"You are difficult to please."

How to translate this sentence? A direct translation would be

Tu es difficile à plaire.

but I don't think this is correct, because plaire takes the person as an indirect object rather than a direct one.

We could say

Il est difficile de te plaire.

which means roughly the same thing but puts less emphasis on the person than the original sentence. It would be equivalent to "It is difficult to please you."

Also the Google translation

Vous êtes difficile à s'il vous plaît.

is probably not correct.

  • Given the heated discussions that your question unintentionally triggered, you might want to add some clarifications and real life examples explaining how the expression difficult to please must be understood. – jlliagre Dec 31 '16 at 18:44
  • difficult/easy to please is an idiomatic expression. – Lambie Jan 2 '17 at 13:49
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Descartes's Discours de la méthode famous first sentence is:

Le bon sens est la chose du monde la mieux partagée : car chacun pense en être si bien pourvu, que ceux même qui sont les plus difficiles à contenter en toute autre chose, n'ont point coutume d'en désirer plus qu'ils en ont.

It has been translated en English to:

Everybody thinks himself so well supplied with common sense that even those most difficult to please. . . never desire more of it than they already have.

"Difficult to please" might be translated by difficile à contenter in literary French.

A word by word translation of "you are difficult to please" would then be:

Tu es difficile à contenter.

This is grammatically correct but arguably less idiomatic than:

C'est difficile de te contenter.

Contenter is however not very common in spoken French. Satisfaire is but I wouldn't suggest:

C'est difficile de te satisfaire

because it might be risky due to the potential sexual connotations. There is also the simple:

Tu es difficile

This is a very common idiomatic expression, and its most usual meaning is precisely describing someone who is difficult to please:

B.− [En parlant d'une pers., d'un animé]
1. Qu'on a peine à contenter.

There is an issue with tu es difficile though as another meaning of this expression is:

  1. Qui, par tempérament est peu agréable à ou pour son entourage. Quel ami quinteux et difficile! il a toujours quelque murmure sous la lèvre (M. de Guérin, Corresp.,1837, p. 297).
    − [P. méton. du subst.] Caractère, humeur, naturel difficile. C'était un homme simple et bienfaisant mais d'humeur changeante et difficile (Guéhenno, Jean-Jacques,1950, p. 42).
    − Spécialement ♦ Enfant difficile. Enfant qu'on n'élève pas facilement (cf. aussi Lafon 1963). Synon. indocile, insubordonné; anton. facile, obéissant :

This seems much more negative than "difficult to please".

Être difficile is nevertheless often used in a positive way like for example this quote, probably inspired by a Churchill one:

Je ne suis pas difficile, je me contente du meilleur.

If for some reason, you don't want to use tu es difficile, other adjectives might be chosen depending on what context the English sentence need to be translated:

Tu es exigeant (demanding)

Tu es perfectionniste

Tu es pointilleux (picky)

  • Merci beaucoup pour cette réponse détaillée ! – user11550 Jan 4 '17 at 2:30

I think you could put even greater emphasize on the person by omitting any literal (and arguably redundant**) translation of “to please” and just use “difficile” [and even add an object pronoun for extra stress/emphasis, if desired]:=

“Tu es difficile [, toi]!”

**Please note: my parenthetical mention of the possible redundancy of insisting on translating and including the separate notion of “to please” in your French version is based on my (non-native) interpretation of the following part of the CNRTL (TLFi) entry for Difficile, which seems to be saying that the notion of “à contenter” (to please) is already included in contexts such as yours:


B.− [En parlant d'une pers., d'un animé]

  1. Qu'on a peine à contenter.
  • Franchement, c'est assez rare. – Lambie Dec 26 '16 at 22:34
  • On dit en anglais: you are difficult. /You are difficult to please/ is not /You are difficult? I guess this is just a contest....je me demande pourquoi tout le monde rejette le français idiomatique et courant... – Lambie Dec 30 '16 at 14:08
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    @Lambie I didn’t mean to say that “You are difficult to please”=“You are difficult” in English, but only that the “to please” part of the English version can be implied in “T’es difficile, toi” (ie “T’es exigeante, toi”) w/out having to specifically repeat (redundantly, imo) it in French.OP wants to emphasize the person & I thought my shortened version could do that (especially w/the added “toi”). OP mentioned your basic impersonal form as perhaps taking emphasis off the person, so maybe that’s why your very idiomatic, yet undefended answer hasn't been received as well as it should be. – Papa Poule Dec 30 '16 at 15:47
  • I disagree. Because then both difficult to please and are difficult would be the same thing in French, and they simply are not. As for "defending" my answer, it's probably in the Larousse but for some reason, my request to the site always times out. The impersonal does not take the emphasis off the person. In French, you say: faire plaisir à quelqu'un, to please someone. That is the baseline. Of course, not in sentences like Cela me plait, I like it. I will stop commenting now because I have been insulted above and really do not need this. – Lambie Dec 30 '16 at 17:58

Ou: Tu es (vraiment) difficile à satisfaire.

  • satisfy and please are not the same thing at all. – Lambie Dec 27 '16 at 14:05
  • I'm not denying that Tu es difficile à satisfaire is correct grammatical French but it isn't idiomatic. I think you'd hear C'est difficile de ... much more often. – Laure Dec 31 '16 at 16:53

Lately reading this post, I was sensible to the polemique about @Lambie's opinion, and I actually had to mind something important that seems to have been totally ignored till now.

As a French native speaker, my own spontaneous translation was the one already cited by @Annie CHABOT:

Tu es difficile à satisfaire

Then reading the whole thread, I easily accepted:

Tu es difficile à contenter

as pretty equivalent, and totally correct (the choice between "satisfaire" and "contenter" being purely matter of literary taste).

