci. Et vous-même ? ...
  7. J'aimerais une bière. = I'd like a beer. ...
  8. Je suis désolé. = I'm sorry.

What does Je t Aime mean? ›

Phrase. je t'aime. (informal) I love you.

What's the meaning of La Vie en Bleu? ›

Sometimes, in the moment. You don't have the right words to make everything better. And all choices lead only to a different kind of pain.

What language is Belle Vie? ›

belle vie – translation into English from French | PROMT.


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