Ma foi - French Expression Explained

French expressions analyzed and explained

Ma foi, ça va.
Ma foi, ça va. Imagno / Getty Images

Expression: Ma foi

Pronunciation: [ma fwa]

Meaning: frankly, long story short, indeed

Literal translation: my faith

Register: informal, dated

Notes: Ma foi is more of a filler or exclamation than an expression, which makes figuring out its meaning a little tricky. It's a bit old-fashioned—I've only ever heard elderly people say ma foi, and not that often—so you don't necessarily want to use it yourself, but it's still important to understand what it means.

1) Ma foi can mean "frankly" or "in all honesty":

   Ma foi, je n'en sais rien.
   Frankly, I don't know anything about that.

   Ma foi, ça m'est égal.
   In all honesty / To tell you the truth, I don't care.

Synonyms: crois-moi, en toute bonne foi, en toute franchise, franchement

2) Ma foi can emphasize whatever you say it with:

   Ma foi, j'espère que non.
   Well, I (certainly) hope not.

   Ma foi, oui.
   Indeed, yes.

   C'est ma foi vrai.
   It's certainly true.

Synonyms: ben, en effet, enfin

3) In the South of France, ma foi is commonly used to sum up a long, tedious, or obvious answer:

a) "It's a long, boring story, so I'll spare you the details":

   -Ça va ? -Ma foi, ça va.

   -How are you? -Fine, for the most part.

Meaning: I'm actually suffering from several minor ailments, but you don't want to hear about that so I'll just say that I'm fine.

Synonyms: bref, dans l'ensemble, en quelque sorte, en résumé, plus ou moins

b) "The answer to that is obvious":

   -Sais-tu que Michel va divorcer ? -Ma foi.
   -Do you know that Michel is getting divorced? -Obviously.

Meaning: He's my best friend, so of course I know. (Optional: what a stupid question!)

Synonyms: bien sûr, évidemment

Ma foi in English?

Some English dictionaries include the expression ma foi meaning "indeed," but personally I've never heard it. A friend told me that she's heard oh ma foi in Texas with the meaning of "yes, indeed," "I agree," or "certainly."