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A Not So Painful Lesson on Peine

Although this lesson is about peine (pain), it need not be painful. There are a variety of expressions using the word whose meaning does not involve “pain.” Let's explore both the painful aspects of the word peine and the idiomatic expressions derived from it. 


We'll start with the primary meaning of peine, the English cognate “pain.” In the song below, from the musical Pour la peine, set during the French Revolution, the word peine is part of the refrain depicting the turmoil of the times. Note that unlike "pain" in English, peine only refers to emotional pain or mental suffering in French: 


Au nom des larmes qui nous désarment,

In the name of the tears that disarm us,

on doit pouvoir changer l'histoire pour la peine

we must be able to change history for the pain

Caption 24, 1789: Les Amants de la Bastille - Pour la peine

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In another part of the song, we come across a synonym of peine, douleur, which can refer to both emotional pain and physical pain. In this context, the word douleur means “sorrow”: 


On veut des rêves qui nous soulèvent,

We want dreams that lift us up,

on veut des fleurs à nos douleurs

we want flowers for our sorrows

Caption 7, 1789: Les Amants de la Bastille - Pour la peine

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In any case, do use the word douleur, not peine, to describe physical pain, as in douleurs dentaires (dental pains):


Je connais ce que c'est ces douleurs dentaires.

I know what those dental pains are like.

Caption 21, Le saviez-vous? - Conversation entre étrangers

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Going back to psychological pain, the word peine encompasses a range of feelings. For example, the expression faire de la peine (literally, to “make pain”) means to cause pain/sorrow or to elicit compassion and pity. In the video below, we know from the context that the speaker feels sorry for the person, in a compassionate way:


Elle me fait de la peine.

I feel sorry for her.

Caption 6, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Notre appartement est hanté

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However, there is a fine line between compassion and pity. In a less charitable context, one might say tu me fais de la peine (I pity you), showing utter contempt: 


T'es vraiment pitoyable mais tu fais vraiment de la peine.

You're really pathetic, but I really pity you.

Caption 6, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Espion dans l'immeuble

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Faire de la peine is a tricky construction that involves the use of indirect object pronouns (me, te, lui, nous, vous), which you can learn more about in this lesson. When you come across these, as in te fait de la peine in the video below, you may want to first consider the literal meaning (“is causing you pain”) to get at the true meaning ("is upsetting for you") dictated by the context:


Je... je sais que ce que je te demande te fait de la peine

I... I know that what I'm asking you is upsetting for you

Caption 31, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon histoire d'amour est impossible

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So, pay close attention to those personal pronouns! 


Je te fais de la peine. 

I hurt your feelings. 


Tu me fais de la peine.

You’re upsetting me.


You may need to turn the sentence around to understand the meaning, as we did earlier:


Elle me fait de la peine.

I feel sorry for her. (Literally, "she's causing me pain.")


Peine can also have the sense of “trouble / effort”:


C'est pas la peine.

It's not worth the trouble. / It's not worth it.

Caption 77, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Mon père s'oppose à ma passion

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Likewise, peiner, the verbal form of peine, means “to struggle”:


Sabine peine à se débarrasser de Gabriela.

Sabine is struggling to get rid of Gabriela.

Caption 33, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Ma mère fait tout pour briser mon couple

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You can use either peine or peiner to express trouble or difficulty:


Il marche avec peine.

He walks with difficulty.


Il peine à marcher.

He struggles to walk. / He has trouble walking.


Another variation here would be to use the expression à peine (barely / hardly):


Il peut à peine marcher.

He can barely walk.


On the other hand, it is of course possible to perform a task sans peine (without difficulty):


Mais lorsque Cendrillon entra sans peine avec son pied dans la chaussure...

But when Cinderella inserted her foot in the shoe without difficulty...

Caption 49, Contes de fées - Cendrillon

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But if you switch the preposition sans (without) to sous (under), the meaning will totally change!


J'ai fait pression sur Baptiste

I put pressure on Baptiste

pour qu'il porte plainte contre Florence

so he would lodge a complaint against Florence

sous peine de couper les ponts

under the threat of cutting off the bridges [all contact]

Captions 43-45, Le Jour où tout a basculé - À l'audience - Volé par sa belle-mère ?

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In a legal context, sous peine de means “under penalty of”:


Il est interdit donc sous peine d'amende

So it is forbidden, under penalty of a fine

Caption 34, Voyage en France - Soissons

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And then there's the ultimate punishment, la peine de mort (the death penalty). According to humorous singer Oldelaf, even the most minor offenses merit la peine de mort:


La peine de mort

The death penalty

Pour les mamies avec les cheveux tout violet

For grannies with completely purple hair

Captions 45-46, Oldelaf - La peine de mort

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Thankfully, making mistakes while learning French is allowed at Yabla and will not incur any peine (pain or penalty). We hope this lesson en valait la peine (was worth it). Merci d’avoir pris la peine de lire tout ça! (Thank you for taking the trouble to read all this!)


Getting the Facts Straight

In her new sci-fi series Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones, Patricia imagines a dystopian future in which all credit card companies have merged into one:


Du fait de nombreuses fusions,

Because of many mergers,

il ne reste plus qu'une société anonyme de cartes de crédit.

there remains only one limited liability credit card company.

Caption 15, Patricia - Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones

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Du fait de is one of several French expressions that mean "because" (you can learn more about these expressions in our past lesson on the topic). It's also one of many expressions featuring the word fait, which you might recognize as a conjugation of the verb faire (to make, to do). But fait is also a noun meaning "fact"—du fait de literally means "from the fact of." In this lesson, we'll review some other "fact"-based expressions in French. 


Patricia uses a similar expression to du fait de earlier on in her video—de ce fait (therefore, literally "from this fact"):


De ce fait, toutes les procédures de paiement

Therefore, all payment procedures

sont réalisées sans argent physique.

are performed without physical money.

Caption 13, Patricia - Pas de crédit dans le monde des clones

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Now that you know that fait means "fact," you can probably guess what en fait means. Alessandro uses it when interviewing a flea market vendor: 


Vous, c'est une véritable passion

For you, it's a true passion

que vous partagez tous les jours en fait.

that you share every day, in fact.

Caption 6, Cap 24 - Paris : Alessandro fait les Puces!

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The vendor responds in the next caption with another fait expression, tout à fait (exactly):


Oui, oui. Tout à fait.

Yes, yes. Exactly.

Caption 7, Cap 24 - Paris : Alessandro fait les Puces!

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Don't confuse en fait with au fait, which means "by the way" or "incidentally":

Ah, au fait, j'ai parlé à Vanessa de nos nouveaux voisins.

Oh, by the way, I spoke to Vanessa about our new neighbors.

Caption 22, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 8

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En fait and au fait are easily confused not only because they look similar, but also because the t is pronounced in both of them. In most other instances of the word fait, the t is silent.  


If someone has done a good job on something, you can say, Bien fait! (Well done!) In this case fait isn't a noun but the past participle of the verb faire:


Oui, chef. Bien fait!

Yes, chief. Well done!

Caption 46, Il était une fois... L’Espace - 3. La planète verte

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As a noun, fait doesn't only mean "fact." It can also mean "event" or "occurrence" depending on the context:


Cette histoire est inspirée de faits réels.

This story is inspired by real events.

Caption 21, Le Jour où tout a basculé - Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 1

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This lesson is now a fait accompli (accomplished fact). Thanks for reading!