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Prendre pour acquis - Taking for granted

You can tell from his soulful singing that Corneille is a sweet and sensitive man—but there is one thing we just can’t take for granted: knowing how to express that we are taking something for granted! First, take a look at what Corneille croons:

Et si je prends pour acquis mes chances / Fais-moi peur que plus jamais j’y pense

And if I take my luck for granted / Scare me so that I don't think of it ever again 

Captions 26-27, Corneille: Comme un fils

Corneille says that he doesn’t want to take his chances (his luck) for granted. The infinitive of this verb phrase is prendre pour acquis. As you may have guessed, it literally translates as “to take for acquired,” but what it really means is “to take for granted.” This phrase is popular in French Canada, where Corneille eventually settled after leaving Africa.

Now, if you are a real stickler for grammar, you are probably thinking that, because chances is feminine in gender and plural in number, Corneille should have made the adjective agree, using acquises instead of the masculine and singular acquis. However, in actual practice, French Canadians often don’t make the acquis in prendre pour acquis agree with the noun to which it refers, though some make the argument that they should.

Tenir pour acquis is the more traditional way to express the same sentiment, and is considered more “correct” (if not more popular). In France, both prendre pour acquis and tenir pour acquis are understood, but sound a bit formal and old-fashioned. The French prefer the phrase considérer comme acquis for use in common, everyday speech.

Ne considère pas mon amour comme acquis, ou tu risquerais de me voir partir

Don't take my love for granted, or one day you may find me gone.

So far we have been talking about “to take for granted” in the sense of under-appreciating your blessings. That’s all well and good, but what if you want to talk about “taking something for granted” in its alternate sense, that of “taking something as a given,” or “taking something as self-evident”? Similar to English, prendre pour acquis serves double duty, and can be used to express this meaning of “to take for granted” as well. Once again, this usage is more commonly heard in Canada, while a contemporary French person is more likely to just say that he or she is “sure” of the thing.

J’ai pris pour acquis que le facteur viendrait tous les jours, mais je me suis trompé. [Canada] 

J’étais sûr que le facteur viendrait tous les jours, mais je me suis trompé. [France]

I took for granted that the mailman would come daily, but I was wrong.

Nous prenons pour acquis que le prix de l’essence va augmenter. [Canada]

Nous sommes sûrs que le prix de l’essence va augmenter. [France]

We take for granted that the price of gas will go up.

Allant de soi (literally, “going from itself”) means being “obvious” or “a given.” When we place considérer comme before it, we get considérer comme allant de soi, which literally means “to consider as obvious” or “to consider as a given." This can often be best translated as “to take as self-evident” and is frequently used in scholarly writing.

La plupart des gens acceptent comme allant de soi que chaque ville-région n’ait qu’un seul gouvernement municipal.

Most people seem to regard it as self-evident that every city-region needs a single municipal government.

[from “Globalization Does Not Need Amalgamation” in Policy Options (Nov. 1999), a bilingual Canadian journal of public policy]

A related phrase that means “it's a given” is ça va de soi (literally, "it goes from itself"). This phrase, which is widely used in both France and Canada, is usually translated using the common English phrase “it goes without saying.” There is a more “proper” and formal version, cela va de soi, which is more often used in writing and less in casual conversation.

Sommes-nous heureux avec les résultats de l’élection? Ça va de soi! [Casual]

Sommes-nous heureux avec les résultats de l’élection? Cela va de soi! [Formal]

Are we happy with the election results? It goes without saying!

It is not at all unusual to hear a sentence begin with Ça va de soi que… as we see in the example below, but once again, we find there is a more formal version. Il va de soi que… is considered more “proper” and is therefore the construction you are more likely to see in written texts.

Ça va de soi que les Américains fondent beaucoup d’espoir sur leur nouveau président. [Less formal]

Il va de soi que les Américains fondent beaucoup d’espoir sur leur nouveau président. [More formal]

It goes without saying that Americans are hopeful about their new president.

There are many other ways and variations of expressing both meanings of “to take for granted” in French. If you’d like to learn a few more, read this interesting discussion.

Expressions

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