Au Fur et à Mesure - French Expression Explained

measuring tape
Sean MacEntee/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The French expression Au fur et à mesure (pronounced [o fu ray a m(eu) zur]) literally translates to at the rate and in measure. It is used to mean as, while, or gradually and has a normal register.

Explanation and Examples

The French expression au fur et à mesure is a perfect - if extreme - example of why you can't translate word for word from one language to another. In this case, English speakers need but a single word to express something for which the French commonly use five.

Fur is an old word meaning "rate," and mesure means "measure" or "measurement."

It must be said, however, that "as" is less precise than au fur et à mesure, which indicates not only a shared time-frame for two events but also a consistency of speed: a gradual progression. A subtle nuance, certainly, but one that helps to explain why the French expression is so much longer. It also means that au fur et à mesure is less flexible: you can only use it for active, progressive actions such as washing dishes or spending money.

   Je fais la vaisselle au fur et à mesure qu'il débarrasse la table.
   I do the dishes as he clears the table.

   Au fur et à mesure que la fête se rapproche, ma sœur s'inquiète.
   As the party draws nearer, my sister is getting (more and more) impatient.

   Le suspense m'a tenu en haleine au fur et à mesure de la lecture du livre.
   The suspense kept me spellbound throughout the book.

   Passe-moi les verres au fur et à mesure.
   Pass me the glasses as you go (around the table picking them up).

Note that you can't use au fur et à mesure with passive actions such as watching TV, listening to the radio, or taking a bath. To talk about a passive action that occurs at the same time as another action, use tandis que.

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Lawless, Laura K. "Au Fur et à Mesure - French Expression Explained." ThoughtCo, Feb. 28, 2017, Lawless, Laura K. (2017, February 28). Au Fur et à Mesure - French Expression Explained. Retrieved from Lawless, Laura K. "Au Fur et à Mesure - French Expression Explained." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 24, 2018).