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Is there a word I can use to translate the word "somehow", when it's used in a sentence like:

You somehow gave me an idea.

Google translate gives,

Vous m'avez en quelque sorte donné une idée.

But I think that « en quelque sorte » is a wrong translation: this wictionary suggests « en quelque sorte » might mean, "You nearly gave me an idea", or, "You gave me something which is nearly an idea".

The English meaning that I'm trying convey by "somehow" is, "it surely happened but I don't know how", so,

You certainly gave me an idea, but I don't know how you did it.

Something like,

Vous m'avez (je ne sais pas trop comment) donné une idée.

I'm looking specifically for a translation of "somehow", not for an idiom related to ideas: the sentence about "an idea" above is just an example. Another example would be:

He somehow managed to say goodbye.

Perhaps I could say, « quand même »: « Vous m'avez quand même donné une idée. »

  • En quelque sorte is closer to sort of or somehow than to nearly. – Stéphane Gimenez Sep 17 '14 at 10:25
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What you're trying to convey may probably be expressed with “d'une certaine façon”. Originally it means “in a certain, specific way” which is also the literal meaning of “somehow”. Both in French and in English the meaning is often extented, as you describe, toward “in some unknown, unexpected way”.

En quelque sorte” was however the first idea that came to mind and I believe it's a good translation of “somehow” in many other contexts. Also, you could translate the particular usage of “somehow” from the title of this question by “d'une certaine manière” which gives a little more importance to the method, the chosen way of doing things.

  • That is close but IMO it puts some emphasis on there having been a certain, specific way: linguee.fr/francais-anglais/traduction/… – ChrisW Sep 16 '14 at 12:40
  • ... which is the literal meaning of "somehow"; but the figurative meaning is, I think, 'that was nearly incredible, because although it happened I have no idea how it happened'. – ChrisW Sep 16 '14 at 13:04
  • @ChrisW: It has exactly the same figurative meaning in French. – Stéphane Gimenez Sep 17 '14 at 10:23
  • Rereading the linguee entry, I see that you are right: several (many, perhaps most, not all) of those entries do have that figurative meaning. Some have the opposite meaning and say "in a particular or specified way". – ChrisW Sep 17 '14 at 10:33
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Well, first let me say that the example you provided:

He somehow managed to say goodbye.

doesn't strictly convey the meaning*:

'that was nearly incredible, because although it happened I have no idea how it happened'

But one can always say:

Contre toute attente, il a réussi à me dire au revoir.

I don't know if that is exactly what you are looking for but Larousse and Wikipedia say that the expression denotes a retourenement de situation inattendu. You were not expecting this to happen and yet it DID.

The first example returned by linguee is:

[...] fierté parmi tous les citoyens de la zone euro quant à la manière dont nous avons procédé, peut-être contre toute attente.

The english for that is:

It could ensure that all citizens in euro land are proud of the way it has been done, maybe against all expectations.

Which I don't know if you would be comfortable rephrasing into:

It could ensure that all citizens in euro land are, somehow, proud of the way it has been done.

Note that applying this expression to your first example would give us something like:

Vous m'avez, contre toute attente, donné une bonne idée.

Which can sound like you were not expecting such a good idea from your interlocutor.

*at least that's how it sounds to me

  • 1
    That's very good, thank you. It's a pity that French doesn't seem to form adverbs easily. "Il a inouïement, inattendument, inexplicablement, réussi à dire au revoir." Another synonym might be "je ne sais pas comment". – ChrisW Sep 17 '14 at 11:36
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    you could also drop the pas in 'je ne sais pas comment': 'Il a, je ne sais comment, réussi à dire au revoir.'. It makes the sentence sound a little more formal though. And for more formality you could even say: 'Il a, je ne saurais dire comment, réussi à dire au revoir.' – Mina Sep 17 '14 at 12:36
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Someone in a WordReference Forum proposed en quelque sorte. There's a lot of discussion there about how to translate "somehow" so you might want to have a look.

  • Thank you. Other suggestions there include, "D'une façon ou d'une autre"; "plus ou moins"; and "N'importe comment". – ChrisW Sep 16 '14 at 23:48

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