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I was wondering how do I specifically say "it was the first thing that came to mind" as in this instance I have to describe an image (about badminton) but am wary of the different meanings and translations of 'something'.

  • What are you different attempts at saying this into French? – Laure Oct 14 '16 at 11:07
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C'est la première chose qui me soit venue à l'esprit.

Strictly speaking, I believe that the presence of the phrase « la première » requires the use of the past subjunctive « soit venue » instead of « est venue ». Then again, both might work.

Also, I would personally use the present tense « est » instead of « était », since the past tense is used in the part « soit venue ». I’d rather avoid using the past tense twice.

  • I don't see why you would use 'soit' instead of 'est'... I'm pretty sure only 'est' works. Well, I can't blame you, since even for natives it's a common mistake. That aside, I agree with your answer. – Nathan Coustenoble Oct 13 '16 at 21:12
  • @NathanCoustenoble Hi. As I understand it, when you have a phrase such as "le premier / le seul", you need to use the subjunctive form in the subordinate clause (that is, strictly speaking). This is what I heard from a native French speaker working as an interpreter in my office. Am I wrong here? Merci. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Oct 13 '16 at 21:21
  • I would say both are correct. – Destal Oct 13 '16 at 21:36
  • @LUNA Need would not be the word I'd use but it is the most usual as I wrote there answering a very similar question : french.stackexchange.com/a/21453/358. – Laure Oct 14 '16 at 11:05
  • @Laure Oh, I see. How would you express this sentence yourself, Laure? Merci. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Oct 14 '16 at 13:23
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Apart from the debatable question of which tense is to be used, I'm a bit surprised to see all answers propose this kind of translation:

C'[est|était] la première chose qui me [soit|est|était] venue à l'esprit.

Maybe (as a French native speaker) I have a bad comprehension of the implicit sense the original sentence may bring in English, but the first translation that came into my mind (oh! What a coincidence) is rather:

C'[est|était] la première chose qui [vienne|vient|venait] à l'esprit.

In other words the original sentence might talk about what comes to the mind of anybody, rather than to the speaker itself.

  • Hi. Actually, this set expression "come/spring to mind" means that a thought or an idea occurs to a specific person (and in this case, to the speaker himself). So it would be the same as to say "It was the first thing that came to (my) mind", even though this is not grammatical. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Oct 13 '16 at 21:05
  • @LUNA Thanks for this clarification. But conversely it now makes me wonder how, in English, we can express something like "C'est la première chose qui vient à l'esprit" (implied "de [quiconque|chacun|tout le monde|tout un chacun|...]"), without the risk of confusing with "à mon esprit"? – cFreed Oct 14 '16 at 12:46
  • Hi. In that case, I would use "come into their minds" or "occur to them", among other things. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Oct 14 '16 at 14:10
  • @LUNA Oh! So, while in French no precision means "[any|every]body" and it needs "me" to regard only the speaker, conversely English means "me" by default and needs "[their|them]" to regard everybody. Correct? – cFreed Oct 14 '16 at 14:48
  • Hi. The expression "come/spring to mind" is a special instance where a possessive pronoun "my" is not required. On the other hand, when you use "come into" or "occur to", you need to say "come into my mind" or "occur to me". The "my/me" here cannot be omitted. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Oct 14 '16 at 14:57
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"C'était la première chose qui m'est venue en tête". Or you could also say it like "C'était la première chose qui m'est venue à l'esprit".

So 'Something' means 'quelque chose' in French. 'Thing' means 'chose' in French as well. In French just like in English, you would not want to use 'thing' to describe a specific object or action.

  • venue, no ? – Larme Oct 13 '16 at 18:20
  • Oops, that's right! My bad. I forgot that 'chose' in feminine and venu does need an 'e'. – 12Lappie Oct 13 '16 at 18:22
  • @12Lapointep You can edit posts you know – Teleporting Goat Oct 13 '16 at 19:12

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