Many of us are probably familiar with the expression "Read my lips" as in,

"John, aren't you going to the party tonight?"

"Read my lips: no."

There's kind of a sarcastic emphasis, which is designed to underline the definite nature of the reply. Is there a French equivalent, and what is it, if there is?

  • Can you add a definition of the English idiom? I didn't know it meant something like "listen up".
    – qoba
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 4:38
  • 1
    @qoba This idiom got International fame when George H. W. Bush stated in 1988 "Read my leaps, no more taxes", and even more when, four years later, Bill Clinton remind him this that he broke this promise and defeated him.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 8:04
  • 1
    Might have revealed an upper bound on my age there
    – qoba
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 8:18
  • 1
    @qoba and a lower on mine ;-)
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 9:45

5 Answers 5


Read my lips can be translated by lis sur mes lèvres but that doesn't match the English idiom.

It is almost only used non figuratively, for example if the location is too noisy for the talk to be heard, or if you want to communicate without emitting sounds just by simulating speech.

There is a good movie named Sur mes lèvres which English title is precisely "Read my lips". It is about a woman almost deaf that effectively lip-reads.

To match "read my lips", you'd rather introduce your sentence with:

Écoute bien ce que je vais te dire : non ! (colloquial)

Écoutez bien ce que je vais vous dire : non ! (formal)

meaning "listen carefully to what I am going to tell you…."

Note that lis mes lèvres is not idiomatic.

  • I actually heard it in French, but it may have been a calque.
    – Evpok
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 22:53
  • Besides signalling important information to come up, in English can also carry a slight impatience (to go with the sarcasm), connoting something like "It's simple" or "Can't you understand?" Or it can express finality ("Don't expect me to say anything different"). French expressions that do one of those things would also be appropriate.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 19:13

There's no word-for-word translation of this English idiom that I know of, so I'd suggest any expression of emphasis as replacement, such as

Je vais te dire un truc : non.

Il n'y a pas moyen (= emphatic no)

Tu sais quoi ? Non

Je vais être franc : non

Écoute-moi bien : non

  • Do you think this would work? En toute clarté : non.
    – Frenzie
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 18:55
  • Oui, ça se comprendrait ; je pense que si on voulait invoquer la clarté on dirait "Pour être très clair"
    – qoba
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 20:34
  • Merci bien. Je ne pense pas que j'ai besoin d'un tel langage agressif, mais c'est bien de le savoir. ;-)
    – Frenzie
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 9:43
  • Ecoutez-moi bien, c'est ça. Cela vient de George Bush, senior, d'un discours à la con qu'il a fait.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 22:15

You can also say "suivez mon regard" which translates as follow my look, but means you see what I mean, what I'm talking about.

It also has a 2nd sense, when you don't want to say something very obvious, or like when you mean a person physically present. "There a some who think they are above the law, follow my look..."

I'm In the first sense it's very close but not 100% on read my lips.

There are many ways to firmly assert an opinion, some of them have already been mentioned. They are usually openers, among which:

  • je vais vous dire franchement... c'est non.
  • je ne vais pas y aller par quatre chemins: c'est non!
  • que les choses soient claires: non!
  • pour qu'il n'y ait pas le moindre doute: non.
  • laissez moi vous dire une fois pour toutes: jamais.
  • écoutez moi bien: jamais de la vie.
  • je le dis et je le répète: c'est hors de question.
  • je ne vais pas le repeter cent fois: pas question. Etc...

In the non-ironic sense (“I'm about to say something important”), any method for emphasis will do. For example:

  • Tenez-vous le pour dit : je ne viendrai pas.” (lit. “Hold that it has been said”)
  • Qu'on se le dise : je ne viendrai pas.” (lit. “Let it be said”)
  • Je vous l'affirme : je ne viendrai pas.” (lit. “I assert it in front of you”)

Since George Bush used the phrase in 1988 and his political opponents later pointed it out as a lie, the phrase has acquired an ironic bent. Any of the phrases above can be used ironically, but context is required to make the irony apparent, you can't rely on the cultural implication like in English.

If the implication is “everyone knows that what I'm about to say is a lie”, there is a somewhat similar phrase, of similar vintage, from a TV debate between the two main candidates for the the 1988 French presidential elections. The original exchange was:

Jacques Chirac — Pouvez-vous vraiment contester ma version des choses en me regardant dans les yeux ?
François Mitterrand — Dans les yeux, je la conteste.

Literal translation:

— Can you really dispute my presentation of the facts, eye to eye?
— Eye to eye, I dispute it.

It was widely known that Mitterrand was lying, but during the debate, he didn't let on. Since then, at least in France, the phrase “Dans les yeux, …” or more often the misquoted phrase “Droit dans les yeux, …”, has become a way to say “I affirm the following thing, even though you and I know that I'm lying”. Common variations include “droit dans les yeux, je vous le dis” or “droit dans les yeux, je vous l'affirme”. This is probably not known outside France and may not be known to younger generations who weren't following politics in 1988.

  • +1 for connecting the expression at issue with the implication that a lie is being told. That interpretation reminded me of the “joke” (read “truism”) about how to know when so-and-so is lying.
    – Papa Poule
    Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 14:14

Parfois, on prend l'expression anglaise au pied de la lettre, c'est-à-dire qu'on dit « Non » sans vocaliser, en exagérant le mouvement des lèvres et en ponctuant avec le reste du visage notamment en faisant de grands yeux ronds.

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