Quand Même in English: It’s Uses and Translations

Quand même is a very common expression in spoken French, but it’s very hard to translate. It’s literal English translation doesn’t make much sense, which often makes it difficult for native English speakers to learn.

How can you use the expression quand même in spoken French?

How can you understand what it means in spoken French conversation — especially whether it’s being used positively or negatively?

We’ll explore all of that and more in today’s lesson. Let’s dive in!

1 – Quand même: What is it?
2 – Quand même: For contradictions
3 – Quand même: Doubt & Disapproval
4 – Quand même: Surprise, Outrage, Empathy

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1. Quand même: What is it?

Quand même (pronounced \kɑ̃ mɛm\) is an expression that’s mostly used in spoken French.

It’s une locution invariable: it never changes, including the fact that it never agrees with the subject (or any other part of the sentence).

Literally, it means “when same / when even…”. So in this case, a word-for-word translation doesn’t help.

It’s mainly used to say “that’s outside the limits, don’t you think?” But let’s get into the details of this expression and its varying uses.

People (even French people) sometimes think it’s spelled “comme même” but that’s a mistake. The pronunciation is very close, but the expression “Comme même” doesn’t exist! Don’t use it.

2. Quand même: Insisting on a contradiction

The first meaning of “quand même” is to insist on a contradiction between two things. There are different ways to translate that in English. For example:

Il est sympa, mais quand même, il parle beaucoup.
= He’s nice, but even so, he talks too much.

Je suis Française, et je fais quand même parfois des erreurs en français !
= I’m French, and yet I sometimes make mistakes in French!

Tu veux pas manger tes légumes ? Eh bah tu les manges quand même !
= You don’t want to eat your vegetables? Well, you’ll eat them anyway!

This meaning of quand même even leaked into everyday politeness.

When you’re asking someone for help, and they can’t help you but still seem friendly, you’re supposed to answer:
Merci quand même ! = Thanks anyway!

It’s short for the contradiction “I’m thankful for you trying to help me, even though it didn’t work out.”

(Merci quand même can also be used sarcastically, as in “Thanks for nothing!”)

In this way, Quand même is close to other French synonymes, such as:
Cependant / Toutefois = However (formal)
Malgré / En dépit de (quelque chose) = Despite (something)
Pourtant = Yet (“Despite this”)
Tout de même = Even so, anyway…

A formal variation of this use is:
Quand bien même [+ sentence in the conditional] = Even though / Even if…

3 - Quand même: Disapproval & Doubt

Quand même can also be used to express disapproval.

Tu ne vas pas traverser l’Atlantique à la nage, quand même ?
= You’re not going to swim across the Atlantic Ocean, are you? […Because that sounds crazy.]

Quand même, arriver avec une heure de retard, c’est pas sympa.
= Showing up an hour late, that’s not nice. […And it’s outside the limits of politeness]

You can use “Quand même” to express a slightly negative judgement, without being too personal. It’s a subtle way to say “All reasonable people agree with me.” You’re implying that they’re acting outside the common boundaries – but without really putting your own credibility on the line. Yes, it can be really passive-aggressive!

This meaning of “Quand même” comes up a lot in the negative: “Quand même pas.

Le train est arrêté, qu’est-ce que je peux faire ? Je vais quand même pas faire de l’auto-stop !
= The train is stopped, what can I do? I’m not going to start hitchhiking [“… Because that would be outside the limits of what I can accept.”]

Tu n’as quand même pas mangé tout le camembert, si ?
= You didn’t eat the whole camembert cheese, did you? [“…Because that would be extraordinary, and improper.”] // Tell me you didn’t eat the whole camembert cheese!

Or, tweaking the previous example:
Tu ne vas quand même pas traverser l’Atlantique à la nage !
= You’re not going to swim across the Atlantic Ocean! […Because that would be too crazy.] // Don’t tell me you’re going to swim across the Atlantic Ocean!

Another expression that French people use to mean the same thing is:
Il ne faut pas exagérer ! / Il ne faut pas exagérer, non plus !
= “One shouldn’t exaggerate.” (literally)
= “That’s just too much!” / “Let’s not go overboard.” / “That’s unacceptable!”

For instance: Je suis pas exigeante sur la ponctualité, mais là tu as une heure de retard, il faut pas exagérer non plus !
= I’m not too demanding when it comes to punctuality, but now you’re an hour late, that’s just too much!

You can also use:
Ne me dis pas que… = Don’t tell me that… (just like in English!)

4 - Quand même: Surprise, Outrage, Empathy

Finally, “Quand même” can be used to insist on different emotions, or to emphasize your emotions. Such as:

La surprise / L’admiration (= surprise, admiration): :
Alors ça, quand même ! Je ne m’y attendais pas !
= Oh wow! I wasn’t expecting that!

Oh wow ! Ah ouais, quand même, c’est impressionnant !
= Oh wow! Alright, yeah, that’s impressive!

