The verb importer has two different meanings: “to import” (goods or merchandise, or even a computer file) and “to be important” or “to matter.” You can use the phrase il importe as a more formal alternative to il est important (it is important) when giving a warning or instruction:
Il importe de se laver les mains avant de manger.
It is important to wash your hands before you eat.
But more often, you’ll see the verb used in two set expressions to refer to things that aren’t important, or whose specific identity doesn’t matter. The first of these expressions is peu importe, which means “little does it matter”:
Peu importe si je veux ça, mes larmes en vain,
Little does it matter if I want it, my tears in vain,
et peu importe des lendemains si je t'aime
and little do the tomorrows matter if I love you
Caption 11, Peach FTL - L'EmpreintePlay Caption
The other expression is not as straightforward but probably even more common. Take a look at this sentence:
C'est le seul art que tu peux faire n'importe où, n'importe quand.
It's the only art that you can do anywhere, anytime.
Captions 7-8, B-Girl Frak - La DansePlay Caption
You’ll have to watch the video to find out what artform B-Girl Frak is referring to (though you might be able to guess from the title), but for now, let’s focus on the phrases n’importe où and n’importe quand. Literally translated, they mean “doesn’t matter where” and “doesn’t matter when,” which are roundabout ways of saying “anywhere” and “anytime.” In French, the construction “n’importe + interrogative word (où, quand, qui, quoi, comment, quel)” corresponds to English phrases beginning with “any” (anywhere, anytime, anyone, etc.).
Depending on context, this construction can function as a few different parts of speech. For instance, while n’importe où and n’importe quand act as adverbs, n’importe qui (anyone) and n’importe quand (anytime) act as indefinite pronouns:
Et qui l'achète? Ah, n'importe qui.
And who buys it? Ah, anyone.
Captions 4-5, Le Journal - La bougie du sapeurPlay Caption
Le marché Dauphine,
The "Marché Dauphine" [Dauphine Market],
une véritable caverne d'Ali Baba, ici on trouve n'importe quoi.
a veritable Ali Baba's cave, here we find anything.
Caption 2, Cap 24 - Paris : Alessandro fait les Puces!Play Caption
N’importe quoi can also be used more informally to mean “ridiculous” or “nonsense”:
Là, je trouve ça n'importe quoi, parce que, voilà,
I think it's ridiculous because, you know,
chacun a ses... a sa religion.
everyone has ... has his or her own religion.
Caption 16, Grand Lille TV - Sondage: le voile intégralPlay Caption
If you want to be a bit more specific than “anyone” or “anything,” you can use the expression n’importe quel/quelles/quels/quelles, which is always followed by a noun:
Vous parlez comme n'importe quel homme.
You talk like any other man.
Caption 31, Bande-annonce - La Belle et La BêtePlay Caption
Lequel, laquelle, lesquels, and lesquelles can be used to replace “quel/quelle/quels/quelles + noun” (more on that here). Likewise, you can also put n’importe in front of those words to express indifference:
Tu veux aller à la plage ou à la piscine? -N’importe laquelle.
Do you want to go to the beach or to the pool? -Either one.
Finally, there’s the adverb phrase n’importe comment, which literally means “any how,” but is usually translated as “any way” or “any which way.” The French house artist Toxic Avenger devoted an entire song to this phrase:
Bouge ton corps n'importe comment
Move your body any which way
Caption 24, The Toxic Avenger - N'importe commentPlay Caption
In informal speech, you’ll even hear n’importe used as a standalone phrase to mean “it doesn’t matter” or “I don’t care” (or even just "whatever"). We hope that you do care about all of the different ways to use importer!