The Meaning of 'Vive la France!'

The French patriotic phrase has a long history

Patriotic French Expressions
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"Vive la France!" is an expression used in French to show patriotism. It’s difficult to translate the term literally into English, but it generally means “Long live France!” or “Hurray for France!” The phrase has its roots in Bastille Day, a French national holiday commemorating the storming of the Bastille, which took place on July 14, 1789, and marked the beginning of the French Revolution.

Patriotic Phrase

“Vive la France!” is mostly used by politicians, but you will also hear this patriotic expression bandied about during national celebrations, such as Bastille Day, around French elections, during sporting events, and, sadly, at times of French crisis as well, as a way to invoke patriotic feelings.

La Bastille was a prison and a symbol of the monarchy in late 18th-century France. By capturing the historic structure, the citizenry signaled that it now held the power to rule the country. Bastille Day was declared a French national holiday on July 6, 1880, on politician Benjamin Raspail's recommendation when the Third Republic was firmly entrenched. (The Third Republic was a period in France that lasted from 1870 to 1940.) Bastille Day has such a strong signification for the French because the holiday symbolizes the birth of the republic.

Britannica.com notes that the related phrase Vive le 14 juillet!—literally “Long live the 14th of July!”—has been associated with the historic event for centuries. The key term in the phrase is vive, an interjection that literally means "long live."

The Grammar Behind the Phrase

French grammar can be tricky; not surprisingly, knowing how to use the term vive is no exception.

Vive comes from the irregular verb “vivre,” which means "to live." Vive is the subjunctive. So, an example sentence might be:

  • Nous souhaitons, nous espérons que la France vive longtemps, heureusement.

This translates to:

  • We hope that France will live for a long time, fortunately.

Note, that the verb is vive—not "viva" as in "Viva Las Vegas"—and it is pronounced "veev," where the final "e" is silent.

Other Uses for "Vive"

The expression vive is very common in French to show enthusiasm for many different things, such as:

  • Vive les vacances! > Hurray for the vacation!
  • Vive les soldes! > Hurray for the sales season!
  • Vive moi! > Yeah me!

Vive is also used in a number of other contexts, not related to the famous phrase but still important in the French language. Examples include:

  • On ne voyait âme qui vive > There wasn't a living soul to be seen.
  • Etre sur le qui-vive > to be on the alert
  • La vive- eau > spring tide
  • Vivement > brusquely, sharply

While the saying "Vive la France" is deeply rooted in French culture, history, and politics, the full slogan is generally invoked only on historical occasions and during political events. By contrast, the key term in the phrase—vive—is widely used by the French to express joy and happiness on many occasions.

So, the next time you're in France—or find yourself among French-speakers who happen to use this famous phrase—impress them with your deep knowledge of French history.

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ThoughtCo. "The Meaning of 'Vive la France!'." ThoughtCo, Mar. 5, 2018, thoughtco.com/vive-la-france-1371434. ThoughtCo. (2018, March 5). The Meaning of 'Vive la France!'. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/vive-la-france-1371434 ThoughtCo. "The Meaning of 'Vive la France!'." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/vive-la-france-1371434 (accessed April 20, 2018).