L’incompréhension (= incomprehension, bewilderment):
J’ai encore une pub Facebook pour un truc dont on a parlé hier au téléphone. Quand même, c’est bizarre.
= Once again, I got a Facebook ad for something we talked about yesterday on the phone. I have to say, that’s weird. [Implied contradiction: I can’t help but think that’s weird even though it could still be a coincidence.]

La colère, l’indignation (= anger, outrage):
Quand même ! Il peut pas t’envoyer un message ? Ça lui prendrait deux minutes!
= That’s too much! (That’s outrageous!) He can’t text you? It would take him two minutes!

Pour rassurer quelqu’un (= to make someone feel better):
C’est pas grave, tu as quand même fait de ton mieux…
= That’s OK, at least you gave your best…
= That’s OK, you gave your best anyway…

→ “Quand même” can express empathy or understanding; it’s the implied contradiction between “I don’t need to like them but at least I still find good things in them” or “It’s a bad situation but at least there’s something good in it.”
J’aime pas Michel mais quand même, il est super drôle.
= I don’t really like Michel but still, he’s really funny.

You can also use au moins / mais au moins = at least / but at least.

One last thing!

In the examples above, the negative sentences often miss the “Ne” in “ne [verbe] pas.” That’s a bit of informal grammar of everyday spoken French!

This happens because “quand même” is mostly used in spoken French. Just like Allez !, for example. You can learn more of this type of informal French by practicing your understanding of real spoken French.

That’s why I made these other lessons for which, which you can check out now:
Dropping the “Ne”
How to use “Allez !” (lesson in French)
Practice understanding spoken French with Paul Taylor

À tout de suite !
See you in the next lesson!

And now:

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Join the conversation!

  • This is the first time I have found your site and these lessons, which I love. You haven’t mentioned néanmoins (nonetheless or never the less in English) as another possible word/translation here. It’s perhaps a little archaic, but my husband is very fond of interjecting it into a sentence wherever possible

  • Merci, Gèraldine. C’est evidement que diapason fonctionnel de cette expression est assez variable. Pas seulement sèmantiquement mais aussi contextuellement.
    Y a t-il quelque chose comme “phrasal verbs” en francais? Cette terme, est-elle utilisable? Serait-elle utilisable (ou acceptable) si non?
    Merci en avance pour votre hypothetique reponse.

  • Comme d’habitude, c’est un autre lecon super, Geraldine. En addition a tes plusieurs synonymes appropries en Anglais, je voudrais suggerer “just the same”:

    Il est sympa, mais quand même, il parle beaucoup.
    = He’s nice, but just the same, he talks too much.

    Je suis Française, et je fais quand même parfois des erreurs en français !
    = I’m French, but just the same, I sometimes make mistakes in French!

    Tu veux pas manger tes légumes ? Eh bah tu les manges quand même !
    = You don’t want to eat your vegetables? Well, you’ll eat them just the same!

    This meaning of quand même even leaked into everyday politeness.
    When you’re asking someone for help, and they can’t help you but still seem friendly, you’re supposed to answer:
    Merci quand même ! = Thanks just the same!
    It’s short for the contradiction “I’m thankful”.

  • Great lesson! Maybe this has already been suggested: your translations as “still”, “yet”, and “anyway” are all great. The most all-purpose translation that seems to me to cover the greatest number of situations is “even so”. I particularly love the way French people use it in isolation as a pseudo-rebuttal when someone proves them wrong. Person 1: “Non, vous avez tort. Et voilà la preuve.” Person 2: “Quand même.”

  • Merci beaucoup Géraldine. Quand même est une phrase très utile. J’espère que tout va bien à Grenoble.

  • Such clear explanations! I can’t wait for Spring break to enroll in your course.
    May I ask. Is that La Catrina in the background? You seem to have Mexican art behind you.

  • I love this high value session. It demonstrates how the usage and context of a phrase (itself invariable) with no meaningful English translation (!) has multiple varied and seemingly contradictory applications. I find the tone and inflection (and even facial expression) also changes the meaning.

    For example, I have used “Merci quand même” in a positive way. I didn’t understand the pejorative sense of the identical expression until much later. (I have lived in France for 5 years).

    While we might use cependant or malgré in written french, it’s worth pointing out that more and more written french is by text. Text is more like oral french and the tendency is for radical abbreviation. Quand même (can be stand alone) is used in texting and among my friends and entourage “qd mem” is the most common abbreviation.

    @Géraldine thanks for helping us navigate through the deliciously complex and sometimes frustrating universe of the ever changing french language.

    • Thanks Duncan!

      You’re absolutely right 🙂

      Have a great day,

      – Arthur, writer for Comme une Française

  • J’adore la chanson : Merci Quand Même par Marina Kaye. C’est tellement triste mais au même temps très beau, quand même!

  • Je me souviens de la première fois que j’ai entendu cette expression. Alors, j’ai demandé aux enfants avec qui je parlais ‘qu’est-ce que ca veux dire, quand même? Ils m’ont répondu, bah ça veux dire ‘quand meme’!

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