French expressions analyzed and explained

Tiens !
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Expression: Tiens

Pronunciation: [tyeh(n)]

Meaning: here, take this; there you are; listen, look, you know...

Literal translation: hold

Register: informal

Notes: The expression tiens may be short, but it's long on meaning and extremely common in spoken French.

Tiens comes from the verb tenir, which means "to hold," so the original meaning of tiens (and its vous equivalent tenez) is simply the imperative "hold," as when you hand something to another person and request that they hold it for you:

   Tiens, j'ai besoin des deux mains pour conduire.

   Here, I need both hands to drive.
   (as you hand him your cellphone or coffee)

You can also use it when giving someone a gift or responding to a request:

   Tiens, je t'ai acheté des fleurs.
   Here, I bought you some flowers.

   -Tu me prêtes ton appareil photo? -Tiens.
   -Can I borrow your camera? -Here you go.

But tiens and tenez are even more commonly used as interjections or fillers, with essentially three different meanings:

1. Upon spotting someone, tiens and tenez are equivalent to anything along the lines of "there you are" or "there he is."

   Tiens, Marie !
   Marie, there you are!

   Tiens, voilà Pierre.
   Hey, there's Pierre.

2. A filler to draw attention to what you're about to say, where in English you might say something like "look," "see," or "you know."

   Tiens, il faut que tu saches quelque chose...
   Look, there's something you need to know...

   Tenez, ce n'est pas une bonne idée.

   You know, that's not a good idea.

3. A note of surprise, like "hey!" or "how about that":

   Tiens, je viens de trouver 10 euros !
   Hey, I just found 10 euros!

Related expression: Tiens, tiens means "well well" or "how about that."

   Tiens, tiens, tu es enfin arrivé.
   Well well, you're finally here.


In addition to the second person singular imperative, tiens is the first and second person singular present tense tenir conjugation: je tiens, tu tiens.

Le tiens is the second person singular possessive pronoun.

   J'ai trouvé mon livre, mais où est le tiens ?
   I found my book, but where is yours?