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De fil en aiguille: Our French expression of the week

We look at a phrase which is used to reflect a gradual progression, a series of events which happen little by little

We look at a French expression used to describe things happening gradually Pic: Apiold / Shutterstock

This week, a new métro line will open in Rennes, marking the end of a project that has progressed little by little over decades.

This week also marks the beginning of the 2022-23 hunting season across much of northern France. Each year, the season opens progressively over three or four weekends in September. 

Read more: What’s coming up? The week ahead in France

De fil en aiguille’ (literally: from thread into needle) is a French expression which can be used to describe this sense of things happening gradually or in a logical sequence. 

It could be translated as: ‘little by little’, ‘progressively’ or ‘one thing leading to another’.

For example, you could say: ‘Pendant notre conversation, de fil en aiguille il m’a confié qu’il était amoureux de Lucie’ (During our conversation, little by little he confided in me that he was in love with Lucie).

The expression ‘de fil en aiguille’ was first recorded in the eighteenth century, the idea of the thread creating a sense of flow and continuity which reflects how a conversation, event or process can move from one topic or state to the next in a seamless progression.

Another French expression which can be used to express a gradual change is ‘au fur et à mesure’, which also means ‘progressively’, ‘bit by bit’ or ‘in the course of something’.

Related articles 

French language tip - making things sound mini, dinky or cute

Four boozy French phrases to describe having drunk too much

‘Chanter comme une casserole’: Our French expression of the week

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