Coûte que coûte, il dira la vérité.
koot kuh koot, eel dee-rah lah vay-ree-TAY. Click below to hear this.
Whatever it costs, he will tell the truth.
We have a number of versions of this phrase in English. Cost what it may, at any cost, at all costs, whatever the cost are among them.
In French, it’s easy to ask how much: you say combien. It’s a lot harder to say however much, however little and other variations on the concept of “any amount”. The language just doesn’t offer an easy phrase for that.
Coûte que coûte uses the syntax of Old French. We can tell that because we have two verbs without subjects, and a que without supporting words. The direct objects are also missing. The closest we can get to English is Cost what it costs…
Both verbs are in the subjunctive, which expresses doubt or uncertainty. We can’t tell by looking at them, because in some persons of a regular -er verb, the affirmative and the subjunctive look the same.
So this expression is a leftover from Old French. In modern French, it would go something like this: Quoi que cela lui coûte, il dira la vérité. However much it may cost him… You can see with how much greater economy Old French expressed itself!
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