à l'impossible nul n'est tenu

Discussion in 'French-English Vocabulary / Vocabulaire Français-Anglais' started by Missrapunzel, Dec 29, 2010.

  1. Missrapunzel

    Missrapunzel Senior Member

    French (France)

    est-ce que quelqu'un connaît une expression en anglais qui pourrait traduire "à l'impossible nul n'est tenu"?
    Cette expression signifie qu'on ne peut exiger de personne d'atteindre une chose impossible à atteindre.

    Merci!! :)
  2. quinoa Senior Member

    Maybe "You can't make bricks without straw"
  3. Briza Junior Member

    English - England
    How about simply "you can't demand the impossible".
  4. Missrapunzel

    Missrapunzel Senior Member

    French (France)
    Thank you!!
  5. DBlomgren

    DBlomgren Senior Member

    Costa Rica
    English, USA
    I'd suggest: You can't do the impossible.

    I just told someone I wouldn't be able to visit him because I didn't have enough time. Part of his reply was "A l'impossible nul n'est tenu" for which "bricks without straw" wouldn't work. However, I think it could work in cases where you can't do something because you don't have enough physical resourses.
  6. tellect Senior Member

    Nobody is expected to do the impossible
  7. Squiggle

    Squiggle Senior Member

    Savoie, France
    English - UK
    You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
  8. Kat123 Senior Member

    Hi all,

    I just found this thread and wanted to ask if the phrase can ever be used to mean the exact opposite, ie, "nothing is impossible/the impossible is achievable" as I have seen it in a context where it seems to imply this opposite meaning, and also there is a double negative in the phrase "nul n'est" which could translate as a positive?
  9. CarlosRapido

    CarlosRapido Senior Member

    Québec - Canada
    français - English (Can)
    Where is the double negative, nul = no one/nobody/none? The only negative is the n', a contraction of ne. A literal translation shows quite well that the expression cannot be used as you suggest; To the impossible, no one is held.
  10. Kat123 Senior Member

    Hi CarlosRapido,

    If you translate the phrase literally, it comes out as: "To the impossible, no-one isn't held" (A l'impossible, nul n'est tenu). Can you see the double negative?

    Here is my example and maybe someone can help me figure this out!

    Comme quoi, à l'impossible nul n'est tenu puisqu'un artiste a su combiner cette référence française à un lustre fabriqué en verre par les verriers de la ville.

    It appears to be highlighting the incredible achievement of the artist and so it would be a contradiction to imply that the impossible is too difficult to achieve...
  11. JeanDeSponde

    JeanDeSponde Senior Member

    France, Lyon area
    France, Français
    In A l'impossible nul n'est tenu, "nul" is a pronom, synonymous with "personne".
    In Personne n'est tenu, "personne" means "someone", and the "nobody" meaning is only given by the following negation.
    This sentence simply makes no sense, except if it has a very convoluted context.
  12. Mauricet Senior Member

    near Grenoble
    French - France
    L'auteur de cette phrase a probablement compris (faussement) l'expression "à l'impossible nul n'est tenu" comme signifiant que personne n'est entièrement dépendant (un sens possible de "tenu") de l'impossibilité apparente de quelque chose : qu'en somme "rien n'est absolument impossible", ce qu'on exprime quelquefois par le proverbe impossible n'est pas français.

    Remplacez "à l'impossible nul n'est tenu" par "rien n'est impossible" et la phrase devient claire ...
  13. Kat123 Senior Member

    Now I'm confused!

    So I think I can conclude that the author has used the phrase in an unusual or incorrect way but the message they seem to want to convey is that "nothing is impossible" - ironically, maybe they have chosen this unusual way of expressing meaning as a clever example of what the phrase means!!
  14. Raffa.English

    Raffa.English Senior Member

    French - France
    I agree with JeanDeSponde and confirm that:
    1 - there is NO double negative in the French expression;
    2 - the example given makes no sense.
  15. FRED38 Junior Member

    france french
  16. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    If it's a proverb you're looking for, "You can't get blood out of a stone" may serve, depending on the context.
  17. FRED38 Junior Member

    france french
    Double negation is often used in french, don't ask me why :)
    but what I know is that the expression above means :
    faire quelque chose d'impossible, (nul) pour zero personnes, n'est (tenu) ce n'est obligé.
    Personne n'a à se culpabiliser de ne pouvoir faire quelque chose d'impossible à faire
    On n'a pas à demander l'impossible à quelqu'un -
  18. FRED38 Junior Member

    france french
    there is actually a double negation like :
    ce n'est pas ma faute : it is not my fault
    but, though, it doesn't mean it is not not my fault, which would mean, it is my fault.
    double negation is used in french language but I don't know why, we just use it and we understand each others ;-)
  19. quinoa Senior Member

    I'm sorry but I have to say that there is not a double negation here since French uses a combination of NE + PAS/PLUS/JAMAIS/RIEN etc.

    Nul n'est tenu à l'impossible = Personne n'est tenu à l'impossible
    Nul = Personne = Pas une personne
  20. FRED38 Junior Member

    france french
    Ok I half agree, after asking a teacher, we don't call it "double négation"
    the proper term is "LOCUTION NÉGATIVE"


    But : "nul n'est tenu à l'impossible" is apparented to a locution négative (nul n')
  21. Lizamichael Senior Member

    French - Français
    OK it means "nobody can be expected to do what is impossible to do" but what is the translation or the idiomatic sentence for this?
    "Nobody can ask what's impossible of you"?
    thanks in advance.
  22. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Liza, the best literal translations are in #3 and #6 above.

    If you want a proverbial expression, then choose between #2, #7 and #16.

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