Reader Request: French Expressions Using “Tomber” Posted by Elizabeth Schmermund on Jun 22, 2015 in Vocabulary
One of our readers wrote in and mentioned hearing the following phrase: son embauche était tombée à pic. Many French learners might find this expression confusing without more context. If son embauche refers to someone’s job, would using the verb “to fall” (tomber) necessarily mean something bad happened at that person’s place of employment?
Idioms can be tricky in general because understanding them requires cultural, and not just linguistic, knowledge. French idioms using tomber can be particularly tricky for English speakers because, in English, “to fall” can have a somewhat negative connotation and we simply do not have many idioms using this verb (how many can you think of besides “falling in love”?). In French, however, it’s a different story: tomber is used in many common idioms and has a neutral connotation.
To get back to the previous example: a pic is the French word for either the peak (of a mountain, for example) or for a tool (like the pick-ax). However, the word in this expression plays on a game called le jeu de paume. This game dates back nearly 300 years and was a precursor to tennis. In this game, you could score points at a particular moment by hitting a very precise part of the court; this was called la chasse pic. From this game, the word pic in this expression comes to mean “a precise point or moment in time.”
Thus, the expression tomber à pic means to arrive or happen just at the right time. Son embauche était tombée à pic means that s/he found his/her job at just the right time.
Here are some other common idioms that use the verb tomber:
tomber dans les pommes — to faint
tomber au poil/pile poil — to happen at the perfect/right time
tomber sur un bec — to hit a snag
laisser tomber — to let (something) go
tomber dans le panneau — to fall in the trap; to be gullible
tomber des nues — to be flabbergasted
tomber du ciel — like tomber à pic, this means to happen at the right moment
mal tomber — to occur at the wrong time; to be unlucky
tomber enceinte — to get pregnant
tomber amoureux/amoureuse — to fall in love
Readers: Can you think of any other French expressions that use the verb tomber? What about English expressions that use the verb “to fall”? Leave your ideas in the comments.
Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.
ça tombe bien = that works out well, is lucky, comes at a good time
To fall for something – to be tricked
To fall short – to not quite achieve or gain something; to not have enough money needed for something.
“I just fell over laughing.”
“He fell into a deep depression.”
“She fell flat on her face.” – to fail socially or to be embarrassed by doing something wrong or awkward, for ex.
To fall on hard times – to not be doing well, usually economically, for ex.
Can “Laisser tomber” also mean: To let someone down?
@Kathleen Wow, everyone! Thank you for the great suggestions, both in English and French.
Kathleen — yes, you can also use “laisser tomber” to mean that as well. For example: “ne me laisse pas tomber” would mean “don’t let me down”.
Comment received via email from Francoise:
“- Ça tombe mal… ma jupe ne tombe pas bien et je rentre en scène dans trois minutes.
– Ça tombe bien, la couturière est encore là. Elle tombe à pic.
– Donne-lui 8€ en monnaie.
– 8€? Je vais voir ce que j’ai…. Chic! Ça tombe juste : j’ai exactement 8€”.
Comment received via email:
“to fall in with”–as in getting involved with a bad sort of crowd
“a falling out” –a disagreement, a tiff, a fight
“falling down drunk” –!!
“to fall off the roof” –to have one’s period (given to me by my 90 year old friend)
“falling for a line…a scam”
“falling into debt”
Comment received via email:
Tomber – to fall
Three other forms of falling in Enlish are:
to fall pregnant to fall ill/sick to fall over