How to Use the French Expression 'N'Importe Quoi'

The English equivalents range from 'anything' to 'rubbish!'

'N'importe quoi' usually means 'anything' but it can also mean 'whatever'
'N'importe quoi' usually means 'anything' but it can also mean 'whatever'. Daryl Rubio/EyeEm/Getty Images

The French expression n'importe quoi, pronounced neh(m) puhr t(eu) kwa, means literally "no matter what." But in use, the sense is "anything," "whatever" or "nonsense."

N'importe quoi has a few different uses. Most often it means "anything," as in:

  • Je ferais n'importe quoi pour gagner. > "I'd do anything to win."

Informally, n'importe quoi or c'est du n'importe quoi are used to convey "nonsense." A less literal translation would be "What the heck are you talking about?!" or the exclamatory "Rubbish!"

Though not a perfect equivalent, n'importe quoi is also probably the best translation for "whatever," when it's used as an expression of dismissal.

Examples 

  • Ce magasin vend tout et n'importe quoi. > This store sells anything and everything.
  • N'écoute pas Philippe. Il dit n'importe quoi. > Don't listen to Philippe. He's talking nonsense. / He'll say anything!
  • Il ferait n'importe quoi pour obtenir le rôle. > He'd do anything. / He'd go to any lengths to get the part.
  • Tu dis vraiment n'importe quoi ! > You're talking absolute nonsense ! 
  • C'est un bon investissement. > That's a good investment.
    N'importe quoi ! (familiar) > Don't talk rubbish / nonsense !
  • Je ferais n'importe quoi pour elle. > I'd do anything for her.  
  • Comme qualité, c'est n'importe quoi. >  In terms of quality / As for quality, it's rubbish.

Almost Famous

There's a well-known saying in French popular culture that goes: C'est en faisant n'importe quoi, qu'on devient n'importe qui (or ...que l'on devient...).

This expression means literally, "It's by doing nonsensical things that you become nonsensical," but it's better expressed as "It's by doing anything that you become anyone," and it's the motto of French prankster and video maker Rémi Gaillard, who calls himself N'importe qui. The phrase is a play on the French proverb C'est en forgeant qu'on devient forgeron (the equivalent of "Practice makes perfect," but literally "It's by forging that one becomes a blacksmith").

Part of the 'N'Importe' Family of Expressions

N'importe quoi is a popular combining form of the French indefinite expression n'importe, which literally means "no matter." It can be followed by an interrogative pronoun like quoi, an interrogative adjective, or an interrogative adverb in order to designate an unspecified person, thing, or characteristic. 

'N'Importe With Interrogative Pronouns

Interrogative pronouns imply the question "who," "what," and "which one," or qui, quoi, and lequel / laquelle / lesquels / lesquelles. These phrases can function as subjects, direct objects, or indirect objects. 

1) N'importe qui > anyone, anybody

  •  N'importe qui peut le faire. > Anyone can do it.
  • Tu peux inviter n'importe qui. > You can invite anyone.
  • Ne viens pas avec n'importe qui. > Don't come with just anyone. 

2) N'importe quoi > anything

  • N'importe quoi m'aiderait. > Anything would help me.
  • Il lira n'importe quoi. > He'll read anything.​
  • J'écris sur n'importe quoi. > I write on anything.

3) N'importe lequel, laquelle > any (one)​

  • Quel livre veux-tu ? > Which book do you want?
    N'importe lequel. > Any one. / Any of them.
  • Aimes-tu les films ? > Do you like movies? 
    Oui, j'aime n'importe lesquels. > Yes, I like any at all.

    'N'importe' With Interrogative Adjectives

    In this case, n'importe is combined with the interrogative adjectives quel or quelle, which pose the question "what." This combined form produces n'importe quel / quelle, which translates to "any." N'importe quel is used in front of a noun to indicate a nonspecific choice, as in:

    N'importe quel, quelle > any

    • J'aimerais n'importe quel livre. > I'd like any book.
    • N'importe quelle décision sera... > Any decision will be...

    'N'importe' with Interrogative Adverbs

    Here n'importe is combined with interrogative adverbs that pose the questions "how," "when," and "where." These indicate that the how, when, or where is unspecified and are translated as: "(in) any way," "anytime," and "anywhere."

    1) N'importe comment > (in) any way

    •  Fais-le n'importe comment. > Do it any way / any old way. (Just do it!)
    • N'importe comment, il part ce soir. > He's leaving tonight no matter what.

    2) N'importe quand > anytime

    • Ecrivez-nous n'importe quand. > Write to us anytime.

    3) N'importe où > wherever, anywhere

    • Nous irons n'importe où. > We'll go wherever / anywhere.
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    Lawless, Laura K. "How to Use the French Expression 'N'Importe Quoi'." ThoughtCo, Aug. 2, 2017, thoughtco.com/nimporte-quoi-1371318. Lawless, Laura K. (2017, August 2). How to Use the French Expression 'N'Importe Quoi'. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/nimporte-quoi-1371318 Lawless, Laura K. "How to Use the French Expression 'N'Importe Quoi'." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/nimporte-quoi-1371318 (accessed January 21, 2018).