Ça va?

Ca va?

This post is dedicated to the two little French words that just keep on going.

With these two words of vocabulary, you can say a great many things. You can ask if someone’s all right, in general or when they’ve hurt themselves (like Louis de Funès in the above pic), or expand upon them to create an entire conversation.

Ça va?

Ça va, merci. Et toi?

Ça va ça va. Et ta femme?

Ça va bien aussi.

Alors ça va. Bonne journée!

It’s extraordinary how much nuance can be expressed in those two words.

‘Ça va’, when said in a bright tone of voice, means happy. Ça va bien, super, or even super bien adds degrees of delight. If enunciated with an interrogation or a slight downward lilt, it can mean something less joyful. ‘Ça va pas trop mal’, means not bad, but could also mean not great either. When you get to ‘ça va pas trop’ or the ill boding ‘ça peut aller’, you know things are heading south. Until they stop all together.

Now despite our ups and downs, our strikes and our politics, things in France generally always go. Until they don’t go. Which is to say that most of the time ça va, until suddenly ça va pas. And then – Attention!

Ça va pas du tout aller là. Ça va vraiment pas du tout. Du tout du tout du tout!

When things stop going in France, watch out. There will be drama and sparks will fly. Couples divorce. Heads have been known to roll.

Usually after a dramatic episode of ‘ça va pas’ there will be a healing period of ‘ça va mieux’. Things are not fine but they are a bit better. They are going, which is infinitely preferable to not going at all.

‘Rien ne va plus’ (nothing more goes) was the title of a 1997 French film directed by Claude Chabrol about a couple of con artists. The title was inspired by the expression which is used in the world of casinos, about which I know nothing. Truly. But Google tells me this is what the croupier says when no more bets can be placed on the table.

Of course, you know that the ‘ne’ is usually dropped in spoken language. Just like you know that the word ‘ça’ is actually a contraction of the more formal ‘cela’. Some people prefer to say ‘cela’ to give themselves an educated air. Verging on the ridiculous, like the character infamously played by Thierry Lhermite in the French film classic ‘Le Père Noël est une ordure’.

C'est cela oui

As for the photo of Louis de Funès, it is from a 1966 film called ‘La Grande Vadrouille’. I’ve just learned it has been remastered and re-released. Not sure if it can be found anywhere to rent online but it’s out on DVD. I intend to watch it, both for the slapstick silliness that the French do so well and the wonderful scenes of 1960s Paris.

Alors toi, ça va?


  1. francetaste · September 29, 2016

    Great post! “Le Père Noël” is so hilarious.

    • MELewis · September 29, 2016

      Merci! It is such a great film. I feel that it should be required watching for all newcomers, along with the series of ‘Les Bronzés…’ movies.

      • francetaste · September 29, 2016

        I adore les Bronzés!!!! And the Asterix movies with Depardieu as Obélix.

  2. I love using some sort of ‘Ca va’ skit with my beginners French school groups.

    • MELewis · September 29, 2016

      Great idea. I can imagine those must be a lot of fun to teach!

  3. emma · September 29, 2016

    And then there’s ça te va ! So many great nuances!

    • MELewis · September 29, 2016

      Right you are, when something looks good on you. And then also as a question as to whether something suits you, “Ça vous va comme ça?” Endless possibilities!

  4. coteetcampagne · September 29, 2016

    I did NOT know ça was an abbreviation or contraction of cela!
    I thought cela meant “that over there” non?

    You see Mel, you are providing both amusing AND educational posts

    • MELewis · September 29, 2016

      LOL. This blog does prove useful from time to time! Over there is là bas, perhaps?

      • coteetcampagne · September 29, 2016

        ‘course! I am easily confused. It’s Wednesday

  5. doodletllc · September 29, 2016

    I tried to follow your post…it certainly looks funny…but my french is next to non-existent so I failed miserably. Of course slapstick is universal…I did get that. Thanks! 🙂

    • MELewis · October 1, 2016

      Sorry, thought it was easy enough for anyone to get. But after so many years in France, I tend to forget how hard it is. (Although I still get confused often enough!)

  6. poshbirdy · September 29, 2016

    Great post. And I LOVE Louis de Funes (I even have a copy of Rabbi Jacob, which is too silly for words)

    • MELewis · October 1, 2016

      Glad you enjoyed! I think it is impossible for any non-French speaker to understand Rabbi Jacob. 😉

  7. zipfslaw1 · September 29, 2016

    I had no clue that ça was a contraction of anything ! Thanks. I stuck my foot in my mouth quite deeply at work one day over Funès, and Rabbi Jacob specifically. Too long of a story for a comment, too embarrassing not to write about it…

    • MELewis · October 1, 2016

      To be fair, I only learned that after many years of speaking the lingo. Very easy to put your foot in it, which I still do far too often!

  8. ferulang · October 3, 2016

    Salut, ça va? 😀 I enjoyed your post, it is funny and super interesting. J’adore le film “Le Père Noël est une ordure”. Je l’ai regardé au moins trois fois. Best regards and keep going 🙂

    • MELewis · October 5, 2016

      So glad you enjoyed it! Hope to read you again soon – à bientôt! 🙂

  9. zipfslaw1 · October 4, 2016

    I was so excited this weekend: my tutor told me not to write “ça,” and I asked her if that were because I should be writing “cela,” and she said yes, and I asked her if that were because it’s more formal, and she said yes! Thanks!

    • MELewis · October 5, 2016

      I feel proud to have helped you impress your tutor!

  10. acflory · October 4, 2016

    lmao – I have absolutely no idea what they were saying [in the video clip] but I laughed anyway! Ca va!

    • MELewis · October 5, 2016

      Bravo Madame! That’s the beauty of slapstick – although I can sometimes find it sort of silly, when done well it transcends language and works regardless of whether you understand the words or not. 😀

      • acflory · October 5, 2016

        C’est vrai! 🙂

  11. sunnydaysinseattle · October 21, 2016

    Oh my, La Grande Vadrouille is my favorite movie growing up. It would be so awesome to see the remastered version. BTW, I love your blog and I am following you now 🙂

    • MELewis · October 21, 2016

      Merci! Happy to have you along….and I will do the same. Your adventures in Greenland look amazing!

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