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You may hear French politicians end their speeches with the expression, Vive la France. Or often you will hear fans at a World Cup soccer match chanting Vive la France or Vive les Bleus as they cheer the men’s or women’s French National teams. Or more than likely you have seen tourists returning from France sporting their new T-shirts with depictions of the Eiffel Tower with the expression written in shiny, elegant lettering.

From the context of these situations, you could probably ascertain that the expression is a patriotic expression used by the French to support their country or players. But what is the literal translation of this expression? Where does it come from and in what contexts is it used? Let’s dig deeper and get into the Vive la France meaning…

What does “Vive la France” mean?

The expression, Vive la France, can be most easily translated as long live France. It is often used to demonstrate French patriotism at events such as political rallies or  sporting events, as well as tragic events to express national solidarity. It is used in a very similar way as the expression “God Bless America” in some situations.

  • Les supporteurs ont chanté Vive la France à la fin du match contre l’Italie. – The fans chanted long live France at the end of the game against Italy.
  • Le Président a conclu son discours en exclamant Vive la France! -The President concluded his speech exclaiming long live France!
  • J’ai mis les mots, Vive la France, avec le drapeau français sur mon profil facebook après les attentats terroristes à Paris. – I put the words long live France with French flag on my facebook profile after the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Where does the expression “Vive la France” come from?

The grammatical origin of this expression comes from the French verb to live: vivre. Vive is the subjunctive form of vivre that is used in the 3rd person singular. The subjunctive is the French verb tense that is used to express a wish, desire, sentiment, or suggestion, and sometimes doubt.

  • Nous espérons que la République Française vive très longtemps. – We hope that the French Republic lasts a long time.

When expressing a wish or desire for something to happen in French, the action you hope happens is conjugated in the subjunctive tense. In the example above, this is the verb, vivre, which becomes vive. (In our translation, we changed the verb from lives to lasts only because it sounds more natural that way in English.)

Given this unique verb tense, a more literal translation of “Vive la France“ might be “May France live for a long time.“ Of course, literal translations are not always the most accurate translations. For this reason it is important to consider the intention of the speaker and the context of the event. With the expression Vive la France, we might choose different expressions in English to convey its meaning in different situations.

Here are some possible English translations for Vive la France:

Vive la France meaning in English Context for using Vive la France
Go France! Hurray France! Fans chanting at a sporting event
I support France. God bless France. After a national tragedy
Long live the Republic of France. On Bastille Day, the French national holiday

What is the history of the expression “Vive la France”?

Although the expression, Vive la France, probably has its origins further back in history to medieval times when chants of “Long live the King!” or “Vive le Roi!” would have been more common, today it’s most often associated with the French Revolution and the birth of the French Republic.

In 1789, the French began a revolution that established the first democratic Republic of France.  What began as a request for increased representation for common people and increased oversight of the King’s decisions, eventually gave way to the violent, bloody removal of the King and the establishment of a democracy and the adoption of The Declaration of the Rights of Man as a guiding principle document for the new republic.

Although there was still an emperor and even a few more kings in France’s tumultuous future before France’s legacy as an enduring republican democracy was fully secured, the French Revolution marks the beginning of democracy in France and to many the birth of the French nation we recognize today.

Thus, the expression Vive la France is more than just a patriotic slogan, but an expression that is inextricably tied to values and legacy of the French Revolution and the values of natural rights, self-government, democracy, and liberty. You will hear this expression on Bastille Day, the national French holiday celebrating the storming by Parisians of the famous prison where the King had once held many political prisoners, including Voltaire. Remember then, French politicians and people are not only expressing their love of France, but they are invoking their support of the ideals that their nation was founded upon: Liberté, égalité, et fraternité. – Liberty, equality, and fraternity.

When the expressions “Vive la France! Vive la République!” are used at French celebrations today, one can imagine the cries of the first French revolutionaries in 1789 fighting against the tyranny of the King and for the rights of the people.

What is the French motto?

The French motto is “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.” This phrase, which dates back to the French Revolution as well, can be attributed to French revolutionary journalist and politician, Camille Desmoulins.

One of the mottos of the French Revolution, it eventually became the official motto of France and came to emblazon coins, government documents, and buildings. These values, which are considered sacred to the French Republic, can often be called upon by those wishing to appeal to the patriotic zeal of their audience. Therefore, politicians might follow “Vive la France!” with “Vive la liberté, vive l’égalité, et vive la fraternité!”

  • Vive la liberté! – Long live liberty! – Let freedom ring!
  • Vive l’égalité! – Long live equality!
  • Vive la fraternité! – Long live brotherhood!

These values are core principles of the French nation. Many French government and legal  policies are strongly influenced by these three values. They are responsible for providing France with its unique version of democracy that compares but also contrasts with that of its older, inspirational democratic sibling, the United States.

What other French patriotic symbols should I recognize?

  • Le drapeau tricolore – The French tricolor flag, adopted during the revolution. Simply referred to as le tricolore.
  • La Marseillaise – The French National Anthem
  • Le Coq – The Gallic Rooster is a national symbol for France
  • The letters RF, referring to the République Francaise or French Republic.

Are there other French expressions using “vive”?

There are many common French expressions using vive expressing support, appreciation, or congratulations for certain people or things. They aren’t necessarily meant in a patriotic sense.

Vive le Roi!, Vive la Reine!

Long live the King! Long live the Queen!

You won’t really hear this one used in modern France, but it appears frequently in historical movies or books.

Vive les Bleus!

Hurray Blues! or Go Blues!

Blue is the color and the nickname of the French national teams, so French fans will often cry Vive les Bleus! during sporting events.

Vive l’amour

May love go on!

This wish is common at the end of wedding toasts, or maybe as a comment to excuse behavior that can only be explained as resulting from love.

  • You’re quitting your job and moving to Bordeaux for her? Vive l’amour!

Vive les vacances

Hurray for vacation!

The annual cycle of work and play in France is very standardized, with a few week-long school holidays during the year, and an intense summer holiday season for all of July and August. Thus, French vacations are ritualized to such an extent that Vive les vacances! could almost be considered another national slogan.

Vive le Québec libre!

Long live Free Quebec!

You won’t really hear this expression in France, aside from referencing Charles de Gaulle’s speech from when he visited Québec and pronounced it publicly. It’s an expression historically used by members of the independence movement in Québec, symbolizing their wish for the province’s future as a free and independent country. It’s still heard in Québec sometimes, though the secessionist movement has definitely had its ups and downs over time. There are many Québécois and French-Canadian films in which you’ll hear Vive le Québec libre!, often in jest, but not always!

Vive les soldes!

Hurray for the sales!

This expression you will see on billboards, advertisements, and commercials expressing enthusiasm for sales at different stores. There are a couple of times a year when French retailers all put on sales at the same time, so Vive les soldes! indeed becomes a national rallying cry!

Vive le vent!

Long live the wind!

This is a popular Christmas song sung to the melody of Jingle Bells.

Conclusion

In this post we’ve seen how the expression Vive la France, meaning Long live France, is deeply rooted in the political and historical traditions of the French nation and culture. We also saw a number of similar patriotic expressions built on the third-person subjunctive conjugation of the verb vivre: vive, as well as the French national motto: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Taken together, these expressions reflect historical values the French hold dear as a nation.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this post which was part grammar and part history, sharing some insight into one of the fundamental expressions of French culture. Next time you’re at a French sporting event or you mark some other occasion of importance for the French people, you’ll have a deeper appreciation for the meaning of Vive la France!

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