How to Use the French Expression 'C'est la Vie'

'That's Life' and 'Such is Life' are the English equivalents

It's 'c'est la vie' even at 'the end of the world' ('au bout du monde').
It's 'c'est la vie' even at 'the end of the world' ('au bout du monde'). Michael Gebicki/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

The very old, very common French idiomatic expression C'est la vie, pronounced say la vee, has been around the world and back as a mainstay in dozens of cultures. In France, it's still used in the same sense as always, as a sort of restrained, slightly fatalistic lamentation that this is how life is and there's not much you can do about it. It seems natural that this expression is often said with a shrug of the shoulders and a bemused, but furrowed brow.

In English, it is translated as "That's life," and "Such is life." A vulgar slang equivalent in English would be "Sh-- happens."

Non-French Speakers Prefer the French Original

The French C'est la vie, surprisingly, is preferred in non-French cultures, and C'est la vie is used far more in English than in French. But unlike many expressions that English speakers have borrowed from French, the meaning is the same in both languages. C'est la vie, even in English, is a sad, Chaplin-esque acknowledgment that something less than ideal must be accepted because that's just the way life is.

Here is an exchange highlighting the fatalism inherent in this expression:

  • Il a perdu son boulot et sa maison le même jour, tu te rends compte ? > He lost his job and his home the same day. Can you imagine?
  • C'est la vie !  > C'est la vie! / That's life!

Variations on the Theme, Some Good, Some Not

C'est la guerre > That's war.

C'est la vie, c'est la guerre, c'est la pomme de terre. > "That's life, that's war, that's the potato." (Only English speakers use this strange saying.)

In French, C'est la vie can also be used non-fatalistically. As such, the emphasis is on the presentative c'est introducing la vie and the idea that we're talking about something that's essential to life or a particular way of life, as in:
L'eau, c'est la vie. > Water is life.

C'est la vie de famille qui me manque. > It's family life that I miss.

Vivre dans le besoin, c'est la vie d'artiste. > Living in poverty is the life of an artist.

Related Expressions

C'est la vie de château (pourvu que ça dure). > This is the good life. Live it up (while it lasts).

C'est la belle vie ! > This is the life!

La vie est dure ! > Life is hard!

C'est la bonne. > It's the right one.

C'est la Bérézina. > It's bitter defeat / a lost cause.

La vie en rose > Life through rose-colored glasses

La vie n'est pas en rose. > Life is not so beautiful.

C'est la zone ! > It's a pit here!

C'est la vie, mon pauvre vieux ! > That's life, my friend!

Alternate Versions of 'C'est la Vie'

Bref, c'est la vie ! > Anyway, that's life!

C'est la vie. / C'est comme cela. / La vie est ainsi faite. > Life is life.

C'est la vie. / On n'y peut rien. / C'est comme ça. >  That's the way the ball bounces. / That's the way the cookie crumbles

Examples of Usage

Je sais que c'est frustrant, mais c'est la vie.​ > I know it is frustrating, but that's life. 

C’est la vie, c’est de la comédie et c’est aussi du cinéma. > That's life, that's comedy, and that's cinema, too.

Alors il n'y a rien à faire. C'est la vie! > There's nothing to be done then.

C'est la vie!

Additional Resources

Expressions with être
Most common French phrases
French expressions used in English