'Tout à l'heure': How to Use This Common French Expression

'Tout à l'heure' translates as 'in a moment' or 'a moment ago'

woman looking at watch next to river
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The French idiomatic expression tout à l'heure (pronounced too tah leur) means a moment ago, just now, in a moment, right away (literally: "all at the time"). This expression refers to a short period of time, either a moment in the recent past or a moment in the near future.

Tout à l'heure is an adverbial phrase, which means this expression consists of two or more words that together act as an adverb.

An adverbial phrase can modify a verb, adverb or adjective and can answer the questions “how”, “where”, “why”, or “when.”

In the case of tout à l'heure, it answers the question "when." The phrase conveys about as much precision as is possible without using actual times. This makes sense considering that the root expression à l'heure means "on time" and "to keep correct time" (as for a watch), and mettre sa montre à l'heure means "to set one's watch." Tout in adverbial phrases is an intensifier that translates as "very, right, quite, all" as with tout à côté de moi ("right next to me"). In tout à l'heure, it refers to a time, though inexact, that's as close to the present as possible without using numbers.  

Examples

  •    Je l'ai vu tout à l'heure. > I just saw him a moment ago / earlier today.
  •    Je vais le voir tout à l'heure. > I'm going to see him in a moment / later today / in a little while.
  •    À tout à l'heure ! (Informal: À tout !) > See you soon!

Semi-synonymous expressions

  •    À l'instant > a moment ago, just now (can only refer to something in the past)
  •    tout de suite > immediately, right away

Do not confuse à tout à l'heure with the similar-sounding à toute allure, which means "at top speed, full tilt." A native French speaker would never confuse à tout à l'heure and à toute allure.

To them, the vowel sounds [œ] (in heure) and [y] (in allure) are very distinct. But to a French student who is just learning French pronunciation, the sounds may seem close enough that they might easily be mixed up. Learn to recognize the IPA symbols that explain French pronunciation.

Other Phrases That Use'Tout' plus 'À' or 'De' 

Other Uses of 'Tout' as an Adverb

  • tout seuls > all, completely alone
  • tout neuf > brand new
  • tout cru > totally raw
  • les tout premiers temps > at the very beginning
  • tout mouillé > all wet, soaked, drenched
  • tout simplement > quite simply 

Additional Resources