So I was surprised to see @Lambie so insisting to claim that it's totally wrong, while it seemed so obvious for me.
And suddenly I realized that, as he evoked somewhere, we (French native speakers) may be wrong not when choosing this or that idiomatic translation but at the top level of our primary understanding of "please" in the given original English sentence.

The point is that, clearly, for me as well for all other French native speakers, "to please" here is spontaneously understood as something like:

  1. to successfully respond to your expectation

(hence the translation "satisfaire" or "contenter")

But it's true indeed that another, basic, sense of "to please" is:

  1. to do something (or merely to behave in a way) that you'll like

(then the correct translation is "faire plaisir")

The (rather subtle but real) difference is that "to please" (or not) means how you're (or not) glad of either:

  1. something you precisely asked for
  2. something that you didn't plan (nor expect) but was done with the intention of being pleasant

I think that the true meaning, in the case of the given original sentence, depends on the interpretation of the context.
And we must simply notice that for some reason the #1 is the more obvious one for us, French native speakers, while perhaps the truth is in #2!

Now it's up to English native speakers here (notably @Papa Poule, AFAIK, and maybe @Lambie), to let's know which is the true original meaning, so leading us to a final sure translation.

  • As I read your entire response, I see lots of mistakes in English. Since you make so many mistakes, how can we trust your translation? Being a native speaker of any language does not a translator make. Tu est difficile à satisfaire is: you are hard to satisfy. Not hard to please. – Lambie Dec 29 '16 at 22:22
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    @Lambie I don't understand at all. First because my answer is based on the assumption that you're right and tries to get the information which would confirm that, so I'm pretty surprised (and somewhat hurted!) you seem hostile to it. Secondly because you denounce my numerous mistakes in English (this is pretty normal since I'm not an English native speaker), and argue that it's a reason not to trust my translation, just while at the opposite I'm explaining I couldn't be sure of my translation! BTW please note that Tu est is incorrect in French, and should be Tu es. – cFreed Dec 30 '16 at 0:07
  • I often make spelling mistakes in all languages. Oeuf corse, Tu es and not Tu est. Thank you. I know you are not a native speaker, and it's painful to read an explanation about French in English that is so unidiomatic. This is not a personal observation at all. You said you were not sure of your translation, then why put in an answer? Dites-moi, combien de fois dans la vie avez-vous entendu ou dit: tu est difficile à contenter? Franchement? En tout cas, le sens de la phrase en anglais, c'est votre numéro deux, et pas le numéro un. Bonne fin d'année! – Lambie Dec 30 '16 at 14:03
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    @Lambie "You said you were not sure of your translation, then why put in an answer?" Alors je le dis maintenant en français pour être sûr d'être clair. Lisant les réponses, et la polémique, j'ai soudain réalisé que nous (français) pouvions avoir fait erreur, non pas dans la façon d'exprimer en français ce que nous avions cru comprendre de la phrase anglaise mais justement, en amont, dans la fausse compréhension de cette phrase. Ce qui expliquerait d'une part votre réaction (en vous donnant donc raison), d'autre part la prolongation de la polémique. – cFreed Dec 30 '16 at 18:03
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    Effectivement, la phrase anglaise peut avoir les deux sens que tu proposes, suivant le contexte. – Gilles Dec 30 '16 at 22:37

I think that the correct translation for that would be something like that :

Tu es difficile à contenter.

Contenter is a 1st group verb (-er verbs, mainly).

There for the conjugation table.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please remember to be nice. Discussions of possible translations are fine, belittling or insulting others because they disagree is not. – Gilles Dec 30 '16 at 22:31
  • C'est difficile de... est beaucoup plus naturel en français. – Laure Dec 31 '16 at 16:54

Il est difficile de te faire plaisir. Il est difficile de vous faire plaisir.

To please someone = faire plaisir à quelqu'un.

Look, Mummy, no hands [joke, no contenter].

That is the most obvious answer I should think.

Le Robert & Collins Dictionnaire [bilingue]

please (c) plaire, faire plaisir, intransitive

please, transitive (a) plaire à, faire plaisir à, satisfaire, contenter

I did it just to please you: Je ne l'ai fait que pour te faire plaisir. He is easily pleased/hard to please: Il est facile/difficile à contenter ou satisfaire. So, it is there but so is faire plaisir à.

  • More obvious to me: c'est difficile de te / vous faire plaisir. « Il est difficile... » sent la traduction de l'anglais. – Laure Dec 31 '16 at 16:56
  • Pourtant, cela se trouve dans Le Robert & Collins. – Lambie Jan 2 '17 at 13:48
  • Thanks a lot for the update which highlights the two distinct meanings, depending on transitiveness. Only a fine point: it is customary, and it would help here, to add "update" before the added text. – AntoineL Jan 2 '17 at 14:55
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    @AntoineL Adding the mention of an edit in an answer (or question for that matter) is actually really not necessary on this network and is kind of redundant, since the system bumps edited posts and timestamps them, not to mention that you can see the full edit history if you click on that timestamp. I also personally find it impedes reading and prevents having a naturally-flowing post. – Kareen Jan 3 '17 at 15:51

Tu es difficile à plaire/contenter

Is grammatically correct, but it is much more common to use the impersonal structure:

Il est difficile de te plaire/contenter/faire plaisir


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    « Difficile à contenter » est parfaitement correct, c'est même avec cette expression que Descartes débute le Discours de la méthode mais « tu es difficile à plaire » n'est pas français. Le verbe plaire est transitif indirect (1), pronominal (2) ou intransitif (3) : on peut plaire à quelqu'un (1), quelqu'un peut vous plaire (2), on peut plaire (3) , avoir plu (3), mais on ne peut pas « être plu ». – jlliagre Jan 3 '17 at 12:16

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